Update: My Journey to Build My Dream PC

My HP laptop is almost four years old now and every day I can hear it groaning. I don't do anything particularly intensive, such as gaming or photo/video editing, and yet things still seem to run slower than I would expect.

So, I decided it was time to put my old laptop out to pasture and buy a new one.

At first I considered other laptops. My HP has been quite a beast for the past four years and has never had a problem, not one single problem. With this impressive record I readily wanted to buy a new HP laptop. Looking at the specifications and prices on offer, nothing really caught my eye. I looked at a few of the other top brands such as Dell and Sony and even the smaller brands such as Asus and I just did not find the right one.

I then realised that the reason I was having such difficult finding my ideal laptop was for two reasons. Firstly, it was because by and large laptops are expensive. There may be cheaper models, but I wanted something relatively powerful and this was expensive. Secondly, they all seemed really big and not something I wanted to lug around. Finally, I realised the main reason was that between my HTC Magic and the potential to buy an iPad or similar tablet my basic "on the go" computing needs could easily be satisfied. At most I would want to check my e-mail, perhaps read an article and that would essentially be it. In essence what would I actually use my laptop for? What would be the point on spending so much money? I did not want something toothless sitting on my desk at home. I wanted something that was reasonably powerful and no laptop on the market really cut it in terms of balancing power and price.

I then moved my sights to the desktop market. The primary difference between a laptop and a desktop is portability. In fact that is virtually the only difference. However, this benefit comes with the disadvantage of having to pay a premium. For example, a laptop having identical specifications as a desktop would almost certainly cost far more than the desktop. The main reason is that the laptop manufacturer must shrink down the parts for them to be able to fit inside a much more compact body.

In my mind there are a couple of advantages to buying a desktop:

  1. Firstly, a desktop, as mentioned above, generally costs less than a laptop of similar specifications. In essence I can buy the same PC for much less price.
  2. Secondly, desktops are inherently more upgradeable. So, in one year when my graphics card becomes obsolete I can throw it out and buy a new one. While it is possible to upgrade some components in a laptop (such as the hard drive and RAM) it is almost impossible to change the processor and graphics card without basically changing the motherboard.

With my mind set on a desktop I started researching the various brands and models. While I was generally aware of the various laptops on the market my knowledge on desktops was limited. This was exacerbated by the fact that manufacturers of the components for desktops use a completely different nomenclature. Even more confusing is the fact that some components have identical names but have different specifications, depending n whether it was for a desktop or laptop.

Having done a bit of research I centred on a choice of processor, graphics card, hard drive and amount of RAM I wanted. It was only later that I realised that while these may be the most expensive parts of the system they are only one portion of what goes into the building of a desktop. Next I started looking at the various brands. HP was again my first choice. I looked at a few models and compared them with the ones available from other brands such as Dell and Acer.

I realised two things. Firstly, while the brands allowed some degree of customization it was never enough. I had already done a lot of research into the various components I wanted in my desktop and I could never find a model that fitted those components. If I went with a model with a good processor the hard drive would be poor, if I got one with a good graphics card the sound card would be poor or at least not the kind I wanted. In short I was unable to find a desktop that suited my requirements. The second reason was that from my general research it appeared that I was paying a premium to have my computer built by HP or Dell. It seemed as though I could get a desktop with better specifications for a cheaper price.

Unfortunately, there are a number of compatibility issues when building your own computer and it isn’t possible just to throw together the best parts and hope they’ll stick. I posted my queries on a number of forums and even started a publicly available spreadsheet on Google Docs. Within a few days I had collected a number of helpful replies and had started to put together the best computer I could afford.

Eventually after about eight pages of discussion on the forum a helpful member pointed me to another member who actually builds computers in Singapore. I contacted him and within hours he got back to me asking me to call him so, we could have a chat. I gave him a call and he helpfully guided me through what he thought was the most reasonable system for my needs. With everything decided he e-mailed me a quote and I agreed with it. He will be coming on Saturday to complete the installation of my new computer.

Processor - Intel Core i7-920 2.66Ghz Quad Core
Motherboard - Gigabyte X58A UD3R
RAM – Team Elite 6GB DDR3 1333Mhz CL9
Graphics Card – Sapphire Radeaon HD5870 1GB Vapor-X PCI-E
Hard Drive – Intel X25-M MLC 80GB SSD and Western Digital 1TB Caviar Black SATA II
DVD – Samsung S223 SATA DVD Rewriter
PSU – Seasonic M12-II 620W
Case – Lancool K62-WB
Sound Card – Asus Xonar Essence STX
Cooling – Cooler Master Hyper 212 Plus
Wireless Adaptor – TP-Link TL-WN851N Wireless N PCI Adaptor
Monitor - Dell ST2410 24” Full HD Widescreen (1920x1080)
Operating System – Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium 64 Bit

Footnote: I never considered an Apple product for my new computer. Firstly, like I said I did not want a laptop, which ruled out a major portion of Apple products. The only viable desktop that the Apple sells is the iMac. The Mac mini is far too underpowered and the Mac Pro is really for those who do photo and video editing. The iMac has been having a number of screen issues ( which put me of using them. In addition I realized that while the components are decent I never found a suitable fit for me. The lack of customisation options was especially unnerving.

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