Building a computer for the first time

Alright, I'm seeking advice on how to make informed decisions in regards to selecting my own components. While I have no doubts that many of the people here are very knowledgeable, I feel much better taking the advice of people who can point to sources which back up what they're saying. Therefore I would greatly appreciate it some of you could point me towards some good resources rather than just listing me a bunch of components. I hope you understand. So far I've been able to learn a great deal about CPU's and GPU's from this site and others, but I'm still somewhat confused in regards to motherboards, power supplies, and so forth

That said, here's my situation. I am a college student that's been getting by with fairly nice 15in Dell laptop for a several years now. I finally have enough money in the bank that I'm comfortable with laying down $1000 on a new desktop. Of course that means I have nothing to carry on to this new desktop. I'm starting from scratch.

I've been doing a lot of research and am starting to get a fairly good idea of what I'm going to get, however I still have questions and I want to see what the community here has to say.

So here we go:

APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: I'm expecting to order sometime this month. I'm hoping to come to a decision this week, but am in no real rush.

BUDGET RANGE: US$900-1000. Will consider up to $1100 but the goal here is $1000.

SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Gaming, surfing the internet, watching movies

PARTS NOT REQUIRED: mouse, OS (I have an MSDN account through school)


PARTS PREFERENCES: None in particular. I have some ideas that I'm putting in the comments

OVERCLOCKING: Maybe (never had my own desktop to try it on)

SLI OR CROSSFIRE: Yes (but not required)

MONITOR RESOLUTION: I like my laptop which is 1680x1050.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: I've been playing with different builds via Newegg wish lists and have come to the conclusion that there is no way I'll get an i7 for less than $1100, but that's ok. From what I understand Q9xxx's or Q8xxx's aren't that much worse in practical terms and since Intel is working on new chips anyways I don't see any reason to stretch my budget for one. AMD's Phenom II X4's don't look bad either. Also I'm not necessarily set on a quad-core, though for a $1000 rig it seems I might as well.

For GPU's I was initially looking at the 4890, however benchmarks seem to indicate it not necessarily being a big enough improvement over the 4870 to justify it's price. Recently the manufacturers seem to have noticed this because most of the 4890's on Newegg are on sale. Now for my price range this site recommends going with dual 4770's, but of course they're in short supply. Interestingly enough, 4850's are currently on sale and I might be able to snag a couple for under $250 total. I imagine that wouldn't be a bad deal either. Finally there's the cheaper option which is getting a GTX 260 core 216.

As far as motherboards go I'm a little less sure. NVIDIA boards are more expensive and I hear about questional stability, but I don't really know what that's about. Intel P45's seem like the way to go but finding a board that that supports XFire and DDR3 RAM for a reasonable price is proving a challenge. This might end up pulling money away from the GPU.

For RAM I'm thinking I should go ahead and get DDR3. It'll be easier to upgrade in the future.

Don't know much about cases, but I don't necessarily need anything too flashy. I also wouldn't know much about PSU's except I'm probably looking at something in 650-700W range.

Don't need a massive monitor, but like I said I like 1680X1050 resolution. Speakers, Keyboard, and DVD player/burner simply need to be functional. I'm not planning on getting a blu-ray player right now.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated. I've been trying to do my homework and have learned quite a bit already, but I feel like I'm kinda stuck at the moment and would love it if someone could push me in the right direction for some of the questions I have. I'd also love any specific advice you guys give, but I figure that I'll just continue to switch stuff around for a while I try to take advantage of sales and ultimately decide exactly how much I'm gonna spend on this thing.
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  1. I'm in a similar situation to you so you can take my post with a grain of salt, I claim no expertise on this subject. My only real advice is to do as much research as you can. Keep reading as much as you can and learn from this site, there is tons of great information here.

    For gaming I believe the core2duo(especially the 8000series) are nearly as good as the i7, however the i7 will only get better with time as more and more developers code their games to take advantage of more than 2 cores. If you do not mind waiting a few weeks you could probably catch enough deals on parts to get a good i7 rig under 1k.

    If you have a Microcenter nearby they have ran several sales during the past few months with i7s for $200.

    Other than that I will let the more experienced members answer your other questions, here are a few sites that I would recommend checking out as well though:

    SlickDeals For finding good deals on computer parts, you will have to search around though as they have deals on everything.
    AnandtechReally similar to this site.
    HardOCP Have really good reviews for power supplies but the selection is sorta limited.
  2. Two 4850's is going to be the best performance for your dollar right now. Pick up two of these:

    For gaming, the Phenom II X4 940 is probably the best chip for the price right now. It overclocks decently, its cheap, and at stock speeds is only very slightly slower than the i7 in gaming. I'd go for this:

    This HDD is very fast and probably the most reliable out there right now in its class:

    Good fast ram at fairly low voltages, indication of high quality:

    For two 4850's, a 600-650w PSU would be about right. Here is what I would go for, its an excellent deal:

    DVD Drive, they are all basically the same, but LG and Samsung tend to be the most reliable. Get a SATA drive like this one:

    Nice monitors for the price:

    For the mouse, keyboard, and speakers, not moose has some good basic suggestions. I would just go to best buy or fry's so you can play around with them and know what you are getting.
  3. The total of my suggestions comes in at $970 after shipping, and if you wait a couple months for the rebates, the end cost is $950.
  4. Thanks, that's good stuff.

    I got a specific question about motherboards that I haven't been able to find an answer to. The motherboard posted by xthekidx goes from 16x bandwidth to dual 8x bandwidth when both PCI-e 2.0 slots are being used (i.e. in XFire). More expensive motherboards can maintain both slots at 16x. Is this is an important advantage?

    Also, both posters above recommended picking up DDR2 RAM. I know it's a little cheaper right now, but won't it be more expensive in the future as it gets phased out in favor of DDR3?
  5. Having full X16 bandwidth in crossfire is only necessary if your GPU requires a LOT of bandwidth, i.e. 4870x2. Most other cards will not be bottlenecked by X8 bandwidth in Crossfire. The difference in gaming is going to be ~1% faster frame rates. You won't be able to tell the difference.

    Yes in the future DDR2 will become more expensive, and if you are worried about that, then you can fill up your Ram slots now and not have to worry about memory upgrades in the future. But the extra price going with DDR3 is mostly in the CPU and MB, not the Ram itself. The PII 955 cost $65 more than the 940 in order to have a DDR3 memory controller, and cheapest 790X motherboards start at about $140. Going with the 940+DDR2 saves you about $80-90 and you won't see any decrease in performance using DDR2 vs DDR3.
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