Welcome to Part Shoppers Anonymous the Penny Arcade Computer Build Thread!
(this OP is shamelessly stolen/modified from GnomeTank who shamelessly stole it from our missing overlord alecthar (via Jebus314, and minor incident, and BouwsT).Tl;dr:
We do our best to provide advice about component choice, shopping for components, assembling the PC itself, and even a little bit of troubleshooting for new builds (if you're having issues). To my knowledge no forumer has ever left with a non functioning build. We'll get you there! All at a measly 250% of your original budget!
PC - Personal Computer
CPU - Central Processing Unit (Computer's Brain)
GPU - Graphics Processing Unit (Computer's Muscles)
PSU - Power Supply (Computer Power Plant)
MOBO - Mother Board (Computer Skeleton / Nervous System
RAM - Random Access Memory (Computer's Short Term Memory)
HDD - Hard Disk Drive (Computer's Long Term Memory, with high capacity but low speed)
SSD - Solid State Drive (Computer's Long Term Memory, with low(er) capacity but high speeds."Why should I build my own computer when I could just have a bunch of underpaid assembly line workers do it for me?"
Knowledge: Building your own computer is a learning experience. To start with, you'll probably end up doing a lot of research on the current state of consumer computing hardware, along with learning a bit about how various computer components work within a complete system. You'll also gain valuable knowledge about the actual assembly of a PC, something that definitely comes in handy if you find yourself doing family tech support.
- Quality: PCs from companies like Dell and HP are built cheaply. Sometimes this isn't a huge issue. Intel, for example, doesn't sell a separate "from the junk pile" line of CPUs. Hard drives are generally of fairly consistent quality among manufacturers. However, depending on the PC, you may end up with a fairly anemic, or even cruddy, generic PSU, along with motherboards that are generally pretty limited in their flexibility and feature-set, and don't even get me started on the cases they use. Building your own PC gives you complete control over the quality of the components you use.
- Flexibility: A prebuilt PC sometimes comes with proprietary components, or in a case with a proprietary form factor with a weird sized PSU. When you build your own PC, you can select the components with an eye towards whatever degree of flexibility or upgrade path you deem appropriate. Because retail component design adheres to certain standards, you end up with a more modular system that can be changed more easily.
- Value: When it comes to a PC with real horsepower, manufacturers believe we're willing to pay a serious premium. Building your own Gaming (or Workstation) PC almost always saves you significant amounts of money.
With all that said, I want to highlight a very important point. If all you need to do with a computer is browse the internet, consume media, and use productivity software like Microsoft Office, there's admittedly little reason not to buy a prebuilt machine. Because of the economy of scale, you will almost always get a higher spec'd computer for cheaper if your budget is less than $400 or so. Quality can still sometimes be an issue, and you won't gain any knowledge, but cheap computers are probably a better deal prebuilt."You've convinced me to build my own, what's inside the box again?"
In general there are 8 main components to a PC.
"Ok I know what a PC is now, but where do I start?"
- CPU: This is the central processing unit. It is the heart of your PC build and is what controls how quickly your computer can perform various tasks. There are only 2 manufacturers (AMD and Intel), and these days Intel is dominating. As of writing this OP, AMD has released their new Ryzen CPU's, which are presenting some much needed competition in the CPU space! Pro-tip, over the years CPUs are generally tracked by their architecture (which alludes to how they are designed) and each unique architecture is given a name (Newest are Skylake for Intel, and Ryzen for AMD). There are a multitude of different specs for CPUs, but it's nigh impossible to use them for comparison across manufactures and often times even across different architectures. Generally you will want to go to a place like Tom's Hardware and look actual measured comparisons between the chips to decide... If you're looking for high end performance, and the best bang for your buck, you will also want to look out for unlocked CPUs that allow for overclocking. These days it is a very painless process, and can easily give you a 10-30% performance boost for the cost of a bigger heatsink. For intel CPUs, model numbers that end in a K do not come with a heatsink (as you'll likely be buying a larger one any way) and allow overclocking.
AnandTech's Holiday 2021 CPU Comparisons
Tom's Hardware Best CPUs
Feel free to ask for current recommendations.
- GPU: This is the graphical processing unit. As the name implies it controls how pretty things will look, and what games you can play. The first important decision for your GPU is onboard versus discrete. These days Intel and AMD are offering combined CPU/GPU chips that are really pretty good. For everything besides gaming and graphic intensive work, these combined chips offer the best performance at the cheapest price. If you're building a HTPC (home theater PC) for example this is definitely the way to go. AMD may lead on the higher end, as their APU line (their terminology for the combined CPU/GPU) can have better GPU performance with similar CPU performance than the corresponding Intel products. A top of the line AMD APU will be good enough to stream any video content, watch blurays, and even play some older games at moderate settings...
If, however, you are looking to game or do a lot of video editing/other graphics intensive work, then a discrete graphics card is the way to go. For the purposes of gaming, the rest of your system is mainly an effort to get out of your video card's way. The price of a solid video card reflects that; for gaming PCs the video card will be the most expensive single component you purchase. For discrete GPUs there are again 2 manufacturers, AMD (formally ATI) and Nvidia. Unlike CPUs the GPU race has been a bit stale for well over a year, but we're always hoping for better competition to allow for good consumer choice! To make things more confusing AMD and Nvidia don't actually sell graphics cards themselves, instead the sell the designs (or base hardware) to other companies who build them and sell them to consumers. This means that for any given GPU model (say the Nvidia GTX 1060), there will be several different vendors selling that exact model (like this GTX 1060 sold by EVGA). Different vendors can have different coolers, different amounts of overclocking, and different build quality, so be careful with who the exact card is coming from. Feel free to ask for current recommendations.
- Motherboard: The motherboard is the complex circuitry that connects all of your fancy parts together. Buying a motherboard is all about quality, compatibility, and options. The two most important compatibility issues are getting the right socket for your CPU, and getting the right size for your case. Whatever CPU you are interested in getting should have a corresponding socket number (like LGA 1151 for Kaby Lake Intel based CPUs), and you absolutely must get a motherboard with that socket. Motherboards also generally come in a few different sizes (or form factors), with the most common being: ATX, micro-ATX, mini-ATX, and mini-ITX. The key here is to make sure that you Case specifically says it is compatible with the form factor you choose. For quality purposes you generally want to stick to the main manufacturers: MSI, ASUS, EVGA, ASRock, and Gigabyte. Finally, it's all about the options. Make a list of everything that you want to hook up to your PC and what type of connection it needs (USB 3.0 vs 2.0, HDMI vs DVI vs Display Port, eSATA, etc...) and find yourself a motherboard that has all the necessary connections. Other things to consider are SLI/crossfire compatibility (which allows you to run 2+ GPUs simultaneously for Nvidia or AMD cards respectively), PCI-E slots (quantity and bandwidth per slot typically described as 8x or 16x), CPU overclocking compatible, onboard GPU compatible, soundcard capabilities, and ethernet capabilities. Feel free to ask for current recommendations.
- Memory: This is often referred to as the RAM or Random Access Memory, and it controls how many things you can do at once. Rules when buying RAM: (1) There are two types of RAM for new builds right now: DDR4 and DDR5. DDR5 is used on some of Intel's newest boards and is currently much more expensive - consider this when picking your motherboard as they are compatible with one or the other, not both! (2) RAM Speed: for DDR4, RAM at either 3200mhz or 3600mhz is good. (3) Buy 8-16 GB and as many DIMMS (or sticks) as channels on your motherboard. So if your motherboard supports 2 channel memory, get 2 sticks of 8GB Ram (for 16GB total). RAM is cheap so lean towards more rather than less, but for most people anything more than 32 GB will be wasted (even 32 GB+ is only for most power users, or insane amounts of multi-tasking). Feel free to ask for current recommendations.
- Hard Disk Drive/Solid State Drive: This is where all of your software and data is stored. If your budget can swing it the most effective setup is to use a smaller SSD (240-500 GB) for your programs and OS, and a larger HDD (1-4 TB) for media storage. Not all SSDs and not all HDDs are created equal. SSDs come in 2.5" form factor (uses a SATA cable and power cable) or M.2 form factor (plugs into a slot on your motherboard). M.2 drives also come in SATA or NVME flavors (NVME is faster and preferred). For HDDs the spindle speed (typically 5400, 7200, and 10000 RPMs) dictates how quickly you will be able to access your data, with higher RPMs giving faster access. For purely data storage the speed tends not to matter that much, but for programs/games loading will be much faster. Any SSD will be far quicker than even the best HDDs. Most importantly for both you want something that is reliable, so check the comments/reviews for any particular model. Just keep in mind that every single model ever created will have some small number of drives that fail and those will be the bulk of the people leaving comments. As a general rule, Samsung EVO SSD's, and Wester Digital brand HDD's are generally the golden rule. Feel free to ask for current recommendations.
- PSU: This is the power supply unit, and as the name implies it powers your PC. There are 3 basic factors to consider for a PSU: modular/non-modular, wattage, and efficiency. A non-modular PSU will have all of the cables permanently attached and can be a pain to keep organized compared to being able to remove unnecessary cables. Wattage is the amount of power your PSU can supply and you generally want your computer to run close to but not at the maximum rating for your PSU. To see what that would be before you buy your PSU, just find any online wattage calculator, put in the parts you want to use, and viola. Finally there is the efficiency, which is rated as Bronze, Silver, Gold, etc and indicate how efficiently the PSU takes your wall power and converts it to useable power for your PC. Generally Seasonic (and PSU's build by Seasonic and sold under different names) are the golden standard here on the forum. Feel free to ask for current recommendations.
- Case: This is where you put all those things above. Don't underestimate the importance of a good case. A Good cable management system and layout can make building a PC a vastly superior experience, as well as giving longevity to your build through superior heat management. Also that shit should look badass. The only requirement though is that you find a case that is large enough to house all of your components (this is not a trick, often times GPUs, PSUs, certain types of memory, and some optical drives will not fit in a particular case), and can accept the form factor for the motherboard used. Feel free to ask for current recommendations.
- Bling Factor LED lighting is critical to PC modding, and should be included in every case and component where possible.
I've done extensive research into LEDs (I went to college for this), I'll go ahead and quote an old post I made regarding my findings:
LEDs play a vital role in any PC build! In case anyone doesn't know, no PC is complete without an associated set of colored LEDs. However, it is very important that you choose your LED colors carefully, as each one has specific advantages:
Red LEDs are very powerful. They make your PC run much, much faster. If you are looking to get a performance boost but can't afford higher quality parts or are unable to overclock, red LEDs are the way to go. Just make sure to beef up your cooling levels, because they will make your PC run much hotter. All of the top MLG Pro gamers use red LEDs (including myself).
Blue LEDs are great. They make your machine run much cooler. If your ambient temperatures are on the rise and you can't afford spending $20 a piece on high quality Noctua fans or $Idaho on expensive watercooling setups, blue LEDs are your best bet. I once knew a guy who had so many blue LEDs that his case pulled double duty as a minifridge. Not even joking. We'd keep the root beer in there during LAN parties.
Green LEDs are great because they make your system use significantly less AC power to run, thus lowering both your electricity bill and your carbon footprint. A set of high quality green LEDs surrounding a 1000w PSU will bring its power draw down to as low as 4-500w (not counting the extra power used to run the green LEDs).
White LEDs are (on paper) the best option, as they combine the benefits of red, blue, and green LEDs. Be very careful though!, white LEDs aren't very common because the light gives you cancer.
Legends tell of the fabled Purple LED, but so far they have eluded me. Could such a thing really exist? While evidence suggesting the existence of purple LEDs has been found in ancient Sumerian ruins, my years of investigation and research have led me to the conclusion that purple LEDs are a myth that exist solely in the delusional babblings of men who have gone mad while searching for them. The are the El Dorado of the PC building world.
You might think to yourself "Why wouldn't I combine LED colors in my case and gain multiple advantages without the drawbacks of white LEDs?". In the early fifties, when PC LEDs were still in their infancy, LED-combination experimentation using a series of lead sheets and mirrors appeared promising (aside from a few tragic mishaps due to the ineffective safety measures prevalent in laboratories at the time), unfortunately combining LED colors has proven impossible, as the effects simply cancel each other out.
Sure, some people prefer a "pure" PC and might not use LEDs at all, considering them to be "cheating", but you gotta ask yourself - if you were an Olympic athlete, and someone said you could inject LEDs to make your performance significantly better, would that be "cheating"? Of course not.
Hope this helps.
- Other: This is just a list of other parts to keep in mind, that you may or may not need. Additional fans, optical drive, soundcard, WiFi card (or USB dongle), monitor, keyboard, mouse, cables (fan cables, SATA cables, ect...), aftermarket CPU heatsink (necessary for overclocking), and zipties (or other cable management device). Feel free to ask for current recommendations.
Here are a few questions you should ask yourself when you're ready to start researching parts for your new PC. Once you have some answers to these questions, post them in this thread and others will jump in to fill in the gaps and get you well on your way to completing your order! Don't be intimidated if you don't know any of the answers though, as any questions (no matter how basic) are always welcome. In general though, the more information we have about what you want and how much you're willing to pay to get it, the better the advice you'll get.
"I'm totes ready to buy, but everyone keeps posting this PC partpicker thing. Where do I actually get my stuff?" US
- What kind of computer do you need? The 4 basic categories are: standard gaming PC, HTPC, server, and a serious Workstation.
- What's your budget for this project?
- What needs to be included in that budget? Do you need a monitor, keyboard and mouse to go with it? Are there components from a previous PC that you are carrying over to the new build? What about an operating system (like Windows 10)?
- What are your performance needs? For games, what resolution do you game at, and what kind of performance do you want to see there? For professional tasks, what are you doing and what kind of numbers would you like to see?
- Do you have any partiality towards specific manufacturers, like Intel/AMD, AMD/NVIDIA, or perhaps specific vendors?
- Do you have any specific needs? That is, are you looking for quiet operation, small form factor, significant upgrade-ability, or other specific features?
There are a number of solid online purchasing options available to US consumers. My personal favorite is Newegg, though there are other options like Tiger Direct, and (of course) Amazon. Brick and mortar buyers can find some components at big box retailers like Best Buy and Fry's, though I've found that prices from online retailers are significantly better than these stores. The exception to that seems to be Microcenter, which often has great deals on processors and motherboards in particular.
Some more recent opinions:
Re: first post -- for the 'Canadian shops' bit, you should add memoryexpress.com to that list (not sure how they are for mail order, but as an in-the-flesh shop, at least, they're great).
I used Memory Express for my last build, they are actually really great so far for their mail orders. Also, their price beat is stronger than newegg.ca (10% of difference, rather than just a straight match). I would definitely recommend them for Canadian buyers, at least to check out.
Online retailers in the UK include Ebuyer
, which apparently has a wide selection of components, Novatech
, which also does custom systems and apparently has some fans in UK PC forums, and dabs.com
, a site recommend by our very own Big Isy, who cited their frequent free shipping/free game deals.
Our very own Tef put together a very thorough buying guide for Australians:
Online retailers (Australia-wide)
Other Australia-based Online Retailers
- www.pccasegear.com - Based in Melbourne, these guys are as close to an Australian Newegg as you will find. PCcasegear are known for their reliable service and good RMA (returning faulty equipment) policies. They have a somewhat decent range of equipment, for Australia and while generally pretty cheap, there certainly are cheaper options out there. For people in Melbourne, you can also visit their store front and pick up the parts personally.
- www.msy.com.au - A cheaper alternative to PCcasegear that is still reasonably reliable. MSY does suffer from a limited range and volume of stock on occasion. As of October 2011, they do not have a delivery system in place (in progress, according to MSY) so you will have to pick up the parts from their brick and mortar shops. Fortunately, they have numerous store fronts around the country, so finding one nearby shouldn't be too hard to do. Be aware that when you're shopping online make sure you set your store location to the store that you'll be picking the parts up from. MSY filter their displayed products based on what shop you've selected and it's very annoying to get to the checkout and realise all your parts are only available in far north Queensland.
www.mwave.com.au www.megabuy.com.au www.umart.com.au - These are some other notable budget PC shops. They'll ship anywhere domestically and are usually competitively priced. Do note that they're budget resellers (particularly in the case of megabuy) and their customer support and shipping status/timeframes may not always be as great as what you'll find from MSY/PCcasegear.
An option exists to purchase parts overseas and ship them in yourself, thus avoiding the mark-up from Aussie vendors. www.priceusa.com.au is the only vendor the writer has experience with and therefore is the only one this writer is prepared to recommend with confidence. There are several caveats associated with international orders, namely that support/returns will be more difficult due to distances and there is a potential for longer lead-times on orders (though this is not always the case). Recommendations for overseas shipping would be that you don't order cases and possibly PSUs from overseas, as the associated hikes in shipping costs make this expensive (it should go without saying that you should do your own research on this point though, as it may be more cost effective depending on where you can buy domestically).Purchase Support and Services
www.staticice.com.au and www.ausprices.com are two good price comparison sites that you can use to find who's selling what and for how much. The former is probably the highest quality of the two; just make sure you're looking at the Australian version (i.e. .au at the end)
While ostensibly a forum for PC overlockers, forums.overclockers.com.au has a surprisingly good quality sub forum relating to the state of PC part purchasing in Australia. They are a good location for solid advice on retailers (after PA, of course!).
Failing all that, send a mention or a PM towards Tef or chrishallett83, both Australian forumers, who are usually more than happy to offer advice.
And here is a handy flowchart!Got all that? Need help building? LTT has you covered:https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BL4DCEp7blY