build your own desktop

Rsox4life

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does anyone have experience with building their own desktop. Newegg offers 1000's of options already bundled and compatible at pretty good discounts. seems much less daunting than picking out the parts on your own, especially the power supply which i know is a big deal. I love the idea of it being easier to upgrade. i get free copies of office and windows through work so i can save there as well. any experiences, thoughts, or advice would be appreciated. I have a few snow days to kill so this has become my latest obsession.
 

AlNipper49

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Yeah there are a bunch of saved machines there that you can use as a jumpoff, or alternately get some ideas from a place like tom's hardware or whatever.  Plug em into that tool then pick away.  It literally makes it next to impossible to make a mistake.  
 

Rsox4life

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I am finding it difficult to stay within my means. I want to keep upgrading the part and blowing straight through any type of a bbudget I set for myself
 

rembrat

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What do you want to do with the machine? Do you want to build the computer thats going to enslave us and rule the world or just something to play video games? etc.
 
I built mine around last year thinking I would use it to play video games and be able to run adobe photoshop + illustrator simultaneously if I needed to. Nothing crazy, I got everything for around $1,000. The thread is around here somewhere...
 

AlNipper49

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My guess if you're having troubleshot staying in a budget that you're overspending on your video card or CPU.  You don't need bleeding edge on either, unless you have specific uses that you haven't detailed.
 

Rsox4life

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No I am definitely not a gamer or a power user but I dislike store bought ones because it is my understanding they are not as upgradable as things become obsolete and would like the options to replace parts. I would like this to be the last PC we buy for a long while
 

Curll

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http://reddit.com/r/buildapc
 
http://logicalincrements.com
 
What's your budget? AMD just released their new APUs, which combine GPU and CPU chips. Meaning you wouldn't have to buy a video card.
 
Basically, if you're looking to futureproof on a tight budget, you can't. AMD is good about supporting mobo sockets for a while, but Intel is terrible at it. Every new chip, you need a new mobo. 
 
DDR5 RAM is on its way, too. USB 3.0 just released, but an upgrade is on the way (or already issued?)
 
You can get a nice PC for $300-400 that has 4GB of RAM and a TB HDD that will let you browse the web, do e-mail, play music/videos/Netflix, and play a few games. But, in four years, you'll likely be looking at a new build. 
 
If you spend $1000+, you can get a great case and mobo that will let you expand to 32GB (or 64 with DDR5) or RAM, quad GPUs, liquid cooling, and all that jazz. Absolute overkill, but fun!
 

Rsox4life

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if the motherboard becomes obsolete and i have to replace it and the processor for still cheaper than buying a new pc i could do that down the road...am i correct in saying with store bought dells and hp's i cant do that.
 

Curll

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Rsox4life said:
if the motherboard becomes obsolete and i have to replace it and the processor for still cheaper than buying a new pc i could do that down the road...am i correct in saying with store bought dells and hp's i cant do that.
Oh, yeah. I 100% advocate building your own, every time. You're absolutely correct.
 

Jer

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Jul 17, 2005
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Make sure you at least have some part of your storage on SSD. If you can't afford a large one, just make sure your OS and core software can fit on it. You can supplement with a large HDD for media files.
 
Upgrading to SSD was the most noticeable hardware change I've ever experienced with a computer. It's amazing how much disk read/write are a bottleneck. CPU is overrated.
 
4 GB of ram is probably enough for the average usage today. Just make sure to get in a single module so you have space to upgrade later.
 
edit grammer
 

AlNipper49

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Upgrading PCs is kind of overrated these days anyhow.  If yu buy a Dell just plan on replacing it every few years, usually in line with whatever Windows upgrade schedule exists.  For 500 bucks you get a PC with an operating system that will run everything you need.  In three years buy a new one and use the other one in some other room or something.  I can upgrade PCs with my eyes shut and usually just give my PCs away before figuring out what is best to retrofit into them.  A new PC is really only 5 or 6 parts.
 
With that said, the best bang for the buck IMHO is build-your own, but it assumes you can throw it together and deal with a little frustration.
 

kelpapa

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Jer said:
Upgrading to SSD was the most noticeable hardware change I've ever experience with a computer. It's amazing how much disk read/write are a bottleneck. CPU is overrated.
This. Get at least a small SSD for your operating system. I got a 128 GB one for, I think, $150. Throw in one of these for storage, and you're good to go.
 

SumnerH

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It used to be a no-brainer, but since about a decade ago I don't bother building my own anymore. And I'm about as DIY geeky as they come. New machines are super cheap and performance is so good that there's rarely any need to upgrade.

The exception would be if you're a really hardcore gamer or have a very specific unusual need of some sort (the last one I assembled by hand was for a recording studio, and needed to be absolutely silent--fanless power supply and graphics, only solid state disks, etc).

And, yeah, SSDs are great.
 

mt8thsw9th

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So I will eventually need something pretty bare-bones, largely because I have a Macbook Pro as a daily driver, so the PC would be doing one thing and one thing only: processing huge spreadsheets. For example, I have a document that I dump a data extract into, and it scans upwards of 13,000 arrays with 108 items in each, and compares each to a different environment the data was extracted from (POC vs. test vs. production) using index/matches (not an array search, for what it's worth) to pinpoint discrepancies. With a document that large, it can take 20 minutes or so to load on my work computer, and I want something that can handle such a request much more smoothly. Also, I do a lot of index/match array searches (e.g., {=index(A:A,match(B1&C1&D1,othersheet!E:E&othersheet!F:F&othersheet!G:G,0))}  ) and these can take forever on my work computer even if it's scanning a few hundred arrays for the match.
 
Am I crazy that I think I could get away with an i5 ~3.2GHz, 16 GB RAM, and a 64 GB SSD, and for under $400?
 

Curll

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You'll want at least 128GB on the SSD. My 64GB is constantly filling up and only Win 7 is on it. Temp files, appdata, etc. 
 
Again, I've got to look into this a bit more, but I think AMD's 6 and 8 core processors would be better for excel spreadsheets. Easier to OC, cheaper, etc. Going to have to google the facts, though.
 

AlNipper49

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mt8thsw9th said:
So I will eventually need something pretty bare-bones, largely because I have a Macbook Pro as a daily driver, so the PC would be doing one thing and one thing only: processing huge spreadsheets. For example, I have a document that I dump a data extract into, and it scans upwards of 13,000 arrays with 108 items in each, and compares each to a different environment the data was extracted from (POC vs. test vs. production) using index/matches (not an array search, for what it's worth) to pinpoint discrepancies. With a document that large, it can take 20 minutes or so to load on my work computer, and I want something that can handle such a request much more smoothly. Also, I do a lot of index/match array searches (e.g., {=index(A:A,match(B1&C1&D1,othersheet!E:E&othersheet!F:F&othersheet!G:G,0))}  ) and these can take forever on my work computer even if it's scanning a few hundred arrays for the match.
 
Am I crazy that I think I could get away with an i5 ~3.2GHz, 16 GB RAM, and a 64 GB SSD, and for under $400?
 
You're at ~~~$400 for the HD, memory and i5.  The other stuff isn't horribly pricey but either way you're over 400
 

mt8thsw9th

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AlNipper49 said:
 
You're at ~~~$400 for the HD, memory and i5.  The other stuff isn't horribly pricey but either way you're over 400
$400 was best case, but it's feasible under $500, yes?

To the previous post - will windows actually load up with temp files if I'm literally only using it for what I hope to? Does Windows allow this stuff to be backed up on a spinny slave drive?
 

AlNipper49

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Yeah it will. W7 grows because it caches updates amount other things. There are workarounds but just buy the 128, they're not much more
 

kelpapa

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SumnerH said:
It used to be a no-brainer, but since about a decade ago I don't bother building my own anymore. And I'm about as DIY geeky as they come. New machines are super cheap and performance is so good that there's rarely any need to upgrade.
Is this really true? I ended up putting a little over $1,000 into my desktop (will add another $50-100 in a little bit), and I can't really find anything that rivals it for under $2,000.
 

kelpapa

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I don't know why I asked that. Sumner is now going to post multiple links to deals on computers that are much than mine for better.
 

Couperin47

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Tips on building a desktop and saving money.
 
1. You can save close to $200 if you don't simply buy your components all at once. In general nobody beats Newegg by more than a few bucks and their return policies means it's a bother to shop anywhere else: between their weekly sales and daily Shell Shocker deals, you can easily save close to $200 if you do your purchasing over 2-4 weeks. This takes some strategy as in a few cases there are decent rebates you will want to get submitted in time.
 
2. Things you purchase first:
 
Case:  Always running sales on cases, a really good mid-tower shouldn't cost more than $65. What you want is a decent modern design with dual USB 3.0 sockets on the front (you will see extreme bargains on tons of older cases that don't have this feature, since USB 3 is how you will reasonably backup a laptop or use any external drive, it's a real pain to only have access by crawling around to back, esp since USB 3 cables are pretty much limited to 6ft currently). Get this early and if damaged in transit, it can be dealt with prior to assembly.
 
Power Supply: Sales EVERY week, stick to Antec, Corsair, Seasonic and you can't go wrong, you can save 10-$15 going with a nonmodular unit. Odds on getting a bad supply are very low. Units in 650/750watt range will handle anything short of a gaming box with dual high end video cards.
 
CPU:  Pretty much impossible to beat the price/performance ratio of the Intel i5, prices vary by no more than $10 week to week. Spend $20 more for a "k" model that's unlocked and these days you change max 3 settings on a modern mb and get an easy 30% overclock that's rock stable. Been overclocking every box I have for 20 years with nary a problem. This can also be bought if/when the prices are down that big $10. If you decide to overclock, you need an upgraded cpu heatsink, you can spend 5x the cost of a CoolerMaster Hyper212 with no better result, look for a sale on this, don't waste a penny more. Not going to overclock?, skip the 'k' model and the factory heatsink is fine.
 
Video card: AMD or Nvidia, differences really only at top end of lines. If you only do business work, the integrated video on a cpu will work. You watch some video and want to play some games? The best bang for the buck is in the $100-$150 range and again sales are plentiful, again getting a bad card is rare, you can buy early.
 
SSD: Today real performance is obtained by using a SSD as your boot drive and mechanical hard drives for storage. A 128 Gig will suffice for anyone except those who insist on storing lots of big games on their boot drive or who are running huge databases (which don't belong on the boot anyway). Keep in mind for optimum performance throughout their life SSD should not be filled beyond 70-80% of their capacity. Sales almost every day, AVOID anything by OCZ as they just went bankrupt because of their shit quality: Quality brands: Intel, Plextor, Crucial, Samsung, Toshiba. Toshiba is being particularly aggressive, while they have made the memory chips for years, they didn't market their own brand and didn't make a controller, now they have partnered with Marvel, and their new offerings are excellent and to get market share they are pricing very aggressively. But there are sales literally every day. Again odds on getting a bad drive are very low.
 
HD:  Sales every day. Sweet spot is 2 TB drives. Try to avoid the cheapest drives with 1 yr warranties. Currently not a fan of Seagates. The Toshiba drives (this gets complicated.. box will say Toshiba, drive will say Hitachi (HGST) and actually they are now owned by..WD...don't ask) tend to be equal or better to WD's comparable drive, have 3 instead of 2 year warranties and are usually cheaper... it pays to pay a few bucks more for a retail box drive. OEM bare drives tend to be shipped by wrapping in a thin coat of bubble wrap in a too big box... where it gets bounced around. Retail drives are in a serious container and arrive in much better condition.
 
Optical drives: CD/DVD drives are commodity items, a decent one is always on sale for $15, Blu-ray burners are more but considering the cost of blu-ray blanks I don't know a soul who currently bothers.
 
Things you buy just before you build so you can test it all immediately:
 
Motherboard: You can get a bad board from any of the 4 major makers: ASUS, ASrock, MSI or Gigabyte. No real reason to stray from these 4. I've been using MSI and ASrock for years. Unless you have specific needs a Z87 chipset based board is again best bang for buck, tons available in the $110-$150 range.
 
Memory: The component where you are most likely to get something defective right out of the box. You want DDR3 1600. Higher speed ram has at best a 5% improvement in real performance and is a complete waste of money. Currently I never see bad sticks from Kingston, but I have seen bad sticks from every major maker. Sales every day stick to major brands: Crucial, Mushkin are also good. You want at min 16 Gig these days, only question is a set of 4x4 Gig sticks or 2 8 Gig sticks, which will cost generally 10-$15 more.
 
As soon as you get these last items you do the following: Install the CPU and video card and memory attach the power supply. You will have already downloaded the free program Memtest86+ and loaded that onto a thumb drive or burned to a CD. Boot into Memtest86+ (no OS required) and let it run its full tests for at least 3 iterations, this tests all your memory and will take hours. IF ANY errors appear, you have bad memory. Remove all but one memory stick and rerun tests on each stick til you find the one that throws errors. If any stick throws errors you need to return all sticks as they are generally roughly matched pairs or 4somes. Bad memory out-of-the-box is sadly the most common problem I see in building boxes.
 

Nick Kaufman

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I built my last couple of pcs and I found it a satisfying experience if for no other reason because it allowed me to geek out and feel like a computer version of Jeremy Clarkson. POWER!
 
I actually bought my parts from different places. Amazon is actually competitive to Newegg and I found better deals on the processors at microcenter.
 
I did learn an important lesson when I built my latest computer with a haswell processor right after it had come out. Because everything was new there were ton of bugs that took the mobo manufacturer a few months to sort out. So, buying the second best thing is both cost efficient and less prone to give you early adopter headaches.
 

gibdied

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Couperin47 said:
Power Supply: Sales EVERY week, stick to Antec, Corsair, Seasonic and you can't go wrong, you can save 10-$15 going with a nonmodular unit. Odds on getting a bad supply are very low. Units in 650/750watt range will handle anything short of a gaming box with dual high end video cards.
Getting an overkill PSU isn't really a bad thing, especially with the high efficiency PSUs nowadays that can deliver 80+% efficiency even when operating at small fractions of their potential. However, to give a little perspective on wattage and what's necessary for anyone that's curious, I have an i5-3570K overclocked to 4GHz, ATI HD5770 video card, 120GB SSD, 2TB HD, combo bluray drive DVD/CD burner and several case fans. In other words, a powerful all-around computer, but nothing crazy. Right now, just browsing some sites, basically idle, the computer is drawing 63 watts from the UPS. That's all, and again, that's what it's drawing; what the PSU is putting out is less, about 80% of that number for my PSU, a Corsair 550VX. When I fire up LinX, a brutal CPU stress test, it hits 148. When I fire up Furmark, a brutal GPU stress test, it hits 175. So, really, 650+ watt PSUs are overkill for all but the most beastly builds.

I think for most people, the sweet spot is 400-450 watts. Truthfully, a well made 350 watt supply would be enough for most people, but it's hard to find quality supplies at that "low" a wattage in the typical ATX form factor.
 
Couperin47 said:
Video card: AMD or Nvidia, differences really only at top end of lines. If you only do business work, the integrated video on a cpu will work. You watch some video and want to play some games? The best bang for the buck is in the $100-$150 range and again sales are plentiful, again getting a bad card is rare, you can buy early.
Watching videos doesn't particularly tax a video card, so the onboard is plenty for that. Even for casual or modest gaming, the onboard is likely fine. Indeed, the discreet video card market has been getting squeezed pretty hard as both ATI and Intel have steadily improved the onboard video capabilities of their chips. Worst case scenario is you try the onboard and it's not satisfactory, so you buy a discreet card. No real need to buy one upfront unless gaming is a high priority.
 

Soxy Brown

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You want at min 16 Gig these days, only question is a set of 4x4 Gig sticks or 2 8 Gig sticks, which will cost generally 10-$15 more.
 .


This seems like drastic overkill, especially since RAM prices are high these days. I would say 4GB is fine for most people. Anything over 8 seems unnecessary unless you're doing heavy photo/video/music editing.
 

Jer

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Soxy Brown said:
This seems like drastic overkill, especially since RAM prices are high these days. I would say 4GB is fine for most people. Anything over 8 seems unnecessary unless you're doing heavy photo/video/music editing.
 
I tend to agree with this.
 
A data point... I've been using a MacBook Air with 4GB (Windows 7) as my primary development machine for a while. I only recently started to run into RAM shortages when my local database instance exceeded 1GB in size and I was updating a large lucene index by querying it (double whammy). I've got a new machine with 16gb on order, but my needs are fairly unusual.
 

SumnerH

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AlNipper49 said:
I think the point is that for 95% of the users your $1000 PC is likely overspecced
 
Exactly (see Soxy's point Re: RAM, for instance).  Unless you're a gamer or have some other fairly niche need, a $500 off the shelf machine is going to be more than powerful enough for you.  
 
 
(Also, if you've got a fixed budget that you absolutely must blow through, a lot of times you're way better off getting a bunch of nice peripherals that will last several computer generations than buying stats you're never going to notice anyway).
 

Couperin47

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Soxy Brown said:
This seems like drastic overkill, especially since RAM prices are high these days. I would say 4GB is fine for most people. Anything over 8 seems unnecessary unless you're doing heavy photo/video/music editing.
 
You should look at the comparative speed of Win 7 or 8 and overall performance with 4 Gig and 8 Gig of ram, the improvement does flatten out after that...
 

Couperin47

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gibdied said:
Getting an overkill PSU isn't really a bad thing, especially with the high efficiency PSUs nowadays that can deliver 80+% efficiency even when operating at small fractions of their potential. However, to give a little perspective on wattage and what's necessary for anyone that's curious, I have an i5-3570K overclocked to 4GHz, ATI HD5770 video card, 120GB SSD, 2TB HD, combo bluray drive DVD/CD burner and several case fans. In other words, a powerful all-around computer, but nothing crazy. Right now, just browsing some sites, basically idle, the computer is drawing 63 watts from the UPS. That's all, and again, that's what it's drawing; what the PSU is putting out is less, about 80% of that number for my PSU, a Corsair 550VX. When I fire up LinX, a brutal CPU stress test, it hits 148. When I fire up Furmark, a brutal GPU stress test, it hits 175. So, really, 650+ watt PSUs are overkill for all but the most beastly builds.

I think for most people, the sweet spot is 400-450 watts. Truthfully, a well made 350 watt supply would be enough for most people, but it's hard to find quality supplies at that "low" a wattage in the typical ATX form factor.
 

Watching videos doesn't particularly tax a video card, so the onboard is plenty for that. Even for casual or modest gaming, the onboard is likely fine. Indeed, the discreet video card market has been getting squeezed pretty hard as both ATI and Intel have steadily improved the onboard video capabilities of their chips. Worst case scenario is you try the onboard and it's not satisfactory, so you buy a discreet card. No real need to buy one upfront unless gaming is a high priority.
 
I don't really disagree...the problem is most 450 watt and smaller supplies are made for the 'constructor' market and tend to be older designs and lower quality components... The Antec Basiq and Corsair CX models are nowhere near the quality of the rest of the line. (neither company makes their own supplies, they use several companies that don't market directly).The exception is Seasonic (which does make all their own supplies, as well as making some of the top models for others), nothing they make is sketchy...otoh they are the most expensive and almost never on sale... you can usually get an Antec or Corsair 630-650w model on sale for barely $10 bucks more than the Seasonic 450w.. and the extra connectors come in handy if you wind up keeping your older hard drives and wind up with a box full of them....
 

AlNipper49

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I don't really disagree...the problem is most 450 watt and smaller supplies are made for the 'constructor' market and tend to be older designs and lower quality components... The Antec Basiq and Corsair CX models are nowhere near the quality of the rest of the line. (neither company makes their own supplies, they use several companies that don't market directly).The exception is Seasonic (which does make all their own supplies, as well as making some of the top models for others), nothing they make is sketchy...otoh they are the most expensive and almost never on sale... you can usually get an Antec or Corsair 630-650w model on sale for barely $10 bucks more than the Seasonic 450w.. and the extra connectors come in handy if you wind up keeping your older hard drives and wind up with a box full of them....


I find the best deals by looking at quality PSUs which are on sale, not the most recent rev and that have the bare minimum connectors that I need. If I need more connectors I just monoprice the splitters.
 

Couperin47

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AlNipper49 said:
I find the best deals by looking at quality PSUs which are on sale, not the most recent rev and that have the bare minimum connectors that I need. If I need more connectors I just monoprice the splitters.
 
The ultimate resource on power supplies is jonnyGURU,com, if they haven't reviewed a unit, it's discussed in their forums and usually is a variant of a unit they have reviewed. Since, aside from Seasonic, virtually all supplies in the US are marketed by companies who are not the real manufacturers, here is where you find out who actually made the unit and often it's available under another brand.
 

derekson

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Is running RAM at a higher speed than it's rated for out of the box a bad idea? E.g. if I get 1600 Mhz ram, can I run it at 1866 if I feel risky or am I just going to ensure that my system is unstable? I'm actually asking because my current system has 4 GB of 1333 DDR3 ram, but I was thinking about adding 2 sticks of 4 GB 1600 Mhz and wondering if I could keep all 4 sticks in and run it at 1600 or if I'd just be asking for untimely blue screen crashes.
 

Couperin47

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derekson said:
Is running RAM at a higher speed than it's rated for out of the box a bad idea? E.g. if I get 1600 Mhz ram, can I run it at 1866 if I feel risky or am I just going to ensure that my system is unstable? I'm actually asking because my current system has 4 GB of 1333 DDR3 ram, but I was thinking about adding 2 sticks of 4 GB 1600 Mhz and wondering if I could keep all 4 sticks in and run it at 1600 or if I'd just be asking for untimely blue screen crashes.
 
The 1333 sticks won't run at 1600 unless you push their voltage up and most 1333 ram cannot be pushed to that, then add the fact that the 1333 sticks don't include XMS specs onboard to handle that speed so your BIOS would need to include the ability to reset all the memory parameters for each stick manually. Finally, even if you managed to get that all to work, running your memory at 1600 instead of at 1333 would improve your performance on synthetic benchmarks by around 2%.. in short it's pointless. If you just plug in the 1600 sticks and don't start fiddling in the BIOS, they will all probably just default to running at 1333, in some motherboards they will try to default to whatever is in Slot 1, which now has 1333 in it so you should still be OK. I understand why you're buying 1600 sticks, they are the same price as 1333 in most cases these days...
 

derekson

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Couperin47 said:
 
The 1333 sticks won't run at 1600 unless you push their voltage up and most 1333 ram cannot be pushed to that, then add the fact that the 1333 sticks don't include XMS specs onboard to handle that speed so your BIOS would need to include the ability to reset all the memory parameters for each stick manually. Finally, even if you managed to get that all to work, running your memory at 1600 instead of at 1333 would improve your performance on synthetic benchmarks by around 2%.. in short it's pointless. If you just plug in the 1600 sticks and don't start fiddling in the BIOS, they will all probably just default to running at 1333, in some motherboards they will try to default to whatever is in Slot 1, which now has 1333 in it so you should still be OK. I understand why you're buying 1600 sticks, they are the same price as 1333 in most cases these days...
 
I was actually playing in the bios and I was able to get the system to boot with the current ram running at 1600, but I haven't stress tested it or anything. I did need to up the voltage a bit to get it to post. But if it's only a 2% improvement or something anyway then maybe I should just give it up and get the new ram and run all 4 at 1333.
 
Alternatively I could just pull the 2x2GB sticks and run it just with 8 GB of new ram. I doubt I'm using over 8 GB of total memory right now anyway.
 

Couperin47

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derekson said:
 
I was actually playing in the bios and I was able to get the system to boot with the current ram running at 1600, but I haven't stress tested it or anything. I did need to up the voltage a bit to get it to post. But if it's only a 2% improvement or something anyway then maybe I should just give it up and get the new ram and run all 4 at 1333.
 
Alternatively I could just pull the 2x2GB sticks and run it just with 8 GB of new ram. I doubt I'm using over 8 GB of total memory right now anyway.
 
Several sites did tests and switching from 1600 ram to the fastest available and very pricey 2100 produced at best a 5% improvement in real world performance... they rated spending $$ on fast memory as the biggest waste of money when considering upgrades to your puter... The increase from 4 Gig to *8 Gig produces a large improvement in Windows performance, the performance improvement flattens out after that. If you have 2 x 2Gig, add 2 x 4Gig and Win 7 or 8 x64 will be very happy with 12 Gig, virtually all the improvement is the result of the amount of memory, not its speed. If you want to test the stability of the ram, grab Memtest86+ on the Net, it's free, burn it to a CD or load onto a thumb drive, it's bootable and if it runs 3-4 complete iterations of all the tests without throwing any errors..your memory is fine.
 

Rsox4life

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I have priced out a few of my own builds and got a little overwhelmed. It doesn't appear that I Will save that much. If you were buying a stock cpu or brand name desktop what would you guys look for or what would be the lowest specs you would go. I am not a gamer at all but do some picture and video of my daughters and want it to last a while. I would like to stay under 600. I have my own monitor already.
 

Couperin47

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Rsox4life said:
I have priced out a few of my own builds and got a little overwhelmed. It doesn't appear that I Will save that much. If you were buying a stock cpu or brand name desktop what would you guys look for or what would be the lowest specs you would go. I am not a gamer at all but do some picture and video of my daughters and want it to last a while. I would like to stay under 600. I have my own monitor already.
 
I'd want truly modern performance that you could live with for years that means the following requirements:
 
i5 Intel Quad CPU
8 Gig RAM (min)
SSD boot drive
decent size HD for backup and storage (1tb min)
Latest integrated Intel graphics or even better a real separate video card
CD/DVD burner
USB 3.0 ports available on front for convenience
Gigabit ethernet
 
It would be nice to have a case that has room for a bit of expandability also a 'standard mb' that has a normal amount of SATA III ports so you might add a HD.
 
Things you can expect from many low end prebuilt boxes:
 
Some will have the bare minimum of ports and sockets, exactly for what they include meaning you can't expand in ANY way. Low end Dell boxes are notorious for this.
Most prebuilt boxes will have very small power supplies (180 to 250 watts), when you assemble your own it's hard to find a supply smaller than 400 watts. This also severely restricts any upgrades.
 
So an example of a strategy:
 
Lenovo's Outlet has tons of good deals, all machines come with free shipping and a year warranty. On laptops one must be wary of 'scratch and dent' models as if the damage is to the screen, obviously we're talking serious compromise. On a desktop, who cares much about a scratch on a case that's going to sit under a desk ? They have a ton of identical IdeaCentre K450 boxes all scratch and dent priced at $405 to $459.
 
What do you get:
 
Latest i5-4430 Quad cpu (3.2 GHz)
8 Gig (2 x 4Gig) 1600 DDR 3 (mb has 4 slots, room to expand)
NVIDIA GeForce GT 630M real video card, substantially better than all Intel integrated graphics
1TB 7200 rpm HD
DVD/CD burner
Gigabit ethernet
Decent size real case, 2 USB 3 front ports
9 in 1 memory card reader
 
A 'standard mb' that has 4 SATA III ports to handle 4 drives and a case that has room to install them.
 
There is also a front port to directly plug in a USM portable hard drive, it's a standard that really hasn't taken off, pretty much only Seagate is making these, but it can just be ignored.
 
These are marketed as low end gaming boxes, which they are really not, but they fully meet our requirements except for the SSD boot drive, and since the mb and case can easily handle this, you simply add a decent 128 Gig SSD ($79 to $109) and you have everything needed for a box with excellent performance. When buying the SSD be aware all makes basically use 1 of 3 brands of controller: Sandforce, Marvel or Samsung. Rule 1: NO OCZ drives, they just went bankrupt because their quality control was beyond abysmal, Toshiba is buying the remains, ignore them atm. Sandforce controllers often appear the fastest but only because they use aggressive compression reading and writing. This works fine on compressible data like spreadsheets, text etc. On incompressible or already heavily compressed stuff this doesn't work (that includes most modern graphics jpg, png, almost all media audio or video, all zip rar and other compressed files and, most importantly pretty much all Programs and OS stuff.) We're going to use this drive to boot which means it's going to be filled with the OS and Programs, stuff that doesn't compress...Sandforce controllers won't help at all.
 
Marvel controllers don't play compression games, their thruput stays the same no matter what the data, they have also tended to be less buggy. Crucial, Plextor and others use Marvel controllers. Toshiba which has entered the market aggressively is using an 'evolved' version of a Marvel controller they jointly developed.
 
Samsung's controller is also quite stable and doesn't use compression, it's only used by Samsung currently.
 
I prefer Marvel or Samsung controllers for a boot drive.
 
So for $500 to $550 you should be able to mate one of these boxes to a good SSD and have an excellent 'midrange' box, you also won't outgrow easily.
 

derekson

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Jun 26, 2010
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Honestly I'd think that intel integrated graphics (HD4600 or 5000) are probably sufficient for anyone who isn't into gaming at all. I don't think I'd even bother with a GT 630 or anything for the use case he outlined. It just seems like a waste.
 

SumnerH

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derekson said:
Honestly I'd think that intel integrated graphics (HD4600 or 5000) are probably sufficient for anyone who isn't into gaming at all. I don't think I'd even bother with a GT 630 or anything for the use case he outlined. It just seems like a waste.
 
I agree, if he's not gaming (or doing some niche 3D work) he won't notice the difference at all.
 

AlNipper49

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90% of what I do I do in VMs which have worse GPU (graphics card) power than the Intel onboard and I'm fine.

For those of you trying to figure out what that means - more recent Intel chips take over what you previously would have to buy a video card for. Its not super powerful but most people do not need powerful. For MS Office, Internet crap, etc it is way more than fine. Plus you can always add one down the line on the 1% chance that you need it. I believe pcpartpicker.com gives this as an option.
 

kelpapa

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Feb 15, 2010
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I went with the onboard graphics on a haswell i7 processor based on the recommendations from some people in here. I don't game or do any 3D work, and it's worked fine. I'm going to pickup a graphics card at some point strictly to set up dual monitors, but otherwise I would have stayed without it.
 

SumnerH

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kelpapa said:
I went with the onboard graphics on a haswell i7 processor based on the recommendations from some people in here. I don't game or do any 3D work, and it's worked fine. I'm going to pickup a graphics card at some point strictly to set up dual monitors, but otherwise I would have stayed without it.
 
Haswell's integrated graphics supports up to 3 monitors if the motherboard does (e.g. with this motherboard).  Most mobos will do 2 no problem.
 

Couperin47

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The example I provided are boxes that happen to INCLUDE the GT 630,  I doubt you can find a box using an i7 and the latest integrated Intel video for the same or less. Most bargain boxes will have lesser i5 or even i3 cpus whose Intel graphics are anemic by comparison. Moving down to less capable hardware might make sense if it actually saved you a significant amount of money, crippling the box graphically to save $25 is seriously short sighted...I'll wait to see what anyone can offer in the way of a real world suggestion for less than c. $525.
 

SumnerH

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Couperin47 said:
The example I provided are boxes that happen to INCLUDE the GT 630,  I doubt you can find a box using an i7 and the latest integrated Intel video for the same or less. Most bargain boxes will have lesser i5 or even i3 cpus whose Intel graphics are anemic by comparison.
 
i5/i3 are Sandy Bridge/HD2000-era stuff, which is still more than enough.  He doesn't game.  Unless you're doing 3D stuff, the GPU is utterly irrelevant (it may be used a bit for compositing, but even old Intel stuff is more than capable of that).    (I have a Sandy Bridge laptop that I use with dual monitors for all kinds of (raster and vector) graphics work no problem from the GPU; going to 8MB RAM and installing SSD would definitely be the preferred ways to speed it up.)
 
Your selection's great otherwise, and if the scratch and dent pricing puts it ahead of the other offerings it might be worth it even with the overkill GPU.  But if it were me, I'd at least check if it's available without or if there's something comparable without at a competitor.
 

AlNipper49

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If you put your config into pcpartpicker.com it will let you post a link if you want people here to critique your config, if you're going for a custom system that is.