2. - The Motherboard, Processor & RAM
3. - The Disk Drives
5. - The Dial-Up Modem
Visit the Motherboards, Cases and Power Supplies section of this site for detailed information on motherboards. If you are looking for advice on making a choice of motherboard, the following article is a good place to visit.
Best Of Tom’s Hardware: Beginner’s Guide To Motherboard Selection : Which Features Matter Most To You? [February 2010] -
Note that USB 3.0 (SuperSpeed USB), which first became available in November 2008, is not dealt with in the article liked to above, probably due to its slow takeup, itself due to the fact that only external SSD drives, which are an alternative to an external hard disk drive, can benefit from using it. Internal SSD drives use the same SATA standard as internal hard drives.
Intel's second-generation Core i3, i5 and i7 Sandy Bay Socket LGA1155 processors have been released since that article appeared.
The actual installation of the processor in its motherboard socket and the motherboard itself is easy in both tower (vertical) and desktop (horizontal) cases.
No special tools are required to install a processor, a suitable flat-ended screwdriver can be used to fit the cooling unit, and the only tools you need to install a motherboard is a standard Philips screwdriver - and nimble fingers. A pair of tweezers comes in handy to remove and replace jumpers on the motherboard, and to set hard disk drives as master or slave devices. If used, DIP switches can be set with a small screwdriver, or the tip of a ball-point pen or pencil.
The motherboard is usually fixed to a plate in the case that has stand-off (mounting) holes for stand-off screws that match the screw-in holes on the motherboard.
The copper or brass stand-off screws (also known as risers) come with the case. The image below shows a stand-off screw. Some cases supply risers that are pressed into the holes in the mounting plate inside the case instead of being screwed in.
The stand-off screws keep the motherboard insulated from the case by air, are screwed into the plate, and the motherboard is placed over them and screwed into them. Each case will have its own method of securing the plate containing the motherboard to the inside of the case so that the motherboard's built-in ports fit through the ports panel, an image of which is shown below.
You usually have to place the washers over the holes in the motherboard and then screw the board to the stand-off screws on the plate. The plate with the motherboard fixed to it is then fitted and screwed into the case so that the ports fit into the cuttings of the ports panel, which is a removable piece in its own right that fits into its cutting at the back of the case. You may just have to clip the plate containing the motherboard into the case and then secure it to the back of the case with screws in the same way as you would secure the side panels of the case.
If the PC case has an unusual way of installing the motherboard or other devices, fitting instructions should have been supplied with the case, or you should be able to obtain the information from a user manual made available as a download from the case manufacture's website.
A particular motherboard might have a different set of ports compared to the ports panel provided with a standard ATX case. A mixture of USB/FireWire, modem, network, audio, and video ports might be provided that a standard ports panel won't have cut-outs for. If this is the case, the motherboard manufacturer will provide the ports panel that fits over the ports built into that motherboard. You will then just have to remove the standard panel, and replace it with the non-standard panel.
The image below is of a ports panel that came with an MSI motherboard. The ports on the motherboard fit through the openings when the panel is fitted into the back of the case. The two openings on the far left are for PS/2 keyboard and mouse connections, and the three openings on the far right are for the sound connections, with the LAN networking and USB ports beside them.
You shouldn't have to drill any holes; all of the holes will be where they ought to be. - Both ATX and micro-ATX motherboards are designed to be fitted into ATX cases.
If you want to see how to install a motherboard in a case, view this video:
Build a PC Computer - How to Install a motherboard -
There is no need to use an anti-static wrist strap, just touch metal that is not insulated from the ground, such as the PC's case with the PC switched off but connected to the mains. I have installed many boards and much memory and never had any component fail due to undischarged static electricity.
The BTX form factor for cases and motherboards is the latest type that at the time of writing (March, 2007) was not being widely used. If you have purchased a BTX case and motherboard, visit the Motherboards, PC Cases, and Power Supplies section of this site for more information on them. AMD has created the DTX form factor, which also never took off. The ATX standard for motherboards and cases still reigns supreme.
Note well that you might have to reflash the BIOS setup program with the latest BIOS file in order for a motherboard to recognise and/or run a particular processor, and possibly even other hardware such as a hard disk drive.
The motherboard's BIOS will have been programmed to be able to recognise and run all of the processors that its manual says that it can run, but this might not be the case if a faster version of a particular processor becomes available that the BIOS programmers knew nothing about. They would not usually provide support for unknown later versions of the same type of processor, because its hardware requirements could be different, thereby making its installation in the motherboard inadvisable.
For example, if the faster version of a particular make and type of processor becomes available, it could have power or other hardware requirements that exceed the capabilities of the motherboard, and should therefore not be installed.
Therefore, you should always check the motherboard manufacturer's website for information about a processor if it is not listed as being supported in the motherboard's manual.
If you decide to purchase a motherboard with inbuilt video and audio chips, you will not have to purchase separate audio and video (graphics) cards. The inbuilt video and audio chips can usually be disabled in the BIOS if you want to install PCI Express, AGP, or PCI cards instead. Otherwise they will be disabled by setting jumpers on the motherboard.
Note that you can also buy motherboards with a built-in network interface card (NIC), an SCSI adapter for SCSI drives, a wireless network adapter, and a modem. Just remember that the more work that the components of the motherboard have to do, the less effectively the system is likely to function, because they will all demand processor time. But add-on components, such as a video and sound card, take much of the work load off the motherboard and processor and allow them to deal more effectively with running the applications, etc.
If the video and sound chips are integrated into the motherboard, the monitor and speakers, etc., will be plugged directly to the relevant ports on the motherboard itself instead of to ports on video and sound adapter cards. If you want to upgrade to adapter cards at a later date, make sure that the motherboard has an AGP or x16 PCI Express slot for an AGP or PCI Express video/graphics card - and some free PCI slots. It should have three to six PCI slots.
If you have any old ISA adapter cards that you want to reuse, the motherboard will have to have the ISA slots for them. Most new motherboards do not have ISA slots at all, because as a standard it is dead. But you can still find motherboards on auction sites such as eBay that have at least one ISA slot, or buy them from dealers that specialise in older hardware.
Note that some motherboards have a PCI-X slot. PCI-X is the extended PCI standard, both of which have been replaced by the PCI Express standard. The 64-bit PCI-X bus slot has double the maximum throughput of PCI, at a maximum speed of 3Gbps. Most PCI-X cards are backwards compatible with PCI bus slots, which means that you can install a PCI-X card in a PCI slot provided that it has the correct voltage keying for the slot and that the area directly behind a PCI slot must have available space to accommodate the additional length of PCI-X cards.
The image above shows a close-up view of a Sony BIOS (CMOS) battery in its socket on a motherboard. The BIOS chip is next to it. The following article deals with how to replace a BIOS battery, which is usually a simple matter that can be done by hand by lifting an edge of the battery or by lifting a clip with one finger and using another finger to flick the battery out of its socket.
You can identify the battery type (CR2032 in the image above), make a note of the identification and then buy a replacement in a retail or from an online computer shop. If you go to a retail shop for a replacement, just take the old battery with you.
BIOS (CMOS) Battery Replacement Site - how to replace a BIOS battery -
How to connect the LED cables, and the Reset Switch and Power Switch cables (that lead from the front of the case and are attached to the motherboard) will be illustrated in the motherboard's manual.
A user manual is provided with a new brand-name computer or motherboard, but if you don't have one because you've purchased the computer or motherboard second-hand, or you've lost it, most of the motherboard manufacturers provide manuals in the form of PDF documents from their sites that require a free PDF reader that you can find on the web.
The LED lights are only Light Emitting Diodes that signal that the power is on, or that the IDE drive interface is at work, etc. It is not necessary to connect them in order to have a functioning computer. But you have connect the Power Switch cable to the motherboard, because it turns the power on from the button in the front of the case. If connected, the Reset Switch makes the computer reboot.
Below is an illustration from an MSI motherboard manual showing the area of the motherboard where these plugs are attached. You can download the manuals for the latest and previous MSI motherboards (or the user manuals provided by any of the other major motherboard manufacturers) free of charge from the company's website.
The LED plugs in the case will be attached to the pins as shown in the diagram. The case speaker plug is the largest with four pins, the power plug has three pins, and the other plugs have two pins. Attaching the plugs the wrong way round will do no harm other than failing to make the LED or switch work. If this happens, just install the plug the other way around.
The image below shows these plugged cables inserted into the correct connection points on the motherboard.
Note that the RAM memory section of this website provides more detailed information on memory than this page - and the RAM memory problems section deals with memory problems in the form of questions and answers (Q&As).
The best way to purchase the correct RAM for a particular motherboard is to obtain it from a manufacturer that sells it on a brand-name desktop or laptop PC, printer or motherboard basis, such as crucial.com (US) and crucial.com/uk (UK).
There are earlier types of RAM memory than DDR SDRAM, such as EDO and plain SDRAM, but you are unlikely to be building a computer using any other type than DDR, DDR2 or DDR3 memory, so I will concentrate on those types. The earlier types can still be purchased from Crucial if you need to upgrade an old PC.
When upgrading memory, it is essential that you purchase the right type of memory module, because DDR, DDR2, and DDR3 memory is incompatible with each other. You cannot use a DDR2 module in a DDR DIMM slot, etc. However, some motherboards can have slots for both DDR/DDR2 or DDR2/DDR3 modules. No motherboards support all three types. A DDR3-supporting motherboard will not support DDR memory, but it might, but not necessarily, support DDR2 memory. The motherboard's manual or the PC's user guide should provide the information required to be able to tell which type of slots are provided.
If you don't have a copy of the manual, you should be able to download one in the PDF format from the manufacturer's website. You can use a free utility called CPU-Z from cpuid.com to find out the make/model of the motherboard as well as the type of memory installed, the memory capacity of the module(s), and which modules are installed in which slots. Note that a PDF reader, such as the free Foxit Reader is required to read PDF documents. Note that free software usually installs a search bar from one of the search engines unless you choose not to have it installed during the software's installation.
Most DDR/DDR2/DDR3 memory comes in matched pairs of modules to take advantage of dual-channel mode (or triple-channel mode with DDR3 installed in Socket LGA1366 motherboards that run Intel's new Core i7 quad-core processors).
Modern AMD-based motherboards have a dual-channel memory bus, which makes it possible for pairs of modules to have a performance advantage compared to using a single module of the same size. In other words, two 1GB modules in dual-channel mode can be accessed as if they were a single module and outperform a single 2GB module that can only operate in single-channel mode.
Now, with the arrival of DDR3 memory and Intel's Core i7 processors that run on Socket LGA1366 motherboards, for the first time,Intel has a range of processors with an inbuilt memory controller that can run memory in triple-channel mode (three memory modules that can be accessed at the same time as if a single module).
Adding additional memory requires making use of free DIMM slots, so, if you are buying a brand-name PC, it is advisable to find out if additional memory can be installed. This is advisable because the amount of memory used by Microsoft's Windows operating system has been increasing with each new version since Windows 95 and Windows 98, which could run comfortably on 32MB and 64MB respectively.
A computer running Windows XP Home Edition that doesn't run memory-hungry applications, such as video-editing software, should have minimum of 512MB of RAM memory to run comfortably. Such a computer will run ordinary office applications, etc., with 256MB of memory, but slowly. Motherboard user manuals recommend that the 32-bit versions of Windows XP Home and Professional Editions should have no more than 3.5GB of memory installed, because they don't support more than that amount of memory. Note that if you are using a 64-bit version of Windows, up to 4.0GB, it requires twice the amount of memory as a 32-bit version, which can only use a maximum of about 3.5GB. The 64-bit version of Windows XP Professional (Windows XP Professional x64 Edition) supports up to 128 gigabytes (GB) of RAM and 16 terabytes (TB) of virtual memory (reserved space on the hard disk drive) that Windows or any other operating system uses instead of RAM memory.
Most of the versions of Windows Vista require more RAM memory to run optimally (on a computer that doesn't use memory-hungry applications) than Windows XP. A video-editing application is an example of memory-intensive software. Only Windows Vista Home Basic has a recommended minimum amount of memory of 512MB, which is the same minimal amount recommended for Windows XP. Windows Vista Home Premium, the most popular version, and Windows Vista Ultimate require a minimum of 1GB (1024MB) of memory, which is twice the minimal amount of memory recommended to run Windows XP. A 32-bit version of Windows XP/Vista/ and Windows 7 cannot use more than 3.5GB of memory, but you can install 4GB. Any more than that will slow the computer down.
If you want to install more than 4GB of RAM memory and have Windows support it, the computer must have a 64-bit processor, which almost all new computers now have, and it must be running a version that supports more than 4GB.
The 32-bit versions of Windows XP and Windows Vista and Windows 7 support up to 4GB of RAM, but can only use about 3.5GB in practice. However, most of the 64-bit versions of Windows Vista support a huge 128GB of RAM. Note that some 64-bit versions of Vista only support 4GB. They are shown in red below.
The following Microsoft Knowledge Base article deals with Windows Vista reporting less memory than is installed, but the information can also apply to Windows 7.
The system memory that is reported in the System Information dialog box in Windows Vista is less than you expect if 4 GB of RAM is installed -
Memory maximums for the different versions of Windows:
Windows XP Home 32-bit: 4GB - Windows XP Professional 32-bit: 4GB - Windows XP Professional 64-bit: 128GB - Windows Vista Home Basic 32-bit: 4GB - Windows Vista Home Basic 64-bit: 8GB - Windows Vista Home Premium 32-bit: 4GB - Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit: 16GB - Windows Vista Ultimate 32-bit: 4GB - Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit: 128GB+ - Windows Vista 32-bit: 4GB - Windows Vista 64-bit: 128GB+
This page provides the details for all of the current versions of Windows, including Windows 7:
Memory Limits for Windows Releases -
Memory Limits: Windows 7:
Limit in 32-bit Windows
Limit in 64-bit Windows
|Windows 7 Starter||
|Windows 7 Home Basic||
|Windows 7 Home Premium||
|Windows 7 Professional||
|Windows 7 Enterprise||
|Windows 7 Ultimate||
Here are the facts and recommendations about memory for different types of users, versions of Windows, design-software applications and PC games supplied by Crucial.com:
Computer memory requirements: How much memory do you need? -
This article explains how the current versions of Windows use memory and how you can increase the memory limits:
Access more memory, even on a 32-bit system -
You can find out if a particular Intel or AMD processor is 32-bit or 64-bit from the following page:
Desktop CPU Comparison Guide -
The computer must also be running a 64-bit operating system, which could be the latest versions of Linux, Apple's OS X, or the 64-bit versions of Windows XP Professional (XP Home Edition only comes as a 32-bit version), or the 64-bit versions of Windows Vista or Windows 7. Note that Windows 8 will be released in the autumn of 2012 and will have the same memory requirements as Windows 7.
Note well that the 32-bit versions of Windows Vista and Windows 7 will recognise less than 4GB (3.2 to 3.5GB) of memory unless the computer meets certain requirements.
More information about memory maximums can be found in this Q&A -
Read this Q&A on this website for more information on the RAM requirements of Windows Vista and Windows 7: The RAM memory requirements of Windows Vista and Windows 7: How much DDR2/DDR3 RAM memory does Windows Vista and Windows 7 need to run optimally?
Note that the way in which Windows Vista (and Windows 7) uses virtual memory, which simulates RAM memory by using storage space on a PC's hard drive when actual memory runs low, has been improved compared to Windows XP.
The pages on Microsoft's website that you should visit if you intend to upgrade to a version of Windows 7 are:
Windows 7 system requirements -
Windows 7 Upgrade Advisor -
Visit the RAM section of this website for detailed information on memory and how best to use it with Windows XP, Windows Vista and Windows 7.
Fortunately upgrading a computer's RAM is a relatively easy matter provided that the computer has one or more spare DIMM memory slots on its motherboard and you obtain the correct kind of DIMM module(s).
If a computer's motherboard only has two DIMM slots that each have a 256MB module installed in it, making a total of 512MB of memory, you can still upgrade the system to 1GB of memory if the motherboard supports 512MB modules in each slot (512 x 2 = 1024MB = 1GB of memory). You could then sell the two 256MB modules on an auction site such as eBay.
Your PC's motherboard's manual will tell you what the supported memory configurations of the motherboard are. If you don't have a manual and want one, identify the make/model of the motherboard and then visit its manufacturer's site. Manuals are usually under the Support heading. The free CPU-Z utility can be used to identify the motherboard.
There are some other issues that you should know about, such as running DDR, DDR2, and DDR3 RAM in single-channel and dual-channel modes, so read the information in this article to make sure that you buy the correct memory for your computer's motherboard or brand-name PC.
DIMM modules (EDO RAM, SDRAM, DDR/DDR2/DDR3 RAM) are very easily installed by first opening the clip at the end of each DIMM slot on the motherboard and then pushing the module vertically down into it so that the two end clips close around it on their own. You should make sure that the clips are fixed tight to the module.
Installing the DIMM modules is merely a matter of pushing the module directly down into the DIMM slot as shown in the diagram below so that notch or notches on the connector edge of the module match the volt or volts of the slot. RAM memory does not require a device driver and therefore it is not listed in the Windows Device Manager.
The DIMM module shown below has two notches that fit two volts in the slot shown under it. Note that DDR/DDR2/DDR3 modules only have a single notch that is placed at a different point on the module for each type so that only the correct memory can be installed in a particular DIMM slot. The catches on each end of a slot should fit themselves over the module as it is pressed into the slot, but you can check to make sure that they are holding the module in place securely.
Remember to make sure that you earth yourself to discharge any static electricity before touching electronic components such as RAM DIMM modules. This is best done by touching the computer's case with the computer switched off and plugged into the mains supply that is also switched off.
You should consult the motherboard's manual to find out if the DIMM slots have to be filled in an order of rank. Some motherboards require that Bank 0 be filled first, followed by Bank 1 and 2, etc., while some motherboards allow any bank to be filled.
Dual-channel DDR/DDR2/DDR3 RAM (compared to so called single-channel DDR RAM) is a misleading name that describes a new mode of operation of existing DDR RAM, which allows, say, two ordinary DDR400 RAM modules to be accessed at an effective speed/frequency of 800MHz even though each ordinary DDR400 module has only a maximum effective speed of 400MHz. Any other speed of DDR RAM modules can also be used in this mode, such as DDR333, but the modules should preferably be of the same make, size, and speed, because the memory will all run at the speed of the slowest module. The single-channel mode of operation is nothing more than the standard way that DDR RAM has always been accessed by the memory controller.
Note that if the motherboard supports both single-channel and dual-channel modes, which most of the dual-channel DDR motherboards do, the ordinary DDR modules might have to be installed in specific DIMM slots that are usually colour-coded to show which mode of operation they use. This is because the DIMM slots are accessed differently for each mode of operation by the motherboard's chipset.
You should consult the motherboard's manual for the information on how to install DDR/DDR2/DDR3 RAM in dual-channel mode.
If you want to read the information for a motherboard that supports DDR/DDR2 RAM in dual-channel mode, download a manual for one from MSI's website - msi.com.
Any other motherboard manufacturer's site will also provide manuals.
If you can't find the information you need in the RAM section of this website, using the web search term dual channel DDR will bring up plenty of links to sites and pages with information about the dual-channel mode of operation.
Note that Intel's latest second-generation, Sandy Bay, Core i3, i5 and i7 processors only use dual-channel mode. Triple-channel mode has been dropped, probably because it doesn't provide much in the way of a gain in performance.
Until the Socket LGA1366 Intel Core i7 quad-core processors first became available in November 2008, only AMD's Athlon 64 (single-core and dual-core) and Phenom (quad-core) processors could use dual-channel mode, because it requires the memory controller to be built into the processor, and Intel's processors did not provide that feature. Dual-channel mode requires two memory modules to be used in tandem. If the motherboard has four DIMM memory slots, it can run two pairs in tandem in dual-channel mode. But now the Core i7 processors also have an built-in memory controller. Core i7 is Intel's first platform to use only DDR3 RAM memory. Moreover, it uses a built-in three-channel memory controller, so DDR3 DIMM modules will soon be available in packs of three to make use of the six DIMM memory slots that Socket LGA1366 motherboards have in order to use three-channel mode. The first Socket LGA1366 motherboards, such as the MSI MS-7522 motherboard, that run the Core i7 processors, provide six memory slots. The motherboard's user manual shows which slot can be used for a single memory module, and which slots can be used for dual-channel and three channel mode. If all six slots are filled with identical modules, you will have two sets of modules running in three-channel mode. As with dual-channel mode, three-channel mode provides a small gain in performance.
How To Install Desktop Computer RAM Memory [Video] -
2. - The Motherboard, Processor & RAM
3. - The Disk Drives
5. - The Dial-Up Modem