Monday, March 24, 2008

Put Together a Custom PC

Despite the wide selection and low prices of name-brand PCs, there are good reasons to consider the build-it-yourself route for your next machine. An off-the-shelf system, at any price, is essentially a compromise. It may meet your current computing needs, but if your requirements change and you want to upgrade it later, you may run into problems.

Don't expect your custom PC to save you big bucks over an off-the-shelf purchase. Building your own PC lets you match your system to your needs and your budget, giving you the most for your money. Do you need oodles of hard-drive space for your digital photos or video? Pop in one (or more) ultrahigh-capacity drives. Into high-end audio? Go for the gold with a cutting-edge sound card.

Home-built PCs can be a lot of work, but in the end you'll have a no-compromise system that's yours alone. The downside? You are your own help desk.

For this month's Step-By-Step, we put together a relatively high-end system, utilizing many of the latest components. Our system is just an example of one approach that you can take.

Our purpose here isn't to show you in excruciating detail how to build the system but rather to give you some tips on choosing the parts and pieces and avoiding problems when you put it all together. To read more-detailed PC assembly instructions, see "Build Your Own PC." You will also need to choose your display, a printer, and other components. For suggestions, see our Top 100 charts and read about the Best Buys.

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Dual Core Defined

Dual Core Defined

As the tasks that computers can perform get more complicated, and as people desire to do more at once, computer manufacturers are trying hard to increase speed in order to keep up with demand. Having a faster CPU has been the traditional way to keep up, since a faster CPU can do a task then quickly switch and work on the next. However, due to size, complexity and heat issues it has become increasingly difficult to make CPUs faster. In order to continue to improve performance, another solution had to be found.

Having two CPUs (and a motherboard capable of hosting them) is more expensive, so computer engineers came up with another approach: take two CPUs, smash them together onto one chip, and presto! The power of two CPUs, but only one socket on the motherboard. This keeps the price of the motherboards reasonable, and allows for the power of two CPUs (also known as cores) with a cost that is less than two separate chips. This, in a nut shell, is what the term "Dual Core" refers to - two CPUs put together on one chip.

There are more subtle differences between brands (how they combined two cores onto one chip, and the speeds they run each core at) that can affect how much of a boost in performance you can get from having a dual core CPU. Additionally, different types of programs get differing benefits from having a dual core chip.

Thread Scheduling

There is one more thing to keep in mind: how a computer knows when to use each core. There is a part of the Windows operating system called the 'scheduler' which tells the CPU what program to be running at any given time. This allows several programs to run at the same time, while the processor switches back and forth between them as needed. When a lot of programs are running, a computer can begin to seem slow, since Windows' scheduler is having to divert the computer's CPU resources in many directions. If a dual-core processor is present, the scheduler suddenly has twice as much CPU resource to work with. This would allow for things like being able to run one core specifically for a game, while using the other core to do "background" things that keep the rest of the system running. Sometimes both cores can even work on the same program (if it is designed to take advantage of more than one core - this is called being "multi-threaded"). However, it is important to note that if you are running a single program and it is not "multi-threaded", you will not see a benefit from more than one CPU or core.

Dual Core Implementation

Because of the different ways AMD and Intel came into the dual-core market, each platform deals with the increased communication needs of their new processors differently. AMD claims that they have been planning the move to dual-core for several years now, since the first Athlon64s and Opterons were released. The benefit of this can be seen in the way that the two cores on their processors communicate directly -- the structure was already in place for the dual cores to work together. Intel, on the other hand, simply put two of their Pentium cores on the same chip, and if they need to communicate with each other it has to be done through the motherboard chipset. This is not as elegant a solution, but it does its job well and allowed Intel to get dual-core designs to the market quickly. In the future Intel plans to move to a more unified design, and only time can tell what that will look like.

Intel did not increase the speed of their front-side-bus (the connection between the CPU and the motherboard) when they switched to dual-core, meaning that though the processing power doubled, the amount of bandwidth for each core did not. This puts a bit of a strain on the Intel design, and likely prevents it from being as powerful as it could be. To counteract this effect, Intel continues to use faster system memory to keep information supplied to the processor cores. As a side note, the highest-end Intel chip, the Pentium Extreme Edition 955, has a higher front-side-bus speed, as well as having a larger (2MB per core) cache memory and the ability to use Hyperthreading (which all non-Extreme Edition Pentium D processors lack). This makes it a very tempting choice for those wanting to overcome some of the design handicaps of Intel's dual-core solution.

AMD, on the other hand, does not use a front-side-bus in the traditional sense. They use a technology called HyperTransport to communicate with the chipset and system memory, and they have also moved the memory controller from the chipset to the CPU. By having the memory controller directly on the processor, AMD has given their platform a large advantage, especially with the move to dual-core. The latest generation of AMD single-core processors can use single- or dual-channel PC3200 memory, but it is interesting to note that even though dual-channel operation doubles the memory speed, it does not double the actual memory performance for single-core processors. It appears that dual-channel memory just provides significanly more bandwidth than a single processor core can use. However, with dual-core processors all that extra bandwidth can be put to good use, allowing the same technology already present in single-core chips to remain unchanged without causing the same sort of bottleneck Intel suffers from.

AMD Performance Comparison

To compare performance differences here at Puget Custom Computers, we compile a selection of benchmarks taken from systems we have built in the past. This comes in very useful when looking to answer questions about performance, like we're doing here! We will tackle AMD first:

Vadim introduces new Blastflow waterblocks

New VGA cooler features modular cooling plates to make it fit a variety of graphics cards

Siberian Rev2 VGA Block Top British retailer and high-spec PC builder, Vadim, has just introduced two new waterblocks to its Blastflow range today - the Siberian Rev2 VGA Block and the Tidal Skulltrail SB Block.

The new VGA block is made from CNC-milled copper with a 5mm acrylic cover, and it’s thin enough to ensure that your graphics card still only takes up a single slot. Vadim says that the block is ‘compatible with the majority of the single GPU high end cards,’ although there are issues with GeForce 7950GX2 and ATI Radeon HD 3870X2 cards. However, you can simply use two waterblocks to cool the former.

As with Vadim’s previous graphics card waterblocks, the new VGA block uses Vadim’s patented universal modular system, and just requires a replaceable cooling plate in order to fit various different graphics cards. Plus, Vadim says that you can use it just to cool the GPU if a specific plate for your card isn’t available.

However, the cooling plate offers a major benefit in that it extends the block to cool the VRMs and memory too. Vadim currently has plates for GeForce 8800 GTX, Ultra, GT and GTS cards, as well as Radeon HD 3850 and 3870 cards. The idea is that most of the cooling power is expended on the GPU, and less for the RAM and VRMs, which Vadim calls ‘intelligent distribution of the cooling power.’ We’ve yet to put the block to the test, but Vadim claims that it has ‘a cooling advantage of up to 20°C on load when compared to the competition.’

Meanwhile, the Tidal Skulltrail SB Block is made to cool the Southbridge and SLI bridges on Skulltrail motherboards, and is made from 3mm copper with 8mm acrylic

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

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Saturday, May 12, 2007

Custom PC

Custom PC (usually abbreviated to CPC) is a UK based computer customization magazine published by Dennis Publishing Ltd. The first issue was released in October 2003 and is published monthly. Audited circulation figures are just over 24,000 (ABC, Jul-Dec 2004). The editor is Gareth Ogden.

The magazine contains many monthly articles as well as current hardware news and games testing.


1 Sections
  • 2 Editorial team
  • 3 Printing / Ditribution
  • 4 External links


The magazine includes several 'news and views' sections as well as tutorials and sections devoted to magazine readers. The most current regular sections includes:

Intoduction by the editor Gareth Ogden
Comment and news from the computing world including editorial content from experts. Contributors include Ben Hardwidge, James Gorbold and Rahul Sood. The section usually starts with news on the latest release (or pre-release) computer hardware (e.g. the latest graphics card or processor). Other sections are:
If Only It Was True
A lighthearted satire of the current issues relevant to the computer hardware industry.
Each week a distorted closeup of a piece of hardware reviewed in the magazine is printed. The winning reader can win from a selection of prizes; as of Issue 033 Zalman headphones, Imon multimedia system or a Zalman PSU.
Big in Japan
Katie Lee's monthly roundup of the 'weird and wonderful' gadgets from the far east (e.g. Japan and China). Past gadgets include SD card storage boxes, super quiet mice, widescreen phones and biometric keyboards.
This Month We're Laughing At
A small section revealing what's causing the most mirth among the CPC editorial team.
Rumor Control
Any the unsubstantiated computer news that the editorial team have heard.
Win... (Photo Competition)
Readers submit photos of themselves sporting a copy of the magazine/a Custom PC T-Shirt in various locations around the world, the winner is the person who has their picture taken in the most exotic location, they can win various pieces of high-end computer hardware.
Review of the latest Nvidia or ATI (one per month) driver release, including benchmarks of the performance compared to the previous driver release.
Where's Wendel
Competition inviting users to track down a small image of Jonathon 'Fatal1ty' Wendel hidden in the magzine. The winner receives a Gigabyte Power Cooler Pro Heatsink and Fan.
Folding@Custom PC
Custom PC encourages readers to use their idle computers for the purpose of scientific research - Folding@Home is a program created and run by Stanford University that can uses spare processor cycles to analyise how proteins 'fold'. Each month the magazine features a league table of their top folders, the CPC team is currently ranked in the top 20 teams worldwide.
Game News
Round up of PC gaming news, although Custom PC is mostly devoted to hardware and PC modding there is normally 2 or more pages devoted to gme news each month.
Little gamers
PC gaming related comic strip involving 2 cartoon characters.
Top 10 PC Games
List of the top ten most sold games in the last month.
Coming Soon
A list of upcoming titles with their currently published release dates.
CPC Elite
A 4 page spread of CPC's latest recommendations for the best hardware in several categories (Motherboards, processors, cases etc.).
CPC Approved Award
CPC Approved Award
CPC Magazine review the latest hardware and software (including games), they rate the product with their own rating system, and CPC give their stamp of approval (including a recommended award for excellent products) to any product that they feel excels in its particular category
Custom Kit
4 pages of short reviews of computer gadgets and accessories.
Lab Test
Each month CPC tests related hardware from different manufacturers / different specs (such as graphics cards or hard-drives) comparing them to discern the best choice. The tests include extensive benchmark comparison tables.
Games Test
Review of the latest games plus a Tune up section for each which gives tips on getting the best performance from the game.
Hands On
Step by step guides to computer modding or other computer related tasks. The difficulty of each is registered on a ladder of difficulty; escape from:
  • Colditz - (hardest)
  • The taxman
  • Broadmoor
  • Your other half
  • Responsibility - (easiest)
Several in depth articles on computer related topics (normally 3 er issue)
Extreme Customisation
Expert submitted article about their compute modding project. Featured mods are usually very good or different.
Readers letters and questions, each letter normally gets a personal reply from the editor. Each month a star letter' prize is awarded to one, the prize is normally a 1GB stick of Corsair RAM.
Reader's Drives
Readers of the magazine get the chance to show of their computer modification skills. Each month a different reader is photographed with his rig and answers questions on its specification and how it was constructed. Featured modders win a prize pack of assorted computer hardware.
Last page editorial comment from a regular contributor discussing his/ her own vviews on a PC related topic.