11 - How to Know What to Buy #

So you want to build a computer? Great! Now you’re probably wondering what to buy.

The very first things you should ask yourself are:

  1. What will this system be used for?
  2. What’s my budget?
  3. Are used parts okay?

That first question will dramatically narrow down your options, whether you realize it or not. If this system needs to have Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, etc.) and LibreOffice won’t do the trick, you’re pretty much limited to Intel and AMD based systems, instead of throwing a cheap Raspberry Pi at the problem. If you need utmost stability, like 24/7/365 this system absolutely can not go down, you’ll probably have to plan on getting something more server grade, possibly with redundant power supplies, hard drives, and (traditionally) ECC RAM. If you’re making something and just need it to be as fast as possible, you’ll still want to consider what software you’re running. Some tasks are heavily dependent on your CPU speed, while others need you to have a kick ass graphics card.

The second question, “What’s my budget?”, will be the one that hurts to admit. If you only have $300 to throw at a gaming computer, it’s not that you can’t make it work, it’s that you’ll probably not have as good of a time as you’d like.

That is where the third question, “Are used parts okay?”, comes in. If used parts are okay, you can probably get a way better deal. Just be sure not to get totally fucked on over-used hardware. Graphics cards used for crypto mining and hard drives that have been on for 6 years straight in a server aren’t good, and it’s easier than you’d think to end up with either on accident. You’ll also have to be careful that the older hardware still supports everything you need. That old graphics card may not have hardware video encoding, making it less than awesome if you want to stream your games on Twitch, and that older CPU might not let you watch Netflix in 4k (yes, this is a real problem- there’s shitty digital rights management stuff built into the CPU). There are a lot of little snafus like this you might not be aware of.

If you figure those things out then you can move on to the next big questions:

  1. How much storage is needed?
  2. How should money be allocated to performance?
    • Gaming, AI, Video Editing: More GPU than CPU
    • Server (in most cases): More CPU than GPU
  3. How much RAM do you need? (And can you get, at your budget)
  4. How much space can it take up?
  5. Does it matter how loud it is?
  6. [TODO] … I don’t want to finish this right now.

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