An Advanced Course in PC Hardware: $1,000 Performance PC with Style- Part III

23 10 2012

So far I have given you a break down of what I need overall, and most of the system specifics. Today, I am going to run down the rest of the build.

Component #6: Power Supply

Part of planning for it is getting enough power.  New Egg has a calculator ( http://c1.neweggimages.com/BizIntell/tool/psucalc/index.html) to help you figure out your power supply needs. One thing to keep in mind is to look at both what you are building now, and what your optimal load out is.  I built MY machine knowing that I was going to overclock my PC and add a second graphics card, so I got a massive power supply.  This machine will not be overclocked, but might get a second card, so I will plan ahead for it.  I put the specs for the build in (I put a performance MB in to play it safe), and got a moderate 477 Watt rating.  This is fairly middle of the road, but already can give you a sense of one of the advantages to building your own system vs. buying a pre-built with plans to upgrade later.  Pre-built systems often have the smallest power supply possible, so if you want a new, or second graphics card, you are also buying a new power supply.  So for a baseline, right now, I need a 500 Watt power supply.  If I add that second graphics card, and go to 4 sticks of RAM? 674 Watts.

Now you know the size you need, but how do you pick one? Hell if I know.  This is where looking at customer ratings is key. New Egg is pretty good about it’s ratings, actually sending out emails asking for reviews of items you have bought from the site, and when looking at the text reviews you can choose to only see verified owners (the people who bought the component from New Egg).  Take the Corsair brand TX750. I picked a Corsair because they are a well known brand, and I bought one of their supplies for my own build.  This has enough plugs to run two graphics cards, and enough power to run them, plus a second optical drive if I go nuts. The second thing to do is look at the ratings. I always start by reading the low rated reviews first. This will give you an idea of if people had the power supply frying on them after some use, if people were getting units that were dead out of the box (therefore not hurting other components, and returnable), or if people were buying the wrong thing.  This has a rating of 4/5 with 300+ reviews, 47 of which are 1/5. About 1/2 of the bad reviews were for DOA units (which seems to be fairly average), and some more had issues running out of the box and then died.  I’m not to worried, so I would still go with it, but this is where you have to just do some homework, pull up some alternatives, and see how things compare to each other.

Component #7: Hard Drives

As I mentioned before, the trick with a hard drive is finding the balance of speed, power, and price.  What some people don’t think about is the fact that this isn’t necessarily an all or nothing game.  If you need a LOT of space, and have a moderate budget, it doesn’t mean you are doomed to slow speeds.  One of the more popular things now is to get two hard drives.  One, a very large, moderately fast, but affordable drive to keep all of your files on, and most of your programs on.  Second, you get a smaller, much faster Boot drive (What they Operating System boots off of).  Depending on the size, you may also be able to put a few of your more important programs on here.  The key here is to remember that programs, when it comes down to it, are massive libraries of files.  When you use something like Photoshop  every-time you decide you want to use a filter, it needs to run the program for that filter.  Unless the filter’s program is in the RAM because you are using it for a second/third time, the computer needs to run around, find that part of the program, and run it.  If you have the program on a slow drive, it will take a bit longer to find and retrieve. However, if you are running thousands of these subroutines a day(which if you use one program often, you probably do), this will add up.

So, my advice would be to get one large traditional Hard Drive, and one smaller Solid State Drive to boot off of.  For the large drive, I am picking a Terabyte- it’s what I got for my build, and 2 years of Photoshop and 3D models later I still haven’t had to run around clearing space. It’s a beautiful thing. For the main storage drive I am selecting the Western Digital 1TB Black SATA III.  Western Digital and Seagate are the longtime brands for Harddrives that I tend to lean towards, and with a 5 year limited warranty,  2000 reviews averaging 4 /5, and a forty dollar discount at the moment, that’s good enough for me.

The Solid State drive I would shoot between 50 and 100 Gb.  This will be enough to take your O/S and a few programs, but shouldn’t be getting into the insane price ranges.  For this build specifically I want SATA III for at least the SSD, as that will allow me to take advantage of the faster drive speed with faster data transfer speed (When in doubt, look for bottlenecks in speed.)  Right now on NewEgg I can get the OCZ 2.5″ SATA III 60Gb (AGT3 model).  It is a moderately priced 60 GB SSD drive from one of the most well known SSD makers around.  This drive has 4/5 on NewEgg with 546 reviews, and its on sale for $62.

Misc.

This stuff is based a bit more on sale prices and brand name/reviews for me, so it’s pretty flexible.  You need a Media drive, and a wireless card, plus a mouse, keyboard and monitor(or two) if you are building a rig from scratch.  You may decide that you want to go with a Blu Ray drive, and forgo the burner option, or you may want to pony up the big bucks so you can burn BluRays (burner’s are in the $70-$130 range), but I am going to stick to a simple DVD-RW.  Realistically, find a drive from a brand you know, with decent reviews, that is cheap.  You should be in the $15-$25 range with no problem.

When you get a wireless card, the main thing to keep in mind is what your signal needs are. WiFi is rated as A, B, G, or N. A and B are kind of hard to find, and slow.  Today, you will mostly see routers and cards that are G, or N.  One good thing is these are all backwards compatible to the less powerful ratings (A is lowest, N is highest).  So if you have an N router and a G card, or a G card and an N router, it will still work, it will just be throttled to that G rating.  For most everyday use, G is fine. However, N is roughly 10x as fast, and has 2-3 times the range. So if you are moving big files, especially within a local network, or if you have a tricky time getting a great WiFi signal, move up towards N for both your adapter and your router.  I have a G router, and this is a local work machine, so it won’t be downloading any movies either, so I am going to stick to a simple G card (PCI Express) for around $20.

Another thing to keep in mind: the number and configuration of the PCI slots on your motherboard. Because I went with the Micro-ATX, the board I picked only has 3 slots, which are arranged in a way that means if I do run two graphics cards, there will not be room for my WiFi card.  One solution is to get a USB adapter, another is to buy an ethernet cord and hard-line your connection.  Its not a huge issue, but it’s an issue that you need to think about before you start buying things.

Picks:

CPU: i5-3450                                                                                                  –  $195

Motherboard: GIGABYTE G1.Sniper M3                                            – $170

RAM: (DDR3 1066 240 Pin,) Corsair Vengeance 8GB (2x4Gb) – $52

Graphics: GIGABYTE GTX 560                                                               – $180

Case: Fractal Design Define Mini Black                                                – $100

Powersupply:   TX750                                                                                – $110

HDD:   1TB  SATA III  WD Black                                                               – $110

SSD: OCZ 60 Gb SATA III                                                                           – $62

Optical:    DVD  burner                                                                                – $20

Wireless:                                                                                                            – $20

Total:                                                                                                                   – $1020

With a DECENT mouse and Keyboard, and a couple of good ~20″ monitors, that should put you right in the $1,600 wheelhouse.  For a machine you should be set with for YEARS.

Next time: Putting it all together.





An Advanced Course in PC Hardware: $1,000 Performance PC with Style- Part II

16 10 2012

Last time I ran through the basics of what I need.  Now it’s time to really start picking components to build my system.

Component #1: Processor

I would start picking components with the processor.  This is one of the components that is tougher to upgrade once a machine is built, and you need to make sure you get what you want.  I am going to go with the i5-3450, which Toms Hardware ranked (in September 2012) as the best processor for the $150-$200 price range.  I went with this over a slightly cheaper or more expensive one for a few reasons.  In terms of more expensive options, the next-best choice up is not $40 better on the surface, but when you get into overclocking and things of that ilk.  I have no plans to go there with this rig, so that’s wasted cash basically.  Beyond that, you get to diminishing returns, and to get a modest increase in performance, you could either tune a $240 chip, or buy a $1000 chip. It seems the bottlenecks start to lie else where in the system at that point.  I also generally wouldn’t go to the next tier of processor down, since as I mentioned before, apart from overclocking your processor, you cannot easily upgrade your processor, so spend the cash for quality parts now.

Component #2: Motherboard

Next up is finding the motherboard you need.  It needs to fit the processor you have picked, have expansion room for the graphics/WiFi cards you want now, plus possible expansion, and be able to support the RAM load you will want.  It also needs to have the ports for things like USB’s and HardDrives that you want.  Make sure the connector types you want (USB 3.0, SATA III) are supported.  This is honestly the weakest part of my component understanding, and I tend to really scour NewEgg and Toms Hardware for recommendations, in general, and as a match for my specific processor.

Motherboards are also very important because the motherboard size will determine what case sizes you can use. I managed to find a few Micro ATX boards that should still give pretty great performance, while allowing me to look at a smaller form factor. I went with the GIGABYTE G1.Sniper M3 because it offers a few more connections I was looking for, for not much price increase.

Component #3: Case

This is a tricky pick for very different reasons then the rest of the components.  This is the part that you will be looking at day in, and day out, for the next several years.  Unless you choose a case with a window, you’ll never see the rest of the parts you pick apart from an occasional can-of-air clean out.  You also need it to handle the various parts you want.  Because of this, I went with Fractal Design’s Define Mini.  It has a clean black look, is designed to keep your system quite, but if heat becomes an issue it has openings you can open, allowing more noise out, but more air in, even adding additional fans as needed.

Component #4: RAM

Because the motherboard I selected runs the RAM in dual channel, you want 2 or 4 sticks of RAM in at a time to allow them to run at the fastest speeds possible. I have used Corsair memory a few times, with no complaints, and selected one of their 8Gb packages, the Corsair Vengeance.  It runs at the max speed my motherboard can handle (1600), and would allow me to buy another pair later to up to 16 Gb if I wanted, although that may well not happen unless this turns into more of a 3D graphics rig than it is currently intended to be.

Component #5: Graphics Card

For the graphics card, I am going with a mid-line choice, but that could be run in tandem with a second card to create a workhorse in the future.  One of the best choices according to TomsHardware is the GeForce 560 from NVidia, coming in at “just” $170.  Not only is it a great card on it’s own, but it also got an honorable mention as one of the best cards for ~$330 when run in tandem(called SLI for Nvidia  cards, and Crossfire for ATI cards. There are some differences in how they run, but unless you are going pretty high end, you likely won’t see a huge difference.).  I doubt that will be an option I will go with in the future, but it’s good to plan for it now.  The card is normally $179, but at the time that I’m writing this, there is a $20 mail in rebate. You have to remember to file it, but it’s things like these that REALLY help, as that basically bought you your DVD drive.

Next Time: Components II





An Advanced Course in PC Hardware: $1,000 Performance PC with Style- Part I

9 10 2012

A while back, I started a series on how to build your own PC based on my experience building my own rig.  I’m going to pick that up again, but as my build is a year and a half old at this point, I’ll look at what I would build today, and what I could get off the shelf for the same price.  As I already have my gaming/graphics rig, I’ll be looking at what I would build for my wife, who is also a Landscape Designer/Planner.

This means there are a few key differences in what I’ll be getting.  For my machine, I bought one of the largest towers I could find to get the best cooling, and expansion potential, possible.  Amy doesn’t want a box that is 22″x22″x9″ sitting on her desk, so I will be looking a bit more compact.  She also doesn’t do as much 3D work as I do, so I might go a little lighter on the graphics card than I might for mine.  The first step is to set a budget.  I’ll look at a budget a bit smaller than the $1,500 I used for my build: $1,000.

Protip: Wait for sales.  I saved around $300 on my build by putting trackers on items I was looking at on NewEgg.com.  I got a package with almost the exact RAM I was looking for for free with the exact motherboard I wanted, just by waiting a couple weeks.  Which brings me to my other tip: NewEgg.com is your friend.

Right off the bat, as a windows family, $140 is gone to pay for Windows 7 Professional (64 bit) from NewEgg (Windows 8 has not been released at the time of the writing of this).  Its important if you are building a new PC at this point to get a 64-bit OS.  Among other things, it allows you to use more than roughly 3.5 Gb or RAM, which is the most a 32-bit system can see.

Now, if you just dive into shopping and try to buy a bunch of things, you’re going to get scared, and hide; unless you are a total hardware guru, at which point I am flattered that you are reading this, but it probably won’t help you a ton.  Along with NewEgg, I am also a huge fan of TomsHardware.com  They do a series called “System Builder Marathon” where they do something similar to this, at three different price levels, roughly every 6 months. They also have very good, in-depth reviews of much of the best hardware around.  The trick is, they may have done their latest builds 4-5 months ago, with budgets that bracket what you have, and that are designed to do something else.  It can be tricky to navigate a $2,400 Gaming rig and a $1000 Media server if you have $1,500 for Photoshop and CAD.  They however, are great places to start, and to make sure you don’t forget some vital piece of hardware.

There are two places you can start looking at your build: guts, and Case.  If exterior style is the most important thing, and you don’t care if it has much power, start with the case (as would be the case if you were building a Home Theater PC that just serves to play music and movies).  You could find a tiny case, or one that is small and brushed steel if that’s your style, but it may not fit components you otherwise need. I need this machine to do some decent work however, so I’m looking first at things on the inside first.

What do I need on the inside of this?

  • Looking through reviews, I really am liking the sound of the Intel i5-34xx series (part of the new “Ivy Bridge” line), so that gives me a starting point for the CPU.
  • It will also start to point me towards and away from certain motherboards based on compatibility. Motherboard size is one thing which will determine what cases I can use.
  • I will need at least one graphics card, so I’ll need a case with a decent amount of space, and a Mother Board that has at least a few PCIe slots.
  • I have software on disk, so I need at least a DVD burner.
  • At least 1 Harddrive.  It would be nice to do two, one large traditional drive, where GB are cheap, and one smaller Sold State boot drive to speed up everything, where GB are expensive. (Would love one huge Solid state, but as even a 240 Gb drive would cost in the $200 range, I’m out of luck)
  • Oh, I need RAM and a Power Supply, but those have little effect on the case.

So I need at least 3 drive bays, and room for 2 PCIe slots for a large graphics card, plus it would be nice to have an extra PCI for a WiFi card.

Next time: Choosing Components I