Computer Explanations for newbies.......

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In Runtime
Found this article posted By WHITE RABBIT from Revolution Chatter Zone. Thinking it was informative to me i thought other people new to this board would get something out of it.

Time and time again, I see people coming in here and asking for help with their newest pc components and not fully understanding what some of us are saying. One can argue we're just more l33t than them, that they're equally as geeky but spend more time in front of consoles, or, the more depressing of the three - they actually get laid.

I'll also try to get you involved with some of the terminology used in regards to PC performance issues, such as "bottlenecking", "Bilinear/Trilinear & Aniostropic Filtering", "Pixel Shaders" and what have you.

So, let's begin shall we?
(NOTE: Alot of this is sectioned off, ie. motherboards, CPUs, video cards all have their own section, which has their title in bold. (So if you do not feel like it is worth your time to read it all, you may find your appropriate section)

So you've made that big step - you've decided to upgrade or buy a new pc and step away from that old 286 that lags playing Commander Keen. (You were around for 286's were you not?) Well, it's a good step in the right direction to make. Getting a new PC is like losing your virginity, only in reverse. You'll spend so much time on your PC, you essentially lost it to a machine, but gave up the chance of ever losing it to a girl. But! No girl looks as pretty as some of these games coming out now do. So that's where this guide comes in. Buying or upgrading your pc can be as overwhelming as it is fun. Here is a brief guide to get you started.

Let's go over the motherboard and CPU first then shall we?


The CPU(Central Processing Unit), or often referred to as the processor. I'll give you one guess as to what it does. Yep! It's basically the main component of the PC! It processes all of the instructions for the computer. Who would have thought that something with the word processor in it's name was even capable of such a thing? granted, other hardware such as video cards and sound cards have their own instructions that get carried out but the CPU is the brain of the PC. So when building a PC, be sure to go for a fast CPU. You wouldn't want the kid with the plastic helmet to be your source of brain power would you? When your PC turns on and says Pentium 3 800mhz cpu that means it's time to upgrade! It's alos the speed at which your CPU runs at. The MHz and GHz(1024 MHz) is the speed in which a cpu is measured by.

Let's take a look at the common CPU manufacturers out there today:

AMD (Advanced Micro Devices) : Many of you may not be too familiar with AMD as they aren't a household name. Soccer moms and pops alike enjoy familiarity and what's pimped out to the tv. This little company doesn't have many flashy commercials. AMD is the gamer's choice. It hands Intel their backside in gaming benchmarks. If you want speed in gaming, go with a new AMD chip. Right now there are three main lines to chose from with AMD:

AMD XP - This series came out I'd say three to four years ago. It's being phased out now though with the AMD 64. The AMD XP is a budget conscious chip now compared to the AMD 64's out on the market. The XP chip offers stability and good overclocking options. Cuurent motherboards for the XP coming out also support Dual Channel RAM. Some may argue it is what put AMD on the more mainstream map. (I believe it was their previous generations Athlon Thunderbird's)

AMD Sempron - This is even more of a budget priced cpu than the XP. Awhile back, around the time of the original Athlon and the release of the XP, AMD had the Duron chip. This chip was not a performance chip but was more a budget ended cpu for people wanting new technology without emptying their bank accounts. The Duron was pahsed out and we now have the Sepmron processor. The Sempron uses Socket A AND 754. Once you get to 3100+ speeds, the Sempron switches over to socket 754. It is not a 64bit chip however.

Next we have the AMD 64 Socket 754 CPU. The socket 754 CPU was AMDs first 64-bit processor designed for the desktop market. 64-bit computing allows operating systems and software to process more data and access a tremendous amount of memory.(Or so the AMD site says)

The socket 754 64-bit chip came out last year to rave reviews and immediately beat Intel's chips in all areas of gaming. AMD decided to further enhance these processor's and create the...

Socket 939 64 Bit chip. AMD has two 64-bit chips and the 939 is the newest of the two. The socket 939 supports dual channel memory, PCI-Express and is better for overclocking. The 939 chip is also the future of AMD 64-bit cpu's. AMD has no further plans really to market the 754, and almost everything will be made on 939. If you want the best AMD has to offer, go with the 939 chip. If you're on a very tight budget, you can find reasonably priced 754 chips available at your local PC Retailer .

The AMD also has mobile versions of the Sempron, XP and 64-bit cpu's for laptop computing.

In the other corner we have Intel's Pentium 4 chips. I'm not even going to mention Intel Celeron's as they are deader than...dead. Plus you do not want to buy a celeron. For the price of a cheap Celeron these days you can find a cheap Pentium 4.

Now Intel is a more household name. Why wouldn't they be? A few years ago they had men dancing in space suits and a funky little theme. When I said earlier that the AMD kicks the crap out of Intel in games, I did not mean Intel was a weak chip. By no means is that the case. Intel may not perform as well as AMD in gaming applications, but if multimedia is what you do, ie. MP3 encoding, 3D Graphic design, video editing or audio editing, Intel is the chip for you. Since many of you here are gamers though, I will almost always recommend AMD over Intel for the simple reasons already stated - AMD is the gamer's choice.

Intel has decided however that after the 3.8GHz chip, it wil no longer make Pentium 4 cpus. Also, Intel has the Extreme Edition chip which runs a fair price above the normal Intel chip's, so if money is an issue, I do not recommend going with the EE P4 and rather suggest sticking with AMD, which is generally cheaper than Intel CPU's.

I'll have you know though that both manufacturers chips overclock nicely, but since AMD is more powerful with gaming, it does run a bit hotter. However, the new Intel chips run at pretty high temperatures too in comparison to their old counterparts. So if overclocking is what you're going to be doing, I HIGHLY recommend purchasing an aftermarket heatsink for your CPU, which can be found here.

Ok, that's it for the CPU section for now. Need a break? Really? Man...I feel sorry for you...We still have motherboards, video cards, soundcards, ram and hard drives to get through.


I once got an upgrade three years ago or so. My parents were paying for it and didn't want to go over budget. So we purchased a more economically sound(ie:cheap) motherboard. If I had've known then...

...Seriously, don't do this! The motherboard is as vital as any other part of your PC. Virtually EVERYTHING in the computer connects to this. In order for your pc to do anything the commands always haveto be routed through the motherboard. A motherboard also determines all future upgrading options, limits how much performance you'll ever extract from your rig, and is the number one factor in your system's total level if stability.

Motherboards come with onboard video, sound, and lan.(For your high speed internet and networking) Under no circumstance do I recommend using the onboard video of your motherboard however as it was not designed for gaming. The games will run terrible, look like crap, and play just as well.

When it comes to onboard audio however, alot of the higher end board manufacturers, such as MSI , Asus , and Gigabyte have pretty good built in audio support, having up to 8 channel support. If you need to spare a few dollars you'd be better off getting a good motherboard with good onboard audio and making sure you buy a video card!

Now one thing you need to know : Your motherboard needs to be compatible with your chip. You can't get a motherboard for an AMD chip and expect to put an Intel chip in there, or get one for an AMD 64 and use an AMD XP.

So, here are the lists of motherboard types and their corresponding chips they support:



Socket A motherboards = AMD XP
Socket 754 = AMD 64 Socket 754
Socket 939 = AMD 64 Socket 939


Socket 370 = Pentium 3
Socket 478 = Pentium 4 (Also have Dua Channel RAM support)
Socket 479 = Intel Pentium M/Celeron M (Laptop)
Socket T(LGA775)= Pentium 4 (Dual Channel Ram support)


This just about covers it for motherboards, I'll explain what dual channel ram is when I get to the memory aspects of this later on.

Now on to my favourite part...VIDEO CARDS .


Video cards can be the most exciting part of your new pc, and also one of the most expensive. I change them more than I change my underwear. Actually..I change video cards once a year or twice a year so..that'd be pretty gross if it were true.

When it comes to choosing a video card, you generally have the two heavyweights making the GPU(Graphic processing unit), nVidia and ATi. nVidia was King for a few years but in the past 24 months ATi has been beating nVdia in alot of instances. nVidia is king in opengl(the type of coding used in games such as Doom 3, Quake, etc etc) and ATi better in DirectX(Half - Life 2). ATi is however getting their stuff together with opengl with each new driver they release. (A driver is a download you get for your video card that updates it with new features that have been implemented or new things to work out the kinks the card may have, you can update your drivers from ATi here and nVidia here .)

So what right? What card do you buy? Well I can assure you that if you go with either company you will not regret it as they are both solid cards. Now, the real question is, which card out of these companies should I go with. That's right, there is ALOT more than one. Let me give you some of the newer ones.(I'll stick with the last two generations of cards)

In the nVidia corner we have :


GeForce FX 5200 = This is the card to get if you are on a shoestring budget. I do not recommend it unless you need to get rid of your GeForce 2mx and get rid of it fast! It is the slowest of the nVidia cards to be released in the last two generations.

GeForce FX 5600 = Ok, we're geting somewhere now. A more solid card than the FX 5200, but not by much. You would be much better going with an ATi Radeon 9600. The FX 5600 comes in the XT model(a slower version), the standard 5600 model and then there is a 5600 Ultra model which is a faster version of the card.
These aren't the best of the best, but if you're on a budget, I'd highly recommend this card over the FX5200 or ATi's Radeon 9200.

GeForce FX 5700 = Potential Potential Potential. This card was one of the best cards for overclocking with nVidia's last generation of cards. It's faster than the 5600, comes in an XT, standard and ultra model and can beat the ATi 9600 series of cards in some instances, but both are pretty neck and neck. nVidia built a solid card witht his one and unfortunately it just couldn't compete with the ATi 9800 series of cards.

The FX 5800, 5900 and 5950 were nVidia's high end FX lines of cards. They were bigger, badder, faster than the other FX cards. But so was the price. While all solid cards, they were bested by ATi's 9800, 9800 Pro and 9800 XT video cards, both in performance and price. Granted, if you were going to buy one of these today you wouldn't be bad off, but I would recommend buying an ATi Radeon 9800 Pro or XT over any of these cards.

We now enter the new line of nVidia's cards, the 6k series.

This series starts off with the 6600 video card. The 6600 comes in both PCI -Express and AGP.(I'll explain the differences later) Not much has been done with the 6600 as of right yet but general census shows that this is a good card for economically sound people. it will not cost an arm and a leg, have alot of the features of the new 6800 cards from nVidia and offer up a price that won't make your eyeballs pop out. It ran Half - Life 2 quite well I might add .

Next we have the 6800, 6800 GT and 6800 Ultra. The 6800 is the standard fare card, the 6800 GT the faster, the 6800 Ultra being the fastest. Al of the afforementioned cards in the next gen wave of nvidia support pixel sahder 3.0 and all the new things that make your games look pretty. The main difference between the three cards is the core speed and the ram speed. You can easily overclock the 6800 GT to Ultra speeds however and still not have to owrry about over heating your card.

Now, let's get into the ATi line of cards.


ATi Radeon 9200 = Basically same as the nVidia FX 5200. Pretty much a card you should not buy unless you are absolutely on a shoestring budget. In this case, I'd recommend the FX 5200 over this card as tis one does not have Direct X 9 support so it won't have all the fancy bells and whistles of DX9 and the games won't look as purdy.

ATi Radeon 9600SE, 9600, 9600 PRO, 9600 XT = The 9600 SE is a slow card. They took the 9600 based card and dumbed it down. In many isnatnces too it costs the same price as a 9600. You would be much better investing in a regular 9600. The 9600 Pro is a pretty solid card for gaming needs, but I'd definately say that if you MUST buy a 9600 series card, go with the 9600 XT. Much like the FX 5600 and 5700 series of cards, tehse are considered mid-range video cards now. Prices are cheap, performance is stil good though. So if you're a budget conscious person, these cards may just be for you.

The ATi Radeon 9800, 9800 Pro and 9800 XT. These were ATi's heavy hitters last year. They dominated the benchmarks and captured people's hearts...and wallets. (Not as pricey as alot of nVidia's 5800 and 5900 series of cards though). If you want a high end mid-range card, definately go with the 9800 Pro or 9800 XT. For the price difference, get the Pro as you can easily overclock it to speeds faster than an XT with the right fan on it.

Let's look at the new ATi cards:

In the AGP category ATi released the X800 series earlier this year. The X800, X800 Pro, X800 XT, and now the X850, X850XT.
These cards are FAST! Basically like nVidia's 6800 lineup. The best of the best, the hotest of the hottest, the priciest of the priciest. All the new technological features, all the power, all the beauty you could want in a card. I cannot say which company you are betteroff with when you get into this end, ATi or nVidia. I'd give the edge to ATi with their X850 series though. They don't beat the comptition by much, but they do beat them. If you have the money, that is the card to go for. If you've already bought an nVidia card, no big deal, it will serve you just fine too.

SIDENOTE : One thing I am tired of is people saying ATi kills nVidia, you're card sucks! Or vice versa. If you've spent hard earned cash on any of these high end cards, you are going to be set for awhile. Who cares if an ATi card gets 78 frames per second in a game and the nVidia one gets 69? The human eye will not notice that difference. it's what you can afford and what you've had better experience with and will enjoy more. Don't listen to the fanboys out there.

Now there are two cards by both companies I left out, the nVidia 6800 Ultra Extreme(don't even get me started on them having Extreme in the name) and the ATi X800 XT PE(Platinum Edition). Why did I leave these out? Because both of these cards are extremely rare and extremely pricey. Good luck finding one! And if you happen to buy one, pick one up for me?

Bored yet? I feel for you I really do. But remember - no more topics with people calling you a noob! I'm almost done with the video card section. I just have to cover PCI-Express and some terminology.

Right now the norm for video cards has been AGP.(Accelerated Graphics Port) This is a graphics card interface that provides the graphics controller direct access to the PC's main memory. The AGP interface has been improved over the eyars and is now referred to as 2x, 4x, and 8x. 8X AGP indicates that the interface provides a theoretical bandwidth of 2.1gb/sec, eight times higher than that of the original AGP standard. Watch out though, some motherboards only suppot 4x in which case you need a video card that has 4x/8/x on the box. It will work in both a 4x compliant motherboard and an 8x compliant one. However, if it is a card designed to excel at 8x, it will not run to its full potential on a 4x board. It's like putting regular gas in a Porsche.
So we have AGP which has been sitting around for quite some time now, but PCI-Express has just come out. It is PCI-E 16x. Ok, so, if you have 8x AGP, and now 16x PCI-E what does that tell you? BINGO! It's double the speed of AGP! But right now if you want to get a gain in performance with PCI-E you will need a motherboard that supports it, and two nVidia SLI cards. This is a setup that allows you to have two nVidia based cards, the same model and type installed on your motherboard. The cards work together, one at 100 percent, the other at 60-70. The downfall to this is you have to buy two PCI-E video cards. That could cost over a thousand dollars, depending on how high end you go.

Now, ATi and nVidia both have PCI-E based video cards. I didn't mention any before because I had wanted to explain PCI-E before I did so.

Here they are:
ATi X300, X600, X700 = These cards go from budget to mid-high end. If you have the cash, go with the X700 or wait for the X800 to be on PCI-Express.

nVidia - 6800 series is on PCI-E as is the 6600. Same deal, go with the 6800 if you have the cash.

Now if you have an AGP motherboard, and just bought a new AGP card, you will not see a difference between a 6800 GT PCI-E card on your best friends computer and a 6800 GT AGP card on your's. So if you're thinking of buying an entirely new motherboard for that one reason, don't! We probably won't see much of a performance gain on PCI-E until the next generation cards are released. (Unless it is the prevoiusly mentioned SLI ) If you are buying a new motherboard and card though, might as well future proof and go with PCI-Express.

Whew! I'm exhausted! Just a few definitions and we can move on to RAM!

Anistropic Filtering - Reduces shimmering effects common when high res textures are moved from the foreground to the background.

Antialiasing - Basically this smooths out the jaggies found in the straight lines of a game scene.

Bilinear/Trilinear Filtering - Two axes and three axes filtering. Bilinear process takes nearby pixels into account on a single mipmap levelwhere trilinear takes into effect proximate pixels on more than one mipmap level.

Bottlenecking - Bottlenecking ocures when you have a video card that is too powerful for your cpu. For instance, if you have a 6800 Ultra on your Pentium 4 1.8, you will have some bottlenecking issues and your card will not work to its full potential. Or if you have an AMD 64 FX55 and a GeForce 2 MX, your cpu may not perform up to par. Always make sure you have a nice balance. Plus your power supply may not be able to handle a powerful card if it came with an odler PC. I'll take the time to say this now : Always buy at least a 400 watt powersupply now when pgrading. Usually get one that doesn't come with your case too unless you buy a high end case like Antec. You want a good power supply.

Pixel Shader - Pixel shaders create a sort of layer of skin that is placed on top of a texture, enabling bumps to appear on each model, and can also create reflective surfaces, dynamic shadows, and a plethora of other efects.

Vertex Shader - Vertex shaders deal with terrain morphing, some lighting calculations and some shadow calculations.

Damn! That was alot of reading. I better not make a habit of this otherwise it will be known that I have no life. I just said that out liud anyways, so what does it matter now? There's really only one or two more things to touch on, ram and hard drives, so please bare with me. Oh...I need sound cards in there too. Well, not much out there in the way of sound cards. If you want 7.1 surround sound, get an Audigy 2 ZS for the best sounding experience. If youre on a budget, go with an Audigy 2 ES, an Audigy 1 or a Sound Blaster Live! 5.1 card. The 5.1 obviously denotes it being a 5.1 channel surround sound card.

Ok, got sound out of the way!

I'm only going to cover the basic kind of ram here that most people here would be using and clear up some questions I've commonly seen asked.

Most people these days use DDR(Double Data Rate Memory) ram. This type of ram basically transfers twice the amount of data for any given clock speed. There's DDR200 (PC 1600)
PC2100(DDR266), PC2700(DDR333), PC 3200 (DDR400). You can put a stick of DDR266 ram in with DDR400 but the DDR400 ram will run at the speed of the slower stick of memory.

There is also dual channel memory now these days, which uses the same memorey as we have now, ddr. Dual Channel potentially has twice the bandwidth of a single channel of ram. But for this to work, memory modules must be installed in pairs that are identical in both capacity and speed. Also, you need a mother board that supports dual channel ram.

SDRAM(Synchronous Dynamic Random Access Memory)
This is memory that is older and refers to PC66/100/133 memory used in older computers. You can use a stick of SDRAM with DDR RAM as DDR is technically a type of SDRAM but your DDR will perform at the speed of the slower ram.

Basically the T-1000 of ram. The DDR was the T-800. Actually, the SD was the t-800, the DDR the t-1000, the DDR2 the hot sexy supermodel turned terminator...err...yeah sorry..the T-X. DDR2 has a higher data rate and bus frequency over ddr among other things, making it the sxier choice for a bolder, more beautiful, new you.It has DDR2 400, 533, 667. Only a a few Intel motherboards suport this ram right now and the diffrence between DDR and DDR2 is...Well...Not much of one. Give it time though and we will see what DDR2 is most capable of.

That concludes our RAM section!

Last, and definately not least, hard drives!


There are three main types of hard drives; IDE(INTEGRATED DRIVE ELECTRONICS), SATA(SERIAL ATA = SERIAL ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY ATTACHMENT), SCSI. When it comes to speed, the order in which I put them in is aout how it goes as well.

IDE hard drives use 40 pin connectors and need a motherboard that supports IDE. IDE most commonly spins at 7200rpm these days, and older hard drives it would spin at 5400. The faster the spin, the faster the hard drive can access the data. Also, hard drives have large buffers from 2MB to 8MB. Naturally, the larger the buffer the better as it allows for faster performance because the more data a drive can cram into it's buffer, the faster it can perform typical desktop tasks. IDE hard drives have a data transfer rate of about 100mb/s. In some rare instances, it can go up to 133 but not many hard drives on IDE are known to have that. IDE is also known as PATA (Parallel Advanced Technical Attachment)

ULTRA ATA A version of the AT Attachment (ATA) standard that supports burst mode data transfer rates of 33.3 MBps. To take advantage of these high speeds, your computer must also be equipped with Ultra DMA, a protocol that supports faster data transfer rates to and from hard disk drives.

SATA(SERIAL ADVANCED TECHNOLOGY ATTACHMENT) is a new form of hard drive interface. It uses 7 pins instead of the IDE's 40. Again, you need a motherboard with SATA support but almost all of the newer ones have that now anyways. The SATA interface is quite capable of a 150mb/s transfer rate over the 100 of the IDE. Soon it will reach 300 with SATA2 and eventually 600 by 2007. But for now, if you own an IDE hard drive, you won't get much gain by switching over to SATA.

SCSI is the best of the best in the land of hard drives. They spin at 10,000 and 15,000 RPM and it shows with their price. Seektimes for your precious data is much lower, and reliability is much higher. But they are crazy expensive.

RAID(REDUNDANT ARRAY OF INDEPENDANT DISKS) is an arrangment in which more than one hard drive is combined to form a single storage volume. It can enhance performance and security. A popular option for RAID setups amongst gamers is a RAID 0 setup. You theoretically would have two hard drives acting as one, so a hard drive at 10,000 rpm working at a transfer rateof either 200mb/s or 300mb/s (depending on your hard drive model). That's about as fast as the Millenium Falcon doing the Kessel run in 14 par secs.

Well, that about concludes my time here with you. I hope you can walk away with some of your questions answered. I know I can walk away with a fried brain. I'd like to give thanks to the guys and gals over at Neowin for putting up with my quetions over the past 7 months or so. I've learnt a ton from them. Also, I strongly recommend you check out the magazine stands for the "PC Gamer's PC Building Bible".

If anyone has any questions at all about their new pc or hardware issues, please feel free to email me at my inbox is always available to you.

I'll return in the future to do a guide to tweaking Windows at some point too so you can squeeze a little more juice out of your PC.

I'll leave you with some good sites to check out if you ever feel the need.

Good luck and happy upgrading! Oh...And happy holidays too!


Reviews & Hardware news:

CPU Developers: (AMD) (Intel)

Motherboards: (MSI) (Asus) (Giga-Byte) (ECS) (DFI)

Video Cards: (Nvidia) (ATi)

Sound Cards: (Creative Labs)

Hard Drives: (Maxtor)
http://www/ (Seagate) (Western Digital)

Hardware I recommend:


Motherboard for socket 754 -MSI K8TN NEO PLATINUM
Socket A - Asus A8V DELUXE
PCI-E for AMD 64 Socket 939 - MSI NFORCE4 motherboard


Socket T - ASUS P5P800

AMD 64 Socket 939 3000 - FX55

Hard Drive:
Seagate 120GB HD SATA(Economic)
Wesern Digital Raptor 74GB(Performance) (For rich *******s)

Sound Card:
Creative Labs Audigy 2 ZS

OCZ Platinum DDR400 1GB Dual Channel(Performance)
DDR2 - OCZ PLATINUM DDR533 Dual Channel
Kingston ValuRAM DDR400 1GB Dual Channel(Economic)

Antec Sonata
Coolermaster Wavemaster
Antec 1000AMG Plus View

Power Supply:
Antec 480WATT

Video Card:
On a budget: 9800 Pro, 9600XT
BFG 6800 GT
ATi X850 XT

PCI-E = 6800 ULTRA or GT
SLI = 6800 ULTRA or GT


Fully Optimized
nice article, however, i really don't think newbies would get how each card stacks with another

i was thinking maybe someone could do something like a configuration for some with a $500 budget, then another one for a $750 budget, then $1000, etc. and we should have benchmarks to back up stuff

meh, if only i had time (i'm trying to bring my grade back up to straight a's again so i gotta focus more)


In Runtime
This guy is being very general about everything including vid cards, he doesn't seem that biased either which makes for a good article in my books. I like your point though, i'm sure that would help some people as well. NOW GET BACK TO YOUR STUDIES!!!!!!!! LOL :)


In Runtime
I just wanted to "bump" this thread because i think alot of people (new to this board) could learn something from it. :)
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