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Recently, my 11-year-old son came into my home office to tell me that one of our home computers had stop working. After inspecting the problem, I determined that our video card needed to be replaced. Rather than replacing the video card, we decided to simply replace the old computer with a new one.

After spending several hours shopping at the local big box retailers, we were unable to find an off-the-shelf computer that met our needs, and I decided we would buy the necessary parts and assemble our own computer.

My son was surprised by my decision to build rather than buy. I explained that while the thought of building a computer seems complicated, it really was quite simple.

Before we could start we need to decide what type of computer we needed. Simply speaking, there are four types of computer that a Canadian Digital Home owner might be interested in building: An all-purpose PC, a file or media server, a gaming rig or home theatre PC.

The all-purpose computer is, by definition, a "jack of all trades machine," which lets users surf the web, grab their e-mail, perform basic word processing and spreadsheeting, playback a DVD, and perhaps play some basic video games.

The other three types of machines are specialty machines capable of carrying out basic computing duties but which are better suited for particular types of tasks.

A file or media server is a low-cost, energy-efficient computer with a primarily responsibility to be a repository for all of your files, including media, and can also be a back-up location for any other computers.

A video gaming machine is typically the most powerful and most costly type of home computer. These machines can typically tear through any computing task you throw at them because they are fitted with the most powerful CPUs and graphics cards (GPUs), the most memory and the fastest hard drives.

The final type of specialty machine is the home theatre PC. Designed for your living room, an HTPC is usually hooked up to your flat screen television rather than a computer monitor. The HTPC's primary job is to act as a library for your media files with the ability to output music to your A/V Receiver or photos and videos to your flat panel television. HTPCs are usually housed inside a stylish "media" case which likes a large music amplifier, thereby fitting nicely into any home theatre.

After much discussion, we decided to build two computers, a powerful gaming computer and a home theatre PC for serving up our music, photos, and videos.

Building your Computer

Once my son and I had purchased all of the necessary components for our new computers, (see the sidebar for the list of components in our new systems) it was time to begin assembly.

The two most important things to remember when building a PC are to go slowly and to follow the directions in the manual that comes with your motherboard.

Our workflow was the same for each of the ten steps: read the instructions in the manual, find the necessary components to install, review how to install the component and finally carry out the installation. By slowly reviewing each step, we eliminated any confusion and completed the assembly of our first computer in about an hour.

The ten basic steps to building any computer, with estimated build times, are:

  1. Attach the Power supply to the computer case (5 minutes)
  2. Install the CPU and CPU cooler into the motherboard (10 minutes)
  3. Add the Memory onto the motherboard (5 minutes)
  4. Attach the Motherboard into the Case (15 minutes)
  5. Connect LED light cables to the motherboard (5 minutes)
  6. Install Video Card and any additional cards into motherboard (5 minutes)
  7. Add Hard drive and connect hard drive cable (5 minutes)
  8. Add Optical drive and connect cable (5 minutes)
  9. Connect power cables to motherboard, video card, hard drive and optical drive. ( 5 minutes)
  10. Install and Update Operating System

After completing our gaming computer, my eleven year old son asked if he could build our HTPC computer. With some supervision from me, he had his computer assembled in about two hours. The extra time for our second PC was due to the smaller HTPC case, which requires some disassembly before installing all the components. In addition, my son, in his haste, failed to read the instructions so we had to go back and redo a couple of steps twice. So remember, RTFI (read the freaking instructions)!

Once our computers were assembled, it was time to install the operating system. We placed a Windows Installation DVD into the optical drive of both computers and were soon greeted with an installation screen. After answering a few setup questions, Windows began to install. Approximately 10 to 15 minutes later, our computers were up and running. Whether you build or buy a Windows PC, be sure to update your system through Windows Update. This ensures your computer has the latest security patches and drivers.

Building a computer is a simple do-it-yourself project that can be easily handled by a moderately tech savvy consumer who is handy with a screwdriver. Follow the motherboards installation manual and you should be able to have your PC up and running in a couple of hours.

Get help in building your HTPC

Hugh Thompson is the owner and publisher of Digital Home , a consumer electronics news and information website. As a voice for the Canadian consumer, Hugh is a frequent guest on radio and television programs across the country discussing the latest in consumer electronics and the business of convergence in the Digital Home.

Hugh's column will appear on the first Wednesday of the month.