Page 1:Part 1: Component Selection
Page 2:Processor And Graphics Selection
Page 3:Motherboard Options
Page 4:Remember The Memory!
Page 5:Hard Drive Selection
Page 6:Power Supplies And Other Components
Page 7:Part 2: Choosing The Right Vendor
Page 8:Purchase Price
Page 10:Part 3: Putting It All Together
Page 11:Installing The CPU
Page 12:Installing The CPU Cooler
Page 13:Installing The Power Supply And Motherboard
Page 14:Installing Other Components
Page 15:Motherboard Cable Installation
Page 16:Device Cable Installation
Page 17:Final Words
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.
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.
- Part 1: Component Selection
- Processor And Graphics Selection
- Motherboard Options
- Remember The Memory!
- Hard Drive Selection
- Power Supplies And Other Components
- Part 2: Choosing The Right Vendor
- Purchase Price
- Part 3: Putting It All Together
- Installing The CPU
- Installing The CPU Cooler
- Installing The Power Supply And Motherboard
- Installing Other Components
- Motherboard Cable Installation
- Device Cable Installation
- Final Words