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How to Build Your Own Athlon Computer
(Slot A Processor)
Part 1 - Gather the Stuff
Last updated: 5/10/00

This article describes how to build a computer with AMD's Athlon processor.  The steps we used to build the computer are presented as a detailed check list with notes and pictures.  The check list should serve as a good guide for those building an Athlon-based computer with components other than the specific ones used to build the computer use as an example in the check list.  The actual computer looks much better than the picture.

Also see How to Build a Computer with a Socket A Athlon or Duron Processor

1.  OBTAIN THE PARTS.  The example computer was built with the following parts:

Case and Power Supply.  AMD recommends not using a desktop case, but if you leave the top off a desktop case as I do and use a quality CPU fan, the Athlon will be quite happy.  I've heard that the Athlon is fussy about power supplies.  I have not seen this problem.  The MS-6167 motherboard and 650 Mhz Athlon worked quite well with the 235 Watt ATX power supply that came with an AOpen HX95 ATX desktop case.  However, that computer was my computer and was not as heavily loaded as the one built in this article, and a 235 Watt power supply is quite marginal for any Athlon box.  It would be more prudent to use a quality 300 Watt supply, as we did, or one with greater capacity for a loaded computer like the one in this article and a 250 Watt supply for an average computer.  Although it is not on AMD's recommended list, the AOpen HX45A Mid-tower case, with it's stock 250 Watt ATX power supply, would also be a good choice for the average computer.  AMD has quite a few 250 Watt power supplies on their Recommended Power Supply List  for the Athlon. The AOpen 250 Watt power supply is rated at 14 Amps on the 3.3 volt line and 25 Amps on the 5 volt line for a “combined power” of about 170 Watts.  That compares quite favorably to the ratings for other power supplies on the list.

Optional Chassis Fans.  We played it extremely conservative when we built this computer, our first Athlon machine.  I believe one chassis fan is more than sufficient.  If you use the Antec case, I would suggest installing it on the inside of the back of the computer.  For cooling fan fanatics who are inclined to cut holes in the fron of computer cases, etc.,  we are building a computer, not a hover craft.

Motherboard.  I believe the MSI board is the best first generation Athlon motherboard on the market (at the time we bought the parts for this computer 10/99).  Newer chipsets and motherboards should be entering the market in a few months.  For example, the VIA KX133 chipset  will support a 133 Mhz memory bus and AGP 4X.

Processor.  At the time we built the example computer, the 650 Mhz Athlon was the fastest and (decidedly) most expensive Athlon available.  You might want to consider using the 500 Mhz chip which costs less than half the current price of the 650 Mhz speed demon.  700 and 750 Mhz processors are becoming available.

Heat-Sink Fan.  Again, the ChipCoolers CPU fan was a conservative and more expensive choice.  Most good quality Pentium II/III, Slot 1 fans should be OK.

Memory.  Quality PC-100, 8 ns memory should work fine.  You may want to start with 64 MBytes and wait for memory prices to fall before adding more.  AMD recommends that memory modules be matched (same manufacturer and model).

Keyboard.  The Focus 2001 is my favorite keyboard and has been for more than ten years!

Mice... the choice is yours.  The Logitech mouse is simple and suites me fine.

Display Adapter.  We built the example machine with the high-end Diamond Viper V770 Ultra graphics board with 32 MBytes.  Unless you are game junkie or will otherwise be doing a lot of graphics work, you don't need this expensive board.  An eight (or even four) MByte AGP board is fine for the average user.

Monitor.  Again, the View Sonic PS775-2 monitor is a higher-end 17 inch monitor.  The display was just absolutely beautiful.  I wish I had one, but would probably settle for a less expensive 17" monitor as a replacement for my aging 15" monitor.  I would rather have a high-quality 17" monitor than a lesser quality 19" monitor.  The PS775-2 does not have the built-in the USB hub.  The PS775 with the hub was not available and may be out of production.

Hard Disk Drive.   The Western Digital 27.3 GByte has a lot more storage capacity than I need.  If you are going to buy a smaller drive, I would suggest spending a little more money for a 7,200 RPM drive instead of purchasing a cheaper 5,400 RPM drive.  Two smaller drives would allow you to make disk-to-disk backups.

Iomega 250 MByte IDE Internal Zip Drive.  This is certainly optional until the time your hard disk crashes and you don't have a backup of critical data.  It's worth the money.

Floppy Drive Mounting Kit... is not required for cases such as the HX45A with two fully exposed 3 1/2 drive bays and is not required for the Antic case if you do not include the Zip drive.

DVD Drive.  A CD-ROM will certainly be OK, but I really liked the Toshiba DVD drive.

Decoder Board.  Not required if you don't include the DVD drive.  Software decoders come with many higher-end video boards and is included with the Diamond board used in the example computer.  A hardware decoder is faster.  Furthermore, the Creative decoder has TV and S-video outputs.  Creative has a newer decoder board on the market, but the one used in the example machine is readily available, coasts less, and works great.

Windows.  Windows 98 Second Edition (SE) OEM (Original Equipment Manufacture--a company that builds computers, etc.) was installed on the example computer. There should be no reason why any version of Windows 98 would not work.  Newer versions of Windows 95 should work as well.  Because of the size of the hard disk, you would want to use Windows 95 version OSR2 or later with large disk support (FAT32).   If you have an older version of Windows 95 or even Windows 3.X or Windows for Workgroups, you should be able to install the Windows 98 or 98 SE upgrade.

2.  Gather the tools.

Required

  • Knife
  • Phillips head screwdriver
  • Socket driver
  • Diagonal cutters

Optional

  • Anti-static wrist strap
  • Anti-static mats
  • Workbench
  • Forceps (handy for moving jumpers; picking-up screws dropped in a case)

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