Welcome, my intrepid and industrious friends, to Part Two of our series dedicated to building your own PC! To start at the beginning of the series, in which we discuss some basic PC components and where to look for them, you can view Part One here.
In this entry, we’re going to examine compatibility. Compatibility is a huge factor when determining not only what kind of PC you’re going to get, but what capabilities that PC will have. And compatibility is never more important than when one is examining the first major piece of their new PC, the motherboard.
As previously stated, the motherboard is the component of the PC that ties everything together. CPU, memory, hard drive, all these pieces, and their functions, route through the motherboard. Additionally, the motherboard dictates what components you can get. But to correctly choose a motherboard that suits your needs, a smart consumer must decide one thing first; what CPU is right for you?
Choosing a CPU can be somewhat difficult, given the options available. First and foremost, your choice lies between two manufacturers: industry giants Intel and AMD. For years, the two have battled for supremacy in the world of processing power, but right now, Intel seems to be leading the competition. With AMD not set to release their new core, branded Bulldozer, until 2011, Intel has pulled ahead with the release of their i3, i5, and i7 series processors, and will pull further ahead with another release in the fall of 2010. In the end, however, the choice of processor comes down to two things…what you want it to do, and how much you feel comfortable spending.
Contrary to popular belief among many amateur PC builders, it’s not a requirement that you buy the fastest top of the line processor out there. Frankly, 80 percent of the pre-built machines you buy won’t have it, so why should you spend the extra money on processing power you likely won’t use? Unless you need the computing power for high-usage applications, such as graphics or image rendering, instead try to look for a second tier processor. For example, if all you intend to use your PC for is email and internet gaming, go with an Intel Core 2 Quad or i3 instead of the top of the line i7. It will provide more than enough power for the average user, and save you a bundle.
Once you’ve chosen a processor that you feel is right for you, it’s time to turn your attention to the motherboard. The first rule of purchasing a motherboard is to buy from a company that is generally reputable. ASUS, GigaByte, and Intel are just a few of the more reliable brands out there when it comes to performance and quality control. The second rule is to purchase around not only the processor you select, but the next processor you’ll buy. Look for a motherboard that fits your CPU’s socket type (this will always be listed under the specifications of any motherboard or CPU), but also look for one that might fit the socket type of the top of the line CPU, because in a year that CPU will be second or third tier. As an example, say you decide on an Intel i3, socket type LGA 1156. This is also the socket type of the current top dog, the i7, so in six months to a year, when the i7’s have gone down in price, you can pick one up on the cheap and get a great upgrade for your system.
Next week we’ll continue our examination of compatibility, covering memory, and address a reader request, a discussion of motherboard form factor and what it means for the average consumer. Happy computing!