Hardware: Considerations when building your own PC
People who work in IT are often asked questions they know nothing about, usually by individuals who presume that working in IT means they know everything about computers, both on the hardware and software sides, and not realising just how varied and specialised IT roles can be. Sometimes a Computer Programmer may know little about Web Development for example, while a Web Designer may not know much about developing a web site's back-end. And on it goes... someone who works as a Network Programmer may know nothing about the previously mentioned technologies, whilst a PC Repair Specialist may know nothing about all of the above!
With the above in mind, this section will cover the theory behind building your own PC at a basic level, so as not to alienate those new to the topic.
To begin with, you need to ask yourself 2 questions:
- What will I be using this machine for?
- What is my budget?
Generally speaking, if you have the resources, you should always attempt to buy or build the FASTEST PC you can. Hardware gets outdated quickly, either by superior software being written which requires high-end CPU's, GPU's or fast RAM, or by said software benefiting from faster I/O operations from disk.
So where should you begin? The following components will be needed for a fresh build, so lets take a look at what we need:
- PC Case
- Power Supply
If it's your first PC build, then buying a large case is probably best, giving you plenty of room inside to assemble your components, and often providing you with optimal airflow. Look for good brands such as Corsair, CoolerMaster and Antec. They will usually have several fans included, and should come with plenty of the latest USB 3.0 connections.
The motherboard is crucial, and dictates what kind of CPU you can use, how much RAM you can install as well as how fast the RAM can operate. As with almost all of the listed components, spending more usually secures a superior product. Look for brands such as MSI, Gigabyte and ASUS.
The CPU often used to be the single most important component in any PC. Whilst that is arguably no longer true, it still remains an essential component, and you should aim for a 6 to 8 core i7 CPU from Intel if your needs are mainly content creation, and a high-end quad-core CPU from Intel in the core i5 or i7 range for everything else, including gaming. AMD offer a range of chips to rival those from Intel, especially for gaming, where a reduced number of cores and a higher general clock speed can often result in higher frame rates. They are usually cheaper too. But do some research before committing...
The GPU, or Graphics Card, is now arguably the more important decision for new system builds. Far from being used solely for games, modern GPU's usually handle all physics computations, as well as rendering for animation or video compression and high-end photography work being handled by high-end software. Advances in GPU's are far greater than CPU's, and you should try and purchase the latest spec GPU from either Nvidia or AMD, ensuring that both its clock speeds, and its VRAM are sufficient for your needs.
RAM is where the short-term needs of your computer's memory is stored. RAM is volatile, with a loss in power usually completely wiping its banks of any stored data. It does however, operate at a fantastic speed compared to persistent data storage (hard disk drives, solid state drives etc), and allows the computer to execute tasks without having to first find them on disk.Your motherboard and CPU dictate what RAM can be used and at what speeds. For example, a modern X-99 motherboard, with a core i7 CPU installed, should allow you to use the latest DDR4 SDRAM modules at speeds up to 3,200 MHZ. Bear in mind that the sweet spot for RAM is usually 8 - 16Gbs. Less is not recommended, but neither is more, unless you work in content creation. Otherwise it will just reside there, smiling at you whilst eating your wattage...Look for quality RAM from companies such as Kingston and Corsair.
An SSD is the best thing to have happened to persistent storage in a long time. It means your HDD no longer contains complex moving parts, and operates at speeds sometimes hundreds of times faster than a traditional platter drive. Whilst still being expensive compared to platter-style HDD's, without purchasing an SSD you could find that your shiny new PC is being bottlenecked by this component. Try and buy a reputable brand with as much capacity as you can afford. Look for offerings from companies such as Samsung and Intel.
The power supply is where most PC builders, especially experienced ones, get things terribly, terribly wrong. Even with the latest all-singing all-dancing CPU and GPU installed, the power needs for the VAST majority of these builds will be usually no more than 600 watts. If you think you might need a little more, or are a bit unsure, then up that number to 700 or 750. Like the comment above on RAM, going above the sweet spot will simply result in hardware sitting in your machine offering you no real benefit to your computing experience, but eating power all the time. Just because there are offerings around the 1200 or even 1500 watt range does not mean they are a wise choice. Unless electricity is free in your area...