From time to time the question comes up, "Should I buy a pre-built PC or build one from scratch?" Quite often this is followed up with an admission that the person asking has never built their own PC and has some reservations on how to do so.
I recently completed a new build, due to the failure of a major component in my old PC, and decided to take some pictures as I was doing so in order to show exactly how easy it is. Now please be aware if you are strictly a UO player this build will be a bit over the top for your needs, but if you want to explore the wider world of gaming this setup should serve you well and the basic principles will carry over to any build you attempt.
These are the some of the parts I'll be working with, and you can see the basic tools I have on stand by for use while assembling this PC. For most builds you will want a couple of Philips head screwdrivers of various sizes, and a part of wire cutters for trimming off cable ties.When picking out RAM for your system, make sure your motherboard supports it. DDR2 is pretty much a thing of the past, most systems are using DDR3 memory these days. New on the scene is DDR4, all three of these look remarkably similar to the untrained eye, but they are not interchangeable. Other factors when selecting RAM to consider, what frequencies does your motherboard support (You don't want to mix and match either), does your motherboard only support Dual or Quad Channel kits, and the maximum supported amount of RAM.
Everything starts with the case, your case will make or break your system just as much as any of the other components. You want to have a case that provides adequate airflow, and allows enough clearance for all the components you wish to install. A great example of this are high end graphics cards, they are long, some are 13" or more in length, you will want to make sure that you can install one (or possibly more) into the case you pick out. Will you be water cooling your CPU or possibly your GPU? You need to make sure that if you want to use a 240mm or larger radiator for your cooling system your case can support it. If you are air cooling your CPU, can how big an air cooler can be installed? How many fan mounts are there on your case? All of these are considerations you should be taking into account when picking out parts for your build. Larger is not always better, with this build I went from a Full Tower case which was 27" tall to a LAN Box which measures just 13" in height and was able to pack more fans and cooling options into the smaller box simply because the space was utilized better when the case was designed by the manufacturer. In the end you should pick a case that supports and has the basic features you want and build around that.
Always remember when picking parts to make sure you check compatibility. You can't use any AMD processor in an Intel Chipset motherboard for example or vise versa. Another thing to think about is there are different chip sets within one processor manufacturers lineup. Intel, recently released their 6th Generation processors, they use a LGA 1151 socket, they won't work with an LGA 1155 or LGA 1150 nor the LGA 2011-v3. I'm using a i7 6700K processor, which is one of the new 6th Gen models, I could have gotten a i7 4790K which is 5th Gen and would have needed to pick a LGA 1150 motherboard. The same holds true for AMD processors. If you are using one of the APU series chips, you will probably be using a Socket FM2+ motherboard while if you go with an FX series chip you will be using Socket AM3+. I know it sounds confusing but when you go to shop for parts the supplier should have this information listed, make sure you read over it carefully.
For this build I picked a Cooler Master HAF XB Evo Lan Box case, it's rather compact and portable but doesn't sacrifice much in the air flow and utility due to how the interior is utilized. The first thing you should do to any case regardless of it's shape is open it up and start preparing everything for installing components. You'll usually find a box of various adapters and a bundle of cables inside your new case, you need to move these so they will be out of your way as you install other components.
I just pulled all the factory cables off to one side in this picture, they are important though do not damage them, they are for your front panel, as in the power, reset, front USB and Audio ports.
I always work from the bottom up. Most cases these days come with Bottom Mounted Power Supplies, which is good because it puts what is probably the heaviest single component in your PC at the bottom of your case reducing tip over risk. These are simple to install, they generally just set into place and have 4 screws which fasten them down. If you have a non-modular or semi-modular power supply (like what I'm using) go ahead and move the cables out of your way for now, but look at the layout of your case and see where you are going to need to route them. It's time to start planning cable management.
In this picture I've got my power supply installed, as well as my Hard Drives and have the cables routed towards where they will need to come up in order to connect to the Motherboard. Later the slack in them will be tied up and bundled to keep things tidy.
Hard Drives in your newer cases are a snap to put in, literally. Modern cases are going to a tool less design, and one of the popular ways of doing this are quick release rack. For this case I received a set of rails which your attached (without fasteners) to your hard drive and then slide them into a rack.
If you are using a SSD it's quite likely you received an adapter for those since the majority of Solid State Drives use the 2.5" form factor, while traditional drives are 3.5" wide. The adapter generally requires mounting with screws to the Sold State Drive but after that may or may not depending on the adapter need to use the quick release rails.
Optical Drives such as DVD and Blue Ray drives install much the same way as your hard drives.
Your mother board will have to mount inside your case somewhere, that somewhere is going to be either Vertically or Flat depending on the case you use. Either way you need to take your mother board and mark the proper points for the standoffs that came with it. You definitely don't want to place extra standoffs in place doing so risks grounding your motherboard and bad stuff can happen! Get the standoffs set up and install the motherboard, and it will be time to look into installing the CPU and RAM.
Once you have your motherboard in place, you can look at installing the CPU. Depending on if you have an AMD or an Intel processor and the Socket type it will look different. Intel processors are easily identified because they do not have pins, Intel has gone to what is called the Land Grid Array.
On Intel processors you will see a bunch of flat gold pads on the underside of the CPU, these are contact points for the pins inside the CPU Socket. The move away from pins was financially beneficial to Intel, pins are easily bent, and by having the pins on the Motherboard it becomes the responsibility of the motherboard manufacturer to deal with returns etc. if they are damaged. AMD processors on the other hand still use pins on their processors. If you are using an AMD chipset be extremely careful when handling the CPU, this is a good rule of thumb regardless of the brand, but the pins on AMD CPUs are very fragile.
Your CPU should only fit one way, there is typically a set of notches on the silicon portion of the CPU which will match a set of small tabs in the socket (you can see the tabs above), or another common way to mark how a CPU fits in the socket is by having one corner of bother the CPU and Socket colored typically gold as a reference point. You can see both of these in the image above. Be very careful when placing the CPU in the socket, it should require ZERO force to install, is should simply settle into place.
Now that the CPU is in place we can talk about installing RAM. RAM or Random Access Memory is very very simple to install. The sockets for it will have 1 or 2 tabs you slip back, then simply slide the RAM into place. Now it does have to fit a specific way but it's easy to identify.
The Notch in the memory stick is off center, this is intentional as there is a tab in the socket that corresponds. Never force the memory into place, if it won't see easily the try reversing the stick and seeing if it will seat that way. Very little force should be required to seat them and you will see the tabs on the socket snap into place locking the memory module in place.
At this point my build and yours may diverge greatly. Graphics Cards come in various shapes and sizes, but today they should all be using a PCIe x16 slot which is the longer of the expansion card slots. The installation of these is self explanatory. You remove the slot guard from the back of your case, then insert your video card into a free PCIe x16 slot and install the retaining screws. Make sure you have a power cable ran near by, most graphics cards use either 6 or 8 pin connector, some even use more than one.
Another place things can get a lot different is with the CPU cooler. I chose to use a 240mm Closed Loop Liquid Cooling system. These work much like the cooling system for the engine in your car. You have a water pump, a set of hoses and a Radiator with fans passing air through it. The benefit of a Closed Loop system is you don't have to worry about filling it that's all been taken care of by the manufacturer you install it according to the instructions that come with it and you are golden. If you decide to use a liquid cooling system, make sure your case has room, and that it is adequate for the processor. Some of the AMD FX series processors like the FX-9370 run extremely hot from the factory and require some serious cooling in place. You can find Closed Loop Systems for sale with various size radiators from 120mm all the way up over 300mm, just make sure the system you pick has the adapters for your CPU Socket, and your Case has a good mounting point for it.
Air coolers are still popular, and are a viable solution for CPU cooling, and are easy to install in many cases easier than water cooling. One word of advice make sure you have clearance for the heat exchange and the fan in your case some of them these days are rather large.
Regardless of if you pick air or water cooling it is likely the contact plate that pairs up to the CPU will have this nasty grey paste on it. That is thermal transfer paste, and it actually helps. While it's optional, I use some rubbing alcohol on a soft lint free cloth to remove the factory paste and replace it with a high grade thermal paste for better heat exchange.
All that's really left to you is installing fans in the provides locations in your case, and hooking up all the power and control cables to the marked locations on the motherboard. Every cable should be labeled, and there will be a corresponding label silk screened on your motherboard. Always look at multi-wire connectors there is often an empty spot that will match up with the pins on the motherboard, and once again never force a component into place.
Once you have everything connected you should look at bundling any slack cable, though do not make them tight on the connectors. You ideally want them tucked away so that they do not restrict airflow through your case.
Hopefully once it's all hooked up and powered on you'll get to enjoy the fruit of your labor.
GPU vs CPU
I hear a lot of people talking about skimping out on a faster CPU in order to get a more powerful GPU, unfortunately it doesn't quite work that way. Every system had 2 major bottleneck points when dealing with graphics. You can ether be bottle-necked by the CPU or GPU. When you cut corners on one you are increasing that odds of that being the choke point. In other words a Top of the line GPU won't do you any good without a good CPU to pair it with, the same holds true the other way around. If you pick out a top notch CPU, and installed a mid or low range GPU into your system you are creating another choke point at the GPU. Plan your budget accordingly and try to balance these out.
GPU Model Numbering
You can tell a quality GPU by it's model series identifier. AMD and nVidia both use a similar approach to how they scale their GPU's. An nVidia Series will often look like this:
AMD currently uses this model:
- GTX 950 <-- Low End
- GTX 960
- GTX 970
- GTX 980 <-- High End
- GTX 980ti <-- Series Flagship
Entry Level Cards.
Mid Range Cards.
- Radeon R7 340
- Radeon R7 350
High End Cards.
- Radeon R7 360
- Radeon R9 360
- Radeon R7 370
- Radeon R9 370
- Radeon R9 380
- Radeon R9 390
- Radeon R9 390X
- Radeon R9 Nano
- Radeon R9 Fury
- Radeon R9 Fury X
Cards can range from around $150 for a current generation low end card, to over $1000 for a card like the nVidia Titan X.
It's perfectly acceptable to look a generation back on GPU's a GTX 780ti (700 series flagship model) matches up very closely to a GTX 980 and can be picked up for about $100 less.
CPU's Intel vs AMD
This is one of those never ending battles. Star Wars vs Star Trek, Marvel vs DC and of course Intel vs AMD.
Intel processors currently have an edge over AMD chips on efficiency but a cost. That cost of course is your budget. Intel Chips are much more expensive than AMD chips that display the same specifications, but they just preform better. An example of this is the new Skylake i7 CPU's from Intel. If you can acquire one it will set you back around $360-$370, it is a 4ghz Quad Core CPU. A 4.2ghz AMD FX-4350 currently can be picked up for about $75.
Looking at that you'd think the AMD Chip is a better deal, but it's not. The way each chip handles data means the AMD chip will be out preformed considerably by the i7. To be honest you would have to go with an 8 core AMD CPU in around the same frequency per core range (4ghz) to match it. The cost ($170) would still be less than an Intel CPU, but it also draws more power, causing it to run much hotter requiring more complicated cooling solutions.
Another consideration when picking up an AMD CPU, some older games do not play well with AMD multi-core processors. Everquest for example is notorious for this.
Hopefully this article gave you a bit of insight into some of the considerations and how too's of building a PC. Buying Pre-built has it's advantages, but doing it yourself allows much more flexibility in what components you choose and is more flexible when figuring a budget.
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Building Your Own Pc
From time to time the question comes up, "Should I buy a pre-built PC or build one from scratch?" Quite often this is followed up with an...