All About Custom PC Building

Ask an Expert: All About Custom PC Building

No one who takes their hardware seriously buys an off-the-shelf machine; they pick and choose the best components that fit their needs — the right graphics card and CPU, and perhaps a crazy water-cooling system to keep it chilled. Here to discuss PC building is Linus Sebastian, who you may know from LinusTechTips.

Photo by efx0a

On his YouTube channel, Linus discusses all sorts of hardware components and the methods to keep your rig on the edge of computing power — or keeping it under your budget. Whether you're thinking of dunking your system in mineral oil or just looking for a new video card, Linus has answered a selection of reader questions.

I have not built a custom PC in 5+ years. My questions is: what really has changed in the custom PC world? I see new components in your standard vendor machines, but what has changed in the DIY/custom PC world? Is there anything ground-breaking that you do not get by ordering off the shelf?

I'd say the biggest change has been how much easier it is to put together a really nice rig for oneself. Motherboard onboard components (like sound cards and network cards) are improved, and compatibility is easier than ever with less guesswork, and off-the-shelf components even LOOK better. The guides out there for putting together your own system are also better produced and easier to follow than ever before.

Other than that, it's pretty much the same old thing. The CPU goes in the motherboard; the power supply plugs into everything.

What would be a good upgrade from the Antec 900 that will provide similar cooling performance but has dust filters and sound dampening? I haven't been able to find anything besides the 1100.

The Antec 900 is a bit of a bear to work in and cable manage nicely, but I can't really fault its cooling even today. There's stuff that will perform similarly and look a lot better, like the Phanteks Enthoo Pro, but not much that will provide better cooling since that's mostly just a function of how much mesh the case has and how many fans you can fill it with.

I only like to game once in a while. Right now I am giving Far Cry 4 a whirl on my computer, and it seems to run great at 1080p with quality set to medium. I'm running an i5 2400/6870/8GB/500GB hard drive. Do you think I'll be okay playing most other games? And this computer also does duty as a home theatre PC, is it worth upgrading from a power-usage standpoint?

If you're handling Far Cry 4, then you'll handle most games/

Upgrading for power savings is one of those things that the eco-champions might say makes sense, but I have a different perspective. Your old hardware is either going to end up in a landfill or running somewhere else, in which case you haven't actually helped the environment at all. So unless there's a direct cost benefit to the upgrade - like you can save the $300+ you'll be spending on your power bill over a span of 12 or 24 months — then I don't think it makes much sense.

A new graphics card might be a good bet when you want to play something heavier than Far Cry 4, but otherwise you're in a good shape.

I have an FX-6300. Should i upgrade to Intel, or will that be OK for a couple of years?

For your CPU, only you can answer that question. Do you want what you're doing to go faster? Then go ahead and upgrade. If you're not CPU bottlenecked then the FX-6300 is still a perfectly capable chip. For me it would likely come down more to platform improvements like more USB3, Thunderbolt, M.2 SSD support if you were to make the decision to upgrade.

Given the enormous improvements to air coolers and fans in the last several years, is there much reason to look at water cooling anymore? It seems to me like there are a lot of potential downsides to water cooling (since a leak can be destructive and a circulation failure stops cooling), but the upsides that used to exist — namely, that they were dramatically better than air coolers and significantly quieter — are much less pronounced than they used to be. At least if the fan goes out on an air cooler, it doesn't simply cease to be effective.

From a sheer performance standpoint all-in-one water coolers never really made much sense. There have always been air cooling options for the same price with similar performance.

Where water coolers stand up well is whole system cooling and compatibility. They are low profile so you can always install lots of system memory next to them, and because they remove heat from the case directly, other components can run cooler.

What do you think is the single most important piece hardware for gamers to focus on and not buy cheap?

Graphics card.

I have a desktop build with an AMD Phenom II quad 2.8, 4gb DDR2, GIGABYTE GTX650 TI 1GB graphics card and a few Western Digital 750GB Black HDD. I originally built it in 2008 and added the graphics card and storage as I went. I'm to the point where I'd like to upgrade, but I don't know if I should add a SSD and more DDR2 RAM or upgrade my CPU, motherboard and RAM. What would give me the best boost per dollar? I typically use it for basic web stuff, but am booked to shoot a few weddings this year so will be editing video in Premiere Pro.

For video editing a platform upgrade would be a good idea. DDR2 is so expensive now, and I personally hate investing a bunch of money in what is essentially an outdated machine.

The good news for you is that if you're not playing games you can carry over that graphics card for now, so that will save you a couple of bucks.

Honestly I'm torn though because an SSD is an AWESOME upgrade too.... Maybe grab an SSD now, then do the platform upgrade once you've saved up a bit?

What is the mistake that everyone makes when they are starting out building? (I really want a custom rig and am in process of saving up.)

A HUGE mistake that lots of people make is buying components one by one. In most cases it's better to wait until you have your whole budget saved up then buy at the same time unless you see some kind of REALLY exceptional deal. The PC hardware industry moves so fast that a "sale" this week is often next week's "regular" price.

What do you think people spend too much money on when they're buying components? Like, what's overvalued but not actually that great?

Honestly there are a lot of things like this. I think many people — particularly gamers — spend too much on their CPU. There are $1000 options out there, but past about $200-250 there is actually very little measurable benefit to spending more.


    I would have thought that the PSU is the one component not to cheap out on. While you don't need anything too premium, buying a cheap PSU could end up destroying other components in your PC if it fails catastrophically.

      Especially when he advises not to stint on the GPU. Pairing a crappy PSU with a great GPU is begging for pain.

    In regards to the PSU also, I believe that a lot of people make the mistake of buying a PSU that has too much power for their needs, and that they don't understand the rating standards. They essentially cancel out any energy savings they may have made if they ran a more optimised PSU. components even LOOK better

    I've only recently started following the desktop PC market again after a few years in the wilderness and this stands out for me too. Ten years ago only the most hardcore DIY PC enthusiast would bother installing a clear window in the side of their case. Now the internal components - graphics cards in particular - look so impressive that it's worth showing them off!

    Also, pretty lights.

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