Reader How Tos: Building For Stability


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The purpose of this article is to explain the process I follow when building a new PC. As I have purchased and built many systems that have been unreliable, my intent is that this explanation will cover the variables that I have found to differentiate a reliable system from an unreliable system. This may help you in your decision-making process. This article is based on my own experience, and should be received as so. Please excuse the grammatical quality - I'm an engineer, hence it's an informal document and not a submission for an English exam! That said, common sense and a logical approach should, hopefully, net results.

Systems Components Selection

Systems components selection is an important area; THG provides lots of reviews on performance, as do many others, but they usually focus on individual peripherals. This section is intended to throw a different light on selecting components for a complete system.


Before buying individual components, I consider the following general points:

  • Performance
    There are lots of excellent reviewers in this area, such as THG, that look at new products. However, it is very difficult to get an appreciation for its true reliability based on a single "Golden" product sent to the tester. I believe (based on my experience of working in the industry) some manufacturers provide handpicked products for review. These parts may not take into account component variation, which can contribute to poor reliability. I recommend doing some homework as to the manufacturer's product and customer service reputation, as well as what you want from each individual component. Speed, reliability, noise and heat are just a few of my selection criteria.
  • NewsGroups
    These are an invaluable source to gauge the quality of products and to find solutions to solving problems. Common sense is required, however, as some postings are just user caused problems. I look for posts involving experienced "high" post count user (the logic being the more posts, the more experienced the writer). When selecting a product, read the newsgroups on that product or product family and find out what the users think, rather than forming your opinion from a review of a single board.
  • Brand
    Not all manufacturers are equally reliable, nor will every one have equivalent driver, bios, and diagnostics support. The quality of components can vary dramatically. I won't name my favourite manufacturers, but as with all products, all manufacturers in this field are not equal.
  • Take the time to Shop Around
    I have 26 links to UK Components sites. After a quick scan, you get an idea of the sites most appropriate to your style. Prices vary tremendously, as does the support, return policies and shipping costs.
  • A Balanced System
    When choosing your system components, consider the balance. I am always amused by the "high end" gaming machines that have a >2 GHz processor with a GF4MX graphics card. In my opinion, this is ludicrous and is marketed toward an uninformed consumer. A balanced system is one that does not have a major bottleneck (i.e., a component that is always holding things up). Buy evenly balanced CPU, Motherboard and graphics cards. Two good illustrations of this are in the following articles:

  • GeForce2 Scaling Analysis
    CPU Scaling Analysis, Part 1: AMD Athlon