Reader How Tos: Building For Stability


The purpose of this section is to look at the individual components that make up a PC system, and to comment on some basic considerations:

  • Case
    People ask, "What's in a case, and how can this affect system performance?" The case is a very important aspect of a system, as its dimensions, design, airflow and fan mountings can have a dramatic effect on the performance of a system. In my opinion, a large, well-designed case is not much more expensive than a poorly designed one. My major gripe with cheap cases is that some of the fan mountings have very poorly stamped grills that dramatically impede the airflow and ventilation of the case, with the result that most of the air bounces back and does not adequately cool the components in the case!

A large case gives plenty of room for free airflow, cabling and peripherals.

  • Power Supply Unit (PSU)
    The Power Rating system of a PSU is deceptive. A 300W PSU that supplies 60A on the 5v line is still a 300W PSU (5 x 60 = 300W), but it would be useless in a PC system! I recommend reading the AMD site for PSU requirements and selecting carefully, as performance increases are stressing the PSU further and further. PSU fan noise can be the most annoying and loudest part of your system, so this may be a consideration. My preference is the branded dual fan PSU's, which have two low-speed, quiet fans that provide excellent cooling. There are lower cost alternatives on the market that perform admirably, but you have to be wary. Finally, think about your power budget. If you're planning to fill it with peripherals, will the cheap 300W, no-name import PSU be up to the job? I doubt it, and it does need some consideration. THG has just added an excellent article on this subject at Inadequate and Deceptive Product Labeling: Comparison of 21 Power Supplies .
  • Processor
    Which path to take, AMD or Intel? I have predominantly chosen AMD processors because they offer a bigger "bang per buck," and I don't like my money being wasted on TV ads! Determining the speed of processor required is addressed very well in THG's scaling article (see the "Balanced System" section). The choice of processor type and speed also affects the power dissipation and choice of cooling. Greater cooling can require higher fan speeds and, thus, more noise, depending on your choice.