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Atomicans Guide to Designing a PC
22/3/08 1:22:12 PM

Atomicans Guide to Designing a PC
By Fat_Bodybuilder, Mr_Insidious and .:Cyb3rGlitch:.
Edited by .:Cyb3rGlitch:.

Almost everyone on this forum has built a computer, whether it be for yourself, a friend, a family member or even your significant other. But we do get people every single day, signing up to AtomicMPC for this exact type of thread – and there have been a lot of people on here who have made a simple thread that states what would be a good choice when buying and building a new computer. Unfortunately the majority of the new comers in the forum do not read the FAQ and do not read the stickies – and there are various reasons for that, the main one being people like the attention of having their own thread.

Now, I know that I mentioned that most of the newcomers do not read threads that are already made, but hopefully with some luck, some people will see this and find it just a tad helpful (ed - or we could force them to read it with the aid of sharpened pitchfork). This is not a thread about what you should do, and why you should do it, but rather “why” – and I assure, there are some reasons that you wouldn’t think of that you would absolutely just kick yourself for passing off as ‘meh’.

Now, on to the Advice :-P

Power Supply Unit (PSU)
We all know that a PSU is what is required for the computer to gain power and turn on. Basically it turns the AC power from the wall and converts it into the DC power so that it powers the components in the computer, essentially lowering the voltage right down so that it’s usable – similarly how a transformer works.

The biggest mistake that everyday people make is looking at the wattage output of the power supply and basing their decision on that, regardless of the other details. Above all other mistakes, to do this causes you to phail beyond all things possible. This is because the wattage on a power supply is calculated in different ways, varying on the manufacturer.

A good post to note about this was written superbly by our very own, Tantryl:

This shows that the wattage rating is far from what matters when looking at the PSU. A decent branded PSU will have a good voltage on the 12v rails and also on the combined 12v rails, which, when calculated in the same way that an OEM PSU is calculated, actually shows a much higher power output than what is specified. Of course, there are some good and some bad in each brand – a good example would be Thermaltake as they have some excellent PSUs and some really shitty ones.

Some really good brands to note would be:
Corsair (TheFrunj threatened me :P)
Seasonic – note that most high quality power supplies are actually just rebranded seasonic power supplies.

These PSUs have good current (amps) across the 12v rail and are suitable for a high demand system. A good power supply will also protect your computer system in times of crisis – A cheap thing will ‘duck and dive’, making your computer the target after dying a most horrible death.

The motherboard is basically the translator in your computer. It’s the product that allows all your components to speak to each other and act well together. By this I mean that it’s the part that does all the physical compatibility checks, and if something is not going to fit then it is not going to work. (ed – I’d say it’s more of a central nervous system)

In my opinion, the biggest mistake that occurs when choosing a motherboard is that a lot of people look for the most expensive, outrageous thing. Why is this a mistake? Well because like RAM (further down), if you know what you want then you can get it at a fraction of the price and possibly (or probably) get better results. A good example of this would have been the Asus Striker Extreme Motherboard where it was so outrageously priced yet it offered so many useless features; believe it or not, it also came with many problems.

Most people are looking at 2 motherboard chipsets in particular at this time, the X38 chipset by Intel® and the nForce 780i chipset from nVidia®. The most appealing factor about these motherboards is that they support a multi GPU setup, which gives a gain in performance in benchmarks and a boost in real world performance. The problem with this is that the majority of people don’t actually intend on getting a multi GPU setup – and there are good reasons for that, including more power consumption, more heat output, limited performance increase due to bad AFR/SFR and/or bottleneck, and lastly, there is often a solution that would perform just as good with a single graphics card.

The fact is that these newer chipsets are really for the enthusiast because they provide much more than just being able to handle multiple GPUs. The new chipsets offer appealing features, but not always appealing to the person that is going to buy, which is you. The only reason is for the ePenis and at the end of the day, your friend might love you more but the people that know what’s going on are just going to laugh.

Rather, buy something more mainstream and that is guaranteed to work. A good example is the P35 chipset by Intel®. It provides great reliability and if you are really ‘that way inclined’ to do some overclocking etc, the P35 chipset is very capable of doing such tasks. It is one of the top chipsets and really doesn’t cost your left nut to get one.

Central Processing Unit (CPU)
As we all know, the CPU is the part of the computer that processes just about everything. If you are transferring data to the RAM, it goes through the CPU first and then to the RAM. The unfortunate thing about buying a CPU is that there is a fine line between “under-powered” and “overkill”. The latest CPUs from Intel® are the Intel Core2Duo processors, and from AMD, the Phenom range. The range of CPUs can vary from the E2140 all the way to the latest E8500. A Pentium D (or equivalent) would not suffice for any modern gaming rig and would be a waste to have bought one when designing a brand new rig.

The Pentium D is essentially two Pentium 4 processors glued together – not literally of course, but they are 2 dies next to each other and both using the Net burst micro architecture. Unfortunately, regardless of the frequency of the CPU, they are nowhere near as good in real world processing compared to the slower clocked Core 2 Duos. In that sense, you should not go out and buy the most expensive thing you can find, such as the eXtreme processors that have the unlocked multipliers. The reason for the unlocked multi is that is give extra overclocking headroom to hardcore benchers. This allows them to get a larger clock speed without affecting any of the other components – a massive price to pay for a feature that would mean quite little to most.

RAM comes in two general flavours at this time, DDR2 and DDR3. The main differences between these models are the clock speed and latencies they run at. At the moment DDR2 is the cheapest option and have lower latencies (lower latencies are better) than DDR3. The main advantage of DDR3 is that the clock speeds are much greater; the latest platforms show larger performance increases from clock speeds rather than lower latencies.

Now the dilemma, which one is right for you?

For most people this would be DDR2. DDR2 is very cheap and can be overclocked to admirable speeds. DDR3 RAM requires some decent overclocking to unlock its potential, the Micron D9 ICs are what to aim for and cost quite a bit to boot.
On the other hand, DDR3 with its larger clocks allow enthusiasts to push their systems to the limit with less chance of bottleneck issues. They also have greater write speeds compared to DDR2. All in all, it comes down to how much money you have to spend. For ~$75 you can get 2GB of 1066MHz DDR2 RAM, which isn’t too shabby. With DDR3, several hundreds of dollars are required for the same amount of memory (not to mention the need for a DDR3 compatible motherboard). Yes, DDR3 provides greater performance, but that extra $400 can get you one heck of a GPU (or two) and perhaps some aftermarket cooling.

HDDs (Hard Disk Drives)
HDDs are quite simple to select. The modern desktop standard is 7200RPM with memory up to 1TB. The main brands include Samsung, Western Digital and Seagate. To keep this simple, here are the advantages of each brand:

Samsung: Drives are quiet and have great performance.
Seagate: Not as quiet as Samsung drives, but they generally perform slightly faster.
Western Digital: Not as popular as Samsung and Seagate, but they offer 10000RPM Raptor drives which have great seek times.

What defines a fast HDD? Well apart from the RPM of the disk platters (which influences seek time), the density of the platters also contributes to performance. For example, say there are two 500GB HDDs that have identical specifications, the only difference being that one has two platters and the other three. The one with two platters would perform better due to ‘platter density’. This is because 500GB divided by two platters equates to 250GB per platter. With three platters this would be about 166GB per platter. When there is a higher density, the disk head doesn’t have to travel as far to read data off the platters.

So what should I get? Well the best noise to performance ratio would be a Samsung drive. They use the least amount of power too. As with all components, doing a quick Google search for reviews will provide a wealth of information and comparisions.

GPU (Graphics Processing Unit)
Choosing a GPU is often based on budget. At this time, the best budget card is the 8800GT and 9600GT, the highest performing card is the 9800GX2 and the budget performance beast is the 3870x2. The main thing to look out for with GPUs is the VRAM. With modern games on high resolutions, it’s recommended that 1GB VRAM is purchased. But don’t be fooled, there are many low-end cards that have 1GB RAM, but they can’t physically handle the textures stored. Low end-cards generally include the 8600GT and below.
The best guide when choosing a GPU is to look at internet reviews. Check what model cards are getting the high FPS (frames per second) on the games you want to play (in your monitor’s resolution).
Some GPUs use a dual slot cooling device, so ensure that this will not be a problem. Also, some high end cards are very long, make sure the GPU fits before you buy it.

Buying a case for your new PC is often very under-rated. Many people end up buying something cheap that looks good, but then complain because of the poor quality. On the other hand they may buy something very expensive that they really don't need - and waste their money.

For example, if you’re just a gamer looking for something to keep your components cool (and something to show off your components), your average run-of-the-mill window case wouldn't be a bad buy.
If you’re an enthusiast, and want that extra bit of cooling capacity and silence, a full tower case with a window and capacity of up to 4 120mm quality fans (like the SILVERSTONE SST-TJ07W) would probably be your better choice. Or if you’re nuts about keeping your PC quiet, yet don't want water cooling, then something like a Cooler Master Cosmos 1000 would be a brilliant choice; it also has the capacity for water cooling if you ever need it.

Confused? Don't be. It's really not all that hard. It just comes down to a few things, that when taken into consideration will help you choose a case that is good value to you, fits your needs, and your wants.

So let's start by outlining what these considerations should be:

1. Budget - How much money do you have? Before you even start looking at cases, you need to set yourself a certain budget - what you are able to spend.

$100-200: Low to midrange cases. (eg. Thermaltake Soprano)

$200-400: Mid - highend cases. (eg. Thermaltake Shark)

$400 + High end cases. (eg. Coolermaster Cosmos 1000/10, Silverstone TJO7)

2. Needs. - What do you use your computer for? Overclocking? Gaming? Media PC?

Basic outlines:
Gaming: Gaming doesn’t usually require a PC to not be pushed to its limits. Gamers don't generally do a huge amount of overclocking. Most tweak enough to get smooth framerates, but if you intend to do some serious overclocking, look to the ‘Enthusiast’ section.
Therefore cooling in this sense is not a huge issue. A decent mid-tower or full-tower with 2 or more 120MM fans and decent airflow should be enough. Space is a must though – the possible requirement to house an SLI or cross-fire rig may pop up, so the case needs to be able to accommodate this. Look for mid to high end cases that have room for up to 4 or so 120mm fans and have the capacity for water cooling if the need arises.

Enthusiast: Enthusiasts push their PCs to the limit. In this sense I'm talking about those awesome guys who buy PCs to get the absolute max out of what they buy.
High-end CPUs and graphics cards, and plenty of RAM, will require exceptional cooling. Enthusiasts overclock until they find a barrier, then they try and break that, so top notch cooling is a must. Space and airflow are also crucial considerations. Cases with capacity of up to 4 or more 120mm fans and/or those crazy 20cm fans are great for keeping a steady airflow throughout the case and keeping components cool. A full-tower case is optimal for best results and space. Capacity for water cooling if desirable. Look for a full tower high end case.

Media PC: Silence, and passive cooling. That's what this is all about. The components in a media PC are usually by default passive because they don’t draw much power. This is because they aren't very ‘grunty’, apart from the CPU which will require active cooling. Water cooling is generally not used in media PCs due to size and sound constraints. Look for media centre cases which are in the region from around $200 - $500.
You don't need many fans, so don't worry about them too much (ed – perhaps get a couple of Scythe Slip Streams). A media PC is about silence, and that's what you need.

3. Wants - What do you want in a case? Good looks? Simple. You can buy things like neon fans in any computer shop, and other bits and pieces. You know what you want, just choose carefully. If, for example, you want a case with a certain design, ensure that it complies with what your needs are (as above), and shop around.

4. Environment - What environment are you in? In a stuffy, hot room? Consider ignoring crappy generic cases with only one or two 80mm fans, even if you’re just using your PC to write word documents and play the odd game. Get something cheap, but that allows a decent airflow – i.e. a front 80mm fan and a back 120mm.
In a cold, cold, room? Perhaps you don't need the extra fan, save money and noise.

5. Re-check budget - See if you can afford what you've chosen! :P Seriously. Don't go overboard now.

So there you have it. Buying a case shouldn't be hard. Look for what you want, but actually consider what you really need. You might just save yourself some money.

And remember, vote 9, .:Cyb3rGlitch:. for Mayor!

Edited by Mr_Insidious: 8/4/2008 09:31:05 PM


22/3/08 1:36:46 PM

+1 Sticky Plz.

You always dwell in the past, eventually everyone does.

22/3/08 2:54:27 PM

Excellent and highly informative, I think that this thread should be, in a link from the home page, where our latest edition atomicans can have access to it. And every once and awhile update so that it doesn't get out of date.

Great Work Gents :)

AMD Athlon X2 5200+ @ 2.86, MSI K9N SLI Platinum, 2gb DDR2 800mhz DHX, MSI N9600GT OC 512mb, USB 2.0 Card Reader, Zalman CNPS9700, Zalman 600w ZM600-HP, 80gb Hitachi IDE, 120gb Western Digital IDE, LiteOn SATA superallwrite, Thermaltake Suprano.

22/3/08 3:06:00 PM

Not a prob you guys. :)

I enjoyed writing my share of it, and so did the other guys. A sticky would be nice, and yep, we'd be updating it as technologies change.



22/3/08 4:28:21 PM


Nice. Worthy of the green glob.

Stickied for all to see!

"Atomic is more than a magazine. It's an institution. But mostly a magazine. And a website."


23/3/08 7:56:05 PM

Job well done guys, job well done :-)

Vote .:Cyb3rGlitch:. for Atomic Mayor

Playing, atm:

.:Cyb3rGlitch:. Campaign: Graphics Card Overclocking Competition:

23/3/08 9:55:59 PM

This is a great guide to the first time builder and gives out very good information, to those who want to know what a computer is. Good job guys, you keep making good threads, keep up the good work :)


Edited by index680i: 23/3/2008 09:56:12 PM

You always dwell in the past, eventually everyone does.

25/3/08 12:56:17 AM

Interesting idea, but no-one will read it unfortunately.

And I've yet to see anyone link it in another thread either.

We'll see how it turns out...

Q6600@3GHz,1.28V | Tuniq Tower | Gigabyte P35-DS4 | 2GB 800MHz | Galaxy 8800GT @721/1802/1982 | Corsair 620HX | Auzentech X-Fi Prelude | 320GB Seagate | P182 Gunmetal

The cake is a lie...but the cube is forever

I'll square root you!

25/3/08 9:41:19 AM

Quote by TheFrunj
Interesting idea, but no-one will read it unfortunately.

And I've yet to see anyone link it in another thread either.

We'll see how it turns out...

It's still brand new...


25/3/08 9:54:24 AM

Quote by Fat_Bodybuilder
Quote by TheFrunj
Interesting idea, but no-one will read it unfortunately.

And I've yet to see anyone link it in another thread either.

We'll see how it turns out...

It's still brand new...


Also It's a sticky at the top of the page, so I'm sure new users will have a read through it eventually.

It could just prevent a few annoying threads. :P

Edited by Mr_Insidious: 25/3/2008 04:02:16 PM


25/3/08 1:51:02 PM
Really Goood guide! just the information newbies are after imo.


9/4/08 8:00:16 AM

Please note: Thread will be updated in the next couple of days.

Khamûl is a fictional character being one of the most powerful of the nine Ringwraiths or Nazgûl, second only to the Lord of the Nazgûl himself

Cheers Tak for the Av :-)

9/4/08 6:31:45 PM

Quote by Khamûl
Please note: Thread will be updated in the next couple of days.



11/4/08 11:51:41 AM

could i recommend an addition of the ammo case in the $100 range? its a very solid case, if a shade odd looking.


Edited by Sir_Substance: 11/4/2008 11:52:43 AM

Quote by Nich...
Government says you need some remedial spelling lessons, but hey.

17/4/08 10:12:53 PM
Well, that was a great post and I am a overclocking noob.....fear not, that noobs dont post in reply cause its taking a bit of courage to even turn up in here :)

Edited by QuickSmart: 17/4/2008 10:20:27 PM


2/6/08 1:24:20 AM

Well done on the write up

A few points which may be useful delving into further?

*Dual core vs 3/4 cores. Maybe something basic like dual cores are easier to clock to higher speeds, so can be beneficial when a program is maxing out a single core? Quad cores can be more beneficial when running numerous simultaneous applications

*Multiple GPU's vs single. Certain games have problems utilizing multiple GPU's effectively. Generally the more graphic intensive the game, the more improvement (scaling) you will see from multiple GPU's, which in the best cases can be 95-100%

*DDR2 vs DDR3 Latencies. DDR2 has better latencies, but by that same token DDR also has better latencies than DDR2. DDR3 takes more cycles to do a certain action (higher latencies), but since it's clocked faster the overall net latency generally ends up being better than DDR2 (when comparing high end DDR2 vs high end DDR3, etc).

*DDR2 vs DDR3 bandwidth. DDR2 in dual channel will match the CPU's FSB (depending on setup). Dual channel DDR3 however, exceeds the FSB bandwidth, and therefore the CPU cannot utilize the extra bandwidth. This points slightly harder to explain though, since components other than the CPU also access the RAM, and i'm not sure how much bandwidth they require (anyone else care to fill in here?)

Those sorta things could be going in deeper than is necessary, but could help the user understand the reasons for making a purchase decision.

Edit: Just checked the post dates, freck, not sure why i thought this thread was recent >.<

Edited by illdrift: 2/6/2008 2:40:53 PM

Desktop |q6600@3600(450x8)(water)|XFX 780i|4x2GB@900|8800GT 512MB|2x 8600GT 512MB|4x 4GB I-Ram Rd0|LG GGC-H20L|Viewsonic VX2640W|Ext pump & 50L Rsvr|Coolmax 480w fanless|

NAS |e4300|680i P6N|2x 250GB Rd0|Highpoint 2320|4x 1TB Rd5|

2/6/08 1:58:05 PM

just a few tips for your guide
the recommended cases are not real good value and often come with shit psu's

CoolerMaster Elite series can be had for $49 which is a very good value case with a rear 120mm fan and room for another 120mm fan in the front as long as people dont get the models with psu's as like thermaltake they suck

or for cheap cases with a descent budget psu
Antec NSK4480B 380w $100
Antec NSK6580 430w $130

as for mid-high end cases antec p182 is popular as a low noise case for ~$200
and the coolermaster 810 is a good large case for easy watercooling or large amounts of storage for ~$220

Storm G5 e6600@3.5 1.5v 2x1g 8800gt 1g 730c 2150m pcp&c 510w CM Stacker Dell 24" 2405fpw Z-680

The Dude 1 
23/6/08 9:22:02 PM
Thanks. Informative for noobs like me.


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