With all the hardware that is around these days, it is hard to know what hardware is compatible with others. If the motherboard that you are buying is going to be compatible with the CPU, if the SATA 3 SSD that I’m purchasing will run at that speed with my one year old motherboard. If you’re a first time builder, it can be a daunting task and this is why I decided to write his helpful (I hope) article about picking the right hardware.
First of all and a very important thing to take account for, is the order in which you need to pick your hardware. I have my tried and tested way which is as follows:
CPU Info to Note
The only item that you need to check with the CPU is the socket. I would pick your CPU before your motherboard because knowing what make, model and socket that your CPU is will be vital for picking your motherboard.
The best thing that I find especially easy on the CCL website is using the ’Specifications’ tab. Which gives you all the information that you need about the CPU, such as the socket that the CPU uses and the manufacturer that makes the CPU
When picking the CPU make sure that you know what you are buying. If its an OEM CPU this normally means that it does not come with a cooler and only 1 year warranty. If it’s a retail CPU, you will have a cooler and usually a 3 to 5 year warranty is given.
The motherboard is where you will have most of your compatibility issues; this is mostly because everything is slotted into the motherboard, hence its other name the 'Mainboard'. One of the biggest differences with motherboards is the socket type.
Sockets are what the CPU ‘plugs’ in to. There are 2 things that you need to consider when looking at the socket type:
1. Is the manufacturer that your buying either Intel or AMD
2. Which type of socket does my CPU fit into (for example 1155 or 2011 for Intel and AM3+ or FM1 for AMD to name but a few)
The great thing about the CCL website is that you can select the socket that you want and it will filter out the rest of the motherboards; it’s something that even after 11 years of building computers, I still get confused with all the options and their filter system makes it so much easier.
Filter Based on CPU Socket Type (Left) - Motherboard Information (Right)
The next thing to consider is the number of PCI slots. Ensuring that you have enough PCI slots, not just for what you might be buying now but also in the near future. This is important as you might be buying another graphics card, a RAID controller or separate sound card. It’s very easy to fill up slots on the motherboard and then find that you are going to have to buy another motherboard with more expansion, plan ahead for the future as you might pay the price if you don’t.
Motherboard PCI and PCI-Express Expansion
RAM comes in a variety of flavours, the most recent and most widely used being DDR3, which also comes in different channel modes, such as dual, tri, and quad, which means that they perform faster when together, let me show you:
Dual: 2 sticks together perform better.
Triple: 3 sticks together
Quad: 4 sticks together, BUT can also perform well in dual mode.
Normally, you will find on websites that they list Quad channel memory together with Dual, so on the website you will see ‘Quad/Dual Memory’ don’t worry about this as like I said, Quad memory also performs well in pairs. CCL will normally tell you somewhere on the product if it runs at different channel modes
Another major consideration with RAM is the speed that it runs at. You need to ensure that you check the speed that the motherboard you choose supports the speed of the RAM. Faster RAM speeds means fast access time for your computer (that’s a very basic way of putting it may I stress). Always match your RAM speed to that of your motherboard to ensure that it will run at those speeds.
Memory Speed Filter (Left) - Motherboard Memory Speed Specifications (Right)
Hard Disk / Solid State Drives (fixed drives)
Okay, first off, let’s go into a brief outline of the differences between SSDs and HDDs. Basically, SSDs are better in every single way as listed here:
- Less power consumption
- Faster read and write speeds
- Faster access times
- Less heat
- Shock resistant
Comparison in Size Between 2.5 Inch and 3.5 Inch Disk Drives
There are a couple advantages of having HDDs over SSDs. These are size, you can get up to 4Tb with HDDs but only 1Tb with SSDs. Also, even though the price of SSDs has dropped over the last year or so, they are still relatively expensive when you look at cost per gigabyte.
There is not much that can go wrong with picking these. All SATA standards are backwards and forwards compatible with each other. But if your motherboard only supports SATA 2 and your drive is capable of SATA 3, then you will only get SATA 2 speeds out of your drive. The current difference in price between SATA 2 and SATA 3 means that it is not worth considering SATA 2 at the moment.
Also size matters! Well, to a point. Most fixed drives come in 2 sizes. These are either 3.5 or 2.5 inches in size, this is something that you will need to keep in mind when looking at a case. You can get drive bay converters that will convert 3.5 inch bays to 2.5 inch bays. Most SSDs will come in 2.5 inch size, I can only think of one OCZ model that comes in the larger 3.5 inch.
Single and Dual Slot Graphics Cards
A graphics card is not always necessary with all computers. Sometimes, you will have on-board ones and with most Intel i5 processors the graphics processor is built within the CPU. For people that do not game or only play Facebook and Flash based games this would be more than adequate for that type of use.
All the latest graphics cards use PCIe, most of them will use the new PCIe v3.0 standard and most motherboards will also support PCIe v3.0. If you are looking at using SLi or CrossFire make sure that the board supports the one that you are going to use, but also make sure that the spacing of the PCIe slots are fair enough apart to accommodate 2 graphics cards.
Also, check how many slots the GPU will take up when in the motherboard. Some GPUs will take up as much as three slots ( The AMD Radeon 7990 and NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 690 for example) on the motherboard and the same will be reflected within your case.
I also recommend checking to see what power the graphics card requires, as you will need this when you start looking at selecting your power supply unit, which I will go into next.
PSU Filter Options Modular / Non-Modular
Power supply units have not changed that much over the past few years. They have become more efficient and smaller, but there is no difference between power 5 years ago and power now. What I tend to do is look at all of the components that I am going to buy. So, CPU, Motherboard, GPU, HDDs and then guestimate how much power they would consume. So I normally look around 620w for a gaming rig with a couple of HDDs and a decent GPU.
You also might wonder what the difference is between modular and non-modular power supplies. Well, basically modular PSUs have detachable power cables for two reasons;
1. The case looks a lot less messy if there are no loose power cables just dangling in your case.
2. The more space inside your case, the better the airflow through your case and the cooler your computer will be… win!
Make sure that you also have enough power connectors to connect all your devices up to power supply. Most (as I have not checked them all) of the power supplies on the CCL website have information on the amount of power connectors that they have and what type that they are.
PSU Cable Specifications
The case is not too hard to check, just make sure that all your parts will fit into this case. Most of them will specify the size of motherboard that will fit into the case.
Motherboards come in the following sizes:
Motherboard Form Factor Guide
Rule of thumb is to look at the motherboard size, then look at the case you want and ensure that it will fit into the case. Some cases will fit more than one motherboard size, for example, an ATX case will normally fit an mATX and mITX motherboard in it.
Another part of finding your case that is becoming more and more significant to system builders, is the cable management. This allows you to route the wires through the back of the case, through holes in the motherboard tray which makes the case look less messy with wires being everywhere but also increases airflow throughout the case, making your computer cooler.
An Example of How a Well Cable-Managed System Can Look
I find the best way to see if your case has good cable management potential is to look through the pictures on the website. If you are still not sure, go to the manufacturer’s website, they normally have extensive photos of their cases and will make it easier for you to judge how effective their cable management solution is.
That covers everything on a basic level that you will need to think about when building your computer. Most of all, if you have any doubts about what you are buying, give CCL a call and just ask. It is always best to ask and be sure about what you are buying, than having the wrong product and regretting not asking. They are there to help and very friendly so give them a call!!