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11 things you should do before building a custom PC

It’s natural for gamers to want their rig to be the best it can be. However, before you start hunting for parts and assembling your new computer, there are a few things you should know about what goes into building a PC. If you’re reading this post then I’m assuming that you have already started shopping around or have plans on doing so soon. Either way, this information will help ensure that your dream machine is as close to perfect as possible!

So here it is, a list of things you should do before building a PC:

01. Set a budget

It’s tempting to try and build the best system money can buy, but often times it doesn’t make sense from a value standpoint to go overboard. If your dream machine has features not found in any currently available or recently reviewed hardware then consider waiting for more parts to come out or for prices to drop on the ones you want. A good guideline is typically no more than 15 percent of one year’s net income – though even that still might be too much if you’re going with an SLI/CrossFire setup which multiplies the cost of each part by two. Also keep in mind that dropping thousands on a rig does not make it an instant good investment (in terms of resale value) like throwing down for a car might be.

02 . Consider the future

When you build a PC, chances are that parts will become outdated in two to three years or less. This means that there’s no point in overspending on expensive hardware because it will be useless (or at least severely bottlenecked) very shortly after getting it. For example, purchasing x16 PCIe 3.0 graphics cards when the standard has only recently been finalized is foolish because this interface won’t even work with Intel’s Sandy Bridge platform – these new processors and chipsets aren’t expected to land until early 2011! It is also important to note that certain components tend to have longer life spans than others. For example, a high-end Intel quad core processor with Hyper Threading enabled will still be able to hold its own against the latest and greatest AMD or Intel octo-core chips years later – whereas a $500 graphics card is almost always obsoleted within six months to a year of its release.

  • 03 . Set up your OS and programs first

Building a PC is all about installing components, and before doing so it’s best to install the OS (usually Windows) and drivers for all your hardware except that which you plan on putting into the case immediately. So go ahead and burn that ISO or DVD image file to disk; you’ll want it handy when it comes time for installation. Also, download any drivers specific to your motherboard and graphics card from the respective manufacturers’ websites so you have them ready to install ASAP when the time comes.

04 . Plan a budget for aftermarket cooling

If you plan on overclocking then it’s a given that you’ll need better cooling in order to sustain higher core voltages and frequencies, along with increased fan speeds. This means bigger heatsinks and faster fans which in turn requires more money either out-of-pocket or through increased power bills (due to less efficient components requiring exponentially greater wattage). In other words, consider how much cash you can safely part with before sinking money into an expensive custom liquid cooling setup . Vendors such as Thermaltake, Zalman, Cooler Master, Corsair , and Danger Den offer a variety of heatsinks and all-in-one liquid cooling systems, and it’s best to do some research first on which fits your needs. For those looking for more affordable direct-touch aluminum heatsinks , Scythe is the only vendor I know of who offers these types of components – though its selection is somewhat limited as of this writing.

05 . Choose compatible parts except when you don’t want to

The motherboard/CPU combo is arguably the most important part in any system, since all other components are built around it – not to mention that they share a common bus architecture. So naturally, compatibility across all three main PC subsystems (graphics card, chipset/southbridge, and memory) becomes very important. In fact, without a compatible memory controller and I/O bus chipset your PC won’t even POST! Yes, this means that you should generally avoid buying motherboards with the latest chipsets if you have older components in mind – though there are exceptions to this rule where it makes sense. For example, Intel’s Clarkdale processors only work with LGA 1156 boards sporting a 590 series chipset, while AMD’s Bulldozer series CPUs require 9-series chipsets (though these aren’t available until next year). However, since most 775 CPUs can be used on either socket type (775->1366 or 775->1156) respectively, picking one of each will get you slightly more future proof options down the road.

But please do abide by these rules, since tweaking your parts (beyond their original intended tolerances) may end up costing you more money than the amount saved in the first place!

06 . Buy computer hardware that won’t go obsolete tomorrow

Since it’s almost guaranteed that PC components will become faster and cheaper every year, there is little reason to buy anything other than what can serve you well for at least 1-2 years after purchase. If being on the bleeding edge is so important to you then consider buying used high-end gear instead of brand new expensive components – or better yet, investing in a quality pre-built system from reputable vendors who offer upgrade options either under warranty or as part of their complementary service plans. Thanks to rapid changes in technology within the computer industry, there is always something better just around the corner – so it’s best to strike a balance between quality and affordability rather than buying low-end components you know won’t last.

07 . Buy proper amounts of system memory according to your needs

It goes without saying that more RAM is better since it allows for greater multitasking environments with less chance of paging/swapping to disk or slowing down due to lack of physical memory. In fact, unless you’re planning on using a 64-bit OS then 4 GB should be considered the minimum amount of memory acceptable – if not going as high as 16GB(!!!). But don’t make the mistake many first timers do by thinking they need double what their system will actually need, because this will only result in paying too much for the same memory capacity. Instead, make use of free tools such as Memtest86+ to test your system’s memory stability before purchasing it.

08 . Don’t skimp on your display(s)

In a world where displays have gone from bulky CRTs to compact LCD/LED backlit screens that can be hung from a wall or simply placed atop a desk, there is no reason not to get the best monitor you can afford. In fact, choosing a high-resolution 27″ iMac or other comparable desktop computer will cost nearly three times as much as going with Apple’s all-in-one 21.5″ version – so why would you waste such a large amount of money on more display “real estate” when you could get an even larger one for less? Sure, iMacs and their ilk might be thinner and better looking but they aren’t half as upgradeable/flexible (especially with modern ones) or durable in the long run.

09 . Buy refurbished model(s) whenever possible

With manufacturers regularly offering cheap OEM licenses of software titles along with their hardware products, there is no reason to buy such things new at full price. In fact, many vendors will simply charge the same price whether you’re buying a brand new copy or a used one – so why not save yourself some money by going refurbished? One great example of this would be Apple’s OS X Lion license that comes with your Mac system, which is available for just US$20 by the way.

10 . When in doubt, ask friendly geeks!

Almost every modern town has at least one computer/tech enthusiast who would be more than happy to answer questions on what hardware to buy or how to tweak it. This is especially true when it concerns 2-in-1 devices since this isn’t always a simple process for some people, so asking advice from someone you know would be ideal if you ever get stuck. Of course you might have some fun playing around with different setups but there are several advantages of being able to return everything back to their original state should anything go wrong down the road – not exactly an option for most techno geeks out there.

11 . No matter what you do, make sure you own the rights to it

It’s sad but inevitable that in this day and age, many computer users are still “stealing” copyrighted items when they download movies/songs through shady channels or purchase counterfeit software from shady sources. And while not all of these individuals are out to cause trouble, their actions can lead to malware infestations or even identity theft if something goes wrong with the installation process for whatever product they’re using. If only more people knew just how much it costs developers/publishers to create such things so they could appreciate them.

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