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How To Build, Part 1: Component Selection Overview

Last response: in Systems
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November 20, 2006 2:25:54 PM

The first step in building a system is to choose the right components. These general guidelines should help the new or rusty builder avoid common mistakes that might otherwise turn cash into trash.
November 20, 2006 2:31:44 PM

um, im getting a 404 error. i'll read it when its up though.

edit: ok 404 is gone, good article.
November 20, 2006 3:17:57 PM

Useful for a first time builder. Offers the standard guidelines. I still recommend most people to talk on the forums though, since there are hordes of people here who have experience. However, if you're seeing this post, you most likely are on the forums anyways, so I'm just preaching to the choir...
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November 20, 2006 4:08:43 PM

May I ask 2 questions regarding home built computers:

What's the difference something like a core 2 duo and a Xeon? It it on-die cache? If so, when is this useful?

Also, when is ECC memory useful?

Thanks! (I guess that technically was a little more than 2 questions.)
November 20, 2006 4:13:26 PM

Ah yes...the best answer is, don't bother considering server parts. I can think of a long answer, but I don't have time at the moment to write it all out in 5 paragraphs of detail.
November 20, 2006 4:24:34 PM

Thanks for the quick response. I'm interested in doing some fairly high-end scientific processing (mainly working in Matlab). My guess is if I start needing to do math on fairly large files (say > 2Gb) I could use a server chip, and if I'd want to run a process for a long period of time (> 1 week), I might want ECC memory.

Does that sound reasonable?
November 20, 2006 4:28:51 PM

That's true, the longer a calculation is the more likely you'll encounter an error, and that's when ECC is useful.
November 20, 2006 4:35:01 PM

Quote:
RAID stands for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks


inexpensive???
unless i'm getting older, it was independent i think (i'm seventeen 8) )
November 20, 2006 4:35:51 PM

Thanks....appreciate the advice!
November 20, 2006 4:47:26 PM

Inexpensive is older, Independant is more popular

Originally you had a choice in server disks, SLED or RAID. SLED stood for Single Large Expensive Disk, and RAID stood for Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks. Now, "Inexpensive" didn't sound like a nice way to put it, and the drives were mechanically independant of each other, so the word "independant" eventually won favor.

Yet tradiitonalists will argue for the word "inexpensive" which probably explains why it's used here.
November 20, 2006 4:49:20 PM

it used to be "inexpensive", but ever since the hd market lowered prices dramatically, its been, i think unofficially, changed to "independent". You're not getting older.. you're actually not old enough :lol: 
November 20, 2006 5:48:38 PM

yeah obviously :) 
thanks though, i love history 8)
November 20, 2006 6:05:56 PM

In the article - I'm glad you stated that the power supply is the most critical component. I've put together 19 unique computer systems over the years and one thing I learned more than anything else, USE A GOOD REPUTABLE POWER SUPPLY AND HAVE AT LEAST 100 WATTS MORE THAN YOU ANTICPATE. My first couple systems, I used the power supplies that came with the cases and/or bought bargain budget power supplies. None of them ever blew up on me but I noticed that those computers using budget power supplies caused many instability problems which I spent way too much time trying to resolve. I would experience both software and hardware related glitches caused by power fluxuation, hard drive failure, bootup blue screens etc.

Bottom line: Power supplies aren't the sexiest things in the world, but in a computer it's the heart. If you are a new computer builder, I hope you buy a power supply that is in the $50-$75 range at the least. I use Antec almost exclusively but I've also had good luck with Silverstone.

One more thing - I also suggest buying a power back up supply even if you live in a house or apartment that doesn't experience electrical brown outs. The power back up helps buffer these house/apartment electrical problems which ultimately will make your computer last longer. I use two inexpensive power backups (APC 500 good for about 5-10 mins - about $30 - $50 depending if you buy it on sale or with rebate) one for the computer and one for my two lcd panels.
November 20, 2006 7:17:45 PM

Quote:
PC-3200 (DDR-400) is so common that 512 MB modules can be found for as little as $10...after a few mail-in rebates.

OK, fine. But where is it??

Every time I've done an informal comparison of DDR to DDR2 prices they came in about roughly the same. 1GB of DDR or DDR2 is in the range of $100; 512MB is in the vicinity of $50-$60. Sure, the DDR is a little cheaper than DDR2. But it's not a jaw-dropping gap of difference.

I have never seen 512MB of PC3200 "for as little as $10". Even if I used Tom's exalted price search engine. So just where is this cheap PC3200 SDRAM??

-john the redundant legacy dinosaur.
November 20, 2006 7:26:15 PM

FYI, one of my hardware courses in university (2 years ago) still used "inexpensive". I think it is still the official 'I' in the acronym.
November 20, 2006 9:00:36 PM

If you can't find dirt-cheap PC-3200 you're not looking in the right trash. Sites like TigerDirect and several brick-and-mortar discount stores offer these huge mail-in rebates around once a month as a promotion. The rule about rebates is always tenacity, since many companies will try to frustrate you into not collecting on them.
November 20, 2006 9:06:41 PM

Thank God. I love you. We've been needing one of these topics for AGES...

~Ibrahim~

P.S. Can we get this stickied?
November 21, 2006 1:00:05 AM

Well, I have a *small* problem with the following:

Quote:
Western Digital's latest Raptor 150 GB drives lead the Serial ATA race, but the much slower Seagate Barracuda 750 GB leads in capacity.


And this is why:



Note that Refference disk #1 is a 4x RAID 0 array, using 4x 36GB Raptors. The screenshot of the benchmark of my array, is an XP pro software 4x RAID0 array, made up of mix/matched HDDS. They consist of:

2x 40GB 7200 RPM Seagate Barracuda (ATA 100)
1x 80GB 7200 RPM Seagate Barracuda (ATA 100)
1x 250GB 7200 RPM Seagate Barracuda (SATA 150)

Each drive was paritioned approx 37.2GB in size, since thats the most the 40GB drives would yield, and the SATA drive has two partitions, one for the OS, one for the striped array. Note that the random access times of my array is nearly 35% faster, and that the Raptors only performed 12MB/s faster. This is by far NOT a complete speed test, but let me tell you . . . IT_IS_FAST, at least , for what it is.

The point you ask ? That you dont have to shell out more money Per GB to get nearly the same performance, and 1/5 the storage space. Warranty wise, they are equal. MTBF is the same, but I'd expect that the Raptors would live a tad longer, just because they are supposed to be enterprise drives, but this doesnt nessisarily mean this assumption is true.

If I had done this in hardware, the results probably would have atleast been slightly better, depending on which RAID controller I used. However, I probably couldnt have used mis-matched interface types.

Anyhow . . .

</rant>

B.T.W. , no, I dont work for Seagate . . .
November 21, 2006 1:53:06 PM

The link to the Google search for "power supply calculator" is complete. There is no query in the link. Just a heads up.

EDIT: sorry, that's on the last page of the article.
November 21, 2006 2:30:16 PM

Quote:
The link to the Google search for "power supply calculator" is complete. There is no query in the link. Just a heads up.

By "no query in the link" I take it that you meant you just gave them a link to Google?

OK, fine. Buuuuuuuut :?, a bit confusing to me since the link text says "power supply calculators" but there's nothing remotely connected to PSUs showing up when you follow the link to the Google search page. OTOH, this also isn't be the first time I've found myself muttering "WTF do they mean?" while reading a Tom's article. Obfuscation happens.

Out of curiousity, what is the reason for linking only to the Google search page and not doing something more like this: power supply calculators . It's not immediately obvious to me why it's a bad thing editorially to embed meaningful search parameters into the Google link?

-john, the often confused and always redundant legacy dinosaur
November 21, 2006 3:43:12 PM

Me either, it appears the author used a link with search parameters, but the perameters were killed in the editing process. Why this happens is beyond my imediate knowledge, but I suppose I could look into it.
November 21, 2006 9:57:22 PM

*picks jaw up after seeing the author's name*
December 5, 2006 4:07:20 PM

The article is well written. However, I cannot see any mention of the most fundamental question builders ask clients or themselves - "What are you going to do with the computer? Games? Media center? Video editing? Business applications?" Answering this will dictate many of the selection of components and budgeting guidelines. As an example, if I am building a system for gaming, I usually say the buyer should spend about as much on a graphics card as they do for thier CPU. Video editing setups should have no less than 1 gig of RAM, preferably 2 gigs. A PC for business or just casual Internet browsing does not require much CPU or graphics horsepower. IMHO, this is the first question that must be answered before any components are selected and dictates power, storage, RAM, CPU/motherboard/graphics card selection, etc. It may seem obvious to most experienced builders, but inexperienced builders need to know basic requirements for the system that will suit thier needs.
October 24, 2007 5:18:52 PM

I am new to PC building and new to this tom's website and I am happy to find it, but can someone please post the links of all the parts of this series. It would be useful to newcomers like me.
-TIA
panks
October 24, 2007 5:49:01 PM

zjohnr said:
Quote:
PC-3200 (DDR-400) is so common that 512 MB modules can be found for as little as $10...after a few mail-in rebates.

OK, fine. But where is it??

Every time I've done an informal comparison of DDR to DDR2 prices they came in about roughly the same. 1GB of DDR or DDR2 is in the range of $100; 512MB is in the vicinity of $50-$60. Sure, the DDR is a little cheaper than DDR2. But it's not a jaw-dropping gap of difference.

I have never seen 512MB of PC3200 "for as little as $10". Even if I used Tom's exalted price search engine. So just where is this cheap PC3200 SDRAM??




You are wrong, 1GB of DDR2 ram is not 100$, lol. Here is an example of 2GB of DDR2 800 for 53.99 after rebate. http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E168...

And here is one 512mb stick of ddr400 (pc3200) ram for 22.49, not quite 10$ but its cheap.


fail i say
October 24, 2007 6:09:22 PM

Looks like someone actually uses the search engine. However, given the 11 month gap, the article might not be the most pertinent one to read.
!