So you wanna build a desktop computer?

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Endless Mike
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So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby Endless Mike » Tue Aug 07, 2012 4:19 pm UTC

We get a lot of questions about building computers here, so I figure a general guide might be helpful. I'll stick to general home-use computers since that's what I'm familiar with - someone else can talk about server builds if desired. (I will probably throw some home theater PC stuff in since it's not dissimilar, just generally lower power.)

Building your own machine is not a difficult process (and has become much easier over time from what I understand), but picking parts can seem overwhelming your first time around. There's a lot to think about and making sure things will work together is the difference between a working computer and a pile of parts. So why do it? Well, there's a few reasons: for anything but the absolute cheapest machines, you can pretty easily put together a desktop computer that will be cheaper than anything you can buy prebuilt, and you can be assured of the quality of the parts. It will also leave you with something built exactly for your needs that is likely to be more upgradeable and customizable in the future. The one major negative is that instead of having a single company to call when something goes wrong, you're stuck diagnosing problems yourself and dealing with several companies based on the diagnosis. (For this reason, I would never build a computer for someone, but that's just me.)

THE BASICS

There's the parts you'll need:

CPU: This is the brain of your computer. It controls everything. Without it, you have nothing. There's two major vendors at the moment: Intel and AMD. There's a nice thread here for more information on them. In general, Intel will cost more, but will also perform better than AMD, but there's obviously going to be some direct competition, and AMD certainly shouldn't be counted out for budget builds. Every CPU has a socket design it will fit into, which should be clearly noted on whatever place you purchase it from. Additionally, modern CPUs typically have multiple cores. This essentially means it has multiple CPUs inside each chip. Single-core chips are increasingly uncommon and probably only available on the extreme low-end for low power situations. You probably don't want that. For a gaming machine, a dual-core might be okay, but look for a quad-core. They're common and inexpensive. AMD goes to at least hexa-core still, I believe, though Intel's chips are mostly limited to quad. This isn't necessarily an issue as the performance improvement of multiple cores depends entirely on what's being run on them, and multi-threaded applications are not terribly common outside of gaming (and you're probably paying a lot for other ones). Both companies use a technology called SMT (Intel has branded theirs as Hyperthreading) that allows each core to run two processes, so your system essentially sees twice the real cores. Much like physical cores, the performance benefit depends entirely on what you're doing with your machine. For gaming, it's probably not worth it. The other thing to look at with CPUs is the clock speed, which is measured in GHz. You do have to be careful with this, however, as it can be somewhat difficult to compare across a single manufacturer, never mind between the two. In a single CPU generation from a single manufacturer, it's fair to say that with two CPU's with the same number of cores, the one with a higher clock will perform better. When core numbers or SMT ability differ, it's often a lot less clear, though you can easily assume that one with more cores and a higher clock will perform better at the same tasks. Comparing the two manufacturers is difficult and basing on raw clock speed won't get you very far. Even comparing generations of CPUs from the same manufacturer won't necessarily get you a clear picture, though, at the current time, Intel's current line is a little faster than the previous generation (which was significantly faster than the previous one). Price will vary by what you're doing, but $200-250 for a mid-range part is not to be unexpected, though you can certainly go much cheaper here.

Motherboard: If the CPU is the brain, the motherboard is the torso. Almost everything else you put in your machine will connect to this, be it directly into it or with a cable. This can be a bit more difficult to pick, but start with your CPU. As noted above, the CPU will have a socket design, so look for motherboards with that socket. From there, search for the features you want: number of SATA ports, number of USB ports and headers, expansion slots, SLI/Crossfire, audio, etc. To explain some of this, SATA is the current internal interface for various drives including hard drives, solid state drives, and optical drives. There's some other, older interfaces, but they're not really used much anymore, so stick with SATA (others you might see are SCSI and IDE, but very few modern motherboards will have these). There's a couple versions of it, with increasing speed with each version, but they all use the same connectors and are forward and backward compatible - you'll just potentially lose some speed on older versions (which are not going to be found on current motherboards, anyway). You might also see eSATA listed on a motherboards specifications. This is essentially SATA adapted for external use, and you might have a couple ports on the board, but drives that use it are much less common than USB drives. Speaking of USB, USB 3.0 is becoming a common feature on motherboards. It's significantly faster than USB 2.0 while being backward compatible - your current devices will work just fine in it, albeit at USB 2.0 speeds. Another thing to look at is expansion slots. At this point, there's basically only two types to be concerned with: PCI and PCI-E (the E is for Express). PCI is an old legacy slot that is still very common for cards that don't require a lot of speed - network cards (both wired and wireless), sound cards, and some other cards still come in this. You might want to make sure your motherboard has one or two of them. PCI-E is a newer slot type that any graphics card worth having will come in. There's a few different versions of it, but like SATA, they're all compatible with each other, though older ones are slower, but also uncommon on current motherboards. More importantly, there's five different slots that correspond to having more lanes to communicate with the CPU: 1x, 2x, 4x, 8x, and 16x. As far as I'm aware, all graphics cards are 16x, so you'll need at least one of those. They're all also compatible with each other since each step higher just makes a longer slot. I.e. you can potentially shove a graphics card into a 1x slot and it will work, just much slower than if it was in a 16x slot. I don't recommend this, however, since it's not a guarantee, especially with graphics cards. Any motherboard you'll look into should have at least one 16x slot if not two or three, depending on your goals (and if you buy cards that use a smaller slot, extra 16x slots can still be used for those). Expansion cards using the slower slots are becoming more common, and are not difficult to find for things like wifi cards and RAID cards (but if you're looking at one of these, I doubt you need this guide). Other legacy slots include ISA and AGP, but if you're looking at a motherboard with these, it's probably not what you want unless you have some old card that you absolutely need that doesn't have a modern replacement. Pretty much every modern motherboard will have built-in audio and ethernet and some have wifi. The other thing to look at is the chipset of the motherboard. Both Intel and AMD generally release several new ones for each generation of CPUs with varying capabilities. Depending on the CPU slot they may or may not be backward compatible with previous generations of CPUs. It takes a little research, but it's not terribly hard to figure out. For a standard desktop, you probably want a full ATX board - they'll fit in any full sized case and will have plenty of expansion ports to keep you happy. For HTPC builts, a mATX board will likely suffice, but they can be used for larger machines just as well, though there's not really much reason to do so unless you're limited on space. Some generally respected brands include Intel, Gigabyte, Asus, MSI, EVGA, and Asrock. I tend to budget around $150 for a good one.

RAM/Memory: Memory is what the CPU reads directly from. Conveniently, it's also fairly cheap. At this point, both Intel and AMD are using DDR3, so that makes picking parts easy. For a gaming machine, I would recommend a minimum of 8 GB, but 16 GB isn't a huge increase in cost, but any more is at best unnecessary and at worst unusable (Windows 7 Home Premium is limited to 16 GB, though higher versions do not have this limit) at the fastest speed you can afford. Personally, I tend to get a major brand's low-end line since I don't normally overclock, but that's entirely up to you. Some of those brands include Kingston, Corsair, Crucial, Patriot, and G.SKILL.

Storage: This is where all your files and programs and such live. There's currently two types of storage available: hard disk drives and solid state drives. HDDs have been around awhile and are, by far, the better value for your money when it comes to space. SSDs, however, are quickly coming down in price and are significantly faster as well as being completely silent and lower power than a hard drive. I'm personally of the opinion that a smallish SSD plus one or more large hard drives is the best use of your money, but that's just me; others will say a large SSD is better and others will claim SSDs are still too expensive (and they likely are for a budget build). A 128 GB SSD will hold a complete OS, pretty much every non-gaming program you regularly use, plus a few games with space to spare. It's not uncommon to find this capacity under $100 now. I won't claim to be an expert on SSDs, but I've heard to avoid OCZ as their failure rate is notably higher than their competitors. I've been using Corsair with good luck, and Intel and Samsung's SSDs are also supposed to be quite good. As far as hard drives go, brands seem to be as contentious as religion (and, objectively, every manufacturer has had both good and bad models, so it's worth doing some research on a specific model), so I won't make any specific recommendations, just to avoid "green" drives for anything more than backup (though I will admit that this is a bias of mine - people use these as a secondary drive without a problem, and I can see that working depending on what you're doing with it). They're designed for low power rather than performance, so they spin down as much as possible and are typically lower speed. Other than that, look for 7200 RPM or greater drives to fit your budget and I would recommend a retail box as they come with MUCH longer warranties than equivalent OEM (unboxed) parts (get the longest warranty you can, though most people will note that if it doesn't fail in the first month, it'll probably outlast the useful life of the rest of the build). In either case, make sure it's a SATA interface not IDE (or even SCSI), since motherboards are not really shipping with anything else for the most part. Expect to spend around $100 for a 1 TB HDD.

Graphics card: This is technically optional now with both AMD and Intel including integrated GPUs on their CPUs, but if you're playing games, you want a graphics card (HTPCs can exclude - pretty much any integrated GPU currently being produced can decode 1080p video without a hitch). There's two companies making GPUs -AMD and Nvidia - who then sell to a bunch of card vendors who make the actual cards. I'll admit I don't really keep up with GPUs too much since I only buy one every two or three years, but both companies have pretty similar lines and tend to go back and forth on the best value/performance at any given time. It's better just to ask either this thread or a separate build thread for specific recommendations. We could probably create a whole thread just explaining graphics cards. One thing to note is that both AMD and Nvidia have systems to allow multiple cards be used in a computer (SLI for Nvidia, Crossfire for AMD). In most cases, it doesn't make a lot of sense unless you're planning on spending a lot of money, and even then it's generally more cost effective to just get a single higher-end card. You'll need a motherboard that allows it and a big enough power supply to run them all. Some good card manufacturers are pretty much the same list as motherboards. Anything modern should only be available with a PCI-E interface, so there shouldn't be any confusion here. Prices will depend entirely on what you're doing, but $200-250 is generally the price/performance sweet spot.

Power supply: The PSU is the one part to absolutely not cheap out on. A failing PSU can kill your entire computer dead. The good news is that even a good PSU is not going to break your budget, since power needs are regularly overestimated. Pretty much any single-GPU system should be well served by a 550W PSU, maybe even less! I tend to go by what GPU manufacturer recommends as a minimum and stick with that, but this site is a very handy calculator. You'll find that actual power usage will probably well below even 550W. PSUs also come in modular systems where the individual cables can be removed if unneeded. It's handy for cable management, but not necessary and does drive up cost. Some good brands of PSU are Antec, PC Power & Cooling, Enermax, Corsair, and maybe Seasonic. $100-150 should get you something quite good.

Case: While not technically necessary, it's far preferable to having a bunch of parts sitting on your desk. I'm not going to get into this much, just look for one that's at least as big as your motherboard (an ATX motherboard will need an ATX or server ATX case, while mATX can use those or an mATX case) with the features you want: external USB and headphone jacks. I prefer simple, unadorned cases, but others like windows and lights and the case market is big enough to accommodate everyone, so just find whatever you like, it'll probably be fine. The only thing I can suggest here is that a removable motherboard tray can make things easier to put together. I'll also note that there's toolless cases that have pretty much all parts attached without any screws or anything, but I find them less secure than traditional cases. You can spend as little as $50 (or less, probably) or as much as several hundred on this. If it comes with a PSU, you probably want to throw it out unless it's one of the manufacturers above. It's worth noting that this is one of the few parts you can carry forward to a newer computer in the future, if desired, so it doesn't hurt to get something nice. Generally, the more you spend, the more nice, if unnecessary, features you get like removable motherboard trays and drive cages, better cable management, smoother/covered edges on metal bits (it's not fun to slice your hand open on a sharp edge), dust filters on intakes, and some other things.

Operating system: You need something for your computer to run, right? For most gamers, this will be Windows 7, but I know there's some Linux gamers out there and Windows 8 is out in October. OEM Windows 7 Home Premium discs run around $100 and retail versions are $180. (Most likely you do not need Professional or Ultimate, but if you find you do, MS offers an "anytime upgrade" for some money that you can upgrade to a higher version.) The major difference is that OEM copies are technically tied to the hardware they're initially registered to, but MS isn't too stringent on this and will usually let you transfer the license if you build a new machine. Make sure you get a 64-bit copy since there's no 32-bit CPUs being made anymore to my knowledge. Linux is free, but I don't use it and therefore can't talk much about it.

OPTIONAL

Here's some parts that might not be strictly necessary or you might already have:

Heatsink fan: This keeps your CPU within its operating temperature - too hot, and it dies. Most or all retail CPUs will come with one that will be perfectly fine for that CPU. That said, if you want something quieter or intend to overclock or are getting an OEM CPU, you'll want an aftermarket heatsink. There's a large number available, but read reviews and make sure it will work with your CPU - they typically will have a list of sockets they work with and come with the necessary hardware for the motherboard.

Optical drive: This is to play and burn CDs, DVDs, and Blu-Rays. It's not strictly necessary, but physical media is still very common and you might want to rip a CD or DVD or something. It also means you don't need another computer to put together a bootable USB drive to put your OS install on. A basic DVD-RW is around $20 and Blu-Ray player/DVD-RW is closer to $60. Pretty much anything will do here, but like HDDs and SSDs, make sure it's SATA and not IDE.

Case fans: Your case might come with some. It might not. You might want more. You might want quieter. Just make sure your case has the necessary spots to put them and read reviews from there. Bigger fans are quieter than smaller fans for a given airflow. These can run anywhere from a buck to double digits. Look for ball bearings rather than sleeve bearings as they tend to last longer.

Card reader: You might have some SD or CompactFlash or even Mini Memory Stick Duo EX Plus Alpha cards sitting around you want to connect to your computer. No need to use an external USB port for a reader when you can put one in your computer and maybe even get an extra USB port or two! Find one with the cards you want (it's hard to find ones without any specific cards, really) and read the reviews. This'll run $20 or so and fit into a 3.5" external slot (or a 5.25" with an adapter - 3.5" are becoming less common in cases as floppy drives become less common).

Floppy drive: It reads and writes floppy disks. You probably don't need one. I don't think my current motherboard even has the header for one. In any case, if you need one, get one, I guess.

Wifi card: If you want to connect to a wifi network, you'll probably need one of these, but some motherboards have it built in. (I haven't seen a modern motherboard without ethernet, so that shouldn't be an issue.) On Windows, pretty much any card will come with the necessary drivers and work well enough. Look for 802.11n cards, potentially dual-band so you can hop on the much less crowded 5 GHz band if you have the necessary equipment.

Keyboard: Not actually optional, but you might have one already! Don't cheap out here, though, since it's one of three parts you directly use your computer with, so why not get something nice? What's nice? That comes to personal preference, so I'm not recommending anything. I will note that wireless can be nice and reduce some wiring, but isn't necessary. Wireless come with its own set of concerns like battery life, reception of the receiver, and so on. Some people report a slight lag, as well.

Mouse: See keyboard.

Monitor: Like the mouse and keyboard, not technically optional, but you might have. Similarly, it's what you look at, so get something nice to look at. In general, I much prefer an IPS LCD panel over a TN LCD panel, though TN can have something of an advantage in pixel switching speed, but I game on IPS without a problem, so I think it's an overstated advantage. IPS panels generally cost a bit more, but put side by side, I can't go back.

Speakers: I don't really know enough about these to talk about them. Gaming is better in headphones, anyway!

Audio card: This processes audio in your system. Most or all modern motherboards come with at least integrated 5.1 sound if not 7.1, but there's some legitimate reasons for a discrete audio card. If you have those reasons, you probably already know this way better than me and don't need me to explain.

Cables: Pretty much all retail parts come with the necessary cables and connectors (and then some) to get them hooked up, but OEM ones usually do not. You'll have to look into the specific parts to make sure you have everything you need.

Tools: Depending on your case and everything, you may need a screwdriver or two (Philips and flathead) and a hex driver. That's pretty much the most of it, though. A grounding band is a good precaution, as well, but not strictly necessary if you otherwise follow good grounding practices.

There's lots of other parts and accessories you might want or need, but I'm not going to go into them since they start to run into really specific needs that aren't worth addressing.
Last edited by Endless Mike on Thu Aug 09, 2012 2:20 pm UTC, edited 3 times in total.

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Endless Mike
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Re: So you wanna build a computer?

Postby Endless Mike » Tue Aug 07, 2012 4:19 pm UTC

Reserved

EvanED
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Re: So you wanna build a computer?

Postby EvanED » Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:04 pm UTC

Endless Mike wrote:We get a lot of questions about building computers here, so I figure a general guide might be helpful. I'll stick to general home-use computers since that's what I'm familiar with - someone else can talk about server builds if desired. (I will probably throw some home theater PC stuff in since it's not dissimilar, just generally lower power.)

Nice guide. Should definitely be sticky'd IMO.

Maybe change the title to "So you wanna build a desktop computer?" or something just to avoid confusion.

CPU

Three additions:

- Comparing CPU frequency. Clock speeds within a processor family can be compared (a 3.0 GHz i7 will be faster than a 2.8 GHz i7), but comparing clock speeds across families -- and especially across Intel/AMD -- is a dicey proposition. For instance, when Intel first released the Core 2s, they had a markedly lower CPU frequency than the Pentium 4s, but still ran faster. (Essentially: the Pentium 4 did more cycles, but less during any one cycle; the Core 2s do fewer cycles but do more work each cycle. The i3s, i5s, i7s, etc. come out of the Core 2 lineage.)

- # cores. CPUs now are bascially all (except maybe some Atoms?) at least dual core -- this means there are essentially two processors on one chip. However, you can get more -- there are at least 6-core CPUs out there for desktops. Some tasks can easily take advantage of these extra processors; video encoding, rendering, and compilations (of several files at once) are examples. However, many cannot -- for instance, some games won't get much benefit from these. If you use a lot of workloads that will benefit from the extra cores, then it's worth it to get a CPU with more cores where each one is slower (e.g. a 2.6 GHz Core Quad instead of a 3.0 GHz Core Duo), but the reverse is true in the second case.

- Hyperthreading (SMT). Some CPUs support a feature called SMT (and which Intel uses the tradename hyperthreading). This allows the CPU to share one core across multiple tasks. So not only are there multiple cores on your CPU, but each core is doing multiple things. Some workloads see benefit from this, but many do not. Personally I wouldn't view this as much of a feature without specific knowledge that your workloads are amenable to the feature, and might go so far as to suggest turning it off in the BIOS. However, you will likely not be choosing a CPU based on the presence or absence of this feature, so I bring this up only for completeness. :-)

From there, search for the features you want: number of SATA ports, number of USB ports and headers, expansion slots, SLI/Crossfire, audio, etc.

Also take a look at the chipset, which is what essentially provides a bridge between the devices that you plug into the motherboard and the CPU. Different chipsets can have different features. For instance, Intel's Z68 chipset (kinda old now so this may be a fairly standard feature now, I dunno) introduced a feature called SSD caching, where you can use an SSD as a very large cache for a HDD as opposed to manually putting splitting up your data.

Storage: ... A 128 GB SSD will hold a complete OS, pretty much every program you regularly use, plus a few games with space to spare.

It's probably worth pointing out that "pretty much every program you regularly use" means "pretty much every non-game program", and modern AAA games will fill up space like there's no tomorrow. This is implied but it's worth mentioning explicitly, as 10-20 GB for a single game is common.

I'm a little down on SSDs because of their cost right now in terms of what I want from a drive... you can see this and some followups for a discussion. But you should also know that in terms of numbers, today's SSDs absolutely crush HDDs basically across the board, and subjectively many many people have said switching from HDD to SSD is the most cost-effective upgrade you can make.

I won't make any specific recommendations, just to avoid "green" drives for anything more than backup. They're designed for low power rather than performance, so they spin down as much as possible and are typically lower speed.

Endless Mike is more down on the idea of green drives than I am, but there are very noticeable spin up times (5-10 sec where a program will just seem to freeze) if the drive hasn't been accessed for a while, and they're not good for things where you'll regularly want to read fast. (As opposed to, say, just storing a bunch of videos to watch -- any drive will provide more than enough bandwidth to do that. Green drives will have both slower seek times and slower continuous transfer rates than normal hard drives.)

You definitely don't want a green drive as your sole drive. Endless Mike would also discourage you from getting one as a second drive (behind either an SSD or a faster HDD), but I have that and don't really regret it, so it's up to you. If you think the spin-up delay or slower speed will be annoying, don't get one. :-)

One thing to note is that both AMD and Nvidia have systems to allow multiple cards be used in a computer. In most cases, it doesn't make a lot of sense unless you're planning on spending a lot of money.

The recommendation I've seen is that you should put money into a beefier GPU before SLI/Crossfire (nVidia's/ATI's names for their multi-GPU systems) and only go that road if you've really got an excess of money. (And that you should upgrade your GPU instead of add a second one if you want an upgrade down the line.)

Perhaps another rule of thumb is "unless you're swimming in money, if you need this guide, you don't want SLI/Crossfire" :-)

Some good brands of PSU are Antec, PC Power & Cooling, and Corsair.

I have to admit that I don't know if I've heard of PC Power & Cooling. There are other good brands here too: Enermax, and perhaps Seasonic.

I'll also note that people seem to tend to overprovision their PSU by quite a lot. There's really no reason to get some 800W PSU or something if you only have one GPU. As Endless Mike said, 550W is plenty, and probably even that is overprovisioned.

Case: ...The only thing I can suggest here is that a removable motherboard tray can make things easier to put together.

There are other nice options like removable hard drive holders. A nicer case really will be nicer to work with when you're setting up your box, and may have better cable-management solutions which can lead to improved airflow and things. However, cheapass cases will work fine, they just won't be quite as nice. Personally I like some of the PSU-less cases you'll find around $100. And the case is one of the parts you will almost certainly be able to easily carry forward to your next computer, so I think it's worth it to splurge a little bit on a nicer one. (OTOH, there are some nice developments, like the move to larger fans.)

Some perks you'll find in more expensive cases include:
- Removable motherboard trays and hard drive enclosures
- Cable management stuff
- Dust filters on intakes that you can remove, clean, and replace
- Mounting places for large fans (larger fans are quieter)
- Thumbscrews
- Fewer or no sharp corners
- Bling

Finally, just make sure your choice has enough drive bays and such for what you want. (Unless you're doing something crazy and/or strange, it will.)

Heatsink fan: This keeps your CPU within its operating temperature - too hot, and it dies. Most or all retail CPUs will come with one that will be pretty much the bare minimum for that CPU. This is perfectly fine,

I'd focus on the "perfectly fine" part of that rather than the "bare minimum", which makes it sound like they're not good. The stock coolers really are fine unless you're doing overclocking or have other specific requirements.

(For instance, I got an aftermarket cooler so I could put a larger -- and hence quieter -- fan onto.)

Keyboard: I will note that wireless can be nice and reduce some wiring, but isn't necessary.

Of course this comes at the cost of batteries, sometimes reception picky-ness (on my home computer I have to put the receiver on a USB extension cord and put it near the mouse; reception back at the computer is spotty), and some say input lag (these are gamers who are either very very picky or delusional. :-)). There are two variants, especially with mice: some will take standard AA batteries, and some will come with an integrated battery and a charging cradle. My experience here is mice & keyboards that take normal AA batteries will last many months at least, but that a couple Logitech mice I've had that come with an integrated battery and charging cradle only last a few days (but also charge quickly).

You may also want a mousepad, especially if your desk has wood grain. I've had problems with that in the past. (Personally I like hard ones; I use this or something like it both at home and the office.)

Monitor: Like the mouse and keyboard, not technically optional, but you might have. Similarly, it's what you look at, so get something nice to look at. In general, I much prefer an IPS LCD panel over a TN LCD panel, though TN can have something of an advantage in pixel switching speed, but I game on IPS without a problem, so I think it's an overstated advantage. IPS panels generally cost a bit more, but put side by side, I can't go back.

I second I think everything said there.

Speakers: I don't really know enough about these to talk about them. Gaming is better in headphones, anyway!

Personally I'm strange, so I picked up a couple speakers and an old stereo receiver from Goodwill and hooked my computer up to that. :-) I like it more than the set of Altec Lansing 5.1 computer speakers it replaced (I think I paid ~$100 for those a decade ago, so they weren't great in fairness), but I only get stereo. This is in terms of both sound quality and usability. But I'm not sure I have the most discerning ears either.

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Endless Mike
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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby Endless Mike » Tue Aug 07, 2012 6:44 pm UTC

Incorporated that stuff. Thanks!

starslayer
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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby starslayer » Wed Aug 08, 2012 12:45 am UTC

I agree with basically everything said here, except to note that Seasonic is a very good brand of PSU, no "maybe" about it. They make most, if not all, of Corsair's PSUs (I know the Corsair AX series and Seasonic X series are identical except for the nameplate), and I'm pretty sure they make many of Antec's units and a lot for several other companies as well. It's only fairly recently that they've started selling Seasonic brand units to the general public. Their one downside is that they tend to be expensive.

It might also be useful to direct people here as well when they ask for help. That thread has a list of questions in it that it is very helpful to know the answers to when recommending which parts to buy and where to buy them from (for example, if they are in the US and live near a Microcenter, they should probably get the CPU+mobo from there, because it will be a lot cheaper than Amazon or Newegg).

EvanED wrote:Personally I'm strange, so I picked up a couple speakers and an old stereo receiver from Goodwill and hooked my computer up to that. :-) I like it more than the set of Altec Lansing 5.1 computer speakers it replaced (I think I paid ~$100 for those a decade ago, so they weren't great in fairness), but I only get stereo. This is in terms of both sound quality and usability. But I'm not sure I have the most discerning ears either.
You really don't need surround for a nice gaming experience IMO, and yes, an old pair of bookshelf speakers + cheap receiver will be head and shoulders above any set of "PC speakers." They also won't necessarily be any more expensive or difficult to set up.

KnightExemplar
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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby KnightExemplar » Thu Aug 09, 2012 1:54 am UTC

I'm having issues distilling my topic as it is. So I'm sure I've made the same mistake as you. But I'm not sure if we've got a full understanding of our audience. :wink: Here's a highlight:

Endless Mike wrote:Motherboard: From there, search for the features you want: number of SATA ports, number of USB ports and headers, expansion slots, SLI/Crossfire, audio, etc. Pretty much every modern motherboard will have built-in audio and ethernet and some have wifi.

*SNIP*

Storage: This is where all your files and programs and such live. There's currently two types of storage available: hard disk drives and solid state drives. HDDs have been around awhile and are, by far, the better value for your money when it comes to space. SSDs, however, are quickly coming down in price and are significantly faster as well as being completely silent and lower power than a hard drive.


Just as one example of where we need to think about our audience. Someone who doesn't know the difference between SSD and HDD probably won't know what a SATA port is either. In the Motherboard section, you casually go over SATA ports, but in the Storage section, you spend a good bit of time explaining the difference between SSD and HDD. So, it'd probably help if you mentioned what the various ports are. Everyone probably knows USB ports, but someone who has never opened up a computer won't know what a SATA port is.

A brief mention that SATA ports are used for hard drives, solid state drives and DVD / Blue Ray drives would go a long way to making the Motherboard section better. Maybe a rundown on the common technologies in the back. (PCI is legacy expansion. PCIe is more recent and used for Graphics Cards.)

Good job overall, I'll try to critically go through your post sometime later... I still gotta finish the CPU rundown >_<
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MisterCheif
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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby MisterCheif » Thu Aug 09, 2012 2:21 am UTC

This guide is really great, and I wish I had it a week ago when I was designing a computer build to replace my parents computer! (Which I am now not replacing until my Christmas break, since I leave on monday... So much for all that effort...)

I agree with Knight Exemplar that a quick rundown of what each (major, mayber) port on the motherboard does. Especially the different PCI-e variants (1x, 4x, 8x, 16x). That was probably the most confusing thing I had to deal with when I was replacing the graphics card in my old, prebuilt dell. And they're are pretty vital to know about if you plan on using any sort of PCI-e card other than just a graphics card. And if it helps, the only things I've seen that use PCI-e 1x are wireless cards, though sound cards might as well, I'm not really sure.
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Endless Mike
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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby Endless Mike » Thu Aug 09, 2012 1:32 pm UTC

Great ideas! I'll stick them in!

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mosc
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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby mosc » Thu Aug 09, 2012 4:59 pm UTC

Good job, but this whole thing will need to be re-written about every month or so. After a year, it'll do more harm than good to somebody reading it. No offense, but technology moves too fast for this type of post to have much value.
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Endless Mike
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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby Endless Mike » Thu Aug 09, 2012 6:12 pm UTC

mosc wrote:Good job, but this whole thing will need to be re-written about every month or so. After a year, it'll do more harm than good to somebody reading it. No offense, but technology moves too fast for this type of post to have much value.

Not really, no. I specifically avoided naming specific parts to prevent that. Yeah, certain things will change with time, but most of it is general enough that it shouldn't be an issue.

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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby mosc » Mon Aug 13, 2012 3:28 pm UTC

Amusing. Number of cores on a CPU, DDR3, recommending a certain size memory, the price of a 1TB hard drive, SSD vs HD to begin with, operating systems, etc etc. That entire post will be more trouble than it's worth in less than a year. People need to learn how to learn, not to be told. Teach them how to learn about CPU's not to tell them about CPU's.
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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby Wnderer » Mon Aug 13, 2012 7:34 pm UTC

Maybe you can add the date to the title. 'So you wanna build a desktop computer? 2012'. An updated version can be added next year or the year after as needed. It's not like buying a book on building computers. It's a post. It can evolve or be replaced no charge.

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Endless Mike
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Re: So you wanna build a desktop computer?

Postby Endless Mike » Tue Aug 14, 2012 3:56 pm UTC

mosc wrote:Amusing. Number of cores on a CPU, DDR3, recommending a certain size memory, the price of a 1TB hard drive, SSD vs HD to begin with, operating systems, etc etc. That entire post will be more trouble than it's worth in less than a year. People need to learn how to learn, not to be told. Teach them how to learn about CPU's not to tell them about CPU's.

So which part of this leads to the whole thing needing to be completely rewritten on a monthly basis? At most, it's a quick update when things change, which is nowhere near as fast as you're trying to make it. To use your specific comments: number of cores hasn't changed in a couple years now. Worst case, it would be a five minute effort to change. DDR3 is going to be around for at least another year, and probably a good bit longer than that. Windows 8 has the same memory requirements and limits as Windows 7, so that's at least another two years of validity. Pricing is subject to change, sure, I will concede that. SSD vs. HD will be valid for a long time coming, I think. Operating systems will continue to be valid until Linux has a legitimate gaming scene, and that's a ways off (and OS X is entirely irrelevant in this discussion).

But if you can do it better, you're welcome to do so!


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