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Building a Gaming PC

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In an effort to help readers of our forums with common questions that come up about building or upgrading a PC I decided to crate this post. I will overview PC components and explain their relation to you gaming performances. I will also reply to this post with a second portion that will include hardware suggestions that will be good for fall-winter 2012. I will focus on Intel based system, since they are the fastest, reliable and most common in systems compare to the declining AMD's.


Building or upgrading a PC is confusing or even scary to some people. Where it gets complicated is to understand all those different components, their spec and their relation to the performance of you gaming rig. With all those variation of hardware one can get lost pretty quick.


The CPU;


This is the brain of your computer, it's very important and can be a bit complex to explain all it's parts and specs.


In 2011, a new microarchitecture named Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge microarchitecture where introduced by Intel to replace the aging 2008 Nehalem. Ok, what just happen right there Sand, Ivy, bridges and what, what are all those names...? Well microarchitecture could be explain as a way to fit everything in the processor and give it a set of rules and instructions. Intel names for those microarchitecture may seem confusing, but they are just telling you what blueprint was used to make the chip. Since most systems build of today are based on Sandy or Ivy Bridge I will only focus on Core i5 and Core i7 based on it.


All Sandy Bridge/Ivy Bridge based Core i5 and Core i7 are fitted for the LGA 1155 socket. Wait, what did I just added there a socket? A CPU socket is a form factor for the slot where the CPU sits on the motherboard. Luckily for us there is only one main socket type for all Sandy/Ivy bridge based CPU's. If you have an older system and are looking to upgrade just the CPU, you have to know what socket type is your motherboard, in order to get a matching CPU or you have to upgrade both CPU and Motherboard. (I will go futher in details on this in part 2, motherboards).


What is the difference between the bridges you might ask. Ivy bridge is an improved architecture of the Sandy bridge, so as a rule of thumb IVY > Sandy. You get about 8-15% increase in performance when comparing matching CPU's from both type. Surprisingly Ivy bridge tend to also be cheaper then their counter part! So best performance/value CPU for gaming are Ivy brige based CPU's.


There are Core i5 and i7 with various cores, threads, caches and frequencies. I will try to explain what this all means!


Cores are actual CPU's so 2 cores mean 2 cpu's integrated in 1 physical CPU and so on. Currently the effect of multiple cores on gaming performances is not noticeable on all games, since only a few recent games where made to fully take the advantages of multiple cores (like Crysis). But there is no doubt that this is a case where more is better.


Threads are small sequences of instructions that can be managed independently by you operating system (or OS) and sent to your CPU. So basically the more threads you have the more sequences your CPU and OS and exchange. But here again not all games are made to fully utilized this aspect of CPU's. In general it will improve performances in every aspect of you PC. i7's have 4 cores and 8 threads for the most part, while i5's and 4 cores and 4 threads.


Cache is basically a small amount of RAM (memory) directly on the CPU. It gives noticeable performance gain in everything you do with your PC. i7's have 4MB to 15MB of l3 cache and i5's have 3MB to 6MB. So technically i7 have the upper hand here, but that doesn't mean i5 cannot compete with i7's performances.


Frequency also called clock rate, this is what people usually refer when they are talking about the speed of the processors. Do not get fooled here, only using clock rate to compare the performance of different microprocessors is a mistake. Other factors like cores, cache, threads and microarchitectures can greatly influence performances. So higher is not always better.


Now that you know what are the variations in a CPU, how do you determine which one is right for you! CPU's priced over 250$ do not usually play out to be good investment. First and foremost, prices drops rapidly and usually the performance vs value ratio is not worth the extra cash you cough up for the little gain you get with more expensive CPUs! For the most part the performance the differences between i5 and i7 bechmark are only noticeable in some aspect of computing, gaming is not one of them.


Now you might remember that i7's have more threads more l3 cache, so why doesn't it outperform the i5's then? This is just because the way programs, games and operating systems are programmed. So a good Core i5 is the best bang for you bucks any day of the week. You could go for an i7 for bragging rights, but the cash you save in buying in i5 can be better invested in a faster video card!


The Ram;


Ram stands for Random Access Memory, it allows data to be stored and access quickly in any random order, thus the name. If the CPU is the brain of your PC, RAM is it's short term memory. This is defiantly an aspect where more is better. We will focus on the current dominant type of memory, that is DDR3. If you are upgrading a system, note that previous DDR2 memory is not compatible with DDR3 motherboards. What is important in memory is the total size of it, and it's clock speed. But these can be limited by your motherboard, cpu and operating system. It's important to note that 32 bit OS can only handle 4 GB of Ram, so if you are using a version of windows that is 32 bit, do not put in more then 4gb of ram! This is why it is more important now a days to have a 64bit OS. I will get back to operating system in an separate part to be posted later on.


The clock speed and max amount you can but in are determined also by the slots available on your motherboard and it's model. So you can not get you RAM before you select a motherboard! DDR3 ram with clock speeds of either 1866 (O.C) or 1600 tend to be the most performance / value bargains! But you need to check if you motherboard supports those ram clock speeds and in what sizes or chips. (1GB, 2GB, 4GB, 8GB). Size of the ram is more important then it's speed! 8GB of ram total is about that I would recommend for most gamers, so either 2 sticks or 4GB or 4 sticks of 2GB generally do great.


The most important aspect of memory is reliability, I cannot stress that enough. Stick to big brands maker, Corsair, Crucial, G.SKILL, OCZ and Patriot. Avoid cheap and unknown brands because a number of issues can rise with the use to poor ram modules! Corsair Vengeance or Dominator and G.SKILL Ripjaws X are the top most reliable and affordable rams out there!.


Please comment or ask any questions related to this part 1.



Follow this to Part 2; Motherboards

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CPU recommendations:


Core i5-3450k 3.1 GHz (3.5 GHz, turbo) and Core i5-3570K 3.4 GHz (3.8 GHz turbo) are the best options out there value/performance wise. They go for around 180-210$ USD, and the performance gained in games you would get with the top dog on the market, the i7 3770k at a whooping 575$ is not noticeable and certainly not worth the extra 345$...


RAM recommendations:


If your motherboard supports it, Corsair Vengeance 1600Mhz or 1866Mhz , Corsair Dominator 1600Mhz or 1866Mhz, G.Skill Ripjaw X 1600Mhz are the best options out there value/performance wise. A set of 8GB of DD3 RAM will go for about 60-100$ USD (1,2 or 4 stick combination), depending on clock speed and brand!

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Thats great information Smarty.


But you could have waited a while.ive just built a new comp and now i see things i couldnt see before. i wanted to be able to utilise this to my advantage before everyone upgraded.,

i wanted to be superior to da poor people ..yattatatatatataa :pirate:

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