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BuildOrBuy News - Building A PC
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If I Were Building a Computer Today... Rev 21

Thursday, 8/4/2011

By Joe Whinery

The purpose of this on going article is to give some guidance on what the above average well-built computer contains. This is not the ultimate gamer machine nor is it the ultimate CAD machine or over clocking machine. It is a machine that will do all those tasks very nicely.

These are the specifications that will be updated as required. All prices and part numbers are for reference only and reflect those prices and part numbers available on the date of publication.  On any given weekend Hard Drives, Memory, Input Devices or other items on this list are on sale at some very attractive prices. If the specs are good, go for it.

Some of the components are "don't care" pieces, which means I really don't care who the manufacturer is or, within reason, what the speed of the device is. Most of these devices are on their way out, or are at least on the steep downward slope of their life cycle.

Now, for each item on the list I will tell you why it was chosen.

Major changes have been made this month, so look for the differences from before.

Case: Good solid case, no sharp edges inside, side vent for the CPU, several fans, adequate space for drives, all drives are clipped in (easy removal or changing), raceway for cables.

P/S: As Computers get more powerful, and more devices are added, the power requirements will change. Look for a good P/S, one that has two or more +12V rails. This will help keep hot spots from developing on the motherboard. Most important is to insure that adequate connectors are available for M/B, Video cards and plug ins.

BDW: This is not strictly required, just a convenience.  

DVD+/-RW: Every week I see these in the paper for ~$25.00 on sale. Since these devices do everything the CD-RW does and much more, it’s time to change. You will notice that I have not used the Light Scribe technology. In my opinion, it is too slow, too expensive (disks) monochrome and is not needed or used by most of the people I know that have purchased them. [See: & - Light Scribe technology]

CPU: Phenom X6 1090 (I’ve moved to the AM3+ device to take advantage of the six Core, dual memory controllers on chip and the dual channel memory ability) Retail Box. Stick with the retail box because it has a CPU fan included and the CPU has a 3 year warranty (as opposed to a 1 yr warranty for the OEM CPU). Watch this part because it changes as quickly as the price drops on the faster speeds.

Hard Drive:  We have moved to the SATA III drives. Failure rate differences of Western Digital, Seagate, Maxtor and the other hard drives are minimal. So that makes this a case of faster and bigger is better. Check out the Web Site I mention in the Video Card section. Be extremely careful when installing these drives. The SATA connector on the motherboard is fragile. Do not be suckered into buying extra 6GbS cable. The older cables going back to SATA I will, if in good condition, are more than adequate. Don’t expect faster file transfers with SATA 6GbS rotating drives. This spec is primarily for SSDs.

Input Devices: Wireless and optical is the way to go if you can. [See: Pointing Devices.] 

Mother Board: As quickly as these things change, they get better. This board contains all the latest technologies.   

Video Card: Here, personal preference is key. What are you looking for in a video care? Over clocking? Frame rate? Resolution? One way to decide on a video card is to go to this site that rates many video cards (plus CPUs, hard drives and systems) pick out a price point you can afford and go for the best rated card in that price point.

Monitor: This is another choice you should make using your own criteria as to size, resolution and clear picture. Also consider the type and quantity of inputs to the monitor. i.e. VGA, HDMI, USB, DVI and etc.. 

Speakers: These are good speakers, but I have a tin ear. Use your own tastes to select the best speakers for you.

Operating System: Even though I have listed Windows 7 Professional X64, most people will be more that satisfied with Windows 7 Home Premium X64.

Networking: Here I have chosen a wired Router [10/100BaseT] for speed. For Laptop users you may want to substitute an 802.11n wireless device for a few dollars more. Even with the wireless Router, I would still hardwire the desktop computer and leave the slower wireless access to the laptop. 

Back Up: Lastly, one should consider how the best way to back up your system is in today’s environment. With the free back up software available today, the best way to protect your data would be to use a second hard drive (which is why I use the mobile racks) and schedule a total system back up every other week to alternate backup sets. This way you can never lose more than one week of data. Since we are using this drive for backup only, it need not be the fastest drive on the market. Take a look at EASEUS Todo Home Backup. It is free and very easy to use. If you prefer images, look at Macrium Reflect. It too is freeware. [Also See: Acronis]

Maybe now is the time to consider using removable trays and two extra hard drives instead of one. This would make restoring the entire drive much simpler. Be sure to turn off the drive after you clone.

Memory: With the price of memory, it would be silly to install less than 4GB of RAM. Now may be the time to upgrade to 8 GB installed RAM. The 64 bit Windows will use all the memory you can put on the Mother board.

Your comments are welcome. Joe Whinery

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