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
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.
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.
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
|Processor [CPU]||Intel Core i5 2500||$210|
|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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!