Again this op is more a upgrade guide than a review, it has some cautions on piecing together a computer system and some procedures to undertake. Don't blame me if it goes wrong, you do anything at your own risk without liability to me. Good luck..
Budgets. The bane of student life, you need money for beer, the rest for food and general bills, then crunch time comes. Your computer dies and you need a new one fast but what do you do? You can't afford to buy a whole new system and you don't really want to anyway, you already have a monitor and all the gubbings from your previous effort. You have a couple of options then, buy some creaky old secondhand monstrosity that sounds like a jet turbine or build your own.
First thing to point out is I'm not computer expert, I play on them, I use them to surf the net and type my assignments etc, but in terms of what goes on inside I had an understanding but it was flakey. I knew where everything went but I'd never put one together myself, it was something I considered but my lack of experience was something that always but me off. Needs must though so I went hunting online for estimates on how much the whole lot would cost me.
My former CPU (central processing unit or 'computer brain' for people who don't know better) was an AMD K6-2 350Mhz which was installed when I purchased my machine. My computer had started to overheat and this was causing bluescreen errors and all sorts of annoyances. Since the system was so old there was little point just upgrading the CPU, the motherboard would only support upto 400Mhz and I don't even think shops sell that speed of processor now, such is the rate of progression in technology.
That meant I needed to buy a new motherboard as well as the processor. Although I was on a relatively tight budget, I noticed while looking online that the speed-to-price ratio was such that for around £100 I could buy a processor 4 times that of my original, 1.4GHz. I decided on a Thunderbird chip as they are very good performers for their cost and faster than the equivalent Intel chip (not including Pentium 4). One problem however is that the faster chips require more power so I needed to buy either a new power supply and fit it myself or a new case with a more powerful power supply already fitted, I chose a new case because I would have to take everything out of my computer to fit the motherboard and processor anyway and fitting a powersupply is another hastle for a relatively low saving. Also I needed to buy a heatsink but more about that in a moment.
Local computer shop: ATX form factor case w/300W powersupply and extra case fan ~£50
Final cost ~£227
Ouch. Its an investment though, I figured, since the its fast enough to last me a few years at least. Extra was spent on the heatsink and a case with an extra fan and this is recommended since Thunderbirds run hotter than similar speed Intel chips and I didn't want this one over heating like my K6-2.
------------------------------------- [Putting the thing together]
And I thought the price was scary, heh. If you have a technically minded friend (thanks richard) then I recommend whole heartedly that you get them to help you do this since if you make a mistake you could cost yourself a lot of money. One problem with the Thunderbird chip is that it is very easy to crush, the heatsink rests on 4 small rubber pads mounted on the chip that are designed to stop you putting too much pressure on the dye (small square in the centre of the chip), and you have to be very careful clipping it ontop.
A key point is static when touching electronic devices, your body holds a charge and you need to disipate it before you start fitting the parts. You can buy a special wrist band from computer shops (recommended) or if you can't find one or would rather save the money then you can plug your case into the wall socket and earth yourself on the casing (NOTE: Make sure the socket is turned OFF or you could die from electric shock!!!). Either ways are fine, you just need to make sure you do one of them.
Next, set out your workspace and follow the instructions on how to mount your motherboard in your case. Once thats in place securely with screws take the heatsink from its box and place it closeby to the table or wherever you are putting it together (you want a flat surface as its a delicate operation) and remove the sticky labels that hold the CPU in its holder. Be careful as you peel it off, try not to leave any adhesive residue on the chip.
Now that you can remove the chip from its holder do so very carefully, making sure you are careful not to bend any pins on the underside. Your computer should be resting horizontally with the CPU socket looking up at you (refer to the motherboard manual so you know where the socket is), look in the manual for which tiny hole on the socket is 'Hole 1' and the look at the Thunderbird chip. It has a notch cut out of opposite corners of its square casing, this is to help you identify which pin is 'Pin 1'. 'Pin 1' is under the top notch, if you look at the chip it will be above the writing printed on the surface of the chip.
Once you are happy you have the chip the right way up look at the socket again and you should see a small lever to one side. Pull horizontally on the top of the lever away from the socket and it should free itself enough for you to rotate the lever so its pointing up at you. Next lower the chip into the socket, alligning the pins on the underside with the holes in the socket - NOTE: Do not force the chip, it should slide easily into the socket when you let go of it. If it doesn't then make sure its alligned properly, or turn the chip and try putting it in another way. When it drops, simply lower the level to lock it in place then push it back against the wall of the socket so its in the same position it was before you opened it. Thats your CPU fitted, congratulations!
Next is the heatsink. Inside the heatsink box you should find a small sachet of what looks like face cream, this is the thermal grease that makes the contact layer between the dye and heatsink for the heat transfer. Open the packet (don't use your teeth, the grease is toxic), and collect a small blob on your finger then cover the tiny square in the centre of the chip but NOT the whole chip, only the dye in the centre. Try to make sure the layer is thin and smooth as it will make a better contact with the heatsink.
This is the last and worst part, fitting the heatsink. Take your time, make sure you are on a stable surface and that you are sitting down so that you don't have the full leverage of your body (there is less force in your body when you are sitting and you are less likely to slip). Look at the socket again and you should see some hooks, two or three on one side and only one on the other. Examine your heatsink and you should see the corresponding brackets, this tells you which way your heatsink clips on.
Lower the heatsink and try to rest it so that the side with the most brackets is positioned over the hooks but also make sure the heatsink is nicely level over the CPU. Try not to wiggle or rock the heatsink too much when you hook the brackets onto the hooks and be delicate, as I mentioned before - they are easy to crush. Try not to panic, as long as you are careful then it will be fine.
Next is the clip on the other side, called the 'thumb clip' because its designed for your thumb to pull on. The front part is hooked on so if you apply gentle pressure on the thumb clip (Only press the clip, not the actual heatsink itself) it should press on the chip and lower to the hook. Double check that the heatsink is nicely covering the chip then press the clip just enough so it hooks on. The fitting will be tight but thats fine, make sure it is actually clipped on properly (pull lightly on the heatsink and make sure it doesn't pull off) and bingo, you fitted it! Pressure is over.
As a side note, the heatsink has a wire trailing from it with a plug on the end, look in the motherboard for where to connect it. The Thermaltake Mini-orb heatsink I purchased has two fans so consequently two wires, if this is the case with yours then fit the other wire in the 'System fan' socket (almost every motherboard has two fan sockets).
------------------------------------- [Check the system]
Fit the bare minimum to the motherboard - your memory, graphics card, floppy drive and harddrive (refer to separate manuals for this procedure) and close the case, then plug in your keyboard, mouse and monitor. Whisper a prayer, plug it in and turn it on. If you get the startup screen of the bios (black and white) and don't hear any beeps then you're fine, well done! You should hear the fans inside your computer, if you don't turn it off quickly and check the connections.
If you hear other beeps or don't get a screen come up then check the memory and graphics card are plugged in fully, that the cables for your harddrive and floppy drive and in properly and that your computer is actually plugged into the wall (don't laugh, this happens). Everything should be fine and you have a superfast computer!
I have found the Thunderbird chip to be excellent in speed, stability and price. It suffers heat problems but as long as you buy a decent heatsink (try to get one rated for a higher clock speed than the CPU you are fitting) and buy a case with an extra fan then it should be fine. Thunderbirds run at upto 90-95 degrees centigrade, so as long as your heatsink is up to standard then you won't have any problems, mine averages at 42 degrees.
Take into consideration my fitting advice and you will find the Thunderbird to be the best budget chip currently on the market. Enjoy!