Building a Computer
Building a computer: The basics.
First up, realise we are only here to help, not do your homework for you. We don't know every single computer hardware store online, nor do we know the cheapest. If you want to buy online, help yourself first, use an online comparison website, such as Kelkoo for the Europeans, or PriceWatch for the Americans, to find you some online stores. Remember those sites, it'll also help you find cheaper the cheaper parts.
Recommended websites for purchase are eBuyer for the Brits, NewEgg for the Americans, and NCIX for the Canadians. You may also have heard of a place called "Alienware". We neither recognise or condone Alienware as a store for great computer parts. They are far too over-expensive, and sell you what they would like you to buy, and not what you need. You will get no assistance from us if you build your computer using Alienware.
Secondly, know your parts. A computer has eight main components that are absolutely required to run, with over ten optional parts. These parts are as follows:
- Graphics/video card
- Hard disk-drive
- Mouse and keyboard
- Power Supply
- Sound/audio card
- Network Interface Card (NIC)
- CD/DVD drive
- Floppy disk drive
- Ageia PhysX card
- USB/Firewire card
And many more.
Know what you want or need to upgrade before going into a store and playing with your cash. It'll save us and yourself a huge headache. Remember that some things are are a necessity for upgrade or building, and others aren't. You won't always need the best DVD writer on the planet, but you should could use some more memory.*
Building a computer: Knowing what you do with your computer
Not everybody uses a computer for the same thing, because there are so many things you can use a computer for nowadays. The best strategy is to work out what you're going to do on a computer beforehand, then go researching the different products available. People here are more in to gaming, and will only really be able to help you thoroughly with gaming rigs, but there are a few members with knowledge of other available computer uses.
Gamers should be looking at high end graphics and processing, with copious amounts of storage and memory. This is because games are highly demanding, and everybody loves to play with the highest graphics settings available.
Office workers should be looking at cheap and reliable goods, that are the bare minimum requirements, to keep costs down and still have a computer that will do every required task. This being because people who sit around and use spreadsheets all day don't need the latest graphics card, it's just text.
Graphic designers should be looking at similar things to the gamers, but base more around the graphics capabilities given with the designer cards rather than the extreme cards. This is because a gaming card won't necasserily give the performance and standing that a designing card can offer.
Music makers should be looking more towards the high processing, memory and storage, with the extreme sound cards and speaker systems. This is because you will never get the sound quality you want from a gamer or office worker's setup, as they are only average-and-affordable quality or worse.
Building a computer: The latest parts
Computer hardware is updated so regularly and so quickly, that within a year, your computer can be practically obsolete, and you might find it hard to keep up. This guide is here to help you keep up to speed, so you know what the top end gear is in the two main sections with big rivalry and press cover.
One thing to remember is that there are many different manufacturers of everything, and I'm only going to skim over the surface of the most popular computer type (gaming) and it's most praised part manufacturers. Also keep in mind there are a lot of fanboys on this forum, who will tell you to go with one make over another because in their head they consider it better. The best way to find out which truly is better is by checking for architectural harmonies (matching chipsets between hardware parts) and by checking a reputable hardware reviewer, such as Tom's Hardware Guide.
AMD Phenom II BE955 quad core
Intel Core i7 920
Intel Core i5 750
ATI Radeon 5870 1GB
nVidia GTX 295 1796MB
Those are the two areas in which the biggest rivalry happens. They are what you need to research most on and form your own decisions about. The next set of lists are the actual manufacturers that are best to buy from, listed in most reputable to least reputable, but still in the top three.
Crucial or OCZ
A good way to judge which of the individual models in these manufacturer lines is usually by price. The rule of thumb is the more expensive it is, the better it is. But always keep in mind that things might be able to be done better. For example, a gigabyte of RAM can either be bought as a single 1024Mb stick, or two 512Mb sticks, the latter usually being cheaper, and if you decide to use dual-channeling on your RAM, the latter would also be the better choice.
Also, architectural harmonies, or matching chipsets if you want to be less fanciful, should make the following motherboard chipsets and graphics cards work better together, and perhaps even get a performance boost:
- nForce chipset/nVidia graphics
- VIA chipset/ATI graphics
Also, with the introduction of dual-graphics card machines, you need to know which dual-graphics chipset you need to get, otherwise you're going to be sitting in a big pile of expensive, copper-tracked poo.
- nVidia GeForce = SLI
- ATI Radeon = Crossfire
And as a final addition to this huge section, a personal reminder from myself is to stay away from anything marked with "SE" or "LE", these are usually budget versions of things, and tend to have highly reduced quality and performance compared to the more pricey goods.
Building a computer: Afterthoughts
It's usually a good idea to come back to the forum and post your intended system/upgrades for check-overs by the forum tech-heads, as they will know off the bat whether you've made good decisions or not, however I will add in that the users of this forum are naturally biased, and may well disagree with parts of your intended purchase purely out of fanboyism. I warn you that they will also throw in facts and figures to back up their case, and try to persuade you to follow their instruction, but remember that the final decision is yours.
Computer Terminology: The Basics
This guide works on the premise that the person reading has a basic knowledge of computers, but occasionally someone comes along who doesn't know a great deal and gets seriously thrown off by all the jargon. This guide is here to get that person back on their feet, and also act as a reminder or reference for those with the knowledge.
Computer Terminology: Slang
A lot of hardcore/dedicated computer users tend to throw around a lot of slang, such as "mobo", "GFX" and "KB/sec". A lot of this is purely statistical, based on the performance of their system, but there are a few terms which are used for other reasons.
References to measurements are as such:
- GHz - GigaHertz, processor speed.
- KB/sec - KiloBytes per second, download speed.
- FPS - Frames Per Second, graphic renders, usually in games, per second.
- Hz - Hertz, usually monitor refresh rate if it is only Hz and not MHz/GHz.
- 1024x768 - Monitor resolution, the maximum pixels (WxH) the resolution supports. Other resolutions include, but are not limited to: 800x600, 1280x1024, 1600x1200. Generally, the higher the number is, the smaller/more detailed things will appear on the screen, and the larger the resolution is considered.
Other slang, mostly in reference to hardware:
- MoBo - Motherboard.
- GFX - Graphics/video card.
- SFX - Sound/audio card.
- Hyperthread - Intel-specific CPU hardware. Hyperthreading is essentially 64-bit processing, but without actually being a 64-bit chip. The effects have always been debated.
- Dual-Core - A single processor unit consisting of two separate processor chips working together.
- Page-File - A section of hard-disk used by the Operating System to swap files in and out of the RAM from the HDD.
- Dual-Channel - A method of data movement used by the RAM, dual-channeling takes pairs of RAM (twinned pairs, usually) and treats them as a single unit, splitting the data sent between the two separate buses that each stick uses.
- RAID Array - A method of setting up hard-drives to ignore physical partitions to create a single, apparently larger hard-drive, which uses the same technique as Dual-Channeling (although RAID came first) to speed up the read/write speeds, or create on-the-fly backups of everything, as it is created.
Computer Terminology: Acronyms
Within the computer world, there are a million and one acronyms, and it's easy to get lost in them. This section will go over the most commonly used acronyms, and give very brief descriptions of their details.
Discs and Disks
- CD - Compact Disc, a 700Mb removable optical storage disc that has been the standard from about 1992 to the present day.
- DVD - Digital Versatile Disc, a 4Gb multi-layered removable optical storage disc that is rapidly becoming the new standard of removable optical media, and is already the standard storage for high-quality films.
- HDD - Hard Disk-Drive, a large capacity non-removable magnetic storage device usually kept internal to the computer, although external HDDs do exist and are widely and commonly used. Pretty much the 'long-term memory' of a computer.
RAM and ROM
- RAM - Random Access Memory, the 'short-term' memory of a computer, used to temporarily store commands, instructions, and files for quick reference for the OS and CPU.
- ROM - Read Only Memory, usually things like non-rewritable CDs and DVDs.
- DDR - Double Data Rate, the fastest kind of RAM.
- SD - Synchronous Dynamic, the cheapest kind of RAM.
- RD - Rambus Dynamic, an old style of RAM that was considered far superior to all other RAM types, despite the massive cost and production time. Sometimes written as DRD (Direct Rambus Dynamic.)
- URL - Uniform Resource Locator, the address you see in the address bar of your web browser.
- HTTP - HyperText Transfer Protocol, the standard method to transfer information over the WWW, in the form of webpages.
- WWW - World Wide Web, the almost infinite web of web pages.
- IP - Internet Protocol, the data-based protocol used for transmitting data across a network of any kind.
- TCP - Transmission Control Protocol, the standard method used to create connections to other computers across the Internet.
- CPU - Central Processing Unit, the computer's processor.
- PSU - Power Supply Unit, the box that feeds electricity to all the components.
I will keep this thread updated regularly with all the latest equipment and any developments in manufacturer reputations. I will also add more to to the guide and the references as I see fit, and when I have extra time. There is still a LOT to go over, and any reminders/suggestions from the forum regulars over IRC, MSN or other would be greatly appreciated, in regards to what I need to run over in greater detail, or even at all.
* - Technically, you don't need a case. Don't bitch at me for not making it a "required" part. I've had a 486 running in a cardboard box for years.