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New System Parts Recommendations

Revision as of 23:46, 8 November 2008 by Deanodriver (Talk | contribs)

Seeing as though a lot of people ask about what computer parts they should buy for a range of budgets, I decided to make a Wiki on systems and system parts that I think are the most bang for buck. Discussion is encouraged of course, and anyone can edit the parts/prices. The systems themselves can be found in a separate article called New System Recommendations


Criteria and Part Selection Philosophy

What's Bang for Buck?

It is quite simple to determine if Product A is better value than Product B.

  • Read up on the two products - you must read
  • Evaluate performance on the two products, obtain a performance margin (e.g. 40 FPS vs 50 FPS) - always obtain the difference and divide that by the lower performing product, then multiply by 100 to get percentage.
  • Research price of two products, obtain price margin (e.g. $130 vs $160) - likewise obtain difference and do similarly
  • Take both evaluations and compare - the product that gives most performance for the least amount of money is the Best Bang for Buck

CPUs and Graphics Cards

Lets take an example that I started above. Lets say Product A is a graphics card that costs $130 and gives 40 FPS on a particular game. Product B on the other hand is priced at $160, and gives 50 FPS.

  • Using the steps above, we look at the performance difference - 10 FPS.
  • Divide this by the lower performing product, 40 FPS, which gives us 0.25.
  • Multiply this by 100 to get percentage - 25%.

This means that Product B is faster than Product A by 25%. But at what cost?

  • $160 - $130 = $30
  • $30/$130 = 0.23
  • 0.23 x 100 = 23%

Hence, the price premium we pay is 23%. 25% (the performance gained) is higher than 23% (price premium), thus, Product B here is the most Bang for Buck, by a small margin. When this happens, we look at our wallet. Do we really have those extra $30? Of course, if we do spend the extra $$$ we get a slightly better deal, but for the increase in performance it is hardly worth it (in this case). There are other cases where this is not the case, and a small price premium brings much greater performance gains as you will see below in the summaries.

Also to look in a CPU and Graphics card is overclockability. Some people say - hey I don't overclock! Even if you don't overclock, by the time it comes to selling off the old hardware, overclockable hardware always goes for more $$$. Why? It's simple. When done correctly, you can get extra speed for free. So why not? Sometimes the ability of a particular piece of hardware to overclock will make it more bang-for-buck than others - a good example is a Pentium Dual Core E2xxx.

Hard Drives

Hard Drives come in a variety of different speeds and sizes. The bang-for-buck test can also be easily applied to hard drives, where bang is capacity.

If you're looking for a lot of storage space, you may want to consider the cost per gigabyte ($/GB) value of your drives. For example, take some SATA drives (prices correct as of 26/10/08):

  • 80GB HDD $40 ($0.500/GB)
  • 160GB HDD $49 ($0.306/GB)
  • 250GB HDD $59 ($0.236/GB)
  • 320GB HDD $63 ($0.197/GB)
  • 400GB HDD $79 ($0.198/GB)
  • 500GB HDD $79 ($0.158/GB)
  • 750GB HDD $110 ($0.147/GB)
  • 1TB (1000GB) HDD $160 ($0.160/GB)
  • 1.5TB (1500GB) HDD $281 ($0.187/GB)

The sweet spot here is the 750GB drive, so if you want MORE than 750GB, it's cheaper to get a bunch of these drives and RAID 0 them (you should also factor in the cost of a RAID controller and possibly a bigger PSU if you need them).

From these simple calculations, it is important to recognise that more can be had for less, and less can be had for more.

One other thing to consider is warranty. Whilst, for example, a Western Digital or Samsung drive might have the best $/GB ratio, it only has a 3yr warranty, where as equivalent Seagate drives have a 5yr warranty.

Power Supply

Again, the same logic can be applied to power supplies - what to look for here is amps on the 12V rail(s) and output wattage. For a chart and more information on power supplies, please refer to the Power Supply Unit article.

Common Comparisons - Which to Buy?

Future Proofing

It is recommended that users buy the latest technology at a reasonable price. For example, as of Q4 2008, Nehalem (Core i7) CPUs are on the verge of release and based on socket LGA1366, whilst Wolfdale (Core 2 Duo) and Allendale (Pentium Dual-Core) CPUs based on socket LGA775 are to be phased out in coming months. {WIP}

Flagship Products

WIP here but you can read this for the meantime.

"What do you mean? When I bought the cpu, it was the best on the market, AM2 and Conroe came out after! I'd like to see a better graphics card." - dmandn

Buying flagship products means that you pay an unjustified premium for the performance you gain, from the average users perspective.

However, these top-of-the-line CPU's almost always include one important feature: an unlocked multiplier. This means you are no longer restricted to the cheaper CPU's locked FSB multiplier, so your overclocking options just got a whole lot friendlier. Those who seek every last iota of performance, through extreme cooling methods like phase-change, often purchase these flagship products.


AMD vs Intel

Currently (Q1 2008) Intel is owning AMD in terms of CPU architecture.

It's a hard sell for anything AMD based these days. In fact, the only major reasons to buy AMD hardware are:

  • Low end AMD motherboards typically use chipsets with better onboard video (using nVidia/AMD chipsets) rather than the video bundled with Intel chipsets.
  • Low end Phenom CPUs are a cheaper quad-core CPU than the Intel product (although also lower performance).
  • If you already have an AM2 motherboard and are after an upgrade.

Exxxx series differences

The main differences between the higher and lower end series CPUs are the lower FSB of the 4xxx/2xxx (800, rather than 1066/1333), and the fact that the E4xxx series and below lack VT (virtualisation technology). The 8xxx and 9xxx series CPUs are made with a 45nm process (compared to the 65nm process of the other CPUs), hence will typically run cooler and use less power.

Each CPU also has varying cache amounts. Does cache matter? Read here. Need I say more? If you're gaming, you'll see such a small increase in performance you won't notice, but if you're doing multimedia encoding then go for it.

If you're after a cheap dualcore CPU to overclock, the E2xxx series would probably be a good choice.

Main differences between the CPUs:

Single Core
  • Celeron 4xx - 512KB L2 cache, 800MHz FSB, no VT, no Speedstep? - 1.6-2.0GHz (420-440)
Dual Core
  • Celeron E1xxx - 512KB L2 cache, 800MHz FSB, no VT, no Speedstep? - 1.6GHz (E1200)
  • Pentium Dual Core E2xxx - 1MB shared L2 cache, 800MHz FSB, no VT - 1.6-2.4GHz (E2140-E2220)
  • Core 2 Duo E4xxx - 2MB shared L2 cache, 800MHz FSB, no VT - 1.8-2.4GHz (E4300-E4600)
  • Core 2 Duo E6xxx - 4MB shared L2 cache, 1066/1333FSB, VT - 1.86-3.0GHz (E6300-E6850)

NOTE: The E6300 and E6400 only have 2MB of L2 cache.

  • Core 2 Extreme X6xxx - 4MB shared L2 cache, 1066FSB, VT - 3.00-3.33GHz? (X6800-X6900)
  • Core 2 Duo E8xxx - 6MB shared L2 cache, 45nm, 1333FSB, 2.66GHz-3.16GHz (E8200-E8500)
Quad Core
  • Core 2 Quad Q6xxx - 2x4MB shared L2 cache, 1066-1333FSB (all Q6x50 models 1333FSB), VT - 2.66GHz-3.0GHz (Q6600 - Q6700)
  • Core 2 Quad Q9xxx - 2x6MB shared L2 cache (except Q9300, which is 2x3MB), 45nm, 1333FSB, VT - 2.5GHz-2.83GHz (Q9300 - Q9550)
  • Core 2 Extreme QX6xxx - 2x4MB shared L2 cache, 1066-1333FSB (all QX6x50 models 1333FSB), VT, unlocked multiplier
  • Core 2 Extreme QX9xxx - 2x6MB shared L2 cache, 45nm, 1333/1600FSB, VT, unlocked multiplier - 3.0GHz-3.2GHz (QX9650-QX9775) - QX9775 uses LGA771

More CPU Mhz vs Faster Graphics Card

If you're gaming, a faster graphics card will impact the performance more than the CPU would. This is primarily because graphics cards are designed to do the graphics work, whilst the CPU is designed to do computations etc. Thus, if there is a bit more room in your budget and you're wondering whether to upgrade the CPU or get a faster graphics card, go with the faster graphics card.

To prove my point, you can try doing this (not for people new to overclocking):

  • Run a 3DMark benchmark, note the score
  • Overclock your graphics card, run the benchmark, note the score
  • Return graphics card to stock, overclock the CPU, run the benchmark, note the score
  • By comparing the three scores, the overclocked graphics card score should be higher than the overclocked CPU score.

Note that you don't overclock like nuts to see the effect, even 5-10% is sufficient.

11/10/08 Note: Since the newer 3DMark benchmarking programs now also count CPU in the score, I'm unsure as to whether this will still work


Arguably the key component of any machine, there is really only one criteria for basic users when selecting one, and that is its feature set. The number of features and price of a motherboard share direct relationship, that is, more stuff is going to cost you more. If you're not going to use 8 SATA Ports, then why buy a board that has them? If you're not using RAID, then why buy a board that has it? Hence, boards which are bang-for-buck offer the most features for its price point.

Reliability used to be a part of selection criteria, however since now that most boards come with solid capacitors and that reliability in itself is difficult to measure, it should no longer be considered. Boards which are lemons are easily researchable and avoidable.

Nowadays (11/10/08) there are many high-end enthusiast motherboards designed for specifically for overclocking, such as the ASUS Republic of Gamers series, DFI Lanparty series and Biostar TPower series. Hence, the systems recommended reflect this and such boards are only included in OC Variant machines.


1GB or 2GB or 4GB

In game benchmarks, load times don't affect the score and even a bit of lag as something gets loaded to/from disk mid game won't drop the average FPS by much. In reality, games (especially BF2/BF2142) load faster with 2GB and rarely decide because of the lack of the need to utilise virtual memory, which requires hard drive access. Alt-tabbing in and out of a game to other programs is far smoother.

Video editing with 2GB lets you have a lot more background programs and thumbnails open without hitting the physical memory limit and start swapping to disk. Again, the benchmarks measure encoding speed and 2Gb makes no difference as memory use is only 100-200Mb while doing it.

Given a tight budget, go for a slower CPU and 2GB of RAM rather than a fast CPU and 1GB of RAM. The extra Gb of RAM (for a total of 2Gb) as an upgrade path is reasonable if you're planning on having more money available later.

A slightly slower CPU decreases performance by a few percent (most likely unnoticeable by the average user), but sitting there with memory maxed out and the hard disk thrashing on any computer is a very annoying.

Now, with RAM at the prices it is, it's tempting to go for 4GB of RAM, but that brings its own limitations, especially if using a 32bit operating system.

For Windows Vista, I wouldn't go for anything less than 1GB of RAM, and 2GB would be strongly recommended.

The thing is, nowadays, RAM is so ridiculously cheap (2GB of DDR2 for under $50), that at least 2GB is recommended on all but the lowest-end systems. Don't even bother going for 512MB, that's just being a cheapskate, and will harm performance.

Memory Recommendations

To cut a long story short, RAM is RAM. The difference between brands is purely personal choice, and most companies now offer Lifetime Warranty anyway. Some may consider speeds, for example DDR2 667 vs DDR2 800 - rest assured the the differences are minimal as this Anandtech chart shows. However, given the affordability of DDR2 800 RAM (11/10/08) it would be a waste of purchase slower DDR2 667 RAM when the price difference is minimal.

For those who don't plan to overclock, and use an Intel system, 667MHz DDR2 RAM would be plenty (and most systems won't even use all of that bandwidth at default speeds), hence 667MHz RAM is suggested in most non-overclocker systems. If you plan to go for faster RAM, 800MHz is a little more expensive.

For AM2 systems, where higher speed RAM utilised at any speed (the RAM speed is controlled using dividers of the CPU speed, since AMD systems do not use a FSB), such RAM does lend a slight performance benefit (often in the area of 5-8%), so if cost permits, 800MHz RAM is suggested in the AMD systems.

There's a good reason why Kingston and Corsair RAM is recommended in most of the non-overclocker systems. The main reasons are that it comes with a lifetime warranty, it's widely available, and it's not much more expensive than generic. Since many stability problems are due to memory, we believe it's wise spending the extra on branded RAM for peace of mind.

You might have noticed we haven't mentioned DDR1 RAM, but that's because it's well and truly out of date, and in most cases, the rest of the system might be worth an upgrade as well.

DDR3 RAM is an option for the higher end systems, although the jury's out on whether it provides enough extra performance to be worthwhile. For those who demand the absolute best, they have that option, though. The Gigabyte P35C-DS3R motherboard has the advantage of having both DDR2 and DDR3 slots, for an upgrade path once DDR3 comes down in price.

Graphics Cards

SLI / Crossfire

Some people want to have two graphics cards in their systems. Why? Because it gives them a performance boost. However, not all games support multi-gpus and more importantly you could easily buy a single card later in the future that is not only faster, but probably cheaper and certainly will support new hardware features. Also to note is the running cost and the power requirements for the PSU.

Overclocking / Volt Modding

Overclocking and volt modding are ways to improve the stock performance of a graphics card (much like the CPU) quite easily.

For example, for those keen on voltmodding, a 7900gt 256mb with the reference PCB can be easily voltmodded to a 7900gtx with little risk. Which greatly improves the speed of the card from 450mhz @ 1.2v to 650mhz @ 1.4v which are what the 7900GTX boards run at. Because of the additional heat produced by overclocking and/or volt modding, an after market cooler is recommended for this undertaking.

Hard Drives

Hard drive reliability

The best measure of reliability in a hard drive is the length of the warranty offered by the manufacturer. Take this into consideration - hard drives do not last forever. A RAID 0 (striped) array of 2 drives effectively halves your mean-time-to-failure (MTTF) since only one drive needs to fail before data is inaccessible. Conversely, spreading your data over more than one drive (not in RAID) reduces the amount of data lost if one fails. These measures should be used in conjunction with regular backups of your important data to DVD or other media. Tape backups have still proven to be the most reliable, as they are resistant to dust and scratches - however, backup drives are typically very slow and only useful when backing up large amounts of data. Such backups are often done overnight to minimise impact on employees and respective customers.

RAID performance boost in games

As we can see from here, game loading times reduce by 5 second in one game, but 20-30 in another. However, the high cost premium for Raptors or a RAID array probably makes it worth while to stick with standard SATA drives and spend the money elsewhere in the system.

Hard Drives in RAID vs Single Large Drives

Sometimes it is cheaper to buy several smaller drives than two larger ones (e.g. 4 x 250GB vs 2 x 500GB). The opposite can also be true. In this example, the price of one Seagate drives buys you one the space of two for less.

  • 2x 80GB SATA HDD $92
  • 1x 160GB SATA HDD $58

As we can see here, clearly one 160GB is cheaper than two 80GB drives (in fact, two 80GB drives are about the same as a single 320GB drive). Power consumption and noise is also reduced. However, for server machines quick hard drives are a must, and this is where RAID is recommended.

16MB Buffer vs 8MB Buffer

As we can see from benchmarks there isn't too much difference between a 16MB and 8MB buffered hard drive. However, the 16MB drives are based on newer technology and should therefore be faster than their predecessors.

SATA 3.0Gb/s vs SATA 1.5GB/s vs PATA

Though the specifications may sound impressive, in reality the SATA interface itself does little to improve performance as shown here compared to the older PATA interface. However, SATA2 and SATA drives often come with more cache (16MB vs 2MB) and this can help boost writing speeds somewhat. Furthermore, the SATA interface uses less power, and the cables used are physically smaller, thus easier to manage. SATA2 drives are designed to be backwards compatible with SATA motherboards, so it is not necessary to purchase a new motherboard to support it.

Additionally, SATA2 drives support NCQ (see below)

NCQ (Native Command Queueing)

See this Wikipedia article.

Optical Storage Devices

Like RAM, a burner is a burner. Since the cost of these drives are pretty much the same from all the brands it really comes to personal preference.

Power Supply

The power supply is probably the only component of the system where you wouldn't want to spend less money or downgrade. A quality power supply is necessary to ensure that any system is properly powered. The PSU is also the only component in any system that has the potential to cause damage to every other component. A more in-depth article on power supply units is also available on the OCAU Wiki under Power Supply Unit. As there are often certain models which stand out at each price point, the same unit is often used for a multitude of systems in the recommended systems page.


The following was my inspiration to create this page to inform others

It may seem stupid to spend $750 on an upgrade, however I found myself in a similar situation after my P4 motherboard screwed over on me. What I needed was something that had bang, overclocking, and some future proofing at the lowest cost possible. This meant reusing my old DDR RAM, HDD etc. This is what I had:

  • 2.8 M0 Pentium 4
  • Gigabyte 8IPE1000 Pro 2
  • 1GB Corsair TwinX 3200C2 V1.2
  • 120GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.7 SATA
  • 128MB SmartVGA 9800 Pro
  • 16x Pioneer DVR-109
  • 52x 32x 52x LG CD-RW
  • Generic Window Case
  • 480W Thermaltake Butterfly

With the board dead, that meant that I had to replace the CPU, motherboard, graphics card and power supply. I was unwilling to go AM2 because there weren't any cheap Lanparty overclocking boards, and I wanted to keep my semi-decent RAM (much better than my old Kingston ValueRAM stuff). This is what I ended up getting:

  • X2 4200+ Toledo
  • DFI Lanparty UT nF4-D
  • Leadtek PX7600GS TDH Classic Edition
  • 500W Super Flower

In total it cost around $640. Affordable, overclockable, blingy. From this upgrade I have learned a few things which I always keep in mind when buying new parts.

  • First of all, the hard drive I bought nearly 3 years ago was SATA. Thus this didn't require me to buy a new hard drive later on
  • My CPU was a good overclocking chip. Thus it fetched more when it was up for sale (compared to the Prescott that I had earlier and would have sold later)
  • Video card wasn't too bad - being second to only the flagship model a few years back, meant that it could fetch a bit more when it went up for sale

Thus, when buying new parts always look for overclockability, value and future proofing.

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