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Picking out Parts for your Computer

Let’s say that you’re trying to maintain or upgrade your current personal computer. I’ve always believed that it’s harder than trying to build one from scratch, mainly because of the limitations involved. In a completely custom built scenario, you would have to make sure that your parts are compatible with each other, having the wattage over the required amount, balanced components, as well as trying to stay within your budget. In an upgrade/maintenance scenario, the same rules apply except that you have to make sure the hardware is software compatible, ensuring that you’re keeping the optimal performance you want and trying to avoid limitations with an OEM try to have. In this guide, I’ll try my best to teach you the simple basics and the process of upgrading and maintaining your computer.

Selecting the Parts

There’s a magnitude of parts to pick from, depending on your situation. Wishing for a speedy and performance beast machine or to a simple terminal client that works efficiently and effectively is the scale we’re going to use. I’ll divide and explain each computer part in order to make this simple as possible.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)

The Central processing unit is the soul 'brain' of the computer. Processing and crunching raw data is done in this very component, able to decode binary and return 'high level' information. Of course, the speed of a CPU will affect a lot in terms of performance. Speed is usually measured in GHz (Gigahertz), much faster than MHz (Megahertz). However, modern CPU's should always be kept in note that its architecture will make all the difference. The architecture is the layout of a CPU of how data is processed efficiently and effectively. In instance, two processors with the same core count and CPU speed would seem reasonable to go for the cheaper one, but you have to look at the architecture type.
Architecture cannot be measured in speed, just only 'code names'. A good way to determine what's better in terms of speed is to rely on benchmark sites. A good site is CPUBoss, most well-known CPU's specs are stored as well as recent benchmarks along with a side-by-side view of two CPU's so you can compare them easily. I'm going to be saying this a lot, but try your best to stay within budget. I know some people would get a little greedy for a faster CPU, but getting a slightly higher one is not worth it when you can just overclock it (with the exception of throwing extra cash for a Cooler Master Hyper 212 Evo, a very well recommended cheap aftermarket cooler).
One of the biggest arguments going out there right now is whether to get an AMD or Intel processor. I’m not sure how much people will tell you this, but I know for sure that IT professionals will tell you that it’s all about preferences. AMD of course leans towards more budget builds because of its cheap manufacturing process, and evidently a cheap cost. How I view it is that AMD is for those code crunching tech junkies, while Intel is more for optimization in software (so you can expect more popular games to run better with an Intel). In the end, it’s really up to you in this part. If you need to make sure your CPU is compatible, hit up the website of the brand depending on what motherboard you’re buying, and look up a ‘CPU compatible list’. In reality, you only need to go by socket type, so looking at your processor and motherboard socket is all you practically need.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

Random Access Memory is what allows a program to quickly store its temporary data into. Whenever you type into a word document, that’s data is stored into RAM until you hit ‘Ctrl+S’. Obvious enough, seems very important to get good RAM. RAM is very complicated though, and yet simple. There are different types of RAM that has specific speed ranges, DDR2’s common speed is 800 MHz, while DDR3’s speed (the latest one) is 1600 MHz. Obviously we want to get DDR3 (not to mention that DDR2 has stopped manufacturing a while ago). There are also speeds like 1866, 2133 but those tend to not really make a big difference, especially when the price is 4x for the same capacity.
Speaking of capacity, most people are fine with 4 Gigabytes of RAM. The most an average computer though will probably go up to 8 Gigabytes, and more is only needed for production setups (like video or photo editing). Just like CPU’s, you’re going to have to depend on reviews on this part, but companies like Corsair, G.Skill and known brands are fine. If you need to make sure your RAM is compatible, hit up the website of the brand depending on what motherboard you’re buying, and look up a ‘Memory compatible list’. These are only specific model numbers though, but there is a slim chance that your RAM won’t be compatible.

Motherboard

The motherboard is a PCB in which connects all of your components too. The usual concerns of a buying a motherboard is to make sure it is compatible with all your components, good design and functionality along with a low failure rate (you can check that with reviews of course). You will also want to make sure that its bus is a equivalent or higher version than your cards. For example, we can say that you want to get a graphics card with a bus revision of 3.0. Your PCI-E (graphics expansion card slot) will have to be at least 3.0 in order to achieve its full capabilities. However, most people tend to get a motherboard with features they won’t even bother with. This results in a waste of money, when you could’ve gotten a better CPU or GPU. Just get a motherboard with all the latest up-to-date features and positive reviews than you’re set to go!

Storage

That 1 terabyte or hard drive space is important to store most of your data, more than just an operating system. It’s not hard to also figure out that hard drives is one of the biggest common bottlenecks in a system. If you look at some SSD drive videos, you can see that the builder’s rig will boot up within mere seconds even with some bloatware and startup programs. However, the big downfall is that SSD’s are non-mechanical, resulting in a more complicated manufacturing process and an expensive cost. When you can find a one terabyte hard drive for 60$, you can find a 128 gigabyte SSD for 125$ (that’s almost a dollar per gigabyte). It’s not hard to see that Western Digital is the best choice of brand to look to. While completely focusing on hard drive and storage technology, they also have one of the lowest failure rates. Their ‘Blue’ series is meant for all around computing, while their ‘Black’ series is meant for people who requires a little bit more speed. The ‘Red’ series is for those who wants a NAS and the ‘VelociRaptor’ series is for those who wants some real power (supplied with a 10,000 RPM instead of the norm 7,200 RPM). If you are looking for reliable storage, then the WD series is the way to go.

Video Card

Usually, you don’t need to focus very much on the video card if you’re just a standard computer user. If you do require some beef in your system for 1080p gaming, then take some things into consideration. Check out benchmarks when deciding on which model of graphic cards to choose from. The GTX 760 for example is a nice choice for 1080p gaming with max settings in current modern games. The radeon series is also nice, and they’re competitors in the market likewise AMD with Intel. If you find two different graphic card models with the same price or one is slightly more than the other, professional benchmarks on forums or tech sites are your best friend. Usually, a high-end graphics card is probably the most power hungry out of every single component in your build. Optimally, a single card is better than SLI or Crossfire since one card can focus on traveling data back and forth to the main components, and having to do so between themselves. Price and power usage is also a problem in multi-GPU environments. Talking about prices now, it’s safe to assume that your graphics card is probably going to be more expensive than your CPU if you’re a gamer or a ‘power user’. I like to keep a GTX 760 at least along with the FX-8350 in a ‘Good’ level setup, which should allow you to max out modern game in 1080p.

Power Supply Unit

The PSU is the last part to take into consideration, and most important. Not to mention that all parts are just as important, it’s safe to say that you shouldn’t cheap out on the power supply. I have found that the best brands are SeaSonic and PC Power And Cooling, but other brands like Corsair and Antec are good also. When it comes to power, there are several things you need to take into consideration:

  • Make sure you have enough power on a certain rail, like a PCI-E connector might only supply 150 watts to a 200 watt graphics card.
  • Try to have a max of 100 watts leftover from your recommended wattage. This is so that the energy can regulate and make room if your usage goes higher.

Modular power supplies being more expensive usually also allows for more cable management. Why have 2 strips of molex cables when you can only just connect one?! What if you want to change the your cables because one of them happens to snap/break loose?! With a modular power supply, you can disconnect cables and plug them right back in (compatibility depends on the power supply female connectors). Also, get a power supply with at least a 80+ bronze power efficiency. This is so that your wattage is used efficiently, saving a buck or two on your energy bill.

Diagnosing Problems

Any problems that have occurred, you can view a magnitude of common to rare problems as well as supplied free tools at fixingmycomputer.com. If you have any problems with a specific component bought, consult with ‘return shipping and policies’ from the site or store you bought it from.

Drivers

You should always install drivers for everything, even if it’s just a little outdated (assuming that it doesn’t make anything haywire). Graphics Card drivers all the way to SSD drivers are very important, and will make a difference in performance. Always remember, google is your best friend!


Computers | Hardware


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