BIOS and all that jazz

Ok, my new project is to build a computer from the ground up. I’m going to one of those expos were they just sell all the pieces you could ever want, and so I had a quick question. First off, how do ensure compatability through all the different pieces i.e. ram, bios, motherboard? It would suck if I got all the necessary parts, but they didn’t want to talk to each other. So if any of you dopers can get me started that would be a big help. Thanks in advance.

It is not really that difficult. I built the computer I am typing on now from parts last weekend. The most important part is to select the correct motherboard. The motherboard determines how many slots that you will have of each type (PCI, AGP, USB etc) and the brand and speed of processor that you can use. Athlon and Intel processors use different motherboards so decide what type of system you want before you start. Either should be suitable but you must choose before you begin. Once you buy the correct motherboard, you can buy the appropriate processor. The only issue here is whether it will go in the same slot as your motherboard and whether you motherboard will support the brand and speed of your processor. The dealers should be able to tell you if a given CPU and motherboard are compatible.

After you buy these things, then you need:

  1. A case with power supply (Make sure the power supply gives an appropriate wattage).
  2. A video card (Buy a decent one if you are going to play games)
  3. A sound card
  4. Floppy Drive
  5. ISA Hard Drive(s)
  6. CD or DVD-Rom Drive
  7. Keyboard, Monitor, and Mouse

All of the above components tend to be pretty standard. Again the only issue is whether the motherboard you buy has the correct number and type of slot for what you are trying to plug into it. The directions for putting the whole thing together will be based around the motherboard also so make sure it includes clear directions. Final assembly should take between 3 and 6 hours.


It’s a good idea to do your research and have in mind a few different types of each component that you’re willing to buy, so if you can’t find a particular model you can get a different one instead. and are a couple of good places with lots of reviews. The only area where compatibility is an issue is between CPU and motherboard. Slot 1 runs Pentium III, Socket 370 runs Celeron and Pentium III, Slot A runs Athlon, Socket A runs Thunderbird (current generation Athlon) and Duron. Memory is pretty standard, make sure your memory is at least as fast as the CPU’s FSB (front side bus). Don’t forget a good cooler for the CPU, and it wouldn’t hurt to add an extra fan for case cooling (most ATX cases have at least one spot to install a fan in addition to the power supply’s). Unless you really have a reason to, I wouldn’t buy a RAMBUS or DDR-DRAM board, they and the memory you need to run on them are very expensive.

The best bargain going right now (IMO) is the AMD Duron. It outperforms an equivalent speed Pentium III in many benchmarks and costs a hell of a lot less. It’s also great for overclocking if you’re so inclined.

Here’s a few other sites that will help. Just remember that if you are building your own system you are morally obligated to overclock the living crap out of it. What for you need no stinking warranty?

Ars Technica’s Buyer’s Guide
Ars Technica’s Recommended Systems
Tweak3D’s “How to build a PC”
Anand’s Buyer’s Guide

I second frogstein’s opinion that the Duron is the best deal going. A close second is the monstrous Athlon Thunderbird 1G, which is a steal at $173 this week. If you’re going to be seriously overclocking, you might be interested in checking out the pre-tested starter systems at . For example, they have a T-bird 750 pretested at 1G, motherboard, excellent RAM and a monster heatsink/fan for a mere $395.

Sofa King’s now sadly obsolete system:

Abit BX-6r2
Celeron 533A OC’ed to 896 MHz
Global Win FDP32, YS Tech fans
Matrox G400 32 SH, converted to dual-head, CPU fan added to heatsink, OC’ed to 183/211
Twin 19" monitors
AC desk fan “smoke stack”
And other interesting crap

One thing you can do is to buy from reputable on-line or mail order stores instead of “one of those expos.” That way if you end up with an incompatible or defective component you can return it for the correct one.

BIOS is a program stored on a chip on the motherboard, so you don’t have to buy that separately. For motherboard-CPU compatibility, check the web page of the motherboard manufacturer. They always have a list of supported CPUs. Remember that “not supported” usually means “won’t work at all”. It’ll also tell you what type of memory to get (usually PC100 DIMM SDRAM, sometimes PC133).

Everything else should be pretty standard. When you put together the system, don’t plug in everything and then turn on the switch. Set up a bare minimum system first (no disk drives at all, no sound, just enough to get it to display the BIOS setup screen) and make sure it works. Then add one component at a time, turning on the system each time to make sure it works fine.

Have fun, and good luck.

I just got my parts in yesterday, as a matter of fact. I was looking to build a second PC, so I went with an Abit KT-7, which came with a Duron 600 with fan for $239. I would also recommend that processor.

I would also recommend that processor, and that you shop around online. Yahoo, for instance, has a shopping guide that will let you select by price. I started my search with “motherboard combos”. If you’re not that familiar with building a PC, do as suggested in the other posts and check out some sites and read up on motherboards. Hell, check them out anyway - they’ve got some good stuff. I really like this site:

Once you know what you want, or at least have an idea, call one of these online places and just tell them your situation. Tell them what you’ll be using your system for (gaming? surfing? graphics apps?), and have a price range in mind for a motherboard (typically $200-$400) and the whole system in general. Most of these places will be happy to help you out, and they’re not going anywhere, unlike the people at a computer show who you may never see again. Once you decide on that, they can help you with the rest of the components. I was on the phone for 15 minutes when I ordered my stuff - the guy was very helpful.

There are a number of reputable online vendors - I don’t know if we can post links to any, but I can recommend the place that’s selling that Abit board for $239!