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How to Build a PC - Introduction and Planning


CORSAIR Technical Marketing
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Hello, and welcome to my PC builders guide! A few notes before we get started. This guide is meant to help the first time builder tackle their first build with increased confidence and expert precision, but the seasoned pro might find some useful information as well.

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About me: I am Jeff Checchi, and have been with Corsair since April of 2007. During this time I have had many responsibilities, but those most relevant to this guide are the responsibilities to plan and build most of Corsair's show/demo systems. If you have seen a system in a Corsair booth at a show, or seen pictures of our systems online, odds are that I built it! Even before I was working for Corsair I was a PC enthusiast. I built my first PC in the summer of 2000, right before I left home for college. At the time I needed something that could handle Counter-Strike  all my notes and homework needs. The system had an AMD 750MHz CPU and Voodoo 3 graphics card, and while at the time it was a fast system, todays cell phones are more than twice as fast! But enough nostalgia, let's get down to business.

Planning the build

It is easy to get excited about a build and start purchasing components “willy nilly” without fully researching them, especially if it is your first build. However, you can save yourself some headaches, and probably some cash if you put in a little extra time before you begin your build to completely plan out your hardware configuration. In this first section of the “How to build a PC” guide, we will talk about setting your budget, and choosing your components.

Setting your budget

This might seem unimportant, but once you start searching for hardware, it's easy to get carried away. For every component you need there will be many options ranging in price, sometimes quite drastically. The first part of this guide will focus on setting your budget and selecting each component in a way that maximizes what you get for your budget. I would group most builds into three price categories:

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< $1200 “entry to mid-range”

At this budget you can build a system that will take care of anything a typical PC user would need to do. You should be able to play current generation games at mid to high levels of graphics settings which would offer better visual settings and performance than current generation gaming consoles. This is a great place for a first time builder to start. And since this is a PC build, you will always have the option to upgrade individual components over time, if you end up desiring better performance, or would like to customize or tweak your system in the future.

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$1201 - $2000 “mid-range to high end”

At this level, you will likely be able to start maxing out some of your graphics settings in most current gen games, and should have no issues playing next gen games at mid to high graphical settings. This system would likely have some upgraded components which would respond well to overclocking, and offer increased customization options. If you choose the right parts and do your homework you can get excellent bang for your buck here, by overclocking your main components.

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$2000+ “high end to ridiculous”

If you want to max out your settings in next gen games, and push ridiculous amounts of pixels on high resolution monitors, then this is your budget (start saving!) At the $2000 floor of this level, you will have a system that can pretty much do or play anything you through at it. And from there, the sky is really the limit, depending on how much “horsepower” and customization you desire. Does anyone need a system like this? Probably only a very few who will use it for specialized tasks. This is the hot rod of systems and is the system to build if you want the street lights to dim when you turn it on.

Everyone will have different needs to fulfill when building their system, so not everyone needs to spend multiple thousands of dollars in order to have a rig that will do exactly what they want it to. Generally, you will find that more expensive versions of any given component are more expensive for a one of three reasons: Increased performance, increased convenience, or higher quality materials.

If you are building a system for a specific task, then exceeding your required performance will not necessarily give you any tangible benefit. For example, you might be better off spending less on some components, and more on others in order to get the most out of your system for your overall budget, which is why it's good to plan your build out first.

If you are building a system that you plan on tweaking, overclocking or upgrading frequently, then you may consider it worthwhile to spend a little extra on some components that would make these tasks a bit easier. Some examples that come to mind would be a PSU with modular cables, an all in one water cooler or a motherboard with power and CMOS reset switches that are built right into the board.

The added cost of choosing a product with an excellent fit and finish may not be worth it for some system builders, but for others, it is a necessity. Building a PC today is a lot different than it was, even just five years ago. The amount of customization and options available for most components give builders a way to personalize their system to make it truly unique. In the same way that someone can easily tell car enthusiasts apart from your average commuter, you can take a quick look at someones system and immediately have a good idea whether the person is an average PC user, a PC gamer, a hardware enthusiast, or an utlra enthusiast. Allow me to further illustrate this analogy...

This person needs to get from point A to point B and is not too worried about aesthetics or amenities. This would be the equivalent of someone who just needs a word processing and email/internet machine. An inexpensive prebuilt system from Dell or HP would do the trick.

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This person desires increased performance and might like to upgrade their car in the future, but does not want to commit to a huge investment right off the bat. This is the entry level gaming system in our analogy.

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This person wants incredible performance right from the start, but might want to take it up a few notches in the future. This is their main hobby and when you see their ride (or "rig" in our analogy) you know they are serious about it.

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This person wants to be the fastest on the street, even though they may rarely get to use all the power available to them. If you have overclocked your CPU and use more than a single graphics card, then this is where you fit within our analogy.

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"But Jeff, not everyone is a PC gamer/enthusiast etc, what about console gamers?"

Well in order to be consistent with our analogy, here is what I came up with...

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This person wants to ride with the big boys but might not have suffiencent funds or knowledge to get involved. The point of this guide is to help you with the latter.

No offense to console gamers, since I am one as well ;)

Hopefuly this first section has helped you decide what type of system you want to build and budget for. In the next part of this guide we will start picking out our components, begininng with the CPU.

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