If you're looking for a PC that's perfectly suited to your needs but don't want to pay over the odds for the luxury, your best bet is to build it yourself. We show how to create the PC of your dreams.
Processors & memory
Your choice of processor will have a huge impact on your final PC in terms of its specification and performance. It will dictate which motherboard options you can choose from, as well as what memory you can use. The processor to opt for is also dependent on the amount of money you have to spend, with chips ranging from as little as £20 to more than £700.
In the past, the processor housed a single CPU, which performed all the calculations required by your PC. Most processors now include more than one CPU in the same package. Referred to as multicore, these processors are able to complete tasks more quickly.
Most multicore processors are dual-core, but it's possible to get triple or quad versions too. Adding more cores to a dual-core setup will improve performance, but this boost won't be as noticeable as the jump from single to dual. This is partly because applications haven't been designed with large numbers of CPUs in mind – although this is changing. Some tasks are better suited to quad-core computing than others.
Intel's Core 2 range covers everything from entry-level dual-core chips running at 1.8GHz (for around £65) right up to 3.2GHz quad-core models, which will set you back £700. There are also cheaper Pentium dual-core processors, but these have a low 1MB Level 2 cache, compared with between 2MB and 12MB for the Core 2.
A small cache memory can result in low performance and is to be avoided unless your budget is really tight. The Core 2 Duo E4700 is a good choice for mid-range PCs at £85. If you're after a more powerful setup, the Quad Q9300 is a speedy quad-core chip that's available for around £165.
AMD is particularly competitive at the lower end of the market, and its Athlon 64 X2 4600+ dual-core chip is a bit of a bargain at £40. The firm's new Phenom range, which offers not just conventional quad-core processors but also triple-core models, is also aggressively priced. The Phenom X3 Triple-Core 8650 is available for just over £100.
Your choice of processor and motherboard will dictate what memory you can run. At the moment, AMD supports only DDR2 RAM; its Phenom chips are expected to add DDR3 support later this year. DDR2 RAM is much cheaper to buy, but DDR3 offers improved performance (in theory) and better upgrade options in the future.
A 4GB OCZ Platinum memory kit will set you back around £80 for a DDR2 version and more than twice that (around £175) for a DDR3 version, but the latter offers greater bandwidth. At the cheaper end of the scale, an Aria-branded 2GB DDR2 kit can be bought for £23, which is perfect for a budget machine. While Vista will run with only 1GB of memory, you'll notice a huge benefit from installing 2GB and it won't cost you much more to do so.
You won't be able to fit DDR2 memory in a DDR3 board. Although the slot size is the same, there's a notch in a different place on each board to prevent exactly this.
Most motherboards support dual-channel memory, which splits the memory slots into two banks and boosts performance by allowing the processor to read from both. For this to work, however, you should buy matched memory pairs – two 2GB sticks of the same spec rather than a single 4GB unit, for example – and install one in each bank.
Next page: Hard disks & optical drives
- Build your own PC: price vs performance
- Build your own PC: tips on assembly
- Build your own PC: selecting a motherboard
- Build your own PC: processors & memory
- Build your own PC: hard disks & optical drives
- Build your own PC: graphics cards & monitors
- Build your own PC: power supplies, fans & cases
PUTTING IT TOGETHER: Click here for PC Advisor's detailed seven-step guide to assembling your components