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Wanna build your own system? Reading this might help.

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Jan 12, 2002
down at fraggle rock
Well a lot of new people seem to be joining the forums, and many are asking "what parts should I buy to build my own machine?" Now many of us here take for granted the things to look for when we buy components, but I wanted to write down some things newbies should know when they want to build their own machine.

so let's start with the brains, the CPU
Currently Intel is pushing the Pentium 4 line of CPU's. The current high end P4 has a 2.5ghz clock speed and (I think) a 533mhz bus. lower end p4's have a 400mhz system bus. The current High end P4's are running in the $600 range right now, but even a sub-$200 P4 will get you something around 1.7ghz. there are also P4 Xeon CPU's which are very stout server CPU's, usually used in a dual configuration.

AMD is pushing the XP line of processors. basically, AMD wanted to show that clock speed is not everything, so an XP 1700 CPU will run comparably to a 1.7ghz P4 even though its actual clock speed is 1.47ghz. Anyways, here's a quick list of actual Speeds:

XP 2100+: 1.7ghz.
XP 2000+: 1.67ghz
XP 1900+: 1.6ghz
XP 1800+: 1.53ghz
XP 1700+: 1.47ghz
XP 1600+: 1.4 ghz
XP 1500+: 1.33ghz.

AMD also offers a server CPU: the MP, also a very stout CPU, great for duallies. The lower end AMD is the duron, (a 1ghz duron is around $50) and it runs on a 200mhz bus. I run a duron 1ghz, and it's a great budget processor.

When buying CPU's, you should consider whether or not you want to buy retail. Usually when you go to a vendor like www.pricewatch.com, you will see CPU's listed for sale, and the cheaper ones are usually marked as OEM. Basically, these processors do not come with a warranty. If it burns up or gets fried, you're on your own, so you may want to do yourself a favor and spring for the extra few bucks and get a retail processor and some peace of mind.(thanks mbigna)

For your CPU you'll need a heat sink fan
I'd recommend a HSF with a copper base, and a high quality TIM (thermal interface material) like Artic silver.

Alright, next up would be motherboards.

For Intel, there are 3 types of ram that P4 motherboards support: DDR RAM (double data rate) RDRAM (P4's "native" RAM) and SDRAM (synchronous data RAM). Personally, I am not as knowledgeable about the pentium's but I think most Pentium fans here would encourage you to go with a motherboard that supports RDRAM. These motherboards run on a 400mhz bus.

For AMD, there are Motherboards that support either DDR or SDRAM. many support both, but not at the same time (like the ECS k7s5a). The AMD XP boards run on a 266mhz bus. duron motherboards run on a 200mhz bus.

Other things you need to look for: An AGP (accelerated graphics port) slot. Most current AGP slots are 4x or 8x, and this is where your video card will go. An AGP card is going to be much faster than a PCI video card. You should also look at how many PCI slots a motherboard has. PCI slots are where things like your sound card, Modem, Network interface card (NIC) will go. Most good motherboards right now have a 5 or 6 PCI slots.

Do some reading in the motherboard forums to see which brands have a good reputation, It's better to spring for a good motherboard from a reputable maker, since this is the main part of your computer, and a good mobo can totally make or break the quality of a homebuilt computer. There are many different chipsets that different motherboards run on, but frankly i'm not too familiar with them so hopefully somebody here will add on to this with a little chipset advice.

Alright, next up is the video card

There are two big video card makers: ATI and Nvidia. (and some others are coming soon).

The current High end line of NVidia cards is the geforce 4 ti. There are three cards, the ti4200, ti4400, and ti4600. the 4600 is the fastest of those cards, with 128mb of DDR.

the 4400 and 4600 currently have BGA ram (ball grid array) which is faster than regular RAM. the ti4200 is has regular RAM in the 128mb version, and BGA in the 64mb version.

The high end ATI card right now is the 8500. there are 64 and 128mb versions available.

Now, just like CPU's, it's worth the extra money to get a retail card. a retail card is the exact same thing you'll see in a retail store. For ATI cards, if the box says "powered by ATI", it's going to be an OEM card, which will not be clocked as fast as a retail, and the components may be of a lower quality.

For Nvidia, there are some excellent card producers: Gainward (check out the golden samples), ledtek, gigabyte, visiontek, and PNY just to name a few.

Keep in mind that the geforce 4 mx line is basically just a rebadged geforce2, and is a decent budget card, but it does not compare to the TI line of geforce 4's.

video cards are changing so fast that this section will be old soon, but these cards are still decent. One other thing: don't forget to check out some of the previous generation of cards, like a geforce3 or radeon 7500, these cards still run great and can be had for a good price.

make sure you get a video card that supports directx8

alright, on to the RAM

there are 3 current standards here: RDRAM, DDR, and SDRAM.

I'm not going to go into all the details on RAM here, you'll have to do some research to be brought up to speed, but in my opinion, a new machine would run best on a minimum of 256mb of ram. Quality RAM from a brand such as crucial, micron, samsung, or kingston, will be much less trouble-prone than cheapo ram.

next would be the hard drive.

the two speeds on a normal hard drive would be either 5400 or 7200 RPM. of course, there's also SCSI but for most newbies there's probably not a need for a 10000 RPM HD. For hard drives right now, there seems to be a price point around 50 bucks and most HD's don't seem to go below that price. a 20gb HD is around 50 bucks right now, but you can double your capacity for an extra 10-15 bucks. now many people will probably never use that 40gb of storage, but if you're an avid gamer/video camera user/music listener, that extra storage will come in handy. I currently have a 5400 and a 7200rpm HD, and i don't really see a big performance hit on the slower drive, so if you wanna save a few bucks the slower drive won't seem so bad.

you'll also need a cd or dvd drive

this is another area where buying name brand can help. DVD and CDRW drives aren't too expensive right now, and when you buy from a decent brand like Plextor or Toshiba, you can get a lot of good use out of that drive. For a CDRW, i would recommend a minimum of 16x or higher, although the the amount of time it takes a 32x and a 40x drive to burn a cd is not that different, so for most people there's probably no need for that ultra high speed burner. DVD burners are also available, but they're very expensive, as are the blank DVD's, plus there isn't really a single DVD burner standard yet, so you may want to wait before investing in one.

okay, there's also the power supply, or PSU

Please get yourself a quality namebrand PSU, this will keep a good clean stream of power going to your computer. For most machines these days 300watts would just barely cut it, a 350 or 400 watt PSU will be even better....check out brands like enermax, antec, or enlight to mention a few.

Well, hopefully that gives you some ideas of what to look for when you want to build yourself a machine. Here are some other tips that will help you:

Pick yourself up a couple of ball bearing 80mm fans, along with some 3 to 4 pin molex adapters, and set these fans up to get some air moving through your case. the molex adapters will let you plug the fans into the PSU instead of the mobo.

Use one of those 3 to 4 pin molex adapters with an RPM sensor, so you can plug your HSF into the PSU and not your mobo, but still monitor your fan speed.

Determine what your needs are, computer wise. If you just want to do some general web surfing and light OC'ing, you probably don't need a 2.5ghz P4.

Do you plan to OC? if so, make sure that the motherboard you want has decent overclocking options. ask around in the mobo forums to see if the board you want will suit your needs.

Do some research before you decide on a final set of components for your system. Basically it's better to know what you're getting into before you whip out the VISA.

vendors: a great resource for prices is www.pricewatch.com but when you decide on a vendor please check out their rating at www.resellerratings.com to make sure they're reputable. also check out the OC forum thread titled "vendor discussion". You'll quickly learn who you can and can not trust if you do a little reading in that forum.

Well, that's about it for now, basically these are a few of the things it might help to know when you set off to build yourself a system. If you do build that system you've been dreaming about, make sure you read spec_ops guide to building a computer .

anyways, feel free to add your own advice or lemme know if I made a goof anywhere, and good luck!.
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New Member
Jun 1, 2002
Could you tell me the best parts for my money I mean for graphics card and mobo and such like that I am currently going to get an AMD XP 2100 thx


Jan 12, 2002
down at fraggle rock
........depends on what you wanna do with your machine.........

see, the whole reason I wrote this is so that when people ask what they should buy, there's one good thread that'll help clue newbies in on what they should know, instead of trying to go here and there looking for scraps of info.....

Basically my feeling is that you'll be better off educating yourself about hardware, because if I just say "you should buy X" or "you should buy Y" it doesn't really teach people anything. But if you take a few minutes to learn about the stuff you can make up your own mind and learn a thing or two in the process.....
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Senior Member
Dec 20, 2001
Great write up. I smell sticky material here. Where are the mods when you need them.


Sep 24, 2001
Currently Nowhere
I would like to take issue with your recommendation that you always should buy a retail CPU as opposed to OEM.

Personally, the few times I have ever had an OEM CPU go bad within 6 months (if they last longer than 6 months, they will likely last the life of your machine--unless you are O/C'ing them--which voids even a retail warantee), the vendor has always replaced them and never given me a hassle. I've only had one CPU die so late at about 5 months or so. Most CPU's that are bad will arrive DOA. I've received a few that lasted only a few weeks. In any case, all these OEM CPU's were replaced by their respective vendor's.

You pay extra to get a retail CPU and the extra cash goes to packaging and an included (but poor performing) HSF. If you plan on cooling your CPU properly, you will likely spend the money you save by going OEM to buy a 'real' HSF and some good heatsink compound like AS]|[ or Cooling Flow Premium.

[/my 2 cents]


Apr 9, 2002
man thats great info i wish i had refrence material like that to assist me first time i built a system ,many thanks for info i even picked up a few tidbits i didnt know:)