I want to build a PC

Maker Store from MAKE and CRAFT Magazines

This is one of those projects I’ve always wanted to tackle. This time I want to kill off a four year-old HP tower which serves as the house’s server and replace it with a no-frills behemoth that will carry a terrabyte of storage, and serve as the central media storage facility for the house. No dis to my employer, but I want to roll up my sleeves and build something myself. Uncle Fester — frequent commenter here — is an old hand at this type of project. I need to avail myself of his expertise.

Regardless of your technical experience, Building the Perfect PC will guide you through the entire process of building or upgrading your own computer. You’ll use the latest top-quality components, including Intel’s Core 2 Duo and AMD’s Athlon X2 CPUs. And you’ll know exactly what’s under the hood and how to fix or upgrade your PC, should that become necessary. Not only is the process fun, but the result is often less expensive and always better quality and far more satisfying than anything you could buy off the shelf.

Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

0 thoughts on “I want to build a PC”

  1. A lofty goal. Is this to serve as a central repository or perhaps as a media center pc as well?

    This is a project that I have wanted to tackle for about a year now. I too was going to rely on the expertise of some colleagues who are a bit more hands on in this matter. My previous estimate was that I could build a rather feature rich system for about $1500 vs. $3000 prebuilt.

    It would be nice to know what your final configuration is going to be. I am sure that you will get more “advise” than you ask for, but better to get too much than not enough.

    Good luck

  2. Invest in a wicked graphics card with scads of memory, Load the puppy up with fast RAM, remember the gating factor in performancce is almost always your system bus speed and you can’t stuff in and out of a server any faster than your network’s top end speed. do not let kitties nap on your machine. their dfurr clogs up the cooler fan. Oby the kitty overlords at all times.


  3. To really impress, build a “GENIAC”. It was the buzz around RLS (Roxbury Latin) where in the days of “Sputnik”, the most influential first formers had access to a kit.

    The “GENIAC,” designed by Edmund C. Berkeley in 1955, and sold by both Berkeley Enterprises and several distributors was small, affordable, digital, and user-programmable. It couldn’t do much, but you couldn’t get much more personal than the GENIAC.

    Geniac, Geniac,
    Digital miracle,
    Giving and answer that’s
    Truly empirical.
    Learned men, lost in a
    Drawjopping daze,
    Watch six-year-old Seniors, all
    Grabbing off A’s.

    — “The Space Child’s Mother Goose,” printed in 1958

  4. Okay okay
    This thing is not going to be a gaming box, nor is it going to do much more than support a 7th grader in doing some homework — web/Office — but it’s main purpose in life will be to host all music and photos in as secure a set up as possible with some yet to be determind backup plan, perhaps a RAID kludged out of external drives. It will be the point of presence for the incoming DSL line and will be configured to support the rest of the house’s assorted notebooks as a file server. It will, at some point, also feed a digital music system (I’m thinking Sonos). Oh, and it will also have a printer networked off of it as well as a scanner for photo archiving.

  5. Sheesh and here I was hoping you’d gor for liquid nitrogen cooling of the CPU, bus connectors and multiple graphics card(s) as well as the terrabyte drive.
    Having said all thatand after reading what you want to do, bus speed, and the right networking adapters seem important.
    While you’re at it, have Uncle Fester devote some thought to improving the range of your WiFi network without putting enough power into the air to fry stray gulls or connect notebooks over at Woods Hole.
    Catch you on the flip side of reality Bubi.


  6. Don’t bother hosting music on a PC. Much better off with NAS. Music doesn’t need to be local. No editing, no true fast access need.

    Buy a Thecus 2 bay

    Throw in 2 400 GB Seagates and RAID 1

    If you want to spend a few more bucks, go for bigger drives. Figure your current collection size then double the GB then add 50GB for headroom. Your music is always available regardless of what’s bogging down the desktop. Nothing like Junior rebooting while you’re listening to Cornell ’77 to cause some anguish. Plug into the gigabit ethernet switch. You can also use remaining storage to perform automated backup of photo directory. Also, allocate a few GB to whatever the files are that need to be served. You can allocate drive space on the Thecus to users. DON’T host photos on the sucker. They should all go to the desktop machine.

    Add the Sonos system with one unit plugged into the same ethernet switch then distribute remaining units around the house. They’ll form a wireless mesh network.

    All photos should be local on a fast box with lots of RAM. Graphics card doesn’t matter, especially with Junior’s Wii and X-Box 360. Dual Core is the way to go as is a boot drive and a data drive. Figure 2GB RAM as your base.

    Get a nice case. Airflow and looks, of course, counts. Lian Li makes beauties.

    You probably don’t need a server tower as a mid will do you fine. Get a fat power supply. Mine choked with the addition of a fourth drive and an Enermax 500 watt should be good unless you’re planning on SLI graphics which you aren’t. eSATA is just as fast in external form so don’t stress on limited internal expansion. You want quiet, not a wind tunnel.

    Basically, divide the world into two:
    1) Music and non-video/non-photo files. It doesn’t matter if you edit a word doc from the NAS. Speed isn’t an issue and neither is four laptops hitting up that stuff at once plus the Sonos load. All goes onto the gigabit ethernet NAS

    2) A Photo/Video/Scanning box. Needs fast local storage, no one else hitting the drives and thrashing about and letting you deal in peace. Dump video of the boat race, edit pictures of the dog’s butt, scan family photos in peace. Automate a backup to the NAS (assuming you did your spacing correctly).

    You should now have your most precious stuff– your pictures — in 2 locations: local PC and the NAS (which is RAID 1 so has its own redundancy). That ain’t good enough. One big tree branch, some rain, and all photos go away. You need offsite backup of the stuff you can never replace. Music you can, photos you can’t.

    You can host on a smugmug and upload all, burn DVDs, use a service like Mozy, copy to external hard dirve and move to another location or a combination of these.

    Since automated is usually best, pay for Mozy. It’s free for the first 2GB — good for junior’s laptop as it will automatically backup to the server in the sky — but for the monster desktop, pay for the unlimited.

    My Mozy referral is https://mozy.com/?ref=43XQQL
    We each get a little extra room on the free storage

    The first backup is a bitch but incrementals from there are easy.

    BTW: I’ve gone to network attached printers. Hated the spool on the local box when the wife was printing some massive building PDFs. Printers are cheap.

    Oh, and go with Vista. No need for floppy load SATA drivers or other BS. It’s an image file. Haven’t played with it enough to make a clean image file with all apps loaded like I used to do on Mac OS 9 but that’s a beautiful thing. Install everything, make an image file, offload to external maxtor, file away for rainy day.

    Good luck

  7. Great stuff…


    I heard on TWIT last week that drives over 500 gig have maxed out the error checking envelope, and “those serious about their storage” don’t go bigger than 400 (I note that you suggest 400s) – does that make sense to you.

    Personally, I’m carting my files around on a western digital my book 150 gig, with redundancy on home and office machines. Good enough for now, almost exclusively tunes…but I just got a digital camera…

  8. Haven’t heard about issues with over 400GB — that’s the current sweet spot in terms of price right now in the bigger drives. The bigger you go the more risk you lose everything just because it’s all on one drive but backup plans are the key to a digital life. The old adage that all drives fail is true.

    If you’re PC and just got a digital camera, your first issue is organization. I’m hooked to Photoshop Elements 5.0 for the organizer features — and the editor is a nice boiled down and useful subset of the full-blow Photoshop.

    Create keywords and tag all photos. One for Mom, wife,”Disneyland February 2006″, etc. Having 14,000 photos organized by a flat folder system is useless if you want to find all the photos of Wife with Kid 1 regardless of location or date. People, geography, events, all have their own tags.

    I tag all photos I put in my organizer. On desktop PC, all photos kept on data drive (not boot drive).

    If you use sync software and fiddle a bit, you can sync your photos folder and your Adobe PSE catalog data file between drives. While I don’t edit on my X60, I do spend plane time to LA tagging photos. A quick sync on my return home and the catalogs and photos are all up to date. Also acts as a portable backup.

    With bandwidth still constrained — where are thou, FIOS! — and massive 1TB drives ready to launch, consumers are going to get stung by data loss. 96 million digital cameras sold last year….

    Figure a low average of 400 photos per camera in 2007 (20% heavy users, 20% never use it) and those cameras will take 400 million pictures this year.

    I’d bet over 1 billion digital photos are taken each year. Sure, most of them suck and aren’t worth keeping but where do they get stored and backed up?

    is Flickr the Smithsonian of the 21st Century?

    BTW: What camera?

  9. A lot of great info, thanks UF.

    Go here to build your 1 TeraByte system:

    Or go here to build a Raid Capable Storage Server:

    I will be doing something similar to what Uncle Fester is suggesting. Having ripped ALL music to a secondary hard drive on my main machine was time consuming but worth it. Now I can listen to all my music on any networked computer. The sunroom has a laptop connected to external multimedia speakers to provide better quality sound.

    The problem with storing music on the main machines secondary hard drive is that whenever someone is doing cpu intensive work (photo editting) the other machines get choppy music quality. Putting music on a NAS should solve that.

    The secondary hard drive is also being used to store all archived editted photo’s. Archived originals get burnt to dvd and stored in the house and in the office (in case of fire) I need to see if Photoshop allows the indexing (tags) files to be stored on the dvd as well which would address UF remark of 14000 files in a flat folder. Does anyone know?

    BTW, the Nikon D70 and D50 are camera’s of choice in this household, but there are many great DSLR’s out there.

  10. Brian

    You can indeed back up the PSE database either by doing a backup from within the program (which puts all files in one giant folder) or by just burning the catalog. Trick is, if you just burn the photos and catalog file, whenever you restore the paths must be exactly the same, including drive letter.

    PSE also writes the tags to the jpegs which is nice for smugmug and the like.

    I’ve got a D70 and just added the D200. Lens lust is strong. Bought a 85 1.4 on ebay two years ago just added the 70-300VRII until I can get the 70-200VR.

    I don’t like RAID servers, even raid5, for homes. If you need speed, raid0 makes sense (see HD video) but otherwise, raid5 isn’t so much about redundancy than it is in getting back up and running if a drive fails. JBOD makes more sense with a good backup scheme.

    For music, nothing beats Sonos. Nothing. The thing rocks.

  11. Perhaps you could provide a little overview as to how you’d configure a Sonos set up in a home with a home theater, and a couple of rooms of audio…

  12. In my house I have a dual processor Intellistation with plenty of drives as my home server, two different laptops and a desktop just for graphic intensive games. All connected to a wired/wireless network as well as a Netgear SAN called Storage Central SC101. I picked up a couple of 300 gig drives for less than $60 each (one via rebates galor at CompUSA and the other through Tiger Direct). Mirrored the drives and made them available to all the machines.

    Not having to concern myself with multi users I have just one big bucket for all machines to share, otherwise it would have been partitioned off to specific user spaces.

    I also heartily endorse a network printer. Otherwise you have to set up a machine as a print server or print from just one machine or have multiple printers. The network printer rocks.

    Sounds like you will have a fun project David.


  13. Sonos comes in two flavors: powered and unpowered. Basically, if you’ve got an AV receiver, get the unpowered, otherwsise, you want the ZP100 with the built-in 50 watt amp which sounds pretty good

    Sonos is simple: you need one unit wired to your network. The rest can work wirelessly and form a mesh network.

    You’ve got 5 rooms you want audio in. The first room, call it the office, gets a Sonos connected to the switch using cat5e. From the sonos, connect speakers.

    Each Sonos is a zone and all you need to do is plug the unit into the wall in a room and run speaker cable to your speakers. Each zone can access your full library independently. So, connect your bedroom sonos to speakers and it’s a zone. Connect one in the den, one in the kid’s room, one in the library, etc. In the summer, drag one outside, plug into juice, and set-up some speakers.

    Each remote can control any zone or any combination of zones (link 2 or more sones together to play the same thing).

    Our home has 3 sonos: 2 powered, 1 unpowered. The first (powered) is in the office and is connected to the switch which also has the NAS connected to it. I also ran an output from the PC soundcard (using line out to rca cables) into the input on the sonos. From Sonos, speaker cable is run to a pair of in-wall speakers. I can then switch the input on the Sonos from music to Line in and it plays the PC sound. No more crappy PC speakers on my desk or subwoofie sitting under it. As Borat would say, “Niiiiiiiice.” (I actually did a RCA run from a plate in the wall to the closet where cable modem, NAS, router, switch, and powered Sonos all reside somewhat happily perched one upon another in two heaps — short run cable from PC to wall makes everything look pretty).

    Second Sonos is in the bedroom (powered) and goes to a speaker A/B switch. First set of speakers is in the bedroom (in-wall) and the second is a marine speaker in the ceiling of the shower. Again, hidden away where cable box and Tivo live.

    Third Sonos is connected to AV system in the living room (unpowered) and is connected to my Denon amp. Since the ZP80 (unpowered) has a digital out, the Sonos is connected to a digital in on my amp and I just choose that source on the amp. Also hidden with all other AV junk like Tivo S3. Speakers are Orb Audio’s which sound great in a NYC apartment and don’t look too silly on the wall.

    All my music is on a Thecus NAS with 2 300GB drives (not enough soon but my fault) in RAID-1. I point my iTunes to the mapped drive. The Sonos is smart enough to import my iTunes playlists so I can access them from the Sonos remote (we only have 2 remotes and any pc can also control all functionality on any sonos in the house). We also have Rhapsody which has a whole bunch of stations we like with the added benefit of being able to hit the FF button on the Sonos remote and skip any song we don’t like. You can also save good songs to your library.

    Sonos can’t play FairPlay songs (bought from iTunes library) but no real loss there.

    To add zones all you literally need is another Sonos, AC, and speakers. As it’s a mesh network, you don’t need to be in range of the first wires Sonos, just any other. The remote interface with jog wheel is very iPod-like and has almost zero learning curve. It truly is a Tivo (ease of use, elegence of design, premium price) of music.

    With the NAS, nothing interrupts the music — except for Rhapsody when TWC screws with my net connection. Since each Sonos can play anything from your library (or Rhapsody or the line in connection which means you could hook a DVD player up to the line in, for example) — you have basically unlimited source freedom. One room can play Rhapsody, another something else, another something else or link them all to play the same source. All without ANY in-wall cabling (unless you want to hide speaker cable). No Crestron cable. The remotes work great…

    I think my infomercial is long enough. Any questions, hit David for my email addy. I’m not brave enough to publish it.

  14. I’ve seen Fester’s setup and it is very amazing — this is a guy who crimps his own ethernet cables and builds his own servers — so when he gave Sonos the hearty endorsement, I paid attention.

    This solution should resolve my headaches in wiring a 150 year-old house. I am especially keen on checking out Rhapsody as I had written that off when first announced.

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