How to build a PC workstation for under $500

Building your own desktop PC is a fun and easy project that will allow you to customize a system to fit your needs. Earlier this year we showed you how to build a high-powered video editing machine, but this time we worked to keep the price tag under US$500.

First, let’s take a look at our components:

  • AMD Athlon II Dual Core 2.9GHz processor, $60
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    • 4 GB Kingston DDR3 SDRAM, $66
    • Sapphire Radeon HD 4650 512MB graphics card, $34
    • </ul

      • ASRock AM3 AMD 770 ATX motherboard, $60
      • Antec 380-watt power supply, $45
      • Lite-On DVD-CD burner, $17
      • Samsung 7200 RPM 500GB SATA hard drive, $55
      • Gigabyte ATX Mid Tower case, $17
      • Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit, $100

      Total including shipping, about $480

      Watch a video of this budget build on YouTube.

      Without taking precautions, it’s possible to damage delicate PC components with static electricity. To avoid this, ground yourself by wearing an antistatic wrist strap attached to a piece of metal on your case.

      To begin the build, open the case and mount the motherboard. Do this by screwing the brass spacing screws into the corresponding holes. Place the motherboard on top and secure it using the included screws. They should be tight, but not so tight that you crack the board.

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      Memory will be the first component to install on the motherboard. Depending on the number of memory sticks and slots, the install may vary, so consult your manual. Open the latches on the memory slots and insert the sticks in the correct orientation. The latches will close automatically.

      Next we’ll add the CPU to the motherboard. Lift up the latch on the socket and then line up the CPU in the correct position. The CPU will only install one way and will be damaged if inserted incorrectly. Once the CPU is seated, close the latch to secure it.

      On top of the CPU, install the heat sink and fan, which will keep the processor cool and in working order. In order to ensure that there is good contact between the CPU and heat sink, you may need to add thermal paste, but in our case the paste came pre-applied. Install the heat sink on top of the processor and secure it with the included latches. It should be snug. Plug the cable for the fan into the labeled header on the motherboard.

      Figure out which slot on your motherboard you want to install the video card and punch out the corresponding metal panel on the back of the case. Insert and secure the card then use a screw to attach it to the back of the case. This will make sure the card doesn’t move when attaching your monitors.

      The power supply (PSU) comes next and will be mounted at the top of the case. Depending on the case you buy, it may mount in a different spot, but installation will be similar. Line the PSU up with the screw holes on the case and then secure it. Unbundle the power cables and attach to the sockets on the motherboard.

      Choose a slot for your CD-DVD drive, slide it in and secure it with screws. You’ll need to attach the drive directly to your motherboard using a SATA cable. Also be sure to attach it to the power supply.

      You’ll do a similar install process for the hard drive, except it will be mounted at the bottom of the case since you won’t need to access it from the front panel. Slide the drive into the slot, secure it with screws, then attach it to the motherboard with a SATA cable and plug it into the power supply.

      One of your last tasks, and one of the more challenging parts of the install, will be connecting the case headers to the motherboard. This includes the power and reset buttons, front audio and USB ports as well as any lights on the case. It’s best to consult the motherboard manual before completing this process to be sure you’re using the right headers.

      Once you’re done, you’re ready to boot up, but don’t seal your case just yet. Leave it open in case you need to make any changes.

      If everything was installed correctly the computer will eventually prompt you to install an operating system. Insert your Windows CD and the software will manage the rest of the install.

      Nick Barber covers general technology news in both text and video for IDG News Service. E-mail him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @nickjb.

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