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.

Laravel: The Latest in (Refined) Web Application Frameworks

Learning PHP from front to back to develop a web application has proven daunting for many of us who like to focus on front end design. I cannot express to you how much of a headache I get when I think about all of the components I would need to understand better in order to develop a basic blogging or CMS engine. Luckily, thanks to the hard work of many talented web application developers, there are now many open source frameworks available for use.

Layers upon layers being built upon existing languages, with repurposed code being organized and made available for the masses – it’s a prime example of Laravel.

There is a very talented web developer named Maksim Surguy who has written an excellent introductory article for the new framework. I would highly recommend taking a look at his write up as it offers a good balance of technical knowledge and entry level explanation.

Building a Computer: Part One

If you’ve decided to build your own computer but are not sure where to begin, you’ve come to a pretty decent article (among many) that aims to put you in the right direction. You will save hundreds of dollars of your hard earned money, learn something new about the standards and design of computer hardware, and will understand better the ripoff that surrounds purchasing a desktop computer from a brand name manufacturer. I’ve written this article to be simple, for those who have never thought of doing such a thing for themselves before, but have the willpower to try!

I built my first computer in middle school after reading a few articles about doing so and seeing the end result from a friend, Rob. At the early age of 14, I had successfully researched, procured parts, and assembled a machine that ran quite well for most of my time in high school. My second machine, built in my senior year of high school, got me through college entirely without a hitch. Both of these machines still run to this day without fault. Impressive? Absolutely. Am I surprised? Not for a minute. I know what went into those machines and why they continue to run so well.

What is most revealing about this story is the fact that there have been many manufactured computers that have come and gone in their life cycle during the last 8 years. Think of all the Dell  and Hewlett Packard’s that lasted just beyond the crest of their warranty expiry, only to be trashed (by frustrated or continually optimistic rich people) with hardware that probably would otherwise still be operational if only for a few minor changes in design, efficiency, airflow, and procurement research.

The beginning of a computer starts with a basic understanding of what each component does, so that you can better decide what you want to buy that will suit your needs the best. I’ve made a table below that outlines the basics, enough for you to wrap your head around it all so you can start researching on your own.

Case ($40-$100) This is the box that your selected components will mount into. Cases come in different sizes, some small and some large. The larger size is referred to as ATX, the smaller is commonly referred to as ITX. This sizing information will coincide with the selection of your motherboard and possibly other components for your computer.
Case Fans ($10-$20) Cases often come with a few fans that are preinstalled, but sometimes it’s a good idea to buy a few more to ensure that your computer has adequate airflow. Generally, the front of the case intakes air and the rear of the case exhausts hot air from components. The most common size of case fan is 120mm.
Power Supply ($50-$100) Power supplies for computers are relatively standardized, they take regulated power from an outlet and transfer it into usable and stable power for components in your computer. Many power supplies look like a box with a bundle of thick wires coming out the side. They range in voltage from 300w to as much as 1200w (1.2kw). This range is dependent upon the components you choose but is not required to be a specific choice, the power supply will regulate its output based on the component load.
Optical Drive ($15) These are becoming obsolete, but are often still desirable due to their use of reading CD’s, DVD’s, and Blu Ray discs. Optical drives are very inexpensive and are generally recommended in a desktop computer. Often times, the operating system software (explained below) still comes loaded on a DVD that you must read to offload the data onto your hard disk.
Memory Reader ($20) Used to read common types of memory cards often found in your camera or cell phone. SD cards are the most commonly used due to their size and read/write performance. A must have for every computer build, in my opinion.
CPU ($100-$1000) The brain of your computer and often the smallest component. This chip looks like a small square with hundreds of tiny pins on the back that mount to the motherboard. There are two big manufacturers of processors that dominate the market: AMD and Intel. Both are excellent choices and are dependent on the user need for performance or value. As of late, AMD has been the value oriented choice and Intel has been the performance market leader.
CPU Cooler ($30) Think of it as the air conditioning for your processor. Generally it is a copper pad, with a heatsink attached to it, and a fan that pulls cold air across the fins of the heatsink. I would never recommend using the stock heatsink and fan that comes with the processor. For about $30 you can purchase a significantly larger and better designed cooler unit for your processor.
Motherboard ($60-$200) The backbone of your computer, or nervous system; the motherboard controls all routing information between every major component including the processor. It takes power from the power supply and routes it to the major components including the CPU, RAM, connectivity ports, and more. I believe that the best motherboards are manufactured by a company called Gigabyte.
GPU ($80-$500) The eyes of your computer, all visual data requested by the processor is delivered to the graphics ports on the back of your computer. This card is sometimes integrated into the motherboard, but for the purposes of making your own computer, you’ll almost always want to purchase a dedicated card for this purpose. Graphics cards make or break the performance of a computer today and are generally the most expensive component. There are two major players in video graphics cards: Nvidia and AMD (formerly ATI).
RAM ($50-$200) RAM is the temporary memory of your computer, operational when the computer is in a powered on state. A good analogy of RAM is the free space on top of your desk, used to allow your brain (or CPU) time to process and work through information. The bigger the bank of RAM you have, the more intensive the tasks your computer can handle at a given period of time. Good RAM is produced by many companies, I often purchase G.Skill branded RAM. RAM comes in smaller sizes and is generally more expensive due to it’s fast read/write capabilities.
SSD ($75-$175) This is the primary storage of your computer, it keeps information even when the computer is off. SSD stands for Solid State Drive. These are the latest in computer storage and have become cheap enough to attain for any level of budget. They are different from a classical hard disk because they do not have moving parts. They are flash based memory. Hard disks are now obsolete in my opinion.
OS Software ($120) This is the software that loads onto your computer, the most popular is Microsoft Windows.

 

Now that we’ve explored the different types of components, let’s set a budget. They range in price, starting from $350 (some say you can build for less) to as much as $3,000+. If you aren’t sure what budget to set but don’t want to spend too much, a good price point is around $800. This is the price point that I believe you will see the most bang for your buck, including longevity of components. Often times the higher price is commanded due to the reliability of the components rather than their performance. When you buy from a name brand, you get neither.

The best places to purchase these components is Newegg or Amazon, due to quick shipping, and decent exchange policies in the rare case of a faulty component. To end this article, I would recommend you go ahead and shop around for a bit to see what’s on the market at Newegg. It’s okay if you aren’t entirely sure what to look for, just start by looking at computer cases or motherboards. Take notice of the specifications of these components and try to cross reference the denotation of sizing standards I mentioned in the chart above.

Continue to part two, where we discuss more in depth the choice of components.

Building a Computer: My Part List Spreadsheet

pc-build-public.xlsx – Click to download a spreadsheet outlining my future computer build for the  series on “Building a Computer.”

And, the quick and dirty specs for those who would rather not download:

Case Fractal Design Define R4 Arctic White
Case Fans 1 x 120mm top and 1x 140mm front (Fractal Models)
Power Supply Corsair CXM 600 Modular
Optical Drive ASUS Internal 24X DVD Burner
Memory Reader Rosewill RCR-IC001
CPU AMD FX-8350 Eight-Core 4GHz AM3+
CPU Cooler CM Hyper 212 Evo
Motherboard GIGABYTE GA-990FXA-UD3 Rev.4
GPU XFX Radeon R7 265 2GB 256-Bit DDR5
RAM G.Skill Ripjaws 8GB DDR3 1600
SSD SanDisk Extreme II 120GB (x2 in RAID 0)
OS Software Win 8.1 Pro 64 Bit

My First Post: Some Intentions and Thoughts

I’ve always wanted to have my own blog where I could store research, thoughts, opinions, and some cool pictures. I don’t expect much from this but I do hope that perhaps somebody would be able relate to it, find it useful, or have a good laugh.

Eventually, I’d like to work on an automotive journalism blog that would include video productions. It’s difficult to start something like that without ever having some decent writing experience. One of my main goals in all of this is to find my voice and writing style.

Some topics I’d like to touch on include:
Warning! Thought vomit ahead..

  • The basics of website development, a tutorial
  • Some documentation behind the HTML5UP themes developed by @n33co
  • A general list of helpful links I have compiled over the years, regarding website development and programming in general
  • A gamut of tutorials to help friends or relatives learn things on the computer or internet
  • The basics of building your own computer, a tutorial
  • The advanced topics and considerations in building your own computer
  • A review for every car in the family. First a written post and eventually a video to coincide.
  • Continuation of my cooking show, The Tiny Kitchen.
  • Video reviews of nearly anything I deem original and review-able. Good example is my ordering experience with Frames Direct.
  • Automotive opinions; with bitching about GM and Chrysler and praise for Subaru, Acura, Lexus, Toyota (yeah, I said it), Honda, Ford, and any other brand that doesn’t obviously have a bureaucracy plagued by three day weekends and coffee breaks.
  • Best car for the money posts
  • Car deal/find of the day for the Maryland area
  • Complaining about first world nonsense

Ok, I think that’s enough for now. Now to go waste time picking a WordPress theme while later realizing that “2014” is probably the best one because it looks simple and seems to be viewport responsive.