Build own PC -Installing The CPU & RAM

About Processors

A processor is your computer's "brain".  It handles all of the calculations that make your computer work and because of this determines the computing speed of your PC.  A faster processor can handle more intense applications with ease and give you the horsepower you need to get the most out of your new PC!

Things to Know
For compatibilities sake, there are really only two names that matter when it comes to processors: Intel and AMD.  In the past, Intel had been king with the fastest processors and the best reputation.  However, lately things have changed.  AMD really made a name for itself by introducing the blazingly fast Athlon processor that broke the 1 GHz clock speed barrier and as of this writing, AMD has just released the Athlon 64 FX 55 (2.6 GHz), their newest CPU designed to maximize your experience with the Windows XP operating systems. The Athlon 64 is also 64-bits, instead of the standard 32-bit, allowing to you use the next generation software that comes out for 64-bit processing. Meanwhile, Intel has announced their latest “catch-up” entry into the processor playing field with the 3.6 GHz Pentium 4 processor (32-bit still).  With that in mind, you should understand that both manufacturers offer excellent processors and either will work very well for you, just make sure you get a motherboard that supports your choice.

Choosing which processor you want is usually a combination price and speed.  The fastest processors are usually much more expensive then the next fastest model.  For this reason, it’s almost always a bad idea to buy the fastest processor available.  This processor will only be discounted when a faster model is released, so it pays to be aware of when new models are going to be released and buy then.  Processors are rated in megahertz (MHz) and gigahertz (GHz) - this is known as the "clock speed" of the processor.  Nowadays you will see more and more chips rated in gigahertz (GHz) - these are of course the fastest.  As a general rule, you should buy the fastest chip you can afford, however, when selecting your processor, be aware that not all processors are created equal.  For example an Intel Pentium III 800MHz processor is faster (in many operations, especially those involving graphics and floating point calculations) then an Intel Celeron 800MHz processor.  Intel makes both processors, and they look very similar but the Celeron is of a different design.  The best way to sort through all of this is to check out reviews and benchmarks from online sites or in magazines.

It is also imperative to note that the Athlon 64 FX 55 (2.6 GHz) will not work “1 GHz slower” than the Intel Pentium 4 (3.6 GHz). These processors are created totally differently and the internal workings of the processor itself vary, making the actually run about the same speed. Intel and AMD have been neck and neck and so have the fans from each side. To be honest, it’s a matter of choice; just know that the GHz speed on each do not compare directly when you cross brands. It is just like comparing apples to oranges, you will not get the correct result.

CPU’s are installed on motherboards using a variety of configurations or “Sockets”.  Sockets have a variety of names such as Socket 1, Socket 370, Slot 1, etc.  Although it’s beyond the scope of this program to examine sockets in detail, keep in mind that you must make sure your new processor will be compatible with your motherboard.

Software Configuration
Software configuration for new processors usually just involves adjusting the BIOS to recognize the new processor.  In "Jumper-less" motherboards, a BIOS will usually be equipped with a "Soft Menu" type BIOS which will be able to auto-detect the processor the first time you boot your PC.  Just make sure you double-check that it detected the processor correctly.  If your motherboard is not self-configuring, after setting your jumpers and/or DIP-switches you will need to adjust the BIOS settings to accommodate the new CPU.  You will need to consult your motherboard's manual for information on setting the BIOS to accommodate the new processor.

If your CPU is different
Although we used a Pentium III CPU in our PC, newer CPU’s may use a different slot design.  Older CPU’s as well as Pentium II and Celeron processors use what is called a "Slot 1" design.  If you are not installing one of these CPU's you are most likely using a "Socket 7" or even newer design.  The original Pentium as well as AMD and Cyrix use this design.  If you are using this type of CPU, your motherboard will probably make use of a ZIF (zero-insertion force) socket - if so, please refer to chapter 5 for instructions on this type of installation. Note that the Slot design is almost extinct at this time and you will only see them on past motherboards.

In all cases, refer to the CPU installation instructions for help on determining the type of slot you need to use and how to properly install the processor.  You may even want to consider purchasing a new motherboard and a new CPU as a “boxed” set.  This means that the CPU is already installed on the motherboard and ready to go right out of the box.  You can often find slightly better prices when purchasing the components this way!

You should first choose a CPU, note the socket it requires and look for a motherboard with that socket. A motherboard with a different socket than your CPU’s socket is worthless!

Things to Know About Memory
When choosing memory, you must determine what type and how much your motherboard can accept. Check your motherboard manual for the exact type of chip (SIMM, EDO, DIMM, SDRAM, RIMM, DDR, etc.), the exact speed (usually defined in nanoseconds, like: 60ns), the exact size (like 64MB, 128MB, 256MB, 512MB etc.), the total amount the motherboard will accept per bank, and any other special requirements like whether it has to be PC100 or PC133, etc.  Next, examine how many banks you have available so you have an idea of what kind of chips you can buy. 

How much memory do you really need? We think that more is definitely better but with today’s operating systems, the absolute minimum is 512MB for Windows XP (as it uses a good half or more itself as the OS).  1024MB (1GB) is so cheap today that it is recommended you go that route. You will surely notice the difference in performance.

As of this writing, the best memory choice available is probably the Double Data Rate DRAM (DDR), which will work in newer motherboards.  Unlike older memory technologies, DDR’s operate at two operations per clock cycle, effectively doubling the memory bandwidth.  DDR’s are available in different configurations including PC2700, PC3200, all the way up to PC4400.  DDR technology is rapidly expanding, which means you should always look for the latest available memory modules. Be sure that your motherboard supports these newer modules first!

There is also a new DDR type out, named DDR2. These modules usually come in higher speeds but your motherboard must explicitly support DDR2. DDR2 modules are not the same as DDR modules so be careful when using them in combination with your motherboard. Some motherboards support DDR2 and DDR on the same board but have markings or colorings to distinguish the two. Please check with your motherboard manual if this is the case.

RDRAM (RAMBUS) is also another memory type that you may wish to look into. Generally, RDRAM has higher speeds but is also more expensive. Remember that mostly all your limitations are set by your motherboard, so be sure to check if your motherboard supports RDRAM before purchasing any modules.

Buy brand name memory from a reputable manufacturer.  Poorly manufactured memory can cause you problems later like mysterious "lock-ups" and can cause your system to crash unexpectedly.  Good brands for memory are: Toshiba, Siemens, Corsair, Kingston, Samsung, and Micron.

Software Configuration
Most motherboards auto detect new memory upon the first boot up and will instantly begin using it.  You therefore don't have to really do any configuring.  Even so, check your motherboard's manual to be certain.

If your RAM chips are different
If you are not using 168-pin DIMM’s like we are, consult your motherboard manual for required configurations; there is usually a chart that shows what chips can be installed in what combination.

If you are installing a SIMM, you will do so by inserting in at about a 45-degree angle.  Obviously, SIMM’s don’t sit in the motherboard at a 45-degree angle so now you need to rotate it to the vertical position.  This may require a bit of pressure, but do not force it.  If it is too hard, it’s probably installed backwards.  When it is vertical, you should see the little plastic or metal clips snap into place, holding the SIMM securely.

If your motherboard is even newer and you have SDRAM, RIMMS or DDR, these slide into the appropriate slots on your motherboard.  There is an alignment notch offset from the middle to guide you when inserting the RIMM.  At either end of the slot is a plastic lever, which presses downwards and locks the memory module into place.

Always remember to check your motherboard’s user manual for the correct number and style of memory modules it will accept!

Important Tips
Memory is extremely susceptible to static electricity, so it bears repeating: be very careful. 

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