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 https://www.newegg.com for all items.


Last Updated:  11/15/18

 


General Items.



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. 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.

Antec VSK3000E Cheap ($30), micro ATX, light weight and easy to mount stuff in.  Its not the most sturdy case in the world, and I would not build a gamer or high powered system in it, but if you need a cheap case that's not total crap, this should work well. 
 
Corsair 200R  A fairly high quality, lightweight, well built, easy to work with, has excellent heat management, and makes cabling a snap. 


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, just stick with basic cas 11 1600mhz ram.  The performance gain with anything faster is tiny, and the gain is not worth the cost and compatibility headaches
.

For DDR 4 type ram, don't spend much money to get anything lower then cas 15 latency or speeds above 2666.  The performance increase is fairly minimal, and getting super fast speeds can get spendy in a hurry. 

DDR3


For 2x4 (8 gigabytes total)   DDR3-1600 ram, click here
  (matched set of 4 gigabyte modules)

For 2x8 (16 gigabytes total)  DDR3-1600 ram, click here  (matched set of 8 gigabyte modules)


DDR4


For 2x4  (8 gigabytes total)   DDR4 ram, click here    (matched set of 4 gigabyte modules)

For 2x8  (16 gigabytes total)  DDR4 ram, click here    (matched set of 8 gigabyte modules

For 2x16 (32 gigabytes total)  DDR4 ram, click here    (matched set of 16 gigabyte modules)


Laptop DDR4

For 1x4 (4 gigabytes total) DDR4 ram, click here      (single 4gb module)

For 1x8 (8 gigabytes total) DDR4 ram, click here      (single 8gb module)

For 2x4 (8 gigabytes total) DDR4 ram, click here      (matched set of 4 gigabyte modules)

For 2x8 (16 gigabytes total) DDR4 ram, click here     (matched set of 8 gigabyte modules)



Optical Drives:  

LG 24x DVD burner (sata)     Makes 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's X series drives seem ok in limited testing so far.

For desktop drives, I would avoid anything under 3TB, 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, SSD's have hit the price point that magnetic 2.5" drives no longer make sense. 

I'm only listing 3TB and larger magnetic drives now for storage drive purposes.  For primary drive (aka C drive or boot drive) usage, there's no excuse to NOT use an SSD.


Western Digital Desktop drive list
 

Hitachi desktop drive list

Toshiba 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.  The M.2 SSD's are becoming much more affordable, thought the NVMe class drives still cost a bit more per GB.  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.  If using a NVMe type drive, you MUST be running Windows 10.

Mac OS users, 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).  Triple check if its even possible to replace the drive in your machine, as many newer Mac's have non removable storage.


Some general recommendations -
Generally the best drives use the
Silicon Motion(the higher end variants), Samsung, or Intel's controller.  Not all drives using the Silicon Motion controllers perform the same, check reviews first before buying.

There's basically 3 types of SSD storage flash chips - ones that use 3d NAND storage, ones that use QLC NAND storage,  and ones that use non 3d TLC storage.  Generally, the 3d NAND drives are a fair amount faster, and a tiny bit more expensive as a result. Avoid the QLC drives, as they have a much lower write limit and don't perform all that great compared to 3d NAND.


SSD's connect to the computer one of two ways - the old 2.5" sata connector, and the newer M.2 style connector.  When to use which style drive can be confusing. 

The 2.5" sata style SSD drives use the AHCI protocol (which is the older and slower hard drive style method) to communicate to the computer.  Just about any desktop computer will have a sata port.  However many newer notebooks do NOT have a sata port, so do your research before buying.  The biggest advantage to the 2.5" drives is price and compatibility. 

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.

The other format is the M.2 style drives.  These can get confusing, as some M.2's use the AHCI protocol to talk to the computer (and these perform identical to the 2.5" drives), and some use the much newer NVMe protoctol.  NVMe class drives are considerably faster, but they also cost a fair amount more (this is slowly decreasing though), and for Windows users, you'll want Win 10, older versions don't handle NVMe well.  Generally only newer laptops in the past 2-3 years have a M.2 slot.  The better desktop motherboards made in the past 3 years will usually have a M.2 slot, but rarely among the brand name boxes (HP, Dell, etc). 

For any class of SSD, always run the latest firmware.


The following are some models and vendors I've had good luck with.

Crucial MX series
Intel branded drives (good drives, but generally over priced)
Samsung evo and pro series


List of 2.5" sata 240GB-256GB ssd's (not all of these are good models, DO YOUR HOMEWORK ) 
 

List of 2.5" sata 500GB-512GB ssd's (not all of these are good models, DO YOUR HOMEWORK ) 

List of 2.5" sata 1TB 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 1151 or AMD AM4 systems that feature integrated video will be perfectly happy 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.  Non gamers who need a basic video card for a higher end Ryzen class box will be fine with a fanless Nvidia 710.
 

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 710 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 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, 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 1220 audio chipsets that comes on some higher end motherboards are reported to have excellent clarity, though I've been unable to verify 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.

Avoid ANY of the networking cards that use the "Killer" chipset - the drivers for these are complete trash, and performance and compatibility is awful. 

10 Gigabit cards are coming down in price, but are still a bit spendy, and 10 gigabit ethernet switches are extremely expensive.  Also, very very very few users will benefit from 10 gigabit at this time (and for the next 5-10 years), so save your money.

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.


Rosewill RC-411 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. 




Power Supplies:  

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 high end 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, EVGA, Thermaltake, Seasonic.  

EVGA 450 BR  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 $400 gamer cards. Power efficiency is rated 80 plus bronze.

Seasonic SSR-550FM   Excellent power supply for gamer / workstation systems.  Has a single beefy 12V rail (45A), so should be perfect for high powered video cards.  People who are thinking of running a X299 or X399 class machine, or 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.

Seasonic SSR-750FM   Like the above model, but even more juice.  Really only needed for ultra high end workstation boxes that have very high power draw CPU's and GPU's.  Power efficiency is rated 80 plus gold.


Motherboards and CPU's, the really fun part.

Intel bunny man burnt to death by heat output of the Pentium 4.

Preface:

For well over 10 years, this used to be an easy choice.  An Intel cpu, the exact model only depending on how many cores you needed and what clock speed you wanted.  Amd's Ryzen (released in March 2017) has completely tossed this out the window.  Now the choice of CPU has become much more complicated.


Non performance users running programs such as web browsers, MS Office, etc, will generally be best off with a high clock rate I3 from Intel or a Ryzen 2200G.  These are fairly cheap ($120ish), offer excellent performance per core, generate minimal heat, and have a long track record of worry free performance.


Users needing 6 cores or more will face an interesting choice. While the Intel I9-9900k is the king of the 8 core hill, it costs more then 50% greater compared to the Ryzen 2700X.  Multi core users will need to decide if the major price premium is worth the 15-20% performance boost the 9900k offers.


For all but the highest end gamers, an I3 or I5 (to get Turbo Boost) is all they will need.  Keep in mind that no current games use more then 4 cores, so there's not much benefit going to a Ryzen or I7 for gaming.


A final word - if your software is not designed to be multi threaded (and the vast majority is NOT ), anything above an I3 or Ryzen 2200G is a waste of money.





Intel CPU recommendations
Avoid anything prior to the socket 1151 8th generation 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.  


Current platforms

Socket X299 with I7 and I9 workstation class processors  - With the release of Amd Threadripper, this platform has lost its cost / performance justification.  Also there's been a lot of reports of stability issues due to vendors cutting corners on the VRM design. Uses DDR4 ram

Socket 1151 (300 series) with I7, I5 or I3 Cpu class processors  - The platform for the Coffee lake series cpu's.  Uses DDR4 ram. Be advised that the 300 series ONLY works with 8th and 9th gen cpu's.

Listing of Intel Coffee lake I series processors
- socket 1151



Socket 1151 Boards (300 series):
With the memory controller now on the processor, performance should be virtually identical for any Socket 1151 board.  Once again, the 300 series boards will ONLY work with an 8th/9th gen cpu, not the older 6th or 7th gen's.

Asrock H370M Pro4  Micro Atx format, low cost.  This is a basic budget motherboard, but has decent I/O and 4 ram slots.  Ethernet is an Intel 219V. 
Newest bios updates for this board can be found here .



Asrock Z390 Extreme4 Atx format, above average cost.  This motherboard biggest asset is the beefed up VRM's and heatsinks compared to cheaper motherboards.  The I/O options are fairly plain on this model, but it does offer USB 3.1.  Ethernet is an Intel 219V and audio is the upgraded Realtek 1220.

Newest bios updates for this board can be found here .








Amd CPU recommendations

Avoid anything prior to the Ryzen class cpu's from AMD.  The older AMD cpu's were hot, slow, buggy, and just not worth it.  Amd has released 2 different platforms for their new cpu's, the AM4 platform for mainstream systems and the sTR4 for workstation class systems. 


For both platforms, the cpu's within the same platform class are the same internal design, only difference between models is the number of cores and clock speed. 


For the Desktop AM4 platform cpu's, the X models (i.e. 2700X) are clocked a bit faster.  The factory cpu fans are fine, and will keep the cpu well within temperature limits.  Ryzen's have minimal overclocking headroom, so don't buy an aftermarket heatsink for only overclocking.


For sTR4, do NOT go cheap on cooling.  These cpu's can kick out over 180 watts at max load.  I strongly recommend the Noctua heatsinks for these at the minimum.  For the newer 250 watt TDP cpu's, water cooling is recommended ( I've had good luck with the NZXT X62 ).  Also make sure to use a high quality power supply (major brand 500 watt model is a good starting point, and higher may be warranted depending on system specs) with the proper motherboard connectors (this can vary by motherboard model). 



Listing of Amd Ryzen CPU's - socket AM4


Listing of Amd Ryzen Threadrippers - socket sTR4




Socket AM4 Boards:
Amd has released 3 different chipsets for AM4, A420, B450, and X470.  The exact differences can be found here, but to sum it up, A420 and B450 are stripped down (and best for budget boxes), and X470 has the most growth potential.  Also, anyone wishing to have the option to run SLI will want to go with X470.  Due to driver support, versions of Window prior to Win 10 are NOT recommended for AM4 machines.  While many AM4 boards offer various video output ports (HDMI, DVI, etc), these will only work with the Ryzen models that have an integrated GPU (currently the 2200G and 2600G).  All other Ryzen cpu's will require an external video card.  Regardless of which board you pick, I strongly recommend updating the bios right away to the newest release from the vendor.


Side note - the older 3XX series chipsets aren't bad at all, there's just no reason to pick a new board with it.


Asrock B450M pro4 - micro ATX B450 board, low cost.  This is a great little budget motherboard with plenty of USB ports including USB 3.1.  Ethernet is Realtek gigabit. Strongly recommend you upgrade the bios to the newest version right away, the older revisions were buggy.  Latest bios is here or just use the internet bios update feature.


Asrock Fatal1ty X470 Gaming K4 - ATX X470 board, average cost.  This one offers an Intel 211AT network card, USB 3.1 support, beefed up VRM's, several pci-e slots, and a higher end Realtek 1220 audio card.  Gamers looking for absolutely best audio quality, or people looking to work an 8 core CPU extra hard will be well served with this board.  This board has undergone extensive testing in the past few months at work with many programs without issue. Latest bios is here or just use the internet bios update feature.



Socket sTR4 Boards:
The Thread Ripper boards currently offer 1 chipset, the X399.  These boards are expensive, complicated, and the bios at this time can be a tad buggy, but if you need massive I/O options or an epic amount of ram slots to go along with a 16 or 32 core cpu, this is the only way to go.  Make sure to use a roomy case with good air flow, this isn't the class of system to save room on.  Another caveat is to make sure you have a decent power supply with the right connectors for the motherboard in question.  You may need a molex to 4pin atx adapter (check Amazon).

GIGABYTE X399 Designare EX - ATX X399 board, average cost (for this class). This sucker is BUILT - with heavy heatsinks over EVERYTHING, and very high end VRM's.  I/O options are excellent, with Intel 211 gigabit ethernet, USB 3.1, Realtek 1220 audio, and even an Intel Wireless card and bluetooth. I've built a 32 core monster using this board, and its performed well so far.  Definitely update the bios right away, newest can be found here.





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 over clocker boxes I'll use a good aftermarket part. 


Thermal Take CLP0556-D  Low cost, decent cooling, low noise.  This is a decent replacement for the Intel OEM fans, its very compact and low profile.  Its easy to install but you'll need to pull the board out of the case.  Would not recommend this for overlocking, use the Noctua's instead.  Rated to work with Intel socket 1155/1150/1151 type motherboards.  

Noctua NH-U12S (Intel version)   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). Dead silent noise wise.  Rated to work with Intel boards (see below link for AMD) 

Noctua NH-U12S (AMD AM4 version) Not cheap, but extremely well built.  Similar to the above model, but designed for Amd's AM4 socket.  You'll need to remove the stock heatsink mount on the motherboard, but this is very easy to do, and does not require the motherboard to be pulled from the case.  I have one of these installed on an 1700X, and even when torturing the processor, the heatsink barely gets lukewarm.  Also dead silent noise wise.

Noctua NH-U14S (AMD sTR4 version) Not cheap, but extremely well built.  Similar to the above model, but designed for X399 motherboards.  You'll need to remove the stock heatsink mount on the motherboard, but this is very easy to do, and does not require the motherboard to be pulled from the case.  Used these on several 2950x systems without issue.





Monitors

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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