The Hardware Hunt
Only after a thorough understanding of how a computer works and boots will you be ready to shop for components and a respective operating system (OS). The hardware (HW) and OS go together because the final OS that you want on your computer often determines the type of HW that you will want to choose. For example, certain motherboards and CPUs traditionally accompany a PC, whereas others enable a Macintosh. Matching components with an OS has become less important with more modern systems, but if you are considering the self-assembly of a system, which may use older, cheaper parts, then, you will want all HW to match the OS.
Disclaimer and Legal Issues
Like many of the websites, which I have used as reference material, I will make a disclaimer of my own. Assembling your own system has many advantages – it can be customized, faster, cheaper, and easier to repair (since if you put it together yourself, then you know how it works). One disadvantage is that such a system is not under any warranty as a whole (although individual parts may be covered). Therefore, although I have researched the material to follow, I cannot guarantee the complete effectiveness of any self-assembled system. This is true even if you are using new, original components; even more so if you have decided to assemble disposed scraps into a working system.
Furthermore, while reading material from different sites, I have discovered that there are sometimes legal issues when assembling a system. Although, as long as you pay for the HW and OS that you use, you are generally permitted to install and configure it yourself, there may be instances where you need to be careful. For example, it may be illegal to install Mac OS onto a computer with PC components. Be especially careful if you plan to sell the finished product or use it as part of an office network. The article below provides you some food for thought:
Less (May Be) More
Below is a list of some, though not all, of the issues to consider when assembling a system from scratch.
- What will you use it for? – A computer for which you use Word and Excel and surf the net doesn't require the same power as one on which you create highly sophisticated graphics and animation. Bear this in mind when you choose components.
- What is your budget? – In many cases, you don't need the newest CPU and RAM, cheaper, older, and more established components might be the better choice.
- Parts' availability – The final OS you want to install obviously determines which types of HW you will need. Less obvious, will be the part's availability and cost. This especially holds true if you are assembling an older system. Some parts may be discontinued or simply hard to find.
- Physical style/size of computer – Do you want a desktop or a laptop? What kind of case do you want (more important than you think)? Even if you choose a traditional desktop, how compactly do you want the HW to fit together?
- Compatibility – The Wikipedia site (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homebuilt_computer) defines three types of self-assembled systems:
- Those assembled from an official kit will be the most compatible and most likely to work effectively, yet they offer the least amount of flexibility. For example, if you're looking for a laptop, try the following link:
- Barebones kits contain just the essentials – a case with a power supply, the motherboard, RAM (memory), CPU (processor), and a fan to keep the CPU cool. You can supplement these with many other components. (See the first article in the "Do it Yourself" column. Below is an example of a G4 Macintosh system.
- A scavenged or cannibalized system is created from spare parts on the street or in the junkyard. These can be surprisingly effective. My friend and I once made a complete Windows 98 system from old parts in the trash.
Any system that you assemble from scratch may have compatibility issues among HW components and/or between the HW and OS. If you are new at this hacking stuff, try to use a kit, or be prepared to invest the time and patience to make it work.
And Now….the OS, Please
There are so many types of operating systems or platforms. Just like HW, an OS should ideally meet your individual computer needs. Bear in mind that not all OSs contain a GUI (graphical user interface). Wikipedia has a chart that compares the major OSs (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_operating_systems). We will mention some of the more popular and well-known operating systems, which a home user would be likely to install on a desktop for local usage:
(Windows 98, ME, NT, 2000, XP, Vista)
Probably the most popular and widely distributed system, Windows was originally based on the DOS command line system. The newer versions, such as XP and Vista, do not require a DOS base at all and are more robust and stable. Windows offers the most compatibility with the most widely available software, but it may be sluggish for applications that require large amounts of memory such as graphics.
It traditionally has run on IBM and IBM clone systems (such as Intel or competitor processors).
Mac OS (Apple)
(Classic [8-9], Tiger, Panther, Leopard [10.x .x and beyond])
The original primary competitor to Windows in the home market, Mac OS used to be popular in schools and universities. It has made a comeback in recent years, thanks to its Mac OS 10.x series, which can run on an Intel processor.
Although it has consistently grabbed not more than 10 % of the market, making the search for compatible software a problem, many people believe the Mac to be a much more stable system, less prone to freezes and slowdowns. Mac has always been preferred by graphic designers for its stability.
While the Classic version required a RISC (Motorola) processor, the newer versions can be installed on an Intel processor.
Linux (open source)
The inspiration for this open source OS (meaning the code can be legally modified by the user) came from more complex and proprietary operating systems, such as Unix (AT&T/Novell) and BSD.
Linux in its various versions offers the advantage of installation on both Windows and Mac based HW. Many people prefer it to Windows for its stability, and compatible SW, such as Open Office, is increasingly available. The downside is that you have to be technically savvy to use it regularly, and you may have to partition your hard drive in order to install it.
Solaris (Sun Microsystems)
(exists in both open and closed versions)
The open version is based on the Sun original closed version. Solaris like Linux is Unix based. It can currently only be installed on Intel based machines.
Next time: We will check out parts' prices for various configurations. Stay tuned!