Ask LH: Does Brand Matter When I Buy Computer Parts?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm building my first computer using your guide, and I've been asking around on forums for help on picking the parts. I was using an AMD processor, but everyone keeps telling me Intel is better. Should I listen, or are they just fanboys? Does brand matter? Sincerely, Brand New Builder

Dear Brand New, Sometimes, it's easy to write people off as brand loyal trolls, but they may have a valid point in this case — depending on their reasoning. When it comes to computer hardware, brands do matter, but why they matter depends on the hardware in question. Here are some things you'll want to consider.

Processors: Intel vs AMD

There was a time where Intel and AMD were more fierce competitors, but things are more simple today: If you want the best performance, go Intel. Right now, most outperform their AMD brethren. If you want something that's less expensive, go with AMD.

That would explain why so many people recommend Intel for higher-powered machines, but AMD still has a place in today's market. Because of their low price, AMD processors are great for budget PCs, especially those that aren't doing anything CPU intensive. Furthermore, their current APUs have some awesome integrated graphics processing baked right into the chip, which is perfect for home theatre PCs (like our ultimate $700 build) or some light gaming. In fact, that's why we picked AMD for our $600 PC build — it just made more sense for that computer.

So when you ask around forums for help, be sure to mention what you're using the computer for and what your budget is. If you're looking to build a $2000 gaming computer, that could explain why people are recommending Intel over AMD — you're going to get a better processor for that rig.

Video Cards: NVIDIA vs AMD

Video cards are a little different. When it comes to choosing NVIDIA or AMD (formerly ATI), brand doesn't matter as much as the individual card's performance. At any given price point, NVIDIA might have a better performing card than AMD, or vice versa. For example, if you're looking for a card around $250, you'll find that NVIDIA's GeForce GTX 760 performs slightly better than AMD's Radeon HD 7950. However, AMD might have a card that performs better at other price points.

Of course, performance isn't the only consideration. AMD often bundles free games with its video cards, which — if you were planning on buying those games anyway — effectively makes that card cheaper, giving you more bang for your buck. AMD is also preferable when it comes to multi-monitor gaming, while NVIDIA has features like PhysX on some games, or the new GPU Boost feature that overclocks your card as you use it.

As with processors, we recommend asking around for help, and give as many specifics about your build as you possibly can. The differences are mostly minor, but they are worth looking into when you're searching for a card.

Everything Else: When Manufacturer Matters

You've probably noticed that video cards have two "brands": the chipset manufacturer (NVIDIA and AMD), and the actual card manufacturer (MSI, EVGA, ASUS and so on). We discussed the former above, but once you've figured out the graphics chip you want, you need to decide which model card to buy. If you're buying a motherboard, RAM or other hardware, you'll have to make the same consideration.

Generally, this is where things become a little more complicated, and you have to do some research. With video cards, the main difference will be in what kind of cooling comes on the card, as well as other proprietary features. With motherboards, you'll often find different features in the BIOS. With RAM, it's mostly about looks and reliability. With all hardware, you'll also want to consider what kind of warranty a given brand provides — even if all hardware features were created equal, a good warranty can make your break your experience if something goes wrong.

We could go into so much more detail than this, but we'd probably end up writing a book on it. The main thing you should take away is that brand does matter, but it isn't super cut-and-dry. Your needs will determine what you buy, and you should ask around to find out what will be the best for you and your rig.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    As someone who has always preferred to get their hands dirty in building computers, the advice here on brands is pretty much what I think.

    When I do get around to building a new box, I try to steer clear of forums - as the asker said, it's hard to differentiate between brand fanboys and objective thoughts. Best way to do it is to figure out what you home (HTPC, Gaming rig, general PC, server, etc), specific a budget, read up on Anandtech and similar sites for reviews of items within your budget, then go to town!

      exactly, i made the mistake of listening to a forum.

      they all said get the asrock motherboard, so i listened to them..
      worst piece of hardware i have ever bought in 15 years!

      i once had my seagate hard drive die on me, it was a 12 or 15 gb or something, i took it in to their repairer, they inspected it, said it can take upto 48 hours... 3 hours later, they told me that there is an issue, but due to them not having the same size, they will give me a 20GB... VERY happy with that!

        whereas I went away from gigabyte and asus on my last build and got an asrock. Best motherboard I've ever owned and over the last 12 months that I've had it, it hasn't missed a beat, came with more I/O than comparable boards price wise and looks awesome. So yeah its really not cut and dry.

    I think you should always stick to manufacturers that have a good reputation. I've had a few gigabyte boards bite the dust. Sent them back and they always repaired them for me, no questions asked.

    They don't have to do that. But they do anyway. Hence I'm loyal to gigabyte for a lot of things. I also like Asus but haven't experienced any warranty returns so don't know what they're like to deal with.

    I have an AMD card right now and it's very much a double edged sword. It's got brilliant performance and came with Crysis 3, Far Cry 3, Blood Dragon and Bioshock Infinite. So I didn't have to buy another game for 6 months. But the drivers are awful. Really, really awful. I'll prb get nvidia next time but I think they're over priced at the moment.

      I used Gigabyte Motherboards for years, but tried out Asus the last time I did a PC upgrade. Not because I didn't like Gigabyte anymore, but because the store I was buying from had sold out of the GB motherboards I wanted. So I decided to go for the Asus and I've been quite impressed with it, to the point where when my old video card died, I decided to go with a new Asus video card too. When my old Wireless Router decided to pack it in, I replaced it with an Asus router.

      No idea on their warranty return policy, hopefully I'll never need to know first hand about it, but in terms of actual performance they have been great. Asus has been doing some pretty nice stuff lately.

        Yeah my story was about the same. Using an Asus Rampage IV Gene at the moment and I love it.

        Still totally rate gigabyte though, they've been great to me.

      The only hardware I've ever had significant issues with was an Intel CPU, and I don't count it because it was 5 years old and was at the point that the thermal paste had completely crumbled (which was likely most of the reason that it eventually fried itself). That and some weird graphical issues in World of Warcraft, but that was their fault, not the Nvidia card's.

      Maybe I'm just really lucky, but I've never had significant hardware issues. Ever. I've switched between Intel and AMD CPUs, Nvidia and AMD graphics, and I've never had major issues with any of it.

      So at the moment I go off of benchmark comparisons and prices, and what options it offers me elsewhere. (Which is why until recently I stuck to AMD CPUs - there didn't seem to be a lot of variety in motherboards if you were using Intel, especially if you were after an ATX-size one. But it seems now that there's more variety, so maybe I'll switch for my next overhaul.)

    Next build will have an ASUS Gryphon MOBO (with armour), 16GB Patriot Ram & X2 Palit JetStream GTX 770 VGA Cards in SLI.

    Current build has ASUS Maximus Extreme IV, 16GB G.Skill Ram, X2 EVGA GTX 580 3GB VGA Cards, No problems with any of it.

    After the reviews I read of the Palit GTX 670 JetStream edition, I am looking forward to giving them a go. My first 8800 GTX was from palit & it worked beautifully!!!

    When it comes to PC parts you will have a better chance at finding a proper review/comparison/teardown, with known brands. I've built many PC's and for the most part Mobo's, CPU's, GPU's, Ram, Power supplies etc will have a better chance of getting a professional review. Forums can help if the part is truly awful, but they're mostly haters, not true impartial reviews.

    Last edited 10/07/13 10:53 am

    I've found it hard to fault Gigabyte motherboards and video cards in the past. They've been pretty reliable in my eyes. Asus, less so... Other brands mixed results, but I can't say I've ever bought any other brands more than once or twice, so any judgement would be unfair/inaccurate.

    For RAM, I find the cheap stuff from Kingston or Corsair works just fine. They have lifetime warranties, and are nice and cheap.

    Most mainstream hard drive manufacturers seem to be pretty good, when they make a bad drive, it's usually a bad batch, so you'll often see some people very jaded towards a particular brand if they happen to get a couple of drive from the same bad batch. There's no real manufacturer that is devoid of those problems.

    When choosing graphic cards i also suggest looking at the kind of games you wish to play and who sponsors them amd or nvidia. I notice Nvidia is sponsoring alot more big name games then amd is atm and that matters due to the fact that the game is optimized for those graphic cards and not so much for the competitor.

    Quite frequently games are just crashing or having problems with the competitor card on some games and are having to wait a week or 2 after game releases for a patch to come out that lets them play and thats a make or break deal for me when it comes to gaming.

    Brands I have used and would recommened are Asus,Gigabyte and MSI.
    Intel over AMD, and Nvidia over AMD/Ati.
    Oh, and Corsair for PSU's for high end and super flower for good cheapies.

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