Building the Perfect Beast (Part Two)


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  1. #1
    WF Veteran Winston's Avatar
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    Building the Perfect Beast (Part Two)

    I have fun doing it. I donít know why more people donít.
    But it may not make sense for some people to build their own computer.

    If you live in a studio apartment, tiny home, or live out of hostels, a full-sized computer tower is not for you. Some people do just fine with a tablet, or a laptop PC. If all you do you is read articles on line and write, bless your heart. Go minimalist.
    If you must have a computer with you at all times, building a desktop might not make sense. I mean, thereís no reason why you canít have both, unless youíre really strapped for cash. In which case, just buy the cheapest thing that works for you and call it good.
    If you have the space, occasionally need the power, and can afford a few extra bucks, why settle for some McBox built from the most mediocre parts available?

    If you are terrified that the CPU pin array is going to byte you, hereís a compromise: Some dealers offer a custom configuration option. If you do some research, and know what youíre looking for, you may at least get something closer to your requirements. But be warned, even these custom built rigs have the same limitations as a pre-assembled PC. If you ever want to upgrade, itíll be an uphill battle.

    Iíve gotten spoiled with the relative ease and simplicity of building my own. Do some research, buy quality parts and know what you need to do.
    So, before you start, ask yourself a few questions:
    What do I need this for? If youíre a light user, maybe take a pass. If youíre a gamer, content creator or adventurous, continue.
    What is my budget? Building a computer doesnít have to be expensive, but itís rarely cheap. You could build your own for $500, but honestly youíd be better off with a cheap prebuilt box. If budgeting is a weakness for you, take a pause. Itís easy to overspend. Have discipline.
    What is my temperament? Do you give-up easily? During a plumbing job do you throw wrenches through drywall? Swearing is fine, even cathartic, but weíre dealing with some delicate stuff here.

    You all set to go? Good. Now, what do you need, and where do you get it? The inventory landscape changes over time. I hate to be conformist here, but if you find a parts vendor that sells on Amazon, there you go. Not only are the parts generally cheaper, but there is free shipping (yes, you will be spending over $25). Also, in the rare case there is a problem, Amazon is at least fairly consistent in their replacement / return policies. You may get a good deal buying directly from Taipei, but there may be a price later.
    And try to get most of your parts from the same vendor. It makes it easier to track, including your online payments. I like eBay, but youíre less likely to gets one-stop shopping there. I personally bought from a company called Newegg. They were recently purchased by a Chinese conglomerate, but it hasnít seemed to affect their corporate culture (which has been good).

    Hereís a list of the basic parts you need to build a PC tower:
    Processor (CPU) $125
    Motherboard $100
    Memory (RAM) $75
    Hard Drives / Storage $125
    Optical Drive $30
    Video Card $120
    Power Supply $75
    Computer Case $75
    Data Cables (SATA) $20
    Fans (CPU / Case) $65
    Operating System (Win 10 Builders Edition) $40

    All prices approximate. Iím a damn good shopper. Your mileage may vary. But thatís your starting prices for slightly above-average gear. The overall price of around $800 may seem steep, but remember that this is an investment, not some use-and-toss corporate box.

    Now, some details on the components:

    Donít get too caught-up on the gigahertz and number of Cores your CPU has. More is usually better, but not always. The newer tech of the latest processors means a modern CPU running at a base speed of 3 GHz will be more efficient that last years model at 3.8 GHz. Buy the latest generation you can afford. Itís your systemís brain. Donít start off addled. AMDís Ryzen processors are now in the 3000 series. A lower speed 3000 will beat a ďfasterĒ Ryzen 1700 from three years ago. Socket AM4 is the current standard. Donít even consider a ďThreadpiperĒ CPU unless money is no option. I know Iím shilling for AMD, but all their processors come with very good stock CPU fans as well.

    Iím pretty flexible on motherboards, but there are some basics you should follow. Get a full-sized ATX board, not a mid-sized or micro. If you really want to save space, bail out now and buy a laptop. Full size boards have all the expansion slots you need now, and will probably need in the future. Read some reviews. Occasionally, a mobo may be just kind of hard to work with (poor physical layout, difficult firmware). Youíre around a C-Note here, but this is one area that an extra $20 or so might buy you something more flexible and durable.

    RAM sticks are not the big deal novices think they are. They are your systemís running shoes. Your system needs them, they must fit properly, and more shoes do not make you faster. Buying super-fast memory is like buying Air Jordanís to play B-Ball better. Your motherboard and CPU have a ďsweet spotĒ where they agree on the most efficient memory speed. Buy that speed memory, 8 to 16 Gigs. 32 gigs is a waste of money. Good quality memory like Corsair of G Skill isnít much more expensive than generic, and has a lower failure rate.

    The hard drive market today is in flux, but donít let it confuse you. I recommend buying one old style disk drive for mass file storage, and one newer Solid State Drive (SSD) for your operating system and speed-sensitive apps. Thereís a new SSD type that plugs directly into your motherboard, which are faster, but will drive your costs up a little. Most users will not see any performance difference between SSD types. Still, shop around. A few bucks more may get you more storage at a faster access rate.

    Optical drives are now ďlegacy devicesĒ, but theyíre cheap and worth having. Just in case you want to listen to that old Bon Jovi CD. Or maybe buy a Blu Ray and watch a movie, on disk like the old days. I donít know why you would want to ďburnĒ a CD, but thereís that option too. Most things you could do with an optical drive can now be done on a USB stick. Even if you never use it as intended, I hear they make for a handy cup holder.

    Even if youíre not a Ďgamerí, a good video card is highly recommended. Some motherboards and even CPUs have integrated graphicsÖ take a pass. That should only be an option for a small format system like a laptop. A quality video card take a big load off of your CPU and memory, performing complex graphic processing more efficiently. Your Ďbang for the buckí will be around a hundred dollars, but go to a site like Tomís Hardware Guide and do some research. Like the Intel CPUs, the GeForce video cards give great results, but at a higher price point. Look at the Radeon cards, specifically the RX 500 series. Seriously, take some time comparison shopping for this part.

    For your systemís power supply, simply buy more than you think you need. The price difference between a 600 watt and a 800 ainít that much. In a year or two you may decide to upgrade and bang! Not enough power. Again, a quality brand-name power supply is preferable. They do fail from time to time, and some companies warranties are easier to work with than others. Some are a little quieter, or have pretty lights. Just get a big watt rating.

    Thereís no reason to spend extra on a fancy case for your computer build. Zero justification. Many $50 cases will perform exactly the same as a $150 one. Itís mostly vanity money. Make sure the case has the right internal hardware to physically support your parts, and it has good air flow. Reviews are again helpful. The layout of some cases can be wonky. Donít buy on looks.

    Most of your assorted parts like data cables, screws and the like will come with your hardware. Still, budget a few bucks for these ancillary items just in case.

    Modern electronics run hot. New computers are no exception. The CPU and the inside of your case need good cooling (to a lesser degree, your video card as well). As mentioned, the AMD processors come with a CPU fan, but if youíre already overpaying for an Intel chip, get a good fan. Some can get loud as hec, so reads the product reviews. Water coolers for a CPU may sound exotic, but the prices are competitive and they are much more efficient (and no, they donít drip on stuff). Also, a large case fan can spin slower, be more quiet, and move more air than a smaller fan. The more powerful video cards generate a lot of heat, and dissipate that heat into the case. Getting everything else hotter. Causing performance issues and premature wear. Get it?

    And then thereís Windows. Iím defaulting to that OS for this discussion because if youíre an Apple OS person, you probably canít be bothered with tinkering. And if youíre a Linux person you probably already know all of this. Welcome to the 21st Century. You can have your coffee 15 billion ways, but you can only run Windows 10 on a new computer. Sure, you could buy Win 7, but Microsoft will only support that until next year. And thereís always Windows 8, if youíre a masochist. Nope, we get Win 10 with all itís invasive, hidden ďtelemetryĒ (spying) software built right in. You: Not important to Microsoft, Your Data: Priceless. Or, in this case, $25 for a system builder edition on eBay.

    Before all your computer parts arrive on your porch, you should prep your work area. Think classical physics: Time and Space. Set aside enough of each. And constant light. A headlamp is handy. Your work area should be as ergonomic as possible. The only tools youíll probably need are a screwdriver and needle-nose pliers. Have some small zip ties and rubber gloves. Try not to pet your dog while working and keep the cat off the table, if possible. Stay hydrated and stretch. I recommend some soothing music like Tool or Motorhead.

    Never push a bad hand. If something isnít fitting right, or just seems off, walk way. Go get a slice of pie and a cold brew. Then come back refreshed and look at the problem from a different angle.

    As I mentioned earlier (in Part One), Iíve done this for years and VERY rarely screw anything up. With cups of water next to the tower, cats jumping in my way. The hardest part is often not getting your computer to run, but getting that plague called Windows to work properly. Iíll go into all those details in the next section.

    It never seems to get easier, the problems just shift. I suppose thatís some of the fun.
    How did my build go? Stay tuned.
    Opportunities abound! Land and titles available! Be bold! Enquire now!
    See Cazique Gregor MacGregor of details.

  2. #2
    Hey Winston! This next instalment was more informative, but it felt like it really offered something towards your intended audience. Here, you get into the nitty gritty details of computer hardware and what works, and what doesn't. That serves as extremely valuable and important information for your reader. Additionally, your little cliffhanger that ties the reader in with an bond of an instructor teaching someone about the subject, leading them along the way, makes the writing stronger in my opinion and establishes a firm, but helpful, tone that is a great asset to this guide.

    Another job well done!

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