Tutorial: Choosing a new computer

By korrupt · 21 replies
Jul 8, 2006
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  1. So your old computer is getting too slow and old? Well, then it’s probably time to buy a new PC. But you obviously want a computer that is right for you. Well, then this tutorial will help you choose the computer that is right for you. There will be 3 suggestions given for different computers, these are Gaming, General use (word processing, internet browsing, looking at photo’s etc.) and Professional (CAT Drafting, Photo Editing, Sound Editing, Programming etc.) Please note that this tutorial only covers the CPU, not the monitor etc.

    Step 1: Decide what type of computer best suits you, a laptop? A desktop PC? A tablet PC? Since laptops and tablets are still too expensive to customize, this tutorial will mainly focus on desktop PC’s. However, most of these concepts also apply to laptops and tablets.

    Step 2:
    Decide what your system will be mostly used for. Gaming, General or Professional.

    Step 3:
    Choosing your motherboard – keep in mind that a desktop pc is only as powerful as its motherboard. Once again, your decision will depend on what you will use the PC for:
    Gaming: Asus mobo’s are good quality and something like this nForce AMD Motherboard would be good for Gaming due to speed, stability and cooling.
    General: You don’t need an expensive motherboard for these applications, although you may need one that supports SATA drives, something like this ATI Radeon would be sufficient.
    Professional: You will probably need a reasonably expensive motherboard because these applications require a lot of speed and stability. I would go with Intel for these applications. Something like this nForce Intel Motherboard would be good since it supports SATA hard drives and Pentium IV hyper threading technology.

    Step 4: Choosing your Processor – a processor is one of the most important parts of a PC and perhaps even more important than the motherboard. First you will need to decide if you want AMD or INTEL. Both produce very good quality Processors. You will also need to decide if you want DUAL core or single core. A dual core is obviously more expensive and I personally prefer a high performance single core over a lower performance single core. If you choose Intel, you will need to choose between Celeron and Pentium IV. For AMD there is a few more choices, since AMD is mainly used by gamers, the general rule is to buy the most expensive your budget will allow. Make sure you get a Processor with the same Socket as your motherboard supports.
    Please NOTE: If you're installing a new CPU, chances are you'll need a new fan and heat sink, too. Make sure the new heat sink is made for your motherboard's type of CPU socket. As with most things, your decision will depend on what you will use it for:
    Gaming: Something like this AMD Athlon 64 X2 it is good due to speed and stability. The dual core also means that you will get out of a slump faster if one occurs.
    General: For general use you won’t need any more than an Intel Celeron 2.8ghz such as this Intel Celeron D. This one is great value for money and is up there in performance.
    Professional: A 3.4Ghz Pentium IV like (THIS ONE ) one is suitable for these applications because it offers speed and stability.

    Step 5: Choosing your Graphics card – most motherboards come with on board graphics, but these are low in performance (only 64MB). Graphics cards range from $40 to $1300. your decision will depend on what the PC will be used for:
    Gaming: a graphics card is a hugely important piece of hardware for gamers. The general rule for gamers in this section is, get a graphics card as expensive as your budget allows, such as this GeForce 7900 GTX even if that means sacrificing on your hard drive of even RAM.
    General: As stated previously, most motherboards come with 64MB of integrated graphics, this is more than sufficient for daily use and I do not believe there is any need to buy a graphics card.
    Professional: A graphics cards is not hugely important for these uses, although I do recommend getting something like a geForce FX5200 which is a very good value-for-money 128mb card.

    Step 6: Choosing your sound card - Please see next post since there is not enough space (courtesy of N3051M).

    Step 7: Choosing your RAM – RAM (random access memory) determines how fast your computer will react to your commands and how fast it will react when lots of utilities and programs are being used. 256MB of RAM is the minimum these days to be able to use Windows XP and a program such as Word. However, anything under 512mb would be terribly slow. If possible, set up for Dual Channel. As with everything, your purchase will depend on what you will be using your computer for:
    Gaming: I recommend 2GB (2048MB) of DDR2 RAM for serious gamers. If your motherboard supports it, I recommend 4x512MB rather than 2x1024GB – this means that if a RAM “stick” gets damaged, you’ll only need to replace a 512mb one rather than a 1GB one + the work load will be better divided between the sticks.
    General: I recomend 1024MB because even though you probably won't need it, it's beneficial to give your pc some breathing space.Once again, I recommend using DDR2 RAM in two lots of 512MB.
    Professional: You will need more RAM for these kinds of applications than Office use, but less than for gaming. I recommend 1024MB of DDR2 RAM, in two lots of 512MB. You may want to get 1.5gb or 2gb although unless you do a lot of sound/photo editing, I don't think you'll need it.

    Step 8: Choosing your hard drive – there are two types of hard drives, these are IDE and SATA. SATA is newer and faster than IDE – and due to higher demand, also generally slightly cheaper. Most systems these days have two hard drives – one for storage and one for installations. There are two main manufacturers of Hard Drives, these are Western Digital (WD) and Seagate. Both are very reliable companies that make good quality products at competitive prices. As with everything so far, how much and what depends on what the pc will be used for.
    Gaming: If the computer is used only for gaming then I would get a faster hard drive rather than a large capacity one. Something like a WD 64GB Raptor is great due to its 10000RPM spin rate and 16MB cache.
    General: Since speed is not an issue, and capacity is in this case. I personally would put in a WD 40GB as master (suitable due to 7200RPM spin rate and 8MB cache) and a WD 200GB as the slave for file storage (also 7200RPM and 8MB cache). The master should be used for the installing of programs and Windows, whilst the Slave should be used only for file storage.
    Professional: Since these applications require both speed and storage I recommend a WD 64GB Raptor as master and a WD 200GB as the slave for file storage. This will ensure plenty of storage whilst maintaining excellent speed. While getting a smaller capacity, FAST drive for Windows and programs is a good idea; it is also a good idea to get TWO larger drives for data, and then either have them mirror, or else juse use the second drive and copy over your important stuff as a backup.
    So I might suggest a Rapter and TWO 250gb drives.
    Or just simply get two large drives, use one for everything, and the second for backups.

    Step 9: Choosing your Power Supply Unit (PSU) – even if you are merely up grading your computer, you may need to buy a new PSU, this is because older PSUs use a 20-pin ATX 1.3 motherboard connector, while new models designed for today's power-hungry dual-core processors use a 24-pin ATX 2.0 design. Also, don't skimp when buying a PSU. A cheap one may promise lots of watts, but once you load it up with hard drives, graphics cards, and a high-end processor, it may not pump out the necessary voltage. This can result in unpredictable system crashes and other reliability headaches. For best results, make sure your PSU matches your components' needs.

    Step 10: Choosing CD/DVD Drives – This is another personal decision and I cannot recommend anything. Just make sure your motherboard has enough slots to suit your needs.

    Step 11: Choosing your case – The case is a personal decision; you simply need to make sure that all your components are compatible with it.

    Step 12: Choosing your operating system – You can choose between Windows or Apple, it is hard to compare the two – both are fast and stable and I’m sure you’ll be satisfied with either. Windows XP Home/Pro are the current Windows Operating System with Pro being the same as home except that it has more networking features. You may want to wait however, until Windows Vista comes out – it may or may not be better suited to your needs.



    CREDITS: Additions courtest of N3051M and Vigilante
  2. N3051M

    N3051M TS Evangelist Posts: 2,115

    Nice tutorial :) Does this mainly focus more on building your custom pc or to some extent OEM/prebuilt pcs?

    But a few inputs if i may :D..

    Step 7: RAM. I agree that 512mb should be the bare minimum for any sort of system, but giving the pc a bit more breathing space is benificial, so even if its for general use, i'd say 1Gb should be good. Usualy because in these days lots of programs take up RAM memory, especialy if the person decides to one day play some media files or a game or two now and then, and even more with background tasks and all (especialy if one wants to run norton as their basic Security apps). But for a true office pc (that does nothing else but excel, word, and the net, and is ruled under an iron fist by the Admin) then yes, I'd agree to the ram constraints of 512mb for "general use" being adequate.

    "Professional use" greatly depends on what the proffession is in the first place. These can also apply to Step 4: Processor, Step 6: Sound card, 8: HDD and the OS used as well. For now, i'll just talk about the RAM to give illustration.

    Example: Car mechanic needs a laptop so he can plug in this interface to the car's computer to see what is wrong with it, and thats the only use of the pc. Most likly the most he'll ever need is as much as it is for that particular program to work, so RAM doesnt play an important role, only to open the program and run it for a bit.

    Example 2: An audio engineer (who stubornly sticks with Windows systems :)) needs to use programs that utilises Real time recording/editing and is a total recource hog (for all the good reasons). Right now, if he boots nothing exept the bare minimum, plus the program and drivers etc, he'd get 16 tracks for recording and playing around with a few special effects and other stuff on at the same time on a 1 GB DDR (runing dual chanel.. actualy, just look at my profile system specs for this example.) and let it playback pretty stable. Anything more and the program would stop playback of the song when it runs out of recources. Having a 2 GB ram (if he had the space) would get him about 24 tracks + extras etc on that program and better stability etc. So having the most ram the pc can handle stable is benificial.

    No.2 can also be applied to those working in the animation/CG industry.. as they need heck lots of rendering power etc to get anything done and so on..

    HDD, greatly depends on budget, as i'm sure most gamers or people here only dream of having a raptor in the case, and others more concerned about ambient noise levels. Usualy balance it between performance (7200RPM should be a minimum for any sort of pc), interface to the motherboard, space needed, how silent it is and price to get a good judgement.

    You may also want to note that budget most obviously plays a major role in what components you are able to get, and therefore compremises may arrise. And a Mac, well, is a Mac and PCs can be prebuilt or custom built.

    Now, my favorite bit: Audio (as you'd probably guessed by now lol)
    It is dependant on the user itself, and questions follow to help determine what you need:

    Part 1: Sound card
    -Are you an Audiophile, or work pro/hobby in the audio field?
    -How sharp is your hearing?
    -Do you need any sort of surround sound/home theatre experience?
    -Do you need to record anything with it?

    General pc, or if you answered "No" to most/all of them, then Onboard sound coming from the motherboard is enough. Some even have surround sound as well..
    Media PC, or for gaming or most "yes" answers, onboard will cut it, but for the "richer" experience then having (if budget allows) a Creative X-Fi soundcard is probably the best one out - surround sound, one of the best consumer grade quality audio interface. Recording on it is fairly decent too.
    For those that live by audio, and cant stand anything less than near perfection, X-Fi is your best option or for those whome record as well, you can purchase specialised sound cards like the M-Audio range etc, that will suite you more better. They are made by people who knows their stuff.

    Part 2: Speakers and other accessories
    Dependant on your soundcard*. Do not fall into the trap of buying the best, most powerfull one on the market, as you'd probably turn out dissapointed. Instead look for one that fits the room its in. Look for quality not only on its quantity and power ie: if the room is small bedroom that got lots of hard surfaces/little carpet then you dont need a full blown 7.1 set with a 60w sub - thats overkill. 2 to 5 (surround) speakers can do fine, add a little sub if you want. Larger room, better amp on the device feeding the speakers. The most important that one can suggest is to just "try and buy/buy and try" untill you find the combo that works for you.
    For those in the audio field (audiophile, pro/hobby) you need to invest in some decent (speaker) monitors like a JBL or Alto and basicly look around. If you cant afford one at the moment, then a decent pair of high quality headphones should suffice for the moment, like the Sennheiser HD215 as an example.

    *The sound card you get greatly affects on what type of speakers you get and also the quality of sound the speakers produce. All cards come with a standard 3.5mm or 1/4" jack, stereo, so any type of speakers/headphones can be plug 'n' play straight away. There are also a variety of in and out connectors such as the Optical/digital out, RCA etc, which can enable you to tie it into the hifi system, home theater or mixer/AV switch etc.

    (Applies to any hardware/software)You should not take them for face value, but research into them. Ask friends, family, read reviews etc on what they think of that product, and look to competitors/rival models and see how it stacks up. Then see if it meets budget or if it can be "upgraded" when budget allows..
  3. Vigilante

    Vigilante TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,666

    And DDR400 is, of course, not the highest RAM you can get. A more general rule is to get the fastest stuff the motherboard supports. Which now is entering DDR2 and so forth. Set up the RAM to enable dual-channel if possible.

    I feel slightly different about the hard drives. While what was suggested is just fine, there is no data redundancy of any kind, which is always scary these days, because people keep so much important stuff on their PCs.
    This applies especially to the professional. While getting a smaller capacity, FAST drive for Windows and programs is a good idea; it is also a good idea to get TWO larger drives for data, and then either have them mirror, or else juse use the second drive and copy over your important stuff as a backup.
    So I might suggest a Rapter and TWO 250gb drives.
    Or just simply get two large drives, use one for everything, and the second for backups.

    My ultimate hard drive setup? How about two Western Digital Raptor X 150GB 10,000 RPM SATA150 in RAID 0 stripping array. And an additional Western Digital Caviar SE16 320GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s for data and backups :)

    And for video, did you make mention of duals? nVidia SLI and ATI CrossFire. Very popular for gamers right now.
  4. korrupt

    korrupt TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 716

    thank you very much for those additions. once i get some time i will edit the post.

    once again, thanks.


  5. KingCody

    KingCody TS Evangelist Posts: 992   +8

    a couple more things to add...

    1. CPU most current applications (including games) are written for single core processors, but this is changing fast. many present and almost all future applications wil be written to take full advantage of dual and multicore processors. this should be considered when deciding which processor type to buy if you plan on keeping the machine for years to come.

    2. RAM aside from total amount of system memory, the memory itself is also important. Not everybody requires speed, but everybody requires stability. which is why I would not recommend generic RAM for anybody. reputible RAM makers like Corsair, Kingston, and Crucial all have value lines that will offer stabilty and compatibility on a budget. for gamers and others who require speed with stability should get higher end RAM that operates at faster timings.

    3. PSU any PSU can "pump out voltage". what a cheap PSU cannot do is pump out amperage. and when a cheap PSU is over-taxed (the PC requires more amperage than the PSU is capable of provding), it may cause the voltages to become unstable, and even worse it may send a "spike" through your system that can destroy everything in it. while any PSU can be over-taxed, cheap PSUs lack reliable protection circuits to prevent it from destroying the computer with it.

    also, most PC buyers/builders think that wattage is all that matters. but the truth is that wattage doesn't mean much these days. modern systems (anything in the last few years) require alot of amperage from the +12v rail. use a PSU calculator that determines amperage needs as well as wattage needs to find out how powerful of a PSU you will need for your system. and only buy from reputible PSU makers like Antec, Enermax, Fortron, PCP&C to name a few, stay away from makers like Ultra, Aspire, Raidmax, Okia to name a few.

    overall good guide though :)
  6. wolfram

    wolfram TechSpot Paladin Posts: 1,967   +9

    I'm glad we have experimented people like you on the forums!
  7. korrupt

    korrupt TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 716

    Just wondering if anyone used this tutorial to buy their new pc? If so, how did you go and did you find this helpfull?


  8. korrupt

    korrupt TS Rookie Topic Starter Posts: 716

    Just updating this thread since a few new pieces of hardware have come out since I've written this.



    Actually since there is no space I'll just post it here.

    Step 3 - Motherboard If you are going with a AMD processor, you may want to buy a motherboard with an NVidia chipset and a nVidia graphics card since you can hardware match them and therefore get much better performance.

    Step 4 - Processor Since this post was written, more and more programs have become Dual Core compatible so by now it is profitable to go with a dual core. i suggest if you are willing to spend over $200 to go with a core 2 duo since even the lowest e6300 will own a top of the range intel D and AMD X2. If you want to spend under $200, I'd go with AMD.

    Step 5 - Graphics Card Since prices have dropped significantly, and if you want a high performance pc, you can buy 2 of the same pcie cards and put them in SLI or Crossfire mode.

    Step 7 - RAM Since this tutorial was written, more RAM has come out and it is now affordable to purchase DDRII 667mhz or 800mhz ram although you can also get 1066Mhz and perhaps even higher.


  9. Rik

    Rik Banned Posts: 3,814

    Not sure about crossfire, but its worth mentioning that not all pci-e cards support sli. If it doesn't specify sli in the product description then you can sometimes tell by looking at a pic of the card to see if it had the edge connector on the top of it!!!
  10. TimeParadoX

    TimeParadoX TS Rookie Posts: 2,273

    Korrupt I used this guide for 3/4 my computers built =)
  11. renniel

    renniel TS Rookie Posts: 16

    can i ask whats the difference between single core and dual core processors? thanks
  12. N3051M

    N3051M TS Evangelist Posts: 2,115

    single core is a CPU with only one core (Pentium 4, Pentium D etc). Dual core is as the name implies, have two cores (core 2 duo etc). Main advantages is that dual core is more powerful, having basically twice as much calculating power than just one..
  13. chance1138

    chance1138 TS Rookie Posts: 62

    Not to mention that they are more power efficient for their speed. Basically, while 2x as fast, they do not take 2x the power, thus making them more efficient than single core procs.:D
  14. portaltreaf

    portaltreaf TS Rookie

    Very Helpful....

    thanks Korrupt.
    I'm having new PC soon,
    your tutorial is great!
    such a great help.
    it's very helpful.

  15. stellalxin

    stellalxin TS Rookie

    Thank you very much. Recently, I'm planning to buy a laptop. I will refer your suggestion.
  16. LinkedKube

    LinkedKube TechSpot Project Baby Posts: 3,486   +45

    Might want to add in there that a dual, triple or quad core doesnt mean 2,3 or 4 x the megahertz to judge overall performance. Even this year I've heard some lesser pc savy people imply that they obtain 5ghz processing speed because each core runs at 2.5ghz.
  17. ijasnijas

    ijasnijas TS Rookie

    thanks man
  18. montyhar2

    montyhar2 TS Rookie

    Hey dude,
    Thank a lot man. I really required this information. Actually i am planning to buy new computer.Thanks for info.

  19. compdata

    compdata TechSpot Paladin Posts: 529   +7

    FYI to people reading this thread now, the general principals still apply, but the specifics are a little out of date at this point. I might also suggest flipping item 1 & 2 and decide what you are going to use the computer for first before deciding what form factor works best for you. Ie if you are playing games, you are going to get much more bang for your buck with a desktop system vs a laptop. But if you are not a power user you might consider a comparably priced laptop (slightly lower specs) to gain more portability.
  20. red1776

    red1776 Omnipotent Ruler of the Universe Posts: 5,224   +164

  21. compdata

    compdata TechSpot Paladin Posts: 529   +7

    thanks for the new link. Might be worth trying to pull some of this info and many of the other items that people have given as input into a PC building guide for the main page that is easy for people to find and use. My two cents anyway.
  22. compdata

    compdata TechSpot Paladin Posts: 529   +7

    never mind i spoke without really looking at the current guide first. I do like some of your decision making logic though as well.

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