Home > Computers and the Internet > Building Your Own PC, Part 1

Building Your Own PC, Part 1

August 1st, 2010

Cmc01At school this semester, we organized a Computer Making Club; the school gives any club a semester (4-month) budget of ¥50,000, enough to buy all the components for a decent-mid-range computer. Before we did this, I had always wanted to do this kind of thing, but never got around to it. In part, I figured there would be technical hurdles that would involve a great deal of study, and so put it off until I had time to dive into it. As it turns out, it was not all that difficult to put together– the process is pretty simple, though getting to understand the minutiae about parts is much more involved. I should say that if you know nothing about computers, and especially if you have a phobia about them, you’ll probably have to overcome a bit of a steep learning curve. It helps to know something about computer hardware in general beforehand.

Not that I’m suddenly an expert or anything, but fresh from having successfully slapped together my first PC, I’m beginning to get hooked. I thought I might describe the process here–though admittedly, one of the reasons is so I can look back in a few years and laugh at how naive and uninformed I was. But we did build a PC without much hassle or intensive study, and it did work, so why not describe it here.

First off, you won’t need to solder anything; it will involve buying perhaps 10 or so different parts that you more or less plug together. They include:

The CPU (the “brain” of the computer)
The Motherboard (the computer’s foundation which everything else connects to)
RAM (the more you have, the more apps you can run)
A Case
A Hard Disk Drive (SSDs are also available, but still expensive)
An Optical Drive (unless you go Blu-ray, these are commonly cheap)
A Video Card (optional)
A Keyboard and Mouse (cheap)
A Monitor (you might want to go used on this unless you can spare it)

Once you have the parts, the process is fairly straightforward: install the CPU (with cooler) and RAM on the motherboard, and install the motherboard into the case. Then put the hard disk and optical drives into the appropriate bays. Add the video card if you have one. Connect all the power and data leads, tie the cables off so they don’t get in the way. Close the case, attach your peripherals (mouse, keyboard, monitor), and start up. If everything works, then restart with the OS disk in the optical drive, and install the OS. That’s pretty much it in a nutshell.

Sounds easy, right? Well, in principle, it can be, but maybe we were lucky: nothing went wrong. If the computer doesn’t work, however, then I imagine it’s time to start studying. And though nothing went wrong, we did hit bumps in the road where we spent an hour or two trying to figure our way through a few things–mostly for the classic shortcoming in the world of computers, namely insufficient documentation. However, we did have the advantage of having people with knowledge and experience enough to figure some stuff out and make the right decisions, though none of us were anywhere near expert at this.

While you likely won’t have to learn the intricacies of the BIOS, and you won’t need to solder or really make anything, there is one thing you should do: familiarize yourself with the parts. Know what they do, and understand the different varieties and categories involved.


Cmc Cpu01The first thing you’ll want to do is decide which CPU you want to use. You could start with the motherboard, and who knows, maybe that’s the smarter choice, but frankly I see the CPU as being a better starting place. It is important to realize that the two must fit: different CPUs have different configurations, and can only fit into certain sockets on motherboards. You cannot just plug any CPU into any motherboard.

There are about half a dozen different common socket configurations, based on how many pins/contacts are on the bottom of the CPU, and how they’re laid out. Intel and AMD are the two big makers, and there are 3 or 4 configurations for each; Intel has the LGA775, LGA1156, and the LGA1366, for instance. The LGA775, as an example, is an older type which supports most currently available Intel CPUs including the later Pentiums and Celerons, and the Core 2 CPU line.

Both Intel and AMD make lots of different CPU models. In this post, I’ll just focus on Intel’s, as they tend to be more popular (and adding AMD’s line to the mix would complicate things). Let me give a quick list of major Intel CPUs, ranked very roughly in terms of speed and age:

Celeron
Pentium 4
Celeron D
Pentium D
Core 2 Duo
Core 2 Extreme
Core 2 Quad
Core i3
Core i5
Core i7
Xeon

If that’s not bad enough, each one can have dozens of different sub-models. The i5, for example, has the 400, 500, 600, and 700 series, with at least half a dozen different CPUs in all. The Core 2 line includes well over a hundred different CPU models released over the past five years.

Each chip has different features, and it can be difficult to figure out which is faster than which–primarily because speed is determined by a variety of features, including the number of processing cores, the amount of cache (on-chip memory storage), the processor speed (in GHz), and the processor architecture in general. You might think that a 6-core AMD Phenom II at 3.2 GHz would outperform a 4-core Intel i5 at 2.66 GHz, but not really. The page I just linked to allows you to see comparative benchmarks, and so get a better idea of what outperforms what.

Fortunately, your choice is simplified by a few factors. First, the Celerons and Pentiums are outdated; fine if you want to buy cheap, used parts and don’t care much about performance, but otherwise forget it. On the other end, chips like the i7 and the Xeon can be costly; unless you’re building a speed demon and price is not an issue, you’ll likely stay away from those as well. For someone with a budget, the Core 2 Duo, Core 2 Quad, i3, or i5 are probably your best bets. After that, look for what’s available in the your price range, and you’ll find you have a much shorter list to choose from. While some chips are much faster than others, CPUs in a similar range will have only minor differences in speed–so you probably shouldn’t fret too much over which is faster unless you’re trying to squeeze every last drop of speed from your system.

If you want to make a computer for less than ¥50,000, for example, the Core 2 Duo might suit best; for less than ¥70,000, the Core i5 would be nice. (I am figuring prices based on mostly new parts and including a video card.) If you want to make a super-cheap computer, then you’re in Celeron and Pentium range, and it starts making more sense to look at used parts.

Fcg41Next, the motherboard.

If you go for the Core 2 Duo, like we did (budget concerns), you will need a motherboard with an LGA775 socket. They generally begin at just under ¥5000, and go way up from there. The model we got–a Foxconn G41MX-K–has an OK set of features. It uses the G41 chipset (a chipset is, as it sounds, a set of chips used as a group on a motherboard to control its main functions), not great but respectable; it has a standard PCI slot set (PCI slots allow you to plug in extensions like video cards to improve performance; a PCI Express x16 is something you’ll want to have); and it uses DDR2 RAM (a type of memory; a newer type, DDR3, is newer and better, but not compatible).

Though your CPU will determine the socket type, you should also decide early on which motherboard form factor you want. The main types are based on ATX, the favorite for DIY computer building. The variants include (from largest to smallest) Extended ATX, standard ATX, and MicroATX. Also available is MiniITX, a low-power motherboard form. If you want to have a smaller CPU box, then MicroATX may suit you best. That and the standard ATX seem to be the most prevalent.

The motherboard also has most of the computer’s cable ports built in to its side (in the image above, see the left side near the top); ours had the standard legacy PS2 and Serial ports (for old mice & keyboards), 4 USB-2 ports, a network port, 8-channel sound, and 2 video out ports (one classic analog VGA and one newer digital DVI). More ports can be added in other ways–for example, most cases come with built-in USB ports in the front, which attach directly to the motherboard via interior cables.

We didn’t need HDMI because that would be available on the video card. FireWire is nice, but is being phased out due to USB’s dominance. USB-3 is dandy, but only needed if you have super-fast equipment.

Again, pricing narrows down your options–if you are on a budget, then the dizzying array of choices is made a bit more simple. Our choices were shaved down to maybe a dozen or so as we wanted to stay within ¥5,500.

Cmc Ram01After that, you get RAM. 2GB is generally enough for most purposes today, but I prefer maxing out as the budget allows. We went for 4GB of RAM, which will help the machine be viable for a year or two longer. An important point is how many slots there are for RAM on the motherboard; ours had 2 slots (some have 4 or more), and so we had to get 2 RAM chips at 2GB each. Fortunately, the pricing was not any more per GB that way, though 4GB chips start getting pricey. We got two 2GB chips for about ¥8000.


These three elements–CPU, Motherboard, and RAM–make up the heart of the computer, and were the most expensive parts (roughly half of our ¥46,000 hardware budget).

Before working with them, you should have prepared a non-conductive workplace. We used a cheap plastic dish rack lined with bubble wrap, though you might want to prepare something a tad fancier. Be careful handling surfaces and contacts; it’s best to have an antistatic wrist strap to avoid static shocks which could damage the components.

Installing the CPU on the motherboard is relatively easy: open the clamp on the socket, remove the protective shield, drop the CPU into the socket, then clamp down again. Simple.

Sp522S7-1However, most CPUs require cooling units, big ‘ol heat radiators with fans. We bought our CPU used (a Core 2 Duo E7400) for ¥8000, thinking we were saving money–before finding out that new CPUs came with cooling fans, and ours didn’t, so we had to spend another ¥2000 and didn’t save any money.

Installing the CPU cooler was a real bear. First, you must not forget to apply conductive grease to the base of the cooler after making sure the contact surfaces are clean. Without the grease (or “thermal compound”) your CPU will overheat and die. It usually comes supplied with the CPU cooler. Probably a good idea to not let it come into contact with your skin.

There were 4 legs or struts that involved pushing down and twisting so they locked. There’s probably a trick to doing that, but we sure couldn’t figure it out. The first two were easy; the third took a while, and the last one almost killed us. Once the cooler is in place, you have to plug in its power connector; these things are diagrammed out on the motherboard instructions for you.

RAM, on the hand, is a cinch. Make sure it is oriented the right way, then just push down into the slot until it locks. Presto.

There’s the heart of your computer, right there.

In a following post, I’ll talk about choosing a case and power supply, and installing the motherboard into it, then adding the HDD and Optical drive. Fortunately, these are somewhat easier to learn about.

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  1. Troy
    August 1st, 2010 at 18:58 | #1

    Actually when starting from scratch you want to pick the motherboard first, since that will dictate what CPU you can use. Of course, you should have the CPU in mind when picking the mb : )

    PCI Express is NOT PCI.

    USB 3 is important for future-proofing.

    You don’t need to do much for anti-static if you’re using a metal case since its block of metal is sufficient to ground out everything and yourself as long as you touch it before touching anything sensitive.

    Though a grounded wrist-strap is a good investment when handling the CPU and memory.

    2 RAM chips

    RAM comes in “sticks”, not “chips” : )

    NEVER buy a used CPU. The CPU is something that can be abused by OCing and/or improper cooling, or returned by an OCer who wasn’t happy with the OCing headroom.

    Generally you’ll want to go with Arctic Silver 5 and follow the instructions on their website.

    For the CPU fan I go with Zalman “flower” design usually since I like their copper stuff and they run quieter. Very heavy though so I get a case with the mb horizontal, not vertical, to reduce strain.

    To do RAM right you have to make sure you’ve got them in the right slots for dual or triple channel systems.

    Plus inserting RAM chips can be a bit tricky. With the fancy heat spreaders sometimes you’ve got to be careful not to press on them the wrong way.

    A small shop called Two Top in Akihabara basically pioneered the DIY system builder, I started going their for work-related stuff in 1997 or so.

    http://shopinfo.twotop.co.jp/akiba_honten/

    Then ca 1999 T-Zone dedicated their entire 7th floor (? — 2nd from the top) to the DIY and it was awesome. They didn’t have carts like Fry’s but you could get everything in one location with a lot of selection. I was able to build 3 or 4 machines through them and it was a lot of fun.

    Here in the states, newegg.com is the go-to resource for DIY. They’ve got the best customer review system, though their prices are never the cheapest, they’re the most with-it online retailer, on the same level as amazon but much more focused just on IT-related stuff.

  2. Troy
    August 1st, 2010 at 19:03 | #2

    oh:

    you should have prepared a non-conductive workplace. We used a cheap plastic dish rack lined with bubble wrap

    Actually, what you want is an anti-static workplace, which by definition is conductive.

    Static electricity is pretty easy to understand, it builds up on stuff that is not grounded and not a conductor (metals can absorb AFAIK “infinite” amounts of static electricity).

  3. Troy
    August 1st, 2010 at 19:07 | #3

    also2, one of the major annoyances with DIY is the endlessly varying fan mounting configuration that Intel changes for no good reason. This is where newegg’s customer reviews come in handy, plus a google search if necessary, to figure out whether the fan you have will actually fit the motherboard you’ve got. Many mbs have multiple holes drilled to support different configurations of the fan mounting.

  4. Troy
    August 1st, 2010 at 19:34 | #4

    also3, you forgot OS on your list : )

  5. Troy
    August 1st, 2010 at 20:12 | #5

    For fun I tried to make a $550 box . . . alas, still need a case & OS:

    Intel Core i3-530 Clarkdale 2.93GHz LGA 1156 — $114.99
    MSI P55A-G55 LGA 1156 Intel P55 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard — $124.99
    CORSAIR DOMINATOR 2GB (2 x 1GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 — $69.99
    SeaSonic S12II 380B 380W ATX12V — $49.99
    Western Digital Caviar Blue WD2500AAKS 250GB 7200 RPM SATA — $47.99
    SAMSUNG 24x DVD Burner – Bulk SATA Model SH-S243N — $24.99
    SAPPHIRE Ultimate 100289UL Radeon HD 5670 1GB — $114.99

    Subtotal: $547.93

  6. Luis
    August 1st, 2010 at 20:27 | #6

    See? Like I said, naive and uninformed. 😀 But this is good stuff–this is how you learn and pick up stuff. Our “PC building expert” of the group was fairly amateurish himself. I know a lot about major components, but not so much about specifics related to DIY construction.

    Actually when starting from scratch you want to pick the motherboard first, since that will dictate what CPU you can use. Of course, you should have the CPU in mind when picking the mb.

    Like I said, it could go either way. I like the idea of choosing the CPU first, but the MB certainly has more options to settle on.

    PCI Express is NOT PCI.

    In the sense that video cards needed too much bandwidth for standard PCI slots to handle, so PCI-e were added for that purpose? Is it inappropriate to say that they are all in a group that could be labeled “PCI,” or are PCI-e slots considered exclusive and not part of the same category?

    USB 3 is important for future-proofing.

    Hrmm… I guess so, but even with fast equipment most people would never need that fast a connection, not in the near future. Even though some consumer HDDs can reach the limits of USB 2, it requires transfer between two devices of like kind, something most people don’t have. But granted, USB 3 couldn’t hurt, and maybe will be more relevant down the line.

    RAM comes in “sticks”, not “chips.”

    I stand corrected–chips are on the sticks. Though aren’t the sticks called “modules”? Or is that just a formal designation?

    NEVER buy a used CPU. The CPU is something that can be abused by OCing and/or improper cooling, or returned by an OCer who wasn’t happy with the OCing headroom.

    Hmm. Had not known that. I guess OC’ing is a common thing with DIY-ers? Anyway, it seemed to me that used CPUs weren’t a great deal anyway–after buying the cooling unit, the cost came out about the same as buying one new, anyway. But good to know.

    Arctic Silver 5

    Again, very good to know. I got a Spire cooler, and it came with a conductor grease which looked exactly like what I saw at AS’s site.

    To do RAM right you have to make sure you’ve got them in the right slots for dual or triple channel systems.

    Interesting–that’s what I thought, but was told at the shop that it didn’t matter. Could you elaborate?

    A small shop called Two Top in Akihabara basically pioneered the DIY system builder, I started going their for work-related stuff in 1997 or so.

    Yeah, I found them–but was not terribly impressed. Despite my dislike for Sofmap, the Sofmap right across from Two Top was much better–bigger selection, better prices. There’s a place called Faith which is also pretty good. For RAM and video cards, there’s a Tsukumo shop which had the best selection and deals. I was going to get to that in the 2nd or 3rd post.

  7. Luis
    August 1st, 2010 at 20:52 | #7

    Actually, what you want is an anti-static workplace, which by definition is conductive.

    Static electricity is pretty easy to understand, it builds up on stuff that is not grounded and not a conductor (metals can absorb AFAIK “infinite” amounts of static electricity).

    Again, good to know. Using commonplace materials, what’s the best thing to use? I was also worried about pressing down on the MB when installing the fan, and if it was not on something good I feared damaging the MB somehow.

    What are the protocols in regards to materials to use for a workplace–type, hardness, etc.? Is bubble wrap not good? What do you use?

    one of the major annoyances with DIY is the endlessly varying fan mounting configuration that Intel changes for no good reason.

    I must have lucked out, then–I just got the cheapest one that the store said worked with an LGA775, and it seemed to fit exactly. But don’t new CPUs always come with their own cooler units?

    also3, you forgot OS on your list.

    Well, kinda. I was listing the hardware, and considered the OS a choice for later on. But it definitely adds to the cost, doesn’t it?

    SeaSonic S12II 380B 380W ATX12V — $49.99
    Western Digital Caviar Blue WD2500AAKS 250GB 7200 RPM SATA — $47.99
    SAMSUNG 24x DVD Burner – Bulk SATA Model SH-S243N — $24.99
    SAPPHIRE Ultimate 100289UL Radeon HD 5670 1GB — $114.99

    A few questions: Isn’t it better to get a case with a built-in power supply? Seemed to me like you saved both money and effort that way.

    Also, how do you know what to get–is 380W OK for most configurations with a graphics card? We got a 450W unit, mostly just to make sure.

    On the WD Caviar Blue–that’s what we got, though we opted for the 500 GB unit, otherwise the same. But ours cost $52 at Sofmap (current exchange rates), just $3 more than what you list. Prices seem to vary a lot, even store-to-store–not common in most general shops in Japan.

    For the video card, I had maybe the most trouble figuring things out. Any general advice about Radeon vs. NVidia? For example, I’m looking at a 1GB GeForce GTS 250 card for about $115. In that price range, is the Radeon a better card?

  8. Luis
    August 1st, 2010 at 21:16 | #8

    Here’s my current wish-list for a 4-core i5 system, with a Blu-Ray burner as an option:

    Intel DH55TC Motherboard — ¥9200 ($106)
    Intel i5 750 quad-core @ 2.66 GHz — ¥18,580 ($215)
    4 GB DDR3 RAM (2 modules) — roughly ¥8000 ($93)
    GeForce GTS 250 E-Green 1GB (PCIExp 1GB) — ¥9980 ($115)

    Figuring on:

    a case with 450W power supply for about ¥4500 ($52)
    a 500GB Caviar Blue 7200 RPM HDD for ¥4500 ($52)

    I was considering augmenting that with:

    a new LG Electronics Japan FLATLON 21.5″ display (1080p) for ¥15,000 ($174), and
    an LG BH10NS30 Blu-Ray Superdrive (10x BD-R, 16x DVD-R, 48x CD-R) for ¥13,000 ($150).

    Total cost, not counting keyboard, mouse, or OS: ¥82,760 ($957). If I opt for a used 19″ monitor and a standard DVD drive, the price probably drops by about ¥20,000 ($232) to something closer to ¥63,000 (about $725).

    Sound like too much? Any parts not right? Any advice or tips? Thanks in advance.

  9. Luis
    August 1st, 2010 at 21:25 | #9

    BTW, how do you add WiFi internally? A PCI card?

  10. Tim Kane
    August 1st, 2010 at 22:24 | #10

    Thanks Luis, I thoroughly enjoyed that. Bravo. I’d like to do something similar with my students.

  11. Troy
    August 2nd, 2010 at 04:24 | #11

    Is it inappropriate to say that they are all in a group that could be labeled “PCI,” or are PCI-e slots considered exclusive and not part of the same category?

    PCI slots are kinda like ISA slots in the scheme of things, something you don’t necessarily need to have on the board if you don’t have existing PCI cards.

    PCIe came out in 2004 and are a totally different electrical transport idea. Wikipedia has more : )

    I guess so, but even with fast equipment most people would never need that fast a connection, not in the near future.

    The iPad could certainly use USB 3. Intel isn’t supporting it in its chipsets yet, so it’s going to take a while for it to become industry standard, but if we can’t have firewire then this is I guess what’s needed. There’s something called lightpeak which is interesting but dunno when that’s coming out. Oh, this reminds me, another nice thing to have on the mb is eSATA port(s). You can get a card for this too ($20).

    Google says “module” and “stick” is synonymous.

    Interesting–that’s what I thought, but was told at the shop that it didn’t matter. Could you elaborate?

    if the memory slots are different colors, that means it’s dual (or triple) channel. I see

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813186172

    you’ve only got two memory slots so no way to go wrong here other than getting mismatched sticks.

    Using commonplace materials, what’s the best thing to use? I was also worried about pressing down on the MB when installing the fan

    Bubble wrap doesn’t sound that good to me. The best thing to get is an anti-static work mat. I just use my kitchen table (wood) with the anti-static bag the mb comes in as the work surface. Things are always on their bag or in the box, which is a big enough hunk of metal to be grounded (plastic cases are probably “grounded” from their contact with the metal of the PS).

    In general I think it’s best to do all the work on the motherboard with it in the case. So the first step is to attach the many standoffs and the CPU fan mounting backplate (if necessary).

    But don’t new CPUs always come with their own cooler units?

    newegg has OEM units without coolers, though looking at newegg I see there’s only two Intel CPUs with this option, compared to many AMD.

    I was listing the hardware, and considered the OS a choice for later on. But it definitely adds to the cost, doesn’t it?

    And another trip to Akihabara if you forget it. . . Actually I was able to get a Windows 7 license key online for IIRC $20 thanks to the (now-expired) Microsoft promo and the fact I have a college edu account. Installing Windows from a USB memory stick is the ultimate in DIY : )

    Yeah, I found them–but was not terribly impressed.

    yeah, Two Top sucked back in the day, too, but AFAIK they were first, or at least 元祖 (this is my favorite kanji compound I think).

    After T-Zone (R. I. P.) had their DIY floor I never went back to Two Top.

    Isn’t it better to get a case with a built-in power supply? Seemed to me like you saved both money and effort that way.

    If you’re interested in saving money and effort you should buy a Dell : )

    Actually this is a good way to save money if you find a case you like with the PS you like. Just don’t buy a case that you don’t know what the PS is!

    PSs have different features and they’ll last a long time if you treat them right (don’t overtax them) so I spend a lot in this category. I like the “modular” cable option that lets you only have the power cables you actually need inside the box.

    Plus noise is always a big issue for me so I try to buy the quietest components I can. This is just an affectation and not scientific (MUCH of DIY comes down to this) but for some reason I like SeaSonic’s stuff.

    how do you know what to get–is 380W OK for most configurations with a graphics card? We got a 450W unit, mostly just to make sure.

    The graphics card will say. For one graphics power hookup, 450W is perfect. For two (or god forbid, 4) you’ll need more . . .

    In that price range, is the Radeon a better card?

    Dunno you’ll have to do some googling. The card I chose is in the new bottom-range iMacs : ) which was good enough for me.

    Plus it’s fanless, which is pretty cool!

    how do you add WiFi internally? A PCI card?

    If you’re not using that PCIe1X slot, you might as well use that . . . PCI could also handle the traffic fine I think, I think hard disks can’t keep up with PCI so that could be used for the eSATA expansion if needed.

    Sound like too much? Any parts not right? Any advice or tips? Thanks in advance.

    I only know what newegg tells me : )

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813121394

    I’m not an OCer so I gravitate to Intel boards when they meet my feature needs. I love newegg’s filter search, it really cuts through all the configurations to show you your actual choices.

  12. Troy
    August 2nd, 2010 at 06:52 | #12

    oh yeah, as for PCI vs PCI Express, the latest CPUs have PCIe on the CPU for allegedly better communication to/from the GPU.

    Also the CPU you chose doesn’t have hyperthreading. I’m not sure a full quad-core is worth the cooling/noise and $ budget — prolly better off getting a Radeon 5770 (or nVidia equiv) and a dual-core for the money.

    Here’s my attempt at the ~$1000 (intermediate / best bang for buck) pricepoint:

    Intel Core i5-655K Clarkdale 3.2GHz LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core Unlocked Desktop — $209.99

    Unlocked multiplier makes it possible to bump up the CPU speed without also OCing the memory bus.

    Scythe Ninja 3 SCNJ-3000 120mm Sleeve CPU Cooler — $49.99

    Not sure it fits in the case (might be too tall), but Scythe makes the best fans.

    ASRock H55M/USB3 LGA 1156 Intel H55 HDMI USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel Motherboard — $109.99

    Not sure about ASRock but this is the only USB 3 motherboard with the features I want. It has HDMI out, but no onboard video because the i5 CPU does the video now (bizarre but cool). H57 has RAID but I don’t use RAID so no worries there. Price is nice.

    Mushkin Enhanced Ridgeback 4GB (2 x 2GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 — $129.99

    CAS 6 (upvolted to 1.65V to get this, have to check the motherboard settings on boot to verify). Apparently 1600 is the fastest i5 with on-die graphics can do.

    MSI R5770 Hawk Radeon HD 5770 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 2.1 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card — $179.99

    Seems to be the best bang for the buck. Quiet, too. I put one in my old Core2Duo box, it’s very nice so I don’t really need to upgrade anything yet. The 5770 is the new minimum for the Mac Pro, and I’m hoping Apple releases a card for my old 1st-gen Mac Pro (currently running an old 3-series in it that I got early last year).

    Antec New Solution NSK2480 Black/Silver 0.8mm cold-rolled steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 380W Power Supply — $119.90

    Going with the micro atx, might as well see if the included power supply is good enough (Antec is a good brand)

    Western Digital Caviar Blue WD6400AAKS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5″ — $69.99

    Seems to be the best bang for the buck. Quiet, too.

    Pioneer CD/DVD Burner Black SATA Model DVR-218LBK — $24.99

    (I like Pioneer for some reason; maybe not the most reliable burner, dunno)

  13. Troy
    August 2nd, 2010 at 08:16 | #13

    oh yeah . . . the biggest bang-for-buck is a SSD drive big enough for your applications and OS. My Win7 box with everything installed has 104GB in use, so a ~$300 128GB drive is about the minimum I could go.

    But the difference in use is like the difference between a Mac II and a Mac SE was, back in the day.

  14. Troy
    August 4th, 2010 at 04:33 | #14

    ^ looks like I was wrong about using PCIe for 802.11.

    Wouldn’t you rather have this:

    http://www.anandtech.com/show/3788/oczs-revodrive-pcie-ssd-preview-an-affordable-pcie-ssd

    in that PCIe slot?

    There are plenty of USB2 Wifi keys, and USB’s 480 Mb/s (peak) is less than 802.11n’s theoretical peak of 300 Mb/s.

  15. gsw
    August 5th, 2010 at 15:20 | #15

    I am amazed that one put all these different parts together and not have an incompatibility problem of some kind.

  16. Luis
    August 5th, 2010 at 15:53 | #16

    Thank goodness for standards–and no thanks to those who disregard or abandon them.

  17. Troy
    August 6th, 2010 at 07:04 | #17

    Gee thanks Luis you’ve got me back looking at PC parts, which I’d been not doing for about a year.

    I think Sandy Bridge is worth waiting for if you can.

    They’ve got a Socket 2011 platform — 2011 pins! — coming that is going to be an amazing beast, plus PCs might finally get EFI like Macs have.

    This is just a hope, but maybe Apple will even license OS X for EFI PCs. That would be awesome.

  18. Luis
    August 6th, 2010 at 11:50 | #18

    Also the CPU you chose doesn’t have hyperthreading. I’m not sure a full quad-core is worth the cooling/noise and $ budget … Intel Core i5-655K Clarkdale 3.2GHz LGA 1156 73W Dual-Core Unlocked Desktop — $209.99

    Considering that the i5 750 @ 2.66 GHz is quad-core and about the same price as the 655K you quoted, would it not be better than the 655K? According to benchmarks and reviews, even with hyperthreading, the 655K does not perform nearly as well as the 750 (unless you’re into overclocking, which I’m not, at least not yet). Is the downside more heat and a bigger fan, or something else?

    What are the advantages of EFI over BIOS? Not that I’m a huge BIOS expert or anything, but what I could find regarding criticisms was that EFI brings complexity without sufficient benefits to match, and that the OS tends to ignore BIOS/EFI after bootup anyway. Advantages are graphical interface, faster boot times, and–this probably being your interest–better Hackintosh support? Does it also support multiple OS’s running at the same time?

  19. Troy
    August 7th, 2010 at 00:59 | #19

    For a price premium of $30, the 655K is that its 3.2Ghz can be upclocked to 4.0GHz pretty much out of the box on any decent air-cooling (actually the 655K is one of the two CPUs that Intel sells w/o stock heatsinks). It’s on the 32nm process so I think it’s running cooler clock-for-clock (sometimes this is not the case).

    If you’re not going to OC, then there’s no point in going with the 655K, and the new i5-760 for the same $210 will give you a bona-fide quad-core 2.8GHz.

    And with a quality cooler, the i5-760, even with its locked multiplier can be pretty easily upclocked to 3.36Ghz (from 2.8) if you buy a motherboard and memory that can handle the 1600 memory speed (20% over the stock 1300 speed to match the 20% upclock on the CPU).

    So, yeah, I guess quad-core is the better path for long-term value. I don’t like radical OCing because I think it introduces instability, and one crash is too many if you’re trying to do work. But with a “mild” 4Ghz dual-core OC vs 3.3Ghz quad-core OC . . . hmmm, I think the quad-core win easily in real-world stuff like video conversion (which is the bulk of my CPU usage these days).

    As for EFI, it’s almost just an esthetics issue for me. Booting up into character-mode is so 80s — even 1970s. I’m hoping removing this last legacy thing will result in easier machine administration and multiboot functionality, and the hackintosh thing would be a nice bonus but I’m not going to expect that.

  20. Troy
    August 7th, 2010 at 07:38 | #20

    OK, here’s what I would build if I were putting together a machine from scratch today.

    http://imgur.com/uyVYx.png

    Intel charges $80 more for a hyperthreading quad-core, for the 10% performance gain I think I’ll rather use that money for other things like a better graphics card.

    This build is designed to balance QUIETNESS with performance since I value both equally (well, actually I am willing to pay extra for both equally).

    Going with the quad core means you lose the integrated Intel graphics (supported by H55/57 but not P55), but I chose an H57 board anyway since the P55 microATX boards all kinda suck (this MSI board actually has a usable PCIe 1x slot which I think is important.

    I think waiting for Sandy Bridge, with PCIe 3, SATA 6, and USB 3 is the way to go. For the same money things will be a lot better (ie more future-proofed) in a year.

  21. Troy
    August 1st, 2012 at 16:30 | #21

    Inflation check two years on!

    Antec New Solution NSK2480 Black/Silver 0.8mm cold-rolled steel MicroATX Desktop Computer Case 380W Power Supply — $117.99

    $2 less, LOL

    Western Digital Caviar Blue WD10EZEX 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive — $99.99

    Hard drive prices still up after the floods.

    MSI R7770-PMD1GD5 Radeon HD 7770 GHz Edition 1GB 128-bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready Video Card — $124.99

    7770 is maybe equivalent to top of the line two years ago, not bad!

    Mushkin Enhanced Essentials 16GB (4 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 — $85.98

    4X the memory for 60% the cost!

    MSI H77MA-G43 LGA 1155 Intel H77 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 Micro ATX Intel — $89.99

    USB 3 which is nice!

    Intel Core i5-3550 Ivy Bridge 3.3GHz (3.7GHz Turbo) LGA 1155 77W Quad-Core — $209.99

    Picked the same price point as before. Quad core vs. dual core before.

    Scythe SCNJ-3100 120mm Ninja 3 Rev. B CPU Cooler — $49.99

    Subtotal: $778.92

  22. Luis
    August 1st, 2012 at 16:37 | #22

    Western Digital Caviar Blue WD10EZEX 1TB 7200 RPM SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5″ Internal Hard Drive — $99.99 – Hard drive prices still up after the floods.
    Frankly, I strongly doubt that prices we see today are still due to the floods.

    I am of the impression that (a) most likely, this long after the floods, the prices are being kept artificially high just because they have an excuse and can do it, and/or (b) fewer new plants to build HDDs are being constructed as SSDs are expected to take over anyway.

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