Welcome to Technohydra's Component Selection Tutorial!
Welcome back to another episode of Technohydra theatre. Today we'll be covering some guidelines and tips for selecting the appropriate components for a new machine. This is mostly going to be for the newer members to try and solve the "What should I buy?" posts, but you may also use it as a handy referrence when you need to do a build for someone, and want to make sure the dollar to performance ratio is as good as it gets.
So, you need to build a machine. What do you need to buy to make it work? Do you need more than what you've selected? Less? Will it play all the latest games? Does it need to? Can you upgrade it later? Will it help out with your 3D rendering software? All of these are things I'll be trying to answer here. Let's sart by defining 3 basic categories of users.
Workstation user: This is your typical office machine. You may see it at a secretaries desk, or in a college dorm room, but it's role remains the same: light work loads. The most stress one of these boxes should endure is having a browser, Word, Outlook, and Solitaire open at the same time.
Server user: This is a dedicated machine type, typically used to hold and distribute information. Most home users will not have need of this sort of machine, but some like to use them to distribute media to roommates, etc. Most of the time, this machine category will be seen in office structures, and while it need not be a speed demon, must be reliable. Servers are really beyond the scope of this tutorial, as they are an article in and of themselves.
Gamer/Rendering/Enthusiast user: Machines made to be able to run the most demanding software applications on the market. Supreme Commander, Solidworks, Hudini, and benchmarks are great examples of what these boxes need to be able to handle. Speed and power are the focuses of these beasts.
So, first you need to determine what kind of user you're building this machine for. Just doing homework or book keeping, surfing the net, checking email? You've got a workstation user. Playing games, doing industrial 3D work, video editing, file encoding? Enthusiast. Got it? Now that you have that figured out, let's look at what every machine needs to function, and what each category needs for each part.
To make a machine run, we will need: motherboard, processor, ram, power supply, video card, hard drive, opticle drive, and case. Let's look at each part individually.
This is one of the Big 3, along with cpu and ram. The Big 3 will have the most impact, both on performance and your wallet. The motherboard is quite simply what everything else hooks up to, and as such, it relays all the commands and information between the different parts of the PC. It also has a variety of other functions and feature built in, and these are the key things.
The first thing you'll want to do it decide it you'll be using AMD or Intel. Intel seems to be better performing in raw power and overclocking, but AMD has much higher memory bandwidth and (usually) more bios options. The other tradeoff is that an AMD board will typically squeeze more performance out of memory, but it's sometimes harder to achieve.
For workstations, you should select a board with SATA slots, AGP or PCI-Express graphics slots, 4-6 USB ports, and one ethernet port. Spending any more money on a board than this for a workstation is a waste. Also, look at the FSB and DDR standards. An 800/1066 FSB(for Intel Core chips) and 667 DDR standard are just fine.
The gamer/3D app type will want a board with PCI-Express graphics slots, likely 2 for the possibility of SLI or Crossfire. Even if you don't intend to use them, you might end up wanting to in the future, and the second 16x slot can usually be used as an 8, 4, 2, and 1x slot as needed. FSB and DDR should be 1066/1333 FSB and at least 800 DDR. This gives both good stock performance and decent overclocking room. You may also want to get a board with USB headers to take your total possible USB ports to around 10, and look into dual 10/100/1000 base ethernet ports. Be sure to check for quad-core compatability if you're using programs like Solidworks or Hudini, as these apps can actually take advantage of all 4 cores.
Make sure that you have enough standard PCI slots for your add-in devices, as well. Now, as to the chipset selection...I won't get into nVidia versus Intel chipsets. Thats personal preference for the most part. If you're overclocking, read some articles here and check some reviews of newer chipsets, and go with what seems to fit you needs. Asking here is a great way to get relevant opinions. As a rule of thumb, the nVidia 590, 650, and 680 chips, as well as the Intel 965, 975, and P35's are the current top dogs of overclocking. Others may work well too, but these are the popular OC/gaming chips.
The processor or cpu is the part responsible for calculating, executing, and (!)processing all tasks on your machine. It used to be that you could just look at the speed of the cpu and make a choice that way, but things are a little different these days. For example, my E4300 running at 1.8 Ghz bechmarked and performed at the same level as my FX-60 overclocked to 2.9 Ghz. Yet again, the forums and Google searches help with this little bit of confusion.
The other factors of a cpu are the L2 cache, FSB speed, and number of cores on the chip. L2 cache is simple, just get as much as you can, but don't worry if you don't get a huge amount. Whereas it makes a difference, it's not huge. The FSB speed needs to be matched to your board, plain and simple. And the number of cores...that depends on your user.
For the workstation PC, an E4300 or X2 3800+ are probably as much as you need and then some. They both have dual cores and run at a respectable speed for what they're going to be doing. In this application, L2 cache is not even a consideration, as it will provide no real benefit.
For the gamer or benchmarker, look higher, such as the E6300, 6600 and 6700 Intels, and the X2 5600, or 6000+ AMD's. The Intels at this level are all dual-cores, have 4MB of shared L2 cache, and run at a 1066 FSB. The AMD's are dual-core as well, but have 1MB of L2 on each core (not shared).
For extremely high end 3D apps, you may want to look at quad-core cpu's, such as the Q6600 Intel. This thing has 2 banks of 4MB L2, runs at a 1066 FSB, and has 4 seperate cores on one die. Sadly, AMD has no quad-core single die units available right now, but look for that to change in the near future.
Lastly, should you get an Extreme or FX processor? Frankly, unless you're going to use high end Peltier or Phase Change cooling systems, you're wasting money on these chips. You're paying for hype, bragging rights, and the highest stock specs on the market. You can do anything with a normal processor that you can with an Extreme or FX for less than half the price.
Last of the Big 3, but not least, memory is the cornerstone of a system. It receives, stores and sends all the data you'll be processing, so how well it works is a direct relationship to how well your system will perform. We have a lot of variables here; timings, speed, capacity, chip used, and voltage.
Timings are not that important if you're not going for an enthusiast system. That said, they are a huge factor in an overclocking or gaming machine. Lower is always better here. What you're looking for in an OCing rig is high rated speed at low timings. Thus, of the two kits, a DDR2 1000 4-4-4-12 kit will be better and have more headroom than a DDR2 1000 5-5-5-15 kit. The timings uses, names and effects are covered elsewhere, so I won't talk about them, but just remember, lower is better!
Speed is probably the easiest to determine. In a workstation, DDR2 667/800 is just fine. 800 is even overkill. Gaming/OC machines will want DDR2 800/1000. There are 2 schools of thought here, get the best overclocking kit of DDR2 800/1000 you can buy, and push it to the max, or figure out the max speed you want to run your ram at and buy a kit rated for that speed, like DDR2 1200. Buying extremely fast ram and running it at a lower speed also allows you to tighten up the timings for better performance, so if you're a veteran OCer, this may be the way for you to go.
Capacity is also a no brainer. Workstations need 2x512MB or possibly 2x1GB kits. 2x512 is usually plenty. Gaming machines should always have 2X1GB of ram. Whereas you can go for 4x1GB or 2x2GB, this is not strictly necessary, and you will see minimal return on this investment. Rendering machines can make serious use of 4x1 or 2x2 GB kits, provided they're running Vista 64. XP will only recognize 2.4 GB of physical memory. Only go for the 4 GB level if you need it for applications, but if you need it, don't scimp, get it!
Chip type is meaningless for all but overclockers. For these users, look for some Micron D9 IC's. More specifically, look for either the D9GMH chips, or the D9TXK's. A little Google searching on this subject will give you all the info you need.
Lastly, the voltage. Again, meaningless unless you want to OC. And again, the rule of thumb here is lower being better. To sum it up, the less volts needed to clear stock speed, the more headroom you'll likely have.
Power supplies aren't glamorous, but they make all the parts of a machine work. This is one area where spending extra money will make a much better machine. What you should look at for power supplies is the wattage, power factor correction, cooling and efficiency.
To sum up power, go here. Enter in not what you will be using, but everything you plan on using ever in the future. When you calculate the power, add 100 wats to it, and look for a supply rated at above that number. That'll keep you in stable power.
Power factor correction is simple, just look for active. 'Nuff said. Same thing with cooling, look for a supply with at least 1, prefferably 2 120mm or larger fans. Cooler power supplies last longer and provide more stable signals. As for efficiency, I'd always shoot for above 80%. The more power you put from the wall to the pc, the lower your electric bills will be.
The last thing to think about here is connectors. Make sure the supply you choose has all the power plugs you will need, now and in the future. Nothing's worse than getting ready to do something kick-butt, as not having the right connector. As for modular or not...it's personal preferance.
Alot of good choices these days, but I'll try to keep it simple. For the workstation, Go for something in the range of a 7300GS. Anything else is way too much, and even this is probably too high.
Gamers...go for the 8800 GTS 640MB, 8800 GTX/Ultra or and SLI/Crossfire setup. Something like 7900's or 8600's would be nice. I prefer the 7950 GX2 myself, but they're tough to get these days.
I realize this section is pretty vague, but you really need to do the research to find out what you need here...there are no cut and dry answers here. Use GPU Review to look up stat and compare cards side by side.
The hard drive is the storage space for all your information on a long-term basis. As such, it needs to be reliable, and for some, highly responsive. Things to look for in a drive are the rpms, capacity, buffer size and connection type.
I'll jump right to connection...there is no reason at all in a modern build not to use SATA 2.0 drives. They are way faster and easier to configure than any other method.
For all but those who are alan about the speeds of hard drives, a 7200 rpm model is what you want. 10,000 rpm is for data that needs to be accessed very rapidly, and usually only servers and RAID arrays can really make goo use of them. They are also monstously expensive, costing 5-10 times as much per gig of capacity.
Capacity, for me 250GB is the standard size. They run about $75 at the time of writing on Newegg.com, making them both large enough for most users and reasonably priced. You can always add another drive if you need more than 250 GB. For myself, I like 500 GB, but I need them to hold all my archives.
Buffer is also sort of a no-brainer...bigger is better. The standards are 8 and
16 MB, and a 16 MB buffer costs about $5 more...no reason not to get one!
Last part is the opticle drive. This is a simple solution, really, get a Super-Multi type drive from Newegg.com. These drives can read and burn all cd's and DVD's, all formats, and at high speeds. Last time I checked, an LG Super-Multi with Lightscribe cost about $40. How does it get better??
The only thing to look at is the connection type. They come in IDE and SATA. SATA is super quick, but I personally prefer to use the IDE's. Why? What else are you going to use that channel for...seriously?
Well, that basically wraps up the rough version of the tutorial. I'm going to be adding and editing for the next few days to make the guide as helpful as possible, so feel free to make suggestions. Thanks for reading again, see you next guide!