General rules of thumbs and Q&A guide on basic PC parts
Welcome to this extensive guide on some of the basic reasoning on what you want/need for the basic PC components, why that is/isn’t and some overall reasoning behind this and why to choose what. Of course this means that there will be some personal opinion and experiences sauce in it, and also that this is not always 100% applying to every scenario. Daily usage, mostly gaming and simple content creation is overall considered as point of reference. Still it should be useful for anyone on the market as a tool to assist you. Asking around for your specific scenarios on the forum really helps. Also some tech babble/terms and (video) explanation on what it is and means come around. Newer and less experienced people should find that very handy. So many terms thrown at you by sellers and stores… Click links for videos and some sites for more explanation and background info. Thx to LTT.
Q: Why do I (possibly) see typos, weird choice of words and possible wrong phrases?
A: That’s my fault. I am no native English speaking person. Still most understand perfectly what I mean and if not, asking is no problem. Also I might use some common (online) wording of stuff.
Q: So for who is this guide then?
A: For anyone that is considering to buy a new/used component(s) for the PC. There is so much choice, so much to consider: it can be very overwhelming especially for the many folks out there that are not up to snuff on what’s out there, have been out of the loop or simply just don’t care.
Since you are on the LTT community forum and also probably looking at Linus his vids, this is a great place to assist you in finding the right parts and what stuff you could encounter for your build. So ask around if you have questions. There are many enthusiasts here that have knowledge and experiences they want to share. Knowing it all is impossible, but doing some research is a valuable tool that makes you spend your money properly and have an overall better experience.
Q: So will you list best parts, prices or so and say what we need to buy? And who are you to tell us?
A: No, it will more be a description of parts used in general, terms that might be thrown around when looking/asking around for parts and some overall logic thinking. It should be used as a tool to better understand what you buy, why you buy and do you need to buy it. I am just an enthusiast. I have my experiences in building PC’s for myself and many others over the years and also like to expand my knowledge on the basic parts by watching videos, check guides, forums etc. But I am not a professional that is working for a manufacturer or whatever.
This guide is written with a general gaming purpose as in mind and will not be suitable for every scenario or way of reasoning. If you find something that is missing, needs adjustment, have suggestions, or see info that is plain wrong feel free to send me a message. For comments and discussions be constructive when (dis)agreeing. Feel free to share and use this guide on the forum for new people.
Table of content
General rules of thumb, considerations, tips and terms used
Cooling in general and cooling parts
1: General rules of thumb, considerations, tips and terms used
Before you decide what to buy, you must know what you want to do and be able to do. So consider the software you use, do you have extra purposes besides some simple daily usage and browsing, and possibly special software/games that have high demands. Otherwise you might get the situation that you spend more than needed, or worse: you still don’t have the power for a smooth user experience. It is all about the choices and needs. No reason to overdo it.
So my recommendations in general: First find out what you need. Generally speaking persons with demanding software will know what makes the usage heavy. But if you are not sure ask around, check online and if available look at benchmarks or guides. After that pick the parts that fulfill your requirements for hardware, software needs, any other secondary reasons and of course budget. Budget is a big factor, but don’t let it overrule your needs. Overall it’s better to spend 1 time good and bigger then in multiple times. Note here that with bigger I don’t mean over the top and super expensive. A bad user experience is often caused by the budget reasoning.
General points to consider:
Secondary needs like (future) expansion possibility, available slots/connectors
Build it yourself or let it be build
Avoid common PC building traps CPU's vs GPU's What is a motherboard DDR and GDDR memory Types of memory Custom PC vs pre-built PC Benchmarks What is overclocking (OC) Futureproofing Bottlenecks Avoid common PC traps 2
Q: I am still uncertain where to start for picking basic hardware parts. Suggestions?
Q: So how does that go with budget? What could I skimp on to reduce cost?
Q: Something not mentioned is warranty and service. How does that factor in?
Q: I don’t understand all abbreviations used in conjunction with PC parts, so can you explain some?
The mobo is where all components connect on to function and communicate with each other. This also determines what CPU you can use. So make sure that the socket is compatible with your CPU. There are different sizes of form factor like ATX, mATX, so make sure it fits the case. Bigger boards carry more connection of several types, giving the user more flexibility.
So my recommendations for the mobo: First make sure that the mobo supports the CPU you plan to use. Also know that you can fit it in the case you have in mind. Other than that it must have all connections and features you require like the amount of PCIe slots, proper USB implementation, SATA connections, sound implementation and other support for devices you have like NVME for NVME drives. If you go OCing there are many options these days that improve results, like more phases and better quality components. But in general any decent brand of mobo should be good enough for normal OCing (assuming it is supported). So apart from looks it might be wise to spend the money from an very expensive board on parts like the CPU itself. If you plan to make use of multiple GPU’s make sure that SLI and Crossfire is supported.
General points to consider:
Form factor of mobo and possible size allowed in case
SATA slots amount for storage
Possibly M.2 slot for storage and support for storage drives
SLI and Crossfire support
USB implementation speed (especially with USB 3.1, check mobo reviews)
Sound implementation and quality
Network connectivity and speed, possibly also wireless on certain mobo’s
Other connectors you might want like fan headers, thunderbold or display connectors
Especially with OC in mind the options, possibilities and does it support a unlocked CPU
Looks and extra’s like RGB
Motherboard sizes Chipsets Sata 3 6 Gbps PCIe 3.0 USB 3.0 USB type C Motherboard connectors BIOS and UEFI Display connectors Thunderbolt VRM's Fast SSD technologies explained Which motherboard to buy
Q: Are bigger size boards like ATX better than smaller boards like Mini ITX?
Q: Apart from professionals I see no one talking about soundcards anymore. So onboard is good?
Without a CPU you would have a car without engine. So when it comes to the CPU, it determines a lot of the other parts used. But even more important: it is the major factor for computer performance and scenarios you will use the system for. For gaming the CPU is also very important, despite many games being more dependent on the GPU. If the CPU does not have to power to feed the GPU with info, your gaming experience will also suffer. So be sure you pick the one that fits your needs. Content creators in general want more cores, while gamers will prefer higher clock speeds.
So my recommendations for the CPU: Picking the right one is very important and will depend on your needs. So consider what programs you use and to some degree even the games you play. Also take a unlocked CPU, since it can give you more usable lifespan when needed. Newer games get more and more CPU hungry despite the mainly higher need for graphics. This also means that you need a balanced system with GPU and a CPU that can feed the GPU enough data for most optimal performance. Also for things like VR a good CPU power is required. Certain games are more CPU depending then GPU, so read reviews about games where they find that out. For gaming clock speed is preferred over amount of cores/threads. But if you plan to do some content creation, a i7 with hyper threading is a good spot to aim for at least. If you do mostly content creation that benefit from multi core performance, a different platform like the X99 might be a better option. Architecture is key for performance since it will define the efficiency for results, so in general newer architectures are preferred. Cache size increases the higher the CPU is scaled in performance, but if there is choice more is better in general. Currently when it comes to CPU’s Intel is the way to go, since even the lower new gen i3 compete with AMD’s best CPU’s or are even better in performance depending on what benchmarks. It could however get a very interesting time with AMD releasing Zen soon. Current AMD can still be a valid options for budget and simple PC use, but AMD can’t compete in mid and high end CPU’s. For gaming a decent unlocked i5 is a good middle ground.
Zen update: Now the high ranged Ryzen 7 Zen CPU’s have been released there is finally more choice again. More than ever it now really depends on your needs and use scenarios when deciding between Intel and AMD. But one thing is for sure: compared to Intel the Zen lineup is currently bringing a good middle road between performance and cost. It brings very decent performance (especially multi threaded) with lower cost, especially for the top 1800x. If gaming is your only focus Intel still has the upper hand, but AMD has an acceptable alternative as well now. So if you have a scenario that besides gaming you also do multitasking or streaming, Zen might be a viable option. There are however some ups and downs for each choice, so reading up on what works for your needs is advised.
General points to consider:
Workloads and scenarios you use your PC for
Possibly hardware requiring a good CPU. Think high end GPU’s or VR as example
Clock speeds and amount of cores
Software that make use of multi cores
Power consumption and efficiency
Locked or unlocked
The iGPU if using the internal GPU for graphics
CPU shopping tips Intel Turbo Boost Multiple cores info CPU cache Hyper Threading Intel i3, i5 and i7 CPU sockets CPU micro architecture Heavy multitasking: when more cores really shine
Q: Why are AMD CPU's that also have high(er) clock speeds and core amount lagging behind Intel performance for the last several years?
Q: So Zen will be good (updated on Zen release)?
Q: So if I am a gamer that also streams and edits some video content, you recommend a normal Intel i7 over the enthusiast platform?
Q: I am not planning to OC, so why do you still recommend a unlocked CPU?
Q: How good are iGPU for gaming?
4: DDR RAM
RAM is these days not the most exciting for normal users, but nevertheless still an important part of the PC. Being short on it is a very bad thing for performance. It gives the CPU quick access to random data it needs to complete its task, on a way that is much faster than the normal storage. It is however volatile, meaning that the data is only temporarily stored and gone when the power goes off. RAM speed and timings are important for the results. The better these are, the better your CPU can do what it needs to do. Especially if you run internal graphics on the CPU, RAM can influence the performance. For maximum efficiency make use of the channel support your mobo has: in general it is dual channel. But other variants also exist. As example a Intel X99 mobo has quad channel support.
So my recommendations for RAM: Take enough for your needs. Having more does not really improve performance, but having short you do not want. 8GB is in general considered minimum these days, but 16GB is an amount that is considered enough for the coming years for gamers. But for example with VM’s and heavy content creation (especially video editing and rendering), higher amounts are welcome. Obviously higher speed and lower timings are preferred, but are overall no real performance gains that are worth the in general big steps up in cost. So with the new DDR4 standard 2400 - 2666 MHz is in general a good speed (for DDR3, 1600MHz is overall considered to be a good sweet spot for the cost). Unless the increased price bump is very low, it is overall better to spend the money on more important parts like the CPU, GPU or more/better storage like a SSD. When using the iGPU higher speeds can have benefits however, and give you just that bit extra fps in games. So it might then be a good idea to invest some more on RAM with higher speeds. Especially the onboard graphics from the current gen AMD benefit much from it. Also take a kit fitting the size of the channel support for best efficiency. So if your board supports dual channel support rather go with 2x8 vs 1x16GB. If expanding amount, try to match as much specs as possible for best compatibility. It is even preferred to go with 1 kit only. RAM can behave odd some times when mixed, even from same type, speeds and vendor. With 1 kit you have the guarantee they work together.
General points to consider:
Type of DDR your mobo supports
Amount you need and that is supported. Also goes for the OS you plan to use
Amount of slots
Try to match the kit with channel support of the mobo
Speed and timings, XMP support
Physical height of heat spreaders that might have placement issues with CPU cooler
What is DDR RAM RAM speed and timings RAM channels XMP memory profiles What is ECC memory
Q: DDR3 or DDR4: I heard it does not really matter for gaming performance in general. How come?
Q: So onboard graphics are some of the rare cases where higher speed can be use full. Why?
Q: You can also overclock RAM. Is it worth the gain?
A good power supply makes all the difference for your build and is a part you overall should not skimp on for budget savings. A good one lasts for years, holds its own for a stable system, gives a good OCing experience and can go with you for several builds. Check the PSU tier list for a good idea on the quality of the PSU type you are considering to buy (good read).
PSU Tier list on Linus Tech Tips
So my recommendations for PSU’s: Invest in a proper quality PSU that has the wattage and amps needed (use tier list and don’t go lower then tier 3). The money is worth it and if picked correctly it should go with you for several years and builds without problems, as long as it has all connectors you need. In general 500-650w is good for most builds these days. Prefer (semi) modular if possible for a more tidy system without loose cables and easy installing. You can save dosh on lower wattage and sometimes ratings, since a higher rating is not automatically a better quality PSU.
General points to consider:
How much watt does the combination of parts use (TDP is only a worse case indication)
What and how much connectors I need
Form factor: does it fit my build
How efficient is the PSU (the 80 plus rating). Obviously there is a cost delta between efficiency, cost for paying the bills, and price of the PSU that needs consideration. But being more efficient is better for the world we live in and the bill height for power consumption (its however no guarantee that the actual PSU is a good PSU)
Is OCing a factor, keep the amps on 12V rail in mind (now or in the future)
Is the PSU (semi)modular or not
If you want custom cables that is also an option. Check sites like Cablemod
How to choose the right PSU 80 Plus ratings Modular vs Non Modular Single Rail and Multi Rail What is TDP
Q: What wattage I need?
Q: The calculators on sites give different results than what you mention. Is it ok to go with less?
Q: What connectors I need? And how long?
This is a choice that depends much on personal preferences, so I won’t go to deep on it. Most important is that it has the dimensions to fit all you need and support the mobo size you choose. But the case also has great effects on noise and temp levels. A good quality and functional case can go with you for several builds, while a bad one makes you regret the choice in the long run.
So my recommendations for cases: it is a worthwhile investment to get a nice, good quality case. It does not have to be over the top for budget to be good these days, and looks are of course subjective. But if it fits all parts you have, has decent cooling and temperatures on his own, you can enjoy your build for years. Obviously fans can be replaced with temps and noise in mind but read reviews since it can give an overall good indicator for how a case would function and holds its own.
General points to consider:
Front panel layout and options
Inner dimensions that might restrict mobo size, CPU cooler height, GPU length
Possible mounting amount for fans and rads and their possible size
Standard delivered cooling fans and the overall temps they can maintain with a build inside
Overall noise levels and possible sound dampening
Cable management options for a clean and tidy look
Looks and aesthetics like going with a windowed version, RGB lights, etc
PC case sizes
Storage is a relative easy choice: you need enough for your needs. Speeds needed depend on workloads, so there is where the main difficulty comes in deciding. In general the more speed, the better. But then comes cost in the mix, which might make it hard to choose. In general most people use a simple combination of a decent sized and good SSD as boot device + storage for main programs and games, while they have (multiple) HDD in large sizes for storing larger files and stuff you want to keep, but don’t need all the time, or that don’t really require fast speeds. Remember that different scenario’s might require a different approach in picking the best disk for your needs. Some one that archives data will value redundancy and safety very high for their needs.
So my recommendations for storage in general: use a SSD for main drive of about 250GB at least. This holds your OS, games, programs and possible files that need fast access and can benefit of SSD performance and speeds. Besides that use any amount of drives (most likely HDD) you need for mass storage. Possibly do this in certain RAID configurations that can improve redundancy. Because of pricing of PCIe based SSD, I would recommend these only if you have daily use scenario’s that benefit much of these performance levels. Think video content creators for example. In normal daily use most people will not notice and use the better speeds.
General points to consider:
Amount of storage
Speeds of used disk and needs for your use scenario’s
Possible speed restrictions in parts used (SATA connection, PCIe lanes, NVMe support, etc)
Redundancy and safety
If you go RAID, is it properly supported and do you have the amount of disks needed for it
SSD vs HDD SSD controllers RAID 0, 1, 10 RAID 5, 6 M.2 NVMe SSD flash memory Fast SSD technologies explained
Q: Why does everyone recommend a SSD these days? Do I really need them?
Q: What about SATA, PCIe and M.2 interfaces for SSD?
Q: Another thing I see mentioned being important for PCIe based SSD is NVMe. Why?
Q: What about SSHD drives?
Q: Should I use RAID and what is it?
The GPU is the most debated part for a build when needed. And for good reason, because gaming experiences overall fall or stands with how good the graphics are. This also makes the choice very hard overall to decide what one to buy. And then you have the choice between AMD and Nvidia, the brands, the types, current or old gen… But there are some things that can help. For many builds this will also be the part that is changed first. The graphics power requirements are growing quickly and will keep doing so for the foreseeable future. Also for certain programs and workloads the GPU has its uses. But that really depends on scenario and software you use. GPU’s are in a exciting time with big steps forward, what is needed for the bigger and faster demands of screens and graphical possibilities in games. Also they get more power efficient especially with the relative recent step to smaller sizes of production. Unlike the CPU area AMD and Nvidia are very close in performance levels, although both have their stronger and lesser area’s and own used techniques for certain goals. However currently at the time of writing AMD has no answer yet for the higher end Nvidia 10 series cards. And although the performance for gaming is very similar on the cards that are on comparable performance level, when speaking about performance per watt Nvidia is currently the better choice for already a few generations. The new AMD Vega cards are not here yet for a while.
So my recommendations for GPU’s: Know what you want to do and what the requirements are for those scenarios. In general more resolution, higher frame rates, higher settings and multiple screens will require more graphics power. So what screen(s) setup you have is a main factor. And if you consider a new screen, try to plan ahead for that if possible and in the budget. Make sure the available VRAM is enough if you plan on using older gen or low end cards. 3-4 GB is a good minimal amount for the current more serious gaming needs. Also take a GPU with a decent cooler. Not even talking about manual OCing yet, the cooling is very important for results of a card. A good cooler does not have to be noisy. Future proof is overall no real factor when it comes to GPU’s when playing the newest titles and plan to keep playing new titles. The steps are going up fast, making 2-3 gens older more or less obsolete. So although a GPU can last plenty of years you might run into their performance limits in only 2-3 years or even sooner depending on games. Unless no better single card solution is possible avoid multi GPU. So many possible drawbacks or even unused GPU’s.
General points to consider:
What is my screen setup and what card(s) can run the requirements or come closest
What games and what type of games I play, so proper card benchmarks are your friend
What video settings you find acceptable, remember that resolution matters for this as well
VRAM needed, also when using more screens, higher resolutions and settings
Possible features that are AMD or Nvidia specific
Gsync and Freesync if you have/get a screen that supports one of these techniques
Physical size of the card, especially length for older cases or small form factors
Slots needed for the card, possibly covering up certain used PCI slots and/or connectors
Power connections you need and that are available from your PSU
GPU shopping tips GDDR5X HBM memory Refresh rates Resolution Response times Gsync Freesync API's explained DirectX 12 and Vulkan Game engines Multi GPU scaling issues HDMI 2.1 HDCP
Q: So what card I need? So much options and considerations… You have a suggestion?
Q: How much VRAM I need? And what about GDDR5x and HBM types?
Q: So Nvidia and AMD cards have different specifications and results, how to compare then?
Q: Frame times? Thought frame rates are most important?
Q: So high refresh rate screens, do I want them?
Q: What about Gsync and Freesync?
Q: Resolution and settings. Should I care about that?
Q: About going multi card setup with SLI/Crossfire then. Why should we avoid that?
Q: Currently DX12 (and Vulkan) is a hot topic. What is that about and should I care?
Q What is left is OCing. Should I get a card with out of the box higher factory clock speeds?
9: Cooling in general and cooling parts
Cooling is a very important part of a good functioning system and durability over time. Improper cooling reduces lifespan, can cause instability, errors or even dead of parts. There are a few areas of cooling in a PC to consider. But in general you want temperatures to be as low as possible.
So my recommendations for cooling: Make sure you have enough. I find it worth it to invest a bit in proper cooling and better cooling does not have to mean much noise these days. For the CPU I would overall recommend a decent air cooler even for a simple OC. If you want high OC AIO’s can be a option for performance, but remember that a good high end air cooler is just as effective unless you buy the bigger but also much more costly AIO’s. So make sure you know why you choose them. This also applies for the other more exotic forms of cooling: understand that the benefits and reasons are worth the cost for you. These are overall used by only very high demanding situations like special scenario’s and record OCing. For the case: make sure you have ample airflow and in general slightly positive air pressure. In general the amount of delivered case fans is decent enough and there is overall no need to make use of every fan mount. 2-3 case fans should be ok, because remember that you also possibly have fans from other devices like the CPU cooler delivering airflow inside. So use them to direct the heat if possible.
General points to consider:
Ambient temperature, seasons, humidity, dust, animals and other airborne parts
Overall system temps
Possible restrictions that might require more pressure like thick rads
Forms of cooling
Does it fit my case
Basic CPU cooling solutions Safe PC part temperatures Positive vs negative airflow Static pressure vs high airflow Push vs pull vs push pull PC fan bearings Danger of dust Liquid cooling radiators Decibels Thermal throttling Coil whine
Q: How many case fans do I need? More is better, right?
Q: Do I need an exotic cooling solution like water loops, AIO’s or liquid Nitrogen when OCing?
Q: So there is no need for liquid cooling and AIO’s then?
The 80 plus rating says nothing about quality btw, only possible efficiency. As others said always go for quality over higher wattage.
In the PSU tier list they have made a ranking of tiers that gives you a good idea of how good the quality is. All from tier 3 and above is good to excellent. He also has some links in his sig to read more on how and why with PSU and you can also find some more info in the PC parts guide in my sig.
Update, there was a 10 degree difference between core 1 and 8, so I took the cooler off, cleaned off the paste... and I don't have any. So just got back with some Arctic Silver, tightened the cooler more than before and now I'm idling in the low 40's. Cheers for the help everyone!
Scythe Fuma if available. Trading blows with the Noctua's but for a better price. High end coolers like that sweep the floor with small rad AIO and the bigger 240+sizes cost way more. Also a AIO is not always more quieter because of fans and pump making noise.
I get the feeling you have no clue how air flow works...
due to the fan exhausting air at the upper rear of your case, it will be pulling available from in front of itself to the outside of the case.... in front of that fan is your CPU, so this rear fan will be directly creating air flow in front of your CPU, so it is going to be getting a TON of air.
An average number is a good way for an indication in general, but it is still a indication. Also % say not much since the actual fps gain can differ from game to game and settings used. GOing from 60 to 66 fps is a 110 % in this example, but not a day and night difference in practise.
No, don't do that. You won't be able to push the card far enough to the point where 8gb would be useful. I personally have an rx 470 4gb, and it performs just as well as the 8gb model under the most it can take. If you have the money though, go for an rx 480 4gb instead.
Doesn't matter whether you get a 1050ti, RX470, RX1060 3GB or a RX480 4GB, you'll be able to play triple As at ultra mostly (okay, maybe not the 1050ti for 60fps in most)
I'd say either RX470 or a RX480 with a new PSU if possible as both cards are capable and although the RX470 is slower than the 1060 3GB, you can expect it to last a little longer at higher settings as that extra 1GB of vRAM really is quite important now
I use the 3930k still for gaming and is in general good enough with a small OC to like 4 Ghz. That is in general a good speed for gaming and with games like skylines and EU4 it still runs good enough. But more OC is still possible if you want.
So aslong as you arn't limited by paltform restrictions you are good to go. And fot his situation things like NVME drives ahve nu real big benefit over normal SSD in gaming.