How to build a desktop PC buying guide: November 2018

This guide is intended to advise users to make a more suitable purchase according to their own needs, avoiding the manufacturers marketing that lead to spending more money than is really necessary.

Motherboards

Processor

When picking a motherboard, your first priority is to make sure it has the right socket to match the CPU. Intel offers the new 1151 socket. Regarding AMD instead we find the socket AM4 (for the Ryzen CPU) and the socket FM2 (for the APUs).

The second priority is the motherboard chipset. For Intel we find: Z370 (socket 1151) - is the best of the best, but it is relatively expensive, so it is recommended only to those who overclocks or is interested in Crossfire / SLI. Moreover, unlike in the past, you do not need high-end motherboards to have good results in overclocking, so our suggestion remains Z370 midrange. It is worth to choose the top models only if you need the features they offer. H370 (socket 1151) - is the best choice for the average user: with the exception of overclocking and bandwidth limitations on the second PCI-e slot in addiction to lower RAM frequency support, the H270 offers the same features at a much lower price.

About AMD, between FM2 chipsets the fundamental differences are: A55 doesn't have native support for USB 3.0 and SATA 3, while it supports RAID 0,1,10; A75 supports 4 ports USB 3, 6 ports SATA 3 and RAID 0,1,10; A88X - adds support PCI-e gen3 and new CPU Kaveri. Given the modest price difference, we suggest A88X chipset. With AM4 socket we find the B450 and X470 chipsets: the main differences concern the number of SATA and USB 3.1 ports, with X470 having the best multi-GPU and overclock support. As already said about Intel, for the average user a good B450 is enough, while you can bet on an X470 if you need the extra features it offers.

Processors

Processor

A6-6400K/A8-6600K and most recent A6-7400/A8-7600 are good models of APUs (Accelerated processing unit - A name given by AMD to its own new generation CPUs) good for limited budgets and for people who don’t want to invest a lot of money on a dedicated graphic card. They are optimal choices for HTPCs or in general for whom is using the PC mainly to watch movies, browse the internet and using Microsoft Office. However, they are not very suitable for playing video games, where you will not have a very good frame rate, even at lower resolutions.

Much more powerful are the new Intel i3 processors. These dual core CPUs, used in combination with a good dedicated graphic card, will allow you to play most of the video games without problems. Their architecture makes them even faster than AMD quad cores (excluding Ryzen), with fewer exceptions for heavy multi threaded applications. Compared to AMD CPUs, they heat up and consume much less power, so we highly recommend them as it's probably the best choice for the average user.

For people who desire more performance, our recommendation is a processor from new Intel i5 generation. These CPUs are the best choice for a mid/high-end PC, being able to take advantage of any graphic card full potential, while keeping an acceptable price. K series CPUs are suggested only for only for users that like to overclock their processors, if you do not have any intentions to overclock your processor, you should save some money by picking the normal version of the CPU.

If you intend to make intensive use of multi threaded applications, then the best choice would be a processor from the AMD Ryzen generation. These CPUs have very similar performance to Intel in games, but in well-optimized applications they can fully exploit the number of core and offer superior performance.

Memory

Processor

Unlike the past, RAM speed and timings have a very marginal impact on real performance. Our pick falls on DDR4-2400 models, with the exception if price difference with DDR4-3200 is close to minimal. There is an exception for APUs: since RAM is also used as VRAM, graphic performances are affected in a concrete way by memory speed. In these cases it can be convenient to spend a little more and take DDR3-2133 memory. Motherboards with chipset H270 have limitations so it is useless to go beyond DDR4-2400.

Dual channel does not drastically influence performance, so using two modules instead of one is not mandatory. If you are looking to upgrade in the future, it is recommended to buy just one module. Otherwise a memory kit consisting of multiple modules remains the best choice.

The recommended minimum RAM quantity is currently 4GB for low-end systems. Some video games or applications might be more RAM intensive, so 8GB is the recommended value for most systems. Any higher value might be really expensive and not necessary unless it is required for specific applications that demand a lot of memory, but it can still be a good investment. There are no specific recommended brands or models, just make sure the above criteria matches to what you are actually looking for (quantity, speed and voltage).

Graphic Cards

Processor

Picking a graphic card is relatively easy, if you look to the benchmarks and determine your price range.

We recommend the AMD RX 560 Series or the NVIDIA GTX 1050 Series for a good compromise of details and fps with the most recent video games, and not above a GTX 1070 if you are using only a single monitor with full HD (1080p or bigger) resolution. Spending more money is only logical when using higher resolutions or multi monitor configurations.

In the middle we find cards like GTX 1060 or RX 580 which are an optimal alternative with good pricing and are the best choice for most of the users.

Once you have picked your card, you have to decide the specific model. Some models are equal to the producer reference board (AMD or NVIDIA) and in that case there isn't really a good reason to choose one over the other. Sometimes manufacturers decide to personalize card layout, components, heat sinks and running frequencies. When is a specific manufacturer’s card worth it? That really depends. It is not convenient to spend more to choose only slightly overclocked models, or in some cases where the custom heatsink does not bring any significant advantage compared to the reference one.

Should I buy 2 slower cards instead of a single more powerful one at the same price? The answer is no, with some exceptions. Within low/mid range market it is always more convenient to pick a single card. SLI/Crossfire support is very variable depending per video game, and in most cases the advantage is negligible.

Power Supplies

Processor

The power supply is one of the most important and underrated components for users with little experience. As opposed to what the manufacturers want us to believe, nowadays computers consume a lot less energy than in the past. Therefore it's not needed to pick a power supply with exorbitant Watts.

Power supply calculators are often unreliable, suggesting power supplies with more watts than you would actually need. The fundamental factor is build quality: a good 500 watt power supply can be better than an economic 700 watt one. Unfortunately, the quality is very variable and also power supplies of the same brand can still differ a lot. The only advice is to read about it on specialized websites, such as jonnyguru.com.

Picking the right wattage requires to evaluate CPU and graphic card consumption first. Every computer with an APU o low-end graphic card will consume very little, so power supplies like the Corsair CX are a best-buy. A good cheap alternative is the EVGA. For a mid/high-end computer, a good quality 550W power supply is more than enough, 650W if you choose video cards that consume a lot and you don't want to take risks. Models like the SeaSonic Gold and Corsair RM offer great quality and Gold efficiency certification. To save some money, Bronze certified like the Antec HCG or the XFX TS are a good alternative.

If you don't feel safe and want some more watts, then we recommend the SeaSonic G-650 (which is the best buy), the XFX TS Gold Series 650W or the top quality SeaSonic SS-660XP2 with Platinum certification.

Above 650W is a sensible choice only for those who have a multi GPU configuration. A good economic choice is the XFX Pro Series. An excellent model with 80 PLUS Platinum certification is the Corsair HX750i. For the highest build quality there is the Corsair AX.

Remember: NEVER buy cheap power supplies as they can cause irreversible damage to other components.

Cases

Processor

We will not judge the aesthetic factor, as purely subjective. Important features when picking a case that should be considered are:

  • Ventilation and air flow.
  • Cable management.
  • The space available to install long video cards and tall CPU coolers.
  • USB 3.0 slots availability.
  • The number and location of installable fans.
  • The assembly support of radiators.
  • Hot swap bays for hard disks.
  • Tool-less mounting systems.

The build quality is also very important and it is better to still prefer aluminum to plastic cases. Unfortunately it is not easy to evaluate and in many cases we just have to trust the reviews. An economic model but definitely a very good case is the Antec One, which we found superior to many more expensive cases.

Among our favourites there is the series Corsair Carbide, with various models covered in all price ranges. Good alternatives in high-end mid tower are the Antec, Fractal Design Define R5 or the Cooler Master. If you have enough space, you can opt for a full tower.

Hard Disk Drives

Processor

A SSD is a highly recommended purchase as it ensures a great performance boost of the system in terms of speed and response. Its only downside is the higher price compared to a traditional HDD. A SSD of 240/256GB capacity should be more than enough to install the operating system and most used applications.

The Samsung 860 Pro is our favourite pick if it's allowed by your budget, otherwise the Samsung 860 EVO, Crucial BX and MX are cheaper alternatives, but still good options. There are also available models of SSD's on M.2 PCI-e slot as the Samsung 970, whose performance goes beyond the limit of SATA 3. They are the best that the market has to offer for those who have no restrictions in their budget.

HDD: the most important feature of a HDD is definitely the reliability, which unfortunately is not easy to measure. Most of the tests indicates that Western Digital are the most reliable over time, and so they are our first choice. The performance difference between Black and Blue series is difficult to perceive in everyday use, therefore we recommend the latter as it's definitely cheaper. applications. The Seagate Barracuda are less reliable (but still good) and have better performance than WD, so they are a compelling alternative.

Sound Cards

Processor

Do we still need a dedicated sound card? For most users the answer is no. The integrated audio quality has improved a lot and the are some chips, like the Realtek ALC1150, that have no disadvantages compared to dedicated sound cards. Users very critical on having the best sound possible can still satisfy their needs by picking up the various models of ASUS Xonar.

We do not recommend the Creative X-Fi due the many problems with drivers experienced by a significant amount of users.

Monitors

Processor

Monitors are one of the most difficult components to choose as you have to find a good compromise between its pros and cons. The first general advice is to ignore all of the manufacturers' specifications because very often do not correspond to reality. Most of the times the actual values ​​of contrast, brightness, response time, viewing angles, etc. do not come anywhere close to those indicated. The only way to know the true quality of a monitor is to rely on the reviews. The important information to take into account is:

  • Resolution: 1080p is the standard now. Only monitors smaller than 22'' have a lower resolution. Up to 27'' is an acceptable size for a monitor (and included it has a full HD resolution), while more than that may be poorly defined. However with increasing resolution it will also increase the hardware requirements for games. And take into consideration that it is not recommended to buy a monitor with a 2560x1600 resolution, if the computer is not able to handle it properly.
  • Panel technology: Until a few years ago almost all the panels were of the TN type. These panels have the advantage of being very cheap and have a good responsiveness, but the quality of the colors, contrast and viewing angles are left to be desired. Lately the prices of IPS panels have gone down dramatically, and this has made them very competitive.The advantages of IPS panels are superior viewing angles and color fidelity, but they are also generally less responsive compared to TN panels. There are exceptions: some IPS monitors are able to compete in terms of responsiveness with most of the TN panels.
  • Refresh rate: another fairly recent innovation is the introduction of monitors with a refresh rate of 120Hz or 144Hz. Almost all of these monitors have 3D support, or allow you to play in 2D having a feeling of an incredible fluidity. At the moment this technology is restricted to TN and VA panels, but 120Hz IPS panels should soon be available.

The perfect monitor does not exist. So what should you purchase? If you have a limited budget, you do not have many choices. You will have to necessarily settle for a 60Hz TN.

For those who want to enjoy the most out of the video games, especially the fast paced ones like FPS or sports games, you should opt for a 144Hz TN monitor as the BenQ Zowie XL

Excellent all-round monitors are with responsive IPS that allow you to have a good quality, without having to give up the gaming side.

Keyboards

Processor

Mechanical keyboards, or keyboards with a single individual mechanical switch below every key, have had an explosion of popularity lately, although in reality the underlying technology is the same that belonged to the first historical keyboards. So what are the advantages of mechanical compared to the classic membrane keyboards to which we are accustomed to?

  • Minimize typos: depending on switch type, not only is it possible to have a tactile feedback after pressing a key, but you will no longer have to wonder if the pressure was successful or not. Once you are familiar with the feeling of pressure, you will have the certainty of pressing the key and typing errors due to the double key press will be minimized. Moreover, the sound of a mechanical keyboard definitely reinforces the tactile feedback.
  • More resistant and durable: one of the best advantages of mechanical keyboards is that they are made ​​to be durable and suitable for intensive use. Depending on the model chosen, these keyboards are certified for tens of millions of key presses, far beyond the standards of the membrane. In addition to this the keys are easily removable, making the mechanical keyboard extremely simple and fast to clean.
  • A much more pleasant typing experience: while being quite subjective, the majority of people who use a mechanical keyboard daily confirm that the use is much more satisfactory. The sound and the security given by the pressure of the keys to avoid typing errors, allows you to enjoy the maximum pleasure of writing. In addition, according to some studies, the mechanical keyboards can relieve the symptoms of carpal tunnel.
  • Less response time: all keys, after pressing them, have a settling time that generates a series of not registered successive presses. This would lead to the registration of multiple pressures but in reality is avoided by the keyboard controller that ignores the button for a certain time after the pressure. Depending on the quality of the contact, the delay is between 2 and 50 milliseconds. The Cherry MX mechanical switches need 5 milliseconds to wait for a new record pressure.
  • Anti-Ghosting: with ghosting we refer to the phenomenon common in keyboards so that, after a certain limit (2 or 3 keys), the keys do not work pressing them simultaneously. This problem is due to the keyboard electrical wiring. The anti-ghosting is the name of what the manufacturers of keyboards use to restrict and in some cases eliminate this problem. In practice, they just calibrate some key combinations to work perfectly, but this does not mean that the keyboard does not come back to have problems if you move away from those combinations. The mechanical keyboards with a PS/2 connector offer unlimited simultaneous pressures (NKRO, n-key roll-over) while the USB ones usually only 6 simultaneous pressures (6KRO, 6 keys roll-over) due to USB protocol limitations (polling).

Most of mechanical keyboards in commerce use Cherry MX switches. Here's a quick rundown of most popular kind of switches, and some popular keyboard models that include each one of them:

  • Cherry MX BlackCherry MX Black Switch: was one of the first mechanical keyboard switches available to the general public. They are linear, or non-tactile, switches as there is no loud click or bump felt when a key is depressed. Many gamers prefer these because of the smooth feel and the fact that the actuation and release points are at the exact same position, making double tapping easier than other switches. When gaming, a tactile bump doesn’t often help since gamers tend to bottom out on the keys. Due to the lack of a bump, most people don’t prefer the black switches for typing.
  • Cherry MX RedCherry MX Red Switch: is similar to the Cherry MX Blacks in that they are both categorized as linear, non-tactile. This means that their feel remains constant through each up-down key stroke. Where they differ from the Cherry MX Black switches is in their resistance; they require less force to actuate. The result is a feel that most perceive as “smoother” and “faster,” making them especially popular among gaming enthusiasts.
  • Cherry MX BlueCherry MX Blue Switch: is considered to be the best switch for typing because they have a “clicky” tactile bump when the activation point is hit. While many people prefer them for gaming, it is not as easy to double tap as other switches since the release point is above the actuation point.
  • Cherry MX GreenCherry MX Green Switch: is a tougher version of the MX Blues, which requires a bit more force to press down and is designed to simulate even older, sturdier mechanical keyboards. These switches just hit the market last year, and feature both a tactile bump and an audible click at the actuation point, and you'll hear them both when you hit it. Unlike the Blue, the release and actuation points are in the same place.
  • Cherry MX BrownCherry MX Brown Switch: is about halfway between a typing and a gaming switch. Some people prefer them for gaming since it enables you to double tap faster. Unlike the black switches, the browns have a soft, tactile bump about halfway through the key press. The MX Brown switches have a softer click when depressed and require less force to actuate than the blue switches.
  • Cherry MX ClearCherry MX Clear Switch: is a bit harder to find in keyboards, but many users consider them to have more of a tactile feel than the Cherry MX browns without being as clicky as the Cherry MX Blue switches. The clear switches have a higher actuation force than the brown switches and are often compared to the feel of rubber dome keyboards.

Mouse

Processor

The choice of which mouse is rather subjective. However, there are some important guidelines that you can follow that will allow making a more accurate selection of which mouse you are going to buy. It is important to consider:

  • Sensor: it is essential to establish the quality of the mouse. Nowadays there are two kinds of sensors: optical and laser. The first use of a LED light to illuminate the surface to be acquired as an image, the latter use a diode laser to track the movements, achieving higher resolutions of the captured image compared to a normal LED.
  • Hand Grip: there are 3 types of hand grips. The palm grip, which is the most common way that the palm of the hand and fingers extended rest entirely on the surface of the mouse. The claw grip, where the fingers are kept as an arc and only the fingertips resting on the mouse. And finally, the fingertip grip, much like the claw grip with the difference that the palm of the hand rests on the pad instead of on the mouse.
  • CPI (or DPI): these are the samplings per inch of surface (erroneously many use DPI that instead refers to a term used in the printing on paper) that the sensor is able to acquire. However, it is important to emphasize that a higher value of this feature does not imply a better mouse. Indeed, it is often the opposite. Some manufacturers use software to create artificially sampling interpolated between two real, thus increasing the number of CPI at the expense of the accuracy of sampling. We stress the fact that a high number of samplings are exploited only at high resolutions and by the players that use a very high sensitivity in game. To make a very rough calculation of the CPI that we really need, you can do this: multiply by 4 the horizontal resolution used in the game by dividing by the number of inches required to perform a 360° circle with the mouse in an FPS game. For example, using the classical HD resolution (1920x1080) and doing a 360 ° 20cm (approximately 8 ") the approximate calculation will be: 1920 * 4/8 = 1000 CPI (DPI). So in this case the maximum number of samples per inch we're going to take advantage of it will be about 1000 CPI (DPI).
  • Lift-off distance: this is the height to which the sensor of the mouse will continue to process the images acquired after being lifted from the surface. Low values allow repositioning of the mouse on the surface with minimal deviations of the cursor due to sampling side while lifting.
  • Polling rate: this is the number of times per second in which the mouse communicates with the computer regarding movement. The standard USB port is 125Hz (or 125 communications per second). This standard is inappropriate in the gaming environment, where responsiveness is a key element. For this reason we always recommended you to set (even with the mouse driver if it allows it) a minimum polling rate of 500Hz (2ms latency) o 1000Hz (1ms latency). Both offers undeniable benefits compared to default 125Hz with 8ms latency.

In case you were wondering about wireless mice. Our advice is the following: if you're looking for a gaming mouse, wireless mice should be absolutely avoided. Their performances are not at all comparable, even to a mediocre wired mouse.

The best mice we tested and which we would recommend to purchase are the Logitech G502, the Logitech G303 and the Razer DeathAdder 2013.

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