So you subscribe to Maximum PC, opened an account on the forum, and currently find yourself debating whether you feel confident enough to build your own dream machine, or have someone else do it for you. Having read guide after guide and post after post, you're fairly certain you could pull it off, but what about any tech support issues that pop up afterwards? Wouldn't it be easier to just configure a Dell and be done with it?
The answer is yes , it would, but it wouldn't be nearly as satisfying as building yourself. And tech support shouldn't be a compelling reason to go with an OEM boutique, unless you consider being told to check if the power cable is plugged in to be more useful than pinging an experienced forum base's collective experience to help you out of a pinch.
But hey, I understand that building that first rig comes with a fair share of jitters, but trust me, you CAN do it. And once you do, you get to become one of us . By us , I'm talking about old vets that, like myself, take as much satisfaction from building our own rigs as we do in helping others to do the same thing. Pay it forward, if you will. I've spent a lot of time on Maximum PC doing just that, having first registered back in 2000 when it was known as Commport . My tenure's consisted of answering troubleshooting issues and offering buying advice, while more recently contributing material to the magazine and maintaining this blog. And when I'm not bantering with fellow MPCers, I can be found over at HardwareLogic , a website I help run that's devoted to, you guessed it, helping new and upcoming enthusiasts.
In short (too late!), I, like many, have been doing this a long time, and while the components of yesteryear have dramatically changed (the race to 1GHz is but a distant memory), many of the common problems and pitfalls remain the same. It may be old hat to some of us today, but that doesn't mean we didn't have our own nagging butterflies when first starting out. But we buckled down and ignored an urge to go with a cookie-cutter OEM boutique, and with some help, you will too.
Today I'll start off with some pre-build inquiries and potential issues that plague first time builders. If there's enough interest, you can look forward to a Part 2 and beyond, where I'll go over post build problems and answer common user submitted questions. Enough with the intro, let's get started!
That's the age old question, isn't it? The answer seems to change with each new generation of processors, as the two play a continual game of leap frog, and it's a query that's started many a forum flame war. A true enthusiast knows no such thing as brand loyalty, and if building today, you'll almost assuredly want an Intel foundation. Recent price cuts have made for some tempting AMD silicon, but you can pick up a Core 2 processor at just about any price point, and have a foundation capable of riding into the quad-core sunset. And speaking of quad-core, word on the web is that Intel's Q6600 processor will receive a price cut to $266 come July 22nd, making four cores accessible to the mainstream. Can you say, yummy!?
But if you're really intent on sticking with AMD, you can do so with the knowledge that you can still build a kick-ass rig. Truth is, outside of benchmarking, most users would be very hard pressed to tell a difference between an attractively priced top of the line AMD 6000+ system, and a slower clocked ( yet generally better performing ) mid-range Intel E6600 machine. So if you own AMD stock and want to support your investment, you can do so, you're just better off in nearly every area (performance, upgradeability, geek cred) by going Intel.
With regards to shortening the lifespan of your computer, that's a debatable topic. Increasing a component's frequency can add additional stress, but unless you're planning on keeping a component until the end of time, the difference is most likely negligible. Also consider that a part may have been downlocked at the factory simply to meet a pricing demand, and could have just as easily been sold at the faster spec. That doesn't mean OC'ing isn't without risks (don't go cranking up those volts!), but when done intelligently and with a close eye on temps, you can significantly reduce the chances of an undesirable outcome. We'll save this topic for another guide...
First, choose a brand. And yes, brand does matter, as generic companies are notorious for skimping on quality parts and misrepresenting the specifications (more on that later). While not an all-inclusive list, I generally limit searches to (in alphabetical order): Antec, Enermax, Fortron, Corsair, OCZ, PC Power & Cooling, Seasonic, Silverstone, and Tagan.
Second, decide if you want modular (detachable) cables or wired. The idea behind modular cables is that you would hook up only the ones you intend to use, and leave the rest unattached. This results in a less cluttered interior and potentially better airflow. Critics of the technology will point to power loss and less reliable power from having detachable connections, but these effects tend to get exaggerated, and a quality modular unit is more than capable of running a high end machine. They do cost more than their wired brethren, and if you intend to use all the cables anyway, a modular power supply loses its benefit
And finally, pay attention to the amps on the +12V rail(s). Wattage is important too, but equally so is how the wattage gets distributed. Today's systems feed heavily on +12V amps, and generic companies often overload a less crucial +5V or +3.3V rail, which allows them to technically claim a high wattage rating, but it's all for naught if the +12V line lacks sufficient amperage. As a general rule of thumb, look for at least a mid 30 amperage rating for a modestly powerful rig, and 40 and above for a high end machine.
Next, verify your case's power and reset switch are plugged into the correct headers on your motherboard. Consult your manual (download it from your mobo maker's website if you no longer have it), and don't feel bad if you've doofed up the pins, as even long time vets are prone to hooking these up incorrectly.
Finally, check for a grounding issue. You should have installed standoffs in your case's motherboard tray before dropping in your mobo, and you'll want to verify they're lined up with your motherboard's holes. If a stray standoff comes in contact with your motherboard's PCB (Printed Circuit Board), it will cause the system to short and either not boot, or worse yet, damage your mobo. Check for any loose screws or other pieces of metal that may have fallen onto the motherboard.
And that's it for this week. Comments are always welcome, and if you have any post build questions you'd like to appear in a Part 2, send an email to One4yu2c@gmail.com