DEM-PCsolutions Blog
Tips and tweaks from DEM-PCsolutions & Friends

Tips for upgrading your computer.

Difficulty Rating:            3.5/5

Now, as many computers go out of date, more and more people strive for a new PC. So here is some advice on what to do now, starting with a new case.

Case: Now you may be one of those people who doesn’t care what your case looks like and just goes out and buys the first reasonably priced one they see. The only thing good about that is the price. When you want a new computer, a fairly good one, cooling is all-important. See what fans can be attached to the case, but don’t be conned by it having several 120mm fan slots, if you want a 120mm fan, you will have to spend near £10 to get one that beats and 80mm fan; but I’ll go into cooling later on. The next important thing about your case is the size of motherboard that it can hold. If it supports micro ATX or just ATX, then you should be fine, but check with the supplier first. How many CD/DVD drives can it hold? Does it have space for a floppy drive? You may have noticed that this can take some time to check, but it is to avoid disappointment and a hole in your wallet later on. Also, check what power supply (aka PSU) comes with it. 350Watts will support most systems, but it you want a more stable, crash-free system, aim for 450W minimum. This is important if you are going to be using a power-hungry graphics card, so aim for 500W at least. Another thing to consider about the PSU is that the one that comes with the case is OK but if you want a high end system then you should be looking at around £50 extra to spend on a good PSU. One thing I like with my case is that the left side of the case is made from acrylic (aka Perspex, Plexiglas etc) so I can see right in it, and since I bought nice fans which are see through and glow different colours, this makes your case something special and something to show off.

Now we have the case for your computer, it’s time to think about the stuff inside, behind the curtains. You may rarely see it but it’s what makes it tick and knowing what your doing and seeking advice can make a world of difference. So it is now that we move onto the Motherboard (now called mobo).

Mobo: With the way the market is going at the moment, you want a socket AM2 (made for AMD processors) mobo. This will however mean that you will need DDR2 RAM (aka Memory) which is most likely not what you have at the minute. DDR2 RAM is faster than the current DDR, but they still make slower, cheaper versions. Aim for 533MHz as a starting point, you can always upgrade later. Whilst we’re on RAM, check how many slots there are on the mobo, 2 is normal, but if you can, get one with 4; this means that if you want to upgrade or add-one to your RAM you have more potential to do so, also check what the maximum memory it can support is. Another thing you need to look at on your mobo is how many PCI slots it has (these are the slots where you plug in sound cards, network cards etc), some mobos only have 1, if this is the case, do you need any more or is there anything you can do without? Like a sound card for example: onboard sound will most likely be good enough on a decent mobo. Try to get a mobo that has SATA (Serial ATA), this is a slot for your HDD (Hard Disk Drive) and is much faster than IDE (the now-outdated transfer type). If you get a SATA compatible mobo, then also get a SATA HDD too. There is SATA2, which is the same as SATA, but twice as fast. Also, you motherboard should have PCI-Express (PCIe) which is a new type of slot for you graphics card (GFX) and is 16x memory transfer as opposed to AGP which is only 8x. Twice as fast see? Now that we have come to the GFX part of the mobo, we come into either ATI CrossFire, or NVIDIA’s SLI. SLI and Crossfire are practically the same but you need a compatible motherboard for one or the other. SLI and CrossFire is where you can have 2 GFX cards installed on you motherboard and effectively double your GFX power, as it is shared between 2 cards. If you intend to CrossFire or SLI your GFX cards make sure they too are compatible and that your mobo has 2 PCIe 16x slots. On a more trivial part of the motherboard make sure it has enough USB 2.0 ports on the back for your needs, and if it doesn’t, can you connect some more for the front of your case? Or do you have a spare PCI slot in which you can put an USB card?

And so moving on from the motherboard, we go to its conjoined twin, Memory, or RAM, which stands for Random Access Memory.

RAM: RAM is needed for you computer to load data into so that it can be easily and quickly accessed by your computer. This is much needed in games where there is a lot of data which could be needed at any given moment. RAM comes in small, flat sticks, about 5 to 6 inches long. If you’re getting an AM2 mobo then you’ll need DDR2 RAM, which is nice and fast, but remember there are slow versions! So make sure you get 533MHz or above. RAM comes in different capacities; from around 128Mb to up to 4 GB. A 1 GB stick should cost you between £50 and £60 but don’t be ripped off as I have seen Maplin sell it for £100! Any system should have a 1 GB stick as a starting block. Whenever you get more memory, always get a 1 GB stick, or above, if you can afford it. Also don’t be conned into buying Kingston or Corsair, you will pay a lot more for it and get around the same performance but it will however be more reliable, so you must think, if you’re thinking of over clocking it, buy a name brand so that you know it can handle great strain.

There isn’t much else that comes to mind about memory (excuse the pun) so I’ll move onto the Graphics.

Graphics Cards: There are 2 major GFX card producers, NVIDIA and ATI. I prefer ATI but that’s just me. Let’s assume you have the PCIe mobo and it supports CrossFire, just for the purpose of explaining, besides, SLI is almost identical. Don’t forget, you don’t have to CrossFire your GFX right away; you can go on very well with just one GFX card until you have enough money to CrossFire the two, the difference being of course, that you won’t have as much GFX power as you would if you CrossFired them. When you want to CrossFire them, you will need the cable (this should come packaged with your motherboard) of course. Also, you need two of the same cards to CrossFire, two with different speeds or size, will clock down to the lower of the two, so there’s no point really. A good card to get for this is an X1600-XT,low price, around £75-£100, but make sure you get one that supports CrossFire of course. When you see GFX cards on the internet, or in a shop, you will notice that some are 128Mb, 256Mb or 512Mb in size. Aim for 256Mb or above but also bear in mind the speed of the cards, DDR3 memory is faster than DDR2 remember? So a card with GDDR3 memory will load images faster than a DDR2 card, so bear in mind, though a 512Mb card can hold more data, it will be s**t-kicked by two CrossFired 256Mb cards that have GDDR3 memory.

That’s enough for GFX now so I’ll move onto potentially the most crucial part of your PC, the processor, or CPU.

Processor: This is the heart of your computer, all those programs you use, all the data you need is analyzed by the CPU first. There are two major CPU companies, too. They are Intel and AMD. So what do you go for? AMD or Intel? AMD Make very good processors, like the X2 dual core range, which have VERY good prices and are very fast too. Or do you go for Intel, with their new Core2Duo range (the fastest on the market)? Intel gives best performance at the minute, but AMD are much better value. So, you can get an AMD processor and over clock it* or get an Intel but be left brassic. The clock speed is, effectively how fast your CPU is, it means how much data it can pass through it, and is measured in Hz. However, it is not the only important factor. Your processor may only be 32bit and a 64bit one would be faster, also your CPU may be dual core, so a 2.2GHz AMD dual core CPU would be faster than a 3.4GHz single core Intel Pentium. AMD is better for multi-tasking, because of their faster speeds and dual cores, though not all AMDs are dual core! Now, you need to make sure that the socket for you mobo is the same as for your CPU, this will be something like 939, 940, AM2 etc… The Core2Duo processors I mentioned are S775 and the new AMD ones are SAM2.

• This is not advised unless you REALLY know what you are doing!!!

Moving onto a slightly less important peripheral than the CPU, but still essential, your HDD.

Hard Drive: You will be getting a SATA or SATA2 HDD. You would be stupid to do otherwise. 160 GB of HDD is more than enough for storing everything on, but it is advised that you have a smaller HDD, 30 or 40 GB for your OS (operating system such as Linux or Windows). Get a high spindle speed, this is measured in RPM, and aim for 7,200 RPM at the least, there are 10,000 RPM ones, so I’m going to get one. So yeah, get a smaller HDD for your OS and then a larger one, 160GB or 250GB for storing all your data on, music, photos and even games should be installed here etc, you don’t need to install your OS on this one, just install everything there.

Now for some drives. CD, DVD and Card Readers will all have less text to them as there isn’t as much to say simply.
CD/DVD/Card Drives: It is the norm to have one high speed drive to read things such as games off now. This drive tends to be a DVD drive, only a reader, doesn’t write at all. Your other drive will be one that writes CDs, and maybe even DVDs. But do you need one? Does someone else in the house have a drive that does all you need it to? How often will you use it? Ask yourself those questions and decide on what’s right for you. Next, do you need a card reader? Chances are you don’t but if you use digital cameras a fair bit, then this can be very handy as you don’t need to use USB as these will be much faster. Not much to say on these as they tend to be a speciality item.

Now onto another, seemingly mundane topic: Cooling. Never has a man been more wrong when he said that “Cooling isn’t important”. It is, so I dispense my advice now:

Cooling: To start off with what I began with, the case. It can get quite stuffy in there and things won’t work quite so well if they are hot. Putting some fans on your case should move some air around; it’s ideal to have fans blowing in, and fans blowing out, for obvious reasons, Cold air in, and hot air out. Piece of cake. Your CPU cooling however is a different matter. If you intend to over clock it then the stock cooler (the one that comes with it) just won’t do. You’ll need some proper cooling. Look over brand names such as Zalman to find what you want, and remember to get one that will fit onto your socket motherboard! There are 2 types of cooling really, air and water. What’s that I hear you say, “WATER IN A COMPUTER?”, yep that’s what I said, they’re all contained of course and in theory it wont burst, but don’t put it past them. I don’t know much about water cooling, except that it’s much more expensive than air cooling but it is much more effective. Because of its price it is reserved for those who intend to seriously over-clock their CPUs, something which you should NOT do without seeking professional advice. So for now, go for air cooling, get a decent size heatsink and a decent fan (though most heatsinks come with one). Try to get one that ahs “Heat pipes” in them. Those are a more effective way of dissipating the heat. Zalman have very good heat pipe coolers. A HDD cooler may be necessary but HDDs work fine without them, though it doesn’t hurt to get one as you can buy one for under £7.

So there isn’t much more to say on Cooling. So I will now briefly explain what to do with your PCI slots.

What to do with your PCI slots: In these, a various number of things can be added, a sound card perhaps, but if you buy a good motherboard, it will probably have at least 4.1 surround sound already on board, so a cheap £10 sound card will actually be worse. You may need a network card, so check if there isn’t what you need on your mobo. You will need one if you want a wireless network, though I think you can get USB versions, if all your PCI slots are used up. If you have a lot of spare money, and want to go into the deep-end, then you can buy a PCI card which processes the Gravity for games, though few systems and games support this so watch this space for more info.

Thanks for reading and good luck!

Also a big thanks to Jack White for this excellent walkthrough.

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