Computer Buying Guide
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Buy the parts from Amazon, Newegg, TigerDirect, etc. (whichever charges less for shipping or lacks tax for you). Build it yourself. It's pretty fun and is rather easy. Look at any online walkthrough and you can pick it up pretty easily. The parts are generally well-designed and fit together like a simple jigsaw puzzle; as long as you don't do something stupid you will not have a problem when building a computer.low pricehigh priceprocessingvideomemoryprocessing multipliervideo multiplierpowerprocessing overclock powervideo overclock powerprocessing overlock multipliervideo overclock multiplier
Download this as an XLS to use it!Also, I sometimes mention reviews, particularly reviews on a 1-5 scale from Newegg. Treat these with a grain of salt; if you want to be sure, always look at a professional review. Video cards and CPUs have many reviews, but reviews for hard drives, motherboards, and power supplies may be harder to track down. Generally, you should only trust user reviews if they are in high numbers. Always read the user reviews in detail to determine for yourself if they are legitimate.
In this guide, the options appear in order of expensiveness and performance/power. For the most low-budget computer, pick option A for everything. For the most powerful computer, pick the last option for everything.(Stock)(Full Overclock)
Safe PSU Wattage:510-663
Put an "X" in the Choice column to mark your choice. The final cost/performance will be calculated from what you picked.Cost includes monitor, mouse and keyboard, etc.(Budget Price)(Luxury Price)
Final Cost:$1,527.00-$2,195.00. . . . . .
OptionChoiceNameCostDescription Not including tax, shipping, other fees, etc.. . . . . .71.3496.8263.75
'Great' describes a computer that is excellent at running computation-heavy applications.Computing Performance:Great8.513870444246.3261296
Case'Exceptional' means that this computer is near the top of the curve in gaming potential.Gaming Performance:Exceptional12.9726624023747270.9096752
AXMedium Tower $40 - $150Make sure it is large enough for your video card and CPU cooler, then after that just go with whichever case fits your fancy and is built decently. Having adequate cooling is important, however, so even if you get a cheap crappy case, make sure it has enough air flow to cool your parts.4015000000400000
BFull Tower$100 - $275If you want lots of hard drives or you will have an extra-large motherboard (ATX-Extended boards are rare, though), or if you just want a huge case to fuel your e-peen, go with the big option. Most builds do NOT need a full tower; a good medium tower will fit even the largest of video cards if you sacrifice a hard drive bay. If you have water cooling, though, you likely need a full tower regardless of your internal components.10027500000800000
AAMD FX-4170$140This is the lowest rung on the guide because lower options would cause this AMD to be obsolete. It is a 4.2 GHz quad core CPU that, frankly, is not the best price-for-performance possible but is at least the best that AMD offers for gaming. Intel offers cheaper processors that give you the better bang for the buck, but that shouldn't be a surprise to anyone experienced in making gaming rigs. This CPU is here for fairness' sake. Be warned: in gaming/general performance, the more expensive Intel processors are in a completely different league.14014034740012541000
BXIntel Core i5-2500K$220This is the tried and true gaming CPU that has stood the test of time. This Sandy Bridge-based processor's performance in video games is phenomenal and is truly difficult to best. It is also competent for workstation applications and difficult computing tasks. The i5 2500K lacks the hyperthreading of the i7 processor lines, but makes up for it with an excellent price.22022045144009555000
CIntel Core i5-3570K$250If you want a bit more performance than the 2500K for a slightly higher price, the 3570K is a good alternative. The 2500K and the 3570K both have pros and cons, as the 3570K is all-around better for computing purposes but can't be overclocked as high as the 2500K can because it runs slightly hotter. This CPU is part of the Ivy Bridge line, meaning its power usage is very low.25025051135007736000
DIntel Core i7-3930K$590This thing eats nearly every other processor for breakfast. This CPU is among the best of the best, not just for gaming but for almost every desktop application out there. 6 cores (12 logical cores with hyperthreading) goes a long way with Intel's superior hardware design. It is also among the best CPUs for enterprise applications, easily outstripping anything AMD has to offer. This is simply the best overall CPU that a power user could want. The i7 3930K is part of the Sandy Bridge-E line, meaning it has additional benefits for system performance at the cost of a more expensive motherboard.5905909014800130108000
ESPECIALLY when buying motherboards, check reviews! On Newegg, you want a motherboard that has 4/5 or 5/5 stars and has at least 5 well-written reviews. 3/5 or below indicates a board with some major issues that you need to do without. Motherboards are extremely annoying to replace (you have to basically rip everything out of the computer), so get it right the first time.
A990FX AM3+$130 - $250If you picked AMD FX-4170 or are getting another AMD processor, then you want an AM3+ board with the 990FX chipset. I suggest that you pick a board with the right quantity of PCI-E 2.0 slots with the right configuration (don't put a video card in a x4 slot; make sure it has x8 at least) and other specifications such as SATA3 slots. Find the cheapest 4/5- or 5/5-rated board with the features you need and buy it. There is a large price range here, so the best way to save money is to get what you need but nothing more.1302505210011015500
BXZ77 LGA 1155$110 - $270If you picked Intel Core i7-2500K or Intel Core i5-3570K, then you want an LGA 1155 board. There are a bunch of northbridge types, but the one you should stick with is Z77. Beyond that, pick the board with the requisite quantity of PCI-E slots (3.0 is better than 2.0 but it doesn't matter that much) with the right configuration (don't put a video card in a x4 slot; make sure it has x8 at least) and other specifications such as SATA3 slots. There is a large price range here, so the best way to save money is to get what you need but nothing more.1102706110011010500
CX79 LGA 2011$215 - $380If you picked the Intel Core i7-3930K, then you must get a LGA 2011 board, of which the only available chipset is X79. Beyond that, pick the board with the requisite quantity of PCI-E 3.0 slots and other specifications such as SATA3 slots. There is a large price range here, so the best way to save money is to get what you need but nothing more because these boards are notoriously expensive. Also, it is worth mentioning that if you want to have 3/4-card SLI/CrossFire setups, the LGA 2011 motherboards and Sandy Bridge-E processors are essential for optimal performance (if not outright mandatory).2153807230011025700
AX8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3 RAM$42 - $65If you are getting an AM3+ or LGA 1155 motherboard, get this. Use any 4/5- or 5/5-rated brand. Get the RAM in the operating frequency that your motherboard takes as its highest non-overclocked level (should be 1866MHz or 1600MHz, perhaps 1333MHz if you have no other choice). 4GB is not enough for power gaming these days and 16GB is overkill, so 8GB is the answer. Don't worry about the timings; you probably won't notice them. Heat spreaders are fairly important, though. Also, make sure you get the RAM in a kit of 2x4GB. 1x8GB is too expensive and does not give your computer the dual-channel speed advantage, while 4x2GB leaves no room for upgrading. There is no reason to recommend overclocked memory or higher-capacity memory for gaming right now, unless you have a quad-channel-capable motherboard/CPU.4265003000105000
B16GB (4 x 4GB) DDR3 RAM$95 - $120If you are getting an X79 LGA 2011 motherboard, this option is essential because of the Sandy Bridge-E quad-channel memory standard. Get the RAM in the operating frequency that your motherboard takes as its highest non-overclocked level (should be 1866MHz or 1600MHz). Don't worry about the timings; you probably won't notice them. Make sure you get the RAM in a kit of 4x4GB. 4x8GB is too expensive and does not give your computer much of an advantage because 16GB is already overkill in terms of capacity for gaming.951200045002010000
AX500GB 7200 RPM HDD$80 - $100Hard drives in general do not vary much between brands, save for the manufacturers' quality assurance thoroughness. Make sure you get a hard disk drive that has a low failure rate; read reviews to see how many people have horror8010000500100000
B1TB 7200 RPM HDD$100 - $140stories of their drives failing. If a drive has too many horror stories per favorable review, do not buy it! Make sure to get a 7200RPM drive. Higher rates are not worth it and lower rates are too slow. You don't have to stick to a particular size,10014000500100000
C2TB 7200 RPM HDD$160 - $220but make sure you don't break your wallet. If you feel like risking it, get multiple of the same type/size of hard drive to use a RAID setup for increased speed. However, this multiplies the chance of hard drive failure by a surprising amount.16022000500100000
D3TB 7200 RPM HDD$180 - $250It is also worth noting that storage drives are often more cost-effective if you buy the larger sizes. If you have the money to expend, get a larger drive because you will get more space for your dollar.18025000500100000
EX128GB / 120GB Crucial M4 / Intel 520 SSD$160 - $170Choose one of these options in addition to Option A, B, C, or D because SSDs on their own do not have enough space to support gamers' habits. Crucial M4 is older and somewhat slower, but also a bit cheaper than Intel 520. There are other brands, but the two best in my opinion are these two. Solid State Drives are very fast; a single SSD can easily outperform RAID setups with multiple normal HDDs. Your startup times, loading times, install times, and response16017020100010000
F256GB / 240GB Crucial M4 / Intel 520 SSD$300 - $340times will all be much faster than a regular HDD. If you go SSD, you will never go back. The disadvantage is price. Currently, the largest feasible SSD size is 512 GB, though you can easily get away with 256 GB and 128 GB sizes when paired with a larger storage HDD. Be sure to always pair SSDs with SATA III cables and ports, else you will be limiting your speed. Keep in mind that larger SSDs are generally faster than smaller SSDs, especially for writing30034030120010000
G512GB Crucial M4 SSD$550speeds. Hint: Always install your operating system on a SSD if you have one; most of the speed benefit comes from having no seek or spin time, so your computer will be much snappier if the operating system is running from a SSD. Also, make sure you look up a guide on configuring your system for SSDs, because there are some unintuitive options that need to be set to get the best out of one.55055040140010000
Your video card is the most important component for gaming performance. If you skimp on this part of your computer, your graphical quality and framerate will suffer. Though, I should forewarn you that the best graphics cards for the money change very often. Tom's Hardware is a great place to look for the current best-for-your-money and top-of-the-line solutions. Also, you might find some really excellent prices on used graphics cards on eBay, if you are willing to take the risk of a shorter usable lifespan.
Video Card
AAMD Radeon HD 6790$130There are some lower-range options like the $110 Radeon HD 6770 or the $70 Radeon HD 6670 which may interest some people, but for a gamer wishing to have acceptable performance in future titles, the HD 6790 is the real starting point. It will get you great performance on most older titles and acceptable performance on newer titles like Battlefield 3 at 1080p, but it's nothing groundbreaking or exceptionally powerful. Still, it is very reasonably priced and good enough for most people. Veteran gamers should look elsewhere, though.1301300240009502000
BAMD Radeon HD 6850$150AMD's Radeon line currently dominates the lower and middle range of video cards. The HD 6850 falls in-between the HD 6870 and the HD 6790 in power and price, and is worth its low price tag. It is a capable enough card to bring modern games to a playable state with a fairly good level of graphical fidelity, but it won't be winning benchmarks and it probably won't impress your nerdiest friends. But if your wallet is hurting, go for it because this is a really decent card.15015003600010502500
CAMD Radeon HD 6870$180This is an excellent card for a great price. After this point, the price for your performance will become less favorable as the cost rises. However, many games require the less efficient, more expensive cards. Additionally, the Nvidia GeForce GTX 560 is a worthy alternative to this card, but it is usually a little more expensive.18018004000013501500
DAMD Radeon HD 7850$250This card replaces the GTX 560 Ti as the best strictly mid-range card available. While slightly more expensive, the HD 7850 is a truly solid card that should max-out any older game and perform admirably in all the newer releases. You may find the performance lacking for very high-resolution monitors or multi-monitor displays, however, and some games may require a more powerful card to max-out the graphical settings, but those situations will not be common.25025005200011004000
EXNvidia GeForce GTX 670$400Yes, this is a big gap from the $250 HD 7850, but this card is really something. Its performance averages at or slightly above the HD 7970, but costs $80 less. It is marginally slower than the GTX 680, but costs $100 less. From a price to performance comparison, the GTX 670 is the best in the high-end lineup, offering considerably more power than the equivalently-priced HD 7950. With this card you will have no problems using a triple-monitor setup (this card supports 4 monitors, though) and you will get excellent framerates at or near the maximum settings in every game currently released. If this card is too much money, try the HD 7870 GHz Edition, which is cheaper but significantly slower than the GTX 670. The GTX 680 is slightly better but costs far more, so the highest rung remains the GTX 670.40040007800014004500
SLI / CrossFire
AXSingle Card$0There is a natural advantage to sticking with one powerful card instead of several. Dual cards often have issues with heat, micro-studdering, compatibility with older games, diminishing returns, etc. However, there is only so much power you can get with a single monolithic card; the gaming rigs at the highest end are forced to pile on more cards since they already use the biggest ones.000000000000
BDual Cards$400SLI and CrossFire have some differences that I leave for you to research. However, expect the performance gain from including a second identical video card to be between 60% and 80% in newer titles. Some cards with some games can reach 90% efficiency with the second card, while many games don't make use of the second card at all, making the benefit 0%. Once you reach the power plateau of one high-end video card, you may find it prudent to get a second card in order to get increased performance without the costs involved in completely replacing your existing card. There are also a small number of cards that are highly effective when paired, offering better performance than a larger card for a lower price. Beware of the pitfalls and downsides of multi-GPU solutions, though. Do extra research if you plan to use two video cards, and above all else make sure that your motherboard supports it.400400058.500014004500
Before you overclock your components, make sure you carefully read and take notes on a detailed, trustworthy overclocking guide published by a professional computer hardware website. You want to work in small intervals and use good hardware monitoring software, or you risk damaging your computer permanently. However, the results can be well worth the effort, as you can essentially boost your computer's overall performance by 10-30% for free. The catch is you need better cooling. (Also, don't even bother with aftermarket cooling for your chipsets, memory, and hard drives. Good case fans will be more than enough for those parts of your computer.)
AStock Cooling$0I don't recommend this because you can't overclock your CPU that well unless you get aftermarket cooling. You can't even overclock your graphics cards that well without at least some case fan upgrades, if not a full-fledged aftermarket cooler. However, if you absolutely must save that money, you can go safely go stock. Hint: Stock cooling means that you don't buy any additional fans, heat sinks, or other cooling apparatuses for your computer.000000000000
BXAftermarket CPU Fan and Heatsink$40 - $90At the very least, you should get a new fan for your CPU. All four of the CPU options I posted are highly overclockable, meaning you can raise the voltages and ramp up the clock multiplier to much higher levels for dramatically increased processing capabilities. To do this, you need a competent CPU fan and heatsink. There are many viable options for CPU coolers. Just shop around and look at professional review sites to choose the best one for you. Make sure it fits your CPU socket, though. You will also need to buy third party thermal compound (such as Arctic Silver 5 (included in price)), because the stuff that comes with stock CPU coolers is not optimal.40900000.2020000.90
CXAdditional Case Fans$15 - $80Choose this option in addition to Option B. Your case might not need this, but most cases often have open slots for additional fans to be installed into. You always want at least a front fan and a powerful back fan. A side fan and top fan are nice, but have secondary priority to a good front/rear fan set. When installing fans, it sometimes helps to make an airflow chart of your computer case, figuring out where air should be blowing and sucking. Remember: Outside of your case, hot air rises and cold air sinks, so you want the hot air exhaust to be physically above the cold air intake for the best air quality. Don't forget to get exactly the correct size fans for your case.15805110.030.0330000.10.2
DAftermarket Video Card Cooler$40 - $100Choose this option in addition to Options B and C. Good video card coolers are hard to find. In most cases, it is not worth it to get aftermarket cooling for your video card because most of the ones I recommended can overclock at or near the maximum threshold even on their stock coolers. In the case where you want a better cooler, often video card manufacturers will offer more expensive versions of the card with higher default clock speeds and a better cooling apparatus. However, there are corner cases where you want to push a high-end card like the HD 7970 into extreme overclocking ranges (the card is not recommended stock, because at $550 it is both more expensive and less powerful than the GTX 680, but it can overclock to speeds that beat the GTX 680 if you invest in aftermarket cooling). Watercooling is still better, though, so this option is here merely for those corner cases.4010000000.0800000.8
EWater Cooling$225 - $400Choose this option in addition to Option C. This is probably the most daunting part of computer-building and always one of the most expensive parts as well. However, when done right, the results are well worth it. With a full, maintained water cooling system inside your computer (including a complement of decent case fans), you will have a very quiet machine with much lower temperatures than any air-powered system. You will be able to overclock your components more than you would be able to manage otherwise, and your computer's noise level will be drastically reduced. However, you will pay for these benefits with lots of additional work and a large sum of cash. Be sure to follow a detailed guide on how to build water-cooled systems, because this is obviously one thing you do not want to mess up. Just remember that if you go with water cooling, hook up all of your major components to the system. Don't bother with all-in-one CPU coolers; go for the full package. Warning: You will need a lot of thermal paste.2254008220.250.0560001.11
Find out how much power your hypothetical computer takes up at its maximum load (use online calculators if you must), and then increase that by at least 25% and look for a power supply that supports that much draw. Never buy a power supply with a review average of lower than 4/5. Ever. Also, when possible, look at professional power supply reviews. The costs will range wildly here, but never, ever cheap out with your power supply, or you run the risk of frying your components. Getting PSUs with high efficiency and modular cables is optional, so long as the reliability is excellent.
Power Supply
A450W PSU$50 - $60It is critically important to pay close attention to the amperage drawn from the power supply's 12-volt rails. You might50600000000000
B600W PSU$75 - $120find a PSU that has a high-enough wattage rating for your system, but it will end up failing because your system draws too much current. This is one of the reasons why PSU reliability is so important; the 12V rails must be stable and must751200000000000
CX700W PSU$110 - $160be able to support the high-current demands of your computer, or you'll have a bad time. The options here are just1101600000000000
D800W PSU$125 - $170common milestones for PSU wattage; pick a PSU that has a good buffer zone from your computer's max draw and you will be fine as long as the 12V rails do not go over-spec. Other features such as modularity, lights, longer cables, higher1251700000000000
E1000W PSU$175 - $270efficiency, and fewer 12V rails will raise the cost substantially. This part of your computer does not affect its1752700000000000
E1200W PSU$250 - $330performance, but you really should not skimp on it.2503300000000000
A1440 x 900 LCD Monitor (19")$100 - $140Get one that fits your budget, is big enough for you, and has favorable professional reviews. Always remember: no matter how good the monitor is, you'll spend a while calibrating it. Try to get one with a high contrast ratio and a fast response time, and avoid monitors that force a dynamic contrast ratio (basically a backlight that gets brighter and1001400000000000
B1680 x 1050 LCD Monitor (22")$140 - $170dimmer and looks stupid). HDMI-input is preferred, but you will probably have to buy your own HDMI cable. Also, please avoid 3D unless you really, really must have it. It drives up the price of your monitor by a huge factor and can1401700000000000
CX1920 x 1080 LCD Monitor (24")$180 - $240give you headaches. The preferred resolution is 1920x1080 because of the 1080p support, but if you are on a budget, smaller monitors are acceptable.1802400000000000
D1920 x 1080 LCD Monitor (27")$260 - $400The 1920x1080 27-inch monitor is the best possible without going into ridiculous ($1000+) price ranges. Higher-size monitors are very expensive and higher-resolution monitors are outright exorbitant.2604000000000000
E3840 x 1080 LCD Monitors (2 x 24")$360 - $480It is possible to buy multiple monitors of the same size and use them together to create one very wide screen or use them separately for multiple workspaces. However, you need a compatible high-end video card or perhaps two video3604800000000000
F5760 x 1080 LCD Monitors (3 x 24")$540 - $720cards in SLI or CrossFire in order to accomplish this for gaming. It is also useful to have multiple monitors if you do work or any kind of intensive multitasking on your computer.5407200000000000
AXGaming Mouse and Mousepad$40 - $100Don't skimp on this. Get something reasonable. Get a comfortable, high-quality, moderately-high-DPI mouse with enough buttons for the tasks you routinely perform. I prefer wired mice because they are cheaper and won't run out of batteries, but if your desk would not work well with wired mice, get wireless. If you get a sub-par mouse, you will regret it for every minute that you are forced to use it (all day). Make sure the mouse pad you get with it is high quality, too (included in cost).30800000000000
AGeneric Keyboard$15 - $50Find a group of keyboards that aren't too expensive and then go for the features and shape that you want. There isn't much else too it. Just make sure it feels good to type on, and you're good to go.15500000000000
BXMechanical Keyboard$80 - $140Mechanical keyboards are like the keyboards of olde; instead of rubber domes providing the feel and resistance of a key, a mechanical system containing switches, springs, and latches provides each key the correct bounce, click, resistance, and weight. There are several varieties of mechanical keyboards, but once you use one, you won't want to go back to a regular keyboard. The mechanical click-clack is very tactile and feels great, though it is rather loud. Mechanical keyboards are essential if you use a computer for long periods of time, especially if you do a lot of typing. It even improves gaming performance and raises your WPM. The main downside is the high price, but these things last for a very long time so it's not a purchase you will have to make again any time soon.801400000000000
Media Drives
AXDVD Burner$20 - $30Good luck installing Windows without this. Make sure you have the appropriate cables. And do not get an IDE drive; that's a bad idea. Go with SATA. Also, there is absolutely no reason to get a regular DVD Drive; DVD Burners are far more common and often more reliable and cheaper.203000000300000
BBlu-Ray Burner$80 - $100Unless you are on your last pennies, go ahead and get a Blu-Ray Burner instead of a DVD Burner. You will want to play Blu-Ray disks at some point, so it's best to be prepared. Also, losing the ability to burn disks (such as DVDs or Blu-Rays) is not recommended, so go ahead and get a burner.8010000000300000
This guide does not include fan controllers, case lights (such as cold cathodes), and other such swag. Buy that stuff on your own.
I won't put audio equipment on this guide, but make sure you get something that is worth your money. I personally use the Sony MDR-V6 headphones, which are quite excellent for any non-professional uses like gaming and listening to music, and are priced at the $70 mark (for studio monitor headphones, that's extremely low). My microphone is a desk-mount Audio-Technica AT2020 Condenser mic, which is fairly expensive at the $100 mark, but is very durable, portable, extremely easy to use, and has excellent sound quality. I would advise against getting headsets (save for a very small selection of good headsets that usually come at a steep price premium), as headsets are generally a lot more expensive and have both mediocre speakers and a mediocre microphone. It is best to spend a little more to get separate items of much better quality. Besides, you can attach small microphones to your headphones to create a headset that suits you.