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Contents CPUS ..................................................................................................................................... 3 2.1. what is it? ................................................................................................................. .3... .2.2. terminology ................................................................................................................................ .3... ....2.3. well-known developers. .................................................................................................... 8 2.4. main issues regarding cpus. .............................................................................................. 9 MOTHERBOARDS ............................................................................................................................. 10 3.1. what is it? ............................................................................................................. .1..0.. ..3.2. terminology. ...............................................................................................................................1.. .... 13.3. major manufacturers. ................................................................................................... 17 3.4. server vs. desktop motherboards .................................................................................. 18 GRAPHICS CARDS .............................................................................. ...

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Contents CPUS .............................................................................................................................................................. 3 2.1. what is it? ........................................................................................................................................... 3 2.2. terminology ........................................................................................................................................ 3 2.3. well-known developers. ..................................................................................................................... 8 2.4. main issues regarding cpus. ............................................................................................................... 9 MOTHERBOARDS ........................................................................................................................................ 10 3.1. what is it? ......................................................................................................................................... 10 3.2. terminology. ..................................................................................................................................... 11 3.3. major manufacturers. ...................................................................................................................... 17 3.4. server vs. desktop motherboards .................................................................................................... 18 GRAPHICS CARDS ........................................................................................................................................ 19 4.1. what is it? ......................................................................................................................................... 19 4.2. terminology. ..................................................................................................................................... 19 4.3. interfaces and how they relate to graphics cards............................................................................ 28 4.4. OMG HOW DO I GET TEH MOST FPS IN COUNTERSTRIKE ............................................................... 29 4.5. adapters, gender changers, and what you should expect with your new video card ..................... 29 4.6. drivers, drivers, drivers. ................................................................................................................... 29 SOUND CARDS ............................................................................................................................................. 30 5.1. what is it? ......................................................................................................................................... 30 5.2. terminology ...................................................................................................................................... 30 5.3. major manufacturers ....................................................................................................................... 31 5.4. port specifics .................................................................................................................................... 32 5.5. issues surrounding sound cards ....................................................................................................... 32 POWER SUPPLY UNITS ................................................................................................................................ 33 6.1. what is it? ......................................................................................................................................... 33 6.2. terminology ...................................................................................................................................... 33 6.3. major manufacturers ....................................................................................................................... 40 6.4. external protection – UPS, inverters, surge suppressors, etc.......................................................... 41 6.5. things to watch out for..................................................................................................................... 41 HARD DRIVES .............................................................................................................................................. 42 7.1. what is it? ......................................................................................................................................... 42 7.2. terminology ...................................................................................................................................... 42 7.3. major manufacturers ....................................................................................................................... 45 7.4. external forms .................................................................................................................................. 46 7.5. things to watch out for..................................................................................................................... 46 7.6. RAID and what it’s for ...................................................................................................................... 47
7.7. pros and cons for single drive vs. separate OS and storage drives.................................................. 47 RAM (MEMORY) .......................................................................................................................................... 47 8.1. what is it? ......................................................................................................................................... 47 8.2. terminology ...................................................................................................................................... 47 8.3. major manufacturers ....................................................................................................................... 52 8.4. things you should watch for............................................................................................................. 52 8.5. why you should NEVER have less than 1 gig of ram for xp/2 gigs of ram for vista and w7 ............. 52 INPUT DEVICES ............................................................................................................................................ 53 9.1. what is it? ......................................................................................................................................... 53 9.2. forms of input devices...................................................................................................................... 53 9.3. terminology ...................................................................................................................................... 53 9.4. when wireless/bluetooth is generally a bad idea ............................................................................ 54 9.5. major manufacturers and what they make ..................................................................................... 54 9.6. things to watch out for..................................................................................................................... 54 OUTPUT DEVICES ........................................................................................................................................ 54 10.1. what is it? ....................................................................................................................................... 54 10.3. terminology .................................................................................................................................... 55 10.4. why wireless/Bluetooth is always a bad idea ................................................................................ 55 10.5. major manufacturers and what they make ................................................................................... 55 10.6. things to watch out for................................................................................................................... 56 COMPUTER CASES ....................................................................................................................................... 56 11.1. why is this here? ............................................................................................................................ 56 11.2. form factors/sizing terminology .................................................................................................... 56 11.3. why the material matters .............................................................................................................. 57 11.4. terminology .................................................................................................................................... 57 11.5. cooling, and why you MUST think about it .................................................................................... 58 11.6. major manufacturers ..................................................................................................................... 58 11.7. things to watch out for................................................................................................................... 59 COOLING ..................................................................................................................................................... 60 12.1. why cooling is possibly the most important thing to think about ................................................. 60 12.2. air cooling....................................................................................................................................... 60 12.2. liquid cooling .................................................................................................................................. 63 12.3. oil immersion ................................................................................................................................. 67 12.4. extreme cooling ............................................................................................................................. 67 12.5. why you can’t just stick your computer in your refrigerator or something equally stupid........... 68
  
 
 
CPUS  2.1. what is it?  the cpu is just what it means - the central processing unit. it is the brain of your entire computer. all major calculations take place here, and as such all major programs (as in, every program you could ever think of running) operate at a relative speed to it. there are a variety of different forms of processors, based on front side bus (2.2.2), socket type (2.2.4), the number of processing cores on the chip (2.2.5), and a gamut of different technologies that various companies have pioneered in the last 25 years. in general, for an office pc, your processor is the one piece of hardware that most affects your performance. for a gaming pc, your processor and graphics card(s) are the most important pieces of hardware for performance.  2.2. terminology  here, i'll post a variety of terms relating specifically to the cpu. if you don’t' find something here that you're looking for, look in either the motherboard section (section 3) or the cooling section (section 12) for information. or, just use the find function, probably much faster.  2.2.1. clock speed, or processor speed.  wikipedia's got the best definition of clock speed. it says that clock speed "is the fundamental rate in cycles per second (measured in hertz) at which a computer performs its most basic operations such as adding two numbers or transferring a value from one processor register to another." what that means is that the clock speed is a measurement of how fast your computer 'thinks' in binary - adding 1s and 0s to each other to make calculations that make up all programs that you're familiar with. each clock cycle represents one 0 or 1 processed, technically. doesn’t mean only one operation happens per clock, but it’s the most basic form of calculation. wikipedia also points out that "...CPUs that are tested as complying with a given set of standards may be labeled with a higher clock rate, e.g., 1.50 GHz, while those that fail the standards of the higher clock rate yet pass the standards of a lesser clock rate may be labeled with the lesser clock rate, e.g., 1.33 GHz, and sold at a relatively lower price." this is related to how a processor is baked up. they make these big batches of processors and test them individually. each processor has a different maximum clock speed that it can reach without errors due to imperfections within the chip (think nanometer-sized imperfections). so, every intel processor is baked up to be core 2 extremes, however not all can make it that high. because of the nature of pricing points for, say, the e8xxx series, if a chip can't nominally make the 3.3ghz without a lot of errors that the e8600 can do, but can function well JUST below that, it'll still get sold at the e8500 level of 3.16ghz. WHAT THIS MEANS is that you can buy most cheaper chips and overclock the crap out of them without any huge issues (within reason).  a major part of how computers get these ridiculous clock rates (3.2ghz=3.2 BILLION calculations per second, for goodness sake) is through the use of a multiplier. wiki defines this as, “the ratio of the internal CPU clock rate to the externally supplied clock. A CPU with a 10x multiplier will thus see 10 internal cycles (produced by PLL-based circuitry) for every external clock cycle”. basically, for an e8400 core 2 duo, the core speed might be 3000mhz (3.0ghz), but the multiplier generally used is 9x – the cpu
does 9 operations internally per external clock. this means that your true external clock is only about 333mhz. i’ll explain the rest in the next section.  2.2.2. fsb, or front side bus.  an fsb is basically the pathway between the cpu and the northbridge chipset on the motherboard (3.2.1). intel processors measure these in mhz, while amd processors measure this in (mega- or) hypertransfers per second. in the end, both mean the same thing – the bigger the number, the faster the cpu can talk to the computer. an intel example is the aforementioned e8400, which has an fsb of 1333mhz. an older intel cpu is the q6600, which has an fsb of 1066mhz. amd am2+ processors have an fsb of 2000ht/s.  what does this mean? well, let’s finish the discussion of the e8400. i just said that it has an fsb of 1333mhz, but earlier i said its external clock was 333mhz. what gives? well, remember that i mentioned that different manufacturers use different descriptions for their fsb ratings. intel’s really behind the times in using ‘mhz’ as a term for the fsb, because it’s not actually measuring clock rate or something like inside the processor. instead, it’s measuring (just like amd’s ht/s) the number of transfers per second being performed. intel uses ‘quad pumping’ as an extremely complicated technique to allow four transfers per cycle coming out of the cpu. thus, 333mhz x 4 = 1333mhz, or 1333 transfers per second.  why does this matter? in general, you want your fsb to be no less than 1/3 of your clock rate. why can it be less? because your cpu doesn’t actually spit out every bit it processes, due to the cache (2.2.3). for example, above i listed that the e8400 is a 3ghz chip with a 1333mhz fsb. that’s a ratio of about 3/8 or so, fsb/clock. another example is the athlon 64 x2 6000+ Windsor chip, which has a clock of 3.0ghz and a ht/s rating of 2000mhz. that’s a ratio of about 2/3rds – another excellent level. your cpu will never outpace that. here’s a bad example. my first cpu was a single-core Celeron at 3.46ghz. holy crap! that’s a lot of ghz! however, the fsb was a paltry 533mhz, or a ratio of .15 – less than half of the recommended level. it could go pretty fast, but pretty much everything kicked the snot out of it. and it made my room ten degrees hotter.  2.2.3. cache  cpus nowadays come with a small, extremely fast memory module built into them to reduce the amount of time it takes to access recently used memory locations. because it’s faster to use these than to use your normal memory sticks, it reduces latency of certain types of processes significantly. Wikipedia has a very detailed article about it, but you really don’t need to know an enormous amount about it for building computers. what you DO need to know is the difference between L1 and L2 (and occasionally L3) memories, and what shared and discrete means in relation to this.  L1 caches are usually very small. my e8400 has two 32kb caches at this level. note that i specifically said that there are two L1 caches. this is different from L2, which is often shared between multiple cores of cpus. L2 on this processor is a shared 6mb (6144kb, technically) between two processing cores. the largest i’ve seen is 12mb with the qx9xxx series of core 2 extreme processors. occasionally you’ll see a chip with L3 on it. besides Pentium 4 EE (horrid chips, all told), i’ve never seen it on another intel chip. i believe that amd uses it occasionally with their quad core processors to make up for smaller L2 cache sizes. it can technically be anywhere from 2-256mb, however i’ve never seen more than 16 in an L3 before.  in general, the larger the cache, the better – particularly in multi-core systems. some multi-core processors use a discrete L2 cache – meaning, 6mb per core, for example, rather than sharing 6mb between the two. note that no matter what, discrete is faster – even if it’s comparable. so, a 2x3mb cache is technically faster than a 6mb shared cache. i have confirmed this with direct and repeated benchmarks.  
2.2.4. socket  your cpu plugs into a specific motherboard socket. there are a wide variety of them, and i’ll discuss the motherboard side in greater detail later, so i’ll just mention a few major ones here: lga 775 (core 2 duo, quad), lga 771 (xeon), socket 1207 (opteron), and am2 (athlon).  lga 775 is possibly the best-selling motherboard socket in existence due to the excellent performance of the core 2 cpu architecture. lga stands for land grid array. it’s also known as socket T. it’s technically not a socket, but rather 775 protruding pins contact points on the underside of the processor. it allows for the use of Pentium 4 prescott, Pentium D presler, core 2 conroe and later cpus. the biggest bonus of it was that the pins were based off of the motherboard, which is generally much cheaper to replace than the cpus are. since they interact with a point rather than a hole, processors sit much easier and are spring-loaded into place.  lga 771, also called socket J, was introduced in 2006 to replace the quite horrible socket 604 server cpu interface. it is almost exactly similar to the 775 except that the indexing notches (to allow the cpu to fit only one way) and two address pins are in a different spot. it was originally designed for the cancelled ‘jayhawk’ core (much how socket T was originally for the cancelled ‘tejas’ core), and is used for dual-core (Dempsey, woodcrest) and quad-core (clovertown, harpertown) xeon processors. the well-known skulltrain dual-cpu motherboard also was based off of LGA 711, however, it used the qx9770 core 2 extreme processor. at 1400$ per cpu, this dualie board never really took off except for extremely stupid people who had a lot of money and didn’t realize that hardly anything had been created that actually took advantage of eight cores in a non-server environment.  socket 1207, also known as socket F, was designed by AMD for the opteron processor. it was released in q3 2006. it’s most famous for use as the base socket in the amd 4x4 format (the ‘quadfather’), which allows (similar to the skulltrain) two quad-core processors to be used. the name comes from the original configuration of the quadfather, which allowed for two dual-core processors. the sockets were modified to work in this formation (socket 1207 FX for amd, socket L1 by nvidia). the 4x4 was generally a desktop board.  socket am2, originally called m2 but changed to prevent using the same name as now-defunct cyrix’s desktop ‘mII’ processor, was release in q3 of 2006 and was a replacement for socket 939 and socket 754. it supports every amd chip from athlon 64 to phenom, and was considered a lifesaver for amd because of the significant performance gains over sockets 939, 754, and 940. recently, amd upgraded the am2 to am2+ and then am3, although am3 is not in major production yet.  2.2.5. single, dual, triple, quad, and six-core processors  everyone used to scream about clock speeds, and it was a big deal when the first 1ghz chip was made. then came 2ghz, then came 3ghz…then came the wall. there is a limit to how fast a normal chip can run efficiently (the von newmann bottleneck, basically it comes down to that the memory can’t function fast enough to feed the cpu continuous information), and after about 3.2 ghz chips became prohibitively hot (HEAT=FIRE). so, after cpus started setting houses on fire, tech people sat down and thought about ways to make cpus more efficient. they had already added in hyperthreading, which made the single cpu able to handle two threads simultaneously (previous cpus, and most afterwards, were only able to do one specific function really fast) but single-core cpus were still getting boned. so, they moved to putting more than one cpu on a die. this increased performance significantly – for so-called ‘embarrassingly parallel’ problems, having two cpus doing each of the broken-down tasks made for almost a doubled speed. a dual-core 2ghz chip could perform at a theoretical speed of almost 4ghz (fsb limitations and internal memory controller problems kept it from being a perfect 100%).  but enough about history. basically, no matter what, you should never buy a single core. ever. there isn’t any excuse not to jump up to a dual-core at a lower clock rate, particularly since the release of cheap quad cores is pushing dual-core pricing down. intel’s core 2 duo, the laptop varieties of Celeron
dual-core, Pentium D, and amd’s athlon 64 x2 and laptop-based turion 64 x2 processors are all awesome and can handle most anything without even flinching. the biggest performance gains come when you toggle between multiple applications – like writing a paper while having a web browser and AIM and a music player on. a single-core chip would choke trying to manage all that. but, since you rarely have two major applications focused at the same time, dual-core chips will put the focused application on one core by itself, and have the other programs in the background on the second core. it makes things MUCH easier to deal with.  one of the biggest issues concerning multi-core chips is that in order to take advantage of the multiple cores on a cpu, you need to write programs that will balance the load between two cores. as of right now, unless you are using an advanced program (such as newer Photoshop programs, or new games), your computer will only use one core for that particular program. not a big deal in terms of ms office, but if you’re playing crysis or using photoshop CS 4, you need the extra processing power provided by those extra cores.  quad cores gained popularity among power users who use applications such as mentioned above. particularly for high-end music work (like fl studio, logic, reason, and protocols) and graphics/animation work, quads provide that extra oomph. i don’t recommend these products for your average user, as in general the clock speed per core is much lower per dollar than for dual cores. for example, at this moment, the e8400 (a dual-core processor) costs 170$. it runs at 3ghz, with a 1333mhz fsb. the cheapest intel quad you can buy is the q6600 (which is in the process of being phased out), at about 170$ as well. however, it’s only at 2.4ghz, and has an fsb of 1066mhz – meaning that each core only pulls about 266mhz bandwidth out of the muddle. unless you NEED that extra processing power, a quad isn’t really worth it.  amd also released a three-core phenom x3 chip on the am2+ socket a little while after debuting their four-core phenom x4. some speculate that it’s merely an x4 with one of the chips burned out during testing, but it has sold well and is worth the cost, particularly in working with high-definition video.  intel released a six-core xeon chip in early q4 of 2008, titled dunnington. intended as a server processor, it includes a shared 9mb L2 cache, 16mb of L3 cache, and a range from 2.13-2.66 ghz on a 1066mhz fsb. they’re relatively cool compared to other similar chips, and intended for stacked and blade server systems. they are the last core 2-based chip to be created before the i7/Nehalem architecture changeover in late q4 2008.  2.2.6. ht, sse, virt tech, manufacturing process, and other weird things you should probably ignore  when you look at the cpuz readout of most modern processors, you see all sorts of abbreviations. mmx, sse, sse2, sse3, ssse3, sse4.1, ht, stepping, virtualization technology, manufacturing process, em64t, blah blah blah. there’s only a few you really need to know: hyperthreading (ht), manufacturing process, stepping, and (maybe) the basics of sse. the rest are crap you’ll never touch.  hyperthreading, as mentioned above, partitions the core into two logical processors. it was originally used in the Pentium 4 processor, and was unused in desktop computers for years until the advent of the ultra-low power Atom processor and the brand new core i7 (Nehalem, lga 1366) processor. the technical definition is that it’s used to improve parallelization of computations performed on pc microprocessors via simultaneous multithreading. in order to be effective, the programs that you’re using need to be created with HT in mind – for example, even though intel was bonkers over HT when windows 2000 came out, they didn’t suggest you use it with w2k.  manufacturing process refers to the spacing of microtransistors on the die. for example, most early core 2 processors are based off of the 65nm manufacturing process – meaning that you can fit roughly double the transistors on a card than you could from the previous 90nm generation. the newest cpus are created using the 45nm manufacturing process, which lowers the heat generated by said
processors due to the fact that less energy is needed to do the same thing (less resistance). currently, while intel has 10+ cpus out utilizing 45nm tech, amd is only planning on releasing a 45nm chip in the server sector come q1 2009. most graphics processing units (GPUs) by nvidia and ati use the 65nm process, and are currently upgrading to 55nm.  stepping is a general indication of how much the processor has advanced during its lifetime. it’ll generally start at a0, and go up from there. for example, the q6600 was for a long time a b0 chip. about a year ago, the g0 q6600 chips came out with a reduced thermal index and fewer errors in the chip die. everyone screamed and wanted one (except for me, who hates quads).  sse, or streaming SIMD (single instruction, multiple data) extensions, is basically an compilation of all possible cpu instructions in one unified set. it was introduced in 1999 with the intel p3 processor. it was a rework of the original mmx technology that came out with the pII processor, since intel was unhappy with the performance of mmx. sse also extends mmx beyond the original layout. sse2 was released with the p4, and added new math instructions for use in the x64 architecture. sse3 was an incremental upgrade over sse2. sse4 is a major enhancement that ended official mmx support and added a large amount of additional integer instructions. basically, it’s good to have, and if you find a cpu that doesn’t support it, it’s at least 10 years old.  you shouldn’t really worry about any of these except manufacturing tech…and unless you’re really hurting for cash, you should never buy a 65nm cpu. the lowered thermal output makes the 45nm an easy pick. ht and sse are important, but unless you’re either operating a 486dx system running windows 3.1 or are using one of the four processors mentioned above, they don’t really matter.  2.2.7. tdp, and why you can’t ignore it.  tdp means thermal design power (or point), and it represents the maximum amount of power the cooling system in a computer is required to dissipate. this does not represent how much heat is emanating from the chip – rather, it represents the amount of heat that a cooling technique is required to dissipate in order for the chip to run comfortably. an e8400 has a tdp of 65w – meaning that 65w need to be shipped out in order for the cpu to not exceed the maximum junction temp for the chip. it does NOT represent how much power the cpu requires! rather, it’s the max power (in heat form) it’ll create when running real applications that needs to be shipped off the chip to prevent it from exploding. since this margin is developed by individual chip manufacturers, it’s not something that you can use to compare chips. it’s a warning, not a specific measure. the qx9775 dissipates 150w of heat, while the atom dissipates a paltry 4w. it’s all about power consumption, in the end, but it’s not a definitive way to compare chips.  2.2.8. overclocking (DHSU) and why i’m not discussing it.  overclocking refers to the technique of setting your system’s FSB higher through motherboard settings, thus making the internal clock of the cpu adjust itself higher to keep the same 4:1 ratio consistent throughout the chip. this will cause errors in computations if the chip doesn’t have enough power to complete them, so often overclockers run extra juice through their motherboards to boost cpu performance. note that overclocking isn’t the art of overvolting your cpu, it’s finding the balance between stability and speed.  overclocking is dangerous – it’s easy to short out an expensive cpu because you’re going for that last 50mhz of power. that’s the main reason i’m not discussing it, also, there is innumerable references to overclocking and how to do it on the web. i’d suggest you just follow them – most online guides go into specific chips and everything. just do what they say – it’d be far more accurate than anything i could tell you to do. it’s also safer for your chip, which is more important than you are anyways.  
2.3. well-known developers.  this section only consists of two chipmakers: intel and amd. diehards are going to scream that i’m not including cyrix, via, etc – but i’m making this an info sheet for someone building a desktop, not an in-car box or a windows 3.1 system. so suck it up.  2.3.1. intel and naming criterion.  intel’s chips are overall the highest-performing chips on the market, and in general you pay more for that privilege. i’m not going to go into history here (too long), so i’ll keep it short and sweet. in general, intel chips have a higher clockrate and overclocking potential than amd. they cost more than amd. they have support for 45nm tech, which amd presently doesn’t. they generally have more L2 cache memory.  intel has been naming their chips a variety of things over the years. i’ll stick mainly with core 2, since you shouldn’t be actually purchasing a p4 any time soon. as with most things, the higher the number, the better the chip. in general, here’s what the name means.  core 2 duo e6750  core 2 duo: intel’s consumer 64-bit dual-core and 2x2 (meaning, two dual-cores on the same chip) cpus with the x86-64 instruction set and based on the core microarchitecture. you can find a variety of chips in this range, including core 2 solo (single-core), duo (dual-core), quad (quad-core) and extreme (dual- or quad-core cpus for enthusiasts). in general, the core 2 processors used 40% less power with 40% more performance than the Pentium 4. this holds with moore’s law (2.4.3). e: this represents that it’s a dual-core processor. you might also see U (ultra low voltage), SU (ultra low voltage, single core), T (dual-core mobile processors), L (low voltage mobile), P (medium voltage, standard size), SP (medium voltage, small form factor), SL (low voltage, small form factor), q (quad), x (dual-core extreme cpu for enthusiasts), and qx (quad extreme). told you naming criterion were complex. i forgot the SP the first time around and had to check. first two numbers (67): the first two numbers represents when the chip came out, and what core it’s based off of, and what its clock rate is. for example, this chip is based off of the conroe codename. conroe is a 65-nm chip with a 1066mhz fsb. they all feature either 2 or 4mb of shared L2, have a thermal power rating of 65w, and are based off of the lga 775 socket. i’m not going to go into each chip name here, since Wikipedia has a fantastic [url=http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Intel_Core_2_microprocessors]list[/url] that you can dig into to check everything. basically, the lower the first number, the older the chip and design. the lower the second number, the lower the clock within that chip’s design bracket. this particular chip has 4mb of L2, an operating frequency of 2.66ghz, and a 1333mhz fsb. wait, but i just said that all Conroe chips have a 1066mhz fsb! what gives?  second two numbers (currently 50): the last two numbers designate changes within each individual chip design – within, say, the e6700 chip, not within the Conroe design that is its overarching design inside of the core microarchitecture. note that this has a 5 for the third number. this third number generally represents an upgraded fsb, L2 cache, or voltage design. in this case, it took the e6700 processor (2.66ghz, 1066mhz fsb, 10x multiplier) and increased the fsb to 1333mhz while decreasing the multiplier to 8, thus giving a good chip the same clock rate but at a much faster communication speed with the computer. it was given a stepping rating of g0 to indicate the update. the fourth number is almost never used, and generally only denotes a ‘port’ of a cpu to a different socket (qx9775, for example).