Beginner PC Builder's Guide
Writing this as a guide for a first-time PC builder. Usually these guides are just lists of parts to put together, but I’m going to try to make this one more detailed and descriptive. Parts listed here go for about $800 on Newegg.ca. For each of these items, go to the Newegg page and click the Specifications tab; that’s where the specs I’m describing are listed.
Some terms before we get started.
- A CPU (Central Processing Unit) is the computer’s brain. Faster CPU means faster computer, in general usage.
- A GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) is the graphics card. Better GPU means better gaming performance.
- RAM (Random Access Memory) is memory as people know it. The more memory you have, the more you can run at a time without experiencing slowdowns.
- An SSD (Solid State Drive) is the modern, faster replacement for the hard drives of olde. Still somewhat new, so still somewhat expensive.
In addition, if you’re a person that is knowledgeable in this area and likes to tell people how knowledgeable you are (the term “neckbeard” comes to mind), understand that I tried to make this as simple as possible. This means there are some pretty big oversimplifications and generalizations. You can argue that CAS latency is critical to get the best performance out of your RAM all day, but the fact is that a beginner won’t give a shit. So before yelling at me, remember that.
Case: Corsair Carbide Series 200R Black Steel / Plastic compact ATX Mid Tower Case
- This section is pretty self-explanatory. Just names and stuff.
- Type - ATX Mid Tower: ATX refers (loosely) to the physical type of motherboard that can be mounted in this case. The majority of available motherboards are ATX; other form factors exist, but are much less common. Mid Tower refers mostly to the physical size of the case, which will generally be related to the number of internal bays and space and such. Most “typical” cases are Mid Tower.
- Color - Black: It means it’s black. Exciting.
- Case Material - Steel structure with molded ABS plastic accent pieces: Most cases are exactly this. Steel for the structure, and plastic for accents and sometimes the internal mounting hardware.
- With Power Supply - No: Some cases come sold with a power supply. In general, it’s cheaper to buy them this way, but be warned that the power supplies in these sorts of configurations are generally not of particularly high quality.
- Power Supply Mounted - Bottom: Refers to where in the case the power supply is mounted. More “enthusiast” cases typically do bottom, as this means the heat from your graphics cards and CPU aren’t exhausting through the power supply, which can reduce the life of the power supply.
- Motherboard Compatibility - Micro ATX / ATX: Related to “Type”. Micro ATX has the same mounting pattern (screw holes), but smaller boards, as ATX.
- With Side Panel Window - No: If you want to be able to look at all the pretty internals, a side window is a good idea!
- External 5.25” Drive Bays - 3: These are where CD/DVD/BR drives are mounted. Also sometimes used for fan controllers, or other front-panel accessories.
- External 3.5” Drive Bays - No: Generally used for floppy drives. Not so common anymore (for obvious reasons).
- Internal 3.5” Drive Bays - 4: Mostly used for mounting hard drives. The more of these, the more storage space you can install.
- Internal 2.5” Drive Bays - 4: Mostly used for mounting SSDs. Faster storage, yay!
- Expansion Slots - 7: These are the slots on the back of the case, where your graphics card, discrete sound card, and other expansion cards’ ports will be accessible from the outside of the case. Most mid tower ATX cases have 7.
- Front Ports - 2 x USB 3.0, Audio: Pretty obvious. These are the ports on the front side of the case, for easy access. A lot of cases now have USB 3.0 and audio connections for headphones/mic.
- Side Air duct - No: Some cases have an air duct on the side panel (the one that opens) that is intended to improve cooling.
- Dimensions - 16.9” x 8.3” x 19.6”: 43 x 21 x 50 cm, for those of us who use a logical measurement system.
- Not going into detail on these. These vary greatly from case to case. Some highlights of this one include tool-free design (meaning you wouldn’t need a screwdriver for a lot of the building process) and cabling management systems, which make routing the various cables an easier process.
Power Supply: Antec TruePower Classic series TP-550C 550W 80 PLUS GOLD Certified Power Supply
Again, self-explanatory stuff.
- Maximum Power - 550W: Represents the maximum amount of power this can supply. 500-600W is plenty for most “typical” systems; if you’re planning on having multiple GPUs, might want to look into higher-power ones.
- Efficiency - Up to 92%: See next point.
- Energy-Efficient - 80 PLUS GOLD Certified: 80 PLUS certifications refer to (simply put) how efficient the power supply is. Greater efficiency means less power lost as heat; in general, there’s no reason not to go for a Gold or above certification. They’re a bit more expensive, but not by much.
- Approvals - UL, cUL, FCC, TUV, CE, CB, CCC, C-Tick, BSMI, Gost-R, SABS: A bunch of acronyms letting you know it won’t set your house on fire.
- Dimensions - 3.4”(H) x 5.9”(W) x 5.5”(D): The width and height of a power supply are standards, but length can vary. Just make sure there’s enough space in your case for it (although this typically isn’t a problem).
- Weight - 4.6 lbs.: 2.1kg
- Again, not going to go into these. Power supplies are even less exciting than cases in this regard. (This particular one brags about its capacitors. How enthralling.)
Motherboard: GIGABYTE GA-970A-UD3 AM3+ AMD 970 + SB950 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.0 ATX AMD Motherboard
Finally, getting into the interesting stuff!
- CPU Socket Type - AM3+: The socket type is the physical arrangements of pins on the CPU. The socket of the CPU you buy and this must match, otherwise they won’t work together.
- CPU Type - FX / Phenom II / Athlon II / Sempron 100 Series: List of (series of) CPUs that are officially supported. Others (with the correct socket) may work that aren’t on this list, but typically it’s a good idea to stick with what’s here.
- FSB - 2400MHz Hyper Transport (4800 MT/s): Ehhh… not gonna explain this. Not overly important. (Well, it is, extremely, but not to most buyers.)
- Chipset - AMD 970 + SB950: Ehhhhhhh… same. Not particularly interesting or important to most buyers.
- Number of Memory Slots - 4×240pin: Refers to the number (and type) of RAM slots on the motherboard. More slots means more memory, but 4 is a just fine number.
- Memory Standard - DDR3 2000(O.C.) / 1866 / 1600 / 1333 / 1066: RAM speed. RAM can run at several speeds; as long as there is some overlap between the RAM you buy and this spec, you’ll be a-okay.
- Maximum Memory Supported - 32GB: Self-explanatory. Not many people require 32GB of RAM, so that’s a fine limit.
- Channel Supported - Dual Channel: Most RAM is sold in Dual-Channel kits. Pages could be written on the performance implications of this, but the easy answer is use a dual-channel kit with a dual-channel motherboard.
This is where GPUs, soundcards, and expansion cards get plugged in.
- PCI Express 2.0 x16 - 2 (x16, x4): Generally used for GPUs. PCI Express 3.0 does exist, and a lot of GPUs support it, but using a 3.0 card with 2.0 will be absolutely fine (since the 2.0 spec is plenty fast enough anyway). The x16 and x4 refer to operating speeds - as long as x16 is there, you’re good for running the latest GPUs.
- PCI Express x1 - 3: Typically used for sound cards, USB 3.0 expansion cards, or eSATA expansion cards
- PCI Slots - 2: Legacy slots. Not really used by much anymore, unless you’ve got old stuff you need to interface with.
- SATA 6Gb/s - 6 x SATA 6Gb/s: Used by hard drives, solid state drives, and CD/DVD/BR drives. 6Gb/s refers to the maximum transfer speed, and is the current norm.
- SATA RAID - 0/1/5/10/JBOD: Most people don’t RAID, so ignore this. However, fun trivia - JBOD stands for “Just a Bunch Of Disks”. (Seriously.)
- Onboard Video Chipset - None: If you’re buying a GPU, “None” is absolutely fine, as the GPU replaces this. If you aren’t buying a GPU… buy a GPU.
- Describes the built-in audio card. Generally they’re all the same, and are decent.
- Describes the built-in ethernet card. Same as above; most are up to gigabit (1000Mbps) now, which is a hell of a lot faster than your internet connection anyway.
Rear Panel Ports
- Port list. These are where you plug stuff in. Most motherboards have approximately the same ones. On new motherboards, make sure to get one with at least a couple USB 3.0 ports, because why not.
Internal I/O Connectors
- These refer to the ports on the motherboard that aren’t accessible from the outside of the case. Big thing to look for here is the USB 3.0 and front panel audio connectors if your case has these connectors on the front (this is where you plug them in).
- Form Factor - ATX: Already explained, mostly.
- Dimensions - 12.0” x 9.6”: Obvious.
- Power Pin - 24 Pin: Back in the day, some were 20 Pin. “Back in the day” being like… 1998.
CPU: AMD FX-4130 Zambezi 3.8GHz Socket AM3+ Quad-Core Desktop Processor FD4130FRGUBOX
- Brand - AMD: Really only two, AMD and Intel. Generally (and I’m being very general here) Intel aims for a slightly higher performance (and price) bracket.
- Series - FX-Series: This is what should match the CPU Typesection under the motherboard’s Supported CPUsection.
- Model - FD4130FRGUBOX: Try pronouncing these phonetically for fun.
CPU Socket Type
- CPU Socket Type - Socket AM3+: Needs to match the socket type of your motherboard, otherwise you’re going to have a bad day.
- Core Name - Zambezi: I think they misspelled Zamboni. Not important except for the hardcore-est of hardware enthusiasts.
- Multi-Core - Quad-Core: More cores is better, generally speaking, but more cores is also more expensive, generally speaking. Quad core is pretty much the sweet spot right now in terms of price and performance.
- Name - FX-4130: Another fun one to pronounce phonetically. And another one that isn’t overly important.
- Operating Frequency - 3.8GHz: Higher frequency is faster, but creates more heat. Think of the CPU like a river, and water is the work you want to do - more cores means a wider river, higher operating frequency means higher current. Both result in more water being moved, just in different ways.
- L2 Cache - 4MB: Ignore
- Manufacturing Tech - 32nm: All
- 64-Bit Support - Yes: Of
- Hyper-Transport Support - Yes: These
- Virtualization Technology Support - Yes: Things
RAM: G.SKILL Ripjaws Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL
I hate how convoluted RAM specs are.
- Brand - G.SKILL: Most are somewhat ridiculous.
- Series - Ripjaws Series: Most of these are reallyridiculous.
- Model - F3-12800CL9D-8GBRL: Oh what the hell.
- Type - 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM: Ah, this is important. This refers to the physical type. This should match the memory requirements of the motherboard (in general, new stuff will all be DDR3 SDRAM, which all has 240 pins).
- Capacity - 8GB (2 x 4GB): How much RAM you’re getting. the 2 x 4GB means it comes in two 4GB modules. Remember that your motherboard has a limited number of slots for modules.
- Speed - DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800): As long as this is within the list of memory speeds supported by your motherboard, you’ll be good.
- Cas Latency - 9: Nobody
- Timing - 9-9-9-24-2: Cares
- Voltage - 1.5V: About
- ECC - No: These
- Buffered/Registered - Unbuffered: Specs.
- Multi-channel Kit - Dual Channel Kit: Should match the Channel Supported spec of your motherboard. Not strictly required, but I don’t want to start a flame war about the relative merits of this.
- Heat Spreader - Yes: It’s like a radiator for your RAM, because you’re that hardcore. (Helps with heat dissipation, most have them.)
SSD: SAMSUNG 840 EVO MZ-7TE120BW 2.5” 120GB SATA III TLC Internal Solid State Drive (SSD)
Solid-state drives are more expensive than their mechanical counterparts (hard disk drives, HDDs), but worth the price difference.
The usual stuff.
- Form Factor - 2.5”: SSDs are typically 2.5”, whereas hard drives are 3.5” for desktops. Just make sure your case has enough internal 2.5” drive bays for the number of drives you want.
- Capacity - 120GB: Amount of space. Because SSDs are more expensive, they also come in smaller sizes for their cost. That said, worth the speed tradeoff. Memory Components - TLC: Ignore.
- Interface - SATA III: SATA III = SATA 6 Gbps. Just make sure your motherboard has some connectors for it, which most modern ones will.
- The rest of the fields in this category can be ignored, or are obvious.
SSDs are fast. Some are faster, some are slower, and this is where the differences will be shown. Unless you buy a really cheap one, they’re all going to be what can only be described as “damned fast” compared to hard drives.
- Power Consumption (Idle) - 0.045W: a.k.a. About 1/150th of a mechanical hard drive.
- Operating Temperature - 0°C ~ +60°C: Don’t boil it, and don’t freeze it.
- Operating Humidity - 5% to 95% RH: Also don’t use it in the rain.
GPU: SAPPHIRE 100364L Radeon R9 270X 2GB 256-Bit GDDR5 PCI Express 3.0 x16 HDCP Ready CrossFireX Support Video Card
I take it back. GPUs are much, much worse than RAM.
- Brand - SAPPHIRE: This is where the terms “GPU” and “graphics card” separate. This graphics card is made by Sapphire, whereas the GPU is decribed in the Chipset section below.
- Model - 100364L: Obvs.
Interface Interface - PCI Express 3.0 x16: This is the slot it goes into on the motherboard. Don’t be too concerned if it’s PCI Express 2.0 or 3.0 - 3.0 is faster, but very few (if any) current cards actually hit the limit of 2.0 anyway.
- Chipset Manufacturer - AMD: Same company that makes the CPU!
- GPU - Radeon R9 270X: This is the GPU model. There are tonnes of these. When somebody asks what video card you have, this is what you’d tell them.
- Boost Clock - 1070MHz: Mostly ignore.
- Stream Processors - 1280 Stream Processors: So, know how quad-core means a wider river? Try 1280 cores. No, the number of GPU cores is not directly comparable to CPU cores, but more is better here in the same way.
- Effective Memory Clock - 1400MHz (Effective 5600 Mbps): Faster is better - this is the speed of the memory on the graphics card itself.
- Memory Size - 2GB: Size of the memory on the graphics card itself. This is faster for the GPUs to access than system RAM, so more here means better gaming performance.
- Memory Interface - 256-Bit: Ignore.
- Memory Type - GDDR5: Ignore. They’re all GDDR5 anyway.
Everything is DirectX 11.2ish and OpenGL 4.2ish now. Not particularly important.
Make sure any monitors you want to connect have one of these types of connectors. Typically HDMI is the easiest option.
- Max Resolution: Make sure the card you choose is capable of driving that enormous, high-resolution monitor you bought.
- Eyefinity Support - Yes: AMD-specific technology, not overly important for most.
- CrossFireX Support - Yes: AMD has CrossFireX and nVidia has SLI; both allow for using multiple cards together. Unless you’re a hardcore gamer that can afford two top-end cards… just don’t.
- Cooler - With Fan: Most are fan-cooled. Really low-end ones can be passive (just a heatsink), and some are liquid cooled, but these are rare.
- Slot Width - Dual Slot: Takes up two Expansion Slots on your case. Also beware that on most motherboards, a dual slot card will block one of the expansion slots (usually one you won’t need, but worth being aware of).
- Operating Systems Supported: Usually Windows. Very few manufacturers make Linux/Mac drivers.
- System Requirements - 500W (or greater) power supply with two 75W 6-pin PCI Express power connector recommended: Graphics cards are the biggest power consumer in a typical desktop, so make sure your chosen power supply has enough power to run it.
- Power Connector - 2 x 6-Pin: They all are. Well, some aren’t. But most are.
- Dual-Link DVI Supported - Yes: 2006 called.
- HDCP Ready - Yes: 2010 called.
- Card Dimensions - 8.98” x 4.29” x 1.38”: Strangely enough, this one can actually be important. Some cards are extremely long and will have a hard time fitting in your case.
Each card has about a billion features, and half of them are just marketing fluff anyway.
Typically come with some cables to connect it to the power supply and monitor(s).
Holy shit, that’s everything. This is a very, very summarized view. I tried to give a brief comment on things that are relevant to beginner/novice PC builder to attempt to make it a bit simpler. But it’s still pretty goddamn complicated, so I recommend always getting a friend who has experience in the area to give you a hand!