The AppStorm PC Builder’s Guide – Summer 2011

Picking out parts for a new PC seems to scare the bejeezus out of people who want to build their own computers. I don’t blame ‘em though — once you start looking, you’ll need to find out and parse a myriad of abbreviations for truly mysterious technologies, check compatibility charts and then pore through reviews to make sure that everything checks out. This is compounded by the fact that the hardware landscape is in a state of constant flux. Tiresome work!

So, to help you, dear reader, in this quest for PC greatness, we’ve come up with our very own PC builder’s guide. In this quad annual affair, we’re going to do the hardwork for you and come up with the components you’d need to build a kickass PC. Let’s get started after the jump!

Some Quick Notes

Budget

You can drum up a ton of price points but to keep our sanity intact, we’ve decided to fix the budget upfront: $1000 with a 10% leeway to account for fluctuating prices, rebates and so on. We feel that our price point hits the sweet spot providing incredible performance without really splurging.

We’ll also use the money towards a batteries included approach — this build will include everything you’d need to get started. Yes, this will include a monitor, input devices and even a headset thrown in for good measure. Everything within our budget, of course.

Focus

A cool grand gives us a lot of options for our components and we’re going to make full use of it to make sure that our system can tackle almost anything that you’d want to throw at it. Gaming. Movies. Music. Development. Anything. Throw in a more fancy pants display and you can tackle design with aplomb too!

Well rounded in another way too — we aren’t going to splurge on a single component and skimp on everything else. This means no $500 monitors, graphic cards or cutting edge SSDs. Each part in our system will take up exactly as much budget as it needs to make sense within the context of our build.

Store

Over the years, I’ve taken a liking to NewEgg for their exhaustive catalog, informative product pages, competitive pricing, quick shipping and spectacular custom support. As expected, all the links below will point to the NewEgg store.

While you maybe able to find cheaper prices elsewhere, I think the customer support, specially the friendly RMA policy, is worth it. All the prices below include shipping and applicable rebates, if any, at time of writing.

The AppStorm Build — Summer ’11

Component Model Price
Processor [CPU] Intel Core i5 2500 $210
Motherboard MSI H67MA-E35 $85
Video Card [GPU] HIS Radeon HD 6850 1GB $150
Memory GSkill Sniper DDR3-1333 2x4GB $80
Storage Western Digital Caviar 2TB $80
Case/chassis Antec Three Hundred $60
Power supply Antec Earthwatts Green 500W $60
  Core Build Total $725
Monitor Asus VH236H 23" $170
Keyboard and mouse Logitech Wave Combo – Wireless $60
Headset Plantronics GameCom 367 $30
Operating System Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 64bit OEM $90
  Complete Build Total $1075

A smidgen under our budget with the 10% leeway in place but I think this will do nicely — this machine is going to run circles around anything that you’d want to run.

If you’re here just for the list, your quest ends here — the list above will get you a supremely balanced, and capable, machine.

If you’re a little hungry for more information, allow me to elaborate a little as to why I picked each of these components among, seemingly, a gazillion choices. I’ll also be listing out alternatives for each category, so if you’re even slightly hardware inclined, you should really keep on reading!

On to the Nerdy Bits!

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Processor

Our i5 2500 is a beast of a processor. It’s a Sandy Bridge quad core, has low power consumption and is Turbo Peak enabled. And at $210 it’s incredible value for your hard earned money.

Alternatives: While I think the 2500 is perfect for my needs, the Sandy Bridge family is quite long, covering the entire price and performance spectrum. You can opt for any of its close siblings and you’ll still end up with a great processor. I recommend taking a look at the i5-2400 or the i7-2600. And if you’re the overclocking type, you should consider getting the 2500K which comes with an unlocked multiplier – an overclocker’s dream come true!

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Motherboard

Motherboards are ridiculously hard to pick — there are just too many factors at play here. Our motherboard, the MSI H67MA-E35, ticks all the right boxes. It has the slightly better H67 North bridge, supports SATA 6Gb/s, USB3 and has auto overclocking tools. It’d be hard to find a more feature packed mobo at this price.

Alternatives: If you can afford to spend a little more, the Asus P8P67 is an excellent choice. It’s about $60 more but comes with a UEFI BIOS, a second PCI Express slot and if you choose to get the K series processors, the ability to play around with the multiplier.

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Video card

You can get competent video cards at every price point. The easiest way to narrow down things is by choosing a target performance and price point. For this build, fluid framerates at the incredibly popular 1920×1080 resolution and a price of around $150 are the key factors.

The Radeon 6850 satisfies both comfortably. It comes bundled with a full gigabyte of video memory, a great game [Dirt 3], supports CrossFire functionality and is incredibly silent and cool thanks to the HIS cooler.

Alternative: Just $50-$100 either way will change your options drastically. You can go upto the 6950, drop down to the 6750 or choose to go with their Nvidia counterparts. It all comes to down to how much performance you want and how much money you’re willing to spend to obtain it.

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Memory

Memory has gotten incredibly cheap lately. For a semi-enthusiast build, it’s hard to not go with 8gb. The GSkill Sniper kit has great reviews, good cooling, excellent price and let’s face it, it looks sweet!

Alternatives: We chose DDR3 1333 for our needs today but you can go faster or slower depending on your performance requirements and budgetary concerns. You can also go with less memory since the jump from 4 to 8gb isn’t really that profound unless you’re a compulsive multitasker.

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Hard Drive

At this day and age, going with the biggest hard drive possible seems a no-brainer and I picked up one of the roomiest hard drives out there. It’s only SATA 3gb/s but that’s hardly a concern for a mechanical hard drive. The only reason to spend more would be to go with a SSD.

Alternatives: If you’ve got a little more cash lying around, I strongly recommend picking up a SSD. They easily have a more profound positive effect in your day to day computing. The Crucial RealSSD is only 64gb but as a boot drive, it’s provides spectacular performance, far outstripping any mechanical drive.

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Case/chassis

Cases tend to be very subjective affairs. Up until a couple of years ago, I liked blingy cases — ones with a gazillion LEDs inside and with showy paintjobs. Now-a-days, I prefer subdued, quiet cases. I chose the Antec Three Hundred because it’s fairly roomy, well-made, well ventilated and is a downright steal at $60.

Alternatives: If you’re willing to spend a little more, the Lian Li PC-A70F and Raven RV02 are great choices. They’re bigger than your average case but they are exceedingly well built, styled rather discretely but tastefully and provide unreal comfort when working inside. Highly recommended!

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Power supply

Most people tend to skimp on power supplies — please don’t! The last thing you want to do is lose your expensive hardware to a bad PSU. The Antec unit we’re going with today has a sufficient 500W output, is super efficient and supports dual graphic cards when you want to make the jump. Modular cables would be great but at 60 bones I’m not complaining!

Alternatives: 500W is adequate for most builds since most hardware makers inflate their numbers to account for low quality PSUs. If you’re the constantly upgrading kind, I’d recommend moving up a couple of notches. These Corsair and PC Power and Cooling 650W units are excellent choices.

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Monitor

Monitor preferences vary from person to person but the fact remains that TN panels, like ours today, are exceedingly popular. The ASUS VH236H has almost everything we’re looking for — a nice 23″ diagonal size, 1920×1080 resolution, thus a 16:9 aspect ratio and a super fast 2ms response time. You could jump upto 24″ with minimal difference in the price if that’s what you’re after.

Alternatives: TN panels aren’t always suitable though — they falter in color accuracy. Most users won’t be able to tell the difference between a TN and an IPS panel though. If anything, they’d choose the saturated colors of a TN panel. However, if you’re into design, you’ll need to make sure that the colors are pitch perfect. The ASUS PA246Q is a great workstation monitor for all you designer types as is the gargantuan Dell UltraSharp U3011.

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Keyboard and mouse

Input devices come in all shapes and forms with remarkable variations between them. For our needs today, I chose a simple, wireless ergonomic Logitech kit — the Wave Combo.

Alternatives: If you’d like something a little more flashy, I recommend the Logitech K800 and Microsoft Arc mouse combo. Or if you’re a pseud0-gamer, like me, you should be rocking the Logitech G9 and Illuminated Keyboard combo.

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Headset

Nothing beats a good headset, specially when you live in an apartment and/or have people around you whom you don’t want to disturb. The Plantronics GameCom 367 is built robustly, has excellent sound quality, cancels most outside noise and comes with a very usable mic for your VoIP [or raiding ;)] needs.

Alternatives: Splurging here is quite easy if you’re an audiophile and want the absolute best. If you’re just looking at a little more quality in your audio, this Razer headset will do adequately.

The AppStorm PC Builder's Guide - Summer 2011

Operating system

My choice of OS here should be fairly obvious. Even though I have OS X machines laying around, I’m a staunch Windows man.

The OEM version of Windows 7 Home Premium will set us back by just $90 and is a clear choice. It does pretty much what every home user will want to do. Heck, it’ll do what most power users will want to do.

Alternatives: You can always go with the Ultimate version of Windows 7 or go the open source route and get a Linux distro in there. Your choice. Another way would be to break a string of EULAs and install OS X on this, creating a Hackintosh.

That’s All Folks

Phew! We’re all done. Since this is the first system guide, everything is still up in the air — future editions will be shaped by your feedback.

Do you want us to cover more price points? More focused builds perhaps? Gaming oriented, design oriented, media oriented, et al? Let us know in the comments and thank you so much for reading!


  • NerdyDesigner

    Nice Post, but the Plantronics GameCom 367 are uncumfy when used for a while.. and I would go with a Westen Digital Black or Samsung F3 as a boot drive and then grab a green drive for storage.. I would go with a amd setup for a budget rig though… and if possable grab a ssd as your fall in love with how quick adobe opens lol….

    • http://www.ssiddharth.com/ Siddharth

      Heh. Headphones are pretty subjective, I’d say. I personally use the 367s and I’m happy with them. Maybe it’s an issue of head size?

      As to the hard drives, the jump to WD Black has minimal real world improvements. HDTach and the like will show different numbers but for me, it’s the improvement in UX that matters. And for that, I’d strongly recommend going upto an SSD instead of a faster mechanical drive.

  • Chinmay Desai

    Great post! Didn’t you forget CD/DVD Drive, though?

    :)

    • http://www.ssiddharth.com/ Siddharth

      Heh. No, I didn’t forget. I just don’t think optical drives are an essential part of a build anymore. Throw the OS on a USB drive and call it a day!

      • http://tutskiosk.blogspot.com/ Dinesh

        CD/DVD drives are as important as a keyboard or graphic card. Why bother about keyboard go for virtual keyboard.

        • noko

          Not really, unless you need to burn/rip CDs. Everything can be installed digitally now. Personally I don’t need a CD drive

          • http://giggleboxstudios.net Brandtley

            That is true.. But I’m the type that opts for hard copies of my games for backup purposes. So having a disc drive is a necessity. Plus some netflix listings are DVD only, so that adds some value to the argument for some people. Plus a pretty decent CD/DVD burner is like $20 which makes the convenience a cheap addition after the initial build is done and you can recover a bit financially.

  • http://about.me/Radie Radie

    Good post.. Is there any chance of doing this same post for a laptop?

    I am buying my a new laptop in the next week or so and REALLY need this info that you wrote here for laptops.

    I built a system by Dell that is about $1000, but I have nothing to compare it to what it SHOULD be. It literally keeps me up at night because this is a big deal to me…

    I been poor all my life and I finally get a little dough to spend on myself.. and instead of making me happy, it has kept me up at nights with fits of frustration (Ever try to look up useful, accurate and current info on laptops?.. Good luck)…. HELP!

    • http://www.ssiddharth.com/ Siddharth

      Hey Radie,

      Sure, if this is something readers are looking for, I’ll whip something up for later this month.

      • http://michaeljameswilliams.com/ MichaelJW

        I’d love something on this as well! (Great article, by the way.)

      • Brad Johansen

        I would enjoy the information as well.

      • Oskar Sherry

        ME TOO!

  • slivinn

    Beautiful! its will be a pleasure if you could write a same post about some Laptops around the same budget. Thanks allot! :)

  • Geoffy Pearson

    what is the title icon picture?

    • http://www.ssiddharth.com/ Siddharth

      It’s the Level10 PC case. Pretty darn expensive though!

  • http://www.gillesmaes.be Gilles Maes

    I’d recommend a P67 (or even Z68, best/most features + SRT etc) motherboard with a 2500K, at least. Overclocking with these is about as easy as it gets. Also maybe use a Cooler Master 690 case?

    • http://www.ssiddharth.com/ Siddharth

      Agree on the processory, disagree on the chipset. I don’t think a P67 is needed here, a H67 will do adequately considering the steep price difference between the chipsets.

      I picked the non-K variant since the P series doesn’t support the unlocked multiplier on those babies.

      And yep, the CM 690 is an excellent case — I use it. ;)

  • Xyne Brix Punzalan

    Awesome post ;) I was just wondering if you can create a post regarding gaming build type computers. Battlefield 3 and COD MW3 are coming out soon and I really want to enjoy my gaming and high level specs but the fact that I am new with building computers it would be great and really appreciated if you can create a post focusing on good quality gaming computer for this year :) thank you

    • Erik J.

      I second this motion. A gaming computer post would be great.

  • Lacc

    Oh, I was pretty surprised when I first saw the core machine’s price. Pretty cheap. And then, I started to look for the exact prices in our country, and in dollars, it’s 880$ (I couldn’t find the Antec stuffs, so I simply added the 60-60$ regardless how much more would they cost here).
    Well despiting how much do people earn for a living here (average), that ~155$ plus cost is kind of a big slap for us.

  • EKG

    MORE WINDOWS ARTICLES PLEASE

    • http://www.ssiddharth.com Siddharth

      SIR YES SIR!

  • a
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  • http://icosmin.com Cosmin

    Interesting build, looks pretty cheap thanks to Newegg.

    Thing is, prices vary A LOT depending on country. For example, I live in Romania and I just tried to do a build exactly like the one presented (the only thing different was the monitor, but I chose the European model to stick to the scheme).

    So here are the totals I came up with:

    Core build total: $1058
    Extras total: $555
    —————————–
    Complete build total: $1613

    That’s about $500 more than your total which is… well… quite a lot! So it really depends where in the world you are living. US residents in general are the happiest when it comes to hardware prices.

    P.S.: please make the comments texarea resizable, at least on vertical.

  • harilal K M

    hi , it’s a great article.:)

    Actually am a flash programmer . I wish to buy a i3 or i5 system. what will be the best configuration for it. Actually i would like to know more about hardisk , motherboard and RAM. And also what about intel motherboard instead og MSI?

  • Tristan Marsh

    Excellent build decisions, I recently came to designing an almost identical build albeit with an admittedly slightly less subtle Cooler Master HAF 912 case.

    One thing though…
    I naturally assumed the article would have been written with an Australian audience in mind as Envato is a Melbourne based company, obviously you’re not based in Australia as Newegg do not deliver here. So, perhaps combining the component-model-price table with different vendors for different countries could be useful. In my own research I can only recommend MSY Computers for the Australian market as I’ve found they always have cheapest prices.

    You’ve also done a fantastic job of explaining your choices and offering alternatives, I looking forward to your Ivy Bridge recommendation.

  • http://www.riteshrockss.blogspot.com Ritesh

    What a pc!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Although its expensive but configuration is marvolous..
    I am thinking about the gaming experience on this pc……will be awesome.
    Thanks for sharing,
    Regards.

  • Edward Longman

    Hi, I’m going to make a PC this winter but I managed to do it for just £580($920)
    The same sort of stuff, with a 32GB SSD for boot and with an integrated motherboard graphics card. Intel i7 processor but with a 250GB HDD, what’s the point in having a 2TB unless its on a laptop so its portable and since you can have it all portable on a external drive anyway.

    Ed

  • http://www.techtorque.blogspot.com Chhaya

    Thanks for guide, it was helpful

  • Tiago

    it’s time to do a new guide =D… two guides each year would be awesome!

  • http://www.aeronaves.org Aeronaves

    Yea ! i Agree in could write a same post about some Laptops around the same budget. Thanks !

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