Oh, except one. Received wisdom is that self build PCs are no cheaper than off the shelf PCs from big name vendors. The point of this article is to give the lie to this oft quoted theory.
The erroneous assumption that this theory is predicated on is that you only ever build or buy one PC and that you never reuse any of the parts. To be strictly fair your first self build will cost you the same price as a comparable big name vendor's computer. Don't be put off, however, if you build judiciously first time around you will save yourself a small fortune going forward. If that wasn't enough it will also enable you to upgrade much more often than you would otherwise, regardless of your budget.
I build myself mid range, gaming PCs, because that's all I need, so I'm going to discuss the philosophy. This is an exposition of the thinking behind building a new rig rather then a recommendation of which specific components to buy. This guide is still going to be as sound in a few years time as it is now. Let's look at the reasoning behind the choices for assembling your first self build.
This is my Coolermaster Stacker and it's now got it's third set of guts and I don't anticipate buying a new case for the next set. It has two quiet 12 inch fans: one front facing drawing cool air into the case across the hard disk drives; the other rear facing to vent hot air. Two smaller 10 inch fans vent dead, warm air out of the top of the case and out of the large circular vent hole you can see in the side above. If that wasn't enough a long cylindrical fan blows cool air across the length of the motherboard from a long vent under it in the right hand side of the case. Click the image above to see the fan layout.
The case is big enough to lower in a full ATX size motherboard, hard drives are mounted in a case that slides out of the front of the case, the optical media is fitted with rails that allow quick release and also slide out of the case front. A good case is worth it's (considerable, if steel) weight in gold.
Let's talk monitors next. Or monitor if you're on a tight budget. 21" is excellent starter size and for just over a ton today they offer great value for money. Furthermore you can upgrade any component or peripheral of your computer but upgrading your eyes is more expensive and slightly more risky. Your monitor, provided you invest well, can last you a good many years, perhaps not as long as your case but this is the component you're going to be staring at the most. Oh and get two.
Graphics cards seems to get faster and faster. Today's bleeding edge £300 plus card is tomorrow's mid range high bang for buck star. So why pay so much for something that will depreciate in value so quickly. This is one situation where yesterday's men are a better choice. You don't need all the graphics settings turned up to 11. Trust me if you're upgrading your whole rig, as we're discussing, the leap in graphics processing, a quality mid range card will deliver, won't leave you feeling short changed.
The first thing to do when unpacking the CPU is to throw away your stock fan. Coolermaster can step in again here. Get some quality cooling it's worth an extra twenty quid or more. Good cooling like a good power supply needn't be expensive and is a great investment.
We're on the home straight now. Motherboard: you want three things. First you need a decent sound chip, on-board graphics is a no no if you're going to do any serious gaming, but on-board sound is of a very high standard these days and the amount of processing required to render quality HD sound is negligible compared to graphics. Second you must get a board with a myriad of overclocking options. Finally you really need a board with some CPU upgrade headroom. Remember we're building a mid range rig this time around and having saved money in the right places will give a chance to reap the rewards later.
The philosophy underpinning this approach is constructing a heavily future proofed bang for buck midrange, gaming PC. By cutting corners on the components most people might mistakenly prioritize we can expend more of our budget on the less glamorous components. The reason for this emphasis is the base it gives us to build on going forward.
Three years after I built my Stacker PC I made some minor upgrades to keep it competitive. I added 4GB to take it to 8GB of RAM, I invested in a new graphics cards and, for next to no money at all, picked up the biggest processor my board would support. I extended the life of my self build by a few years for couple of hundred quid.
Easily pleased I didn't feel the need to upgrade my main box again until this year., six years after I first built the stacker. Even my more frugal friends were considering upgrading, which of course for them means buying a new off the shelf PC. Some less cost conscious people will only be on their second new PC since I first built mine. If they spent as much as I did on my original Stacker build, from £750 - £900, if they're buying a new PC this year they'll be tearing their hair out when they hear my new upgrade. For a mere £300 I've gutted and upgraded my PC: new motherboard; CPU; and 16 GB of RAM. Effectively a new computer. I might do the same in a couple of years...
If you upgrade to a new gaming PC three years or so you will have spent in excess of £2500. If you only upgrade every six years (which is what I've done, to be fair,) you'll have spent over £1500. In the same time I have spent a little over a grand. Honestly my new PC, if bought off the self with my monitors and graphics would probably cost almost as much.
So here is the moral of my little tale. For about a thousand quid I've built upgraded and rebuilt my box. My big vendor, off the shelf PC, buying friends could easily have spent two and a half grand in that time. My PC is rock solid and very powerful and I have saved a small fortune by buying wisely years back and being able to utilise and recycle whole sections of my PC.