Uh oh… it may be time for a NEW COMPUTER! Are your programs running slower? Are you clicking faster than your applications can follow you? Are you typing slower, to match the ‘thought process’ of your computer? Does your screen freeze up??
New, faster and more efficient technology seems to pop up quite often. It can be difficult to figure out what type of device you need, and where to find the best price. I can help you!
My husband is a Professor of Computer Science at the local University. We are very fortunate to have a software and hardware specialist in the home to help with everything IT-related. Recently, our good-ole reliable computer finally bit the dust. We were sad to let it go, but excited for the next Black Box of Fun to arrive. This guide will give you suggestions for your next computer purchase.
Guide to Your Next Home Computer
You have two options for your next computer:
- Talk to a sales representative and purchase a pre-set bundle.
- PRO – Quick and easy. Drop off your money, with no extra fuse or mus.
- CON – Your ideal computer (and all the parts required) may not be found in a pre-set bundle.
- Create your own computer to meet your needs.
- PRO – Just like you can customize your pizza (crust, sauce, toppings), you can also select parts for your computer to have a specific purpose, look and feel (lights, etc.).
- CON – You have to search and purchase multiple parts that all work together, assemble the parts (our first build: 6 hours+), and install the operating system (few more hours).
What is your BUDGET?
Price will affect how powerful a machine can be built, as well as serve as a guide for choices later on.
- Minimal Budget: $400
- Medium Budget: $600
- High-end Budget: $800+
Next, what is the PURPOSE of the computer?
- To play graphic intensive games
- To surf the web and use Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, etc.)
- For computationally intensive projects
Do you need a good quality GRAPHICS CARD?
You will need to choose between an Intel Processor or an AMD Processor. Both have roughly 3 main price points: low, middle, and high-performance. Middle usually provides the best performance for dollar spent.
Intel Processors – are better, higher performance processors, which are more effective for a more computationally intensive machine.
AMD Processors – are recommended for an economy-build, only because their integrated video card tends to be better than the Intel integrated video card.
Newer models are constantly being released, so make sure to compare both processors available at the price point for your budget.
Many websites post benchmark scores for specific graphics cards, such as videocardbenchmark.net. The benchmark score is a numerical value of how much a graphics card is capable of doing.
The type of graphics card that you need can be determined by what games you want to play. Your game(s) of choice will usually recommend a graphics card.
Once you have the processor and graphics card picked out, the next step is: the Motherboard. Motherboard selection can be very daunting, unless you have built several computers. In our build, we asked friends for advice. Recommendations and research determined that ASUS builds a very strong line of motherboards.
At this point, you should have a rough idea of what sort of computer you want to build. Now you need to decide on the actual parts. The best online resource by far is: pcpartpicker.com
That website guides you with an easy way to select all the parts of your computer and also provides a compatibility check. PCPartPicker offers two services:
- You can immediately start your own build.
- Search their vast library of previous builds that might meet your needs.
When you start your build, first select the processor and graphics card. Next, decide on the size of your computer.
The size of the computer will determine the size of the motherboard and computer case (and potentially affect the graphics card option as well).
Rule of Thumb: The bigger the motherboard, the less the computer will cost. The more compact the motherboard, the more problems may occur.
We selected the ATX for our motherboard size. It had the most options, and the lowest cost.
Next, you will need:
- Power supply
Other miscellaneous items include:
- Operating System
- Optical drives
You may find that pre-built deals at places like http://www.newegg.com/and http://www.bestbuy.com/ offer a better savings – since they tend to include the keyboard, mouse, and operating system. We already had a keyboard, mouse and operating system, and found a monitor through a friend. Typically, the monitor is not part of a standard computer bundle.
Our budget was: $600. Our computer requirements needed a good processor and a mid-range graphics card. In the summer of 2016, this translated to a 6th generation Intel i5 and an NVIDIA GTX-950 combined with an ASUS Z170-1e motherboard. These components comprised 75% of our budget, leaving us only $150 for the remaining parts.
We searched for the best dollar value, while only being able to spend about $30-$40 for each component:
- Memory – 8GB
- Storage – mechanical drive instead of a solid-state drive
- Power supply – http://pcpartpicker.com/will tell you how much power your total build needs
Rule of Thumb: add at least 1/3 to your total power needs to account for possible upgrades later.
Our build required 260W, which means that we needed a power supply in the 400W range. After searching through http://pcpartpicker.com/, we found a 500W power supply that received good reviews and met our budget.
You can probably build a computer for less than ours, if you are willing to take risks on parts that have poor reviews. Saving $100 was not worth the risk for us.
We searched for the cheapest ATX case that had acceptable reviews. We were not building a high-performance machine, so we did not need extra fans and cooling that would normally be found in a higher-end computer case. One of the reviews that helped us decide said “it’s cheap, but it does the job”.
When you have selected all of your computer parts in the http://pcpartpicker.com/, you will be able to see the total cost immediately in a wide range of on-line stores. Information at the bottom of the screen shows the range of part prices over the past year.
If you are over budget, you may have to downgrade one of your key components. For example, we originally wanted to get an NVIDIA GTX-960 graphics card, but we were over budget. Therefore, we dropped down to the NVIDIA GTX-950, which saved us $50, but would still be a very capable graphics card for our needs.
When you decide to order the parts, you can:
- Go with the best price that http://pcpartpicker.com/ finds or
- You might be able to save on shipping and handling, if you order at one or two places but pay more for each part.
For example: we purchased the processor at one location, but everything else was ordered through http://www.newegg.com/. However three of the parts would have been cheaper at three different companies, but paying a little more at http://www.newegg.com/ meant avoiding three different shipping and handling costs.
After placing all the orders and waiting patiently, we had all of our boxes and were ready to start our build.
A good tutorial from Newegg TV, shows how to assemble the computer.
Key Tip: it is very important when installing the motherboard to make sure that none of its edges touch the metal parts of the case. When we accidentally made this mistake, our build ended up taking three additional hours trouble-shooting the problem.
Here is our FINAL BUILD: