Building a Computer: Part Two

Hopefully you took a good look around Newegg at some of the parts available to you for building a computer. By now you are overwhelmed by choice, even I am when I go to build a new machine after years of doing so. Newegg is spectacular and it is the only place I really recommend for purchasing components.

If you aren’t sure what components to choose from or even where to get started, have no fear, the internet is here. There are many resources available to you that will decide for you, based on price point. Check out some of these sites:

Logical Increments – “The PC builder’s friend. Always free. Always awesome.” This site is excellent and is regularly updated. Best viewed on a nice big screen to get a broad overview of what components they recommend from every price point, as low as $200 to as much as $3500+. It is interesting to see how much computer you can get for every dollar more.

PC Part Picker – “Pick Parts. Build Your PC. Compare and Share.” The part picking function is an excellent representation of the amount of choice on the open market. I find it to be annoying to use and I find that I give up quickly after searching for the exact model of CPU or motherboard that I am using in a build. But the nice thing about this site is the inclusion of benchmarks and computer builds from other people all over the world.

Choose My PC – “Cookie Cutter PC Build Generator” This site offers you the best bang for your buck recommendations, but leaves a few things out that I believe are essential to a more reliable build. I do like its simplicity, though.

In deciding on components, here are some opinions I have for you to consider:

  • When deciding on a case consider where your computer will be, often it is tucked away out of sight. With this in mind, practical and without flare is what I would recommend more than the cases that come with thousands of LEDs, fan controllers, and other gizmos you’ll wish you never paid for when they stop working in six months. If you want something small, go for an ITX form factor. Be sure that the motherboard you decide on is compatible and will fit in the case. I would recommend sticking with an ATX mid tower form factor for your first build due to its ease of maintenance and excellent air flow. My first choice of case brands is 1) Cooler Master, 2) Corsair, and 3) Antec. Anything with good reviews will probably be excellent, so don’t limit your choices to what I recommend.
  • If your case includes case fans but has a few slots to accommodate extras, consider purchasing a few more. These range in price from $5 to $15 depending on how quiet or efficient they are. Cheap fans are fine as long as you are okay with the added noise. Most cases arrange airflow to enter through the front and exhaust through the back.
  • Never skimp on your power supply. It will surely fail in due time (about two years) if not 80 Plus/Bronze/Gold certified. I speak from experience here, on multiple occasions. Pay the extra $20 for the better rated model. Check the reviews and ensure that the wattage is adequate enough for what components you decide upon. For simple builds below $500, you can generally get a power supply at about 400 watts and be okay. Anything with a single dedicated graphics card should start at 450 watts and work up depending on your CPU/GPU choices. SLi and Crossfire builds will require specialized power supplies with extra PCI express power support. Modular power supplies allow you to connect only the cables you need to eliminate extra cable slack in your case from obstructing airflow. Although an excellent concept on paper, I find that for my builds it makes minimal difference. You’ll be better off putting that money into a higher wattage or a better certification rating. My first choice of power supply brands is 1) Corsair, 2) Rosewill (Newegg brand), and 3) EVGA (if you have the dough).
  • When considering a processor, don’t let benchmarks or reviews from opinion sites sway your choice too much. A lot of the processors today are excellent and there isn’t a war between AMD or Intel. Choose what fits your budget and needs. Gaming is generally preferred on an Intel processor and multi-tasking and general applications will run quite well on the latest from AMD. As of the day this article is written, an Intel 8 core is still unattainable by many. The AMD 8 core though, is quite attainable. What does this mean for you? It means little actually, because most programs are not designed to take advantage of either in their full capacity. Understand that more cores in general does mean more multi-tasking ability, which is helpful if you like doing a lot of things at one time with your computer. The build featured in this article will be an AMD. Again, I have no preference here. I own both in many different computers and form factors.
  • Stock CPU Coolers are not an option for me. I’ve seen way too many stock coolers that are inadequate and laughable. I’m not even sure why manufacturers choose to include them anymore, most people that build their own PC’s are purchasing separate coolers. I’ve seen a direct link between the longevity of processors and the choice of a beefier CPU cooler. Under extreme load circumstances, it’s very important for the processor to be able to dissipate heat efficiently, even if these loads only occur once in a blue moon. This process is a pain even with help, because the motherboard is such a delicate piece of hardware, and you don’t want to botch it. Open up a Dell or HP and look at what kind of heatsink/fan is ontop of the processor, I guarantee you that it’ll be tiny and stupid, mounts made of plastic. I’ve seen some stupid designs go into the Dell XPS models, which are supposed to be higher quality. The best brand and model to consider is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO, it’s about $35 and I’ve used it a dozen times without trouble. The only gripe I have regarding these is the fact that you will need to remove the stock CPU cooler mount and mount the included Cooler Master backplate.
  • Motherboards are easy to skimp on. I am quite biased when it comes to purchasing motherboards, as I only purchase Gigabyte branded boards. Call me crazy but I firmly believe that they strike the best balance between reliability and performance. I’ve built computers with everything from the best known manufacturers like Intel (pure shit), Asus (pretty good but buggy),  to the once little known but now popular Biostar (nice). I also greatly weigh reviews on Newegg, with consideration given to DOAs (dead on arrival) and issues with BIOS. Sometimes certain chipsets will give you hell no matter what you do.
  • Graphics cards break down into a couple main price points: $40, $150, $225, and $350. I’ve found these price points to provide the best points of bang for your buck. One of the things you have to accept when deciding on a graphics card is that you absolutely get what you pay for, so if you only have $150 to spend but want the performance of a $225 card, good luck. Check out the Tom’s Hardware article series on the “Best Graphic’s Card for the Money.” Here is a link to the September 2014 issue. Graphics cards are important, if you decide not to buy one for your computer than you might as well go buy a Dell and call it a day. This is the primary component that popular manufacturers skimp on; they are all guilty of this, Apple included.
  • I don’t care too much about RAM/memory. Go for the highest reviews and the middle of the range clock speed. Always cross check with your motherboard manufacturer on their supported RAM list. Gigabyte helpfully supplies this information right on their website, which is excellent by the way. I recently bought a lot of G.Skill RAM, I look forward to seeing how well it holds up and will be sure to report.
  • SSD’s are finally cheap and stable for the most part. Good brands include Sandisk and Crucial. I’ll need to report back on how I’ve found either of these brands to be in more detail, but so far they have behaved well in my time with them. The “liteonit” SSD in my Dell Latitude E7240 is fast but definitely lags behind the ones I’ve used with my latest desktop builds, could be the mobile chipset causing the lag though.

Quite the wall of text there, but I hope that my opinion will be taken with some consideration. I really do believe that brand matters when looking at which components to purchase. Good experiences speak to me and I am always sure to remember the bad ones as well. If you went to a restaurant and weren’t satisfied, would you ever go back? I wouldn’t and generally don’t.

By now you should have a pretty good idea of what you want in your new computer. Feel free to use my part list spreadsheet to record the information and estimate your total cost to make sure it fits your budget.

Continue to Part Three, where we begin the build process.