In this in-depth article I am going to take you step by step through the process of selecting parts for your home computer build.

There are many steps involved in building your own computer and I know from experience that selecting the right parts to meet your requirements and making sure that they are compatible with each other, can be quite daunting. So I am going to set out a comprehensive check list for you to work through at your own pace.

Building your First Computer

In March 2012 I got the courage to build my very first computer, and then on top of that I had the crazy idea of filming the entire process and uploading my "How to Build a Computer" video to YouTube. There was a very important reason why I decided to make this "How to" video. I started watching as many "How to Build a Computer" videos I could find on YouTube to learn what to do and gain some confidence. However, I noticed that many of the videos that existed back then consistently glossed over particular steps with the assumption that people magically would just know.

Here is a link back to the original video series I made showing how to actually build your computer:
How to Build a Computer in 2011 for Fast Video Editing & Gaming Part 1/2
How to Build a Computer in 2011 for Fast Video Editing & Gaming Part 2/2

So I know what it feels like to be a bit anxious about building your first computer. There is some very important advice I must tell you before we start.

"Be patient ! Research thoroughly and triple check everything before you start buying any components."

What is going to be the Main Purpose for your New Computer ?

  • General Home Computer ?
  • Video Editing Computer ?
  • Gaming Computer ?
  • High Performance Multi Function Computer ?

The process for selecting parts is pretty much the same no matter what type of computer you want to build. However, if you are wanting to build a strictly Gaming Computer, then there are plenty of people out there with a lot more knowledge than what I have. If you fall into any of the other three groups, then I believe I can really give you some great advice.

What is your Budget ?

Setting a budget for your build can be an enlightening process. If you want a high performance computer for something like video editing, then you must be prepared to set a realistic budget. Spending a few extra hundred dollars can be a great investment in future proofing your PC for a longer life span and at the same time giving you a machine that exceeds your expectations in performance.

If you are wanting to build a General Purpose Home Computer, then it is always worth checking out what you can buy pre-made, straight off the shelf. Computers have become so cheap now, it is amazing some of the deals that retailers can put together. So if you are on a very limited budget with not much wiggle room in your budget, it may be more cost effective for you to buy something off the shelf. However, if you want to have some fun and experience the joy and satisfaction of building your first computer, then give it a go !

In what order should I select my parts ?

What I have set out below is not a definitive order for selecting your parts - everyone has different approaches. This is simply the best way I have found to take some of the stress out of selecting parts.

This is going to be a TWO STEP process. I have placed a number next to each component. After this Main Components List, I will then go back and give you a break down of each part and give you a guide for important features you must become aware of. This is to make sure that every single component is going to be compatible with one another.

Check list of Parts for a Computer Build

  • 001 - CPU - Central Processing Unit - the brain of your computer
  • 002 - RAM - Random Access Memory
  • 003 - Boot Drive (C-Drive) - SSD (Solid State Drive)
  • 004 - Storage Drives - HDDs (Hard Disc Drives)
  • 005 - DVD/BluRay Drive - for CDs, DVDs or BluRay Discs
  • 006 - GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) - Graphics Card
  • 007 - Sound Card
  • 008 - Wireless Card - Wireless Internet Connection Transmitter/Receiver
  • 009 - Card Reader - SDHC or Compact Flash, Memory Cards
  • 010 - Cooling Device for CPU
  • 011 - Motherboard
  • 012 - Power Supply
  • 013 - Computer Case / Chasis
  • 014 - Cooling Fans
  • 015 - Extra Bling like Lights
  • 016 - Operating System Software - Windows 7 or 8

*Please note that NOT everything in this check list is neccessary for every build. It all depends on what type of computer you are building and how much of a Nerd or Geek you are ! 

Breakdown of all Parts from the Master Check list above

Now you can grab some sheets of paper and start making some notes. There is a very good reason why I placed the Motherboard down the list at position #011. This is because no two Motherboards are the same. They all contain different amounts of important connections and slots, for ALL the above components to be connected to. So if you know how many SATA Ports you require, this can make selecting the right Motherboard a far simpler and quicker process. Don't worry, I will explain what a SATA Port is shortly !

#001 Choosing a CPU (Central Processing Unit)

It is September 2012 at the writing of this article, so please note that CPU Models are continually evolving, with new models being released every six months or so. There are two main manufacturers of CPUs on planet Earth - Intel and AMD.

Whether you like it or not, Intel is well and truly the market leader when it comes to high performance chips. However, it doesn't have to be viewed as a competition. You should be choosing a CPU based on what your needs and budget are.

I come from a Video Editors perspective, which means I will only look at Intel Chips for building a computer. Comparisons between Intel and AMD clearly show that Intel is a far better performer for CPU Intensive programs like Sony Vegas or Adobe Premier Pro and Special Effects programs like Adobe After Effects and 3D Modelling programs. If on the other hand you are building a general purpose machine or a gaming computer on a tight budget, then definitely check out AMD Processors - they are all terrific value for money. The choice is yours and I am not here to throw another chestnut on the fire - do your own research.

Which CPU should I get ?

Quite simply, get the best CPU that you can afford. The CPU is the heart of any computer and what makes most of the difference. Fortunately now, most CPUs have terrific computing ability and can handle day to day tasks with ease. When the 2nd Generation Sandy Bridge Intel chips where released in 2011, they changed everything, because they where built to meet the demands of HD Video which is very CPU intensive.

Intel CPUs and Socket Types

There are three main socket types right now for Intel CPUs - Socket 1150, 1155 and Socket 2011.

The CPU Socket is basically the PIN Configuration for the CPU. It is very important to take note of this for when it comes to selecting your Motherboard. Motherboards by any manufacturer are split into these two main groups.
As an example, you must match an 1155 Socket CPU with an 1155 Socket Motherboard.

Current Mainstream Intel Socket 1150 CPU's for 2014

These are all 4th Generation i-Series Chips Code Named "Ivy Bridge".

Popular Intel Socket 1155 CPU's for 2013 & 2012

These are all 3rd Generation i-Series Chips Code Named "Ivy Bridge".
Ivy Bridge CPUs have the smallest Micro Architecture ever, at just a mere 22 nanometers die shrink. They are extremely fast and very energy efficient.

This next set are all 2nd Generation i-Series Code Named "Sandy Bridge". Great CPUs if you can still find them online or in stores. Sandy Bridge CPUs have a Micro Architecture of 32 nanometers die shrink. This Series was a big leap forward and changed things forever. First chips to really handle CPU Intensive HD Video Editing and Special Fx with ease.

Popular Intel Socket 2011 CPUs

*All Intel CPUs marked "Overclock Ability" can be overclocked to much higher speeds.

AMD CPUs and Socket Types

Most popular and current AMD CPU's can have a FM1 Socket, AM3 Socket or AM3+ Socket.

An AMD CPU which has an FM1 Socket can ONLY fit in an FM1 compatible Motherboard.

AM3 and AM3+ Socket types fit into either an AM3 or AM3+ compatible Motherboard.

Current Most Popular AMD CPUs are all Socket AM3+ Compatible

*All of the above AMD CPU's can be overclocked to higher speeds.

#002 Choosing RAM (Memory)

How much RAM you can fit into your computer is determined by how many DIMM Slots are on your Motherboard. All Intel Socket #1155 and AMD Socket AM3/AM3+ Motherboards come with 4 x DIMM Slots. Intel Socket #2011 Motherboards have 8 x DIMM Slots.

RAM comes in 2GB, 4GB and 8GB sticks and must be installed in even pairs. 

Here are all the possible combinations you can have on a 4 x DIMM Socket #1155 Motherboard:

  • 2 x 2GB
  • 2 x 4GB
  • 2 x 8GB
  • 4 x 2GB
  • 4 x 4GB
  • 4 x 8GB

An Intel Socket #2011 Motherboard with 8 x DIMM Slots can have double the amount shown above.

How much RAM do I need ?

4GBs should be the absolute minimum you install. However, because RAM is so cheap now, I would actually suggest that for Video Editors, Special Effects Enthusiasts, 3D Modellers and Gamers you install 8GBs as the starting point - it will definitely make a difference and to stop bottlenecks forming coming in and out of the CPU. There is no point having a super fast CPU, if you don't have the memory capacity to support it.

What type of RAM should I get ?

All modern RAM is DDR3 class and this is the only type you should be looking at. You will also notice that RAM comes in different Timings, Speed, Colours and Profiles. A lot of this information can be a bit overwhelming to a new person. The best way to get some clarity is to actually go to the Manufacturer's Websites where you will find helpful comparison charts and tools to help you decide which memory best matches your CPU and Motherboard.

The Corsair website as an example, has an excellent easy to use tool for matching up memory. Press here to use their Memory Finder App.

If you are going to be using a large bulky Air Cooler for your CPU, then keep in mind that you can now buy RAM Sticks with a Low Profile. Some of these coolers hang right over the DIMM Slots and can leave not enough room for the RAM to safely be installed. Using Low Profile RAM is the solution.

If you become completely overwhelmed in selecting the right RAM for your computer build, then I suggest you find your local neighbourhood Geek to assist you OR simply use the Absolutely Fabulous method and choose RAM based on which colour you like the most.

#003 Choosing an SSD for your Boot Drive

Installing an Solid State Drive (SSD) is now a must have for any new computer build.

The SSD will be the Primary C-Drive where your Windows Operating System lives and all your programs.

Basically it will dramatically speed up your Boot times to less than 30 seconds - consistently. Shut Down times will also be lightning fast. Gone of the days will be when you had to wait up to half an hour for a Windows Update to complete and any other Program Installs and Updates. Virus protector programs running a Full System Scan, will now take 15 to 30 minutes instead of hours.

What size SSD should I buy ?

I highly recommend that you get a minimum 120GB SSD. 120GBs will mean that you have enough room to install Windows, plus all your programs and maybe a couple of games, and leaving some room for expansion.

SSD's have dropped in price dramatically since 2011 - they are over half price now in most cases. If you have a lot of really big programs like one of the Full Adobe Creative Suites and you have lots of Games, then I suggest you consider a 240GB SSD. Just go to your current computer's Programs and Windows Folders and check the folder sizes for an approximation.

If you are unsure of what Brand of SSD to go for, then just do some Googling and read some Reviews from the big product review websites. One resource which I use quite a lot for getting some "real world" reviews and advice is YouTube. Specifically there are two YouTube Channels run by Linus Sebastian from NCIX.com that cover just about anything you can think of in regards to building computers.
http://www.youtube.com/user/LinusTechTips/featured
http://www.youtube.com/user/NCIXcom/featured

O.K. Now it's time to start writing down some info to make it easier to select the right Motherboard. Whichever SSD you decided on, look at the specifications for it and find out what type of Interface it uses. This means you need to find out if its connection speed is "SATA 3 - 6Gbps" or "SATA 2 3Gbps". You will probably find that most are now rated at SATA 3.

So on your piece of paper, right down a SATA 3 and SATA 2 heading and start creating totals for how many Components use SATA 3 and how many use SATA 2. Once we get to the Motherboard section this will make more sense.

#004 Hard Disc Drives (HDD) for Data Storage

This is probably the easiest part to choose. Decide how much Hard Drive Storage you think you need for all your existing files to be transferred onto and also allow for future expansion as you Create new Projects, download Music and download Video from your Video Camera or DSLR Camera.

Remember that if you are a Video Editor, you are going to need lots of Storage Space for all those large 1080p HD Video files to live on. There will be all the files from your cameras and then all the new videos created with Sony Vegas or Adobe Premier Pro. If you are a YouTube Gamer, then you will also need lots of space for those massive Screen Captures of your Gameplay.

Creating a Fast Workflow with TWO Hard Drives

If you are building a computer mainly for Video Editing or any other mutli-media work, then I suggest that you get TWO Hard Drives for your System. Installing 2 x HDDs can boost the perfomance of your Video Editing Software when it is rendering a video.

  • Hard Drive #1 could be where all the Video Files from your Cameras are stored.
  • Hard Drive #2 could be where all your Output Files (Rendered Video) is saved to.

This means that you get maximum speed out of each Hard Drive. One is ONLY Reading Files and the other is ONLY Writing Files. When a HDD has to Read and Write at the same time, the performance is basically cut in half.

Should I create a RAID Storage System ?

Creating a HDD RAID System is more for the Advanced User. RAID can be set up in many different combinations, where you string together many Hard Drives and have them working in Parallel. This was done in the past to speed up rendering times. If you know exactly what is involved in setting up a RAID System, then go for it. 
Personally I don't believe RAID is as important as it once was, because HDDs, SSDs, RAM and CPUs are so much faster now. I use 2 x HDDs, an SSD, and an Overclocked i7-2600k @ 4.6GHz and my Rendering times are very fast.
The biggest risk with a RAID System, is that if one HDD goes bad you can lose all your Data - I am not prepared to lose any of my work.

Storage has become much cheaper now days, so there is no excuse for skimping on Hard Drive Space. You can get 1TB (Terra Byte), 2TB and 3TB Hard Drives now. 3TB Drives are better used for longtime storage of large files which won't be accessed continually. 1TB and 2TB will generally give you much better perfromance.

Most Hard Drives are rated at 7200RPM, and these should be the main ones you look at for good performance. 5400RPM Drives and "Green" Power Saving Drives are better used for long term storage.

There are always new models of Hard Drives coming out, but amongst them all are the big sellers which should be easy to pick and get at a great price. As with every other part that goes into your build, do your research and see what other people 's experiences have been with particular makes and models.

On you piece of paper, please note how many of your Hard Drives are SATA 3 - 6Gbps or SATA 2 - 3Gbps.

#005 DVD / BluRay Optical Drive

Some people are not even putting a DVD drive in their computers anymore, because they download everything. Personally I do not think we are there yet and believe a Desktop Computer should definitely have a DVD Drive installed.

Anyone who is a Video Editor will definitely need a DVD Drive that can Read and Write to a Disc as an absolute minimum. The best solution and only solution I woud encourage you to buy is a "Hamburger with the Lot" DVD/BluRay Combo Drive that can both Read and Write to DVDs and BluRay Discs.

It really is time for everyone to fully embrace BluRay Disc Technology, because this is the only way you can make perfect copies of any 1080p and 720p HD Video that comes from your Video, DSLR and GoPro Cameras.

Once again, please note what SATA Type your Optical Drive is rated for. At the time of writing this article, all the Combination DVD/BluRay Drives I looked at where all SATA 2 - 3Gbps connections.

#006 Choosing a Graphics Card (GPU)

A Graphics Card is a must if you don't want your new computer to be a major disappointment. If you want to play any type of modern game on your computer, then you will also need a decent Graphics Card installed. Video has become such a major component of everyday computing, you will need that extra power of a Graphics Card to get the best possible performance out of any Video Editing, Special Effects and 3D Modelling Programs you intend to use.

New Models seem to be literally coming out every week now, which can make it a bit overwhelming for a newbie. My basic simple advice is to spend as much money as you can afford on a Graphics Card and you won't be disappointed.

There are three Major Manufacturers of GPU (Graphics Processing Unit) chip sets and many different Manufacturers who make the actual Graphics Cards. The two main types of cards for Home Computing are NVIDIA GeForce and AMD Radeon. There is also a third manufacturer of GPUs - Intel. However, unlike traditional standalone Graphics Cards, Intel has integrated a Graphics Processor inside the CPU (Central Processing Unit) itself. So the vast majority of Intel CPUs have a graphics processor as well, which is commonly called Intel HD Graphics. AMD also makes a range of CPU/GPU combination chips which are refered to as APUs (Accelerated Processing Units). You can build a computer and not worry about installing a dedicated Graphics Card and just rely on an AMD APU or Intel CPU with HD Graphics. However many advanced programs like Games, Video Editors, Special Effects and 3D Modelling programs, need a dedicated Graphics Card to work properly.

Discussing the Pros and Cons between NVIDIA and AMD is a massive topic of which there are millions of personal opinions. The purpose of this Build Guide is not to engage in fruitless argument, so I will leave it up to you to do your own research if you feel inclined.

I use Sony Vegas Pro, Sony Movie Studio Platinum, Adobe Premier Pro and After Effects. Which Graphics Cards work best with these programs ?

Special Update - 21st April, 2014

A lot of things have changed since I published this in-depth article in September 2012, especially in regards to Graphics Card compatiblity with major Video Editing and Special Effects programs. I have spent months reading hundreds of entries on many different support Forums, and am fairly confident about the new information I am about to share with you below.

Best Graphics Cards for Sony Vegas Pro and Movie Studio Platinum

Sony Vegas Pro and Sony Movie Studio Platinum now work best with Open CL supported devices like the newest AMD Graphics Cards R9 270, R9 270X, R9 280, R9 280X, R9 290, R9 290X and FirePro Professional Cards. Many users are reporting amazing results with these cards. I personally would recommend getting an AMD Graphics Card over an Nvida card, if you are building a computer mainly for Video Editing, Special Effects and Photography work. Here is a great benchmark comparison down on the AnandTech website, which shows just how good AMD Graphics Cards work in Vegas Pro.

If you have an existing Nvidia GTX400 or GTX500 Series card, these will also work very well with Vegas Pro and Movie Studio Platinum using CUDA processing - do not get rid of these old cards - they are gold ! Any of the professional grade Nvidia Quadro cards will also work very well with Sony programs. Quadro cards use special Drivers that are optimized for Professional Workstation computing, however they are extremely expensive.

Now the bad news. The latest Nvidia GTX600 and GTX700 Series graphics cards do not work to their fullest potential in Vegas Pro and Movie Studio Platinum. Nvida changed the architecture of their consumer grade graphics cards when the GTX600 series was released. They also dumbed down the Open CL Drivers and blocked full access to all the CUDA Processing Cores (restricting access to only 25% of the CUDA Cores), when being used by Vegas Pro and Movie Studio for video rendering acceleration. Basically, Nvidia is only selling GeForce GTX cards optimized for Gaming now. The reason why they have done this, is to protect their professional grade Quadro card market. If they allowed the cheaper GTX cards to be brilliant at video editing rendering as well as Gaming, their workstation Quadro card market would diminish and they would lose revenue.

Sony has a policy of not publicly aligning itself with either Nvidia or AMD. They have been annoyingly silent on the whole debacle of the latest Nvidia cards no longer working as well as they should or use to. However reading between the lines, it seems like Sony has been dropping big hints everywhere that they are now moving strongly forward with the Open CL Framework used in AMD Graphics Card processing. AMD is supplying very good Open CL Drivers with their Catalyst Control Center software, whereas Nvidia is basically supplying crap Open CL Drivers in their software. If you go to the AMD website and check out the Application Showcase page, you will see both Vegas Pro and Movie Studio featured. This means that AMD is working with Sony Creative Software as development partners for their software - this is good news. I think it is also very interesting that Apple is only using AMD FirePro Graphics Cards in their much hyped new Apple Mac Pro lineup. No mention of Nvidia at all. If you go to the Nvida website, their is no mention of Sony software.

A few years ago, I would have always said get an Nvidia Graphics Card if you use Vegas Pro or Movie Studio, because the CUDA Core processors really speed up video rendering. Now I take that back ! The only circumstance where an Nvidia Graphics Card will work properly for you now, is if you sell a kidney and buy a professional Quadro card with proper Drivers. I whole heartedly now recommend AMD Graphics Cards for a Work Station computer build. I am looking forward to building my next computer with an AMD card !

Best Graphics Cards for Adobe Premier Pro and After Effects

I am not an expert at all with Adobe software. Users of these programs report that all Nvidia GTX and Quadro Cards work very well in Premier Pro. However, apparently for After Affects, AMD cards work better.

For a full list of all compatible cards for Adobe Software, please refer to this webpage on the Adobe website.

Best Advice before you BUY !

Please note that Software is continually changing and problems are always being worked on. If you are reading this article past the year 2012, things may have changed and Cards that once were NOT compatible, may now work - do your research.

Do some intensive Google Searches before you buy and make sure that the the model of Graphics Card you want is going to be compatible with the sofware you mainly use. Please read this updated piece of IMPORTANT information below.

**SPECIAL NOTE FOR GAMERS**
If you have TWO graphics card installed in SLI or Crossfire Mode, then please note that Sony Vegas or Adobe Premier can ONLY utilise ONE Card through the software at a time. These programs cannot harness dual cards like a game does.

...End of Special Update added in April 2014

#007 Choosing a Sound Card

All Motherboards come standard with on-board Sound Support which will provide you with Audio for your computer. If you are just an everyday user, then the onboard sound will probably be more than adequate for you, provided you connect your computer to a Pair of Speakers like a Logitech Kit which can amplify your sound up to a decent level.

However, even though the specifications may hype up the fact that the Motherboard comes with amazing Dolby Digital Sound or THX Theatre support, you maybe disappointed if sound is important for you. This is when you need to add an additional Sound Card which will provide cleaner and better sounding Audio and have some more power behind it. So if you are a heavy duty Gamer, a Musician or a Video Editor who likes to work with sound, then it is definitely worth investing in a dedicated Sound Card.

*If you do choose a Sound Card, please take a note of what type of Slot it requires on your Motherboard. Some Cards use a very short PCIe x1 (Express) connection  - just over an inch long, and other types use a longer PCI connection. This is important to know so we can make sure you have the right number & combination of PCI and PCIe slots on your Motherboard.

#008 Wireless Network Adapter for Internet Connectivity

Traditionally only Laptop Computers come standard with a Wireless Transmitter/Receiver device built into the machine. This  has not been the case with Desktop Computers.

If your computer is going to be set up in a room where there is no Ethernet Connection or Telephone Line & Modem connected, then you are going to need a Wireless Network Adaptor added to your Motherboard, so that you can get an Internet Connection. To do this kind of set up you will also need to have a Wireless Modem and/or Router installed in your home which is then connected to your Telephone Line. Most people probably already have this kind of setup already installed in their home.

*Please Note: Very recently Motherboard Manufacturers have started to embed a Wireless Network Adaptor into "some" of their models. I will discuss this a little more once we get to Motherboards in the Checklist.

**Make a note now of what type of PCI or PCIe x1 (express) Slot the Wireless Card requires on your Motherboard, if you need to install a Wireless Network Adaptor.

#009 Card Reader for SDHC Memory Cards

This is another component which many people simply don't worry about anymore. If you are a Photographer or Film Maker, you may have a decent collection of SDHC or Compact Flash Memory Cards which you use to record all your media to. Having an in-built Card Reader can be very handy for doing quick downloads of your Data.

However there are also alternate methods for downloading your Memory Cards. You could leave the Card inside your device and download your files by connecting a USB Cable from your Camera to the Computer.

If you do go for a Card Reader, it gets installed into the Front Panel of your Computer Case just below your DVD Drive.

Card Readers are normally connected to the Motherboard via an internal USB Cable Link which comes pre-connected to the Card Reader.

#010 Cooling Device for your CPU

Cooling for your CPU is extremely important. It is equivalent to the Radiator on your Car and if it wasn't there your CPU would fry and die very, very quickly indeed !

There are Four types of Cooling Solutions you can use:

  • #1 The Stock Air Cooler that comes packaged with most CPUs (Tiny Heatsink + Fan)
  • #2 A Sexy Alien looking, big fat and chunky Air Cooler (Heatsink + Fan)
  • #3 A Self Contained pre-filled Water Cooler (Water Pump Block + Radiator + Fan)
  • #4 A Custom Built Powerful Water Cooling System (Water Pump + CPU Block + Radiator + Fan)

Option #1 is what you will find inside most pre-built Computers that you buy off the shelf in a shop. This is a basic cooling solution that is OK for Basic Home Computing. However it is not a very good solution for more powerful CPUs which generate more heat, and definitely not a solution if you intend to do overclocking.

Option #2 has been the traditional method used for years by people building their own computers. This is still an option worth considering for a low to medium powered machine. There are some incredible designs out there with this kind of Heatsink Design. The main disadvantage with these types of coolers is that they can be very large, bulky and heavy. Some of these are so large, that they can get in the way of the DIMM Slots needed to install your RAM.

Option #3 has now become an extremely popular solution for cooling your CPU. There are quite a few makes and models to choose from now, all with varying cooling capacities. This is a cheaper and much easier way to keep high powered CPUs and Overclocked CPUs nice and cool. Personally I am a big fan of this solution and have had continuing positive experiences with this type of cooler.

Option #4 is for the Pros and hard core Computer Geeks who are into serious Overclocking and love the Bling of a sweet looking Machine. Building a Custom Water Cooling System is not for a novice to try.

Thermal Paste

Thermal Paste is a product that must be applied on top of the actual CPU and the Bottom Plate for the Cooler, so it ends up being the meat in a sandwich between both items. Thermal paste as the name suggests allows for better transferrence of heat from the CPU to the bottom plate of the cooler.

A lot of coolers now come pre-applied with a high quality paste, so there is no real need for most people to worry about buying any extra. A quick check of the specifications for the cooler you select will let you know whether you need to buy any of this product. If you are going to be swapping out coolers on a regular basis, then obviously you would need to buy some.

*Which ever cooling solution you decide to go for, try and find out on the specification sheets how many Fan Headers it will need to be powered and what "type" of Fan Headers (connection points on the Motherboard) it needs. Fan Headers normally come as 3 Pin Connections or 4 Pin Connections.

#011 Choosing a Motherboard

Choosing the Motherboard is probably the most important decision you have to make, because this is what all your components are going to be connected to, and all the parts must be compatible with the board - very important !

The main manufacturers of Motherboards are:

What Socket type is your CPU ?

By now you should have a short list of CPUs you like. Motherboards are organised at the top level by CPU Socket Type, which means that only a Socket #1155 CPU with ft into a Socket #1155 Motherboard, as an example. You CANNOT mix and match Socket Types otherwise you will break your CPU.

Will you be Overclocking or not ?

The next piece of information you can use to narrow down which Motherboard is best for you, is to know whether you will be doing any CPU Overclocking or not ? Overclocking means manually speeding up the CPU above the factory set maximum clock frequency. Only particular Motherboards are configured for Overclocking - they are generally more heavy duty type boards that can handle higher levels of current. A Motherboard which can Overclock is still quite OK to use for non-overclocked CPUs.

*All the Motherboards marked below with an * are capable of overclocking.

Understanding Chipset Types

This may sound like too much Techno Babble, but please bare with me. When you look at the Specifications for any Motherboard, one of the first things that is listed is the Chipset Type. The Chipset type is always coded into the Name of the Model of each MB. Below are lists of all the current main chipset types. These chipset types are like models of cars, but just like a car, each model can then have further customization added to it. The final level of customization will give you the precise model of the Motherboard. Chipset types determine whether a Motherboard is capable of Overclocking, as well as many other functions.

*The lists below cover the main sellers as of September 2012 - this is always being added to.

List of Intel Socket #1155 Motherboard Chipset types

  • Intel B75
  • Intel H61
  • Intel H67
  • Intel H77
  • Intel P67*
  • Intel Q67
  • Intel Q77
  • Intel Z68*
  • Intel Z77*

List of Intel Socket #2011 Motherboard Chipset types

  • Intel X79*

List of AMD Socket AM3+ Motherboard Chipset types

  • AMD 760G/SB710*
  • AMD 870/SB850*
  • AMD 880G/SB850*
  • AMD 970/SB950*
  • AMD 990X/SB950*
  • AMD 990FX/SB950*

When you go to the website from the Manufacturer of any Motherbaords, they will break down Motherboards first into Socket Types and secondly into Motherboard Chipset Types. To understand all the differences between the ridiculous amounts of models, you have to be patient and read the Specifications closely on websites.

Below is a list of important questions that will help you sort out the differences between each Motherboard Model, so that you can arrive at a good short list of possible models for your new computer build. You should already have the answers to most of these questions by now, if you have been following along with me as we go through the Master Checklist.

Will you be using just One Graphics Card or Two ?

For most people one decent Graphics Card is more than enough to create a great performing Desktop Computer.

One Graphics Card is all that is needed to get maximum perfomance out of Video Editing programs like Sony Vegas Pro 11 or Adobe Premier Pro CS6. Installing two Graphics Cards is a waste of time if Video Editing is all that you do, because the Software only has the ability to access ONE GPU for Rendering.

If however you are a hard core gamer and play CPU and GPU Intensive Games, you can boost your games performance even more by installing TWO or more Graphics Cards.

AMD Radeon Cards support a technology called CrossFireX for multiple GPU processing.
NVIDIA Cards use SLI Technology.

So if you are planning to use two or more Graphics Cards, then you must find a Motherboard that can actually support this setup. It will be listed in the Specs for the computer. Please note that some Motherboards that support AMD Radeon CrossFireX, do not always support NVIDIA SLI - the same can be true vice verse as well. SO READ THE SPECS CAREFULLY !

How many PCIe and PCI Slots do you need ?

This is normally listed under the heading "Expansion Slots" in the Motherboard Specs. The main type of Slots that you should expect to see on a Motherboard are:

  • PCIe 3.0/2.0 x 16 (3.0 is a newer spec and not found on all boards yet - it is super fast!)
  • PCIe x 1, x4 or x8
  • PCI

Please note that the longer PCIe x16 Slots can also support shorter cards with a PCIe x1, x4 or x8 connection.
So if you run out of shorter slots and have longer slots vacant, you can utilise these as well.

How many SATA 3 Ports do you need ?

SATA 3 - 6Gbps Ports are super fast. These are becoming the norm for most SSDs and HDDs to be connected to. This is the Port you will want your SSD Boot Drive connected to. Then if you have a couple of HDDs which are also rated at SATA 3, you will want these connected to SATA 3 Ports as well.

As an example, if you have 1 x SSD and 2 x HDDs, then you need a Motherboard with 4 x SATA 3 Ports (they always come in pairs). An extra one could be used later if you ever connect more SSD or HDDs.

Understanding Chipset Controllers for Storage Devices

When you look under the heading of "Storage" in the Motherboard Spec List, you may see something like this.
In the following example, this particular MB has 4 x SATA 3 and 4x SATA 2 Ports in total.

Intel® Z77 chipset : 
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), gray
4 x SATA 3Gb/s port(s), blue
Support Raid 0, 1, 5, 10
Supports Intel® Smart Response Technology, Intel® Rapid Start Technology, Intel® Smart Connect Technology *5
Marvell® PCIe 9128 controller : 
2 x SATA 6Gb/s port(s), navy blue
Support Raid 0, 1

What this means is that the Main Intel Z77 Chipset is the controller 2 x SATA 3 6Gbps ports and 4 x SATA 2 3Gbps ports.

The extra 2 X SATA 3 6Gbps ports are contolled by a 3rd Party Marvell Chip.

It's always best to make sure you use ALL the Intel Z77 Ports up before you start to use the Marvell Ports. The Intel SATA 3 Ports are more reliable and offer better perfomance for your SSD Boot Drive.

*Please note that SATA 3 is backwards compatible with SATA 2 Devices. So if you run out of SATA 3 Ports on your Motherboard, you can safely connect slower devices like a DVD Drive which is rated at SATA 2 3Gbps.

How many SATA 2 Ports do you need ?

SATA 2 Ports normally connect Optical Drives like DVD or BluRay Drives.

You can also connect your Hard Disc Drives to SATA 2 Ports. If you have a SATA 3 HDD, and have run out of SATA 3 Ports, you can connect it to a SATA 2 Port if you need to. You shouldn't notice much, if any, perfromance drop.

How many USB2.0 Ports do you need ?

This is a pretty self explanatory thing. Most Motherboards today come with more USB 2.0 Ports than you could ever possibly fill up.

How many USB3.0 Ports do you need ?

USB 3.0 Ports are much faster than the older USB 2.0. These are a must in any new computer build. There are great for connecting to External Storage Devices used for doing Backups. Provided the External Hard Drive is USB 3.0 Ready, your download/upload speeds will be dramatically faster than using a USB 2.0 connection.

*Please note that USB 3.0 Ports are backwards compatible with any USB 2.0 Device.

Will I need a Wireless Internet Connection ?

I basically covered this back at item #008 on the Master Checklist. If you do need to connect your Desktop Computer Wirelessly to the Internet, you will need to install a Wireless Network Adaptor Card to the Motherboard OR you can try and get a Motherboard which already has the Network Adaptor built into the MB.

Motherboards with a Wireless Adaptor built into them is only a very new thing - so don't be surprised if the choice is narrow.

If you check the Spec List for each Motherboard, it will list something like "Wireless Data Network" and describe it as Wi-Fi 802.11 a/b/g/n. Protocol "n" is the fastest and most powerful wireless broadcast you can get. For this to work you will need a matching Wireless Modem/Router plugged into a telephone socket somewhere in your home.

How many SATA Cables will I need to connect all my
HDDs, SSDs and DVD/BluRay Drive ?

Most Motherboards normally come with at least 2 x SATA cables and some come with 4 or 6. Normally the more expensive the MB, the more SATA cables they chuck in for you. You will also see listed things listed like 2 x SATA 3Gbps cables and 2 x SATA 6 Gbps cables. I can tell you now that there is no difference between a SATA 3 and SATA 2 cable. The only difference is likely to be colour top help you out a little.

Generally speaking most DVD, DVD/BluRay Combo Drives normally come packaged with a SATA Cable to connect it to the Motherboard.

Hard Drives and Solid State Drives never come with SATA Cables.

So check the Spec List very carefully, becuase there is nothing worse than starting to build computer and then discovering you don't have enought cables to connect everything.

How many Fan Headers do I need ?

This topic can do your head in - seriously !

You need to count up how many Fans and Coolers need to be connected to the Motherboard.

There are normally a mixture of 3 Pin and 4 Pin Fan Headers on a Motherboard. Some will be called CPU Fan Connectors, Chassis Fan Connectors, Optional Fan Connectors, etc... 

These all behave differently depending on what brand and model of Fans and/or CPU Cooler you are going to use. I don't want to confuse you, so I am going to not go any further with this topic here. It can be the one part of a computer build that needs to be tweaked after everything is up and running successfully.

Summing Up the Motherboard Selection

There are so many more finer details that I could go into right now about selecting the right Motherboard. I have covered all of the important topics in the above section. The rest you can work out yourself by reading and comparing Motherboard Specs side by side. What I have done in the past is print off the Specs for a couple of Motherboards that I liked and then marked all the similarities off, so that the differences then stand out.

#012 Choosing the Correct Power Supply - PSU

Choosing the correct Power Supply Unit for your computer is all about finding the the right balance.

Power Supply Units come in different ratings:

  • Absolute Crap
  • Almost Crap
  • 80 Plus
  • 80 Plus Bronze
  • 80 Plus Silver
  • 80 Plus Gold
  • 80 Plus Platinum
  • 80 Plus Titanium

They also come in three main cabling configurations:

  • 100% Modular
  • Semi-Modular
  • 100% Internally Connected

100% Modular means that out of the box there are no cables connected to the PSU. You will get a nice selection of varying connectors and only have to use what you need. This is great for making a nice a tidy build, because there are no redundant cables taking up space in the case. Best Choice.

Semi-Modular is similar to 100%M, except the Power Supply Cables for the Motherboard are internally soldered directing to the PSU. All other connectors can be attached via plugs.

With the third type all the cables are internally connected to the PSU. However, for a lot of builds this will mean that you end up with left over cable connections that have to be bundled up inside your case, because they cannot be disconnected.

How many Watts should my PSU be ?

You need enough power to reach mininum requirements plus a nice bit of room for when your computer is cruising down the highway in top gear. Also keep in mind that you don't have to over do it.

There is Power Supply Finder Tool that I always use on the Corsair website for giving me my mininum requirements. You tell it what type of CPU you have, what type and how many GPUs you will be using and whether any Overclocking will be happening, plus how many hard drives there are. This will give you a nice approximation.

You can also find information on the websites for Graphics Cards, as to what should be the absolute minimum PSU you install. It's the CPU and GPU that will be needing the most juice. When you are rendering an HD Video or playing a game at Max Settings, the amount of power needed by the system jumps up quite a bit.

So whatever you work out the minimum requirement to be, always add some leg room.

Remember to work out How Many Power Connection Cables and which Types you will need !

This is important because if you have more components to connect than the average computer build, you may not have enough power cables. Less expensive PSUs come with a standard mix of cables. The higher rated (more Watts)  and more expensive & better quality Power Supply Units will come with many more cable connections for you to choose from.

You will always get 2 x cables for the Motherboard -  an ATX 24 Pin and a EPS/ATX 8-4Pin - this is standard.

Then there will normally be a minimum of 2 x PCIe 6x2 Pin connectors for a Graphics Card. If you are going to use 2 x High Powered Graphics Cards, you may need up to 4 of these.

Next will be a couple of daisy chains of SATA Power Supply cables for HHDs, SSDs and DVD Drives. Normally a minimum of 6 x actual SATA power connections in total, but in more powerful units 12 x SATA power connectors or more.

There will also be some generic 4 Pin Peripheral Connectors for things like Extra Fans and Lights.

And finally some useless Floppy Connectors ? Why ? I do not know.

#013 Choosing a Computer Case

Choosing a Computer Case is where you can get to express some of your personality. If you get a case with a nice perspex side panel, you can show of your sex new machine by adding some lights.

You also have to make sure that the case is going to be big enough to house all the components for your build.

If cooling your computer is going to be an important thing for you, then you need to pick case which has a good cooling solution. Most case allow for a lot of customization, so there are plenty of blank spots reserved for fans of different sizes. They don't have to be filled with fans, but the option is there if you think you need it. Most cases come with at least 2 or 3 fans pre-installed into the case.

#014 Adding some Cooling Fans

Just like computer cases, there are a myriad of fans to choose from.

Big ones, small ones, quiet ones, coloured, non-coloured, LED Lights, vortex creators, tornado factories, etc, etc, etc.....

They come with different Pin Configurations as well. 3 Pin, 4 Pin and PWM.

Such a seemingly small simple device can do your head in, when it comes to plugging these into your Motherboard Fan Headers. Each Motherboard Manufacturer has different ways to monitor and control fan speeds. Most of it is done with Software that will come with your MB. Don't worry about it too much. I have found it can be just a case of mixing and matching different fans with different Fan Headers until you work it out.

Just remember one thing. The first time you Boot Up your new computer, it is not uncommon for all the fans to be basting at full speed and making a hell of a noise. Once you install the software that controls the Motherboard, you can go and manually set what the fans should be doing and get everything to sound nice and quiet at idle.

#015 Adding some Bling

As I mentioned at item #013, you can add some lights to sex up your computer.

You can also add things like dedicated fan controllers.

The one thing that is a must in my opinion, is to get a half decent set of computer speakers with sub-woofer.

This article is already an epic production, so I'll leave you to figure out what kind of Monitor, Keyboard and Mouse you need.

#016 Operating System Software - Windows 7

I almost forgot to mention buying a copy of Windows 7 or 8 (soon to be released).

Best option is to get an OEM Copy of Windows 7 Home Premium 64 bit. As long as you won't be completely pulling your computer apart and swapping all the components in and out continuously, an OEM Copy is quite OK to use for a personal computer home build. It's a waste of money to be buying a Retail Copy of Windows.

Final Message

I sincerely hope that this article has helped you to understand more clearly how to choose the right parts for your new computer build. Buildng your own custom built computer gives you the perfect solution to match your needs and also is a lot of fun.

All the best with your Build.

 

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