This article will provide information and resources necessary to help you economically set up a home computer lab to study for A+ exams. While the A+ exams are entry level, it is still highly recommended that you achieve hands on experience for any certification exam that you take. It will not only help you with the exam, but it will help you retain the information long after you pass the test. First, lets look at a list of things that you will need:
Screwdriver - Typically, you only need a screwdriver to build a PC, however, for less than $20 you can pick up a little tool set designed for computer installation and repair. Check with your local computer store.
Components - You will need the computer components necessary to build a computer. This doesn't have to be as expensive as it sounds. You can check out sites like ebay or PriceWatch for very good deals on components. These deals are usually for OEM companies which can sometimes have poor instructions and provide little or no support, but this is the way to go if money is an issue. There is also another option. Some computer stores are offering complete or partially built systems for a few hundred dollars or less. After getting your components, you should practice building the computer and making sure it works properly.
A workspace - You will need an area to work. Find a place without carpet as it creates a lot of Electrostatic Discharge (ESD). Garages and basements are good places for this. If you do not have an area without carpet, make extra sure that you are following the ESD guidelines to minimize the risk.
Software - It is a good idea to have as many different operating systems as you can afford. To cut down on the number of computers that you need, you can multi-boot them on a single machine or use virtual networking software such as VM Ware or Virtual PC. Microsoft typically has 120 day evaluation versions of their operating systems that you can order at their website for next to nothing. These are also sometimes packaged for free with training books.
Training Materials - These exams cover a ton of material. At the very least, you will need a good book or 2 (More than one is recommended. You can find books and other training materials in our Training Directory.
There are additional items that may not be necessary, but are very nice to have:
Printer - Typically, the questions will be in reference to laser printers which are usually too expensive to purchase for home use. See if there is one at work or school that you can take apart and identify the various components after hours. Just make sure that you can put it back together!
SCSI - Ideally, it is a good idea to get a SCSI controller and peripheral so that you can gain experience configuring and troubleshooting these devices.
Network - A portion of the exams cover networking. A second computer attached with a hub is a nice thing to have, however, virtual networking software is another option.
Peripherals - Loading your system up with peripherals such as a scanner, joystick, speakers, camera, etc will give you good experience installing and configuring devices.
Multimeter - Multimeters are a good troubleshooting tool to have. You can get a pocket-size for under $15.
Notebook computer - Notebooks are entirely different beasts from a hardware perspective and you will need to know about them for the exam. It is a nice thing to have access to if possible.
A computer lab is a great investment in your future, and with the incredibly inexpensive prices on computer hardware these days it makes good sense to do this.
If you have questions not answered here feel free to post them in our forums.