PC Building Guide

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NOTES: This PC Building Guide is meant for "non-techie" folks who barely knows anything with PC hardwares. Why did I pick to create a guide for 'em? Well, there are already tons of techie upgrade guides out there! Non-techie folks often times end up having more questions than answers when reading those kind of guides, so I feel that I need explain everything to 'em in Layman's term and try to keep everything short so that they wouldn't feel to overwhelmed with the things that has to be considered/remembered (etc) when building a PC
Its going to be really (and i mean REALLY) hard for me to keep a PC Building Guide section updated 'coz new, better, and faster hardware comes out almost (if not) every single day. So I will try to explain things in general, not too specific so that when u read this guide a couple of months/years after my last update, u wouldn't find urself telling a salesman that u want "this" hardware that is already obsolete lol!
Everything that is written here are based on my opinion and experience. I will try my best not to pick the parts for u, but rather let the readers decide for themselves. Goodluck!

=Things To Remember=
  • When building a PC, try to reduce "bottleneck" by picking parts that doesn't overwhelm the performance of the rest of ur hardware. Though sometimes (depending on ur system's primary usage) having more of "this" than "that" can lead to better performance. On the other hand, a general purpose PC will still benefit more from balanced specs (especially those who are going to build a gaming PC).
  • Package or Pre-built systems has to be checked on all its specs and the brand of hardwares that are included on the system. More often than not, pre-built systems include low end parts and/or cheap hardware brands.
  • When picking any type of hardware, it is best to read reviews and user comments on the net. It will greatly reduce the possibility of purchasing a bad performing product.
  • When building a PC, it is best to give ur soon to be purchased PC a slight allowance for future-proofing. An example is buying a mobo with more expansion slots or HD space than u currently require.
  • Canvasing for cheaper price is always the way to go as long as the longetivity of warranty and after sales support is not affected.
  • Brand and price alone doesn't dictate the quality of a product. There are times where lower priced products outperform a much expensive hardware. There are also different models to be choosed from, so choose wisely.
  • READ reviews, I have links inside my "Links" section on both hardware and games review websites.
There are basically only 2 brands to pick here, Intel or AMD. As for the models, we have a couple of choices on both brands. We have these desktop models (jurassic models not included) for Intel sorted in terms of performance (slowest to fastest with the same clock speed) and most probably in price as well (cheapest to u know what):
-P4 Extreme
-P4 Northwood HT
-P4 Prescott HT
-P4 non-HT
-Celeron D
As for AMD:
-A64 FX
-XP Barton
-XP / Palomino / T-bred
There are actually more models for both brands if we will go into detail. but those models are basically the only models that IMO u should know about. You can always visit their site (www.intel.com and www.amd.com) if u want to find out more about their models or dive deeper with their specs. 
Clock Speed:
Its the "x.xx mhz" indicated after the brand/model on the processor. AMD does things differently though, their "xxxx+" is not the actual mhz/ghz rating of their processor. It's a PR (Performance Rating) of their processors in comparison with their Intel counterparts (ex: AXP 2000+ is more or less the same as an Intel 2ghz in terms of performance). This helps reduce the confusion that (for ex) an AMD 1.67ghz is slower than a P4 2ghz. U see, AMD processors can do more work per clock cycle. So an AMD processor with a lower clock speed can outperform or perform as well (unless the diff is to huge) an Intel processor with the same or almost the same clock speed.
So what clock speed should u pick? Well it depends on what apps, softwares, or games u want to run. Of course the faster, the better ... that is if u have the money to burn. These are IMO what u should at least get:
-1ghz (-): for peeps who only do word processing, web browsing, or listening to music while doing the mentioned stuffs.
-1.5ghz / 1500+ (-): for folks who are non-hardcore gamers and want to do more things like basic photo and video editing.
-2ghz / 2000+ (-): for casual gamers who does multimedia editing quite often.
-2.5ghz / 2500+ (-): for semi-hardcore gamers and folks who are semi-pro multimedia editors.
-3ghz / 3000+ (+/-): for hardcore gamers, multimedia editing pros, and heavy multi-taskers.
(-) = or slower
(+) = or faster
As for what brand u should pick? Check out my "Misc. Stuffs" section for more info.
There are only a few things that u have to take note when buying a mobo besides the obvious that it should support ur processor of choice (its easy, juz ask the salesperson). Probably the most important thing to look for is the "chipset", though a word processing or net surfing only system could probably juz ignore this one, folks want to have an additional boost by purchasing 2pcs of RAM with the same size might want to consider an NForce 2 chipset equipped motherboard. "VIA" is a pretty good if u for some reason u are not able to purchase an NF2 mobo (NForce 2 MOtherBOard). "SiS" can also be considered especially if ur quite tight on ur budget.
The number of available slots, ports, etc should also be considered and even counted (especially if ur planning on purchasing lots of PCI add-on cards in the future). The mobo can also often times support newer processors via BIOS update, so there's going to be a room for future processor upgrade/s. Don't expect ur 2-3yr old mobo to support the 'just released' processors though.
=Memory / RAM=
When buying RAM, there are 3 things IMO that u should take note of. The most important thing IMO is the amount, followed by its speed and type (thats the PCxxxx or SDR/DDRxxx that u see besides the RAM brand on pricelists), and lastly the brand.
U can follow my estimated amount depending on the system's type of usage:
-128mb: should be the bare minimum for folks with extremely tight budget and will only do word processing or light net browsing. I wouldn't recommend using WinXP as an OS though, use Win98se or Win2k instead (skip WinME).
-256mb: the minimum for WinXP regardless of the apps or games that u will use/play. Non-hardcore Win98se or Win2k users (might it be gaming, multimedia editing) can most probably survive with this amount w/ little noticeable system sluggishness. Tweaking WinXP (I also have a guide here, look it up) will help increase performance.
-384mb/512mb: Recommended for folks who plays newer games under any OS, non-pro video/audio editing can run w/ this amount of memory w/ minor to zero performance probs.
-768mb and above: Recommended for hardcore gamers, video/audio editing buffs, heavy multitaskers etc.
Gamers, take note that not all games require huge amount of RAM. Some benefit greatly from having lots of RAM (above 512mb) than having a fast videocard or processor. While some will do just fine with 384mb as long as u have a fast videocard and/or processor. "Balance" is still the key here.
The speed on the other hand can be a bit confusing at first. To make it simple, check ur mobo's manual ... the list of supported RAM speeds is listed there. It is recommended that u buy the fastest RAM that ur mobo supports. But if price is going to be a problem, a slower memory will suffice. Just remember that more RAM is better than having faster but less amount of RAM (unless u have lots already).
As for the branded or generic issue, check my Misc. Stuffs section for more info.
Good thing this is a non-techie article, 'coz if not ... this videocard issue will probably be longer than the rest of the other hardware articles combined ... lol! Anyway ...
Non gamers will probably be able to do fine with an "onboard" video (built-in to the mobo). An onboard video has a drawback though, if ur a gamer ... IMO u should not even consider buying a PC with an onboard only video. 'Coz not only will it run games using the powerpoint (slideshow) engine (its an analogy ok? ahehe!), it will also use up some part of ur physical memory (RAM, 'coz built-in video doesn't have their own memory) that will slow games even more (unless u have tons of RAM).
Now if ur going to consider an "add-on" type of videocard, try to think of the type or game titles that u plan on playing, what resolution and details setting, are u willing to play a game and sacrifice eye-candy in exchange for better performance etc etc? Once ur done with that, here are a couple of things that u should take note when choosing the right vidcard for u:
-As always budget dictates how good or bad ur soon to be purchased videocard will be. Try to extend ur budget as much as u can for future-proofing and in exchange for better videocard performance ... and not for a much expensive brand.
-In gaming, there's DX and OpenGL compliance written on the box. What are they for? Well newer versions gives u better graphics quality. Most newer games today already supports the latest DX and OpenGL versions and videocards that supports them via hardware will be able to produce the enchanced graphics better or faster than those videocard that only run 'em via emulation. Remember that there's a difference between a DX9 "compatible" and a DX9 "compliant" videocard (or any DX version for that matter). DX9 compatible videocards only supports the version via driver/emulation w/c can cause performance and graphics degration. Compliance on the other hand doesn't have those downsides b'coz it supports the said version via hardware. There are games that requires a specific DX version compliance, some will either run the game with emulated procedures or disable specific DX features if ur videocard doesn't support it (non-compliant but compatible).
-Now how would u know if a videocard is fast enough for ur needs? Some measure it via the specs on the box but IMO it is best to read reviews regarding a specific type of videocard in comparison with the rest of the pack. The amount of memory also do not dictate its performance, it does help but there are times where a videocard with half the amount of memory can outperform a videocard with twice its memory.
-How about the extra features? What should u guys look for? Well it again depends on ur needs. Most videocards now have a TV-Out socket, some comes with a DVI support (for digital panels), the rest may have an RCA-in for video capturing etc etc. All of those will of course have an effect on the price, so don't buy a videocard with a sky-rocketing price juz b'coz it has lots of features if ur not really going to use 'em.
-If ur into video editing, well that's another story. U will need a "capture card" for that. I am quite new to that field myself, but I'm already planning on starting a basic video editing section. Watch out for that!
I was asked a couple of months ago by a PC related website to create an article about purchasing soundcards. But months passed and up to now I can't find my article anywhere on their website. I dunno if they posted it somewhere else and took the credit, no worries though ... its hot in hell anyway.
I still have the copy of my article in a .doc file format though. It's not written with newbies in mind but it is still a non-techie article so even those who doesn't know anything regarding soundcards will still be able to understand the article. Its pretty long (6 pages) so I suggest that u just dl it. It talks about different types, models, features of soundcards. Their strengths and weaknesses, price range, and also talks a bit about ur current or targeted speaker setup.

Soundcard Article

=Hard Disk=
Most peeps who are new into setting up their own PC think that when buying a HD, there's only one thing to look for ... the HD capacity. There's actually more into HD's than most peep think. All of 'em has to do with the HD's speed though.
We have ATA Parallel and Serial HD's that support 100/133 interfaces. There are 5400 and 7200 RPM ATA HD's with varying amount of cache. SCSI HD's on the other hand performs a lot faster than ATA drives and IIRC has a minimum rating of 10,000 RPM.
Quite confusing isn't it? I haven't mentioned setting up HD's with RAID yet .. don't worry, I'm here to help u guys and not give u a headache. Its pretty simple really. If ur not into professional video editing, an ATA HD will do. Most of u guys should pick the 7200 RPM HD since it is not motherboard dependent, its faster than a 5400 RPM HD, and the price difference is very slim. As for the ATA 100/133, ur motherboard support for the said feature is required for u to take advantage of those. Of course ATA 133 is faster that ATA 100, but the diff is really not that noticeable unless u have ur HD's on a RAID setup (if ur getting curious as to what RAID is, try and scour the net 'coz I'm trying to make this article newbie-friendly). On the other hand if u have the money and want everything to load a lot quicker than most systems, try and look for a HD with 8mb cache buffer ... that is the cheapest way of having a high performing HD. If ur into heavy multimedia editing, then a SCSI HD is definitely for u.
The HD capacity differs from person to person. 20gb should be more than enough for those who only use their system for word processing and net browsing. If u download files along with the things mentioned and play a couple of games, 40gb is the way to go. Higher if u do video editing or play lots of games along with the stuffs already mentioned.
=CD Rom / CD-RW / DVD / Combo Drives=
There's really nothing much to be discussed with the ff drives. When I'm looking for any of the mentioned optical drives, I prioritize the read/write speed (for more info regarding my preferred media brand and burning speed of CD-r's, visit my Misc. Stuffs section), then a little bit on the brand ... and of course the price.
The read/write speed issue is pretty easy to understand though, the faster the drive is ... the better. The brand, well ... Plextor and Yamaha are IMO 2 of the most popular and most expensive drives available. But IMO, a cheaper brand with "burn proof" feature will do. I have heard numerous instances where a combo or a CD-RW drive only lasted for 2yrs (or less). IMO that is caused by high wear and tear that is mainly b'coz the drive is used both for reading and writing. A separate CD-Rom drive for reading and a CD-RW for writing greatly extends the drives lifespan.
Juz like with any other hardware, the monitor specs is often times skipped and folks only focuses on the size of the screen and its brand. But there's a bit more that we should look for besides those stuffs mentioned when looking for a solid CRT monitor.
First and probably 2 of the most important is the supported resolution and refresh rate. Having a very high resolution running on a refresh rate lower than 75hz isn't really all that good b'coz it will strain ur eyes easily. Dot pitch on the other hand helps evening out the jaggedness of screen fonts and straighten lines. Some monitor manufacturers wisely post "horizontal" dot pitch instead of the usual "diagonal" dot pitch b'coz when it is measured that way, the number becomes lower ... and as a result will fool the unaware consumers. So watch out for that.
Try and follow this guide when looking for a solid CRT monitor, but do not forget that color accuracy cannot be seen on the monitor's specs alone. It is something that u have to see and judge urself.
15", minimum of 800x600 @85hz refresh rate: for folks who have limited space for their system and/or on a tight budget.
17", minimum of 1024x768 @85hz refresh rate: good enough for average users. this should be at least the minimum for most folks.
19", minimum of 1280x768 @85hz refresh rate (or bigger/higher): recommended for hardcore gamers and those who wants to have a wider desktop space while working with their apps.
*All the mentioned monitors should at least have a 24 (or lower) diagonal dot pitch. Flat screen CRT's is also recommend to have less glare, but do not sacrifice the screen size for a flat screen monitor. If u want to know more about the difference and my opinion regarding CRT and LCD's ... visit my Misc. Stuffs section for more info.
My speaker guide can be found inside my "Sound Quality Tweaking" section. Its at the lower part of the page.
=Additional Infos=
  • Please visit my Misc. Stuffs section for more info regarding most of the things mentioned here or for other hardware parts/peripherals that wasn't mentioned (eg. printers, game controllers, webcam, etc.)
  • Already purchased ur system? Why not try and squeeze more juice out of it by tweaking ur system with my guides? I have lots of 'em here, look it up!
  • My "Things To Do" section can help u discover new things on what to do with ur system.


Last Updated: 083004


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