I always get asked "what's a good motherboard, hard drive, etc etc etc". Instead of constantly giving the same answers, I am going to point people to this web page. Unless otherwise noted, I use http://www.newegg.com for all items.
Last Updated: 02/06/17
Case: The #1 thing, is to get a good power supply with your case. Most of the power supplies that come with the $60 and under cases are total trash. Power users should accept the fact they will need to buy a separate power supply (scroll down to my power supply section). Beyond that, its all a matter of preference.
Apex PC-375 Cheap ($40 ), comes with a semi decent power supply (see notes though), light weight and easy to mount stuff in. Its not the most sturdy case in the world, and I would not run a gamer or high powered system on the included power supply, but if you need a cheap case that's not total crap, this should work well.
(the power supply is a fairly low end model. Its pretty reliable for a basic system that does not draw a lot of juice, but if your system is going to do any 3d gaming, or serious number crunching, or anything above and beyond basic usage, I'd really consider buying a beefier power supply. )
Corsair 200R A fairly high quality, lightweight, well built, easy to work with, has excellent heat management, and makes cabling a snap. Like most higher end cases, does NOT include a power supply.
Corsair 400R Similar to the above, but a bit more expensive, and a few more drive bays (this would make for a decent file server case), and a few more included fans and fan mounting spots. People running hot running machines (high end gaming boxes, etc) would do well on thise case.
Ram: Since prices on these change so quickly, its hard to give one or two good picks that will stay consistent. Stay with decent manufacturers (Kingston, Corsair, and Crucial/Micron are safe picks) and you shouldn't have problems.
For DDR 3 type ram, unless you find a screaming good deal on low cas ram, or have money to burn, the cas 11 ram is fine. Lower cas ram won't hurt, but don't spend a lot of extra money for it, the performance improvement is pretty small (under 5%). Do not waste money on the overclocker type DDR3 ram (that's anything that's above the 1600 mhz standard), its expensive and doesn't give you any major performance boost, and getting some systems to run stable on it can be a giant pain. Avoid the 1333/1066 mhz stuff, its no cheaper and its definitely slower.
For DDR 4 type ram, don't spend much money to get anything lower then cas 15 latency or speeds above 2133. The performance increase is fairly minimal, and getting super fast speeds can get spendy in a hurry.
For 2x4 (8 gigabytes total) DDR3-1600 ram, click here (matched set of 4 gigabyte sticks)
For 2x8 (16 gigabytes total) DDR3-1600 ram, click here (matched set of 8 gigabyte sticks)
For 2x4 (8 gigabytes total) DDR4 ram, click here (matched set of 4 gigabyte sticks)
For 2x8 (16 gigabytes total) DDR4 ram, click here (matched set of 8 gigabyte sticks)
LG 24x DVD burner (sata) Gives excellent high quality burns, quiet, reliable. What more do you want?
LG 16x Blu-Ray burner (sata) Inexpensive, and makes great burns.
Hard Drives (non SSD):
There's been an enormous amount of consolidation in the magnetic hard drive market. Samsung have thrown in the towel, leaving only Toshiba, Seagate, and Western Digital. Hitachi's are now made by Western Digital, but still are a decent option. Toshiba is hit or miss , with higher then average failure rate and so so performance. I still recommend avoiding them.
The WD black label series are still the better quality and performance drives on the market, but their pricing can sometimes not be worth it. The blue labels aren't bad, but they are nothing special either.
For desktop drives, I would avoid anything under 1TB, as they use older and smaller platters, so they tend to be a bit slower, and not much cheaper. Also, avoid 5400rpm models at all cost, these are much slower then the standard 7200rpm models. For laptop drives, only Western Digital continues to make 7200rpm drives, as Seagate has made the idiotic decision to go all 5400rpm for 2.5" drives.
Western Digital Desktop drive list (the blue label's are a bit slower and only have a 2 year warranty vs 5 years for the black labels)
Western Digital and Hitachi laptop drive list
Hitachi desktop drive list
Hard Drives (SSD): The pricing and technology on SSD's has settled down a fair amount in the 2.5" form factor, but other form factors are going through massive changes. As always, do your homework before buying anything.
OS specific notes -
Windows users, make sure you're running Windows 7 or newer. Vista and the older variants do not support TRIM. Make sure you have the LATEST AHCI drivers for your Sata controller.
Mac OS users, make sure you're on 10.7 or newer, Also, you WILL need to enable trim manually. I strongly recommend reading this link for OS X trim support (yes, Apple is beyond retarded with their TRIM support).
Some general recommendations -
Generally the best drives use the Marvell, Samsung, or Intel's controller. Drives using the Silicon Motion and Sandforce 22XX series can SOMETIMES be decent options in a pinch, depending greatly on the model and storage technology though.
basically 2 types of SSD's - ones that use MLC storage and ones that
use TLC storage. Generally, the MLC drives are a fair amount
faster, and more expensive as a result. Some designs (i.e.
Samsung's) get around this however.
plugging in your SSD, avoid add-on SATA controllers (aka non native
chipset controllers) as these tend to be slow and buggy compared to
onboard 3gbps and 6gbps Sata controllers. Make sure you have the
LATEST AHCI drivers for your Sata controller, and the newest firmware
for the SSD.
There's still a LOT of flux regarding PCI-E and NVM-E style SSD's. While these show the promise of much higher performance, there's still a lot of compatibility issues being reported, and the few drives out on the market are expensive and hard to find.
The following are some models and vendors I've had good luck with.
Crucial MX series
Plextor MLC based drives
Intel MLC based drives (good drives, but generally over priced)
Samsung 850 evo and pro series
Sandisk X400 series
List of 240GB-256GB ssd's (not all of these are good models, DO YOUR HOMEWORK )
List of 500GB-512GB ssd's (not all of these are good models, DO YOUR HOMEWORK )
Video Cards: The big question is, do you need serious 3d capabilities or not. People needing serious 3d capabilities (i.e. gamers) will need to buy much more expensive cards. If your going to use Linux, Nvidia or Intel are the the best choice (Amd's linux drivers are horrid and a nightmare to install). Performance wise, AMD and Nvidia tend to be fairly close depending on the model and price point. Avoid low end cards that have a cooling fan, it adds a lot of noise to your system and its just one more thing to die (believe me, video card fans blow up a LOT).
Non power gamers (i.e. 99% of the general public) building a new system around the Socket 1150/1151 systems will be perfectly happy with the onboard Intel video and don't need to spend the money for a separate video card. Do make sure to use the newest drivers as older drivers have some nasty bugs in them.
For people who aren't sure how powerful of a card they need.... Unless you play 3d rendered video games, there is ZERO reason to pay big bucks for a high end card. You will NOT notice the difference between the onboard Intel video, a $40 Nvidia 710, and a $400 AMD R9 series. Even 99% of Autocad users will NOT see a difference.
For non gamers who can't or don't want to use onboard video, the Nvidia 210 cards are a great budget pick.
For high range gaming, the Nvidia 1060 (6GB variants) provides excellent performance for around $240ish. (I've had excellent luck with the Gigabyte and MSI dual fan versions, they are fairly quiet even during heavy gaming). These should run almost any modern game at 1080P (or even higher) with most settings maxed. A card with a fan is a requirement at this performance level, but stick with the better vendors (MSI, XFX, EVGA, etc) in case the fan goes kaboom. Fortunately these class of cards turn off the fans when not gaming, so fan death should be less of an issue. Also, make sure you have a better quality power supply, as this card requires a 6pin power connector.
At this time, I'm not recommending higher end AMD cards, due to heating and driver issues.
Ultra hard core gamers will be best served by researching recent articles on the current video cards, this just changes too quick to make firm recommendations. Anandtech usually has great reviews on the current stuff. Above and beyond that, it hugely depends on what games you play and what your budget is.
Nvidia Geforce 710 pci-express (keep it fanless)
Nvidia 1060 pci-express (go with dual fan models if possible)
Sound Cards: Unless your a purist audio freak, the onboard sound card in most modern motherboards is fine. I used to recommend creative labs cards for gamers to get EAX api support, but creative has so badly butchered their cards and drivers lately, that they are not worth the trouble (none of newer games are bothering with EAX for this reason). For audio purists, I'd suggest hitting some review sites, as I have not worked with music production level gear to make a good recommendation. For gamers, just use the onboard. As a side note, the higher end realtek 1150 / 1220 audio chipsets that comes on some higher end motherboards are reported to have excellent clarity, though I've been unable to test this personally.
Ethernet Cards: Pretty much all modern motherboards come with this built in, but if you need to buy an extra card, virtually any of the gigabit cards will work fine. Avoid the name brand stuff (like netgear, linksys, smc, etc etc etc) its just a rebadge of something else and you get charged triple the price for a fancy box plus you lose the ability to use the OEM's drivers (trust me, you WANT the OEM's drivers, the name brand guys use drivers that are usually 2-3 years out of date, and the cards are deliberately crippled so the OEM drivers will NOT work on them). Even if you don't have a gigabit switch, don't bother buying 100 megabit cards, as gigabit nic's have reached 100 meg price levels and they have some features 100 meg cards lack such as auto-mdix.
Finally, avoid the pci cards (which have lower throughput and higher cpu utilization) and get one of the pci-e cards instead. All the recommended pci-e cards perform about the same if you're using up to date drivers, so no need to spend an insane amount of money for a better "name" card as long as its a good chipset.
Quick run down of recommended gigabit ethernet chipsets in case any of the following links is dead or you have a system with built in ethernet:
Realtek 8168 /811X , Broadcom 57xx series, Intel, Marvell yukon series.
TP-LINK TG-3468 pci-e This is a pci-express realtek based nic. Works great in Windows or Linux.
Newest drivers here.
Intel gigabit pci-e This is a pci-express intel based nic. A bit pricier compared to the other options, but if you feel more comfortable with the Intel networking line, this is as good as anything out there. Comes with a low profile bracket for installing in a rackmount case.
Newest drivers here.
With power supplies, there are 3 factors that matter. 1. Quality and reliability. 2. How noisy it is. 3. Does it provide enough amperage on the 12V side for a higher power system. Non gamer systems usually do not benefit from a super high end power supply, a good quality basic PS will work just fine. Gamers or people with LOTS of high current sucking gadgets will need more amperage on the 12V rails.
For most users, the first power supply below should work just fine. The 2nd pick are only needed if you are a power gamer or have a VERY unusual system that draws a huge amount of power (such as a dual socket server class type box). Be careful what you buy, a lot of the cheap (even if they are "high watt" ) power supplies will cause major problems, especially under load. When in doubt, its MUCH better to get a lower wattage power supply from a GOOD company then it is to get a super high watt from the Chinese supplier of the month. A final word: The overall wattage rating doesn't mean jack, what you want in terms of power is how much amperage it can provide on the 12V side.
One final consideration is how power efficient the power supply is. Many of the el-cheapo power supplies are only 60-70% efficient, where as the better quality models are 80-90% efficient. This can save you a wad of cash on your power bill.
Some good manufacturers of power supplies are: Enermax, Antec, PC power & cooling, Thermaltake, Cooler Master, Seasonic.
Seasonic SSR-350ST Great inexpensive mid range class power supply. Very low noise, and can power anything short of a super high power gamer type rig. Quiet, inexpensive, and will handle most uses. Also good as a replacement for older systems that blew a junk PS. Should handle most of the sub $250 gamer cards that do not require 2 pci-e power connectors. Power efficiency is rated 80 plus bronze.
Seasonic SSR-550RM Excellent power supply for gamer types. Has a single beefy 12V rail (45A), so should be perfect for high powered video cards. People who are thinking of running a super high end video card (cards that generally cost more then $250) should consider this power supply. Very low noise even under load. Power efficiency is rated 80 plus gold.
CPU's, the really fun part.
With AMD falling more and more behind in the performance race, Intel is the way to go. With the cost of motherboards for AMD and Intel CPU's reaching price parity, there's very little cost savings going the AMD route. Even a budget I3-61000 matches or beats AMD's high end cpu's and draws far less power.
Intel CPU recommendations
Avoid anything prior to the socket 1150 I3 / I5 / I7 series cpu's, anything else just isn't worth it cost wise.
Be aware that the current LGA heatsink mounts just BLOWS and extreme caution should be used when working with it. Just adding or removing a heatsink off a LGA socket can damage the socket or heatsink mounts unless you are extremely careful.
Intel has several different cpu platforms currently available.
Old and out of date platforms
Socket 775 with Core2 class processors - The now very out of date Intel platform. Way dead. Uses DDR2 or 3 ram depending on the board.
Socket 1366 with I7 Cpu class processors - Very overpriced and out of date. Uses DDR3 ram. Dead with the introduction of Socket 1155 and 2011.
Socket 1156 with I7, I5 or I3 Cpu class processors - The older mainstream platform for the first gen I series cpu's. Killed by socket 1155.
Socket 1155 with I7, I5 or I3 Cpu class processors - Mainstream socket for several years, used for the 2nd and 3rd gen I series. Replaced by socket 1150.
Socket 1150 with I7, I5 or I3 Cpu class processors - Mainstream socket for several years, used for the 4th gen I series. Replaced by socket 1151.
Socket 2011 (non DDR4 version) - the old workstation platform that replaced socket 1366, and offered up 8 ram slots. Replaced by the 2011-3 platform using DDR4 ram.
Socket 2011-3 with I7 Cpu class processors - The replacement for Socket 1366 and 2011. Like 1366/2011, very overpriced, but offers a LOT of ram slots (the better boards have 8 ram slots). Unless you need an absolutely obscene amount of ram (like 64 gigs or more), or you REALLY need a 6/8/10/12 core cpu, there's no real reason to spend the money on this, go with 1150 instead. Uses DDR4 ram
Socket 1151 with I7, I5 or I3 Cpu class processors - The platform for the new Kaby lake series cpu's. Mildly improved over the Skylake's. Uses DDR4 ram.
Listing of Intel Kaby lake I series processors - socket 1151
Socket 1151 Boards:
With the memory controller now on the processor, performance should be virtually identical for any Socket 1151 board. Go for the Z series chipset based boards, the B series based boards aren't much cheaper and tend to be crippled in terms of features.
GIGABYTE GA-Z270-HD3 Atx format, low cost (by 1151 standards). This is a plain, run of the mill motherboard, but with good I/O options on the rear plate. Uses Intel for the ethernet.
Newest bios updates for this board can be found here
ASROCK Z270 Extreme4 Atx format, average cost. Similar to the above board, but also includes usb 3.1 ports, a SLI bridge, and the upgraded realtek 1220 audio chipset.
Newest bios updates for this board can be found here or just use the internet bios update feature.
Cpu Fans: An often overlooked item, but one of the most critical. I prefer quiet and RELIABLE fans that are still capable of keeping the cpu cool even at full load. 99% of the time I just use the retail fans as they meet my goals, but occasionally for high powered workstations and gamer boxes I'll use a good aftermarket part. Hard core overclockers and power gamers will want to definitely use an aftermarket solution.
Cooler Master Hyper T4 Fairly low cost, decent cooling. Its a good sized chunk of metal (will not fit low profile cases), and a bit of a pain to install (you'll need to pull the board out of the case), but it works extremely well. Make sure your motherboard has enough clearance around the socket. Rated to work with Intel LGA 2011, 1366, 1150x series, and 775; and AMD FM1, AM3+, AM3, and AM2.
NH-U14S Not cheap, but extremely well built.
This sucker is a large block of metal backed by a 140mm low noise
fan. Installation will require pulling the motherboard, but
mounting it is cake. Should handle any overclock job (I have
this on a I7-6700K at 4.6ghz).
Rated to work with Intel LGA 2011, 1366, 1150x series, and 775; and AMD FM1, AM3+, AM3, and AM2.
I'm blind, I'm blind! Oh wait, that's your old packard bell 14" .39dp monitor running at 1280x1024 60hz. :) Monitors tend to be a major preference buy, as any of them will work with a semi-modern machine. Super cheap LCD's usually aren't worth the loss in brightness and flexibility in scaling to smaller resolutions, and you can get decent 22" (or bigger) LCD's now for $200ish. I strongly recommend LCD's that use an IPS class panel. Whatever you get, make sure it supports DVI or Display port outputs (the older analog VGA connection will look blurry compared to the digital outputs). Also, the bigger the screen size, the smaller text fonts will seem (due to the higher resolution mode these run in), so people who read a lot of text may find the really big LCD's to be ironically harder on their eyes then a 22" model. Generally the more expensive the monitor for a given size, the better the screen quality is going to be. With that in mind, here are some of my picks.
Dell Ultrasharp series Not as cheap as the bottom feeders, but with monitors, you get what you pay for. 3 year warranty, and excellent clear picture. I have over 300 of these at work, and I've seen maybe 2 die in the past 10 years.
Check newegg or amazon too for pricing, they are often considerably cheaper than Dell for the same monitor.
Odds and Ends
The junk you always forget to order and then you realize you really need it :)
Blank Cd's and Dvd's: The media you need really depends on what burner you got. In general, media from certain companies just seems to do a better job than no name junker blanks. You can often found cd and dvd blanks going for very low prices after rebates at various stores, but the brand and quality are usually very low with these. When in doubt, name brand stuff from memorex, sony, fuji, and verbatim is usually pretty good quality. I personally prefer the following media myself.
A final piece of advice - when recording, its best to set your recording speed to about 1/2 to 2/3 the rated speed of the media. Recording faster then this will usually not give near as good of a "burn" compared to slowing it down a bit, and it will not take much longer.
Verbatim 100pack 16x DVD+R
These give VERY high quality burns in most drives, and not much more expensive then the generic crap discs.
Speakers: Or how to annoy the cr*p outta your roomates and neighbors : ) Usually name brand stuff from Logitech and Creative works nicely, though some of the name brands can be hugely over rated and over priced. Do your homework before buying anything thats mega bucks.
Logitech Z-906 5.1 speakers About the best speakers in their price range. These are kick ass for gaming and movies. I use a set for my computer. Bring ear plugs.
Logitech Z-506 5.1 speakers Not as high of a quality as the above speakers, but much much cheaper. If your not looking for booming audio, and don't want to spend the money on a high end sound card, these are a perfect match for on board sound cards. My old roommate has a pair of these, and they are great, especially for the price.
Keyboards and Mice: This is a tricky area for recommendations, as everyone has their own preferences. In general anything will work, but in general avoid wireless stuff, its usually expensive and not always reliable. I tend to prefer aopen, samsung or fujitsu usb keyboards, and logitech or M$ optical mice. But get whatever floats your boat. Avoid installing funky keyboard software, its not required, and it just bogs down your system with autoloading garbage.
M$ optical rat Simple, reliable, usb interface. What more do you want? I used to recommend Logitech rats, but their software has gotten clumsy and a tad buggy, and the M$ ratware seems to be more user friendly. Latest M$ mouse software (useful to make the middle button a double click function) can be found here.
Targus usb keyboard A tad more expensive compared to the el cheapo keyboards, but these are super reliable and take a lot of abuse (we have several hundred of these at work, and I've only seen a few die)
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