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If you want to purchase a new custom gaming computer you will have a lot of options to choose from, but there are little or no explanations or details. In this first part of the Custom Gaming PC buying guide you will learn about motherboards, processors, CPU cooling and memory. Next part will give an insight on videocards, cases, cooling, power supplies and more.
When you pick computer with a cheaper processor it will most likely come with low budget motherboard, expensive processors are paired with advanced motherboards. It is done for the whole purpose of the balance between CPU and MB – you do not need SLI or CrossFire with cheap AMD CPU so why spending your money on it? All motherboards differ by the CPU socket type support, memory configuration and extra features like number of USB ports, integrated GPU (video), SLI or CrossFire support.
AMD 740G – basic board typically MicroATX with standard limited number of features – Phenom II support, 4-8 USB ports, single PCI-e, 100Mbps Ethernet, 2-4 memory slots (4-8Gb RAM), basic sound system with 5ch support . Good for basic computer, onboard video (ATI Radeon 2100) is low level and usually deactivated for discrete videocard.
AMD 760G – practically same as 740G but with better CPU support, Gigabyte Ethernet, 6-8 USB ports, Integrated video – ATI HD 3000, may have HDMI port, 8ch sound system.
AMD 770 – most popular board due to the low price and any features possible included. No onboard video but CrossFIre support available, all AMD CPU supported, 4 memory slots – up to 16Gb RAM, 8-12 USB ports along with FireWire. HD sound with Optical and / or Coax SPDIF. Full size board with DDR3 support.
AMD 785G – latest in integrated GPU boards, ATI Radeon 4200 chipset onboard, all possible features included – eSATA, up to 16Gb RAM, CrossFire available, 6-8 USB ports, DDR3 support, HD sound SPDIF and HDMI output.
AMD 790X – almost same as AMD 770 but with DDR3 and CrossFire as standard features, plus USB 3.0 and SATA-III available. Most advanced motherboard with most features and best speed in gaming and heavy load applications.
Intel G41 – very basic board usually microATX with limited number of features – Core 2 Duo / Quad support, 4-8 USB ports, single PCI-e, 100Mbps Ethernet, 2 memory slots (4-8Gb RAM), basic sound system with 5ch support. Good for basic computer, integrated Intel video GPU is useless and usually deactivated for discrete videocard.
Intel P43 / 45 – very good designed board with many modern features, up to 16Gb RAM with DDR3 possible, single PCI-e, full LGA775 CPU support, 6-10 USB, Gigabyte Ethernet, fast northbridge and effective overclocking.
Intel H55 – great board for LGA1156 processors with lots of features available. Onboard video through Intel Core i3 / i5 CPU with HDCP support, Intel i3 / i5 CPUs supported, 4 memory slots – up to 16Gb RAM, 8-12 USB ports along with FireWire. HD sound with Optical and / or Coax SPDIF, DDR3 and HDMI onboard.
Intel P55 – it is an analog of H55 without video ports but full i5 / i7 LGA1156 support, CrossFIre available, fullsize board, DDR3, eSATA, optical SPDIF.
Intel X58 – most advanced Intel board with all possible features as well as SLI and CrossFire support, 3 channel DDR3 memory, lots of SATA and USB ports, LGA1366 Intel i7 CPU support with future additions to LGA1366 line planned – very good investment in the future of technology.
Intel® Core ™ i7 processors deliver an incredible breakthrough in PC performance. They are the best desktop processors on the planet. You'll multitask applications faster and unleash incredible digital media creation. And you'll experience maximum performance for everything you do, thanks to the combination of Intel® Turbo Boost technology² and Intel® Hyper-Threading technology (Intel® HT technology), which maximizes performance to match your workload. Works with X58 boards with all features possible, full speed SLI / CrossFire and triple channel RAM.
Core i5 Quad Core can match i7 performance with similar clock speeds and basically same feature set, but will be a cheaper option because they employ P55 motherboards instead of expensive P55. You loose 3 channel RAM for regular dual channel, limited CrossFire (16x + 4x PCI-e vs X58 dual 16x speed), and almost non existent SLI support. Otherwise same features so in most cases it will be on par with i7 / X58 combo, but will loose in heavy multithreaded applications with lots of RAM usage and in heavy gaming with multiple videocards used. Still a very good option considering a few hundred dollars saved and less heat from the CPU which is great for overclocks.
Core i3 and i5 Dual Core with Video Core integrated – require H55 motherboards which are not expensive and have nice features and options but mostly no CrossFire or SLI support and only dual channel RAM. Processor itself is much faster than previous generation dual cores but looses very much to most quad cores in multithreaded applications and gaming. With it's low price they are great for media centers (with Intel integrated GPU core and HDCP support) and budget gaming machines. Also i3 and i5 have very low heat generated and can be overclocked at extreme levels with proper cooling – they do not look so bad at all then.
AMD AM3 processors used in modern computers are highly effective and cost efficient. You can choose from the variety of dual, triple and quad core processors for any budget level and you can be sure that you will get adequate performance. AMD has got much better with AM3 CPUs when it comes to features support and heat generation, as well as standard instructions and optimization. High end AMD Quad Core processors can be as effective or even better than i3 and i5 processors for a smaller price. Plus you always have a choice of much cheaper motherboards that bring the total price down significantly. DDR3 memory standard is highly developed on AM3 boards, CrossFire is a standard feature on 790X and many 770 motherboards, although all of them are lacking SLI support but that is offset by great videocards ATI has recently released. And since ATI is owned by AMD you can be sure of the great level of integration achieved through so called platforms like Spider or Fusion. It is a really great combination of price and performance. By the way AMD boards use the same socket type all the time (AM / AM2 / AM2 + / AM3 – all compatible with each other), so next time they will new processor it will probably fit in your older board.
CPU Cooler: With some amount of luck and strong determination it is possible to overclock all of the processors to some extent. Most of the time you can overclock CPU at about 10-30% rate. That also depends heavily on what CPU Cooler have you selected: with stock one do not expect miracles, but with any upgraded cooler you will see a major increase in MHz. Better coolers can better dissipate heat generated from increased load after overclock. Basically, if you want a better processor, you can upgrade it, or you can select better cooler and overclock your CPU to the higher level you will see lower temperatures and hear less noise.
EXAMPLE: Intel i7 920 with Xigmatek Dark Knight works on 3.6Ghz easily vs stock 2.66Ghz – load temperature under 60C.
And most important – temperature levels. Stock cooler will do the job but it will be pretty hot and can be noisy. Aftermarket coolers can drop temperatures down significantly and are generally almost silent. Heat is a processor's enemy because it shortens it's lifespan and greatly influences relabilities levels.
What about water cooling? Are you ready to check your system for leaks every month? Do think you can drain and fill it up again and clean every year? Most people would say no, but then there are closed circuit water coolers like Corsair Hydro that make things easier for everyone. Basically you do not have to refill it at any point and since it is closed circuit it should have no leaks unless it's damaged. And Corsair Hydro does really good job in cooling – usually within or above temperature levels achieved by most expensive air coolers. That comes at a price though, so we would not recommend it to everyone, but it is available as and option.
RAM Amount depends on what are you planning to do with your computer. Most popular memory today is DDR3, today it has a perfect combination of price and performance. Most popular size – 4Gb (or 4096Mb). Basically Windows XP uses about 256Mb for itself, while Windows 7 can take about 1Gb and even more. So you can play with 2Gb memory on Windows XP but you will need at least 4Gb for Windows 7 to feel really comfortable with gaming.
DDR – Double Data Rate, then number 2 or 3 stands for generation. DDR2 800 means that memory works at 800MHz and it's second gen, that is double 400MHz (DDR2 = 400×2). When you select DDR3-1600 that means that memory works at 1600Mhz and it's 3rd gen, also it helps a lot while over clocking, since this memory can take more load. This is a great upgrade for those who need more speed.
DDR3 memory with higher frequency will give you an advantage in games and some applications, but only if you have a good processor and video card. Just keep in mind that every computer should be well balanced. For a computer with ATI 5770 and 4Gb RAM it is better to make an upgrade to ATI 5850 than getting 8Gb RAM upgrade – that is if you plan to run games on it. But a general rule of thumb says that more RAM is better, and though 4Gb is enough for most users 6Gb like with i7 and X58 boards standard becomes more and more popular – it works in triple channel and greatly increases data bandwidth.
32bit limitation – with Windows 32bit editions you will see a limitation on your memory size if you have 3Gb or more. For example, if you install 4Gb memory on 32bit machine you will probably see only 3Gb or up to 3.5Gb. Windows 64bit does not have that limitation. BUT Windows 64bit can give you some troubles with old drivers and applications that are not optimized for 64bit processing. Our advice is to choose Windows 64bit if you have all new hardware and do not plan to add anything that is not compatible with it, or Windows 32bit If you have old peripherals to add or old software that needs only 32bit Windows.
We will continue this hardware guide in the next edition – you will learn about modern videocards, power supply requirements, hard drives and DVDs, cases and cooling!
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