Pre-Built or custom;
Prebuilts can be cheap. If you buy them stock, and checkout.
Do -not- take an upgrade without checking the cost of parts at a -real- computer store. Staples, Walmart, Futureshop, etc, are -not- real computer stores. Sites like Newegg give a much better idea of the costs for someone who isn't a newb.
Prebuilts come with OEM OS's. A similarly built custom machine vs a prebuilt will be close in price, usually being slightly cheaper for the prebuilt, cause the OS often bumps the custom a little higher. Ultimately, it depends, do the research.
I'd advise against buying a prebuilt, and voiding the warranty to upgrade it. Computer parts fail.
-Never- buy a prebuilt that does not have a somewhat detailed component list. If it's not listed on the site, or in the store, ask or email. If they are unwilling, or unable to give you the list, don't buy it.
Customs are just that, a custom built machine. Put what(parts) you want, for what(performance, cost, etc) you want into a box.
Research. Research. Research. The single most important aspect to building your own box is to research what's important. Cost vs performance, quality, features, compatibility, generation, etc.
So, custom, now what?
If you don't like to research, or simply don't get it, don't pester a friend to teach you.
Read right there, one line up. Don't pester people. It's annoying, and if you don't understand the basics, you'll be annoying.
Uhm. Ok, now what? Now you've made me feel both stupid, and a pest.
Great! Make yourself a budget. Make sure you know what you want to use your computer for. (Do you like games, drawing, etc)
Now, take your budget, and what you want it for, and get a hold of that friend, OR your local tech shop. Tell them you are looking to build a new box, and what you can spend, and what you want it for, and if they can give you a list of parts or a couple lists of parts.
I've got a list, and it looks like algebra or something. Yup, it can look mighty odd. Again, don't be a pest. If you are not willing, or able to learn it yourself, don't turn around and start asking questions about crap you won't understand. Trust that your friend, or tech shop know more than you, and gave you a list of stuff that'll work. If you don't trust them, don't waste their time in the first place.
Get the parts. I much prefer local shops than online stores. This isn't always an option, but it's my preferred option. (When I moved, it took me 1.5 years to find the local shop in the closest city). Give them the list. They'll tell you they may not have something in stock. Either ask them what can be used instead, or get back in touch with your friend.
The basics of parts.
Most things come in a few price ranges. I simply break then into, Low, Mid and High.
There's also three types of brands. No Name, BrandName, and what I call New name (A brand that's had some shelf life, but not a real track record)
Costs are very simple. You take a list of hardware, say video cards, you pick the cheapest -group-, the most expensive -group-, then a batch in the middle.
You'll notice that many parts may actually cross over price ranges depending on brand.
Basic important parts.
Motherboard. The starting point regardless of what you want. Stick to brand name.
If cost if your bottom line, pick a low end, brandname board (Gigabyte, Asus), of the most common current generation that's affordable.
If you are looking towards games, you can skip the onboard video card models, but having an onboard video card never hurts if your primary card fails.
Don't buy the going out of style generation. (IE AM2, no idea on Intel)
Try to make sure the current features are on it. (IE Sata2, DDR3, PCI-E)
CPU, depends on what mother board you got! It's AMD or Intel, (For the sake of all that's holy, don't get a celeron, or Sempron, you're talking like 20-30 dollars for a real processor over something with no balls), and the right socket.
Basic types right now are Duel, Triple, and Quad core.
Cost is basically a direct indication of speed or # of cores. More expensive, more power.
I often pick this part LAST, and use it to adjust my budget. There's around $150 in room to play with CPU's, and unless it's the single most important aspect (power) you can get the lowest end and still get great performance.
Video Card. Really depends. Are you a gamer or not. If you're a gamer, expect to spend some $$$. Also PCI-E is the type you want to stick to. (There's two main chipsets, NVidia, and AMD/ATI)
Memory. Again, depends on the mother board. Current generation is DDR3.
What's DDR, DDR2, DDR3? Simply the # used together for best performance., Single, Double and Triple sets. Don't worry about the speed unless memory performance is critical.
Harddrive. A good budget cleaner.
There's alot of variations, you can spend $50 upto $200+.
Brands are a debatable issue, but stick to a brand.
Size is your choice here. Pay more, get more space.
Case. I don't care. If you want it to glow, fly around the room, or act as a table leg. It's a case. Mines almost 15 years old, beige box. You can spend $40, or $500. You can get a craptastic case for 60, or a good one.
Just make sure it can hold what you want. A bigger box, more crap, a smaller box, less.
Also, be on the lookout for flimsy cases, or ones with sharp edges.
If you plan on regularly crawling inside your case, access is important too.
Floppy (A what?), CD/DVD/RW drives, Card readers, soundcards. All filler hardware in my opinion.
Personally, I don't do floppys anymore.
CD-Rom drives are dirt cheap, my $30 drive has lasted 5 years so far. Unless you have 'odd' requirements for a burner, simply get a drive that matches your case, and works.
A card reader is usefull today. make sure it supports SDHC and such.
Soundcards do sound. Many are -not- compatible with Windows 7 (Seems the single biggest trouble I've had with windows 7, is sound cards) I've always just used the onboard Realtek cards with Few issues. If you are an audiophile, talk to other tech savy audiophiles, or with a tech shop for what works and does what you want.
Ok, last but not least, breakdown of main parts, vs what you want to do.
Rendering, Encoding Audio/Video, Crunching numbers.
Generally important. I don't do less than 2 gigs anymore, 4 gigs is the max for a 32 bit processor/OS (You need a 64 bit OS on a 64 bit CPU with a motherboard that supports X amount of Ram to use over 4 gigs)
Most intensive tasks, games, imaging, rendering, pretty much everything likes ram. Don't go less than 2 gigs, and get 4+ if you can afford it.
There's two aspects here, and one isn't for the newb, but can be insanely important.
Space, do you collect music, or video? Do you deal with large files? Are you a pack rat? (I've got files from '94)
300 gig is kinda the bottom line really, in my opinion. It's cheap (about ten cents a gig). (I've got about 1.8 tb across 3 machines)
Uhm, I don't get what a gb is, or what it means?
Ok, the simple quickie. There's 1000 Mb in a GB, and 1000 GB in a TB.
Many 3d games use well over a gig. Many use 3 GB+.
A MP3, on average is about 5.5 MB. So, 200 is a gig.
A DVD movie is 5.7 gigs.
A 12 MP camera puts out around a 3-8mb file.
a CD is ~700 mb.
MS Office install is 400 MB (Basics)
My installed software takes up 37 GB
A single website being developed is 1.2 gigs
My windows 7 install is 15 gigs. (Uhm, wtf??)
The next thing on harddrives is performance. How fast can it read and write.
If you work with large files. (IE graphics production, etc) 100+ MB harddrive performance can affect how you work on a insane level.
An example. A $4,000 Mac G4 (Couple years back 2004) vs my $800 PC with a Raid 0 on a 1 gig high res layered image. 2.5 minutes to open on the mac, 30 seconds on my PC, which was both slower, cheaper, and had less ram.
Why? Raids are special configuration with hards that allow you to use multiple drive in conjunction to increase speed. Instead of reading or writing to a single drive, you read/write to multiple drives at the same time. This can be 2 drives, 3 drives, 12 drives, whatever the hardware supports. As you increase the number of drives you increase the performance by pretty much the same multiplier. (You loose a little due to overhead)
If the Mac could read/write at 30mb/sec, and my PC could do 60 mb/sec, that's double the speed. So how does that equal a 5x performance boost on that file?
Easy. A gig file is gonna fill up your memory pretty quick. Many programs use swapfiles for memory tasks that overburden or exceed memory limits. As a program loads the file, and then turns around and re-writes the data to a swap file, it must wait. Much of this is also bounced through your ram (memory). As you add tasks, combine memory speeds and other performance issues, you can find that some tasks can be done -far- faster on the right rig (specialized computer) than the wrong one.
My PC, which was built a year before the Mac, was built as a power machine. I had fast ram, the highest FSB I could get, and I added a raid when I helped with the graphics. I did this at a far lower cost because I -knew- what I was doing, what the hardware did for me, and I knew what to spend money on, and not.
I also built a $2k rendering box (at the same company), that kicked that same macs arse. Same reasons.
To get the most out of computers, they tend to be customized. The fastest CPU may not be the BEST cpu for the task. There's (or was anyways) specialised CPU's that while slower than the standard consumer CPU's, that would run a game like crap, but render a 3d image twice as fast.
This is a major item if games are your thing. Probably the single most important component.
If game like Crysis, bioshock, etc turn you on, expect to spend more on your video card than any other component.
In fact, if you're a budget gamer, you can get the cheapest CPU, the cheapest MB, the cheapest ram, the cheapest everything, then dump $200-300 bucks into your video card, and you will get better performance in games than most pre-built PC's. you're load times might be slow, but your frame rate (gameplay) is what matters.
Also graphics cards are bit frustrating to figure out.
Example, a Radeon 3870 may very well outperform a Radeon 4650 model.
I cannot even keep track of it anymore, and whenever I purchase a new video card, I have to research current models.
If it's important, do not buy one without first comparing benchmarks vs other types 1st.
Easy search Model Benchmarks IE 'Radeon 3870 Benchmarks'
Custom VS Pre-Built? Well, if you know what you want, have the knowledge (or someone else does), you can build most any type of PC CHEAPER than Pre-Builts by building a custom box designed for -that- type of task.
You can build a rig that can play games, at higher settings, with good frame rates for less than $600. The cheapest Alienware Gamer rig is $1100.
Feel free to use, or don't use any of that.
If you can read it all anyways!
Nothing pisses me off more than pre-builts.
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