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CPUs Buying Guides

Ever thought of maybe building a dream machine, but never quite had the guts to take the step? Don't worry - you're not alone. Building a computer can seem like an almost impossible task to your average Joe Blog, but it's really not as hard as it sounds. To make things even easier, we've made a guide to help you through the entire process - from finding the right parts, to putting it all together, this guide is the only place you need to be to find out exactly how to build the computer you've been dreaming of.


This is the most important, and most difficult, part of the entire process, and isn't something that should be glossed over or rushed through. Finding parts that are compatible isn't particularly hard, but choosing the right bits for the job is important.


The CPU

This is essentially your computers brain. The CPU, or Central Processing Unit, is the smarts behind you entire computer, and for that reason, it's something you'll want to be thinking a lot about. In our build, we're using the Intel i7 2600k (Many thanks to Intel for providing us with the processor). If the name of that processor means nothing to you, let me break it down a bit. Intel is the company that makes the processors, and they're arguably the best. The i7 piece at the start is the series of processor, the 2600 part of the name is the code for the processor, and the "k" means it's unlocked - an unlocked processor can be made to perform at a higher level than it can out of the factory, through a process called "Overclocking". But that's a whole other article.


The 2600k is a quad-core processor, running at 3.4 GHz per core. As a rule of thumb, the more GHz the better, although a dual-core 2.2 GHz processor will out- perform a single-core 2.4 GHz processor, in most cases. In the end, it comes down to researching a processor that'll suit you,although you really couldn't go wrong with the i7 2600k - we've had it running in our machine for a few months now, and it chews through everything we've thrown at it.


When it comes to compatibility with the rest of the computer parts, what you're looking for is the socket type. The 2600k, for instance, is an LGA1155 socket CPU. You'll need to find a motherboard that will fit the LGA1155 socket to make it work. What's a motherboard, you may ask? Well, read on.


The motherboard

The motherboard is kind of like the skeleton for your PC. Well, skeleton may not be the best word to choose, but it's pretty close. The motherboard is the hub that connects all the other bits and pieces. Different people choose their motherboards at different stages of the build - I personally find it easiest to choose the motherboard last, after I've chosen the other pieces. Other people think I'm crazy, and vow and declare that choosing the motherboard first is the only way to go. The choice is yours, and it really doesn't make much of a difference. The main thing to look for in a motherboard is whether or not it will fit the other parts you've chosen - it's no good getting the 2600k only to find that your motherboard doesn't have the LGA1155 socket.


The "ports" or "sockets" available on your motherboard should all be listed on the site you buy the board from, but it's up to you to double check everything before you purchase. Here's a quick checklist to make sure you check everything out prior to making the purchase. If something sounds confusing to you, read on for the appropiate section (ie RAM confusion should be resolved if you read our section on RAM)

  •  RAM - What's the maximum amount of RAM accepted? Does it support DDR2 and DDR3 RAM? Does it support Dual-channel RAM? How many RAM slots are there?

  • Processor - What CPU's does the motherboard support? Does the socket on my processor match the socket on my motherboard?

  • Video card -Does the motherboard support the new PCI-Express 2.0 standard? Is there enough space for my card?

  • HDD - What is the number of SATA ports available?

  • Other things to check - The number of USB ports, whether it has USB 3.0 as well as 2.0. Does it have onboard video and audio?


We should probably explain onboard video and audio - If your motherboard has onboard video, it means you can plug a video cable directly into your motherboard, without the need for a separate graphics card. Onboard audio is a similar story - it removes the need for a separate sound card. In general, onboard video won't perform as well as a dedicated graphics card, and if you're into gaming, movie edition, or anything to do with 3D design, then you'll want a graphics card. Sometimes onboard video can be less of a gift and more of a curse.


The motherboard we're using in our build is an Intel DP67BG Extreme, and so far it seems to be a sturdy, expandable board. There's plenty of space for everything, and it even supports our insanely big graphics card. If you're after a good all-rounder, and don't need onboard video, the DP67BG might be perfect.



The Storage device

You'll notice I said storage and not hard drive. Yes, I did that on purpose. Times are changing, and standard, mechanical HDD's are (slowly) becoming a thing of the past. Solid State Drives, or SSD's, are the new movement, for obvious reasons - they're much faster, much sturdier, and the newer series have a lower failure rate. We won't go into detail explaining the way they work, but suffice it to say that they're brilliant. We're using Intels 300GB 320 series SSD, and it's been fantastic. The PC goes from dead to completely ready in 16 seconds, and games and applications load a lot quicker. If you're building a new computer, an SSD is almost essential, even if it's just a small one (40GB) to store the Operating System.


The only downside to SSDs is their price, which is quite a bit higher than standard drives. That's why, courtesy of Seagate, we've also got a 3TB Barracuda mechanical drive in our PC. It's always good to have two storage devices, and have all your data backed up on both. That way, should one fail, the other will still be operational and you won't lose any information. The only real compatibility standard you need to check is whether both the motherboard and storage device both support Sata 3/Gbs and Sata 6/Gbs. If they're both new, chances are they both will.


The RAM

Random Access Memory, or RAM, is an extremely important part of any new PC build. RAM acts as a temporary storage for files, and commonly used files are stored here for faster access. As such, the more RAM you have, the more important files can be stored, and the faster your computer will run. If you're building a new computer, you'll want at least 4GB of RAM, preferablly more if you can afford it.


But it's not just about the gigabytes when it comes to RAM. RAM also functions at different frequencies or MHz. 1333MHz is the most common type of RAM, but faster options, such as 1600MHz, are available. Be sure to check what frequency of RAM your motherboard supports before you purchase. We're using 8GB of 1600MHz Kingston RAM on our machine, and we're running it in a dual-channel format.


What's dual-channel? Well, if you have a computer with 2 sticks of single-channel RAM, you're computer will fill one stick of RAM at a time, before even considering writing to the second stick. In a dual channel layout, half the data is written to each stick, which makes for faster read and write speeds, thus improving your computer's performance. Make sense?


The GPU

A GPU, also known as either the Graphics Processing Unit, or more simply the Graphics card, is what turns all the code and data your computer creates into a viewable format. As we said before, some motherboards come with onboard graphics, as do certain CPU's (Such as our 2600k). In most cases, the motherboard or processors graphics chip will be enough to run most basic tasks, provided it's nothing too intensive. Any kind of gaming, graphic design, or video editing will require a faster, dedicated graphics card.


Graphics cards range hugely in both price and performance, and there's an enormous amount of tech specs to look for in a card. We're using the Asus GTX580, a Nvidia card, and currently the highest performing single card on the market. This may well be overkill for most people, but remember - there's no point in getting a high-end processor (such as an i7 2600k) and then "bottlenecking" it with a slow, old graphics card. New graphics cards use the PCI-Express 2.0 x16 slot style, so be sure to check if your graphics card slot type is available on your motherboard.


The Case and power supply

While it is possible to build a computer without a case, it's not recommended. The case, or chassis, is where you put all the computer bits and pieces, and they come in varying sizes - Full tower, mid tower, and mini tower. We're using a full tower case for our build, for two reasons; There's a lot more space for all of our large computer parts, and the case we managed to find looks fantastic. If you've got the deskspace, we highly recommend going for a full tower case, particularly if you're going to be building something high-end. Many of the best parts are huge, and if you try and stuff them all in a smaller case you'll end up with some serious heating issues.


One of the other things to consider in a case is whether or not to buy one with a built-in power supply. In our case (no pun intended), we opted to buy our power supply separately. The advantage of doing it our way is that, should we decide to upgrade parts that need more power, we can simply swap out the power supply. Power supply's that come built into a case can often be lower quality than one you'd buy yourself, and remember - if the power supply goes down in your machine, it may well take other parts with it. Don't skimp on this and try and get something cheap. It's best to spend a bit more now, as opposed to having to fork out for a new one 6 months down the line.