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PC Build Guide

This guide is designed to familiarise and help you understand the technology and components that are used inside our custom-built PCs. Below you will find an explanation of the purpose of every component and how it can benefit the performance of a PC. 

 
Processor Motherboard Memory
CPU Cooler Graphics Cards Storage
Case PSU Optical Media
 
Processor

The processor, also known as the CPU, is the heart of a PC, and is where all the calculations are performed. Unlike other components (such as memory, storage etc.), upgrading a processor at a later stage can be difficult and expensive. Consider your current and future performance requirements when choosing.

AMD Vs Intel - This is a common question that we are asked on a regular basis. Intel currently has very good performance with its excellent 8th generation "Coffee Lake" processors, and the new 9th generation processors which include the latest i5, i7 and i9 models, and the "K" series are highly overclockable and achieve remarkable performance, though intel processors can be a little expensive. AMD also currently have a very nice performing range of processors known as the Ryzen series, which include the Ryzen 3, 5, 7 and Threadripper, whilst not quite up there with the intel processors they still perform very admirably whilst giving excellent value for money. With today’s performance figures between processors it really is down to personal preference and budget as to what processor you opt for, you do need to bear in mind that processor choice will effect which motherboards you can use in your build.

CPU frequency -The frequency of the CPU, usually measured in GHz, this shows the speed of the internal core of the CPU. the higher the number the faster the processor can perform calculations; however, this is only one performance indicator for processors, you should also look at the cache and the number of cores a CPU has.

Cache - Used by the central processing unit of a computer to reduce the average time to access memory. The cache is a smaller, faster memory which stores copies of the data from the most frequently used main memory locations.

Multi Cores & Hyper threading - The more cores a CPU has the more tasks or calculations a processor will be able to perform simultaneously, it is not uncommon to find processors with 4, 6 or 8 cores as standard, some high end CPU's like the AMD Threadripper, and Intel i9 and Xeon processors have up to 18 cores.

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Motherboard

The motherboard is the main board inside a PC which all the other components connect to. It determines the type of components that can be supported by the system and the overall performance of the system. Things to consider are:

Chipset - This is the central controller that controls all the communication between the various components inside the PC. Below the various chipsets of the latest motherboards and supported processors are outlined:

Chipset Summary Supported Processor Socket
Z97 Perfomance level Chipset 4th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 {Haswell) LGA 1150
H110 Entry level Chipset 6th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Sky lake) LGA 1151 100 Series (Sunrise Point)
B150 Entry level Chipset 6th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Sky lake) LGA 1151 100 Series (Sunrise Point)
Q150 Mid level Chipset 6th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Sky lake) LGA 1151 100 Series (Sunrise Point)
H170 Mid level Chipset 6th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Sky lake) LGA 1151 100 Series (Sunrise Point)
Q170 Perfomance level Chipset 6th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Sky lake) LGA 1151 100 Series (Sunrise Point)
Z170 Perfomance level Chipset 6th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Sky lake) LGA 1151 100 Series (Sunrise Point)
B250 Entry level Chipset 7th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Kaby lake) LGA 1151 200 Series (Union Point)
Q250 Entry level Chipset 7th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Kaby lake) LGA 1151 200 Series (Union Point)
H270 Mid level Chipset 7th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Kaby lake) LGA 1151 200 Series (Union Point)
Q270 Perfomance level Chipset 7th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Kaby lake) LGA 1151 200 Series (Union Point)
Z270 Perfomance level Chipset 7th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Kaby lake) LGA 1151 200 Series (Union Point)
Z370 Enthusiast level Chipset 8th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Coffee lake) LGA 1151 300 Series (Cannon Point)
H310 Entry level Chipset 8th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Coffee lake) LGA 1151 300 Series (Cannon Point)
B360 Entry level Chipset 8th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Coffee lake) LGA 1151 300 Series (Cannon Point)
H370 Mid level Chipset 8th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Coffee lake) LGA 1151 300 Series (Cannon Point)
Q370 Perfomance level Chipset 8th Generation Intel i3, i5 & i7 (Coffee lake) LGA 1151 300 Series (Cannon Point)
Z390 Enthusiast level Chipset 9th Generation Intel i5, i7 & i9 LGA 1151 300 Series (Cannon Point)
970 Entry level Chipset AMD Phenom II, Athlon II, Sempron, FX AM3+
990X Mid level Chipset AMD Phenom II, Athlon II, Sempron, FX AM3+
990FX Perfomance level Chipset AMD Phenom II, Athlon II, Sempron, FX AM3+
X470 Enthusiast level Chipset AMD Ryzen 3, 5 & 7 AM4
X370 Enthusiast level Chipset AMD Ryzen 3, 5 & 7 AM4
B450 Perfomance level Chipset AMD Ryzen 3, 5 & 7 AM4
B350 Perfomance level Chipset AMD Ryzen 3, 5 & 7 AM4
A320 Mid level Chipset AMD Ryzen 3, 5 & 7 AM4
X399 Enthusiast level Chipset AMD Threadripper TR4
Note 1: whilst the above table does not include every chipset available, it will give you a feel for the most commonly used chipsets in a modern PC and their supported processors.
Note 2: whilst intel Skylake & Kabylake Processors use the LGA1151 socket, they are electrically incompatible with Coffee lake and later motherboards.

Memory slots - For maximum upgradeability you should look out for a board that has four memory slots or more.

M.2 Support - Not all motherboards support M.2, if you wish to use this standard of solid state drive you need to check that the motherboard has M.2 Support.

Onboard Video - Some motherboards have built-in graphics cards (onboard graphics). Higher spec boards often do not have an onboard graphics as a dedicated graphics card is used on higher performance system, if you wish to use two graphics cards in SLI or Crossfire mode you need to check that the motherboard supports this function.

PCI-E connections - Check that the motherboard has enough slots to meet your current and future requirements.

Rear connections - Check that the motherboard has enough connections of the right type to suit your needs.

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System Memory

The System memory, also known as RAM, is a vital component used in a computer to store data temporarily for fast access. It is one of the most important components as it will give you an instant noticeable performance increase, you will be able to have more programs loaded at the same time, and switching between them would be instantaneous.

How much RAM do I need? - Usually the more RAM installed in a PC the better, we would recommend no less than 8GB for a basic everyday home system running Windows 10, and 16GB for an everyday multimedia and gaming system, for a heavy-duty media manipulation or VR gaming system, you should be looking at 32GB to 64GB or more if budget allows. One thing you don't want is your computer slowing down and micro freezing because it has to use a hard drive swap file due to lack or RAM.

Corsair RAM - All of our custom built computers are supplied with Corsair RAM as standard unless the customer specifically requests a different brand of RAM in their build, Corsair RAM modules are high-performance memory modules that handle being over-clocked very well, with higher speeds and lower latencies. Corsair memory modules kits are perfectly matched and tested together by Corsair before leaving their factory. Corsair are renowned in the gaming community and IT industry for their high quality and performance system memory.

Ram Speed - RAM speed is measured in Megahertz (MHz), millions of cycles per second, so that it can be compared to your processor's clock speed, Generally the faster the speed of your RAM, the faster your processor can read and write to the RAM in your system, that said your processor and motherboard has to be able to support the RAM speed used, common RAM speeds used in today’s systems are: 2133, 2400, 2666, 2800, 3000, 3200 MHz. A general rule of thumb providing your processor and mother board support it, is buy the fastest ram you can afford, particularly in high performance computers.

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CPU Cooler

The CPU cooler is essential for maintaining a cool and stable processor, and in turn a stable computer.

For everyday home or office use PC's the standard manufacturers CPU cooler will probably be fine in most cases, if you are using a PC in extreme environments (tropical regions), overclocking the processor, or using the PC for heavy duty application where the processor is consistently under heavy loads (60% or more processor load) then it would be beneficial to upgrade the CPU cooler from the standard cooler supplied by manufacturers.

There are a huge range of aftermarket CPU cooling options available, these range from larger aftermarket air cooled units, sealed closed loop systems, all the way through to bespoke custom designed and built open loop liquid cooling systems using flexible or rigid pipework with multiple radiators and coolant reservoirs, there really is a CPU cooling upgrade option to suite every budget and requirement.

Benefits of upgrading CPU cooler:

  • Lower CPU temperatures result in a more reliable and stable CPU.
  • Exessive heat is your CPU's enemy, by keeping temeratures down you will increase the life of your CPU.
  • Improves airflow throughout the case and lowers the general temperature inside the case.
  • Reduces noise compared to standard CPU cooler supplied by manufacturer (liquid cooling systems are far quieter and more efficient).
  • Improves the looks of your system internally.
  • Most modern CPU coolers have internal RGB lighting systems that can be co-ordinated with your system RGB scheme.

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Graphics Cards

There are currently two graphics card chipset manufacturers, NVIDIA and AMD, both of which offer separate platforms that allow multiple graphics cards to run on one system providing the motherboard and graphics cards being used support this function.

With NVIDIA graphics cards, SLI platform is used, providing users with the option to link two, three or four graphics cards together to provide up to a 300% performance increase in certain games.

With AMD graphics cards, Crossfire platform is used, providing users with the option to link multiple graphics cards to provide up to a 200% performance increase in certain games.

When choosing a Graphics card for your computer, it is important to ensure your graphics card is well matched to your processor and motherboard, this will reduce issues such as bottlenecking at the PCI-E slot because the processor cannot handle the speed throughput, or graphic card slowdowns, for example there is no point running the latest Nvidia RTX2080TI card on an old A6 or Athlon based computer, it will slow the card down, will not use it to its full potential and just be a waste of your money.

It is also important to set the graphics cards up correctly, you may not be experiencing games the way developers intended if you are running them on low resolutions. Being able to max out the resolution and quality settings whilst still pushing high frame rates with no stutters and micro freezes can completely transform your gaming experience, so the right graphics card and it's configuration is crucial for playing the latest games.

The latest graphics cards all support DirectX 12, which is natively supported by Windows 10. If you are a keen gamer or you're looking for a future-proof system you should invest in the best graphics card that you can afford to buy.

Which card do you recomend? For value for money and performance we regularly recommend Nvidia GTX980TI's, GTX1050TI's, and GTX1060's as mid-range well priced cards, or if your budget can stretch then GTX1070TI's, GTX1080TI's, or the new high performance RTX2070TI's or RTX2080TI's, though it is largely down to customer preference and budget.

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Storage

The storage is your computers long term memory and comes in the form of hard drives, the hard drives are responsible for storing all your data, but their performance can also affect the loading times of software and files. Here are a number of things to consider when deciding on your ideal hard drive set up:

Amount of space required - The most basic computers are now supplied with at least a 500GB hard drive (HDD), we recommend a minimum of 1TB simply because the price has dropped right down and in many cases 1 or 2 TB is in fact cheaper than 500GB! 1TB capacity is plenty for most average users.

Number of drives - It is a good idea to specify at least 2 drives, how this works is that the Operating System can be installed on the primary HDD, and your data gets saved on the secondary HDD. This would keep your data safe in the event that the Operating System needs to be re-installed.

SSD drives - These offer the ultimate in loading times for your Operating System and games. They contain no moving parts, therefore are less susceptible to physical shock and run much quieter. The price per GB is much higher compared to regular HDD's, but a 250GB or 500GB SSD is more affordable nowadays and would be ideal as the main drive where the OS and software are installed.

M.2 SSD - These are the latest standard of SSD drive, they do not require a power connection, SATA data cable or mounting point in the computer case because they connect to and attach directly to the motherboard, they are slightly more expensive than standard SSD drives, but the advantages are pretty obvious providing your motherboard supports M.2.

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Case

The case houses all the components of your computer, it's design and size are an important consideration, not just from an aesthetic point of view. The case has an important part to play in terms of ventilation and the overall temperature of the inside of the system. High-end cases have large dimensions and plenty of internal case fans for maximum air flow, and that's the case you should consider if opting for a high-spec SLI or Crossfire system. The more basic cases only have one internal case fan and much smaller dimensions, they are ideal for more basic systems that do not require as much heat to be dispersed. 

There are a few things to consider when choosing a case, they are as follows:

  • What motherboard standard will you be using? (E-ATX, ATX, Mini-ATX or Micro ATX) for example an E-ATX board will not fit in a Micro-ATX cube, but a Micro-ATX board will fit in a full tower case.
  • What kind of graphics card will you be using in your computer, and How many? (SLI or Crossfire, two cards or more, and how big are they? Is the chosen case big enough?)
  • What CPU cooling will be used? Liquid cooling? Custom liquid cooling? After market air cooling? Is there space for radiators and reseviors, or is the case deep enough for an after market air cooler?
  • Do you want cable management for a nice clean look? Does your chosen case supprt cable management?
  • Do you want to show it off or will it be hidden under a desk?
  • Do you want RGB lighting in the case?
  • Do you need front USB, microphone & speaker ports?
  • What is your budget?
  • Will the case accomodate your future upgrade plans?

Getting your case choice right at the very start of a build will save you a lot of hassle, time, money and heartache later down the road when you want to carry out upgrades on your computer, not to mention it will keep your components cool and free from dirt and dust.

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Power Supply

The Power Supply Unit (PSU) supplies power to the system's components, having enough power ensures a reliable and stable system. The most power demanding components are graphics cards.

When choosing a PSU for your computer, it is good practice to choose a power supply with a slightly higher power ratting than you currently require, this will allow for future upgrades. when we custom build computers we always calculate the power loading of the system on the power supply, and provide a surplus of a minimum of 100 watts on the power supply we fit.

As with everything relating to computers, and power supplies are no different, there are many different types of power supply at varying different levels of quality and power output, our advice to any customer in relation to power supplies is purchase the most reliable and high quality power supply that you can afford, when it comes to power supplies you really do get what you pay for, if you go cheap you could end up with a power starved constantly crashing system, that may end up with damaged components, but buy a good quality 80+ Gold or platinum 750 watt full modular power supply, and your system will run like a dream with all that good quality power, with the added built in benefit of surge protection looking after your components.

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Optical Media

Before deciding to have an optical drive in your computer you need to consider whether you really need one, for example are your games and software on the cloud or steam platform so get downloaded from the internet? Do you make home videos that get burned to DVD's or Blu-ray Disks? Do you need to rip your DVD or Blu-ray collection to a NAS drive for home media streaming? Does you chosen case have external 5.25" drive bays to support an optical drive?

If answering the above questions you decide you do need an optical drive, there a couple of options open to you:

The latest type of optical drive is the Blu-ray drive which brings the next generation of optical drive format to your PC. With a Blu-ray disk drive you get the following benefits:

  • Large storage capacity: With a maximum storage capacity of 50GB on one dual layer Blu-ray disc
  • High Definition picture quality: Full High Definition Progressive (1920x1080p) capabilities
  • Uncompressed surround sound (better than theatre-quality sound)
  • New breakthroughs in hard coating technologies - stronger resistances to scratches and finger prints
  • Backwards compatible with DVDs and CD ROMS

If you feel that a Blu-ray drive is over kill for your needs, there is always the DVDRW drives which are available at very reasonable prices.

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