Section 3 - You May Need…

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You May Need

These are items which many computers have, but it’s possible to do without.

CPU Cooler

Keeping things like your CPU cool is important for the operation and longevity of your computer. Many CPU’s come with their own coolers. As such, you may not need or want to purchase a separate cooler. However, if you need or want to purchase your own cooler, they can be found for $30 to $100 (and beyond).

If you choose to get a CPU cooler, there are two basic types:

  • Air cooled. Air coolers are typically sufficient and low cost.

  • Water cooled. Water coolers typically cost more than air coolers. They usually require less height from the motherboard, but do require a separate heat exchanger location at one of the case fan locations.

 

Pay attention to cooler height. You want to ensure that your case has sufficient room to accommodate your cooler.

 

Graphics Card

The graphics card is what provides the input to your monitor. Many CPU’s come with graphics capability built in. However, if you plan on doing any moderate to high-end graphics tasks, such as gaming, you’ll want a separate card. Some software will even take advantage of the computing capability available on the graphics card to supplement the CPU. Graphics cards range in cost from the mid-$100’s to $400 and beyond. (There are cheaper graphics cards out there, but they’re typically not much better than the graphics that comes with many CPU’s.)

Consider the following when getting a graphics card:

  • Length. Make sure your graphics card will fit in your case.

  • Slots. Most graphics cards take up 2 slots in width. Make sure that your case has room for your graphics card. On motherboards, cards which take up 2 slots in width will occupy one slot, but block a 2nd slot.

  • Power connections. What power connections does your card require? Many low-end cards don't require a supplemental power connection, but most mid to high-end cards do. Some even require a second connection.

  • Display connections. It’s nice to know what display connections your card has so you know what monitor connections it will support. Most graphics cards have HDMI and DisplayPort connections.

 

Wi-Fi Adapter

If you’re not using an ethernet cable (a.k.a. LAN) connection, you’ll need Wi-Fi. Some higher end motherboards include wi-fi. Many do not. A USB wi-fi adapter can be purchased separately, typically for $20 - $50.

Wi-Fi adapters come in the following forms:

  • A card which uses one of your motherboard slots. If you choose to go this route, make sure that the card uses the same type of slots as your motherboard, typically PCIe slots. A separate antenna may be provided.

  • A USB dongle which plugs into the computer case. If you have problems getting a good Wi-Fi signal, you may want to get a USB extension cable so you can locate the dongle away from the case.

  • A USB dongle having an antenna on a USB cable. Some adapters come with their own extension cable and have a separate antenna attached to the adapter.

 

Audio Card

Your motherboard will have audio connections. However, the audio from a low-end motherboard may be poor due to noise, etc. Having said that, if you’re getting your audio from a monitor or a USB connection, you don't need an audio card. This is listed here as something to think about. Audio cards typically cost $40 - $150 (and beyond).

Audio cards come in the following forms:

  • A card which uses one of your motherboard slots. As such, you’ll want to make sure that the card is for your slot type.

  • An outboard audio processor connected by USB.

 

Case Fan

Your case probably comes with at least one fan. However, you may need an additional fan or two to provide optimal cooling. Most cases are set up to provide air flow entering the front of the case and exiting the back and top. As such, you would want to ensure that you have at least one fan in the front pushing air into the case and one fan in the back pulling air out. Ensure that any additional fans are sized to meet the desired mounting position on the case. Fans typically cost $10 - $20.

 

A student works on his computer build.