Gen[H]ard FAQ... n00bs start here

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tiraides

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This is the General Hardware FAQ, which was inspired by flipflopsnowman's guide to piecing together a PC. Here, we'll attempt to offer suggestions and answer questions that often get brought up several times per day around here. As a disclaimer, we can't answer every possible question, nor can we solve every particular problem here... but this is still a good place to start from.

A big thank you to Danny Bui, enginurd, Markyip1, and silent-circuit for their help with assembling the FAQ... and to flipflopsnowman for making the original sticky this FAQ is based off of.

Before we see a million posts here saying "thanks" or "good job," the best way to show your appreciation for this FAQ thread is to REFER OTHERS TO IT. If you really want to be nice, you could send them a copy of the hyperlink.

I would like to minimize the amount of posts that we receive here, so we could provide more questions/answers and WLWC during future updates.
_____

NOTE: Some of these links are old, and haven't been updated in a while, but they still offer relevant information

Gen[H]ard Help
Asking for Build Help? ANSWER THESE QUESTIONS FIRST
Basic Troubleshooting Guide
Building or Upgrading a Computer -- WARNING: LONG READ

[H]ard|Links
Video Card FAQ & general references
Overclocking Intel Core 2 Duo/Quad processors guide
Air-cooling guide for CPUs, GPUs, and chipsets
Benchmark/Overclocking software list
Case-Mod FAQ
ESD: Truths, myths, and flat out lies
Electronics FAQ
Memory FAQ
Motherboard Manufacturer Links
Eclipse's memory purchasing guide
Small Form Factor (SFF) FAQ
Home Theater PC (HTPC) guides and links
Power FAQS & tutorials
PSU buying guide
Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS)/surge protector FAQ
Hard drive FAQ/guides
[H]ard|Forum [H]ard|Drive buying guide
DVD burner guide, optical drive flashing + media FAQ
Optical Drive flashing FAQ + recommended pptical drives
LCD/TFT Technology Breakdown and Model/Panel Index
PSUs to avoid -- DO NOT consider any of the brands listed here in a high-end or performance build
HD Tune scores to various HDD configurations
"Ideal Build" parts list -- a bit outdated, but it gives some examples of parts to consider

Other WLWC
AnandTech - The LCD Thread
EXTREME Overclocking Forums - Ultimate RAM Guide
HardwareLogic - Thermal Compound Round-Up

Power Supply Guides & Recommendations
BFG Power - Basic Power Supply Troubleshooting
Hardware Secrets - Why 99% of All Power Supply Reviews Are Wrong
JonnyGURU's Power Supply FAQ
JonnyGURU - PSU Recommendations for High-End Gaming PCs
JonnyGURU - Recommended Sub-$150, High Efficiency PSUs

PC Building Guides
Coding Horror (Blog) - Building a PC -- Part I, Part II, Part III (Overclocking)
Corsair Labs -- February 2007 System Build, December 2005 System Build
Driver Heaven - Building a PC
Expert Village - How to Build a Custom PC Computer -- A series of videos
MaximumPC - PC Building Guide FAQ -- Part 1, Part 2
mechBgon's guide for first-time system builders
Tech Report - How to build a PC
Tiger Direct - PC Building Guide -- Somewhat old, but still good

Troubleshooting
AumHa - Troubleshooting Windows STOP Messages -- Good for interpreting the meaning of BSODs
ComputerHope.com - Basic Troubleshooting Steps
Computer Repair with Diagnostic Flowcharts
Directron - Troubleshooting Tips
Microsoft Help and Support page -- For Windows- and Microsoft-related issues
PC Hell

Part Reviews
[H]ard|OCP
3dGameMan
AnandTech
Bit-Tech
Bjorn3D
Club Overclocker (Club OC)
DailyTech -- Look for their "Daily Hardware Reviews"
DriverHeaven
ExtremeTech
FiringSquad
FrostyTech -- Focuses primarily on heatsinks, fans, and other forms of coolilng
GPU Review -- Compare video card specs with links to reviews
The Guru of 3D
Hardware Canucks
Hardware Logic
Hardware Secrets
Hexus
HotHardware
JonnyGURU -- The man to go to in regards to power supplies
Legion Hardware
Legit Reviews
Mad Shrimps
Motherboards.org
Overclockers Club (OCC)
SFF Tech -- Focuses on SFF rigs & Shuttle systems
Silent PC Review -- Articles & reviews on making your PC quieter
Storage Review -- Reviews & articles on hard drives
Tech ARP
Techgage
techPowerUp!
The Tech Report
Virtual-Hideout
X-bit Labs
 

tiraides

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tiraides

[H]F Junkie
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Messages
11,066
This is the FAQ portion of the FAQ. Here, we'll attempt to answer some of the more common or frequent questions we receive in the General Hardware forum.

As a warning, not every "answer" we offer here will have a question preceding it. This is more of a gathering of certain... things... that come up often when people post threads.


How much can I get for [my computer/my parts]?

Price checks are not allowed in General [H]ardware; the only place you could get a price check at the [H] is through the General Mayhem forum.

The "easy way" to determine your computer's/part's/parts' resell value is take 10%-40% off its current retail value, based on its age, its condition, whether or not it has all of its accessories (including packaging materials and paperwork), and other factors (e.g., where it was used at, whether or not it was overclocked, the time left on its warranty).

If you want a more "accurate" estimate, check out what the used computer/part is selling for elsewhere. Check out eBay, Craigslist, and forums (like here) where members sell and trade their used parts. As a warning though: don't expect a huge profit in reselling your part, as many people want a huge discount on used parts.

But this (part) is cheaper... it's only $XXX AR...

STOP RIGHT THERE.

AR means "after (mail-in) rebate," and though a mail-in rebate (aka MIR) can save you money in the long run, it's not the same as an instant rebate (which is, in reality, a price cut). A lot of us here don't like mail-in rebates because it's not guaranteed that you'll receive the rebate check.

If you're "including" the rebate amount(s) in the total for your build, DON'T. You still have to pay the full amount up front, and the rebate check(s) -- if you even get them -- will likely be the last things that you receive, long after you get your computer up and running. As one wise man said in the past, "Don't count the rebate in your total until you actually have the check in your hand."

Again, DO NOT INCLUDE THE MAIL-IN REBATE AMOUNT(S) IN YOUR BUILD COSTS. You aren't saving any money right away.

Why do you guys tell people to not post their (NewEgg) wish lists?

Many times people link them wrong, which delays responses. Another reason is that its easier for others if you post the parts list instead, so we don't have to click on another tab just to see your list while we're responding. If you'd like us to take the time to respond to your post, please take the time to make it easier for us to respond. You can still post your wish list if you want... it's just preferred that you list everything in the post itself instead.

Why do you guys tell people not to rely on NewEgg reviews?

Most of the reviews posted in NewEgg (along with most online retailers) come from users who don't really know what they're talking about or those who use the review(s) to speak their minds about anything and everything (except, often, the item they were supposed to review). If you want the best information on a certain item, perform a Google search for the item in question, or check out a review of said item from a hardware review site or forum (there's a list available in the WLWC portion of this FAQ).

How do I overclock?

There are many guides out there to show you, but the basic principles of overclocking are:
  • Slowly adjust the FSB speed in the BIOS settings. (Ensure that the computer is stable at the current FSB speed before you increase it any further.)
  • Increase voltage and/or adjust memory timings, as needed, to maintain system stability.
  • Test the system to ensure that the computer can function properly at the increased speed.
There are several tricks and guides to overclocking, based on what you have (Intel/AMD processors, specific motherboard brand/model) and/or what you wish to overclock (e.g. processor, video card, RAM), so do some research before making any attempt at overclocking.

As a warning, though: Overclocking could cause system instability, crashes, and damage to hardware, and it voids the warranties of any and all parts that you use.

How do I determine which power supply is right for me?

When doing research on power supplies, please read these articles first:If the second link is a bit too technical: If the power supply review does not mention the use of an Automated Test Equipment, or ATE, and a proper test methodology, then that review should not be taken into consideration. A good example of a test methodology is [H]ard|OCP's methodology.

So the following sites should be your first stop when looking up power supply reviews:Remember that wattage doesn't mean as much these days. What matters most is where those watts are being delivered. For current rigs, it's all about how much amps are on the +12V rail since most PC parts draw their power from there. The more amps you have, the more upgrades (hard drives, video cards, PCI cards, etc) you can add. You determine the amperage on the +12V rails by first finding out what's the total combined, max load, combined or max wattage aside for the +12V rails/section alone. Then divide that total by 12 and you get how much amps the PSU has on the +12V rail.

That's the correct way to find out how much amps a power supply has. Don't add up the amps on the +12V rail to figure out the amperage. Doesn't work that way. If the total combined or max wattage can't be found on the power supply, check the manufacturer's page for that PSU for that info. If the manufacturer doesn't provide that information, it's generally a good sign for you to drop that power supply from consideration.

Which speed of memory do I need for my CPU?

Sometimes, that question gets followed up by, I plan on overclocking my CPU. The following is the easy (and long) way to determine which speed your processor runs at.

All processors' clock speeds are currently measured as:

CPU Multiplier x base FSB speed = CPU clock speed
Most processors come with an upwards locked multiplier (some may allow you to use lower multipliers), which means that the only way to adjust the speed of the processor is to change the FSB speed in the BIOS. (You may have to adjust the voltage used to maintain the stability of the CPU, but that's addressed -- hopefully -- in another question.) Those of you lucky (or rich) enough to get a processor with an unocked multiplier can adjust both the multiplier and/or the FSB speed.

AMD
Performance scaling on AMD platforms is actually very good when using higher speed RAM. So, choose DDR2-800 or higher, if your board can support it, and run it at a higher than 1:1 ratio.
INTEL
On Intel platforms, running the RAM higher than a 1:1 ratio with the CPU is, for the most part, useless, so don't bother trying to do so. If the BIOS does it for you, just let it. All you need is a 1:1 config, though.
Formulas for Intel platform @ 1:1 settings: (base FSB speed is SDR, or single data rate)

c × [Base FSB speed] = CPU Clock speed (c = CPU Multiplier)
2 × [Base FSB speed] = RAM speed (DDR: double data rate)
4 × [Base FSB speed] = Effective FSB speed (QDR: quad data rate)
If you want to overclock a processor, you need (among other things) memory that can run at the planned bus speed. So, when choosing RAM, choose according to your OC goals, if you have any. For example:

Intel Core 2 Quad Q6600 (with a locked multiplier of 9):
9 × 266 = 2.4Ghz, DDR2-533 << STOCK speeds
9 × 333 = 3.0Ghz, DDR2-667 << Nice OC
9 × 378 = 3.4Ghz, DDR2-756 << Good OC, near max for B3 stepping w/ good air cooling
9 × 400 = 3.6Ghz, DDR2-800 << Great OC, near max for G0 stepping w/ good air cooling

I want better performing RAM. Should I buy RAM that's faster or RAM with lower latency?

If you plan on overclocking, it's better to buy RAM that runs at a faster speeds. In most cases, RAM functions best at a 1:1 FSB-to-RAM speed ratio, so you want RAM that can run at the speeds you're pushing the motherboard's FSB to. If you buy RAM that runs faster than the FSB speed of your motherboard, it will "automatically" slow down to run at the FSB speed. (On some motherboards, however, you may have to manually lower the RAM's speed in the BIOS.)

Lower latency RAM (the explanation of which can be found here) does offer some improvement, but it's not noticeable in most cases. Don't spend more for lower latency RAM, unless you can find it for around the same prices as the higher latency variety.

What does it mean to have RAM with tight timings?

Hardware Secrets has an article that explains what RAM timings are. (CL, or CAS Latency, is one of them.) Having RAM capable of lower/tighter timings were (well, still are) a big deal with DDR1 memory, but they have less significance now with DDR2 RAM and its emphasis on speed.

Does it really matter if [CPU] has a large L2 cache?

Not as much as you may think. Here are a few links detailing the performance increase from a larger L2 cache:
Does it really matter if [hard drive] has a large(r) cache?

Apparently not. Various benchmarks show that there is little improvement (single-digit percentage at most) from going from 8MB to 16MB and from 16MB to 32MB. Spindle speed (RPM) and platter density (how many platters per drive, and how many GB per platter) play a bigger role in the hard drive's performance than the amount of buffer cache.

Can I transfer my Windows license to my new computer?

It depends of which version you have. (For simplicity's sake, we're going to discuss the single-user license keys.) With a retail license, you can transfer it onto a new computer as long as you uninstall it from the old computer beforehand. OEM licenses are bound to the computer (namely, the motherboard) they were activated on; though there are a few exceptions, they die the moment your computer dies. A "recovery disc," for all intents and purposes, is an OEM disc.

Regardless, check the EULA of the OS to learn all of your restrictions and limitations.

Which is better: dual-core or quad-core?

The simple answer is: It depends.

Right now, there aren't many games or programs that are optimized to properly utilize multiple CPU cores. We are told to expect more software designed for multi-core systems at some point in the future, but we still have no details as to when we can expect them.

Gaming benchmarks tend to lean towards dual-core processors because they often run at higher speeds than their quad-core counterparts. However, the additional cores, plus the ability to run separate programs on each individual core, give quad-core processors the edge in many productivity-based benchmarks.

Since there are way too many arguments over this subject already, our advice is to go with what you want. If you really need a nudge in a certain direction:
  • Choose a dual-core if your primary focus is on gaming, if you want to obtain a high overclock (a dual-core generates less heat than a quad-core, though, as always, YMMV), or if you plan on upgrading your processor within the next 12-18 months (or more frequently).
  • Choose a quad-core if your primary focus is on multitasking (running multiple -- system-intensive -- programs simultaneously), if you are using a program/game that is optimized for quad-cores, or if you have no intention of upgrading your processor any time soon (longer than 12-18 months).
 

tiraides

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Why should I (not) use SLI/CrossFire?

SLI/CrossFire is absolutely not worth considering if...
  • you're gaming at a resolution under 1920x1200 (as you'll see no performance benefit over a single card), and
  • you plan on buying one card now and another one much later (like, over 6-12 months after buying the first card).
SLI/CrossFire as an upgrade path is usually a very poor idea, as by the time you're ready to get that second card, a new single card solution will likely be available that will outperform two of your older cards in tandem. Furthermore, there really is no cost benefit to the upgrade route, as any additional cost in getting the new card can be easily mitigated in most situations by selling the original. By avoiding an SLI/CrossFire solution when it will not be of benefit, you gain a cooler running, simpler to maintain system, and, more importantly, access to a much better (and broader) selection of motherboards.

If you plan on using multiple monitors, SLI/CrossFire may not be the best available option. Right now, you cannot use SLI on multiple monitors, whereas you can with CrossFire. However, there hasn't been much to go by on how well multiple monitors work with CrossFire.

What's this deal about Windows not being able to see 4GB of RAM?

32-bit versions of Windows (both XP and Vista) can address 4GB MINUS the sum total of all component memory installed in your system (i.e. memory in your video card.) In other words, it has one 32-bit memory map which can address up to 4GB of memory, including component memory. Component memory is addressed first because the system has to assume that a component must have access to all of its memory to function correctly. As this is not a requirement for system RAM, it is addressed after component memory. For example, with a Radeon HD3870X2 card, you will lose at least an entire gigabyte (GB) of usable RAM if you chose 32-bit XP.

32-bit versions of Windows have a physical address extension (PAE) switch that enables Windows to utilize 4GB or more RAM. The server versions of Windows have the PAE switch activated by default, possibly due to the limited hardware and software environment the servers have to contend with. There was an ugly hack to activate the PAE switch on pre-SP2 versions of Windows XP, but it introduced significant driver and application stability issues. This very switch was removed from XP SP2 and Vista as it was incompatible with many third party drivers and was known to trash stability.

Why do you guys keep recommending Vista over XP?

When it comes to a 64-bit OS, which we often recommend to those who are considering or getting 4GB or more of RAM, Vista currently is the better option. The Home versions of Vista 64 are each cheaper than Windows XP Pro x64 (the only 64-bit version of Windows XP), and the 64-bit versions of Vista are better supported hardware-/drivers-wise. Despite many people's ambivalence towards Vista, it's stable enough for everyday use. Then again, you're the one buying it, so buy whatever you want.

Which version of Vista would be best for me?

I don't know... why don't you find out?

I want 4GB of RAM. I've already bought two 1GB sticks of [RAM]. Can I just get two more 1GB sticks?

Yes, you can... but you may run into stability issues, especially if you plan on overclocking anything. (That's not to say that it will happen, just that it's a possibility.)

So, are you trying to say that it's better to use two sticks of RAM instead of four?

Yes... and no. It's harder to OC with four sticks of RAM than with two. Also, two sticks of RAM will be less of a burden on the MCH (memory controller hub) of the motherboard. As an added "benefit," using two sticks of RAM will give you the option to add more RAM later on.

Some ways to circumvent the possible issues with stability are by relaxing the timings on the RAM and/or to increase the voltage used to power the memory. Some people, however, have found that using RAM that runs on the same voltage levels as recommended/required by the motherboard solves their issues.

The "no" part is that you don't need to replace two sticks of RAM with two sticks of a larger capacity -- especially if you can't afford to. As long as you've properly done your homework beforehand, buying new RAM shouldn't create further problems with stability.

What the hell is RAID? What is it good for? Why is it good? What does it do?

RAID stands for Redundant Arrays of Inexpensive/Independent Disks (or some variant thereof), which integrates, via a RAID controller, two or more hard drives together for greater performance and/or data protection. There are many levels of RAID, with each level having its own strengths and weaknesses. Here are some explanations of RAID and its various levels. Please understand that RAID is NOT a backup solution.

What should I do with my old PC?

Lol, I just dug up one of my old posts to copy into another post. And then I see this one while it was still on the clipboard. So here it is again.

#1 Fold - Google [H]orde Team 33 and Google "Folding Farm"
#2 Network Attached Storage - Google NAS DIY
#3 Mail / Web Server - Google Apache Server
#4 Christmas Light Controls - Google Computer Christmas
#5 Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence - Google SETI
#6 Learn Linux - Google Ubuntu and DistroWatch
#7 Sell it - You should have no need to google ebay.
#8 Donate it to a folder - http://www.hardforum.com/forumdisplay.php?f=111
#9 Use it as a backup or second PC
#10 Media Jukebox for parties - Google Silverjuke
#11 HTPC (maybe you'll want a new case and TV tuner card) - http://www.hardforum.com/forumdisplay.php?f=103
#12 Total Home Automation - Google x-10
#13 Mod it into something new and exciting that will compliment your style - http://www.hardforum.com/forumdisplay.php?f=13
#14 Firewalled router - Google m0n0wall
#15 Build an arcade cabinet - Google MAME
#16 Build a carputer - Google Car Computer
#17 Build a USB controlled Dance floor or Bar - http://web.mit.edu/storborg/ddf/

I've never built a computer before... how do I do it?

There are a lot of guides available, with different variations of the same instructions. Check out the guides from MaximumPC (Part 1 & Part 2) and Corsair Labs, as well as mechBgon's guide for first-time system builders. There is also a series of videos available, courtesy of Expert Village.

What are some good programs to run after building a new PC?

Though this is the General Hardware forum, we're going to be nice guys and help you out a bit. The following is a sample of the programs used mostly for benchmarking and stress-testing hardware:
This is not a complete list, nor was it ever intended to be one. Check out the General Software forum, the Overclocking and Cooling forum, and/or do a Google search for more answers.

Can I use my flash/thumb drive to boot from the BIOS?

It depends on the motherboard you're using. Though most motherboards released within this past year allow bootable USB devices (including flash drives), there are many motherboards that don't.

If you have a motherboard that supports a bootable USB flash drive, there are several ways to create one. One of the most common ways to do so is to use the HP USB Disk Format Tool. Just follow the instructions given here (courtesy of Joe Average). (For other ways, or if the HP utility doesn't work for you, perform a Google search for some variant of "bootable flash drive.")

Do I need to buy a new motherboard for my new PCI Express 2.0 video card?

No, you don't need to. The only difference between PCI Express (PCIe or PCI-E) 2.0 and PCIe 1.1 is the increased power delivery through the slot and the increased bandwidth (PCIe 2.0 doubles the maximum bandwidth from 8GB/s to 16GB/s). Currently, PCIe 2.0 cards are backwards compatible with PCIe 1.1 slots. However, current PCIe 2.0 cards do not saturate the bandwidth of PCIe 1.1 slots. (No time line has been given yet as to when video cards than only support PCIe 2.0 will arrive.)

The new motherboards with PCI Express 2.0 support have dropped in price to the point that they now cost as much as motherboards with PCIe 1.x support. (The prices of many PCIe 1.x motherboards have also dropped, some to the point of being low-budget boards.) If you are buying a motherboard that you intend to keep for at least two years, there's no reason why you shouldn't purchase a board that supports PCI Express 2.0.

I've got the Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)! What do I do now?

A BSOD usually indicates a hardware issue. Figure out the code that the BSOD is showing and use AumHa.org's Troubleshooting Windows STOP Messages page to determine what it means. Each explanation of the STOP message has a link to its appropriate page on the Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN). You could also use the MSDN directly if you find a STOP message that isn't listed or explained well in the AumHa page.

What's this "Retail Edge"? How do I get to participate in it?

This guide has a brief explanation on the Intel Retail Edge program. Basically, you have to be working in a participating retail store (that sells retail Intel products) in order to take advantage of the program.
 

Gott

Supreme [H]ardness
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You talk about short attention spans and you make this long post. Most people are just going to post what they have, want, and will do with their machines.

But no, very good post for people to read looking for build help. :cool:
 

Dangman

Ninja Editor SuperMod
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Sweet it got stickied. :) This is definitely going to be useful.
 

Gott

Supreme [H]ardness
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Feb 28, 2008
Messages
4,958
It's very useful with a lot of informative links and descriptions.

Thanks, tiraides! :cool:
 

enginurd

Fully [H]
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Messages
21,825
I agree, great job! Thanks tiraides! and everyone else! ... i need a shortcut for this thread, lol.
 

thrawn86

Gawd
Joined
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Messages
697
awesome thread. covers most of the things we see threads about every day here...

however, if I may make a humble suggestion: include a very specific section under "When posting a thread asking for information and/or help..." about performing, interpreting and posting prime95/speedfan/memtest results. It [posting these results in help threads] should be mandatory and I get tired of asking. I know you provided the info for that in the "Building a system" section, but I get the feeling most readers will immediately skip to the "When posting a thread asking for information and/or help..." section.
 
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