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Looking to build 1st: cheap, upgradeable

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January 17, 2014 7:39:59 AM

Circumstances have me up against the wall as far as having the cash to fork out for a system that I want, which is why I'm exploring building one myself. I've installed RAM, graphics cards, etc before, so it's not scary to think about building one from scratch, I just have no idea where to start, how to tell which CPU's are better, what all works together, etc.

What I need very soon is a computer that has Windows 7 or 8 and can render film, preferably while I'm also streaming video either up or down. I'm looking for the bare minimum, but a setup I can upgrade, because the only reason I need a new computer is my current one won't upgrade RAM past 4MB (which I don't understand since it's 64bit but I'll be the first to admit I'm ig'nant so I don't even know what that means and it's probably a separate matter).

The guy at Staples recommended a laptop that was around $600, any chance I can build what I'm looking for around there? It would be a bonus if I could actually game on the thing, although I do most of my gaming currently on the 360.

One last bits of infos: I might eventually want to move to the computer for my gaming needs, seeing as gaming consoles are increasingly moving into the price range of computers anyway, but I'm not sure. And in time I may want to use the computer for 3D rendering, but again it's a maybe, and it would be a ways off (I'm thinking 1-2 years off).

Any help/advice I can get on the matter is appreciated!
January 17, 2014 8:04:47 AM

You're probably running into a RAM roadblock because of the motherboard, not your OS. For example, my motherboard has 8GB in right now (2x4), but could go as high as 32GB (4x8) if I needed to; my in-law's very old board, OTOH, is at its maximum of 2GB (2x1) & can't go any higher.

Since you're primarily looking at streaming/rendering video versus pure gameplay, going with an AMD FX-series CPU will save you over an Intel solution: the boards are rated for higher RAM speeds, the processors are cheaper (allowing for more RAM/drive space/other items), & they have more cores (more cores = more processing available, especially for video rendering). If you're especially tight on the budget, get one of theri A-series APUs (preferably the new Kaveri-based A8 or A10s). The processor prices are slightly higher, but you don't need a separate GPU (built into the chips) so you still save money, & they still give you a quad-core CPU. The choice of FX-series (Socket AM3+ boards) vs. A-series (Socket FM2+ boards) will also depend on the type of rendering you need to do: if it's occasional rendering, or limited to HD-quality (1080p), then an A-series with plenty of RAM & an SSD will probably work fine; if you're going to spend the majority of your time rendering, & especially if you're working on very large/near-4K quality files, an FX-series will be better. If you get an FX-series, though, just realize you'll need to buy a separate GPU for your system.

Also, consider what you can reuse from your existing system. For example:
-- if your case already has USB 2.0 ports on the front panel, you can reuse your case; just make sure that the motherboard you pick will fit inside (i.e. verify the form factor, ATX vs. mATX)
-- if you already have a SATA I/II hard drive, it'll work with SATA III controllers on the new motherboard, so only buy another hard drive if you really need to upgrade the space (i.e. you should have at least 1TB of total space) or plan on using an SSD to speed things up
-- if the DVD-writer is at least SATA I compliant, don't bother replacing it; if it's PATA/IDE, you can either choose to upgrade to a SATA version or buy a controller card to install in the motherboard
-- If your RAM is fairly fast (at least 1333MHz DDR3) and your new board has 4 RAM slots, you can reuse the RAM & buy new RAM to supplement it. Just remember that all of the RAM will be limited to the slowest speed installed; 1333MHz is pretty decent, but anything slower or non-DDR3 needs to be replaced
-- obviously, if your keyboard/mouse/printer/monitor are working, don't replace them.

Depending on the PSU, you'll probably need to replace it. pcpartpicker.com lets you pick components & estimates the minimum power requirements (which I would then recommend adding another 100W on top of in order to help "future-proof" it). That being said, unless you go with a pretty high-end GPU for your system, a 700-750W PSU should provide more than sufficient power for the foreseeable future.

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January 17, 2014 8:24:01 AM
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Here's a build that gets you into the latest Intel socket and has a PSU big enough to handle adding a GPU for gaming later. That means that down the road you can upgrade the CPU to an i5 or i7 and add a GPU for gaming.

[PCPartPicker part list](http://pcpartpicker.com/p/2CLWV) / [Price breakdown by merchant](http://pcpartpicker.com/p/2CLWV/by_merchant/) / [Benchmarks](http://pcpartpicker.com/p/2CLWV/benchmarks/)

Type|Item|Price
:----|:----|:----
**CPU** | [Intel Core i3-4130 3.4GHz Dual-Core Processor](http://pcpartpicker.com/part/intel-cpu-bx80646i34130) | $119.98 @ OutletPC
**Motherboard** | [Gigabyte GA-Z87X-D3H ATX LGA1150 Motherboard](http://pcpartpicker.com/part/gigabyte-motherboard-gaz87...) | $134.99 @ NCIX US
**Memory** | [G.Skill Sniper Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1866 Memory](http://pcpartpicker.com/part/gskill-memory-f314900cl9d8...) | $82.98 @ NCIX US
**Storage** | [Western Digital Caviar Blue 500GB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive](http://pcpartpicker.com/part/western-digital-internal-h...) | $54.96 @ B&H
**Case** | [Corsair 200R ATX Mid Tower Case](http://pcpartpicker.com/part/corsair-case-200r) | $59.99 @ Newegg
**Power Supply** | [Corsair Builder 600W 80+ Bronze Certified ATX Power Supply](http://pcpartpicker.com/part/corsair-power-supply-cx600) | $39.99 @ Newegg
**Optical Drive** | [Samsung SH-224DB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer](http://pcpartpicker.com/part/samsung-optical-drive-sh22...) | $14.99 @ Newegg
**Operating System** | [Microsoft Windows 8.1 - OEM (64-bit)](http://pcpartpicker.com/part/microsoft-os-wn700615) | $94.99 @ NCIX US
| | **Total**
| Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available. | $602.87
| Generated by PCPartPicker 2014-01-17 11:20 EST-0500 |
Related resources
January 17, 2014 9:14:46 AM

PCPartPicker part list / Price breakdown by merchant / Benchmarks

CPU: AMD FX-6300 3.5GHz 6-Core Processor ($109.99 @ TigerDirect)
Motherboard: ASRock 970 PRO3 R2.0 ATX AM3+ Motherboard ($72.55 @ Newegg)
Memory: Crucial Ballistix Sport 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory ($74.99 @ Microcenter)
Storage: Seagate Barracuda 3TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive ($99.99 @ NCIX US)
Video Card: Asus Radeon R7 240 2GB Video Card ($69.99 @ Microcenter)
Case: NZXT Source 210 Elite (Black) ATX Mid Tower Case ($39.99 @ Newegg)
Power Supply: Corsair CX 430W 80+ Bronze Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply ($34.99 @ Microcenter)
Optical Drive: Samsung SH-224DB/BEBE DVD/CD Writer ($14.99 @ Newegg)
Operating System: Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (OEM) (64-bit) ($88.99 @ B&H)
Total: $606.47
(Prices include shipping, taxes, and discounts when available.)
(Generated by PCPartPicker 2014-01-17 12:14 EST-0500)
January 17, 2014 4:18:42 PM

Wow, you guys are fast! Thanks for the infos, I need to flesh this out:

"Also, consider what you can reuse from your existing system."

So what I'm using is an HP Pavilion and no idea if the case would work. Here are the specs, as best I can do, followed by an url to the model page at HP. Anything I can salvage or way to upgrade? :/ 

Hewlett-Packard p6203w
CPU: AMD Athlon II X2 215 Processor 2.70 GHz
Motherboard: Pegatron M2N68-LA (Narra5) microATX AM2+
Memory: 4GB (2 X 2 GB) PC2-6400 MB/sec
Storage: 500GB SATA 7200 RPM
Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce GT 520
Case: Mid-size ATX
Power Supply: 250w
Optical Drive: hp DVD-RAM GH40L SCSI CdRom Device (it reads and writes)
Operating System: Windows 7 64 bit

http://h10025.www1.hp.com/ewfrf/wc/document?cc=us&lc=en...
January 21, 2014 7:25:03 AM

Well, you can keep your OS, your hard drive, & video card for sure, along with the case. The DVD-RAM drive can maybe be kept, provided either your board has built-in SCSI or you get an expansion card for it. If the memory is DDR3, you can keep it (although you might want to consider upgrading if you have the budget); otherwise, you'll need to replace it.

For the rest, you'll need a new board, CPU & PSU. For the board, I'd recommend if possible going for 4 RAM slots for maximum RAM upgrade potential, & at least 1 PCIe x16 slot; Intel or AMD choice is up to you. For the PSU, you may not need the power now, but consider at least 500W, if not 600-700W, just to make future upgrades (especially for video cards) that much easier.
January 21, 2014 8:59:00 AM

You can NOT re-use an OEM OS in a new build. You will need to buy a new copy of Windows for the new system. Honestly, I would just go with a completely new system. The only component I would consider using in the new system would be the hard drive. I wouldn't use it as the main system drive, but you could use it as a secondary storage device. I don't see any other components worth moving to the new system.
February 5, 2014 1:55:29 PM

So... any chance someone could let me know what the difference is between the above builds, and a $600 Walmart gaming computer with 8GB of RAM? Because if I don't have to build one, I'd rather not. And on that first estimate up there I don't see a graphics card, so I guess I'd add that in for that build.
February 5, 2014 2:28:47 PM

The difference between these builds and a $600 Walmart computer are the quality of components used. The $600 Walmart special is going to have the cheapest components available inside. That includes a junk PSU that will not allow upgrades in the future and a locked down motherboard that will likely not support CPU upgrades. The Walmart special will also be filled with bloatware where a custom build is a clean OS install. It's a no-brainer to me, but not everyone feels that way. I, personally, will never buy a pre-built desktop computer. I prefer to build my own so I know it has quality components inside and allows an upgrade path.

I didn't include a GPU in my system because you can use the integrated GPU in the CPU for basic use. You will need a GPU when you plan on using the system for gaming, though.
February 5, 2014 10:38:12 PM

shortstuff_mt said:
The difference between these builds and a $600 Walmart computer are the quality of components used. The $600 Walmart special is going to have the cheapest components available inside. That includes a junk PSU that will not allow upgrades in the future and a locked down motherboard that will likely not support CPU upgrades. The Walmart special will also be filled with bloatware where a custom build is a clean OS install. It's a no-brainer to me, but not everyone feels that way. I, personally, will never buy a pre-built desktop computer. I prefer to build my own so I know it has quality components inside and allows an upgrade path.

I didn't include a GPU in my system because you can use the integrated GPU in the CPU for basic use. You will need a GPU when you plan on using the system for gaming, though.


Kk, thanks so much for explaining. I just have one more question then: Two builds were offered in this thread. How does a newb know which one to choose?

February 6, 2014 8:46:34 AM

Well, you asked for a cheap build that's able to be upgraded. I went with the most current Haswell Intel chip because that offers the best upgrade path. The i3 chip and its integrated GPU will work for general use. I included a PSU powerful enough to add a GPU later without having to upgrade any other components. You could also upgrade the CPU to an i5 or i7 if your future needs require it. The AMD build limits your upgrade possibilities due to the 430W PSU. If you wanted to add a gaming GPU later you would also need to upgrade the PSU.

The AMD chip has more cores, but each core is considerably slower than the Intel cores (you can't compare them based on GHz). The Intel chip is faster in lightly threaded workloads, but the AMD chip is faster in heavily threaded workloads.

I think you would be happy with the i3 performance for now and when you come across some more money for an upgrade later you can transform it into a very powerful system by only upgrading the CPU and GPU.
February 7, 2014 3:58:17 PM

Awesome, thanks again for your time in explaining this stuff to me. I guess I'm not done with the questions before I start ordering parts, though.

First, are we sure the CPU graphics will be good enough for video rendering? I had to install a new video card to be able to use a capture card and editing software.

Second, could you please direct me to where I learn how to put all these pieces together? I recently read about a gamer who put together his first build and then he couldn't get it to work. Someone else had to come in and figure out that a hard drive hadn't been named, or something. I'd just like to have access to how to do all this stuff so I'm not totally flying in the dark.
February 7, 2014 7:51:03 PM

I guess it depends on what type of video rendering you're doing and what software you're using. I use the integrated GPU on my i7-2600K for video transcoding and editing.

There are a lot of resources for building your own computer available. There is a good sticky at the top of the forum that's a good starting spot.

http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/274745-31-step-step-g...

A Google search for how to build a computer will come up with a ton of information and videos. These Newegg videos are long, but pretty good.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPIXAtNGGCw

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_56kyib-Ls

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RxaVBsXEiok

If you run into trouble this checklist can help you determine what's causing the problem.
"No POST", "system won't boot", and "no video output" troubleshooting checklist
"No POST", "system won't boot", and "no video output" troubleshooting checklist This checklist is a compilation of troubleshooting ideas from many forum members. It's very important to actually perform every step in the checklist if you want to... See full content
February 13, 2014 1:12:17 PM

Alright, again, thanks so much for your time on this!

I've had to follow some leads on a possible purchase, do some research, make decisions for sure if I wanted to build or buy before getting started - I'm going to build! :D 

I watched the first New Egg vid, and I'm SO close to getting started. I just need to check on three things before I start ordering, and I'm not sure how to make sure things are compatible so any help is appreciated.

1. For shortstuff's build list above, what CPU would I order that's a quad core i5?
2. What memory would I go for if I want 1T?
3. How can I double check if the video card on the motherboard will suffice for my video capture/editing program and how does one go about choosing a video card & know if it fits in their build?

All the parts have so many numbers and letters I don't really know what's the diff. I'm also afraid of accidentally buying low-quality or something that doesn't fit. I guess that comes with experience. Anyway, other than those last questions, I'm ready to start ordering and pretty excited about my first build!
February 13, 2014 2:54:58 PM

1. Any current LGA 1150 CPU will work with the motherboard in my build (i5-4430, i5-4440, i5-4570, i5-4670, i5-4670K, etc...). Are you just asking for future knowledge, or are you thinking of getting an i5 right now?

2. Are you talking about 1T vs 2T command rate for the RAM timings? If so, most RAM right now has a 2T command rate and that's just fine. There is such a minuscule difference you will never notice it in everyday usage. The CAS 9 1866MHz RAM I suggested in my build is all you really need.

3. What software are you using for video capture/editing? That will determine if it can utilize the GPU integrated into the CPU. The integrated GPU supports OpenCL and OpenGL, but you'll have to see if it's able to utilize the HD graphics 4400 GPU integrated into the CPU. If the program you use utilized Nvidia CUDA then an Nvidia GPU would probably be best. You have to do research to make sure the GPU you pick will fit inside your case. If you do a Google search for your case it will usually tell you the biggest GPU that can fit. According to Corsair's website the 200R has room for cards up to 430mm long (300mm with drive cage). A GTX 770 GPU is 10.5" (267mm). I found all that information on the manufacturer websites.

http://www.corsair.com/us/pc-cases/carbide-series-pc-ca...

http://www.geforce.com/hardware/desktop-gpus/geforce-gt...

Google is your friend and will help a lot in researching compatibility questions.
February 14, 2014 10:59:30 AM

Oh believe me, I've spent a ton of time on Google reading and trying to research a lot of this stuff, but I think you old-hands don't realize how hard it is for a newbie to know how to ask Google the right questions! I've basically got to learn all the ins and outs before I even know what to call what I'm looking for. I have to stop and think every time what GPU and CPU means ;)  not to mention having no idea what OpenCL is or what makes which parts not compatible. Many times when I come across a term like that I don't know, I go off to read about it, and that packs my brain with even more new information and usually several *new* terms I don't know, so it just gets more and more confusing.

1. I'm asking because I'm thinking of getting an i5 right now, and when I went to add one to my build list, there were so many different ones I had no idea which one to choose.

2. Sorry for that misunderstanding, I was referring to 1T of "Storage", as opposed to the 500GB you quoted. I have no idea (yet) what that other stuff even is you are talking about, lol.

3. I will be using Sony Vegas, but I couldn't find any infos on the video card capabilities of the mother board you quoted to try and check on if it would work. All I know is I had to install a video card on my HP to be able to use the Hauppauge game capture and editing device and software, so it was a concern.
February 14, 2014 11:28:41 AM

Halo Diehards said:
Oh believe me, I've spent a ton of time on Google reading and trying to research a lot of this stuff, but I think you old-hands don't realize how hard it is for a newbie to know how to ask Google the right questions! I've basically got to learn all the ins and outs before I even know what to call what I'm looking for. I have to stop and think every time what GPU and CPU means ;)  not to mention having no idea what OpenCL is or what makes which parts not compatible. Many times when I come across a term like that I don't know, I go off to read about it, and that packs my brain with even more new information and usually several *new* terms I don't know, so it just gets more and more confusing.

1. I'm asking because I'm thinking of getting an i5 right now, and when I went to add one to my build list, there were so many different ones I had no idea which one to choose.

2. Sorry for that misunderstanding, I was referring to 1T of "Storage", as opposed to the 500GB you quoted. I have no idea (yet) what that other stuff even is you are talking about, lol.

3. I will be using Sony Vegas, but I couldn't find any infos on the video card capabilities of the mother board you quoted to try and check on if it would work. All I know is I had to install a video card on my HP to be able to use the Hauppauge game capture and editing device and software, so it was a concern.


Congrats on decided to build. The good news is, you really only need to be a weekend warrior as far as computer knowledge goes to build a good working PC. I'm living proof of that.

Here's some basic things you might need to know just from my experience:

When Intel or AMD releases a new processor(s), chances are it will have a different number of pins than the previous one. This is what is meant by the socket type on the motherboard; basically number of pins on the chip. When you decide which processor to get, that will determine the type of motherboard because it has to have the same socket type. The motherboard will come with a manual that explains how to install it in the case and where things from the case plug in. Follow the directions carefully to avoid screwing something up.

If you get a new case, you will want to see what sort of ports it has on the front and try to match that up with the motherboard as well. You don't want a case that has a USB 3 port and then get a motherboard that doesn't have a USB 3 input on it (not sure if that exists anymore). There will be several cables for the power light, HDD light, etc, in the case and the motherboard manual should tell you where they go.

If it were me, and I'm probably not as much of an expert as others here....I would reuse the harddrive and the dvd drive from your Pavilion and get everything else new. You might want to back everything up from your HDD and then have it wiped out. That way it'll be fresh when you install the new copy of Windows, which you will need because as someone else mentioned, you cannot use an OEM version in more than one machine. They usually write themselves to the motherboard. Then I'd make sure the PSU has at least 2 pci-e plugs for your GPU(video card) which you might install later. Some only require one, and better ones require two. 8 gigs of ram is the way to go these days.
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