Monday, May 11, 2015

Building Compy: The Basics

Building a new computer can be a daunting task, especially if you've never done it before. Fortunately, it's easier than ever to put together a machine the way you want at price that suits your budget...

In early April my computer died, I had been planning on upgrading to a more powerful system since way back in 2011. But real life happens, we moved (twice), had a child and if I'm honest I didn't really feel an urgent need for a new PC for a while. Now though, things are different. My son is older, my interest in online games has been rekindled, and with a sudden lack of computer... it's time.

As I write this I'm thirty five years old, and I built my first computer over twenty years ago, so my perspective with regards to fitting slot A into tab B is going to be different than some people reading this. Much of PC building is however very straight forward, if you can put together a desk from Ikea you can put together a computer. There are a variety of videos on YouTube that walk you through the step by step of building a computer.

With this guide I hope to offer some information that others might gloss over or simply assume you'd already know, because I don't like to assume anything about the people reading this. With that out of the way, let's get started...

Before you hit Google, it's time to ask yourself a few things. If you've ever dealt with a pre built PC retailer like Dell, Cyberpower, etc then you've already heard a variation of these. First, what do you need from your computer? If you're reading this presumably you're interested in games, what about Streaming? Video & Sound editing? Will you be doing other creative work such as 3D Modelling/Printing? All of these things will affect and be effected by your choices when you build the machine; understanding what's important to you (and how important it is) you'll be able to prioritize specific parts to maximize potential within your budget.

Speaking of budget, what is yours? Are you looking to blow your load all at once, or are you willing to delay gratification over a protracted period of time? And finally, do you have a manufacturer preference: do you prefer AMD or Intel? NVIDIA or ATI? This can likewise have a big effect on the budget. Never fear fanboys, I will be offering samples from both sides of the fence later on.

Have you ever heard of Moore's Law? Last month was the 50th anniversary of the term first posited by Gordon Moore, co-founder of Fairchild Semiconductor and Intel Corporation. In the 60s he noted that number of integrated components per integrated circuit doubled yearly. He predicted that this phenomenon would continue, and his prediction has held true for longer than I've been alive.

What does that mean? That means that as I began writing this enthusiasts have been running eight core processors in their computers, today I watched a video of a new chip from Intel running sixteen with more cache than my first computer had physical memory. For those of you not fluent in nerd, it's a big deal. As big of a deal as the fact that the computer I'm building now has nearly double the RAM that my first gaming machine had in HD space (36gigs vs 20gigs). My point is, every year computer parts become obsolete. The 16 core beast that Intel is releasing? Right now it's $4500 USD. In a couple of years you'll be able to drop two zeroes off of that figure, because the technology is just moving that rapidly.

A few years ago I was the only person I knew with a Solid State Drive, I spent several hundred dollars on a small one and for a time was enjoying the benefits of being the only kid on the block that could load Windows and a Game in the time it took my roommate to open his web browser. Now, for $100 you can get a better SSD and a 1TB HD to store everything else.

A judicious shopper can save a lot of cash by looking not at the newest hotness, but at last years offerings. Another way to save some money (at least over the short term) is to build incrementally. In my case for example, I have a video card from my previous machine that will suffice until I can afford something better. I also have a hard drive (though I did find a deal on SSDs that I couldn't resist). Similarly, if you've got a case you like you may want to simply clean it and possibly give it a fresh coat of paint (maybe).

Once you've chosen the direction you're going, it's time to really start researching individual parts. There is an urge to rush here, especially if you've got some money burning a hole in your pocket. I would advise spending a couple of hours looking around sites like Bit-Tech, Tek Syndicate, Linus Tech Tips to narrow your search down on specific components. Register an account with PC Parts Picker and you can then move the pieces around until you find the sweet spot (don't forget to save your parts list, and you may want to create several to find the right mix of parts before you start paying people).

Yeah, if you're like me and it's been a few years since you messed around with components PC Parts Picker is going to make rainbow farting unicorns shoot out of your forehead. Not only does this troubleshoot components on the fly for you (how much power your machine is expected to draw, compatibility problems, etc) it also shows you who has the best price per component. So for instance the old reliable Newegg may have a deal on an SSD and some RAM, but another company may have the Video Card you want at a better price. Still another may have the best price for Windows. In terms of comparison shopping it's a game changer.

When narrowing down your search for the perfect component, be sure to check reviews. Looking on Newegg or Amazon is a good start, but see if there are any reviews of the item on YouTube as well. If Linus for instance tells you about problems with a motherboard for example, you may want to see what he recommends instead. Now, I know I haven't really gotten into any specifics at this point, but be sure to check out the next post where I get to the meat and potatoes with some sample builds.

Remember to do your homework, don't be that guy. Seriously...

Bit-Tech - An excellent source for reviews.
PC Parts Picker - The single most useful website for building a new computer.
Linus Tech Tips Forums & YouTube - Excellent reviews, news, tips, and community.
Tek Syndicate Forums & YouTube - Another excellent source for reviews, news, tips, and community.

If you want to learn more about Moore's law you can check out the following on Wikipedia. As a bonus I highly recommend a recent article on the subject at Forbes.

Always Be Closing,

No comments :

Post a Comment