How to Build Computers for CCTV Surveillance

Written by ryan bauer
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How to Build Computers for CCTV Surveillance
An example of an enclosed security camera (

Commercial security surveillance systems are a great way to keep an eye on your home or business. By monitoring one or more cameras around the clock, you can have hard evidence of any thefts or illicit activity that takes place on your premises. This video footage not only helps you catch the perpetrator, but it can also be used as evidence in a court of law to ensure prosecution.

What prevents many from purchasing and installing one of these systems is the price. While they are very effective, CCTV units do not come cheap. Fortunately, if you have some technical know-how, you can build one of these systems for a fraction of the cost of a commercial product.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • USB video cameras
  • Computer case
  • Motherboard
  • CPU
  • RAM
  • Power supply
  • Optical drive
  • Hard drive
  • Heat sink and fan

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  1. 1

    Gather the parts needed to build the computer that will be used for surveillance duty. A prebuilt desktop PC can also be used, but to achieve maximum performance, it is best for the computer to be custom built. Lay out the parts to be used to build the system on a work space with plenty of room for you to move around. Gather your tools and put on an electrostatic wrist band to avoid destroying any of the hardware with stray static electric shocks.

  2. 2

    Mount the motherboard in a strong, sturdy case that is of the same form factor (such as ATX) as the motherboard. For this high-security application, consider using a steel case with built-in locks and mounting equipment that allows the case to be bolted into place from the inside. Use standard motherboard stand-offs and case screws to secure the board into place. Connect the power harness from the power supply unit to the motherboard by pressing it into place until an audible "click" is heard.

  3. 3

    Insert the CPU into the appropriate slot on the motherboard and lock it into place by latching the arm closed. To avoid causing damage, ensure the pins are lined up with the sockets. No pressure should be required to insert the CPU--it should simply fall into place when lined up properly. Mount the heat sink and fan on top of the CPU to provide proper cooling.

    Recording video is not a processor-intensive task, and a powerful CPU is not needed unless you are recording multiple video feeds at once, or if you are recording in high-definition.

  4. 4

    Slide the RAM modules into their respective slots and lock them into place by pressing down on the centre of the modules until the opposing plastic locks snap into place. For a Windows XP-based system, 512MB to 1GB is enough RAM for recording applications, as long as there are no additional programs in use at the same time. For a Windows Vista-based system, 1GB to 1.5GB will be required to avoid a choppy video feed.

  5. 5

    Slide the optical drive(s) into place and secure it to the case using case screws. Connect the IDE or SATA connector to the motherboard, and the molex power connector from the power supply. A DVD burner is a great idea for a surveillance computer, since video files can easily be saved or archived onto a usable video disk at a moment's notice. Opting to install a dual-layer burner will give you around twice the available storage space per disk than a regular DVD.

  6. 6

    Install the hard drive(s) by repeating the steps used in Step 5. If multiple drives are installed in an SATA configuration, connect a separate data cable from each drive to the motherboard. When using an IDE connection, two drives can be installed in a series configuration.

    For a standard surveillance system that is configured to only record information when motion is detected, a drive in the range of 120GB is adequate to hold the recorded video. High-end commercial units come with as much as 500GB to 1TB of storage space.

  7. 7

    Mount the cameras into place and connect their USB outputs to the CCTV computer. These will be recognised as webcams by the computer, and they can now provide a video feed that can be used by any one of the many surveillance software options on the market.

    Any basic webcam will work for this purpose. If the cameras will be mounted outdoors, buy a weatherproof camera or place it in a security enclosure. Logitech is one of several companies that makes USB cameras specifically designed for security use. Many of the more advanced models even offer night-vision capabilities.

Tips and warnings

  • Archive your videos on a regular basis, in case a fact comes up that needs to be referenced.
  • Store your CCTV computer in a secure location to prevent it from being stolen, along with all of the evidence.
  • Place your computer on an uninterrupted power supply system for battery backup during storms.
  • Check your CCTV computer on a regular basis to ensure the software did not freeze or lock up, halting the recording process.

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