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.
Hard disks & optical drives
With the bulk of your PC now taking shape, you'll need somewhere to store the operating system and your files. You'll also need an optical drive in order to install software and back up important data.
You'll find two different types of connector for drives inside a modern computer – the older parallel ATA interface (often known as IDE, ATAPI or simply ATA) and the newer SATA interface.
SATA was designed to solve many of the problems with the original ATA interface; it's also faster. The maximum speed ATA can achieve is 133 megabytes per second (MBps), while the latest version of SATA can support transfers up to 300MBps.
ATA is more complicated to set up if you have two drives on the same cable, as one has to be set as the master device and the other as slave. The cables are also quite bulky and can obstruct airflow within the case. SATA, on the other hand, supports only one drive per connector and uses thin cables.
You'll still generally find one ATA interface, which is designed for hooking up optical drives – although now you can get SATA versions of these too. For hard drives, stick to SATA for better performance and support from motherboard manufacturers.
The two main factors that affect hard-drive performance are how fast the disk spins and how big a buffer it has. Faster drives also tend to be noisier; if you're trying to build an especially quiet system then you may have to sacrifice a little performance.
Swings and roundabouts
The majority of hard drives on the market spin at 7,200 revolutions per minute (rpm), but Western Digital has a range that spins at 10,000rpm. However, a 74GB version costs roughly the same as a 750GB 7,200rpm drive, so they're not particularly cost-effective. The data buffer can vary from 2MB up to 32MB, but you should be looking for at least a 16MB buffer; 8MB if you're on a tight budget.
You can also buy drives that use flash memory rather than spinning platters. These are much faster than normal disks, but are prohibitively expensive and limited in capacity. The largest generally available is 64GB, which will set you back around £700, while even a 16GB model costs more than a one-terabyte (1TB) traditional drive.
Buying such a large-capacity drive is not as cost-effective as buying several smaller models, however. You could easily purchase two 750GB drives for the price of a single 1TB model, giving you an additional 500GB of storage for the same money.
Most modern motherboards support the Raid configuration. This allows you to either combine two drives into a single storage volume and access it more quickly (Raid level 0), or mirror the contents of one disk (Raid level 1) so that you'll always have a backup copy of your files in case one drive fails.
For a budget machine, you could opt for a drive as small as 80GB. But, given the price difference between such a drive and a 250GB model, the latter makes far more sense.
Finally, you'll need an optical drive. You can pick up a DVD writer, which allows you to store 4.7GB on a single disc, for under £20. Blu-ray Disc can fit 25GB on a single disc, but it's quite expensive – you're looking at around £150 for a writer.
Next page: Graphics cards & monitors
- 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