Hey everyone, Max here, it’s been a while…
AND I’m aware that this is not exactly a “dance-related” article, but due to an increasing number of dancers approaching me to ask me about desktop building (for dance video editing purposes mainly), I have decided to put up this guide, which is a quick and dirty guide to desktop building based on my years of experience and research regarding desktop building. Oh and if you are building a desktop for office work only, get the cheapest everything and don’t buy a graphics card.
DISCLAIMER: This guide does not cover ALL the information you might need as my goal is not to do a one-man-show of Tom’s Hardware; if there’s anything that you’d like to clarify and it’s not covered here, do send me a Facebook message. On my part I will try my best to include as much relevant information as I possibly can for the average to mid-pro consumer.
Are you ready? GHEYYY! (obscure Hardo Gay reference)
1.) What are the parts I need?
This list includes all the components that you can buy and separately pay for at shops. I will split them into two groups: NECESSARY and ACCESSORY. This is just a list; specifics will be covered later on
CPU: Central Processing Unit. The “Brain” of the computer. The more expensive it is the better it should perform.
Motherboard: The “Spine” of the computer. Everything you’re gonna buy is going to be attached to it.
PSU (Power Supply Unit): Self-explanatory. Without it, don’t expect to be able to turn the PC on.
GPU: Graphics Processing Unit (or simply Graphics Card / Video Card) The “penis” of the desktop. The bigger and better it is, the more likely you are to mention it and whip it out in front of your friend’s faces.
RAM: Random Access Memory, comes in sticks. Common sizes are 4GB for peasants, 8GB, 16GB and 32GB for poseurs.
CASING: The only necessary component where the price doesn’t have a linear correlation to the performance.
SSD: Solid State Drive. I could have put it under accesory, but it’s so cheap now, please just get one.
HARD DRIVE: The bigger and slower drive. For mass storage.
MONITOR: Duh. But wait, the monitor also affects which GPU you should get. More on this later.
KEYBOARD AND MOUSE: Duh.
CPU Cooler: The three main types of coolers are air coolers, closed loop (also called AIO All-In-One) coolers and open loop water coolers. No, you can’t press a button to drink from it.
Case fans: Put some LED lights to be a top class Ah Beng. But seriously, fans are used to push and pull air in and out of your casing.
DVD Drive: I can’t help you if you don’t know what this is.
Hard Drive Bay: A good choice for hardcore video editors. Allows you to slot in hard drives like they were SD cards. Handy for people with tons of projects.
Software: Make sure you buy Windows. Or any operating system. Also consider if you need Office. Adobe Suite as well.
2.) What is the purpose of my Desktop?
A desktop has a shit ton of processing power, much more than any digital device with equivalent cost. If you’re looking to surf the web or watch naughty things, do it on your mobile phone instead. Desktops are primarily used by laymen for gaming (PC MASTER RACE) or for multimedia (such an old word) editing.
The purpose is important: It affects your budgeting for the individual parts. A very, very loose summary would be: gamers would want as good a GPU as they can afford, while editors should aim for as strong a CPU as possible. Editors will want as much RAM as they can possibly afford, while gamers are usually unable to utilize more than 8GB for most games. My personal take on this is: a desktop built for rendering will most likely be more than good enough for gaming. More details will come below.
3.) Will I be overclocking?
What the hell is overclocking? In simple terms, overclocking your CPU and/or GPU makes it run faster than the default speed. Drawback? Increased heat and power consumption, and possible system instability if done wrong. Note that the instability is not permanent, and you will not lose your precious meme (or porn) collection or anything stored on your drives. It will only crash your computer once, and after that you may adjust the settings again on the reboot. DO PLENTY OF RESEARCH IF YOU INTEND TO OVERCLOCK.
Honestly it’s a lot easier than it sounds. Open a menu, input some numbers, press OK. Why is it an important consideration to make before choosing your parts? Because ONLY CERTAIN PROCESSORS AND MOTHERBOARDS ALLOW OVERCLOCKING. If you buy a non-overclockable motherboard and / or processor, you will NEVER be able to overclock unless you completely replace the part. That is why it’s important to decide early on. Do note that you can buy an overclockable CPU and motherboard and choose not to overlock it; meaning you can just leave it at default speed until you are ready for the awakening. My recommendation is: if you can afford it, get the overclockable CPU and motherboard.
4.) What is my budget?
When I build PCs for friends, this is the question I always ask first. The reason why I pushed this question to number four on this list is because I needed to make sure that you know all the above information before telling you how to prioritize your expenditure. Do not expect a top tier gaming PC for less than S$1,500. I will slap the next person who asks me this question. I’m just kidding. Well, like I said before, if you are gaming, budget for a better gaming card and cut back expenses on everything else. If you’re doing editing… you can try begging your boss for more money.
5.) What is M-ITX? What is GDDR5? What’s the difference between i7-6700 and i7-6700k? What is SLI? What is 10-10-10-24? What is Afterburner? What is Prime95? Why is cake, Danny?
Whoa whoa whoa hold up a second there… It seems you have done your research. Either that or you are now at Sim Lim Square and getting your brains blown out by the specs on the boxes. Or you are lost in Tom’s Hardware. I’m gonna stay true to my disclaimer that I can’t cover everything, but I will not shortchange you on information either. Get a fresh set of underwear right now.
_____________________________No more questions. _____________________________
THE SOMEWHAT IN-DEPTH EXPLANATION OF COMPONENTS BEGINS HERE.
Every component will have an ending section pegged as IAAI (short for I Am An Idiot, because all of you have been through school and TL;DR should not be applicable to you), so skip to that if you want.
Choosing a Processor (CPU):
The current generation of mainstream desktop Intel processors is called Intel LGA 1151. They have a bunch of chips from i3 to i7; i3 has two cores, i5 has four and i7 has four cores plus four virtual cores, which are not as fast as a real core). Note that only some, and not all editing programs can take advantage of virtual cores. Obviously, the more expensive the chip, it is the faster it is. VIDEO RENDERING TIMES ARE VERY HIGHLY DEPENDENT ON THE CPU SPEED. Games, not so much; some games are more “CPU-dependent” than others, but if you have an overkill graphics card (ahem Titan) the CPU is usually not a factor. Also take note that ONLY CHIPS WITH A “K” DESIGNATION CAN BE OVERCLOCKED. (e.g. i5-6600k, i7-6700k). I highly recommend the i5 “k’ chip for mid-core editors. Hardcore editors would probably skip LGA 1155 and go to LGA 2011, which is a faster and way more expensive chipset.
IAAI: The more expensive the better. Only “k” chips can be overlocked.
Choosing a Motherboard:
I won’t talk about the low to mid-range motherboards, as their variances are too small to bother with. Just take note that if you are overclocking, you will need a Z series motherboard. (e.g. Asrock Z170m Pro 4). If you are not overclocking, anything else will do.
Notice some motherboards have a “m” behind their type designation (e.g Z170 vs Z170m). The “m” stands for mini, so take note that if you are getting a smaller casing that only fits “m” size motherboards, you can’t squeeze a full size one in there.
If for some crazy reason, you are going to use two graphics cards instead of one (a pretty dick move since most game do not support this configuration well, you do not get double the graphics processing power, maybe just 15% more, and you are limited to the same amount of video ram even with two cards) then you would want to get a motherboard which supports SLI / Crossfire. I won’t go into detail here, message me if you are interested to know more about that. Extra jargon includes PCI-E Lanes and such for you to research.
Other considerations would be if the board has wi-fi inbuilt (a redundant feature imo just use a usb stick), the number of USB-3 slots, whether or not the board has RGB LED lighting (looking at you, MSI), and whether you need an internal sound card, in which case you need at least two PCI-E slots on your motherboard (Motherboards come with inbuilt sound cards but internal sound cards are still slightly better for the discerning listener).
IAAI: Overclocking? Buy “Z170” motherboard. If not, get the cheapest one. Make sure it can support LGA 1155 chips.
Choosing a PSU (Power Supply Unit):
Don’t let the uncle at Sim Lim Square upsell you nonsense. My PC (at the time of this article lol) has been running an overclocked GTX 970 and a i5-3570k for 3 years on a 620w PSU. Zero blue screens / power outages throughout. YOU DO NOT NEED A 1000W PSU. If you’re not running more than one graphics card (again, another stupid thing of dual GPU configs), 600w/ 620w is more than sufficient.
Your main consideration would be between a modular, semi-modular and non-modular PSU. It’s just a fancy way of saying “removable cables”. Modular PSUs allow unused power cables to be removed. If your casing has a window, and you would like the view to be neat and sexy, I highly recommend a modular or semi-modular PSU (the only difference is semi-modular has a fixed main cable for your motherboard, and since you definitely need that anyways, makes the difference negligible).
IAAI: 600W is enough if you run only one graphics card. If you have a windowed casing, better to get a modular / semi-modular PSU.
Choosing a GPU and a Monitor
Note: I intentionally lumped these two components together because they are linearly dependent on each other.
GPU is the only component that most people care about, sadly. Of course, the more expensive it is, the better; but I’m going to go into detail for the current Nvdia (Sorry AMD, can’t justify the prices of your current range) lineup with regards to your screen(s).
GTX 1060: Can max most games at 1080p (1920 x 1080 resolution).
GTX 1070: Can max most games at 1440p (2560 x 1440 resolution).
GTX 1080: Can show off to your friends, while hiding the fact that you can’t get 60fps on any AAA game at 4k other than Doom.
For gaming, the ultimate aim is to get gameplay to look as smooth as possible. This is measured in terms of fps (frames per second, not first person shooter please Danny). If your game is running at 60 fps, it means that your monitor is displaying 60 pictures per second, 30 fps would be 30 pictures per second and so forth. As the fps count gets higher, the “smoothness” of the gameplay gets higher.
Do take note that if your graphics card is able to lock the fps at 60 at the maximum graphics setting of a game, then anything better than that is considered overkill.
To find out if the graphics card you are using is able to run the game you want to play at maximum settings and at maximum framerate (usually 60fps), you would search for benchmarks online. (Here is a sample GTX 1060 benchmark).
With the advent of new technology, screen resolutions have gone beyond the standard 1080p to 1440p and even 4K (3840 x 2160 resolution). The higher the resolution of your screen, the more gaming taxes your GPU.
Also worth noting is most ordinary monitors cannot display more than 60fps onscreen. To get your monitor to show framerates above 60fps, you would need a monitor that has a refresh rate of higher than 59/60hz. There are a couple of 144hz monitors around but they are, at the moment, multiple times the price of a standard monitor. Also do note that 144hz monitors do nothing for video editors and video playback; they only enhance games (provided the games can be run beyond 60fps, some of them like Fallout and Skyrim cannot)
If you are intending to game on a three monitor setup (or trip-screen for short), more Video RAM (not to be confused with standard motherboard RAM) would be better. If you’re this far down the rabbit hole, you can do your own research from here.
IAAI: The more expensive the better.
Choosing your RAM
16GB is the sweet spot for both editing and gaming. 98% of games can’t utilize more than 8GB anyway. Editors can get 32GB if you can afford it, but don’t expect any huge boosts to rendering. Also, please, please, please do not shell out hundreds more for “faster” RAM. Some sticks have 3600Mhz, some are 3000Mhz, while some are 2400Mhz. The difference between RAM speeds is zero for gaming and milliseconds for rendering. You are welcome to do research to prove me wrong.
Also do take note that the current generation of motherboards are using DDR4 RAM, so please do not buy DDR3 ram and cry about how it doesn’t fit into your motherboard.
IAAI: The more the merrier.
Choosing your casing:
Make sure your motherboard can fit into your casing. Decide between a windowed one to show off your PC’s innards, or a non windowed one if you’re going to chuck it under your desk and keep it out of sight.
If you are overclocking, the number of fan slots may be a consideration. Try to get a casing with dual top exhaust (meaning two fan slots at the top of your case) if you intend to overclock your processor heavily. If you’re not overclocking, just pick a sexy one and be done with it.
IAAI: Choose something pretty.
SSD: Solid State Drive.
Installing your Windows on an SSD will allow your computer to start in a mere 6 to 8 seconds, and opposed to a 1 minute startup when installed on a regular Hard Disk Drive (HDD).
Gamers usually get SSDs to reduce loading times in games. Do note that it is possible to install the games on a separate HDD (while only having your Windows on the SSD) and you will still benefit from the increased loading speed. DO NOT BE A DICK AND BUY A YUGEEE SSD JUST TO INSTALL YOUR WHOLE STEAM LIBRARY ON IT. The loading time difference between having your game on the SSD itself and having it on a HDD with a OS-SSD setup is negligible. You are welcome to present me research to contradict this claim. I’m just lazy to go dig out the source again, so you’d be doing me a favor anyways.
IAAI: YES BIG GOOD WOW
Choosing a HDD:
Anything but Seagate. Honestly. They have the highest failure rate for hard drives. Buy as big as you can afford because expansion is going to cost more. For example, buying a 3TB hard disk is cheaper than buying a 1TB now and another 2TB a year later. You can do some research on NAS, RAID-0 etc but these are advanced topics that I would leave out for now as they are complex and require much more effort on my part to explain.
IAAI: SUCH BIGLY MUCH YES
Choosing a CPU Cooler (overclockers only):
If you do not intend to overclock your CPU, skip this section; you won’t need a CPU Cooler.
If you are overclocking, I suggest doing an air clock on the Hyper 212. AIO coolers have poor performance per dollar (you’d need to shell out possibly triple the price of the Hyper 212 to get a 2 degrees Celsius difference for an AIO). If you can afford to do open loop cooling, you shouldn’t even be here.
Choosing case fans (overclockers only):
The main things to look out for are airflow and static pressure. A higher static pressure allows more air to be pushed past obstacles such as fan grills and filters. Airflow affects the total amount of air that can be moved (without considering obstacles and restrictions). Balance the both of these against the noise level.
Please give me a moment as I wipe the blood off my fingertips…
ANDDDDD there you have it. Not exactly concise but it’s slightly more than the least amount of information you need to choose parts for your desktop. What about assembly, you ask? Get the shop to put it together for you. Or have a fun time watching YouTube tutorials on your other device while you figure it out at home. Good luck!
For any savvy builders out there, if you think that I missed out any important information, do let me know and I’ll include it. I do not consider RAM timings to be important information, only make-or-break stats and points, thanks.
Your friendly neighborhood nerd,