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Guide To Computer Builds


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#1 +shift.

shift.

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 20:08

So lately, especially since it's been summer, I've noticed a lot of people asking for help with their computer builds.

Often times, the same questions are asked over and over again (if you frequently help people in Hardware Hangout with their computer builds you would know what I mean).

As well, I also so see a lot of people not providing enough information in order for others to be able to make the proper recommendations with what hardware to buy, why this chipset is better than that chipset etc.

I hope this thread will help reduce some of the more generic questions that are being asked to save time (and to save the effort of having to ask the same questions everytime someone needs help with a new build).

So for those of you who already do this, then great. For those of you who don't, read ahead and I highly recommend you try what this guide will teach you. You'll notice you get a lot more replies and you'll get your help way faster. :)

To start off, when someone asks for help with a computer build, that person usually has their own specific purposes for the computer they are planning on building. Thus, before you make your thread in Hardware Hangout, you should ask yourself at least the following questions (this is the part that is inspired by gwai lo)

Here's a brief rundown of the questions, in case you don't want to go through the entire thread cause I do understand that it's a bit long and to some of you it may look like a huge wall of text.

1. What are your other components / What components are you planning on buying?
2. What's your budget?
3. What are you using your computer for?
4. What size is your monitor? To SLI/Crossfire or not to SLI/Crossfire?
5. When are you buying? Should I wait?!
6. Are you overclocking?
7. Where do you plan on buying from?
8. Do you want any specific features?


1. What are your other components / What components are you planning on buying?

Well, without knowing what your other components are, it is VERY difficult to give any advice as to what to recommend for your computer. Why? Well say you're asking for help, and no one else really has an idea of what your other computer components are it's difficult to determine whether or not the parts we are recommending will even be compatible. Additionally, maybe you are building a computer to replace an existing one, it would be nice to let the other members know whether you can transfer a hard drive or two from your old build into a new one, or whether you can use an optical drive that you already have.

Just as a reference as to what components you may want to include in your spec list starting from top to bottom:

PSU, Video Card (if applicable), CPU, RAM, Motherboard, Hard Drives, Optical Drives, Case, CPU Cooler

2. What's your budget?

Well this is quite self explanatory. As most of you already know the computer hardware industry is roughly split up into three groups. The mainstream group of which make up most of the computer hardware "market share". The enthusiasts, this is the section that I assume most people posting on a technology forum would comprise of, and then there are the "extreme enthusiast" group (I couldn't really think of the term for that) which is made up of the people who really have no limit to their budget, are into extreme overclocking (ie. World Record breaking overclocks, watercooled quad SLI setup, Core 2 Extreme processors etc).

Each group will have their own respective price ranges. And without knowing what your budget is, it's hard to recommend hardware that belong to a particular price range.

If anything, knowing your budget is THE most important question to answer in your initial post when asking for help with a computer build, whether it's for a video card only, a processor ONLY or whether your budget is for the entire system.

IMPORTANT NOTE: PLEASE remember to state the currency that your budget will be in. It is quite confusing when someone posts a $10,000 budget just to realize that it's not in USD or CAD. :p

3. What are you using your computer for?

Again, quite self explanatory. Computers nowadays are being used for a wide variety of purposes, from video editing and rendering, to heavy AutoCAD work, to light, moderate and serious gaming, to just regular office applications, e-mail and watching movies. Make sure you state what your future computer is going to be used for so that people who try to help don't recommend the wrong hardware. I would hate to see someone recommend a 9800GX2 when all you're going to be doing is sending email and browsing the internet.

4. What size is your monitor? To SLI or not to SLI?

Well this question may seem strange at first, but it's actually quite important. Why you ask? The size of the monitor is important in order to determine which video card to recommend. This is more for the people who are involved with the moderate to intense gaming. As a gamer, you want to push the max FPS (frames per second) out of your system at a given resolution. A lot of people seem to think that SLI / Crossfire means better! Well this is not exactly the case, as many of you may (or may not know) SLI / Crossfire does not scale too well. What do I mean by scale? It means that if one single video card (with a single GPU) is providing 100% of the performance at a given game (say Half Life 2) adding another single GPU video card (of the same type) and putting it into SLI / Crossfire does NOT mean you will get DOUBLE the frame rate at a given resolution, and given game. For the price you are paying for TWO video cards, you could be only getting 20-30% performance increase for double the price.

5. When are you buying? Should I wait?!

Answering this question will allow us to determine WHAT specific hardware to recommend. Remember hardware is CONSTANTLY changing, and if you are making a computer build for 4-6 months down the line or even a year down the line, the hardware available will MOST LIKELY be drastically different. Just take Q3 and the end of Q2 2008 for example. ATI released TWO new video cards, and NVIDIA released TWO new video cards putting the total to four. And a few of NVIDIA and ATI's video cards were put on EOL (End of Life) meaning they are no longer going to be produced and they will just let supplies run out.

A general rule of thumb is to not wait more than a month or so for new hardware. The computer hardware industry is moving forward SO fast that it's almost impossible for your system to stay up to date for more than 6-7 months anyway. As well, if you keep playing the waiting game for new hardware, you'll find yourself ALWAYS waiting for new hardware to come out before you grab it. Buy right away, and upgrade when you can. In this situaton, it would be extremely beneficial to the forum members helping you if you included your current setup, and then your intended setup. This is just to make sure you're not doing something strange like upgrading from a E8200 to an E8500.

6. Are you overclocking?

This question needs to be addressed because most of you MAY or may not be overclockers. Well here's an example, if you're building a computer, and you are NOT going to be overclocking, BUT in your initial computer build spec list, you have an aftermarket CPU cooler. Well that's just money wasted right? Because if you're not overclocking the stock Intel cooler will save you about $30-60 off your budget!

And if you ARE overclocking, what type of cooling should you get? A good hint generally with aftermarket cooling is go for the high end cooling, or stick with stock until you can afford high end cooling. There is NO reason to grab some mediocre aftermarket cooling that will perform close to stock cooling (not to mention you are already spending $30+ on a cooler, why not get the best?)

7. Where do you plan on buying from?

Quite self explanatory again, as if there is a specific place that you wish to buy from (maybe you are from the US/UK or Canada or wherever and your online retail store options are very limited). Including this in your thread just helps streamline everything and make it easier for people to provide direct links to pieces of hardware. This is especially important if you aren't from North America or the UK, try to provide a link to the website you plan on ordering from as well.

Refer to the following thread if you need some Hardware Shopping Websites: http://www.neowin.ne...showtopic=55653

8. Do you want any specific features?

Maybe you NEED to go SLI/Crossfire, well if you don't say that then I think 90% of the people here will recommend a single GPU video card. :p
Or maybe you have a need for two ethernet ports? Or maybe RAID? Make sure you include any extra features that you wish to have in your system so you we don't recommend something that doesn't have what you need, or has TOO many features that you don't use!

With all those questions answered, you SHOULD be in good shape to recieve some pretty good advice from the hardware geeks here at Neowin.

Futhermore, I would like to explain a few things that members may (or may not) already know about.

Bang for buck

In very technical terms, it means increasing your price to performance ratio. gwai lo and chconline made a few crude MS paint charts a few weeks back which explained this VERY nicely, I'll try to find those and add it to this thread. But in a nutshell, it means that you want to pay less, for hardware that will perform better than the competing hardware. For example, an ATI 4850 will cost about $200 for (the following figures are fake for the purposes of this thread) 50FPS at max settings in Crysis, while an NVIDIA 9800GTX+ wil cost $240 for 53FPS at max settings in Crysis. If you calculate it (divide the cost of your video card by the FPS you are get) you will be paying 4$ per FPS for the 4850, while you are paying $4.52 per FPS for the 9800GTX+ (at any given resolution). In the end the choice is yours to make, but the (fake) numbers should explain what I'm trying to get at that $4 per FPS is better thn $4.52 per FPS, especially if you put into account that you run most games at at least 30FPS or greater.

Here are the "MS Paint" charts that explains bang for buck:
Credit goes to gwai lo

Posted Image

This graph indicates a system that is LOW in performance, and LOW in cost. This is what your system might be initially.

Posted Image

This graph indicates a system that is HIGH in performance, but also HIGH in cost. Notice how as your variables on the x (money) and y (performance) axis' increase, the increase in money is substantial, but the increase in performance is diminishing.

Posted Image

Now finally, this graph shows that if you take the graph from above (HIGH performance, HIGH monetary cost) and you decrease performance by a bit, the variable on the x (money) axis decreases substantially. This is what I truly mean by "bang for buck", as the performance decrease you get will be quite minimal, but the money that you save far outweigh the performance decrease that you get.

As a result, you have a system that performs CLOSE to a very expensive system, but you also save a ton more. It's my HOPE that most builds will try to aim for this type of balance.

The importance of choosing a QUALITY power supply unit (PSU)

The PSU is one of (if not THE) most important component(s) in your computer. It is important to buy a good quality PSU from a reputable manufacturer because your computer needs to be provided with CLEAN low ripple power.

Many PSU manufacturer's advertise their PSU as being able to supply x amount of power (let's say 500W). Well that's all fine and dandy, but you have to consider whether or not this 500W PSU is able to supply continuously 500W for a given period of time, or is it just the PEAK setting that the PSU is able to reach for a few seconds? As well, is this 500W that is advertised given at ROOM temperature? Or is it given at the PSU's OPERATING temperature? Most companies will probably state their wattage at ROOM temperature (of about 23-26C) while a PSU'S OPERATING temperature is more likely closer to 40-43C. A PSU'S power output capabilities are decreased as the temperature rises. As well, you have to differentiate the PSU'S MTBF (Mean Time Between Failures) as at OPERATING temperature, or ROOM temperature. Again you have to consider the context in which this information is provided; a PSU's MTBF will be lower as the temperature rises. So an MTBF of 100,000 hours @ 40C is better than an MTBF of maybe 150,000 hours @ 23C.

So when buying a PSU, consider how much wattage you need, what kind of computer you are using this PSU to power, and whether or not this PSU can provide the power that the manufacturer has advertised, and of course whether or not your PSU provides the necessary connectors that you require for your computer.

If you want more info, take a look at the following link: http://www.hardwares...m/article/181/1 - Everything You Need To Know About Power Supplies

Of particular interest is page 11 regarding voltage ripple and noise.

As well as this: http://www.jonnyguru...read.php?t=1036 - The "Power Supply" FAQ.

Hopefully, this will also quiet down the "I'm going to get a 1000W PSU because it's going to be there in case I need it even though I'm only running a single video card setup with a max power draw of about 650W" :p

I hope this guide helps, feel free to send me a PM if I missed anything that you think is important, and I'll see if it needs to be added.

Recent Changes: Added descriptions to gwai lo's images.

Edited by shift., 03 February 2010 - 06:33.



#2 +gwai lo

gwai lo

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 20:12

edit: hmmm, didn't read the last line.

I got the images here:

edit2: uncluttering :)

Edited by gwai lo, 03 July 2008 - 20:35.


#3 OP +shift.

shift.

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 20:25

Thanks :)

#4 Vlad

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Posted 03 July 2008 - 22:12

Man those pictures are hilarious! Thanks for the guide SHiFT. A post like this has been badly needed. That power supply link you gave was probably on the best reviews/whatever I've ever read. If only more people believed that you don't need 750W power supplies for basic setups...

#5 OP +shift.

shift.

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 01:04

No problem :)

Yeah the JonnyGURU and Hardware Secrets reviews are good reads for sure. Hopefully less people start grabbing those generic PSU's as well.

#6 CrashGordon

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 02:24

I vote to Pin this thread! :yes:

As you've already said, these same questions come up constantly. But people have to actually use it in order for it to be effective. I don't mind answering questions, but answering the same questions over and over again is just too much sometimes.



P.S. I love those sketches. (Y)

#7 +Mystic

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 02:27

The sketches alone make me give this topic 5 stars. :p

Great guide and this will hopefully cut down on a lot of clutter and save us all some time when helping others.

#8 OP +shift.

shift.

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 04:36

Thanks guys. Yeah gwai lo made some pretty awesome sketches :D

Just got a little repetitive answering all the generic questions related to everyone making "help me with my computer build" threads.

Hope this will save some time (assuming people actually take a look at it) so we can get right down to the knitty gritty details of each specific computer build. :p

#9 CrashGordon

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 04:55

I hope a Mod will pin or sticky this thread. It might reduce the total number of posts, but in the end it will produce quality posts (in this section at least) which will be more helpful to the person asking for suggestions. Once we get the general details (as listed in post #1) we can as -SHiFT- said "get down to the knitty gritty" of the specific details.

Not to take credit away from anyone, but why hasn't someone done this before? This topic is a great idea (as long as people use it). I can see this as a very useful and time saving idea for everyone involved.

#10 NextGen_Gamer

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 04:55

I vote to Pin this thread! :yes:

As you've already said, these same questions come up constantly. But people have to actually use it in order for it to be effective. I don't mind answering questions, but answering the same questions over and over again is just too much sometimes.



P.S. I love those sketches. (Y)

I agree with the pinning suggestion.

Awesome guide you put together -SHiFT-. And kudos to gwai lo on the awesome sketches. :D

#11 OP +shift.

shift.

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 05:06

Thanks. If you guys could help out (in future "help me with my computer build threads") by pointing people to this in case they do end up asking those common questions that would be awesome.

Not really looking for high post count in this thread, but a high view count is definitely a plus, even if people just skim over my first post.

For those of you who help out a lot in Hardware Hangout you should know how frustrating it can be sometimes answering the same questions over and over again.

Edited by -SHiFT-, 04 July 2008 - 05:12.


#12 CrashGordon

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 05:20

Thanks. If you guys could help out (in future "help me with my computer build threads") by pointing people to this in case they do end up asking those common questions that would be awesome.

Not really looking for high post count in this thread, but a high view count is definitely a plus, even if people just skim over my first post.

For those of you who help out a lot in Hardware Hangout you should know how frustrating it can be sometimes answering the same questions over and over again. :hmm:

I have no problem referring folks to this thread to (get the basic questions) out of the way and focus on the details of the persons build.

Yes, I personally can only deal with so many of the same questions over and over and over again, it's not really fair to the one's asking for help but you can only answer the same question so many times before it starts to get repetitive.

#13 vetRadishTM

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 13:47

Sorry, won't pin this due to the images that made me LOL :laugh:

On the other hand :shifty:

Radish™

#14 OP +shift.

shift.

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Posted 04 July 2008 - 18:16

HAHA! Images the star of the show, thanks a lot Radish.

#15 BoJo

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Posted 06 July 2008 - 02:46

Ah, I think I was the fool who started talking about EE processors before I understood it and got bombed with differential graphs :p

If you could find that thread, I think someone drew a really neat looking one (not that your graphs aren't top notch gwai :rofl:)

Edit: found the graph + explanation

Credit goes to chconline

Posted Image