Gen[H]ard FAQ

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[H]F Junkie
Jan 8, 2004
This is the General Hardware FAQ, where we attempt to answer many of the questions that are commonly asked in this forum. While we can't answer every question or solve every problem you have, this is still a good reference point.

A big thank you to Dangman, 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.

Please use PC Hound to post your system build.

Quick Links
Gen[H]ard WLWC
List of Recommended Online Retailers
Gen[H]ard FAQ -- Part 1, Part 2

If you need help with building or upgrading a computer, please answer the questions listed here. If you're willing to invest a little more time, here is a more detailed guide.

If you're having trouble with your computer, check out the Basic Troubleshooting Guide.

If you have any questions and/or comments about this or any of the other Gen[H]ard-related sticky threads, please post them in the GenHard Sticky Discussion thread.

Please do not post anything here.
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[H]F Junkie
Jan 8, 2004
NOTE: Some of these links are old, and haven't been updated in a while, but they still offer relevant information

Video Card FAQ & general references
Benchmark/Overclocking software list
Case-Mod FAQ
ESD: Truths, myths, and flat out lies
Electronics FAQ
Memory FAQ
Motherboard Manufacturer Links
Small Form Factor (SFF) FAQ
Home Theater PC (HTPC) guides and links
Power FAQS & tutorials
Uninterruptable Power Supply (UPS)/surge protector FAQ
Hard drive FAQ/guides
Thermal Paste Shootout - Q209

Other WLWC
AnandTech - The SSD Anthology
AnandTech - The SSD Relapse
EXTREME Overclocking Forums - Ultimate RAM Guide

Power Supply Guides
BFG Power - Basic Power Supply Troubleshooting
[H]ard|Forum - PSUs to avoid -- DO NOT consider any of the brands listed here in a high-end or performance build
Hardware Secrets - Why 99% of All Power Supply Reviews Are Wrong
JonnyGURU's Power Supply FAQ

PC Building Guides
Driver Heaven - Building a PC
eHow - How to Build a Custom PC Computer
Lifehacker - DIY: The First-Timer's Guide to Building a Computer from Scratch
Lifehacker - How to Build a Computer from Scratch: The Complete Guide
Lifehacker - The Best PCs You Can Build for $300, $600, and $1200
MaximumPC Build a PC Section -- Multiple guides on different PCs
mechBgon's guide for first-time system builders -- First-time builders start here
NewEgg TV - How to Build a Computer -- A three-part video series (also available on YouTube)
reddit BUILDAPC -- reddit forum similar to the [H]
Tech Report - How to Build a PC (YouTube)

AumHa - Troubleshooting Windows STOP Messages -- Good for interpreting the meaning of BSODs - 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
Club Overclocker (Club OC)
DailyTech -- Look for their "Daily Hardware Reviews"
FrostyTech -- Focuses primarily on heatsinks, fans, and other forms of cooling
GPU Review -- Compare video card specs with links to reviews
The Guru of 3D
Hardware Canucks
Hardware Logic
Hardware Secrets
JonnyGURU -- Articles, reviews, and forums on primarily power supplies
Legion Hardware
Legit Reviews
Mad Shrimps
Overclockers Club (OCC)
PRAD -- German site that focuses on monitor reviews; English language version
SFF Tech -- Focuses on small form factor and Shuttle systems
Silent PC Review -- Articles and reviews on making your PC quieter
Storage Review -- Articles and reviews on hard drives
Tech ARP
TFT Central -- Articles and reviews on monitors
The Tech Report
X-bit Labs
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[H]F Junkie
Jan 8, 2004
NOTE: Unless specified otherwise, the retailers listed here are based in the United States.

Places to Buy - General
Micro Center
Mwave (U.S. site)
NCIX (U.S. site)
NewEgg (U.S. site)
PCPartPicker -- Price comparison site
SuperBiiz (formerly eWiz)
Tiger Direct (U.S. site)

Places to Buy - SFF, mini-ITX & Car PC parts
Computer Gate mini-ITX store
DSL mini-ITX store
Logic Supply
Mini-Box store (UK/EU)
Mobile Computing Solutions
Opus Solutions
PC Alchemy

Places to Buy - Fans, Cooling & Case Mods
Heatsink Factory
Performance PC's
Petra's Tech Shop
Sidewinder Computers
Silicon Valley Compucycle (SVC)

Miscellaneous -- other places to consider for computer systems and components
Dell Outlet -- for refurbished Dell products

Bargain Hunting
Ben's Bargains
Google Shopping
Got Apex
Tech Bargains

Places to Buy - in Canada
Canada Computers
Infonec Computers
NCIX (Canada site)
NewEgg (Canada site) -- Bargain hunting site for Canadian buyers
Tiger Direct (Canada site)

Places to Buy - in the UK
Advance Technologies
MicroDirect online store
Overclockers UK
Quiet PC UK
Scan Computers UK
Watercooling UK

Places to Buy - in Europe
ARLT Computer (Germany) (The Netherlands)

Places to Buy - in Australia
ARC Computers
Australia Computer Online
CCPU Computers
Computers & Parts Land (CPL)
MSY Technology Pty
Mwave (Australia site)
PC Case Gear
PC Maniacs
staticICE -- price comparison site for Australian and New Zealand retailers

Places to Buy - in New Zealand
Ascent Technology
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[H]F Junkie
Jan 8, 2004
How much can I get for [my computer/my parts]?

Price checks are not allowed in General [H]ardware (per Rule 26); the only place you could get a price check at the [H] is through the General Mayhem forum.

The "easy way" to determine your resale value is take 10%-40% off the item's 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...


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 use NewEgg all the time?

Because NewEgg offers us the most information about computer parts, sometimes even more than what we could find from the manufacturers' sites themselves. (Plus, in many cases, NewEgg provides links to each item's product page -- straight from the manufacturer's site.) While not everyone can buy parts from NewEgg, we'll occasionally link to parts from there to show the people we're helping greater details (and pictures) about what we're recommending.

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

Oftentimes people link them wrong, which delays responses. It's simply 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.

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).

What's the deal with PCPartPicker? A lot of the forum regulars refuse to use it.

There are two problems with the site. First, it uses after-rebate totals when it picks out parts, which we don't recommend to anyone trying to stick with a strict budget.

Second, some of the retailers chosen through PCPartPicker aren't the best around. Some sites aren't recommended due to shoddy site design, inaccurate pricing (compared to the PCPartsPicker site), or bad customer service.

How do I overclock?

There are many guides out there to show you, but the basic principles of overclocking are:
  • Slowly adjust the clock speed in the BIOS/UEFI settings. (Ensure that the computer is stable at the current clock 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?

With a bit of research. Start by reading the following articles first:If the power supply review does not mention the use of an Automated Test Equipment (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.

The best places to go for PSU reviews are JonnyGURU and [H]ard|OCP. They not only use ATEs in their reviews, they also stress-test the PSUs well past their "normal" operating levels. A PSU that they recommend is usually among the best of the best.

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/SSDs, video cards, expansion 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. If the total combined or max wattage can't be found on the power supply, check the PSU manufacturer's page 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? (Usually preceded or followed up by, I plan on overclocking my CPU.)

It depends on what you're using (and what you can obtain). For most modern systems (anything developed within the past couple of years), DDR3 1600 offers the most bang per buck in regards to performance.

RAM speeds? Shouldn't you talk about maximum bandwidth instead?

Well... HardwareSecrets' article on Understanding RAM Timings can explain things better than we could.

Do I have to use dual-channel RAM?

Not when your motherboard supports tri-channel or quad-channel. "X-channel" refers to the motherboard technology that allows sticks of RAM (or DIMMs) to work more efficiently when grouped together. Various benchmarks (both real-world and synthetic) show some degree of improvement per architecture (quad > tri > dual > single) but it's virtually unnoticeable during most real-world applications. (One notable exception is the use of the onboard GPU from a motherboard or a processor. Since the embedded GPU uses the same memory resources as the rest of the system, it is oftentimes recommended to have as much bandwidth as possible.)

Having said all of that, however, your motherboard can operate off of one DIMM. Just make sure that you run that DIMM on the first RAM slot (as defined in your motherboard's user manual).

Is it true that I have to use the exact same RAM in all of my RAM slots?

It's recommended for best performance and guaranteed compatibility to use DIMMs with identical speeds, capacity, timings, and voltage levels, ideally from the same manufacturer (and, even better, from the same model family). In the past, motherboards dealt with different sticks of RAM by automatically adjusting the speed and timings of each stick to a "lowest common denominator" that all of the RAM could operate under. Today, many users find it easier to either buy the same brand and model of RAM they're currently using or replace the RAM that they have with a newer multi-channel set (consisting of multiple sticks of identical RAM).

Managing RAM voltage is an entirely different beast. You should ensure that your RAM runs at a voltage level that the processor or the motherboard (whichever holds the memory controller hub, or MCH) can handle before you use it.

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 faster speeds (or greater bandwidth). In most cases, the bus speed/maximum bandwidth of the RAM in question will help determine how far you can push a CPU overclock.

Lower latency RAM (the explanation of which can be found here) does offer some improvement, but it's not noticeable in most cases. The simplest explanation, though it doesn't explain everything, is that today's chipsets benefit more from the memory bandwidth available than they do from lower latencies/tighter timings. (Information provided courtesy of Extreme Overclocking Forums.)

In short, 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 was a big deal with DDR1 memory, but they have less significance now with DDR2 and DDR3 RAM and their emphasis on speed. (We haven't heard much on DDR4 RAM yet, but given historical trends....)

I want 8GB of RAM. I've already bought two 2GB sticks of [RAM]. Can I just get two more 2GB 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. As an added "benefit," using two sticks of RAM will gives you the option to add more RAM later on.

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.

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?

Not really. Benchmarks have historically shown that there is little improvement from "doubling up" the size of the HDD cache. Spindle speed (RPM) and platter density (how many platters per drive, and how many GB per platter) play bigger roles in the hard drive's performance than the amount of buffer cache.

Which version of Windows is better?

Whether you should go with Windows 7 or Windows 8 depends on whether you're willing to use Windows 8's Start Screen. Eventually, Microsoft will take that choice away from us, but until then....

But all of the reviews keep saying that Windows 8 is better....

Yes, Windows 8 (and 8.1) has some under-the-hood improvements over Windows 7. Many users have reported faster startup (especially with SSDs) and longer battery life (in laptops) with Windows 8. And lately, games have started to be optimized for it.

But many people hate the Start Screen with the heat of a thousand suns. Rather than resume the war between Windows 7 and Windows 8 fanboys, I'm telling you to go with what you feel more comfortable with.

I love Windows 8, but I hate that damn Start Screen! How do I get rid of it?

The easiest way is to find a Start Menu replacement. Two of the better ones are Classic Shell (freeware/donations) and Start8 (costs $5 USD).

But I thought that Windows 8.1....

It brought back the Start Button, which is now another way to bring up the Start Screen. (That may change in future updates, but I can't tell you when.)

What's this about my copy of Windows not working with all of my RAM?

Many older versions of Windows had total system memory limits ranging from 4GB to 16GB. That limit includes desktop RAM, GDDR memory from your video card, and whatever else that Windows can find and utilize. Simply put, the component memory, including the video card memory, is recognized first; the RAM is the last type of memory recognized.

Today, Windows 7 Home Premium has a 16GB memory limit. Windows 7 Professional, Windows 7 Ultimate, and both versions of Windows 8 (non-Pro and Pro) have a much higher memory limit. If you plan on using a lot of RAM in the near future, avoid Windows 7 Home Premium.

Do I need to buy the retail version of Windows? Can I (legally) buy the OEM (System Builders) version?

The retail version has a significant advantage over the OEM or "System Builders" version (from here on out, we'll call it OEM): you can transfer that license from computer to computer (on the condition that you remove all traces of it from prior systems beforehand). However, it oftentimes costs at least twice as much (if not much more) than the OEM version.

The catch with using an OEM copy of Windows is that it comes with no supporting software and the system builder (read: you) is responsible for all troubleshooting and repair of the system it's installed on. Additionally, for Windows 7 and older operating systems, the OEM licenses are bound to the computer (namely, the motherboard) they were activated on. Though there are a few exceptions, the license dies the moment your computer dies.

Windows 8 changes a few of the "old" rules about OEM licenses. Most notably, if you've purchased the software (versus buying a computer with Windows 8 already preinstalled), you may transfer the license from one computer to another as if you have a retail license. However, as with the retail license, you must remove all traces of Windows from the older system(s).

For more details on what you can and can't do with an OEM copy of Windows, perform a websearch for the EULA (End User License Agreement) of the OS you have.

OK wise guy, should I buy a retail version or an OEM version of Windows?

If you're a cheapskate or you're building a system you know you'll keep for a long time (even while factoring in periodic updates), go with an OEM license. We also recommend OEM license for those upgrading the OS on their laptops. (I mean, how often do you upgrade everything in those?)

If you plan on keeping the OS license for several years but you plan on upgrading your entire system (mainly, the processor and motherboard) often during that time, a retail license may be the way to go. In that case, the best time to purchase a retail license is around the time the OS first enters the market.

Do I really have to use Windows?

Well, there is Linux... and we do have a forum to help you there.

What about Apple? Can you use OS X on a PC platform?

The Apple EULA prohibits the use of its operating systems on any non-Apple platform. Since the rules here prohibit the discussion of illegal activities, that's as far as we can go in talking about it.
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[H]F Junkie
Jan 8, 2004
How many [CPU] cores do I need for my system?

It depends on what you use your system for. Here's what we generally recommend:
  • Dual-cores and tri-cores (AMD X3 series) are generally fine for everyday "family" systems that aren't in constant use. They can handle some gaming, provided that you use a suitable discrete video card.
  • Quad-cores are recommended for systems that will be used for heavy gaming, photo editing, "light" video editing (using consumer programs like Adobe Premiere Elements) and media (CD/DVD/BD) ripping.
  • Six- and eight-cores work best for professional-level software (e.g., Adobe Premire Pro, Autodesk Maya), CAD (computer-aided design), heavy use of virtual machines (VM), and other resource-heavy tasks. (No, gaming doesn't count.)
  • Dual-processor systems? You either know what you're doing or work for someone who does.
You can easily game on an eight-core processor or edit video on a dual-core, but you may not see the performance level you're expecting from them. Then again, processors alone don't determine how well a game runs or how long it takes to encode video.

Why should I (not) use SLI or CrossFire?

If you have a large resolution (greater than 1920x1200) or plan to play games on multiple screens at the same time, SLI (Nvidia) or CrossFire (AMD) allows you to combine the resources from two (or more) video cards to generate more GPU power than you would from one video card. While you could use SLI/CF at a 1920x1200 or lower resolution, and two mid-range cards in SLI/CF can outperform even one high-end card, the disadvantages of SLI/CF outweigh the benefits at lower resolutions.

The disadvantages of SLI and CrossFire all come from the addition of an additional video card. You're spending more money on your graphics and you'll need a good power supply (of at least 600 watts, in most cases) to run everything smoothly. You may also need to check your internal cooling as two video cards naturally run hotter than one card. Plus, some games don't perform well or aren't configured for SLI/CF.

Great! So I can buy [old video card] used and get improved performance from SLI/CF, right?

Easy there. You shouldn't grab any old card as eventually a newer card will arrive that outperforms your SLI/CF configuration. Plus, the true benefits of SLI/CF come from using your setup at resolutions that single-GPU video cards struggle with. If your old card is struggling with games at your current resolution, a second identical card may not be enough to solve your problems. (Then again, you shouldn't expect to pair two low-end cards together and have them match the performance of a high-end card.)

4K's here! And it's better than HD! So why aren't you cheering about it?

4K (or Ultra HD) is relatively new technology, so all of the kinks haven't been ironed out yet. Plus, the greater resolution requires a new, (comparatively) more expensive display and more GPU power (for example, the aforementioned SLI/CF setup) if you want to play games at a good frame rate. (Remember kids: 4K offers up to four times the resolution, or generates up to four times the amount of pixels, as 1080p.)

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.

Is an SSD (solid state disk) truly faster/better than an HDD (hard disk drive)?

Yes. SSDs generally have considerably faster read, write, and random access speeds than HDDs. You can start Windows in less than 30 seconds and load many programs and games even faster than that. Because SSDs use the same type of flash memory as RAM, you also have a storage device that generate less heat, use less energy, and can take more abuse than a traditional multi-platter HDD.

SSDs still carry a higher cost per gigabyte (GB) over HDDs. For example, you can buy either a 2TB HDD or a 120GB SSD for around $100. And SSDs, like HDDs, run noticeably slower the closer they get to full capacity. But if you can afford one, the positives from using an SSD far outweigh the negatives.

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 -
#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) -
#12 Total Home Automation - Google x-10
#13 Mod it into something new and exciting that will compliment your style -
#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 -

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. If you're trying to create a bootable flash drive to install Windows 7 or Windows 8, Microsoft offers a tool to help make the process easier.

I have an old motherboard with PCI Express (PCIe or PCI-E) 2.0. Do I need to buy a new motherboard for my new PCI Express 3.0 video card?

No. PCI-E 3.0 is backwards compatible with its predecessors (PCI-E 1.x and PCI-E 2.0).

You may suffer some performance loss by going with a PCI-E 3.0 card, but it normally occurs when you use a high-end card like the GTX 780/Titan or the R9 290/290X or you decide to use SLI/CF with two or more PCI-E 3.0 cards.

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'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.
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