Written By Patrick Catalini Version 1.0
Pentium 4/D is a registered trademark of Intel Corporation,
Athlon64/X2 is a registered trademark of Advanced Micro Devices
Windows is a registered trademark of Microsoft Corporation
SLI is a registered trademark of Nvidia Corporation
Crossfire is a registered trademark of ATI
PC Design Factors:
When building a computer you should take the following three factors into consideration. First you need to decide what are your needs? Do I need a powerful gaming PC or something that will get me on the internet, read E-mails or create documents. You wouldn't put a dual core processor and a high end graphics card to surf the net. Maybe onboard graphics and a Intel Celeron D or AMD Sempron will do the trick. Second factor is upgradeability, where do I want to be by next year or maybe two years down the road ? Do I want to run Windows XP (32 bit) or maybe I want to switch to Vista (64 bit). Single core Vs. Dual core, SATA Vs. IDE, etc. Finally does you PC you spec'd fit within your budget. The forementioned factors will determine your budget, you may have to change the specifications of your PC to fit it.
Selecting a Case and Power Supply:
There are many factors to consider other than the appearance of the case. The SINGLE most important factor when selecting a case is air flow or air exchange. Every component in the case is generating heat, especially the CPU. I myself have taken temperature readings on the components and was amazed at the wattage they generated in the form of heat. a hard drive and ram module can easily generate 105 - 113 degrees. The CPU alone can generate enough heat to leave a blister on your skin. What AMD and Intel recommend is a "Thermally Advantaged Chassis", it is easily identified by the vent(s) on the side panel which may or may not be equiqqed with a fan.
Next Important factor is the selection of the power supply. This is dependant on the design of your PC. If your using a Nvidia 7800 or ATI X1900 you may not want to skimp on the power supply. Usually 450 to 600 watts will suffice. If you are using onboard graphics you probably can getaway with 300 to 350 watt supply. The power supply also aids in the air flow factor because its fan(s) are drawing heat from the case to the outside. When possible use a dual fan power supply with an appropriate wattage rating for your system. Another factor is the connector configuration, if your using Serial ATA drives you want to make sure that the supply you selected has them on it. In special cases when using dual graphics cards in a configuration like Nvidia's SLI you might need to buy a power supply approved with the SLI logo. Manufacturers that make reliable supplies are Antec, Coolmaster or Thermaltake.
Other factors such as expansion ( number of drive bays), case size (Mini-tower, mid tower, full tower), Motherboard accomadation (Micro ATX, Micro BTX, ATX or BTX). These are factors that must also be considered.
Knowing what you plan on using your PC for will determine you CPU selection. For multi-tasking I might recommend a Intel Pentium 4 with hyper-threading or a Pentium D (Dual Core), everyday use at home I probaly would suggest an Intel Celeron D or a AMD Sempron, these processors are not as good at multi-tasking. For gaming platform I might suggest the AMD Athlon64 or AMD Athlon64 X2 (dual core) . Then there are the diehard Intel or AMD supporters that would never waver and cross the border from Intel to AMD or vice versa.
Now that you have selected your CPU we can move on to pairing it up with its partner the motherboard. There are many factors to take into consideration when specifying a motherboard. Primary factor starts with the socket type. Intel Pentium 4 processors are associated with the PGA478 which is an older chip. Intel's newest platform are married to LGA775 socket for the 500 (P4), 600 (P4) ,800 (Pentium D,L2 Cache 2 x 1Mb), 900(Pentium D, 2 x 2Mb L2 Cache) and the E6000( Core 2 Duo) series CPU's. AMD Processors such as the Athlon 64 and AMD Sempron are married to motherboard using a 754 or 939 socket. First generation Athlon 64 processors utilized the 754 socket. Later generations used the 939 socket now the newest socket configuration is the AM2. Second factor to consider is the chipset it controls how the CPU sends and receives data as well as control of devices such as drives, graphics cards, audio controllers, add-on card, etc. Some chipsets are slower while others are a good marriage for the CPU and are extremely fast. There are several manufacturers of chipsets like VIA, Intel, Nvidia or ATI. Performance of your PC lies with the chipset. For any Intel Dual core processor i recommend the 945, 955 or 975 chipsets. Other factors that relate to the chipset are the hard drive interface, SATA or IDE, memory controller -single channel or dual channel, 6 channel, 5.1 channel or 7.1 channel audio. take your time and research this very carefully.
You should always consult the motherboard manufacturers manual prior to purchasing RAM. Most Ram sold today is designated DDR (Double Data Rate) RAM. It comes in two packages with two pin configurations. DDR has 184 pins and DDR II has 240 pins, in addition the alignment notches look like they are in the same place but, they are not. You can not put DDR in a DDR II DIMM slot or vice versa. Memory is also specified by speed, PC2100 (266MHz), PC2700 (333MHz) and PC3200 (400MHz). It is important to match up the Ram with the Frontside bus of the CPU. Most Ram is downward compatabile which means if the FSB is 533MHz then you probably could use PC2700 (333MHz) on a system that would use PC3200. Always consult the motherboard manufacturer's manual.
Hard Drive Selection:
Selecting a hard drive is based on several factors. First is what type of interface does your motherboard support. Most of them still support EIDE, as well as the new SATA (Serial ATA) interface. EIDE is a parallel interface which places two drive on the same ribbon cable in parallel and is slower than SATA. SATA has a higher transfer rate and larger cache onboard the hard drive. Hard drives are rated by three criteria. One capacity which is expressed in GB (Gigabytes), when designing a PC capacity is determined by what tasks the PC will be performing. Normal useage such as e-mail, writing letters, surfing the web i'd recommend an 80 GB, For photo storage/editing, gaming, maybe 160Gb to 250gb, Media Center platforms i suggest 250 - 500 Gb for PVR (Personal Video Recorder) functions, which is TIVO on a PC. Speed which is measured in RPM's, the standard is 7200 rpms but there are drives that spin at 10,000 rpms, Next is transfer rate EIDE dives can transfer 133 Mbp/s while SATA can transfer 150 Mbp/s and SATA II can transfer 300 Mbp/s
Optical Drive Selection:
The drive of choice is the DVD+/-RW, It is capable of storing 4.7Gb of data on a single layer disk and 8.5 Gb on a double layer disc. Most of the drives have a burn speed of 16x on DVD's and 40x on CD's. The most common interface is a EIDE (parallel) but SATA interfaces exist and are more expensive. Newer DVD's have a technology that allows you to burn and image, label, etc. onto the surface of the disc. This technology is called "Lightscribe". special discs are required to use this technology. A Lightscribe drive can be purchased for $30 to $40 online at sites such as Newegg.com. These drives are made by Lite-on, Samsung, HP, BenQ, Etc. Spend the extra for this technology, you wont be sorry. A newer DVD burner is available but expensive. It is called Blu-Ray technology. This is where DVD's go Hi Def. Large storage capacity, Single layer 25Gb and double layer 50Gb. Cost for these drive is $600 to $1000. The technology is too slow for that price, wait it out.