Crowdsourcing Advice

 By Shamus Feb 9, 2014 99 comments

On Friday my son’s laptop died the death. He was in the middle of a Starcraft II game and it shut off forever. By messing with parts we’ve figured out it’s not the battery, power supply, memory, HD, or monitor. It’s either the CPU or mobo, which means the whole thing is bricked as far as I’m concerned. Maybe someone with greater technical knowledge and more free time could revive it with a few key parts, but for us it is dead.

So. We need a new computer.

(We’re in pretty good shape, all things considered. In fact, of all the computers in the house, his was the best to lose. If mine dies, we have to replace it in a hurry to get me back to work. Replacing Heather‘s computer means days of fiddling around with restoring disparate backups. My daughters do a lot of writing and drawing on their computers, and while I’ve tried to teach them about backups, I know the lesson hasn’t quite sunk in. Someday one of their machines will die, and then the lesson will teach itself. But Issac’s machine is just used for hanging out on Skype and playing Roblox and Steam games, so he should be back to normal about five minutes after booting up.)

Luckily, right now we’re in the post-Christmas price slump, so stuff is cheap. But before I blow a few hundred bucks I thought I’d solicit some general advice. Every time we have a computer death the comments here are filled with really good advice or interesting suggestions that we hadn’t considered.

So if you’re a hardware-minded person that loves to share from your vast storehouse of arcane knowledge (I know how you are) then here is what we need:

  1. Don’t need tons of power. Issac’s only modern game is Borderlands 2. His laptop didn’t quite meet the minimum requirements, and he was fine with it. Which means our minimum requirements are probably something like:

    Processor: 2.4 GHz Dual Core Processor
    Memory: 2 GB
    Video Card: NVIDIA GeForce 8500 /ATI Radeon HD 2600

    I’m sure just about any new machine is going to be better than that. So really our search comes down to finding the sweet spot on the price / power curve, and avoiding “gotcha” surprises.

    The “surprises” are what I really worry about. I’m always afraid some new standard will have come along or I’ll misunderstand some socketing system and end up buying parts that don’t work / fit together.

  2. A desktop machine will be fine. The only reason he was using a laptop was that it was a gift.
  3. We’re willing to go with pre-built or build-it-yourself. He really enjoys putting computers together. (He helped me assemble my current computer.) On the other hand, I’m terrified of breaking something expensive in assembly. So it’s a win either way. Either he gets to have fun, or I get to avoid some stress. (Although I’d really love to avoid seating a CPU. That always gives me the willies.)
  4. We’re looking to spend under $400. Prices are in the post-Christmas slump, but so are we. :)
  5. Don’t need a monitor, keyboard, or mouse.
  6. We have a copy of Windows 7 for him, so it would be great if we could avoid paying the Microsoft tax.
  7. We generally shop at Newegg, but that’s mostly out of habit. I’d go somewhere else reputable for the right deal.

So. Any suggestions? Warnings? Am I overlooking anything important in my search? Is there something that’s about to become annoyingly obsolete that I shouldn’t buy?

Thanks for any advice. The problem with working on hardware is that there’s no undo button, and the retry button has a price tag on it.

2020202019Ninety nine comments. Just... need... one... more!


  1. Eltanin says:

    If you are willing to put a system together on your own, I have found http://pcpartpicker.com to be a very useful site. Coupled with the advice of others to help you sort through the dizzying array of choices, it’s a nice way to build a computer and make sure that the parts will function with each other etc.

    One does need a way to get past all the choices. Unless you have a motherboard in mind for instance (or specs to help narrow it down) staring at a list of several hundred meaningless names can be daunting.

    • Rob Conley says:

      I concur over the past three years I successfully replaced all four computers in my household by using pcpartpicker.

      To make sense of the initial choices I use the following technique,

      Goto Wikipeida and look up the brand of chips, AMD,Intel, Nvidia, etc.
      Look at the different chip families,in chronological order.
      Figure out which one that are my price range in the last toe or three generation. Along with their differences.
      Use PCPart Picker to play around with different combination until I find the best value for my budget.

      I do this for CPUs, motherboard, and graphics card.

  2. Ranneko says:

    In general I would suggest looking at various communities that focus on this kind of thing, like for US prices: http://www.reddit.com/r/buildapc

    Most of the resources I would use are focused on things in Australia and so are a little more expensive.

  3. Josh says:

    Well damn, the first two comments stole most of the advice I was going to give.

    There is one further resource I’d recommend: Logical Increments. It’s essentially a long list of example builds at ever increasing price points. You obviously wouldn’t need to follow any of those exact builds, but it’s a useful chart to have to get an idea of how much performance you can expect out of a given price range, and which parts you’ll need for it.

    Oh, and one note about PC Part Picker, it’s worth it to dig a little deeper when selecting parts than the listed lowest price, since the site displays the lowest listed price it can find without respect to which retailer that happens to be. Which is not to say any of the retailers the site lists are shady or going to steal your money, but that a number of them are smaller and generally more of a hassle to deal with than they’re worth.

    • MistahFixIt says:

      I found you end up saving more money in the long run by ordering from one large retailer than you do buying from the lowest price offered on each individual part. Any money you do save doing that is quickly eaten up by the shipping fees you’re paying to each retailer.

      Oh, and retailers that make you pay extra (on top of the shipping fees) to ship to places like Hawai’i, Alaska, and Newfoundland? You can just Eff Right The Hell Off.

    • Strongly agree with Josh on Logical Increments. You get a flowchart-based summary of all the wisdom of Reddit, without actually having to trawl through the cesspool of Reddit. (Sorry, Chris.)

      By the time I hit submit, you’ll probably already be inundated with advice, but I recently built my first desktop in 10 years and have Opinions on a budget desktop gaming build.

      Processor. Intel crushes AMD on power, AMD beats Intel on price/performance, and an AMD APU (single-chip CPU and GPU) is arguably the first integrated graphics solution that actually works. An A10-6800K can play almost any game from the last two years at 1080p on medium/custom settings, or 720p at max settings, without a graphics card. (You can get more performance with AMD’s non-APU processors and a separate GPU, but upgrade options are limited as AMD has gone all-in on the APU path; you might as well go Intel if you want more horsepower.)

      AMDs APU nomenclature is relatively straightforward: higher numbers are generally better. (A10 beats A8 beats A6; 6800 is faster than 5800.) This breaks down slightly with the just-released Kaveri chipset (the A8-7600 and the A10-7850K), which have a more advanced architecture and lower power usage, but you probably don’t want those from a pure cost perspective.

      If going for an AMD APU build, three considerations/gotchas:

      Motherboard socket. If you want to be able to use the newest/future AMD APUs, you’ll need an FM2+ motherboard (the plus being the key bit). If you’re not planning on ever using a Kaveri chip, you can save cash by going with an FM2 board (no plus).

      RAM capacity and speed. One quirk with an APU solution — and the place where price/performance may break down when you can’t wait for sales over time — is that RAM capacity and speed actually affect performance, because you’re using system RAM for graphics. (Tom’s Hardware breaks this down pretty thoroughly for non-Kaveri APUs.)

      Heat/cooling. With an APU, you’re running the equivalent of a CPU and a low-end GPU on the same chip. It’ll use more power and generate more heat than you might expect, and AMDs stock fan is not great. Depending on how high up the APU chain you go, and how good the airflow in your case is, paying $30 for whatever after-market cooler is on sale at the time might be worth it.

    • rofltehcat says:

      I also wanted to recommend Logical Increments. But I might even have the address from this site :D

  4. Volfram says:

    When I do build computers, I usually go over to Pricewatch and pick through the parts I want. Recently upgraded my laptop hard drive for a decent price.

    Which then turned out to be fortuitous when I had to restore it from the old one.

  5. guvnorium says:

    This is the computer I assembled last week- it cost $495 dollars or so before promo codes.
    Note: that was pre-rebate. And the case I used now has a ten dollar rebate on it.

    Case – kind of annoying to install the DVD burner, because it’s small. Other things too, I can’t quite remember… but it does all fit together. And it’s a damn cheap case.

    Memory Crucial is a real brand

    Processor -More power than what you are looking for, but it does work with the motherboard- and it seated nicely.

    DVD Burner My laptop has a Blu-ray player. I have used it exactly once.

    Hard-drive Not amazingly fast or anything, but it hasn’t been too terribly slow, either

    Motherboard-It works with the processor and RAM, and has a PCI Express 2.0 x16 slot.

    Power supply My dad likes these. Honestly why I went with it.

    Video card Out of date, but relatively cheap. And it has run my games fine so far.

    Miscellaneous The power supply has no eight pin adapter. Rather than risk seeing if a four pin plug would work, I went ahead and bought this

    With the expiration of promo codes, though, this is now 95 bucks over your price range, though. If you swapped out the video card for something like this you SHOULD be fine- the motherboard has the necessary slot. With shipping, that brings the price down to around 418. If you’re willing to count rebates and promo codes as under 400 dollars, then this works. There is currently a ten dollar rebate on the case and motherboard, and a three dollar promo code on the DVD burner. That puts you around 395.

    Dunno if that helps. I suggest it because it has been running off and on for a week and has yet to die.

  6. Psy says:

    The AMD 6700 Quad Core is good if you just want a average PC.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yL0-yymyuOw

    I’d recommend a motherboard by ASUS or MSI (the AMD 6700 is socket FM2 if you are going with that)

    You probably want 4 Gigs of RAM especially if you go with integrated video.

    • marchofbears says:

      I’ll second the AMD route. A bit less power than a similarly priced Intel processor but the on-board graphics are more than powerful enough to play Borderlands 2 and more, it even runs The Witcher 2 on low reasonably well, giving you some saving on getting a graphics card.

      Newegg have a combo deal on at the moment which is more than powerful enough. You could probably go with less RAM and use an old case to cut the price down further if needed.

      • Psy says:

        Yhea but that combo deal is the A10-6790K which is 100W instead of 65W like the AMD A10-6700 so it runs hotter.

        • Humanoid says:

          The RAM is also too slow to properly use for an APU, you’d want as much bandwidth as possible, which means, in terms of maintaining a reasonable price, DDR2400 as a goal.

          As a footnote, the AMD Athlon X4 760K is just a Richland with the graphics disabled. It’s actually a pretty good part for a budget gaming system. It occupies the same niche as the current Pentiums, essentially.

          It just makes me more annoyed at AMD for their limited range in Australia. No Athlons for sale, nor the A10-6700, the most interesting Richland chip. Only the 6600K and 6800K for some arcane reasons.

      • Steve C says:

        Let me put a strike against AMD. I’ve had nothing but problems with AMD components. Their price/performance is great on paper but their actual performance on a practical level leaves much to be desired.

  7. lazlo says:

    We not too long ago got new PC’s for our two boys. One got a Toshiba laptop (which, generally speaking, is a fine laptop), the other got a desktop. This probably goes without saying, but if you don’t care about mobility and already have a monitor, you can get *way* more computer in a desktop for the same price (and also way more ability to add stuff in the future).

    The only other advice I’d give, which again you probably don’t need, is that if you do go the laptop route, actively avoid touchscreens. The laptop we got for my youngest he, for whatever reason, wanted that feature, and I figured it couldn’t do much harm, especially since they’re so used to tablets. But I was wrong. On the one hand, the screen is blurry because of streaks of latent peanut butter that take extra caution to clean without causing extraneous inputs. On the other hand, there have been *so* many times where one of us has gone “Look at that right there!” {points to something interesting on screen} {causes mouse input from our pointing} {destroys stuff in game by our inadvertent input}. It is full of downsides and there is really almost nothing good about it.

    • Tizzy says:

      I own a tablet, and I’ve owned a few laptops in my life. Never did I ever think that it would be a good idea to mix the two.

      I cannot imagine why anyone thought it would be a good idea, but I’ll be happy to read dissenting opinions.

    • Epopisces says:

      I’ll actually jump in here to say avoid Toshiba Satellites (in general, not just your situation). The low-end Windows 8 laptops struggle with performance, and have the weakest wireless (wifi) antenna built in of any laptop I’ve run into. Had issues getting them online in multiple instances throughout my time installing internet services. The only way to keep them online consistently (even in the same room as the router) is with a third party USB wireless card.

      I don’t know what that says about the brand as a whole–my experience is only with Satellites.

    • Noumenon says:

      I paid extra for a touch screen laptop. One thing is that your kids can actually use it, the peanut butter stains signify that kids love touch screens! And my problem is the reverse of yours — on my mom’s laptop I keep reaching out to touch a button on a screen that inexplicably is not a touch screen. It’s quite handy to just tap a button instead of manipulating a pointer.

      Real drawbacks to touch screen are price, that gloss screens show reflections, and Windows software where the buttons are too small for touch. But I use the screen every day.

  8. Cannibalguppy says:

    Make sure to remove the SSD as it is very useful in a new build. ;)

  9. Peter H. Coffin says:

    Would a refurb be an option? IBM’s refurb site is showing T410s of about that spec with OS, and double the memory, and you get change back from $250…

  10. Nick says:

    FWIW, I usually buy parts and assemble desktops using ebuyer.co.uk, but not sure how relevant that is in the US.

  11. The Ground Aviator says:

    This site might be a bit over the price you set, but you can customize your preferred PC specs (including whether or not you want to buy an OS with it) when viewing a product: http://www.digitalstormonline.com/

    I also recommend them because they are relatively trustworthy when it comes to customer support and shipping&handling.

  12. TMTVL says:

    I’d love to help, but I’m based in Europe, so I don’t know any good US-based retilares (outside of System76, but that’s kind of out of your price range…)

    • TMTVL says:

      Come to think of it, why don’t you sell whatever parts* you don’t need anymore to pay for part of the new computer? Personally, I could use a better graphics card for my laptop.

      * Or the entire laptop, there probably are people who’d love to fix it up and use it to mine bitcoins or something.

      • Humanoid says:

        Because unless that gifted laptop was a multi-thousand dollar workstation-class premium machine, the GPU is going to just be a soldered in chip at best, if it even has a discrete GPU.

        There’s also no way a device like this would be able to mine bitcoins at an economically viable rate.

        Basically the only removable things likely to be found in there with a non-zero monetary value are the RAM (and even then it’s sometimes soldered in) and the hard drive, the latter of which would probably be reused, not sold. (Personally I would never sell or give away a data drive to anyone, I’m far too paranoid for that)

        * That said, Catbert would probably loot the whole thing regardless.

        • Zagzag says:

          Just a stab in the dark, but the fact that Shamus was able to narrow the problem down implies that he was able to swap out at least the RAM.

        • guvnorium says:

          On the other hand, if they don’t plan on reusing the Windows key, that is worth some dollars. (Not many, but some.) And the LCD can be worth it, depending. So it is not necessarily a terrible idea to sell the carcass on eBay.

  13. default_ex says:

    After the experience I’ve had with ASRock and my current motherboard. I would advise avoiding them unless you have no other choice. Despite being a subsidiary of ASUS they are nothing like them, not in quality or support.

    When you order the CPU mainboard, check the vendor’s website for a supported CPU list. Unlike before where as long as the socket matched you could slap it in and be done with it, they are now power rating specific.

    AMD are really the way to go currently. You would only really get back the extra money (in energy savings) for an equivalent Intel chip if you ran your PC 24/7 for 7 years straight at full load. I can’t picture any computer lasting that long under normal load, let alone full load.

    The mainboard brands I’ve come to trust most are: XFX, MSI and Biostar. XFX are usually high end gaming type stuff, last mainboard I had from them lasted 6 years overclocked roughly 40% of it’s factory spec. Biostar I’ve never had fail me, I have one from 2002 that is still running perfectly to this day. MSI tends to skimp on features by implementing the bare bone requirements with maybe one or two special features, but they are reliable with a typical lifespan to 4 to 5 years.

    The brand I would use if I had to but would rather avoid are EVGA. They are really good boards but they generate so much heat that your going to need a really good cooling solution to keep them in good health.

    As far as a case I’ve never had a problem with Antec’s $60-$80 models. Great air flow, mounting options for just about any drive type including removable bays and really sturdy construction (I sometimes stand on my computer to reach the ceiling). Only downer about them is that their cases are really plain.

    For thermal paste go with AK-100 Silicon if you can find it. Make sure you look for the paste form. There’s a liquid form of the same stuff which is useless for computer cooling. Artic Silver doesn’t hold a candle to how good AK-100 Silicon is. Temperatures barely rise under heavy load and stay really close to room temp with a good cooler. It doesn’t even begin to degrade until 400F, far hotter than anything in a PC will get. I use the stuff in everything from electronics projects, game consoles, set top boxes to computers. Probably have to check electronic specialist shops to find it, not many computer places will carry Silicon based thermal paste since almost everyone wants the hyped up Arctic Silver these days.

    • Cybron says:

      Seconding the point about ASRock. I’ve had a lot of trouble with my current computer courtesy of them.

      • Humanoid says:

        I’ve built a couple systems on ASRock boards over the past couple years (one a bog-standard Sandy Bridge desktop, the other a mini-ITX Richland) and they’ve held up fine, but I do acknowledge the budget feel in terms of their documentation and website, which definitely feel a fair bit cheaper than I’m used to. Still miles ahead of what I’m used to from the past decade-and-a-half though, in general everyone’s upped their games after a lot of the smaller players went bust.

        • default_ex says:

          Well the problem I have with them is multiple problems. The circuitry their using is obnoxiously loud. I can hear the USB bus whine whine moving my mouse or typing on my keyboard. I can hear the SATA controller squeal during heavy hard drive activity. It all translates into the speakers leading me to believe it’s improper shielding. After only a few months of use the built in NIC sometimes works, sometimes it doesn’t. Heavy activity across SATA, PCI or USB causes the computer to come to a halt for up to two minutes.

          All of that would be fine if their damn support wasn’t so horrible. They just keep asking for the serial number off the board but never actually acknowledge it. I send them the serial number, then every other number off the board, then pictures of the entire board and they are still asking for the serial number. When I asked if I could speak with someone else, you know what they did, they asked for the damn serial number again. So I just copy and pasted a sentence out of an eBook, they asked for a serial number again. I’m pretty damn sure I was bouncing messages off the worlds dumbest support bot.

  14. lethal_guitar says:

    Don’t have much to add here, except one thing:

    If you’re planning on upgrading to a SSD at some point (or buying one immediately), you should make sure the motherboard has at least one SATA 600 (6 GBit/s) connector. Most cheap motherboards have only SATA 300 connectors, so you won’t be able to take full advantage of the speed improvement.

  15. Deadfast says:

    Since everyone has already pretty much covered the other parts, let me just give you my recommendation regarding power supplies. You don’t want to go overly cheap here, extremely cheap no-names are actually dangerous – a faulty PSU can blow up the entire PC with it, if not more.

    • Dave B. says:

      As a side note, even good power supplies will sometimes give you trouble with battery backups. I have an Antec Earthwatts (500, I think) and I have tried several backups, but a Cyberpower 1500 AVR was the only one that could switch from mains to battery without restarting my computer. Different PSU’s can be more tolerant of the switching time, but it’s not something you’ll ever find in the specs.

  16. Humanoid says:

    A Haswell NUC might be fun to play around with. It’s essentially laptop hardware in a reasonably priced tiny box. It does mean you get low-power (ULT) low-power CPUs instead of the full package though.

    More conventionally though, an entry-level gaming machine is going to be either an AMD APU (an A10 or A8) or a basic Haswell Pentium (e.g. the G3220) paired with an entry level video card. System advice is frequently complicated, but this really is fairly straightforward (all based on Newegg prices because as an Aussie I have no idea what else is convenient for you):

    AMD build
    A quad-core APU: A10-7700K (could go with previous gen 6xxx or 5xxx series, but I think the improvement in graphics performance is worth it)
    Some variety of X88 motherboard, cheapest I see on Newegg is the Gigabyte GA-F2A88XM-D3H so let’s go with that
    Some fast memory because APUs love fast memory G.Skill Ripjaws X Series 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-2400

    Intel build
    An entry-level CPU, Haswell has now trickled down the entire range so even Pentiums and Celerons are caught up with the current gen. Unfortunately the G3220 is out of stock so I’ll price with the faster Pentium G3420 here.
    The cheapest compatible chipset to go with Haswell is the H81, and the cheapest H81 board I see is the ASRock H81M-DGS
    We can go for cheaper RAM in the Intel build, the only demand Intel makes is a maximum 1.5V voltage, so Patriot Signature 8GB (2 x 4GB) 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1600 (PC3 12800) Desktop Memory Model PSD38G1600K is the pick here.
    Of course for this build we’ll need a video card, and the baseline for picking a video card worth using is the 7770. The cheapest 7770 is the Asus Radeon HD 7770 GHz Edition 1GB though it’s an after-rebate price.

    Both builds have been set at a target price of about $300 (indeed both are within $5 of that target) which leaves the rest of the budget to pick a case+PSU combo to suit Issac’s tastes. A micro-ATX case will be big enough to house either motherboard, and if you take the AMD option and hence have no video card, a slimline one is also an option. Note I’ve left out the hard drive as you can reuse the old one – just about the only part from a laptop that can be reused.

    • Humanoid says:

      Some additional notes:
      - For an absolute budget build I would go for the old standard of an Antec NSK series case, mostly because with Antec you know the PSU included won’t be terrible (but nothing special either). A lot of PSUs included with cases are pretty poor.

      - That said, if at all possible I would push to get a Seasonic G360/G550 PSU. These G-series “budget” Seasonics are a class above anything else available for under $100, they’re fantastic. 360W is sufficient for this proposal, 550W would be good if you foresee an upgrade to a more powerful (i.e. midrange instead of budget) graphics card in the future.

      - A third-party CPU cooler is always worth considering, a good one is practically inaudible, the one included with the CPU – well, it’ll always be reminding you of its presence.

  17. megabyte says:

    I’ll throw in my assessment along with the others already added: http://pcpartpicker.com/p/2QbNp

    This set does include an OEM copy of windows 7, though it’s a little over the projected budget at ~$430. The CPU is from the newest generation of Intel processors, and it has a reasonably powerful integrated GPU, at least enough for Borderlands and SC2. I can’t speak for the current AMD equivalent, but I would agree that their builds are just as cost effective, if not more based on my experience. I would say 8GB is enough for anything, but I remember when 1/500,000th of of 8GB was enough for anything. If it’s not, the mobo has an additional pair of ram slots. The Power supply might be overkill for the projected wattage the machine needs, but I’ve had bad experiences with budget power supplies that have killed or nearly killed PCs in the past.

    I wish you best of luck with your decision!

  18. ET says:

    I don’t have any recommendations for specific hardware, but I’d like to alleviate your fears of messing up installation of a CPU.
    I mean, putting computers together needs caution, but it’s not like a chip is a crystal vial full of nitro glycerin and the soul of your unborn child.

    Pretty much, just remember this:
    - Get a grounding bracelet thingy, if you can find one with a long enough wire to be useful. Otherwise just touch a big metal object every minute or so, to make sure you discharge any static charge. (And don’t wear a wool sweater. ;)
    - Make sure the CPU lock-arm is in the unlocked position before you put it in.
    - Align the pins and orient the chip before you even start lowering it. They’re always asymmetric, so it’s easy.
    - Don’t force your CPU; Those go in easy or not at all.
    - Locking arms for CPUs and CPU heatsinks, and RAM chips, can need a little bit of force, but if you need to put any serious weight behind it, stop, back up, and see what’s misaligned.

    Everything is is generally a bit more forgiving than those components as far as force/not breaking the things go, so once you get those, you can probably stop sweating.
    Good luck! :)

    • Richard says:

      Indeed, I install and remove CPUs pretty much every week.

      They really are very easy these days – though the ‘pins are in the socket’ variant surprised me the first time I saw it!

      Open the lever, remove the protective cover from the socket and CPU.
      Then line it up, and gently drop it in.

      If it doesn’t go straight in, either you missed or you need to rotate it, so check orientation and try again.
      Never push, if it’s right it just drops straight into place.

      If you don’t have an antistatic wrist strap, just wear a t-shirt and lean a forearm on the bare metal chassis.
      That’ll give you the same if not better grounding.

  19. Neko says:

    I have no advice. I just wanted to remark that, after skimming this thread, wow does technology change a lot if you stop keeping up with the trends for a few years. I don’t recognise and model number schemes and everything has a new socket type. For reference, my ‘gaming’ desktop has this awesome Core 2 Quad processor, DDR2, and a nvidia GTX 8800! 8800 is a much bigger number than all of these new nvidia cards I see floating around so I know it’s that much better.

    • Tse says:

      That GPU, has it ever failed and needed cooking?
      My old 8800 has been in the oven twice already. It’s still chugging along in my parents’ PC, but I don’t know how long it will be before it needs to be cooked again.

      • 4th Dimension says:

        Cooked?
        On my 8600 the fan died and it cooked itself pretty thoroughly.

        • Tse says:

          In the oven. When the solder fails that’s the way to re-liquify it.

        • Humanoid says:

          To elaborate, nVidia had a systematic engineering problem a few years back where poor choice of solder which couldn’t handle the frequent hot/cold cycles a typical chip would be subjected to. The more cycles the chip was put through, the more likely it would develop a ‘fatal’ crack in the solder connections, resulting in a dead video card. However some enterprising souls found out that due to the nature of the problem, simply subjecting the chip to sufficient heat to melt, and therefore reflow the solder, would resurrect the chip, albeit somewhat temporarily. Hence the ‘oven trick’.

          It’s also worth keeping in mind that there are components in a video card that could easily be classified as being toxic, so I wouldn’t do this in any oven you still expect to cook food in. Especially now when the relevant products are easily replaced by superior ones for well under a hundred bucks.

      • Neko says:

        I thought it was failing at one point and then I thought it was the SSD and then I thought okay no it’s definitely the GPU but then it wasn’t that maybe it’s the PSU? But it wasn’t that either and so the theory I was exploring before I threw my hands in the air and just started using my laptop for everything was that it was some issue with the SATA controller and I bought a new motherboard but I haven’t put it in yet because I just got burned out on stupid hardware nonsense.

    • rofltehcat says:

      I don’t keep up with all that tech mumbo jumbo either. I completely ignore it until I have to replace something (surprisingly, my rig seems pretty resilient normally) or decide to upgrade altogether.
      I won’t upgrade for at least another year until I can get a mid priced system that will last for all (most?) of this console gen. And then I’ll just go to sites like the Logical Increments site linked farther up and buy the suggested pieces.

      Currently: i5-2400, 10 GB Ram (had 4, one stick died, bought another 8 GB), GTX560 Ti. My GPU needs more numbers because the ones with more and higher numbers (as well as the red ones) must be much faster!

    • Humanoid says:

      The sad thing is that the stupid confusing naming system we have today is still way ahead of how it used to be. Nvidia at least restrict themselves to two variants per number, that being the Ti vs the slower non-Ti. Not so long ago we’d have the GT, GS, GTX, GTS, GTO, SE, Pro, Ultra and all sorts of other nonsense, and they’d use multiple of the aforementioned suffixes on a single product.

      AMD famously had the XFX X1800XTX XXX-edition video card. That’s a whole lotta X.

      • rofltehcat says:

        I’m sure they have an internal flowchart that explains all of the madness!
        I’m sure it must be something like “roll D20 -> look up suffix -> roll D20 again, end loop if suffix already exists”

      • Moridin says:

        The current naming schemes for both Nvidia and AMD are pretty simple. First is prefix(R7 or R9 for current gen AMD, GT or GTX for Nvidia) the first number after that denotes the generation, the next numbers denote how powerful the card is within the generation and finally, there may or may not be a suffix, but if there is, that means it’s more powerful than the base card unless the suffix is m or whatever they use to denote mobile parts.

        • Humanoid says:

          Reasonableish, but AMDs is worse than it was just a year ago since they’ve switched to these silly R7 and R9 prefixes, and the silly ‘X’ suffix. So they’ve gone from having a nice numbering system, probably the best that’s ever been since the first 3D accelerators, they’ve now regressed back and are now equivalent to nVidia levels of obfuscation. Literally the same scheme now, R9 and R7 in place of GTX and GT, and X in place of Ti.

          That said, while the previous scheme was fundamentally sound, late on they polluted it with silly crap like the “GHz edition” cards or the ‘B’ turbo boost editions. Just increment the number by five, goddammit – 7970 and 7975 instead of 7970 and 7970 GHz edition. *sigh*

  20. MichaelG says:

    I’d advise against relying on integrated graphics. When I’ve had people try my OpenGL demos, those are the machines that fail.

    The same power is cheaper in a desktop, especially if you already have a monitor and a copy of the OS.

    For games, the graphics card and RAM are all that matters. Any halfway decent processor/mobo is going to be fine.

    I’ve built all my desktop machines, and never had a problem with components breaking. Yes, installing the CPU will make you sweat a bit! And some of these motherboards make it really hard to find all the sockets. I hate reading the labels on all those silly front panel connectors. But once everything is plugged in, the BIOS has always come up first time.

    Refurbished from NewEgg, Lenovo or even Apple cuts the price quite a bit. I have two refurbished laptops and have had no problems.

    There are a huge number of choices. Just pick something sensible and don’t turn it into an ordeal. It’s all obsolete in a year anyway.

    • Humanoid says:

      Yeah, the front panel connectors are the absolute worst part of the ATX spec. Fortunately at least it’s impossible to do damage putting them in the wrong way, it just won’t work.

  21. DaMage says:

    I’ve never built in that low a price range (also, my prices here in Australia would be pretty different to you), but most people have covered part here pretty good, so I’ll just make this note.

    A laptop with a graphics card in it (rather then an onboard crappy chipset) will die very quickly, as far as I’m concern gaming laptops are a big scam and it is much better to get a desktop if you are gaming.

    I would seriously suggest putting together a computer yourself, CPU into motheboard is the hardest part, but it as easy as avioding static electricity and carefully placing the CPU.

    Power supply is very important, NEVER buy a generic power supply, you want a name brand. The reason for this is a bad power supply can ruin all the other parts in the computer. I personally buy Corsair and have never had a problem in 5 years with it. I once looked in a $900 HP store-bought machine and found it had a generic power supply…I reckon that’s part of the reason store-bought tend to die quicker.

  22. Rosseloh says:

    We’re looking to spend under $400. Prices are in the post-Christmas slump, but so are we. :)

    Welp, there goes my advice. I wouldn’t want to sell or buy a computer for under $400 in any circumstance. Maybe someone other than me has some good suggestions, but usually $500-$600 is the dividing line between “cheap junk” and “actually decent, able-to-hold-up computer”. And that’s not even for a machine that can do any sort of gaming.

    But that’s my work mentality talking. (I repair computers, and you’d be surprised just how much cheap crap is out there)

    • Rosseloh says:

      I should have mentioned that I’m thinking brand new, not refurbished. We tend to use outlet.lenovo.com to find deals, and they do sometimes have some good refurbished ones. Just make sure you’re looking at the Think stuff and not the Idea line, if you want something that’s good quality.

  23. Phrozenflame500 says:

    Any specific desires? DVD drive, noise/space concerns, etc? This is being used mostly for gaming right?

    People have pretty much mentioned the best resources above, Logical Increments, PCpartpicker and the /r/buildapc subreddit are all super useful and you should consult all of them before you buy regardless of what anybody in the comments (including me) recommends.

    Anyways, here’s what I’ve come up with.

    CPU: Intel Pentium G3220
    Decent CPU for gaming at this tier, uses the same socket as the latest generation of CPUs so it can be easily upgraded. Duel Core, but it’s cheap and it will work.

    Mobo: MSI H81M-P33
    I kinda just picked the cheapest one from a decently known brand that will support the other parts.

    RAM: Crucial Ballistix Sport 4GB (1 x 4GB) DDR3-1600 Memory
    4GB should be more then enough for games atm. The only game I’ve ever seen use more then 4GB is CoD: Ghosts, and that was patched out later.

    HDD: Western Digital Caviar Blue 1TB 3.5″ 7200RPM
    1TB or room, pretty standard hard drive. Could drop it to a 500GB model if you really want to save $7

    GPU: Gigabyte Radeon R7 260X 1GB
    Very good GPU at this range, hits 85 fps on Borderlands 2 on highest settings and should easily leave room to spare to play modern games in case he gets interested.

    Case: Fractal Design Core 1000 USB 3.0
    Good cheap MicroATX case with a front panel USB 3. Not much to say here.

    PSU: Corsair Builder CX430
    Corsair’s a fairly quality brand and this PSU should do the job perfectly. For $10 you can bump it up to a modular PSU which is easier to work with, but isn’t strictly necessary.

    Overall it adds up to about $435, including the detected shipping prices and a promotion on the RAM. I set the listed merchants to either NewEgg or Amazon since they’re both fairly reputable and well known, you can save about $10 if you buy a couple of parts from other places. If you want to get it under budget you can bump down the GPU a bit, although in general below a 260X the GPU’s are not worth the money they charge for.

    • Phrozenflame500 says:

      Links to Logical Increments and PCpartpicker didn’t work for some reason.

      I forgot to mention, this is primarily a gaming computer I eyeballed from your general description. You really should still do some more research in what he wants, if you want to overclock/upgrade in the future, if you want more RAM/a better CPU for multitasking/future-proofing, etc.

      • Humanoid says:

        The way Intel change their socket every time Otellini burps these days means planning for upgradability isn’t much viable these days. Especially since it seems they feel the future of desktops is BGA – i.e. CPUs soldered to the motherboard. I don’t feel there’s much point to, say, buying a Z-series motherboard now unless buying a K-series CPU with it, because unless you’re upgrading that CPU within a year, Intel will have moved to an incompatible pin-out for their next generation. The idea of futureproofing hasn’t worked in the PC world for a long long time now.

  24. Tychoxi says:

    This probably common now, but using cooling pads is a must with laptops. I’d guess especially gaming laptops. Otherwise they doomed to die the Heat Death.

    • Tychoxi says:

      OMG I’m speaking like Tarzan. O.O

    • All laptops in the house have cooling pad/fans under them and I regularly advice laptop users who are complaining about “how slow their laptop has gotten” to put a fan or at least let air underneath. Boy do I hate laptops.

      • I assume you also do an annual clean-the-heatsinks day? It’s amazing how much dust and fibers get caught in there. Most laptops can be disassembled to access the heat sinks fairly easily, and desktop cases are even easier.

    • Deadyawn says:

      Yeah, this HP laptop I’ve had for the past few years had a really good streak going over this (Australian) summer. Even with a cooling pad its been shutting from the heat on a regular basis. It can’t even do Minecraft for more than two hours without overheating. I’m a little fed up with it at this point.

      I want to just get a reasonable desktop but either its gonna be some stock thing filled with preloaded crap and running windows 8 or I have to delve into the unknown waters that are building a custom PC which is not a particularly attractive prospect.

      So, rather than trying to make up my mind I’ve been procrastinating and getting increasingly agitated with this old laptop.

      • Humanoid says:

        If you get a new PC running Win8 *Pro*, you get automatic downgrade rights to Win7. It’ll cost a premium, sure, but probably less than buying Win7 outright.

        That said, if I were forced to use a pre-built desktop, I’d probably just stay with Win8 (optionally using one of those start menu replacers), and depending on the amount of bloatware (I have two new laptops, the Samsung has a moderate amount, the Lenovo has relatively little), selectively uninstall or clean install the OS with an official ISO.

      • TMTVL says:

        Have you tried looking for stores that will assemble the PC for you? The guys who I buy my parts from generally sell custom build PCs for little more than the price of the parts.

  25. Garrett says:

    2 gtx titans and a mobo that can fit that. Any CPU really just sort by most expensive. 64 gigs of ram(I mean how can you survive with less?) Go big on an SSD those are all the rage and you’re going to need a couple terabytes for media storage. You are going to need windows 8.1 but don’t buy like pro or complete packages get a volume license so they take you seriously when you call for support. This build will be good for about two or three years before it needs to be replaced. Good luck on your computer buying adventures Shamus!

  26. James says:

    Jest dome general advice. If you are building a computer build it outside of the case first in order to test out the parts. The last thing you want is to have a dud part but its even worse if you have already put all of the parts in the case and screwed them all in.

    • Humanoid says:

      Eh, not so sure about this, especially given there’s hardly anything to test. It’s probably not worth the tradeoff of having to deal with the awkward cabling, then recabling properly inside. There’s one screw (or two for double width cards) on the video card and maybe half a dozen on the motherboard, so it’s hardly a hassle. And getting the motherboard properly installed on the standoffs (the little brass things attached to the case that the motherboard is mounted on) makes sure there’s no little accidents with shorting out the exposed components on the underside of the board.

  27. Steve C says:

    I suggest getting your son to do all of this from start to (almost) finish. Use it as a teaching opportunity. Give him a budget of say $350 and let him do all the internet legwork of building his own PC and see what he comes up with. It’s a great real world example of working within budgetary constraints.

    You don’t need to buy what he comes up with. Whatever he comes up that is ‘wrong’ is still another teaching opportunity. Whatever he comes up with will be close to perfect for him. And even with it’s flaws it will be better appreciated than something he was given because he made it.

  28. Steve C says:

    Specifically because you are working on the low end budget I recommend starting shopping at Walmart. Not necessarily finishing nor buying from Walmart but just starting there. Their low end laptops are good to create a baseline to work from.

    The budget changes how I would approach buying a computer. Finding 10% savings on a $2000 computer is $200. Finding 10% savings on a $400 computer is $40. I would spend at most a fifth of the effort shopping for that $400 computer. There’s just not that much fat to trim at the low price points.

    Keep in mind that if you replace a laptop with a desktop that means getting a monitor. For a low end computer the monitor is a huge portion of the total cost.

    • Steve C says:

      Edit: But as you said, you don’t need a monitor. So why did I mention it? For proper spec comparison you’d need to factor in a monitor to compare a desktop to a laptop. For example a $400 computer = a $300 desktop with an unpurchased $100 monitor or = a $400 laptop.

      Your $400 will go much much farther with a desktop because you are adding to the budget the sunk cost of a monitor you already have.

    • TMTVL says:

      Bonus points if he checks this topic first.

  29. Scerro says:

    I have a couple of things I didn’t see up there.

    First:
    In terms of a laptop, go with an Intel processor. It’s a given. Intel is way ahead in terms of power consumption, which means better heat. 80% of all laptops I’ve run into run hot, especially compared to desktops. When it comes to desktops, AMD can’t be beat for price in terms of what you’re getting.

    Secondly:
    Check Craigslist. Seriously. I’ve looked from time to time and there’s a lot of high-quality, personally-built, monster machines on there for dirt cheap. What must have been a $1500-1800 machine four or five years ago can be found there for $200-400 easily. A lot of gamers upgrade and don’t know what to do with their old machine. For example: http://denver.craigslist.org/sys/4265783487.html

    That’s dirt cheap, and you probably won’t spend more than $100 figuring out what the issue is and replacing it. Oh, by the way, that processor is on par with some Core i7s (For gaming, as rated by Tomshardware), and the cards are overkill for what he wants to run.

    While I do think it’s good to check out craigslist, also be aware that some machines are going to be junk on there. Definitely be cautious.

  30. Galenloke says:

    I got mine as a kit from tigerdirect.com (saves the cost of OS and monitor etc.) for just about $500 and there’s a large enough selection I’m sure you can find something good for $400. The one catch is finding anything with a decent graphics card, though to that I can recommend the GeForce GT 430. I’ve built two pcs with it and they run skyrim and borderlands 2 quite nicely. I’ve also seen it as low (newegg I think?) as $35.

    A quick search isn’t showing it near that price again but you should be able to track down a sale for something at least that good for $50-ish. Again I suggest tigerdirect.com and with a kit you know all the pieces will work together.

    • Humanoid says:

      The GT 430 is a specialist HTPC card, good for decoding video and not much else. In terms of suitability as a gaming card, it’s best illustrated by this: The 8800GT was the midrange king of 2007/08. It comfortably beats the 430.

      Perhaps a more relevant comparison: how fast is the GT430 today? Oh, about as fast as the Intel IGP. Which is to say, about as fast as not using a video card at all.

      Sorry if I seem a bit abrupt, it’s just an objectively poor recommendation.

  31. kdansky says:

    Side-suggestion:

    For backups, I suggest you get yourself a Synology NAS with at least two disks in it (not the one-disk version). It’s super convenient, and has some pretty slick backup software (like Time Machine) that you can set up once and forget about it. Since it’s RAIDed, you’re also somewhat safe against harddisk failures, but because it comes with a spiffy special Linux, you never have to bother with difficult setups. You just plug it in, log into the machine with your browser, and get pretty icons and shit. It’s about $150 for a 2 disk station, plus $180 for 2 disks of 2 TB each (which would last you a long time).

    Backups are not a joke, and spending $300 on them once every decade is more than appropriate.

    • We have a hard drive that we use for backup- it is huge compared to our needs, plugs into any of our computers via usb (have a SATA to USB adapter that I paid $12 for and love to pieces) and allows us to copy and organize as we like. Only problem is getting the girls to remember to do so. BUT basically most of their stuff is now saved in various places online.

      • kdansky says:

        That’s exactly the point. Having to remember to make backups manually is a recipe for disaster. Backups are something that must be automated, or else it won’t happen. If you can’t grab the backup disk when the house is on fire, because it isn’t guaranteed to have all important data on it, then the backup disk isn’t actually the backup disk.

  32. Lalaland says:

    I’ve seen the advice replicated a few times but I’ll throw my $0.02 into the mix anyway. I’d go with an AMD A10 7000 series APU, it comes with a fairly strong graphics component as long as it’s paired with some 2133 DDR3 RAM, (~20% faster gpu perf than with ‘vanilla’ DDR3 speeds) it does push the cost a bit but you should be able to squeeze it altogether for $400.

    The Intel stuff is more powerful but with the new consoles being relatively weak in per core performance having more weaker cores is likely to be more useful in the long term. Building a similarly future proofed Intel box would push you to a Core i5 and that more or less guarantees you will bust your budget.

    Prebuilt could be an option with AMD but you may want to budget for the better RAM unless the builder allows you to choose 2133.

  33. Nathon says:

    There are good reasons to shop at newegg, and I find their service excellent.

    A few general comments:

    I buy for upgradeability. I like my computers to last a long time (the machine I built for college lasted about 10 years), and with that goal there are some places you can skimp and others where you can’t.

    The motherboard is the big one where you can’t skimp. I aim for a well reviewed motherboard from a reputable manufacturer. Put the low end version of the latest microarchitecture (Haswell for Intel these days) on it and you can upgrade it later if necessary. Room to expand memory and support for the latest SATA, PCIE, and DDR standards is good too.

    On graphics, nVidia’s Linux drivers blow AMD’s out of the water. If you ever want to consider putting Linux on the machine, nVidia is the way to go (unless you care about free software; nVidia is not very friendly to Linux in that way).

    The other place not to skimp is on the case and PSU. There’s no reason to spend $200 on these things, but the $5 case with the built-in 60W PSU is going to cost you headaches in the long run. Look for solid structure and a power supply recommendation from someone who builds a lot of computers.

  34. doubLL says:

    Here’s a link that’s pretty popular on certain parts of the web, the Falcon Guide. I used it, and it’s pretty well designed and has nice explanations (which I appreciated, as a newb to computer building).
    http://tinyurl.com/falconguide
    or
    http://i1002.photobucket.com/albums/af150/The_FalconO6/CurrentLogicalPCBuyingGuide/Guide.png
    If you’re worried about clicking on an unknown tinyurl link (you should be, hah!).

  35. I cannot recommend the AMD A series enough. The computer I put together for my roommate uses an A-10… I forget which one but it was brand new a couple years ago, and it was mostly an experiment just to check out the new chips. I am amazed at how well it pulls off the integrated GPU. He didn’t really care about games very much since he’s a console gamer, but he can play anything I can play with my (now sadly outdated) Phenom X4 and 5770 graphics card, and with equal or better graphics settings. The A-10 was less than half of what I paid for my card and cpu. It won’t run things at Ultra but the price/power ratio is pretty amazing. If your kid doesn’t mind running things on medium, (my roommate plays Borderlands 2 at 1080p on medium) then you really can’t go wrong with it.

    It’s important, if you go that route, to pay for the fastest ram you can afford, and get more than you think you will need, since the GPU will be sharing it.

    • Humanoid says:

      To be fair though, your build is objectively better, and not by a little bit – it’s clear that something else is holding back your video performance because by all rights you should be comfortably faster. A Phenom and a Trinity are neck-and-neck in terms of CPU power, but the 5770 handily wins graphicswise (indeed it’ll still win against a new Kaveri APU).

      The conclusion is that APUs will lose against an equivalent discrete GPU system built to the same budget. This puts it in an awkward space, but that’s not to say it’s necessarily a bad buy – heck, I’ve recommended such a build myself here and elsewhere, and built one myself. It’s just that the reasons don’t include performance.

      - Not requiring a video card means a lot more freedom in selecting your chassis, opening up access to all sorts of cool slimline, compact and otherwise fancy cases (including the ridiculous Lian-Li steamtrain shaped case). The mini-ITX system I built with a Richland APU is in an Antec ISK300 case, which isn’t much larger than a ream of paper.

      - AMD’s FM2+ socket is the only current socket with any sort of future, and hence the only system that could be remotely called upgradable. Intel will inevitably change socket the next time a meaningful generational change comes along, and AMD’s own AM3+ socket is all but end-of-life (and rightly so, it’s lacking many modern features like USB3.0).

      - It leaves open the possibility of a discrete video card later on while leaving a competent quad-core CPU to drive it. It doesn’t make sense to do it immediately of course, but if you’re thinking that finances might allow it in say, a year, then it’s a good compromise.

      - Not so much a big proponent of this belief myself, but theoretically fewer components means less chance of something going wrong.

  36. I ran across a link to this page: http://www.logicalincrements.com/

    Helpful when scoping out bang/$$$ at least.

  37. Norman Ramsey says:

    Most of the important stuff has already been said, but…

    When trying to get a good computer cheap, I’ve found it hard to beat Dell. But the buying experience is unpleasant and you get a machine you can’t upgrade at a reasonable cost.

    If you’re building your own, and if you can afford it, pay for a good case and a good power supply, and plan on keeping them for ten years. I have never had a good experience with a $30 case. I love the Seasonic power supplies and they are available at many price points.

    A really good source for building your own is http://silentpcreview.com. They review all kinds of components and they have helpful building advice. A good site for everyone, not just those who want a quiet PC.

  38. Solf says:

    This might be considerably late to the party, but still.

    Quick thread search didn’t seem to turn up CrashPlan. Or Backblaze for that matter.

    So let me say this — for backing up stuff I highly recommend using CrashPlan! For free you can set it up to backup to different folders/disks/machines once per day. For paid version (which I highly recommend!) you can backup to their cloud servers and can backup more often than once per day. The app allows you amazing flexibility to pick and choose what you want to backup and when. Plus they promise to keep your deleted files around (potentially forever) too — in case you delete something and later want it back.

    It costs something like $5 per month for unlimited backup for one computer and $12.50 per month for a family plan (multiple computers). In my opinion it is very cheap compared to the hassle and risk of having to keep own HDDs or other hardware for backup.

    But since I’m a bit paranoid, I’m in fact using CrashPlan and Backblaze together. Backblaze also allows you to backup to cloud for something like $5 per month. That way I have double-cloud backups plus whatever copies I’ve setup elsewhere for *really important stuff*. Note that Backblaze itself is far less powerful that CrashPlan, but it works as a second cloud and is similarly cheap.

    And if the hardware question is still relevant, I’ll toss a few points without going into details (much).
    - If portability is not a concern, definitely go with desktop — those are much more reliable in my experience and can be upgraded much more easily.
    - If going desktop, good power supply may be a smart investment. While you may get lucky and bargain PSU will last you a long while, you can also get unlucky and burn components. It’s really hard to give definite recommendation here though, good PSU doesn’t make your computer any faster and could be expensive.
    - For hardware I’d go with Intel & NVidia.
    – Socket LGA 1150 (for the future)
    – Either G3xxx processor (for cheapness) or i5 with K letter (for potential overclock).
    – There’s no such thing as too much memory :) I’d go with at least 8 gigs, but YMMV.
    – For video — pick a price point and look for performance comparisons, e.g. http://www.anandtech.com/bench/GPU13/583

    Another important concern is whether you want/need your rig to be quiet. If you want a quiet system, then it puts additional requirements on all the coolers (GPU, case, PSU, CPU) and the case itself (e.g. vibration dampening for HDDs) — and all this costs extra obviously. Asus DirectCU GPUs are great for quietness.

    And yet-another-consideration is mechanical HDD acceleration via SSD and Intel Smart Response. I’m using it and quite happy with the results — not ideal, but quite good. You’d need mobo that supports this + SSD obviously.

  39. Takkelmaggot says:

    I’m planning a system upgrade myself, and what with not having kept up with hardware for the last five years, I’d like to thank everyone here for the helpful links to sites I didn’t know existed. You guys are awesome.

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