Welcome to the Penny Arcade Computer Build Thread!
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Welcome to the PC Build Thread, where we don't judge you for spending way too much money on printed circuit boards. Except when we do.
More seriously, the PC build thread exists to provide a resource for PAers who want to build their own computers. We 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. We also talk about new and interesting components and even dabble in talk about peripherals (mice, keyboards, sometimes speakers and monitors). The thread has a companion blog
used to keep a lot of more in-depth informational posts on specific component choices and the like.
The natural question at this point is probably "Why should I build my own computer when I could just have a bunch of underpaid assembly line workers do it for me?" There are a number of answers to that question:
- 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-ability 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: If all you need to do with a computer is browse the internet, consume media, and use productivity software like MS Office, there's admittedly little reason not to buy a pre-built machine. Building your own is usually more expensive than buying a complete system when you're talking about a relatively inexpensive machine. When it comes to a PC with real horsepower, though, 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 in addition to the previously mentioned benefits.
If the benefits of building your own PC have convinced you to do so, you should ask yourself some questions. The answers to those questions should be included in your request in this thread, 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.
- What kind of computer do you need? Maybe it's a standard gaming PC, or maybe you need an HTPC, or a Server, or even 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 that don't need to be included because you're carrying something over from a previous PC?
- 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?
It's after you've answered those questions that the real fun begins. Below are some additional resources to help you out. Welcome to PC building!
Where to Buy:
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.
A previous thread recommended strategy is price-matching through NCIX
also has a Canadian site you can purchase from.
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.
Build Thread Component Guides:
Processors and Motherboards
HDDs and SSDs
PSUs and Cases
Good Online Resources:
Our very own Tef put together a very thorough buying guide for Australians:
Online retailers (Australia-wide)
- 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.
- 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.
Other Australia-based Online Retailers
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).
There also exists the option of organising a deal through the PA forums. This will be more difficult as it will require the forumer to takes reception of your goods and then ship them to you themselves. You will need to organise such a deal between yourselves and please be aware that this is an imposition on people and you certainly shouldn't expect people to firstly jump at the chance to help you out and secondly do this for you without some kind of repayment (*cough*steam wish lists*cough*). Moral of the story is that it may be an option for you, but don't count on it. It maybe be worth your while sending an extremely polite and well-written PM to the lovely JWashke (his PA forum handle) as he has mentioned that he MAY be available to help out his poor Australian brethren.
Purchase Support and Services
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!). The author recommends against the Whirlpool forums, as their wiki isn't really up to date and the quality of posts is, shall we way, subpar. Their wikis and forums sections on networking and all things internet are fantastic, however, and are highly recommended for questions pertaining these matters.
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.
- A great site with in depth reviews on loads of tech.
- Not my favorite site in the world, but their monthly roundups of SSDs, CPUs, and GPUs are useful, and they have some good comparison tools.
- Solid PSU reviews, and also some solid motherboard and video card reviews.
- Basically some of the best PSU reviews out there.
- One of my favorite non-PA forums. There's loads and loads of good info here, from optimizing SSDs to overclocking to in-depth information on motherboard VRM setups.