Where to begin.

When you start out, you can’t go wrong taking a look at:

Logical Increments

They give recommended builds (air cooled), to meet a range of budgets. You can select your country and the prices will be updated to your currency (I’ve noticed it’s got some bugs in the pricing in the UK – same item is often listed twice in different tiers at slightly different prices) They also have useful information on things like screens, mice and keyboards. The screens section in particular has a lot of extra useful links, some of which may be duplicated here.

Once you get you feet wet, from looking at that your next port of call should probably be:

PartPicker

Once again this website allows you to select a country and this time it links out to more affiliate merchants so you are likely to get better prices. It is also a really good website for checking compatibility of components and does things like tell you if you need a bigger PSU (power supply unit), if you have hungry GPU’s (video cards – aka Graphical Processing Unit). It also advises if the CPU (Central Processing Unit), should have some sort of Cooler, or if a graphics card is too long for a case/chassis. You’ll start to get the gist, especially if you look again at some of the recommended builds, to give you a starting point.

Once you get past this, probably the biggest thing to get your head around is the correlation of CPU to motherboards.

Basically CPU’s plug into the motherboard in specific sockets. Wiki is a great resource here, as is Intel (and probably AMD) – though my posts will err more on the Intel side.

You also here about things called Chipsets, which you can think of  common computer architecture blueprints motherboard manufactures can use for adding things like m.2 SSD support. Wiki again is great here Once again I have more knowledge of the blue camp (Intel).

At this point I tend to review things primarily by benchmarks, either in sheer computing power, or by value of money for that computing power.

For CPU’s I tend to go for.

CPU User Benchmark

I find it useful to include Socket, Series and Graphics columns, when trying to get my head around how I’m going to use it with the motherboard. (Graphics is there to signify the CPU has a build in GPU. So it would be ok for someone using a PC for Word or browsing, not so good for high end gamer – when one or more GPU’s become a better option.

When it comes to motherboards, I also like

hardware.info

It has nice filtering options by socket, form factor (physical size of motherboard see wiki), chipset, memory type etc.

Most computers these days use DDR3 memory (GDDR5 is often talked about – but that is dedicated memory distinctly used by a dedicated GPU) or DDR4. The latter is mostly used by the X99 chipset and CPU’s like the i7-5960X and it’s family of associated processors (you can see the family easily in the CPU benchmark link by clicking on a given CPU).

Partpicker is really handy here too, as by default it will filter out motherboards not applicable to the CPU you may have already selected too. It allows similarly nice features like hardware info. I included that link too, as it often has reviews, an allows side by side comparisons in more depth than part picker.

If you select a CPU and it needs a cooler, you can elect to go for either a water cooled or air cooled solution. Often times you will likely need some sort of thermal compound to make the cooling more effective. Skineelabs has a useful article on thermal compounds here. Out of those, I’d personally choose Tuniq-TX4, as it’s a non conductive variety, so if you managed to get some on some circuitry, it’s less likely to fry it. You apply it to the CPU (or GPU if water cooling and applying your own water block). As always refer to manufacturers guide here to make sure your doing it right.

If you air cool, Phanteks PH-TC14PE 140mm CPU coolers are a nice option, as they come in a range of colors, that you could colour match to your motherboard.

If you select an Asus motherboard, you can cross check part pickers advice on memory (and components), for things like the Asus Rampage V Extreme, under the Support > Memory/Device Support. Then you can download PDF’s.

Several manufacturers exist here. If you plan on water cooling, getting memory without head spreaders makes sense – so something like Crucial memory becomes a good idea then.

Others include G.Skill, Kingston, and Corsair.

Most include a memory configurator, where you can select a motherboard. Though Corsair’s leaves a lot to be desired, asi it’s really out of date.

If you select the memory manually try and find a QVL PDF like Asus provide, or pay special attention to things like

Non-ECC, Un-buffered Memory, Quad Channel Memory Architecture and be sure to match that up. Also make sure the memory size eg 16GB can be made either by 4x4GB or 2x8GB. Make sure the motherboard has enough DIMM’s to plug the memory in. Also pay attention to the MHz, an CAS latency figures – the lower the latency numbers, the better.

When it comes to storage, you end up with the new m.2 being leader of the pack in performance, followed by SSD’s (Solid State Drives), then the old mechanical drives.

People often opt for an m.2 or SSD’s in raid drive for the operating system in order to have faster boot times. The two forms I’ve seen mentioned the most are Raid 0, allows for better performance by splitting the data over two drives so you effectively get the data twice as fast, and Raid 1+0 can add the performance and support drive failures but they two require 2 or 4 disks respectively.

For m.2 support you’d need the X99, H97 or Z97 chipset.

Also 6GBit/sec Sata 3.0 ports are on these newer chipsets too. This will enable your drives to transfer data faster than the older generation. This also applies to optical drives too.

As far as optical drives go, I see a lot of people going without them these days and booting from USB dongles,  but there are potential issues with this, as Windows often has to be booted from a DVD. Check out Ronsanut talking about a Plextor M6e and trying to install Windows 7 off a USB device @ circa 9:53 with a Rampage IV Black edition and 11:25 USB ports don’t allow things to be recognised.

Also whilst on the topic of Window – be sure to buy the full version, as OEM versions are supposed to be only allowed for system build only, not for commercial use. This changed with Windows 8. See here. And whilst we’re at it, be sure to cross check the HCL (Hardware Compatibility List) page for component certification for use with OS.

Back on the topic of optical drives, my research leads me to think the Pioneer BDR-209DBK is probably the best choice if you want to go for a Blueray burner. I based this off partpicker and comparing blueray features, and discounting players you can’t get in the UK or ones that had bad reviews elsewhere on places like Newgg.

As for articles for the player they rate Power DVD ultra top dog, but for copying the Leawo Blue-ray copy comes out on top.

When it comes to dedicated video cards aka GPU’s, another good site is

GPUBoss.

nVidia actually creates a blueprint design that other manufacturers tweak. These are called “Reference” cards. Be aware that the 970’s are rather renowned for coil-whine. Gibbo over at Overclockers UK created a build that replaced some of the components and used Samsung memory and use high end inductors. I’d be sure that you check with the supplier of your GPU about their return policy on GPU’s for coil whine. Sometimes people say it can be a PSU/GPU combo and it can be a bit of a crap shoot. Two exact same makes may exhibit different characteristics. This is also why I’d initially try and stick to the PSU/GPU recommendations in the Rampage V Extreme PDF download too. Also the “reference” designs lend themselves to more options when it comes to using water blocks, since the PCB layout is standard and will marry up with blocks. If you go SLI, you get better air cooling with the reference cooler too. They also have cut outs on the backplate that attaches to the IO shield at the rear of the case. See this video review. Reference cards in general also have a nice back plate, that is often omitted by the likes of EVGA out of the box. You have to pay more for the plate.

Now at the moment, either Displayport 1.2 or HDMI 2.0 need to be on both your monitor and GPU if you want to go the 4K route. DP1.2 slightly has the bandwidth edge here. See this article.

Also Microsoft’s OS’s really suck when compared to OS/X on Macs for this kind of stuff, so looking at Hackintosh’s may be an option to look at too.

With Windows the fonts don’t scale nicely, so Internet Explorer will behave differently to other apps or the desktop, from what I’ve been able to ascertain.

One other point you should bear in mind with GPU’s in particular, but it really goes for all components, is the length of the warranty. Different makers offer a variety of deals. If you buy EVGA, I believe as long as you purchase it through official channels you can buy extended warranties. See this link.

There’s a Youtube video of a guy using a 5K Dell UP2715K monitor from Thirty IR here with 4 way SLI GTX 980 SC – had to use two Displayport 1.2 on the primary GPU to connect to monitor to make the bandwidth – so you’d need 2 DP1.2 on the same GPU card to use this monitor. VRAM buffers become issues too with this high a resolution on certain games like Battlefield 3/4. The cards ought to be using 8GB of memory, so I’d definitely hold off on that if you want 5K.

If you go the SLI route, you’ll need an SLI bridge. Most motherboard makers provide SLI bridges, but some don’t offer more than 2 way (looking at you Asus … Grrr). I really like the look of the nVidia LED bridges, but again they only go up to 3 way, but they are far nicer looking with reference cards than the EVGA/ROG ones. Unfortunately they seem to be out of stock at nVidia… Time to make some more me thinks! Not willing to pay exhorbitant prices on eBay for them!

Some great links on getting to grips with different types of monitor follow:
(If gaming G-Sync monitors would be a good choice):
LCD Monitor Panels Types – TN vs IPS vs VA as Fast As Possible
Logical Increments Monitor choices and links
Blurbusters
TFT Central
Panelook. (This is not so much the actual monitor, but the panel that can be used be it in an LCD display or laptop).

Displayport 1.2 on monitor is best of current crop for bandwidth.

On paper, I personally like the look of the Acer XB280HK 60Hz 28.0″ Monitor out of the current crop if gaming.

With one 970 You’ll likely get circa 150 FPS in WoW at 1080P/80 FPS 4K Crysis 3 about 42FPS at 1080P

Here is a website that you could use to gauge relative performance of PC spec to games. But I’m not sure how up to date it is. I’d be interested if anyone knows of a similar better resource for this.

In terms of keyboards, I personally like the look of mechanical cherry-mx keyboards. Here is an article discussing the various types. In essence if you are a hardcore gamer then red is the way to go, but if you do a mix of gaming and typing then brown is the way to go, but if all you do is type and like clicky keyboards, then blue is the way to go.

My personal favorite is the Ducky DK14​08SD Shine​ 4 Mechani​cal Keyboa​rd DKSH140​8SD-BUKALA​ABR1.

With regards to mice, I like the Mionix NAOS 8200 Wired Laser Mouse, and Corsair’s Vengeance M65/M95 gaming mice, depending on my mood for FPS shooter vs MMO. Here’s a video of Laser vs Optical Mice.

With regards to chassis, for me it comes down to just a few cases, because I’m interested in the possibility of water cooling and using an E-ATX motherboard, so having room for radiators, reservoirs and pumps becomes important. I also only really look at cases that have a side window to show off water cooling loops. So I bypassed to Cosmos II, which although it’s a big case doesn’t come close to providing useful radiator capacity some other cases allow.

If money was no object then a Caselabs STH10 would have been my choice – unless mick64’s Proteus ever goes into production – then I’d jump at that one – looks less industrial. Here you also have the option of getting one made for you too by  Overclockers, the “8Pack Supernova“.

After than the Corsair 900D seems a great choice, but if you use an optical drive, the continuity is broken because the case is so wide, and you see bare metal. Also the accessibility to the way you attach graphics cards at the back become an issue.

If you wanted to buy a pre-built water cooled solution “The Bear” by Scan.co.uk.

For me that leaves just two cases. The TJ11, again a bit pricey. I’m not too fond of the tiny parallelogram cut-outs in the side panel, and it appears to be a real fingerprint magnet. I really liked the way you the case allowed the motherboard IO shield to come out at the top over the conventional rear of the case. I was very inspired by Kier’s TJ11 Carbon. But to me acrylic seems to be a static magnet from what I’ve read, so I’d personally be very wary of that when making a PC.

OriginPC also have a slightly more flexible chassis design again that is better than the TJ11, but alas these chassis don’t appear to be sold separately. Ok once again if you let them make your computer for you. Although the chassis is deemed a ATX case, it seems you can get an eATX motherboard like the Asus Rampage V Extreme in it too. They also allow hard-line cooling as an option. Not sure if they use Bitspower/E22 – they don’t really clarify this on their website.

And finally come to the Phanteks E​nthoo Prim​o [PH-ES8​13P_BL]. There is a great review by Bill Owen from mmpctech.com and Jesse from TheModZoo.com of this case on Youtube here. It comes in two-tone colours too if you look at the official website via the SE edition. For me the main gripe is the LED lighting strip and power LED’s don’t come in a choice of colour. You are stuck with blue. Not what I wanted at all. But there is a link on how to mod this here. Aside from this, I think HWLabs Black Ice radiators would have been my primary choice, but the Alphacool radiators seem the best choice for this chassis, since the HWLabs are too wide. I think this case allows the best radiator options for it’s size of any case and has a nice fan hub to control 11 fans and it will allow excellent cable management with the PSU hidden in the rear. Although the eATX keyboard won’t work well with the reservoir mount, you can also attach one on the inside at the rear of the case.

Overclock.net also has forums for cases too, so you can draw inspiration for build logs from that website as well.

Some final thoughts at the outset… Be sure to shop around. Many times I found things cheaper on places like Newegg. If I didn’t see a better price there, I’d type the component into a Google search, then go off to the Shopping link and drill down into an item and do the kind of compare from 25+ shops, then sort by the lowest total price to see if I could beat what part picker was giving me. Sometimes you can get rebates too, particularly if buying a combo of products, but I’ve seen this being more effective for people based in USA on part picker. We need more of that here in the UK too! Also look at the reputation of the merchant you are going to buy from and be sure to confirm you’re getting a new unopened package, not some returned defective item.

I’d also look at reviews on components you are using too. Some guys were having black screen issues with Displayport 1.2. I believe nVidia fixed that sort of thing with driver updates. So be sure to download and install latest and greatest of everything early on to avoid headaches.

I can also recommend subscribing on Facebook or Youtube to the likes of LinusTechTips, JayzTwoCents*, HardwareCanucks, PcPer, OverclockersUK, Ronsanut*, PCDIY, Thirty IR, Singularity Computers* and Dazmode*

* These are particularly interesting if you are keen to get into water cooling too.

I’m a big fan of Bitspower, E22 tubing, HWLabs, Alphacool Radiators,Aqua Computer for their fan controllers, filters and sensors, EKWB and Mayhems when it comes to water cooling. EKWB radiators claim you don’t need to purge radiators to get rid of flux etc. Bitspower have the best selection of fittings, as well as great Ramage V Extreme motherboard/CPU combo blocks and nice full cover GTX980 GPU water blocks too. Check out Ronsanut’s STH10 Monsta Build logs on Youtube.

To get your head around the types of fittings, I’d suggest looking at these couple of links:

Techspot  : Water cooling guide

Dazmode Complete water cooling guide playlist on Youtube

Angelwork Tech Water Cooling Loop Fittings – Acrylic Tubing – In-depth Guide
One of issues I had with Angelwork video was the “crystal link” fittings. The can have a male G 1/4″ or female IG 1/4″ fitting on the thread side, and it was really hard to tell if he was consistently using one type… But it should give you a head start. He was also using a TJ11 chassis by the way, like Kier.

performance-pcs website great for researching components. Better UI than Bitspower itself

For fans, you need to be aware than static pressure becomes more important than air pressure when mounting on radiators.There is also an area behind the centre of fans that don’t work very effectively, and shrouds can be used to improve this somewhat. Additionally you can mount the fans in push, pull or push/pull combos.

Most fans tend to be 25mm wide, so if you go push/pull you are going to need 50mm for the fans on either side of the radiator.

Some fan recommendations are given here, I’ve read you should need to have at least 2mm/H2O static pressure for a fan to be considered good for a radiator. Additionally the higher fins per inch on a radiator the more you’ll need, so keeping the fin density down is a good idea, otherwise you’ll need a noisier system because all the fans will be going at higher RPM to punch air through the fins.

EVGA fan forum recommendations

Corsair article on fans

SilentPCReview of fans

XBitlabs fan review

OnlineComponents parametric search

Motherboards that can change fan speeds

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