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Safety Notice: The Destructive Potential Of Electrostatic

Building Your Own PC, Part 1: Know-How for Do-It-Yourselfers

Walking across a floor dragging your feet will create friction, which charges us with energy. Once you stop moving, the soles of your shoes insulate you, but you're still carrying around a different voltage potential than your environment. Everyone's felt the sudden shock from a static spark, which is particularly common with plastic floors and thick, rubber-soled shoes. This electromagnetic phenomenon can have dangerous consequences for electronic components. Although the current from a static discharge isn't very high, the voltage difference may briefly peak at tens of thousands of volts. That much voltage can easily destroy sensitive components such as memory chips.

The most important thing to do before getting down to work is to ground yourself. Ideally, you'll have an antistatic armband, as used in industry. But unless you're a real electronics whiz, you're unlikely to have one. So, try this instead: before you come into contact any of your PC's components, simply touch something metal (a radiator, the protective contact on a plug or the PC case). This will ground you properly.

Drawing Up A Plan

Before you start the actual assembly, familiarize yourself with the case and components. Unpack all the parts and keep them nearby, but not so close that they interfere. Most cases don't come with instructions, so you should first check which screws and parts go where, and what each is for - and whether you may have to remove anything from the case before you can install the drives. Get yourself a proper lamp before starting, especially if you work at night. The ceiling light in your workroom is usually not bright enough.

Finally, consider where you want to put each drive. There are only a few rules for drive placement, but valuable ones to follow when in doubt:

  • If the PC is under your desk, it makes sense to place the CD-ROM and/or DVD drive as high up as possible so that you don't have to bend down so far.
  • Always check to make sure that the ribbon cable is long enough.
  • Some components get warm or even hot when operating. Always make sure that there's enough air circulating for the heat to dissipate. That's especially important for modern graphics cards and hard drives.
  • If you're intending to put in two hard drives, make sure that there's enough room between them. Otherwise, they may overheat, leading to a shortened life span and instability.
  • Make sure that neither cables nor other components can get caught in a fan.
  • All cables must be run so that no air vents or openings are completely blocked.

This article covered the basics and some practical aspects. In the following article, Building Your Own PC, Part 2: Assembly Step by Step , we'll describe how to put all the components together to make a functioning PC. Users who only want to swap individual components (upgrade) will also find all the information they need.

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