My Build and Sell Computer Project

Introduction

Thumb Screws

Introduction

This is an experiment I am conducting to see how viable building a computer strictly for the purpose of reselling it will be. My objective is to build a complete computer system from scratch and then sell it at cost using a classified ad. The only profit I will receive will be the enjoyment of the entire computer building process. I will catalog the experience in this article.

Statement of Purpose

CompTIA A+ Certified
Yes, I am CompTIA A+ certified!

As mentioned above, I glean a certain amount of enjoyment from building computers. Unfortunately, I do not have the means to buy a new computer every 6 months, and I already have plenty of computers, so I cannot build computers on a consistent basis. When brainstorming for ways to overcome this hurdle, I came up with the idea to work on a single system at a time, sell it, and repeat the cycle again, and thus this experiment was born. If I have a hard time selling the computer upon its completion, then I will have to come up with some new ideas. Either way, this experiment gives me an excuse to build (yet) another computer.

Another reason for conducting this experiment is just plain old competition. Now, I know that I will not become the next Dell, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to build a better computer than they can. For once, someone will know exactly what they are getting in their computer. I will specify each and every piece of hardware and software in the upcoming pages. I will also describe the process I went through to build the computer. I believe honesty is the best policy and in my experience, computer vendors do not adhere to the same policy. It is my intention to show these vendors how it’s supposed to be done.

Starting Out

A computer is made up of many subsystems. In the next few pages I will describe the parts used in the system, the rationale for using each part, and the pricing for each part.

The CPU

The Socket 939 Athlon 64 3500+
If you look closely enough, you can just make out the 3500 denoting the CPU model…

The CPU – Socket 939 Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2GHz) OEM – $161.32 from Fry’s Electronics

The main criterion for picking this processor was price (its superb performance doesn’t hurt, either). When I bought it on October 16th, it was $161.32. Four months later, the lowest price online (Pricegrabber.com) from a reputable vendor for the retail version of the CPU is still over $200.00. Granted, this is an OEM processor, which means it only has a 1-year warranty from Fry’s (as opposed to a 3-year warranty from AMD) and doesn’t include a heatsink/fan unit. Still, in my experience, unless a CPU is manhandled, they simply do not break down. Overall, this was an excellent CPU deal.


ASUS CRUX MH7S CPU Cooler
This HSF will sufficiently cool the Athlon 64 3500+

Heatsink/Fan Unit – Asus CRUX K8 MH7S CPU Cooler – $12.87 from ZipZoomFly.com

Because the above CPU is an OEM version, it does not come with a heatsink/fan (HSF) unit. I chose the Asus CRUX K8 MH7S CPU Cooler because it was cheap and because Asus has a reputation for quality. The MH7S also features a copper core and temperature controlled fan, which is an added plus.

The Motherboard

The ECS nForce4-A939 Motherboard
The ECS nForce4-A939

The Motherboard – ECS nForce4-A939 Retail – $76.81 from Fry’s Electronics

The caveat of the CPU deal from the previous page was that it had to be purchased as part of a bundle with this motherboard. Most of the special deals at Fry’s work this way. The tradeoff for the low price is that you cannot pick your own motherboard. Nonetheless, I still chose this bundle because the motherboard that came with it features the nForce4 chipset, which is probably the best chipset for the Athlon 64 right now. The board features PCI-Express (the newest interface for graphics cards), gigabit ethernet, and built-in 6 channel sound. The ECS brand is known as a budget brand, but in this case the performance of the board matches that of more expensive boards, and for the price, it is hard to argue against using it.

Memory

Two Sticks of Corsair Memory
Two 512 megabyte sticks of Corsair Value Select DDR400 (PC3200)

Memory – 2x512MB Corsair Value Select DDR400 Retail – $96.31 from ZipZoomFly.com

Corsair is one of the top memory manufacturers in the industry. They are known as a company that makes ultra-fast memory for enthusiasts, but they also make their “Value Select” series, which is memory aimed more towards mainstream users who do not need the fastest of the fast in their computer. This was not the cheapest memory available, but I picked it for its reliability as well as its lifetime warranty. I also picked two DIMMs instead of one to take advantage of the Athlon 64’s dual channel memory controller.

The Video Card

The BFG GeForce 6600
The BFG GeForce 6600

Video Card – PCI-Express BFG GeForce 6600 128MB OEM – $74.99 from Woot.com

Again, price was the deciding factor in purchasing this video card. The NVIDIA GeForce 6600 is not the fastest GPU out there, but it can certainly and acceptably handle most of today’s games. This was the part that began my experiment. I could not pass up buying this card for this price. It is a PCI-Express based card, which means that it can be replaced by a newer and faster card if necessary. It also features a giant heatsink that does not require a fan, which means that it does not contribute to system noise. This was an excellent deal for a video card of this caliber.

Storage

Maxtor ATA133 200GB Hard Drive
The Maxtor ATA133 200GB Hard Drive

Hard Drive – Maxtor ATA133 200GB Hard Drive Retail – $75.76 from Fry’s Electronics

The primary storage of this computer is the 200 gigabyte version of the popular Maxtor DiamondMax 10 series. Currently, there is very little differentiation between brands in the performance of desktop computer hard drives. They mostly have 8 megabytes of cache, an ATA100 or ATA133 interface, and a rotational speed of 7200 revolutions per minute (RPMs). Having said that, this Maxtor hard drive fits the bill nicely. And, at a total cost of 38 cents per gigabyte (without a rebate), it is still one of the better hard drive bargains out there.


NEC 3540A DVD Burner
Burn DVDs like a Klingon Bird of Prey!

Optical Drive – NEC 3540A 16X DVD±RW Dual-Layer DVD Burner OEM – $49.95 from NewEgg.com

DVD Burners used to cost hundreds of dollars, which meant that you had better do some research before you buy. Nowadays, DVD burners are both cheap and fast, and it does not really matter what brand you get (to a certain extent). NEC is one of the biggest electronic companies in the world, and it just so happens that they produce DVD burners as well. The NEC 3540A is a member of the critically acclaimed 3500 family and burns to every popular format. Because of these reasons (and the price), I picked this burner as the optical drive for this system.


Mitsumi Floppy Drive/Card Reader Combo
The Mitsumi FA404M 7-in-1 USB 2.0 Media Drive

Other Removable Storage – Mitsumi FA404M 7-in-1 USB 2.0 Media Drive – $26.80 from ZipZoomFly.com

A lot of new computers no longer come with floppy drives. With the advent of CD burners and flash drives, floppy disks have fallen by the wayside. Still, there have been times for me when a floppy disk would have been the quick and easy solution to a problem, which is why I decided to add a floppy drive to this system. You just never know when a floppy disk will come in handy. This Mitsumi 7-in-1 media drive, however, is not just any old floppy drive. In addition to the floppy drive, it features slots for Compact Flash, MicroDrive, Secure Digital, Multi Media Card, Memory Stick, and Smart Media. I have found card readers to be extremely convenient. Instead of plugging your digital camera into your computer, simply remove the memory card and plug it into the reader. Granted, you pay about two dollars more than buying a floppy drive and card reader separately. But, you have to admit, it looks pretty cool!

Other Peripherals

Internal Firewire Cable
Internal FireWire Adapter Cable

Fax Modem – Hummingbird 56K/V.92 Fax Modem – $7.05 from Fry’s Electronics

As with DVD burners, modems have come a long way since they were introduced. For $7.05, you add fax and dialup Internet capabilities to your computer. There is really no reason why you should not have one.

FireWire – Syba Firewire IEEE 1394A Card – $10.85 from Fry’s Electronics

FireWire (a.k.a. iLink or IEEE 1394) is useful for connecting digital camcorders and external drives to your computer. I would not consider it a necessity for your computer due to FireWire’s relatively lack of popularity; most people prefer USB2.0. Still, I have found FireWire to be useful when connecting two computers together for file transfer. At 400Mbps, it is four times faster than 100Base-T Ethernet. The reason I added FireWire to this computer was that the case I picked (see the next page) has a FireWire port in the front, while the motherboard does not have a FireWire header.

FireWire Adapter Cable – 6 Pin Male to 2×5 Pin Female – $7.20 from FrontX.com

As mentioned above, the case I chose has a FireWire port in the front. It uses a cable with a standard plug to plug into the motherboard. Unfortunately, the internal header of the FireWire card is of a standard 6 pin variety. Thus, I needed a converter cable to plug the case’s plug into the card’s header.

My apologies for the lack of modem and FireWire card pictures. In my excitement to put everything together, I neglected to take pictures of them.

The Case/Chassis

The CoolerMaster Centurion
The CoolerMaster Centurion 5

Case/Chassis – CoolerMaster Centurion 5 – $63.01 from ZipZoomFly.com

I picked the silver Coolermaster Centurion case from ZipZoomFly.com for $63.01. It looks cool (read: nice and simple) and isn’t overly expensive, and it comes without a power supply, which was one of my main criteria for picking a case. It comes with two case fans: an 80mm in the front, and a 120mm in the back, and it is also tool-free. As mentioned previously, there is a FireWire port in the front, as well as USB and audio ports. After working with the case, I have to say that it is an excellent bargain for the price.


The Rosewill RP500 500W Power Supply
The Rosewill RP500 500W Power Supply

Power Supply – Rosewill RP500 500W ATX – $52.10 from NewEgg.com

I prefer not to use the generic power supplies that come with cases. That’s why I picked a case that did not include a power supply. Instead, I chose this Rosewill 500W unit. I’ve worked with Rosewill PSUs before, and their higher wattage models tend to be identical to their brand name counterparts. They’re heavy and solidly built. As for reliability, I have had a Rosewill 450W running in my personal file server (with 6 hard drives) 24/7 for over half a year now with absolutely no problems. Lastly, I chose a 500W so that this system would have plenty of power for any future upgrades.

Input/Output

LG 715Z 17-inch LCD Monitor
The LG 715Z 17-inch LCD Monitor

Monitor – LG 715Z 17-inch LCD, Retail – $222.63 from NewEgg.com

All LCD monitors are made by a select few manufacturers (LG is one of them) and rebranded when sold. Therefore, a “cheap” no-name LCD could physically be identical to a name brand LCD. With this in mind I chose the cheapest, yet aesthetically pleasing, 17-inch LCD that I could find. The monitor was listed as LG on the NewEgg site, but if you look closely, it features the “Z” logo that is a trademark of Zenith. Apparently, this is an LG panel that has been rebranded as a Zenith. The model number is L1715SN, which does not appear on the LG site. Upon further research, I have discovered that this monitor is identical to the LG L1715SL monitor (linked above), with the difference being color and logo. Either way, the display looked beautiful when I tested it – this was a true bargain.


Lite-On Black Natural USB Keyboard
The Lite-On SK-1688U Black Natural USB Keyboard

Keyboard – Lite-On SK- 1688U Black Natural USB, Retail – $14.89 from NewEgg.com

Lite-On is a major keyboard manufacturer (they even make keyboards for Dell), and I have used their keyboards for many years. I picked this keyboard because it connects via USB and matches the overall aesthetics of the system. For under $15 after tax and shipping, I don’t think you can go wrong with this keyboard.


Microsoft Black Wheel Mouse Optical
Microsoft’s Wheel Mouse Optical, in Black

Mouse – Black Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical, Retail – $26.36 from NewEgg.com

Again, I chose this mouse based on personal experience. Microsoft makes some pretty solid hardware. I have been using the same Microsoft mouse for four years and counting. This black optical mouse fits in with the black color theme of the system, and its optical tracking ensures a smooth and easy mousing experience. This is a great mouse for under $30!


Logitech X-230 Black 2.1 Speakers
Logitech X-230 Black 2.1 Speakers

Speakers – Logitech X-230 Black 2.1 Speakers, OEM – $40.30 from NewEgg.com

I have experience with these speakers and they are amazing for only $40. Granted, they are only 2.1, but I believe that for this system, a 5.1 setup would be overkill. These speakers deliver chest-thumping bass and clean, crisp sound. In addition, they match the aesthetics of this system perfectly. Another excellent bargain.

Software

Windows XP Professional w/ SP2, OEM version
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2, OEM

Operating System – Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 – $160.38 from NewEgg.com

Microsoft Windows XP is probably the company’s most successful operating system to date. It’s stable, easy to use, and ubiquitous. If all you do is email, web-surf, word processing, homework, and other basic computing tasks, XP is perfectly fine for you. If you play games, then XP is a requirement for you, since pretty much all games support Windows and Windows only. There are some slight differences between the Home and Professional versions, but I feel that the Professional version is worth the slight premium in price, which is why I chose (and use) it.

Office Suite – OpenOffice.org – $Free from OpenOffice.org

Rather than pay several hundred dollars for Microsoft Office, I decided to go with OpenOffice.org, which is perfectly acceptable for someone who wants to do word processing, spreadsheet calculations, presentations, graphics editing, or database work. It will open any existing Microsoft office documents the user might have so he can get started with using his new computer immediately. And, of course, if he really needs MS Office in the future, he can purchase it himself.

Other Software

Here is a list of other software that I installed onto this computer:

All of the above software, with the exception of Nero Express and nvDVD, can be downloaded from the linked sites and used freely. Nero Express and nvDVD were bundled with their respective hardware parts.

Putting It All Together…

Assembling the Hardware

Once I had acquired all the hardware, I proceeded to put everything together. I will not go into the details here, since in the near future I will be writing a guide on how to build your own computer. I will, however, highlight some of the issues I encountered during the build process:

  • ASUS Heatsink – I had some difficulty installing this heatsink because it works with both Socket 754 and 939. The clip appeared to be too short to reach the retention mechanism, but upon closer inspection the clip on the heatsink is actually movable. Once I slid the clip down, I was able to install the heatsink without any problems.
  • Firewire – As mentioned in previous pages, the case has a Firewire port in the front, and I did not want to leave it unused. Therefore, I installed a Firewire card into the computer.

Other than the two issues above, the computer build was a smooth process.

Burning In

Burning in is the process of testing the hardware after assembly to make sure everything is in good working order. The computer is put under continuous heavy stress for 48 hours to see if any malfunctions occur. If none occur, then you’ll know that your hardware has no problems and will probably last you for a long time.

The first test I like to use is Memtest86. It is a free program that stress tests your memory and reports any errors. Here is the result of my test:

Memtest86 Result
50 hours, 175 passes, 0 errors

As you can see, the memory passed its test with flying colors.

The next step was to install Windows XP and then run some tests from within Windows. After installing Windows and all necessary drivers, I installed Prime95 and 3DMark2001. Prime95 stresses the CPU and memory, while 3DMark2001 stresses the video card. I ran them both simultaneously for over 48 hours and the computer again passed. Unfortunately, I reformatted without saving my screenshots, but considering the Memtest86 result above, I think you can take my word for it. 😉

Installing Software

After making sure the hardware was okay, I reformatted the hard drive, installed and activated Windows XP, and proceeded to install the various software applications listed on the previous page. The only issues I had with the software had to do with nvDVD and AMD’s Cool’n’Quiet. nvDVD kept crashing until I installed the latest patch from NVIDIA’s website, which apparently fixed the problem. Cool’n’Quiet didn’t seem to be working, as the computer kept remaining at 2.2GHz even when idle. After uninstalling and reinstalling, the computer idled at 1.0GHz, which meant that Cool’n’Quiet was working. I don’t know how to explain it, but apparently a reinstall fixed it. Those were the only software issues I encountered.

Summary

The Completed System
The Completed System

Now that we’ve taken a look at the hardware, software, and process of assembling the system, let’s take a look at the complete system specs:

Description Price
Socket 939 Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2GHz) OEM CPU $161.32
Asus CRUX K8 MH7S CPU Cooler $12.87
ECS nForce4-A939 Retail Motherboard $76.81
2x512MB Corsair Value Select DDR400 System Memory $96.31
PCI-Express BFG GeForce 6600 128MB OEM Video Card $74.99
Maxtor ATA133 200GB Hard Drive Retail $75.76
NEC 3540A 16X DVD±RW Dual-Layer DVD Burner OEM $49.95
Mitsumi FA404M 7-in-1 USB 2.0 Media Drive $26.80
Hummingbird 56K/V.92 Fax Modem $7.05
Syba Firewire IEEE 1394A Card $10.85
6 Pin Male to 2×5 Pin Female Firewire Cable $7.20
CoolerMaster Centurion 5 Case $63.01
Rosewill RP500 500W ATX Power Supply $52.10
LG 715Z 17-inch LCD Monitor, Retail $222.63
Lite-On SK-1688U Black Natural USB Keyboard, Retail $14.89
Black Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical, Retail $26.36
Logitech X-230 Black 2.1 Speakers, OEM $40.30
Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 $160.38
Total (including taxes and shipping costs) $1,179.58
The Extras
The Accessories

And here is a list of what you will get in the box (pictured), in addition to the hardware listed above:

  • CDs for Nero, NVIDIA Drivers and Software, Motherboard Drivers, and Ulead VideoStudio (not installed on computer)
  • Manuals and product inserts for the various hardware components and Windows XP
  • TV-Out cable with composite, s-video, and component video outputs
  • DVI to VGA adapter
  • 24 to 20-pin adapter cable (if you ever need to use the PSU with an older motherboard)
  • Extra serial ATA cable, with power cable
  • Power and phone cords
  • Bracket covers in case you ever take out any expansion cards
  • I/O shield that came with the case
  • OEM CPU box for storing the CPU in case of upgrade
  • Drive covers in case you ever remove the drives

Based on the specifications, this system is priced very competitively against retail systems. The only thing missing is a warranty and technical support, but I am hoping that the person who buys this computer will be savvy enough to provide his or her own support. Having said that, I will now provide a list of pros and cons for buying my system:

Pros

Fast – This system is fast. The Athlon 64 CPU performs more work per clock cycle than any other CPU in the market, and at 2.2GHz beats out even 3.0GHz CPUs from Intel. In addition, it features a built-in memory controller for ultra fast system memory access. The 1 gigabyte of dual channel memory is more than what most computers have today and further contributes to overall system speed. Software-wise, I install only what is necessary and nothing else, unlike all the major computer vendors who like to bog down their systems with “bloatware.”

Well built – I don’t like to toot my own horn, but this machine is very well built. I pay attention to details like tying up loose cables, tucking cables away to improve airflow, securing drives and cards with extra screws (in addition to the case’s tool-less fasteners), and wearing gloves while working on the computer. I build my own computers and I built this computer with the mindset that I would be proud to own this computer myself, and I think it shows in the final product.

Aesthetically pleasing – This computer looks good. I picked the parts so that they would match nicely with each other, and I believe this computer would look good in any bedroom, living room, or office. Unlike a lot of other enthusiast-built computers with over-the-top cases, this computer has a basic, sleek look to it. I am especially proud of this particular pro, since I usually don’t color-coordinate my personal systems.

Connectivity/Upgradability – With Firewire, USB2.0, a flash reader, a DVD burner, gigabit Ethernet, a 56k modem, socket 939, PCI- Express, and Serial ATA, this computer is ready to connect with any peripheral you want to throw at it. If you need more processing power, you can install a new dual-core CPU. If you want to make it a true gaming computer, you can install a faster video card. Need more space? Install another hard drive. With the Ethernet or modem ports, you’re ready to hop on to the Internet. There are quite a few possibilities!

Cons

No support – This computer will not officially have any technical or warranty support from me. Granted, if the buyer has some basic questions for me, I would be glad to help via email. But I am the technical support person for my friends, family, and employer, and I simply do not have the time or desire to provide extra support on the side. Thus, I am making it clear here that whoever buys my computer should have some knowledge of how Windows and PC hardware works, or know someone who does. Maybe you are like me, an enthusiast, but you don’t have time to build your own system. You then, would be the perfect buyer for this system. If, on the other hand, you know nothing about computers and don’t have a source for technical support, then perhaps you should buy from elsewhere (unless you are willing to learn on your own). This point is probably the most important point to consider for a potential buyer.


Well, there you have it. My first build and sell computer project. In my many years of experience dealing with computer sellers, I have found that many of them are unscrupulous and dishonest. They prey on consumers’ lack of knowledge and try to sell them more than they need. Having been a victim of their schemes, I now want to “show them how it’s done,” so to speak. Now, I realize that I probably will never be able to compete with them, or even be able to sell this computer in a timely manner, but I also realize that I have to at least try. Like I said, this is a computer that I would be proud to own even if I cannot sell it. But hopefully, a potential buyer will read this article and see the time and effort that I have put into this project and decide that it would be worthwhile to buy this computer from me. Thank you for reading about my project. I hope you had as much fun reading about it as I did working on it. I will end this article with some random pictures of the build process. Enjoy!




October 24, 2005

I received my Cingular bill today, and the bill was 20 dollars more than it usually is. MMODE was somehow added to my account without my knowledge. I call Cingular, and they tell me that someone must have called in to add the feature. I know I didn’t call in, so I asked them if it was possible that they had a computer error. They were adamant about their computers not malfunctioning. Curiously, while attempting to remove the charge, they kept apologizing to me for the delay due to their having computer problems. Frickin’ hilarious. They wouldn’t even acknowledge the possibility of a computer glitch, even though they seem to have computer glitches every time you call them. Even more hilarious is the Cingular lady repeating “I’d be more than happy to help you” even though she sounded like she was in labor with all that heavy breathing. I just love these peons and I’m glad I’m not working there.

Dear Reader

Someone recently sent me an email regarding a problem they were having. It was a really, really long email and I was saving it for later to read, but alas, Yahoo deleted it for me. I remember the sender being from England and having a problem with his Pentium 4 computer. So, dear reader, if you happen to chance upon this update and still have your original email, please send it again (if you haven’t solved the problem already, of course). Thank you for taking the time to write and please accept my apologies.

-Jonathan

Device Manager Non-Present Devices

To show non-present devices in Device Manager, do the following:

  • Open a command prompt by typing cmd in a run box.
  • At the command line, type the following: set devmgr_show_nonpresent_devices=1
  • Hit enter, then type: devmgmt.msc
  • Once Device Manager opens, click on View, then Show hidden devices

This is a great way to delete a corrupt driver that keeps re-installing itself. Just be careful not to delete something you need!

How to Upgrade Your Computer’s Processor

Introduction

One of the simpler upgrades to perform on your computer is the CPU upgrade. Upgrading the CPU involves determining the effectiveness of the upgrade, selecting the right CPU for your system, uninstalling the existing CPU, and installing the new CPU. In this article, we will discuss the reasons for upgrading the CPU and then demonstrate how to do so.

First, is a CPU upgrade necessary? To answer this question, you have to consider the tasks that you regularly perform on your computer. If your computer is at most a few years old and all you do is surf the web, check email, and write papers, then you probably do not need a new CPU. On the other hand, if you play the latest games, edit photos, or encode video, then a CPU upgrade may be appropriate. If your computer is feeling sluggish and you are thinking about a CPU upgrade, first check to see if the CPU is responsible. To do that, check to see if the programs you run are CPU intensive.

Task Manager
Using the Task Manager to monitor your CPU usage (doesn’t look like I need a CPU upgrade).

A good way to check your CPU usage in Windows XP and 2000 is to utilize the Task Manager. To access the Task Manager, hit Ctrl-Alt-Del and click on “Task Manager,” and then select the Performance tab. Then, proceed with using your computer regularly, and check the “CPU Usage History” graph when you are done to see if your computing tasks are CPU intensive. You will know that they are if the majority of the graph is at or near 100%. If your computing tasks are CPU intensive, then a CPU upgrade will most likely improve the performance of your computer.

Is It Practical?

Having determined whether a CPU upgrade would be beneficial, you must now determine whether it is practical and possible to upgrade your CPU. Because the level of CPU technology advances so rapidly, a computer from just a couple of years ago may not have an available CPU upgrade path. Check with your computer dealer, the manual, or use diagnostic software to determine what type of CPU you have. A program that I like to use is CPU-Z. Once you have determined the type of CPU in your machine, you need to find out what options are available for your system. If, for example, your computer has (for its generation) a top-of-the-line CPU, then your options may be limited and any possible upgrade would bring very little benefit. Here are some terms you should be aware of when performing your research: front side bus (FSB), socket type, chipset support, core voltage, motherboard compatibility, special instructions (MMX, SSE, 3DNow!, etc.).

Athlon XP
An AMD Athlon XP Retail Processor

Once you have determined that upgrading your CPU is indeed viable and possible, it is time to acquire the new CPU. CPUs are sold as retail or OEM (original equipment manufacturer). Retail CPUs usually come with a longer warranty (years instead of months or days), a manufacturer-approved heatsink/fan (HSF) unit, and detailed installation instructions. OEM CPUs come with only the CPU itself. Naturally, retail CPUs cost more, but depending on the price difference, they may be the better value. One last thing to consider is the HSF unit. Make sure that the HSF unit you decide to use is capable of dissipating the heat the new CPU generates. Of course, if you are buying a retail CPU, you do not need to consider this point.

Performing the Upgrade

Finally, we can proceed with the actual upgrade. First, you will have to remove your existing CPU:

Before Upgrade
The CPU area before the upgrade
  • Unplug your computer, open the case, and ground yourself to prevent static damage.
  • Unplug the CPU fan from its power source (either the motherboard or a Molex connector).
  • Remove the HSF unit. You may need to use a flathead screwdriver to push down the clip holding the HSF to the socket. Be very careful with this step.
Lever Up
The lever in the “up” position
  • Remove the old CPU by pulling out and up the plastic or metal lever, and then lifting out the CPU by its sides.

Reverse the above steps to install the new CPU:

  • Insert the new CPU, being sure to match the pins to the holes. The CPU will only fit in one direction and will not require any force to insert. If you need to force it in, the CPU is incorrectly oriented. Once the CPU is in the socket, lower and lock the lever.
  • If your HSF unit does not have some already, apply a thin layer of thermal compound to the CPU core.
Side View
Notice how the bottom of the heatsink is parallel to the CPU core and touching it
  • Install the HSF unit, being sure to orient the HSF unit such that the CPU core is completely flush against the bottom of the heatsink. Again, you may need a flathead screwdriver. You must also be very careful with this step so as not to damage the CPU and/or the motherboard. Remember, if you power up your system without the HSF unit properly attached, you will cause permanent damage to the CPU!
Fan Unplugged
The CPU fan header without a fan plugged in…
Fan Plugged In
…and the same with a fan plugged in
  • Plug the CPU fan into the proper power source.
  • Do not close the case (yet).

Before closing the case and finalizing the installation, plug in and power up your computer to verify that the new CPU is working properly. Confirm that the CPU fan is spinning. Carefully touch the heatsink to make sure it is warm. Check the CPU temperature in the BIOS to make sure the temperature is not rising rapidly. Verify that you can boot into your operating system. If all of the above check out, congratulations! You have successfully upgraded your CPU. Power down the computer, close the case, and enjoy your new CPU. If, on the other hand, the results are not what you expected, consult the troubleshooting section below.

In this article, I have described some reasons for upgrading a CPU, whether it is practical to upgrade a CPU, and how to upgrade a CPU. In many cases, a CPU upgrade is very beneficial, but in many other cases, a CPU upgrade is just a waste of money. I hope that after reading this article, you will be armed with the information necessary for making the right choice.

Troubleshooting

If nothing happens when you power up the computer, try the following steps:

  • Verify that the CPU is inserted correctly into its socket.
  • Verify that the CPU fan is plugged in. If your CPU fan is plugged into a Molex connector, plug a spare fan into the CPU fan header on the motherboard and try to power up. If you can, then your motherboard was preventing power up because it detected no CPU fan. You can turn this feature off in the BIOS.
  • Verify that the HSF unit is installed correctly.
  • Verify that you did not accidentally knock loose another component (such as a memory module) when installing the new CPU.
  • Clear the CMOS: unplug the computer, and then check your motherboard manual for a jumper setting to clear the CMOS. If your motherboard does not have a clear CMOS jumper, remove the flat, silver battery from its socket for at least ten minutes, then re-insert it.

If none of the above work, try the CPU in a different motherboard (if possible). Otherwise, you may have a defective CPU and should have it replaced.

If your CPU boots but the CPU speed is not as advertised, try the following:

  • Verify that you have set the FSB speed properly in the BIOS and/or with a jumper on the motherboard. Check your motherboard manual for details on how to do so.
  • Verify that the CPU multiplier is set correctly in the BIOS and/or with a jumper on the motherboard. On newer motherboards, this should not be an issue.