Why you should custom build your computerPosted by admin on Aug 24, 2010 in Blog | 3 comments
People think that building a computer is rocket science…but it’s more like legos. In this article I’m going to attempt to demystify computer hardware and show you why building your own computer can not only save you money, but give you a higher quality machine, not to mention allowing you an educational experience that will leave you feeling in control of your computer.
When is it a good idea to make your own computer?
You can’t beat Dell or other OEM manufacturers when it comes to cheap computers. They buy parts by the thousands and get huge discounts, so they can do that and there’s no point in trying to beat them there. Once you get into the $800 price range and above though, it becomes apparent when you look at sites like newegg.com that you could make a better system with the same amount of money. It’s also a great idea to custom build if you are already have an elderly computer and just want to get a new one, but don’t want to pay for a new monitor, keyboard, peripherals, or software. The other obvious situation is if you need something unique, like 16 terabytes of data, RAID, or you just want an extremely high performance system.
What are the advantages?
- -You can get factory-overclocked parts which are faster than their OEM counterparts.
- -You get lots of free bundled stuff with almost every part (like games, peripherals, cables, cool boxes, toolkits, etc)
- -You get a warranty with every part, some even come with lifetime warranties. This is better than having a one or two year warranty with Dell or Apple because you can just replace that one part instead of not having your whole computer for the 2-8 weeks it takes them to send you a new one.
- -You can choose which brands you want to use for parts, which can have a huge effect on the overall performance and reliability of your system. For example, lots of Toshiba and Sony computers come with Hitachi Deskstar hard drives (aka “Deathstar”), which are pretty much the worst hard drives in existence. Instead of buying a computer with a time bomb in it, you can choose to buy a Western Digital or a Seagate drive.
- -All OEM systems are fairly balanced systems, but some people need a lot of something and less of something else. For example if you are a recording engineer, you need a lot of ram and a great sound card, but having a quality video card isn’t so important. Why pay more for something you don’t need?
- -Making your own system (carefully and slowly) allows you to understand what’s going on in there, and therefore when things go wrong (it’s gonna happen eventually…) you might just be able to fix it yourself, instead of paying professional techs to do it.
- -You can save money!
How to pick parts, and save money!
I used to keep up with all the new video cards and CPU lines coming out, what their specs were, and all that jazz. Then I realized…this stuff is taking up too much space in my brain. Every week companies come out with new parts, don’t bother keeping up with it. Instead, go to tomshardware.com and look at the charts for the part you want. It will show you the best to worst parts, and from there you can find what the best part is for your price range. Then go online and find the best deal for that part. You might have to wait a few days but chances are you can find a great deal on it. Here’s a few more tricks you might find useful:
- -Wait to buy your parts right after a new product line comes out. For example right when Intel comes out with it’s newest CPU line, all of the Core i5 and i7 parts will plummet in price. The part you couldn’t afford a week ago is now just right.
- -Use the “Best ______ for the price” articles on tomshardware.com and anandtech.com to find the best deals
- -Don’t buy into the hype. For example, lots of power supplies will say “SLI Certified” or “Crossfire Certified”. What does that really mean? It means that because they got a certification, they can add $10 to the price. Just go buy another power supply with the same specs from a reliable manufacturer (really important for PSU’s). Another example is RAM. Getting huge heatsink fans that look great is cool, but if you aren’t overclocking just buy ValueRAM.
- -Buy parts from other venders. If you want a video card, buy it from XFX, Asus, or BFG, instead of straight from Nvidia or ATI. The only difference between an XFX GeForce 6600 and an Nvidia GeForce 6600 is a different design of the circuit board (maybe colored in black instead of green), and the XFX version will be factory-overclocked. You get added performance for free.
What are the disadvantages?
Support. You can’t just call up a support line and have them guide you through it. However, videos on YouTube titled “How to put a new ________ in your computer” are fairly common now, so you shouldn’t have too much trouble. Every part even comes with instructions on how to install it. In the case of most parts you just have to snap it into the slot. The most difficult parts to set up are the motherboard, CPU, and the little annoying case wires that plug into your motherboard. As long as you take your time and don’t jam anything in too hard or force anything you should be fine.
The drivers don’t come pre-installed. However all the parts come with CD’s with the drivers on them. You should always ALWAYS go to the manufacturer’s website and download the newest drivers, make sure you select the right operating system. It helps to do this on another computer and put them on a flash drive or CD before you install the operating system because you won’t have an ethernet driver and won’t be able to access the internet to get the drivers on the fresh install.
Once you get everything in and installed, there really isn’t any other disadvantage that comes to mind.
Where to start, What brands to use
The first thing you want to do is pick a CPU (use tomshardware charts). It doesn’t matter if you get Intel or AMD, however if you want to run OS X on VMWare you should get an Intel CPU. Once you’ve picked a CPU you can find a motherboard that has a socket for that CPU. The motherboard you choose will have a certain video card slot (PCI-Express, AGP, PCI or On-Board), which will determine what kind of video card you can get. The motherboard will also support certain types of RAM, it’s obviously a good idea to get the fastest ram that it supports, but that’s not always necessary. Most motherboards support Serial ATA (SATA) and Parallel ATA (PATA) hard drives, but SATA is the standard now so get a SATA Hard Drive. You can choose a SATA or PATA CD Drive. Get any other peripherals you need like sound cards. Although there may be great deals on lots of separate sites for certain parts, I have found that you can save money ordering everything from one site because you tax and shipping. And just one quick word of advice, don’t ship UPS. Get FedEx. I’ve had UPS lose my computer, and you just don’t want to deal with that, even if newegg is great about accommodating you.
Where to buy
Best Brands by Part
CPU – Intel or AMD
Motherboard – Asus, MSI, DFI
Video Card – BFG, Asus, MSI, eVGA, XFX, ATI, Nvidia
Memory – Corsair (love their valueRAM), Kingston, OCZ
Hard Drive – Western Digital, Seagate
Power Supply – Rosewill, OCZ, Corsair, BFG, Thermaltake, Antec, PC Power
CD Drive – Lite-On (Doesn’t really matter, get something cheap)
Cases – Thermaltake, CoolerMaster, Antec, Lian Li, Rosewill
Hope that helps. On one last note…when you put your CPU in your motherboard match the gold triangle on the CPU with the one on the motherboard…I messed that up once when I was 15 and had 5 bent pins on my CPU…it still worked after I unbent them but don’t make the same mistake I did. Also read my other article about Retail vs OEM parts.