Building a Computer the Right Way

Discussion in 'Windows 7 Hardware' started by Chamenas, Jan 6, 2012.

  1. Chamenas

    Chamenas New Member

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    General
    I built a computer over a year ago because my little laptop from college wasn't good enough to do the things I wanted to do, which, at the time, was World of Warcraft. I also used Photoshop, etc... but, in any case, I knew I needed something more powerful.

    Despite how long I've been around computers, I'd never spent much time with the hardware, so I had the help of a friend to build it. This awesome machine though was a hodepodge of parts that gave power for cheap and it's done most of what I needed it to.

    I still play World of Warcraft to some extent. I picked up Starcraft 2 as well, but I don't play either as extensively as I used to. I still use Photoshop, and I've picked up video editing a bit with Premiere Elements.

    That editing of video is one of the things that has led me to want a new computer. I realized that while my computer has done well, that I really want to build something that's a bit more secure and stable, capable of giving me the power I need while standing the test of time. My computer has given me some issues, and I know many of them may be software, but I'm thinking part of it is hardware too.

    The process of building a new computer will probably take a little bit though since I'm only able to put a little bit of cash in that direction at a time. But I'm going to try and use this thread as a way to look for the parts with the best synergy so that I can build and awesome machine that I'm confident won't have any conflicts between pieces of hardware and will run with the power I'm looking for.

    What I'll Be Doing
    Gaming (Light)
    I still play World of Warcraft and Starcraft 2 casually and would like to be able to experience them at full settings. But I'm not a big gamer and I don't need a big gamer rig. While I'd like to think that I have a computer capable of playing intense games, it's not a necessity and I can sacrifice some of that power for other, more important directions. ​

    Video Processing
    One of the biggest reasons for this upgrade is so that I can go through my explorations in Video more. I have Adobe Premiere Elements and I might pick up Premiere Pro as well as After Effects. I'd like a computer that doesn't take 2.5-3 hours to render a 10 minute video. So I need power in the right places to speed up my rendering times as much as possible.​

    Sound Support
    I've gone through 2 E-MU 0404 USB interfaces and both of them have seem to broken with the same problem. Only, this second time, it's not covered under warranty. I'm upset because the product was otherwise decent, and somewhat expensive to go with the expensive condenser microphone I purchased. I haven't used it much because I don't have the proper soundproofing equipment, but I'd like to have an internal soundcard which supports my ability to record from the microphone and also my guitar, etc... so I'm willing to invest in a card which offers me the potential for some great recording options.​

    Multi-Monitor Support
    Right now I only have one monitor, but I'd like to have a computer which can support at least two monitors. Possibly more than two. ​

    Satellite Computer
    If you've been following my posts, you'll notice my post in networking about trying to set-up my laptop to be a sort of "satellite" for my computer, having access to its files and functions even when I'm not near it. I figure having them on the same operating system will help immensely, but, if there's any hardware which might also help, I'm all ears. It should be noted that after this new computer is built that I plan on getting a newer, more powerful laptop as well. So if there's a part that needs to be in both of them, it'll be worth mentioning and I'll try to get a laptop that has that part (building a laptop is a bit much, I'll probably order a custom one though).

    Budget
    Obviously I don't want to spend a lot of money, but, at the same time, I'm not trying to fit under the same budget restrictions as before. The cheaper it is, the faster I can get it done though, which is important to keep in mind. I'd like to maximize the synergy and use reliable, powerful parts. So, there's an odd balance to keep there, but, mostly, if I feel an individual part that's recommended is too expensive, I'll cry foul. However, try to keep in mind that I'm not a rich person when making your suggestions. I have received a new job which enhanced my income quite a bit, but I do have bills to pay and moves in my life to make. I'm not the sort of person that likes a lot of toys though. I'm not getting a huge entertainment system, or a big screen TV, or any of those things, so I feel like I can still manage to splurge on a nice computer setup and still have money to save, to pay down debt and wok on getting this computer thing going.

    Parts
    Here is where I'll list on parts decided on. I honestly don't know where to start though. I've built a computer before, but only once, and with the help of a friend. So I'm not going to pretend I'm an expert on this, but the final say is definitely mind. But, with that said, I'm trying to be open and to doing what is suggested here. If I'm missing something from my list, let me know:

    Tower:
    Mobo:
    Processor: Intel Core i7-2600 Sandy Bridge 3.4GHz (3.8GHz Turbo Boost) LGA 1155 95W Quad-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics 2000 ?
    Sound Card:
    Graphics Card:
    Memory:
    HDD Setup:
    Power Supply:
    Bluray Drive:
    Misc:
     
  2. Digerati

    Digerati Fantastic Member
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    Then the best thing to do now is just read and read and read so you can get and stay current on the latest technologies. Selecting your components now is not a good idea as new standards, new chipsets, new processors, new features are coming out and being revised all the time. It is better to fund your budget first, then select and buy. Sites like Tom's Hardware and AnandTech are good review sites to follow.

    And speaking of budget, you have to set a real one - with actual numbers - especially if seeking advise on forums like this. $1000 is cheap for some, but a budget buster for others.

    Note that almost all motherboards have integrated sound and the better motherboards have excellent integrated sound as they are frequently integrated into high-end home theater systems. For professional grade audio, I like M-Audio products. I don't see speakers listed.

    Most graphics cards support two monitors. But you need to pay attention to what type interface your monitor or monitors use. Digital typically provides better quality (at least for LCD monitors) so you will need two DVI or HDMI.

    This is important - the best graphics card for gaming is NOT the best graphics card for video processing. And conversely, the best card for video processing is not the best for gaming. For the best video processing (CAD/CAE and editing) you need a "workstation" graphic card - and as can be seen here, the better ones are not cheap. For gaming, Toms Hardware keeps track monthly - the latest is Toms Hardware, Best Graphics Cards For The Money: January 2012.

    I recommend 8Gb of RAM - just make sure it is listed (or RAM with same specs is listed) on the motherboard's QVL - qualified vendors list on the motherboard's webpage. There will (should) be a QVL for CPUs too.

    I don't see an operating system listed. Understand only full a "boxed" Retail license can be transferred to a new computer (or upgraded motherboard). It is illegal to use an OEM license that came with or was purchased for another computer on a new computer. If the disk says OEM/System Builder, Upgrade, Academic Edition, or "For Distribution with a new PC only", then it is not transferable to a new PC (or upgraded motherboard) under any circumstances. These OEM licenses are inextricably tied to the "original equipment". If that is the case, I recommend 64-bit Windows 7 or one of the many free Linux alternatives. Just ensure it is 64-bit with more than 4Gb of RAM.

    The case is responsible for cooling. So get a good case with lots of large fan (120mm or larger) options. I will never have a case again that does not have removable, washable air filters. I like Antec cases.

    Finally, do not even think of trying to save money with a cheap power supply. You wouldn't fill up your brand new Porsche at the corner Tobacco Hut would you? At least a car engine can miss a beat and keep running - not so with high-speed digital electronics. So get a good quality, 80-Plus certified PSU from a reputable maker. I like Corsair and Antec supplies.
     
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  3. Chamenas

    Chamenas New Member

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    Thanks for the tips, I'll definitely look to those sites in order to brush up on my hardware knowledge so I can make more informed decisions. My budget, at the moment, is flexible, which means that I'm not sure of exactly what I'm going to put into it. That's one of the reasons why I'm looking for parts now, even if I might not get them later. If I build a "hypothetical" computer with the current parts I'd like, and see what the price is, I can then have an idea of what I'll be comfortable with saving for and spending later. That's the idea anyways.

    Yeah, the integrated sound probably won't cut it. I definitely need more than a mic and line-in inputs and I would like a card which is really built to handle the inputs with more than passing quality. And, for instance, the motherboard I bought for my current computer has a sound card which can't even listen in to itself, so, if I want to use system sound as an input, I have to feed my headphone jack to my line-in jack.

    Yeah, the graphics card I bought for my computer has multiple outputs, I believe it has two HDMIs. So that was something I was already fairly certain on, but I wasn't sure if it was standard or not.

    Well, to me, the video editing is a bit more important right now. Especially, since, as mentioned, the games I play don't tend to be very graphically intensive. But it would be nice to play those games with the highest settings. I'll keep an eye on those links to see what I can figure out. I'm sort of curious what it would be like to have two cards that aren't the same, one more for "gaming" and one more for video processing. Of course, that might not be necessary if the card I get for video processing is sufficient to cover my needs for the relatively low-power games I play.

    Well, the QVL is obviously important, but should I be looking for a Mobo that accepts a specific type of RAM that might be superior? Or are the specs on the RAM more important? What specs should one be looking for?

    I purchased an operating system for my computer when I built it, so it didn't "come" with the machine. However, I will likely purchase a new OS for the new machine since I'll give my old machine to someone else with the OS as a part of it. The OS is sort of a final detail and will likely be a Windows OS, it could be Windows 7, or it could be whatever the new one is if it's released and appears stable when I make my system.

    This is one of the things I hoped to improve, and so recommendations here are definitely welcome. I don't feel like my case is doing enough to cool my current computer and so I hope that my newer computer will have a case which does enough to keep my computer cool and secure. I'll look into ones with removable, washable air filters, and Antec specifically.

    Yeah, I don't know much about power supplies either, so I'm hoping to learn what to look for here, but I'm not looking to go cheap on any of the parts if I can manage. I just don't necessarily need top-of-the-line in everything, only what might be the most important stuff to go top-of-the-line in in the first place.

    Thank you for your advice and insight, it provides a good jumping board into my exploration.
     
  4. Digerati

    Digerati Fantastic Member
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    It is a challenge to stay current. A computer consists of components from multiple industries within the monstrous industry of IT. And there are constant advances of the state-of-the-art in all sorts of technologies going all the time. Just on the motherboard alone, there are several industries competing for that real estate.

    As far as your budget, I understand what you are doing. But when it comes down to picking out specifics, you still need to have your budget defined. You said flexible, not unlimited. And for some flexible might mean up to $1500 while for others, $5000 or more. With video editing taking a higher priority, that would suggest a workstation card is more appropriate. I am not suggesting anyone spend $4000 on a graphics card, but I could justify $1000, if the need was serious enough.

    There are cards that support 4 monitors but if I really needed 4 monitors, I think I would want two cards. At then, if one card failed, I could run on 2 monitors for awhile. BTW, I have been running with dual-monitors for years and don't really understand how anyone can live with just one. But even the latest operating systems sometimes have little issues and seem to get confused occasionally as to which monitor is primary and which is secondary. My favorite multi-monitor utility is UltraMon – not free, but worth it. Others have suggested the free DisplayFusion, but I have no experience with it.

    Yeah, on-board sound is not for you. On-board works and sounds great (on the better boards) providing high quality 5.1 or even 7.1 surround sound feeds to the speakers from DVD, BluRay or from the DVR. So you will need to look as profession sound cards.

    DDR3 for sure. And preferably a motherboard that supports dual-channel memory architecture. Triple-channel didn't prove to be any better than dual-channel and buying and running in pairs instead of trips is more convenient. Plus 8Gb seems to be the "sweetspot" for 64-bit Windows.

    It is not that the specs on the RAM is more important, it is that the specs of the RAM match what the motherboard supports.
    Generally you want your RAM to support the speed your motherboard bus and CPU are running. The i7-2600i7-2600 support DDR3-1066/1333 RAM. So ideally you should get at least DDR3-1333 RAM. If you get DDR3-800, the motherboard would have to toggle down the bus speed to communicate with that slower RAM. That would be a huge bottle neck for the system - it would still probably blow the doors off what you got now, but you would be throttling back its potential.

    You can run DDR3-1600 RAM but it will toggle down to 1333.

    I really don't pay too much attention to timings myself. Enthusiasts seeking bragging rights might, but a few tenths of a millisecond here or there is not a concern of mine. But if you want to learn about timings, see: Hardware Secrets - Understanding-RAM-Timings.

    It is the type of license that matters, not when you bought it. OEM licenses are typically purchased when machines are self-built, or custom built at a local shop. So again, look at the disk and if it says OEM or what I mentioned earlier, you need a new license. And even full Retail can only be used on one machine at a time.

    The PSU is one of the most important purchase decisions, but it should be your last. Once you know what your board, CPU, RAM, drives, and most important, your graphics solution needs for power, use the eXtreme PSU Calculator Lite to determine your minimum and recommended power supply unit (PSU) requirements. Plan ahead and plug in all the hardware you think you might have in 2 or 3 years (extra drives, bigger or 2nd video card, more RAM, etc.). Be sure to read and heed the notes at the bottom of the calculator page. I recommend setting Capacitor Aging to 10% and setting both TDP and system load to 100%. These steps ensure the recommended supply has adequate head room for stress free (and perhaps quieter) operation, as well as future hardware demands. Setting Capacitor Aging to 30% will provide an even nicer amount of headroom. And remember, the computer’s components will only draw what they need, not what the PSU is capable of delivering. And the PSU will only draw from the wall what the computer demands, plus another 15 - 20% due to PSU inefficiencies. Buying way too big hurts only the budget.
     
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  5. Elmer

    Elmer Extraordinary Member

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    This post may well be superfluous after digi's excellent answers, but here's a handy site to browse through: Hardware Revolution
     
  6. Chamenas

    Chamenas New Member

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    Thanks again for all of the helpful advice. When I post again it will be with a somewhat flexible, but concrete figure for a budget. But, beyond that I'll try to shy away from posting specific products until I feel I have the funds to justify it, so it might be a little bit before this gets bumped back up with posts considering opinions on what I settle on.

    The OS does happen to be OEM, but, as mentioned, it's not a major issue for me since I planned on buying a new OS anyways as I plan on just giving my current computer to someone else who can use it.

    And I've lived with a single monitor only because I've only recently been able to afford having dual monitors! But I'll probably wait to get a dual setup until I build the new computer, even though my current card does support it.
     
  7. Digerati

    Digerati Fantastic Member
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    That's great and a generous gesture. While it is illegal to transfer an OEM license to another computer, it is perfectly legal to transfer to a new owner - as long as the disk accompanies the hardware when you give it away.

    Note for many years I ran with two mismatched monitors as my budget would only allow for one at a time. When I bought my first 17" inch, my previous 15" became my secondary monitor. When I bought my first 19", the 15" was retired and the 17" became my secondary. This went on through successive upgrades until finally I decided to buy two new 22" widescreen Samsungs and have been running with that matched pair for a couple years now - and love it.

    You said earlier and I forgot to address it,
    I have seen this work without a hitch and I have seen it work with a great deal of headaches and hair-loss, and I have seen it fail completely. When you use two different cards, you must install a two separate sets of graphics drivers and this has for some people and some configurations caused a great deal of confusion for the operating system.

    One of the bigger problems, however is power. Graphics cards are often biggest power consumer inside a computer - often considerably more than the CPU. With two power hungry cards, you would have to ensure you have a big enough PSU to support them both. And of course, you need to ensure the case can supply enough cool air too.

    Since you have settled in on Intel CPUs (my preferred maker - though AMD CPUs are excellent too), you need to start looking at motherboards. My preferred brand is Gigabyte, but many of my colleagues prefer ASUS. However, the reality is, all the major board makers produce reliable products. When you find a board, check its website for the QVLs as mentioned earlier.
     

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