Best Of Tom’s Hardware: How To Build A PC

Processor And Graphics Selection

Choosing a Processor

Processor selection can be summed up in three words: performance, power, and price. Performance and price can be found in our CPU Charts, while power consumption analysis requires a more thorough reading of our CPU Reviews.

So many programs now rely on multi-core processing that AMD and Intel have all but eliminated single-core products from their desktop processor portfolio. But the question concerning how many additional processing cores any particular user might need remains. Recent tests have shown that even in games, a third CPU core can be more useful than a slight increase in CPU frequency.

Intel has been leading the industry in per-core and per-clock productivity performance, while AMD has countered by releasing processors with more cores for less money, while maintaining good gaming performance. The balance of performance-per-price can only be judged by looking at the performance charts of each particular CPU. Most users will find a dual-core processor adequate, though many will find a triple-core or even quad-core AMD model in the same price range as their Intel dual-core CPU of choice.

Power consumption is a major concern for low-noise systems, because increased cooling needs usually require higher fan speeds. The latest generation of Intel and AMD processors has made great strides in performance per watt used. Intel also offers even more miserly S-series variations of its Core 2 and Core i5 processors.

Graphics Details

General purpose applications, gaming, high definition (HD) content, and professional 3D modeling all pose unique requirements for the graphics subsystem. The least intense of these, general purpose tasks like word processing and Web browsing, are easily handled by the integrated graphics of low-cost chipsets.

PCI Express has firmly established itself as the only modern interface for discrete graphics cards, leaving behind old standards like AGP. Most cards employ a x16 slot connector, and the few x1 models available are usually meant to be used as secondary devices for multi-monitor support.

3D performance is constantly improving, and the easiest way to track the winners in any price range is to keep an eye on our Best Graphics For The Money series. For additional details on specific models, be sure to read the Tom's Hardware Guide Graphics Reviews, and feel free to use our Customized PriceGrabber Search Engine to find the best deals on your chosen model.

The great news for HD video enthusiasts is that all recent integrated and discrete graphics engines from AMD, Intel, and NVidia are designed to comply with High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection (HDCP) requirements. HDCP ensures that protected content can only be output across a protected path, by requiring a detection device on both the transmitter (graphics processor) and receiver (HD display). Because all components along the video path must be HDCP-complaint, it’s up to the user to make certain their monitors and playback software are designed for this usage model.

Professional 3D modeling is generally considered a task best left to professional graphics cards like ATI's FireGL and Nvidia's Quadro models, mostly because the drivers for these cards are optimized for accuracy and OpenGL performance. But given the extreme price premiums compared to similar or identical hardware, semi-professionals may instead choose a game-oriented card for the task. The chief difficulty is that higher-model game cards do not always provide increased performance in professional applications. In fact, higher-clocked card models sometimes beat the better-equipped versions upon which they were based.

While game cards are not usually tested in specific professional applications, the popular test suite SPECviewperf combines bits of the most popular programs into benchmarking viewsets. Now it's just a matter of entering your choice of cards and applications into your favorite search engine.

Create a new thread in the UK Article comments forum about this subject
This thread is closed for comments
20 comments
Comment from the forums
    Your comment
  • mi1ez
    that 1996 gaming case showndown linked to on page one is 2006. disappointment!
    1
  • mi1ez
    Page 7:

    Or for those of us in the uk, check out
    scan.co.uk
    ebuyer.co.uk
    overclockers.co.uk
    4
  • mi1ez
    Quote:
    Align one hole perfectly with the standoff and affix a screw, then push the board into alignment for a second hole before tightening the second screw.


    DO NOT install your motherboard like this. Have all the screws in place before tightening.
    3
  • mi1ez
    Quote:
    The newer 8-pin versions were originally meant to address phenomenally power-hungry Pentium D and Prescott-based Pentium 4 processors, but many modern AMD and Intel processors are efficient enough to once again work from 4 pins.


    However, when overclocking 8pins will give you far more stability and is highly recommended.
    2
  • 13thmonkey
    'windows rarely exceeds 16Gb even with temp files'

    Except for the fact that the hibernate file =RAM size say 4Gb, and outlook files (can't be moved from C:) another 1Gb, then know ing how to move personal folders and swap space to another drive, I'd suggest that rarely exceeds 25Gb might be more appropriate.
    0
  • kyzar
    13thmonkey'windows rarely exceeds 16Gb even with temp files'Except for the fact that the hibernate file =RAM size say 4Gb, and outlook files (can't be moved from C another 1Gb, then know ing how to move personal folders and swap space to another drive, I'd suggest that rarely exceeds 25Gb might be more appropriate.


    Do you mean the Outlook pst can't be moved from C? I've three customers in the building here that I've moved all the 'local' Outlook data to a network drive...
    0
  • 13thmonkey
    kyzarDo you mean the Outlook pst can't be moved from C? I've three customers in the building here that I've moved all the 'local' Outlook data to a network drive...


    I investiagted that for a while and found nothing to help, but I guess it can be done though. I was running a 30Gb ssd as a system drive (vista 64) and it kept creeping up to 25Gb+ will all folders on a different drive etc.

    However in an article about building a system to have the fairly advanced need to move certain systems files around or turn them off, without actually stating that you'll need to do it is a bit of a discrepancy, i'd bet that 90% of people that know how to run a light installation of windows already know how to build, and that 90% of those that don't know how to build but might want have limited windows installation/customisation skills. So it appears that the article is aimed that software literate but hardware illiterate people, seems like a really small group to me.
    -1
  • mi1ez
    Anyone checked these comment out in the forum? they're under "Windows 7 Versus XP: Which Belongs On Your Netbook?"
    0
  • waxdart
    Now I’ve stared to want to edit the home videos and make something. I’ve been thinking its time to upgrade my whole rig. No idea what I want to get. Not even too sure I can be bothered to self build of get a premade. A few years ago the margin was just in favour of self built. No idea these days. Any ideas?
    Price range is cheap as poss without being crap.

    Editing HD video and games is the point. Looks like I’ve got a few weeks read.
    0
  • drkw
    To Waxdart: A 4-core CPU for fastest rendering.
    Also an Nvidia 8000 series card or ATI HD46xx upwardsfor accelerated render.
    0
  • drkw
    To Waxdart: A 4-core CPU for fastest rendering.
    Also an Nvidia 8000 series card or ATI HD46xx upwardsfor accelerated render.
    0
  • Alatheia00
    For UK readers, from personal experience the cheapest retailers are pricelover, ebuyer, tekheads, for pc components all customer service was similar across these companies. When purchasing a monitor be sure to compare prices online as i am currently looking for a 23" Dell SP2309W and ebuyer are selling it more than £20 higher than ebay (I know grey area, however the chap has sold several thousand items and has a 99.5% record. My best advice is shop around use online forums to ask questions, motherboards.org and be patient resist impulse buying. Here are some more etailers from the UK, Misco, dabs, pixmania ( really cheap on selected items), oyyy.co.uk (good for monitors), scan, aria ( Has a hd 5830 up for £160). Best of luck.
    0
  • Alatheia00
    For UK readers, from personal experience the cheapest retailers are pricelover, ebuyer, tekheads, for pc components all customer service was similar across these companies. When purchasing a monitor be sure to compare prices online as i am currently looking for a 23" Dell SP2309W and ebuyer are selling it more than £20 higher than ebay (I know grey area, however the chap has sold several thousand items and has a 99.5% record. My best advice is shop around use online forums to ask questions, motherboards.org and be patient resist impulse buying. Here are some more etailers from the UK, Misco, dabs, pixmania ( really cheap on selected items), oyyy.co.uk (good for monitors), scan, aria ( Has a hd 5830 up for £160). Best of luck.
    -1
  • sam_p_lay
    For UK, Microdirect, Novatech and Saverstore are also good, as well as CCL. Aria are excellent, check out the 'Superspecials' and 'Deal4Today' sections. Got a Gigabyte EX58-UD3R (usually £140+) there for £120 and a Core i7 920 D0 (usually £200+) for £170. Other than those, eBuyer, Dabs, Scan and Overclockers are the first ports of call, and I have seen great prices on Pixmania.
    0
  • sam_p_lay
    Overclockers are great for memory (saw 6gb OCZ DDR3 1800 CAS8 on there for £105), and Scan are excellent for mobos, as well as a great selection of cases. Aria Superspecials also had a 1gb XFX Radeon 4870 for £80 a couple of weeks ago!
    0
  • andybird123
    for UK users; stay well clear of SCAN.co.uk

    I've used them twice, both times i bought an "own brand" scan item that arrived DOA and took weeks to get any kind of response and refund.
    0
  • 13thmonkey
    andybird123for UK users; stay well clear of SCAN.co.ukI've used them twice, both times i bought an "own brand" scan item that arrived DOA and took weeks to get any kind of response and refund.


    used them lots, returned items, not had any trouble, refunds take a while with anyone including amazon... I think own brand is generally an issue, although with nvidia etc. its just a re-badge.
    0
  • mi1ez
    ^+1

    Never had a problem with scan before. I never buy own brand products where my PC's involved!
    0
  • wildgunman999
    I'm almost ready to start buying, but I'd like you good folks out there to check my components and tell me if I'm straying. My pc is to be used as an office /word processor pc, but I do a li'l bit of video editing and I generally want a pretty good and fast system. My list includes:
    1. AMD Phenom II X4 Quad 955 Core 3.2GHz Processor 4 x 512 KB Boxed - Black Edition
    2. Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD3P Motherboard Phenom II X4 Socket AM3 AMD 790X ATX RAID Gigabit Ethernet
    3. Kingston ValueRAM Memory DDR3 Non-ECC CL8 DIMM 1GB (need two)
    4. Western Digital Caviar Blue 250 Gb 7200 Rpm Sata-ii Internal Hard Drive
    5. Samsung SH-S223L/BEBE Internal 22x DVD Writer Drive SATA Lightscribe - Black (OEM)
    6. Corsair VX Series, 450 Watt, ATX, PS/2, Power Supply, UK Version (CMPSU-450VXUK)
    7. Asus EAH4350 SILENT/DI/256MD2(LP) Graphics Card Radeon HD 4350 256MB PCi-E DVI VGA (90-C1CM1F-H0UANAKZ)
    8. LG L1734S 17 inch LCD TFT Monitor 1280x1024 700:1 5ms - Black/Silver
    9. Hercules Muse LT PCI sound card
    10. Edimax EW-7128G Wireless LAN PCI Card 802.11b/g 54Mbp (Ralink)
    11. Antec Three Hundred Midi Case


    I know i'll need a few extra fans for the case, but will I need a CPU-cooler, or will I get one with the processor? And do I need a 'controller', or is it bundled along in there somewhere?
    Even more importantly, can someone confirm that these components are compatible?
    Would appreciate any help, guys.
    0
  • wildgunman999
    I'm almost ready to start buying, but I'd like you good folks out there to check my components and tell me if I'm straying. My pc is to be used as an office /word processor pc, but I do a li'l bit of video editing and I generally want a pretty good and fast system. My list includes:
    1. AMD Phenom II X4 Quad 955 Core 3.2GHz Processor 4 x 512 KB Boxed - Black Edition
    2. Gigabyte GA-MA790X-UD3P Motherboard Phenom II X4 Socket AM3 AMD 790X ATX RAID Gigabit Ethernet
    3. Kingston ValueRAM Memory DDR3 Non-ECC CL8 DIMM 1GB (need two)
    4. Western Digital Caviar Blue 250 Gb 7200 Rpm Sata-ii Internal Hard Drive
    5. Samsung SH-S223L/BEBE Internal 22x DVD Writer Drive SATA Lightscribe - Black (OEM)
    6. Corsair VX Series, 450 Watt, ATX, PS/2, Power Supply, UK Version (CMPSU-450VXUK)
    7. Asus EAH4350 SILENT/DI/256MD2(LP) Graphics Card Radeon HD 4350 256MB PCi-E DVI VGA (90-C1CM1F-H0UANAKZ)
    8. LG L1734S 17 inch LCD TFT Monitor 1280x1024 700:1 5ms - Black/Silver
    9. Hercules Muse LT PCI sound card
    10. Edimax EW-7128G Wireless LAN PCI Card 802.11b/g 54Mbp (Ralink)
    11. Antec Three Hundred Midi Case


    I know i'll need a few extra fans for the case, but will I need a CPU-cooler, or will I get one with the processor? And do I need a 'controller', or is it bundled along in there somewhere?
    Even more importantly, can someone confirm that these components are compatible?
    Would appreciate any help, guys.
    0