How do you choose your hardware? Not what but how?

Discussion in 'General Hardware' started by russelluke, Sep 5, 2011.

  1. russelluke

    russelluke Geek Trainee

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    Hi and thanks for taking the time. If this thread seems too long to bother, then you can focus on the headings to get straight to the just of it.

    My knowledge of PC hardware is basic and I want to attempt to build my first PC which will be a gaming PC. I've being trying to learn as much as I can in my spare time about PC hardware and the first thing I always notice is the sheer range of models and brands to choose from, which seems even simple compared to trying to understand the differences in the types of technologies used in each. I don't just want to end up with the final product of a good gaming PC suited to my use and budget, but also the understanding of why each component was chosen and how they made the cut. I'm hoping I don't first have to get a computer science degree. So I was thinking there must be a higher level logical and understandable aspect to how hardware components are chosen, that once learned, can apply to most other builds.

    My question is this:
    What are the step by step choices that are made in an order of priority when building a custom PC and the thought processes behind those choices?

    Further details:
    From the articles I've read on line so far it seems that the motherboard is the most important component since every other component will connect through the MOBO. The CPU seems to take second priority. I'm not sure though. But if this is correct then I assume that the chipset is actually the first thing one should look at since it is what primarily defines the technology a motherboard will support. Also when trying to wrap my head around the different CPU names, brands and architectures I noticed that there is a logical order to it all, although an unmentioned one. For example on the Asus website the motherboards are categorized and grouped in the following order: First by the CPU brand. Second, by the CPU socket type. Third, by the chipset. Fourth, by the model number. So there are at least three important things to consider first before actually getting to the specific model of motherboard you select. Three things which can probably form one aspect of deciding on the chipset of your choice(I'm not sure if that's correct, if not please correct me). Where as this is not reflected in on line articles or reviews, possibly because of practical reasons concerning the length. Although I have not been able to find any in depth articles that can explain PC hardware on a higher level. Most just amass a bin of tech jargon and very specific components that will not matter much a year or two from the writing, as if the reader is already clued up and in possession of perfect memory to just consider different hardware models without being able to fit it into any kind of logical and conceptual structure. Is anyone willing to address a complete dummy like me :) hopefully you will be able to shed some light on this. Not just about chipsets or CPU brands and socket types but in as far as you can about the whole process of what to consider and how to consider it when choosing your hardware. Maybe you even have a few relevant link ;) If all goes well I will do my best to share whatever I've learned so your time will not be wasted.

    Would really appreciate some help and overall insight. Thanks.
    Sniper likes this.
  2. russelluke

    russelluke Geek Trainee

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    While I'm waiting for a response let me say that I'm hoping to use the information I learn about hardware and custom built PC's to put together a guide, probably first as an online article and then maybe on my own website. The website I plan to make if all goes well will be a site that will allow users to custom build their own PC's with only basic knowledge of PC hardware and even educate them a little as they put together their selections. It will prompt them with questions about their needs, then display a list of possible options based on performance, reliability/quality and budget. Then it will ask them to input prices at which they can attain these components where ever they are in the world. The will be able to choose just one option from the first stage or ten or whatever number available in the list and so they won't have to find prices for every option. Then it will take them to the next stage and more question based on the selections and prices from the previous step. In this way they will work their way through stages from the very bottom, as in Intel or AMD, chipset, CPU, whatever all the way up to specific models and enclosures.

    I think this would be a valuable site, not just in terms of profit, which I don't mind considering if theirs room for that(I gota eat too right) but just in general by giving people more options that are suited as close as possible to their needs and budget, and most importantly by allowing novices who would otherwise be scared away from the task of building a custom PC a chance to get into something exciting without first wasting tons of money on wrong selections and improper understanding.

    So again, any input or insight at all would be appreciated.

  3. Wildcard

    Wildcard Big Geek

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    What I do first when trying to choose components is 1) decide the purpose of the computer (gaming, school work, or things like video editing or 3d rendering, etc) and then 2)How much can I spend on it.

    Once I know those 2 things, I can start looking for the different components with those ideas in mind. I personally look for the processor first, because once you know what you need for that, you can then start looking for a system board with the correct socket type for it and then the rest of the components sort of follow that.

    For the CPU - if its for gaming, I really do not need more than a dual core at this time, as most games do not make use of multiple cores right now (hopefully someday they will :D ), but if I need something for heavy number crunching with data bases or video editing/rendering, or 3d stuff like lightwave or autocad, the more cores the better! Being able to render with more cores goes much faster with a quad core over a dual core. Also processor speed is a factor too, if its for gaming I look at the games out there and what is recommended for the newest games and try to get at least that speed so that the processor can last for a few years. Also for a processor, the more level 1 and 2 cache(and lvl 3) the better. Once again though, it comes down to price, because more cores, faster speed, and more cache memory cost more money. When you determine this stuff, research the chips out there. AMD and Intel have many chips with similar statistics, so it can come down to price at that point or other people's reviews on newegg and tigerdirect to see how they liked them and if they seem to have a lot of defects or not. I have used both AMD and Intel and do not have a preference between them. Once you choose a processor, this tells you the socket type that you will need to look for in a motherboard.

    For the motherboard - The first thing to look at is the socket type for the processor you want. Then start going through the available boards out there. The next thing you need to look at is the size of the motherboard (also called the form factor). Not all motherboards will fit in all cases. Full and mid size towers should be able to handle an ATX size board or micro atx board, but a small or micro atx computer case would only be able to fit a micro atx system board into it. At this point, you would also need to determine what you want for the rest of the computer such as, do you want onboard video or want a discrete card (one that plugs into an expansion slot on the system board), do you want to be able to run multiple video cards in SLI or Crossfire mode, do you want onboard audio or an expansion card, what type of ram (speed and amount; DDR2 or DDR3, how much will the board support, and how much can go into any one slot), do you need PCI slots, AGP port, HDMI, how many USB ports do you want, do you need Esata, etc. Thats why its good to determine what the computer will be used for ahead of time so you can work this stuff out. In my opinion, just get what you need, with enough extra for some expansion if you think you will want in at some point down the road. Once I determine the above stuff, I start looking at what boards are out there that will fit my needs. When I find some, I look at the reviews to see what other customer experiences have been. I do look at brands, too, I tend to stay away from ones I have never heard of before and go for ones that have been around for a while and give good service if there are problems (like Asus, MSI, EVGA, and others.. I even took a chance with ASRock and that board is still going strong after 5 years)... so just do your homework once you find a board you like and read up on it just to be sure.

    The next thing I would look at is RAM. The rule I follow for RAM is get as much as you can afford, but with one caveat... if you are running a 32 bit operating system, do not get more than 4GBs of ram as the operating system will not recognize or use the excess. When you are picking ram, check the requirements on the motherboard to see which type (DDR, DDR2, or DDR3) is supported, and the speeds/frequency it supports. As the number go up on the DDR, the faster it will be (I do not worry about the timings at this point, if you get into overclocking thats when those will really start to matter).Use that as a frame work for picking the RAM, and once you have that, you can start looking at manufacturer, cost, etc. Once again, read the reviews for the RAM you want, see if they fail alot or what the customer feedback is like (I would be more apt to buy something that has over 300 positive newegg reviews with 50 negative than I would one that has 5 good reviews only and nothing else).

    The next thing would be video - If you use onboard video, it should be fine for web surfing, MS office, and some dvd watching and such, but you have to realize that integrated video is going to use your computer's RAM to work, so you will have less RAM available for other things. (The same actually goes for onboard audio too I believe). If you want to do gaming (like Left for Dead or Call of Duty, or other graphic intensive games) you need to get a discrete video card with its own RAM and GPU chipset to get the best performance. You need to decide price especially for this as cards can be as cheap as 20 dollars up to 1000's of dollars depending if its a workstation type card for autocad or a card for gaming or for just normal use. Workstation cards, like quadro cards by Nvidia or ATI Fire gl cards will work well for autocad and maya but kind of bad for gaming. Based on the expansion slots on the motherboard, you can determine what kind of card to look for. If you have an AGP slot, you would want to buy an AGP video card, PCIe 16x or 2.0 slots mean you can buy the newer PCIe cards. (If you get a PCIe2.0 card you can use it in a PCIe 16x slot because the cards should be backwards compatible, it just will not run as fast as it could be running because it downgrades its bandwidth to match the slot). If you only have PCI expansion slots on your board, you can buy a PCI video card (not PCIexpress one!!). If you are looking for a gaming card, you need to be aware of the resolution you want to be able to play at, what version of direct X your operating system has or can run (winxp is like 9.0c, Vista 10, and win 7 is direct x 11). Newer cards can go into older operating systems as long as there are drivers for them, and even if the card supports say direct x 11, you can still use it in winxp with direct X 9 with no problems) and how much RAM you want on the card. The more RAM the better, however the more RAM the more expensive it is :O ! Another thing you need to consider about video cards is if it needs extra power (many newer cards require you to plug in 6 pin connectors in order for the card to run) so be aware of this when looking for cards. Also, once you have a general price range and idea of the kind you want, look at reviews and charts for the cards - you can find performance charts that show how well the card does at different resolutions and with different settings, and use that and the price to find one that fits your need. One last thing you need to be aware of is the size of the card... will it physically fit inside your computer case. Some video cards are massive, some are not. Some cards are made for a low profile (thin) case, and others are more normal size.

    The other major component is the power supply. You need to choose a power supply that can power all of your devices, including video, hard drive, disk drives, USB peripherals, CPU, etc. You can find wattage calculators that can assist you with this. One that I have found that seems pretty accurate is

    Do not skimp on the power supply cost wise, as it is the lifeblood of your computer. If you buy a cheap one or one that comes with a case, chances are it is made with not so great parts and will not last long and could cause troubles for other parts of the computer down the line. Big B wrote a good sticky for power supplies in the power supply section of the forum that you should read for more info for picking a PSU.

    There is still the case to consider as well as fans, cpu cooling, monitors, keyboards and mice, hard drives and optical drives and such, but for now the best advice is to research the components, read reviews, and only buy want you actually need, do not buy things they you may never use or need (that is the benefit of building your own computer).
    russelluke and Sniper like this.
  4. M_Kincy

    M_Kincy Geek

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    wildcard seems to have hit all the major points. a few things that come to mind other than what they mentioned. I always research on e-tailer websites that do a lot of bussiness like new egg. the broader sample you can get with reviews the better. I would much prefer to know what 1000+ reviewers think of the product than just a few.

    Also, while i am researching i have the website sort by price high to low. I look at the highest price products in a certain class to determine "why is this the highest price" generaly you will find that the higher priced items have features that the lower priced items may not. I determine what those features are called, then do a google search for that feature to determine what the benifits are and if i actually need it. If i do need it, i then search low-midrange priced items to find the same features in a more affordable product.

    If i find myself torn between two items i try to find reviews where someone has placed them both in a head to head benchmark. for instance if you were to do a google search for "990x vs core i7 2600k" you will find some pretty shocking benchmark results that show a $300 proccessor running at the same performance and in some test even out performing a $1000 processor.
    a good source for this type of research is at this site you can look at head to head benchmarks of cpu's, graphics cards and ssd drives.

    Researching higher priced items features will lead to some good, interesting and very informative reading. noteable searches that come to mind are.
    "socket 1366 vs 1156 vs 1155"
    "nf200 chip"
    "sli vs 3-way sli vs 4-way sli"
    "active pfc"
    "80 plus gold certified"
    "Dual channel vs tripple channel ram"
    "Dual lan adapter teaming"
    "intel smart responce"
    "what are the benifits of using an ssd boot drive"
    "are ssd drives reliable"
    "what is trim for ssd"
    "amd bulldozer"
    "intel ivy bridge"
    "pcie 3.0"
    "uefi bios"
    "sata ii vs sata iii"
    "usb 2.0 vs usb 3.0"

    and then of course you have to answer the two classic questions.
    Nvidia or Ati/Amd? on most systems its simply a matter of personal preference untill you get into the high end work station class. at that point all of the major software developers favor nvidia and implement thier cuda technology.
    Amd or Intel? Intel does charge a premium, why? because they are the industry leader. If Intel releases a new technology today, the Amd follow-up release in a few months will be intended as a direct competitor to the Intel product that is now a few months old. And unfortunately its always lacking in performance capabilities when matched against the Intel product it was meant to compete with. Meanwhile, Intel is on to smaller and better things.
  5. russelluke

    russelluke Geek Trainee

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    About the question I posed.

    Well I think I've made some good progress thanks to Wildcard, M_Kincy and a few more articles, videos and reviews.

    So the most important thing if I'm correct, or getting close, is the purpose of the computer which will determine primarily how many cores you'll require as the number of cores above all else seems to be the major factor that will determine the cost(in general of course :))

    So the three major branches of usage that dictate the most how many cores are worth getting are; gaming, video editing and office work. Right? Since video editing and design software such as CAD are some of the only things that would justify getting more than four cores since there aren't any games that use more than four and allot that don't use all four. For office work, anything above a dual core is unnecessary, with a dual core providing the added benefit of being able to use multiple applications smoothly or running anti virus software that can be a bit taxing on the system while not costing significantly more than a single core system.

    Some further thoughts

    So if it took that much work to narrow down such a general guideline between three very general system types, I'm thinking maybe the idea I had of being able to fit everything into a neat type of algorithm to make these decisions for you might have been too optimistic of me :)

    Throwing that idea aside, I think there's still a general rule that can be observed when looking at hardware prices, in that it seems the more generic and common you use is(that is the purpose of the PC i.e gaming, office, etc) the more cost effective your hardware will be, where as the more your uses deviates from commonality, (such as if your a scientist using some rare custom made software) the less cost effective it will be, as you might have to pay considerably more money for a few more cores or some extra chipset feature. So... in each category of use, at any point in time, there must always be a certain sweet spot so to speak or an ideal set of hardware that maximizes value for money that can be identified thereby allowing you the opportunity to make a fundamental decision between either getting the most value for money(while adequately catering for your needs) or compromising to make your system fit your budget(if that budget happens to be below the sweet spot). This would be fundamental to allot of people since I don't think very many people out there actually know how much money they want to spend or can spend on a system except for the select few who do actually account for how the spend their earnings closely enough to put a figure down in pen(and even if they do they may still want to know whether or not that figure is worth spending based on their needs). Aside from that it also will determine whether or not they should wait(I mean save their money till the next month or the following so they can spend more if needed). If all that is correct, then a site which identifies these sweet spots in these three or more general categories on a regular enough basis would be worth looking into right? Also withing the same general categories of use, it should be able to identify next steps in value for money(or less valuable sweet spots), either below the budget of the main sweet spot(if you can't afford) or above it(if you have a little extra but still don't want to waste that extra). If that makes sense... :D

    I definitely think that should be achievable. The only glitch in that design of a perfect site would be that it take away too much work from the user who decides to build his own rig on a large part because of the thrill of being able to decide what he/she wants. This is solved closely enough by implementing the same idea as mentioned previously, allowing the user to compare prices at which they can attain the components that's been preselected for a certain number of builds and/or budget and decide for themselves based simply on the price available to them as it can vary, based on location, even for e-shoppers considering delivery charges(if their looking low enough down the price range).

    But I don't know, just thinking out loud and hope I'm getting close.

    About my current selection for my gaming rig so far(tell me if you think it's worth it and how to improve)

    I'm looking at the Intel i5 2500K CPU. It has four physical cores, it's based on the latest Intel microarchitecture i.e Sandy Bridge and It has good overclocking capabilities while being competitively priced. Now that I've decided(I think) on the CPU, I need to decide between the P67 and the Z68 chipset of which the main difference seems to be that fact that the Z68 has support for GPU overclocking while the P67 doesn't. I guess that means I should start narrowing in on a graphics card of which I think is safe to say I will only be needing one. I've had my eye on one from an online auction which is an XFX NVIDIA GeForce GTX 260 896MB 448bit CORE 576Mhz DDR3 CORE EDITION SLI Ready. I've been tolled it's really good and the bid price seems well worth it, but I'm wondering if it's more than I need for gaming being that it has SLI which I won't be needing. I'm also wondering whether overclocking the CPU + GPU would make enough of a difference to justify it and whether it would be cost effective since I might need liquid cooling. So, if this CPU chipset and Graphics card is the right choice for value for money(considering I will be using this for the next couple of years probably) then I how do I figure out what power supply is sufficient once I narrow in on the exact motherboard, drives and ram?
  6. Wildcard

    Wildcard Big Geek

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    The CPU and the graphics card you are looking at are both good ones. The one thing I would bring up about that video card though, especially if you want to use it for games for several years, is that it does not appear to support direct x 11, which is the newest standard that came out with Windows 7. Now, most games these days do not run that yet, most are 10 or below, (according to Nvidia that card supports direct x 10). The newer versions of Direct X allow for better visuals and graphics in games, sometimes the difference between different versions is not much, other times (depending on the game) the difference is quite a lot. If that is not a big deal to you, then I would say go for it because it is a nice card and should do well with today's games. If you want to be able to use dirX11, though, you will need to look at a newer card that can support it. As for SLI, usually it is the motherboard that matters for that. Most nvidia cards that come out now are SLI ready, but if the mother board does not support it then it will not work. So I guess what I am saying about SLI is do not avoid a card because it says it is SLI ready, you are not really paying for anything extra because of it. :)

    Once you settle on the cpu, ram, board, video card, and other devices like drives and peripherals, you can use a wattage calculator to determine the minimum size power supply you need. Here is one that will help you calculate what you may need -

    Once you do that, it gives you a rough idea of what you should be looking at, but it may be good to get one a little over what it tells you just to be safe. Also, whatever video card you choose, check to see what the vendor recommends for a minimum power supply and get at least that much if this calculator is under it. Also, like mentioned before, go for a good quality power supply (check out BigB's sticky about power supplies in that section of the forum for some good quality ones). The wattage is only one part, the other is the power supplies ability to give consistant power on the rails. Cheaper power supplies are cheaper because they use low cost parts and tend to be less efficient and not as good, even if they say they have the wattage you need, they are actually wasting a lot of electricity as heat and not providing the stated wattage (this is because they are less efficient).
  7. ryjal

    ryjal Geek Trainee

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    Hello, first off russel just wanted to say, take heed to what wildcard said about the gtx 260 card you're thinking about getting, that card was released like 3 years ago and it is old news, you definitely want to look at some newer better performing cards with dx11 capablilty, especially since you plan on getting the i5 2500k cpu, cause when it comes to gaming the gpu is more important than the cpu, will give you a good idea of what card to get along with the prices, hell i myself was actually thinking about getting the i5 2500k, but i decided to go with the amd phenom II x4 cores at 3.2ghz with the potential to be overclocked for $112 around 100 bucks less than the i5-2500k, so that i could get a decent card like the hd 6870 which is going to run me $175.

    Now i came across this thread couple days ago, which has been pretty helpful, but just like the op i'am a beginner, so this is going to be my first custom build and i'am atm stuck on which mobo to get, because i'am finding it difficult to find one without integrated graphics, only thing i need integrated is the sound and networking. I'll be getting a amd phenom II x4 955 cpu, which is a am3 socket, I'm on a pretty tight budget, around $750 for just the tower and internal components. So i need to find a mobo between $50-100, something that is proving difficult to say the least,mainly because all the amd am3 mobo i'm finding have integrated graphics and sli/crossfire capablilty. Something i do not need. This is going to be mainly for gaming, games such as rift, and swtor/guild wars 2 when they come out. I won't be using more than one vid card, so don't need crossfire/sli capability, but a mobo with overclocking and the ability to unlock all cpu cores to full potential is a must, room to maybe add a ssd later down the road would be a plus. Basicly just need a mobo that'll fit my amd phenom II processor (125w) a Sapphire Radeon HD 6870 1GB DDR5 DL-DVI-I / SL-DVI-D / HDMI / DP PCI-Express Graphics Card, a cd-rom and hdd, nothing spectacular. Any advice/suggestions on model's to look at would be greatly appreciated. Thx :p

    Edit- forgot to add the type of ram i plan on using :p
    2x4gb 1600mhz DDR3, 2 ram slots is all that's needed, dont plan on ever needing more than 8gb of ram...........
  8. russelluke

    russelluke Geek Trainee

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    About the GTX 260 graphics card

    Thank you to Wildcard and ryjal for saving me allot of cash! I took heed and even sort some further feedback from a youtube hardware reviewer about the card and it is definately not what I want(I think:confused:). No wonder the bid price was so low(I didn't bid BTW) :)

    By far the hardest thing for me to wrap my head around is still graphics. It seems to take as much effort to make a right choice as all the other components combined, for me at least. I think I got too concerned with specifications and neglected the research I should have applied. The GPU direct x support I should have figured for myself lol, it's in plain sight on crysis2 system requirements for texture packs :)

    One thing I'm particularly curious about is SLI. I don't even know where to start.

    About the CPU(AMD or Intel?)

    I been spending some time trying to decipher Intel's CPU branding structure and in the process found that microarchitecture(the architecture of the CPU) is an important factor for reasons of performance, efficiency and therefore overclockability(if that's a word) amongst other reasons.

    Since I've already decided that I want to give overclocking a shot, I was previously concerned about cooling methods and the costs involved. It seems that the new Sandy Bridge microarchitecture which is based on the 32nm manufacturing process(compared to 45nm of the previous generation Intel Nehalem and also AMD 10h microarchitecture) makes a big difference temperatures (and performance Hz for Hz,) amongst other factors that basically allow the 2500K to be overclocked up to 5.1 GHz at a vcore(voltage) of 1.3 on air-cooling in one instance I came across on a forum(amongst many similar ones) I haven't really had time to research overclocking with some of the new AMD CPU's but I gave some thought to AMD after reading ryjal's post, expecially the Phenom II family of AMD CPU's and I don't really think it's fair to make a comparison between the 2500K and the x4 955 (although I know you weren't comparing those specifically). I did some googling and srcolling down on a few wiki pages and the closest thing I could find to the 2500k with four physical cores and closer matching performance and price(although still below) in the AMD range was the Phenom II x4 980 BE which itself does not compare to the i5. I haven't accounted for overclocking abilities and other factors so I'm not stating any facts but rather asking for further direction as I(or we) try to weigh the options between AMD and Intel. Here are some reviews and stats I found so far: about the question of AMD vs Intel:

    A review of the x4 980 BE
    A page in one review about 2500K and 2600K(there are more pages in that review)
    An attempt to compare CPU's in terms of value for money(not yet sure how reliable it is though)

    So far I think I'm still soled Intel at the present moment in the evolution of computing technology and more specifically on the Sandy bridge and the i5 2500K. As for the Bulldozer the everyone anticipating, I've decided to overlook that for now unless I postpone my build long enough to start considering it.

    About the motherboard

    I thought it would make things easier knowing that the z68 chipset support GPU overclocking and the p67 doesn't, although I just found out that the GPU can be overclocked with software. So back to google for now. I might just settle for p67 based on nothing but price.
  9. vernajane11

    vernajane11 Guest

    The first thing I did is figure out how much you are willing to spend. Before buying your hardware, try to visit a good computer shop in your area and explain what you’d like it to do. Ask about warranties for any parts you buy, and be sure to have them installed by someone who knows how to do it right.
  10. russelluke

    russelluke Geek Trainee

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    It seems the hopes I had when I first started this thread have turned out to be just that, hopes and a bit of dreaming too. I still hope someone will make a site like that though.

    I've settled for an intel Q8400 and intel motherboard with 4GB Ram and a SATAII 1/2TB hard drive simply because it was a luck so I took it and shoved it in an old but sturdy HP Vectra chassis. I also plan to get something like a GTX 460 in a month or two if I can get it cheap but may even settle for something less. I'm actually no looking to set up a cost effective blu-ray media center/server and a software router.
  11. NaturaKoca

    NaturaKoca Geek Trainee

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    The thing is to check out the review and see how people say about the product, then I will start with the cheaper product from that company just to test it out. Then go higher and Now I'm a huge fan of ARCTIC, Consair, ASUS and Sapphire
  12. Big B

    Big B HWF Godfather

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    First you need to determine what you're doing with it.
    Is this a gaming machine? Are you looking to run multiple VMware clients at once? Or, is this just something for grandma to look up recipes?

    Then you look at what budget you have to see where to go with that.
    Some items that can be recycled into the new build include keyboard, mouse, case and monitor. Not always, but those are a better shot than others.

    Look at several different comparable models across a few different manufacturers.
    For example, most companies offer at least several different motherboard models based on the same chipset, and what features they have and what extras are included in the box will make the price vary. There's no sense buying the top-end $300 Z97-based board when you have no plans for a beastly system with water cooling on a board that offers that sort of thing. Definitely read several reviews. If you don't plan to overclock, there's no sense in paying for a K-series CPU either.

    Invest in a quality power supply. Most people do not need a 1500W PSU, and that's fine. However, do not skimp here.

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