Saturday, September 15, 2012

. . . How to Build a New PC

Because it is a well-known fact among the members of the various social circles that I roll around in that I am fairly knowledgeable when it comes to PC tech, I am often asked for advice on upgrading or building new PC's.  That's fair enough I suppose, considering that I am the same me that once wrote a ten page rant on why buying a PC off-the-shelf was a sucker play unless it was a notebook PC.  I still believe that when it comes to desktop PC's you are always (always) better off hand-building it, and I am not talking about the web form that you find on sites like HP where they help you "custom build" your PC -- that is not custom building, that is selecting the odd bits that go into an already cast system (again save for notebooks, which it is always a good idea to tailor as much as you can).

When you buy a PC off-the-shelf what you are getting is whatever the manufacturer decided was within the budget for that price point, which basically means they were not hand-selecting the hardware that was used to build the PC based upon the highest quality or the models or bits that would best serve the end-user, rather they were selecting it all based on its cost.  To maximize their profit.  Not your satisfaction.   Don't take this wrong, they want you to be happy, but there is a huge difference between being happy and getting the most for your money.

The Economics of Building 

When you  buy a PC there is a basic ratio between the different parts and their costs (or their should be) with items like the CPU and Motherboard usually having a 1-to-1 ratio, while the rest of the kit that makes up the PC has no real relationship at all with respect to cost.  When you build a PC and you are hand-picking the best bits there are genuine relationships that you can use as a way to guide yourself and to tell if you are on the right track.

The following example is the patented Boots-Faubert formula for building a PC (and selecting the parts and how to do that) and you are invited to make use of this as you budget out your new build -- bearing in mind that I believe that a new custom-built PC should be good for a minimum of four years (with upgrades as needed) before it needs to be completely replaced.

You can easily figure out the system that I use by following along with the stats for my most recent PC build (which is from 2010 but for the most part still contains kit I would use today) which details what I consider to be my primary work PC:

CPU: Intel Core i7 930 ($289.99) **
CPU Cooling: Thermaltake Frio ($59.99)
Motherboard: ASUS P6T ($189.99)
RAM: Kingston 16GB DDR3 1600MHz Kit 4x4GB ($101.99)
Graphics: AMD 100-505648 FirePro V5900 - 2GB, GDDR5, PCI-Express 2.1 (x16), DVI, Dual DisplayPort, DirectX 11, Single-Slot, CrossFire Ready ($439.99)
HDD Cage: iStarUSA 3x5.25 -4x3.5 SATA Hot-Swap Raid ($89.99)
Hard Drives: x4 Seagate 1.5TB LP Serial ATA HD 5900/64MB/SATA-6G ($89.99 each)
Optical Drives: Sony Optiarc BD-5300S-03 Internal 12x Blu-ray Burner Drive - 12x, SATA, Black, OEM ($99.99)
Case: Thermaltake Full Tower ($109.99)
PSU: Thermaltake TRX-1200M TR2 Modular Power Supply - 1200-Watt, 80 Plus, 6X PCI-E, 8X SATA ($219.99)
Keyboard: Logitech G19 Gaming Keyboard ($184.99)
Mouse: Logitech G500 Gaming Mouse ($59.99)

 ** This was new in 2010 but you would want a newer version/generation today

The list above (with costs) represents the core considerations for a build.  There are additional items that are largely not related to performance per se, such as the display, speaker system, and etc. that are really more personal choices than anything else so YMMV on those.

For just a little over $2,200 what you end up with is a high-end system capable of playing pretty much any video game smoothly, running a crisp and lightning fast multi-headed display setup, and providing you with a computing platform that will serve as the foundation for your computing needs.  In three or four years you may need to replace the CPU, Motherboard, and RAM, but the rest of the system will continue to serve, so in that respect while it may seem like a high cost system, it actually works out to be a bargain because you will not be replacing it in a year.

If you are not doing large-memory video capture and editing you can live without the RAID setup, which means you can deduct the cost of the HDD Cage, and two of the hard drives, and cut the memory in half.  The keyboard is a personal choice and for most gamers may be a bit over-the-top...

My choice for case and PSU are sound and if I were building a budget system I would still choose those, since they are two of the items that will remain constant during the upgrade process in years to come.  If the PSU seems a little beefy to you, remember that with the high end video cards you have to provide one or two power connections to them, and you do need the extra power to ensure that the graphics card and any additional add-ons later do not end up taxing the system.

The Graphics Card is basically the ideal ratio as far as budgeting goes for a high-end system, but there are a LOT of really good cards that can be had for half that price that deliver similar performance in the short-scale.

The motherboard may seem like it is pricey and I guess it is but the thing about that is that the P6T is a very reliable good motherboard, and considering how critical the basic features and innate cooling capabilities are in the choice of the system mainboard, I think I would still consider that the obvious choice.

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