APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: I'm hoping to pick up the parts on/around boxing day.
BUDGET RANGE: Around 700 - 900 CA, lower is better though.
SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Gaming (Dragon Age, Aion, and hopefully Diablo 3), Photo editing (Photoshop, Photomatix, Illustrator)
PARTS NOT REQUIRED: keyboard, mouse, monitor, speakers, OS
PREFERRED WEBSITE FOR PARTS: newegg.ca
PARTS PREFERENCES: None.
SLI OR CROSSFIRE: Maybe?
MONITOR RESOLUTION: I have a 17" Viewsonic, not sure on the exact specifications.
ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: I've been researching for a little while now but I've never been good at computers. I experimented with creating my own builds just based on reviews but I never got much further then the motherboard before getting confused. For me looks (case) really don't matter, it just needs to work. As far as graphics settings, I don't need the highest (obvious budget constraints), but higher is nevertheless better.
To start, those are CPUs. GPUs are the video cards.
The typical choices are between AMD's X4 quad cores and either Intel's i5 or i7s. For your budget, i7s are not going to be possible. Typically, the decision is between the X4 955 for $189.99 and the i5 for $219.99. Currently, the i5 has better performance, but has a very limited upgrade path. For your budget, I would go with an AMD, especially with the triple core options.
The main thing with the motherboard is the socket MUST match the CPU. I think most of the triple and quad cores for AMD use AM3. After that, you should look at boards that use DDR3 RAM. This is newer, and will be available if you want to add more in the future. I'd also suggest getting one that supports up to 16 GB of RAM, not that you'll need that much, but you never know what will come out later.
Another consideration is Crossfire/SLI. This is using two video cards (must be the same card) together. In order to do this effectively, you need 2 PCIe 2.0 slots that operate at 16x. I wouldn't recommend doing this right now, as that's a lot of money, but it can be an upgrade option. Looking around, this one looks pretty good, but I'm not exactly sure. The one I've seen recommended the most isn't on newegg.ca...
1) Some of the lower-end boards only support up to 95W CPUs. Since the CPU you selected runs at 95W, this is ok; however, if you ever want to upgrade in the future your options may be more limited. That being said, it will probably be worth the money to select a little bit better board to leave room for the future (should you decide to upgrade).
2) The main thing to look at with graphics is the number of PCI Express 2.0 16x slots the motherboard has. This socket can also be run at different speeds (the most common are referred to as 16x, 8x, and 4x - with 16x being the fastest). So if you just want one graphics card, then what you want is a board with at least one PCI Express 2.0 16x slot running at 16x speed. If you foresee yourself adding a second graphics card down the road, then you will need a board with at least two PCI Express 2.0 16x slots (preferably with both running at 16x/16x, although 16x/8x or 8x/8x are also acceptable configurations). To run multiple graphics cards, the board will also need to be able to run Crossfire or SLI (this should be in the product features).
3) Finally, look at the number of RAM slots. You will probably want 4 slots as this offers room to upgrade in the future, although you can find boards with only 2 slots (but these have more limited upgrade options).
These are two boards that stuck out at me at first glance. Both have newer sockets, so should be able to accommodate newer processors in the future. Of course, though, you may find something that works better for you:
Another note: There is really no huge advantage to go any higher than DDR3 1333 Ram with this setup. When choosing RAM, ram with lower "timings" and lower voltage is better.
This is a set of very good RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 4GB DDR3 1333
If you click on the "Specifications" tab you will see categories for "Timing" and "Voltage"
Timing: 7-7-7-21 <--- This is very low for DDR3 1333 (GOOD!)
Voltage: 1.5V <--- This is also low for DDR3 1333 (GOOD!)
You can go for cheaper RAM, but now you are informed and know how to tell the difference between good (faster) RAM and value RAM. Ram with higher timings (9-9-9-24 for example) will generally run slower. Ram with higher voltage (1.8V-1.9V for example) will require you to feed more voltage to the RAM slots to achieve the optimum performance (and not every motherboard can do this).
Awesome, thanks for the help! Thanks for explaining in an understandable manner. One concern is it looks like the dual graphics card set up has an integrated video card, will this be a problem or is it easily disabled?