<< Part 1: PC Building Beginners Guide: Motherboards

<< Part 2: PC Building Beginners Guide: Processors

<< Part 3: PC Building Beginners Guide: Graphics Cards

This PC Building Beginners Guide aims to offer core information regarding motherboards, Intel CPUs, memory, graphics cards, power supplies and solid state drives. It will hopefully become a growing archive of everything you need to know if you are new to PC building – especially if you are looking to build your very first gaming PC!

PC Building Beginners Guide: Memory

PC memory is becoming nice and cheap, which is great news for PC building enthusiasts. The important things to consider when choosing memory is brand, the amount you’ll need, the number of memory sticks, motherboard support, memory speed, voltage and latency.

Brands: Like with the motherboard section of the PC Building Beginners Guide, choosing a brand of RAM really boils down to personal choice and requires your own research and budget considerations. AMD, Corsair, Kingston and Patriot for example are all reputable brands, but these all really offer the same thing. Others are specifically dedicated to gaming and this will be obvious by the packaging.

PC Building Beginners Guide Memory (image: www.bit-tech.net)

PC Building Beginners Guide Memory (image: www.bit-tech.net)

Number of Memory Sticks: Currently, 8GB of memory is really all you need to run almost all current-gen games, but it never hurts to have a little more if you can afford it. It's just important to note that more RAM will require more power. You also need to ensure that your motherboard supports the amount of memory you wish to install. More RAM is generally required for tasks such as intense video-editing.

Motherboard Support: What is important is to consider is whether your motherboard supports single channel, duel channel or even quad channel memory. Duel channel, for example, means using a matching pair of memory sticks in two different slots. Your motherboard will also specify the total amount of memory you can have installed.

PC Building Beginners Guide: DDR3 Memory Overview

Memory Clock Speed: This is the most important factor that will determine the performance of your RAM. Simply put, the higher the number, the faster the memory. 3000 MHz will perform significantly faster than 1333 MHz, for example.

CAS Latency & Memory Voltage: Things get a little more complicated here and really only concerns those wish with to partake in some memory overclocking in the BIOS. But basically put, the lower the latency, the better. Currently, most memory is DIMM and DDR3 - leaving you with the luxury of merely needing to choose your memory brand and memory speed (measured in MHz).

PC Building Beginners Guide - Useful Resources:

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<< Part 1: PC Building Beginners Guide: Motherboards

<< Part 2: PC Building Beginners Guide: Processors

<< Part 4: PC Building Beginners Guide: Memory

This PC Building Beginners Guide aims to offer core information regarding motherboards, Intel CPUs, memory, graphics cards, power supplies and solid state drives. It will hopefully become a growing archive of everything you need to know if you are new to PC building – especially if you are looking to build your very first gaming PC!

PC Building Beginners Guide: Graphics Cards

The most important thing to understand about graphics cards is that they are responsible for the vast majority of performance when it comes to gaming (some might even say as much as 90%). A high-end graphics card is therefore one of the most important pieces of hardware to consider when building a gaming PC.

The two major players that produce GPUs are Nvidia (GeForce) and AMD (Radeon). Again, your own research and budget are important factors to consider here. Personally, I’m most familiar with Nvidia graphics cards and recommend the GTX variety for gaming. Like processors, the higher the clock speed, the faster the card. A GTX 780 for example will be significantly faster than a GTX 740.

PC Building Beginners Guide

PC Building Beginners Guide GeForce GTX 780 Ti

The juicy GeForce GTX 780 Ti (image: www.geforce.com)

A couple of things to bare in mind when it comes to graphics cards is how much power they draw and how hot they get. If you plan to run two GTX 780 Ti’s using SLI, for example, you are going to need some serious cooling and loads of power. A great resource to use here is PC Part Picker. This will allow you to choose all the PC components you wish to install and give you an estimated power usage in watts.

Some useful things to know about graphics cards:

  • Not all games can take advantage of multiple graphics cards.
  • SLI is the naming convention for combining more than 1 Nvidia graphics card.
  • CrossFire is the naming convention for combining more than 1 AMD graphics card.
  • Note that some of the newer graphics cards already have multiple GPUs built-in.
  • Two of the same GPU (2-way configuration) will not necessarily give 2X the performance.
  • Graphics cards with HDMI ports (that allow for video and audio) means that the card also has a built-in sound chip.
  • An overclocked (OC) graphics card will automatically overclock itself when given a more intensive task and then ramp itself back down afterwards to save power.

PC Building Beginners Guide: What is a Video Card?

This PC Building Beginners Guide will continue over the next few weeks. I hope you found this guide useful and I welcome any questions!

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<< Part 1: PC Building Beginners Guide: Motherboards

<< Part 3: PC Building Beginners Guide: Graphics Cards

<< Part 4: PC Building Beginners Guide: Memory

This PC Building Beginners Guide aims to offer core information regarding motherboards, Intel CPUs, memory, graphics cards, power supplies and solid state drives. It will hopefully become a growing archive of everything you need to know if you are new to PC building – especially if you are looking to build your very first gaming PC!

PC Building Beginners Guide: Processors

Fast or high-end processors (or CPUs) are necessary for things like multitasking, intense image and video editing and playing certain types of games. However, for PC gaming, a Core i5 is really all you need. The alternative option is AMD CPUs. The things to consider are CPU generation, clock speed, GHz, cache and socket.

PC Building Beginners Guide: Processors

Haswell Quad Core Processor (image: www.dailytech.com)

CPU Generation: The first number at the beginning of a CPU type (for example: Core i5 4670K indicates the generation of the CPU – in this case, 4th generation. A Core i5 3570 is a 3rd generation CPU and so on. CPU generations also come with codenames. For Intel CPUs, first there was Sandy Bridge, then Ivy Bridge and now Haswell – the latter referring to 4th generation Intel CPUs.

CPU Clock Speed: The next three numbers on a CPU type is the core clock speed of the CPU, for example the 770 in a Core i5 4770K. The higher this number, the faster the CPU.

PC Building Beginners Guide: Processors - Intel Core i7 CPU (image: www.maximumpc.com)GHz: Very simply put, the higher the GHz of a CPU the faster it is. Even a small difference in numbers can make a significant difference in speed. A Core i5 3.4 GHz will perform a lot faster than a Core i5 3.0 GHz for example. The number of cores is also hugely significant. A quad core i5 3.4 GHz (with 4 cores) will be significantly faster than a dual core i5 3.4 GHz.

CPU Cache: Again, the higher the CPU cache, the faster it will perform. A CPU with an 8 MG cache will be faster than one with a 6 MG cache, for example.

CPU Socket: As mentioned in the PC Building Beginners Guide on motherboards, you need to ensure that your chosen CPU has the same socket (e.g. 1155, 1156, 1150, 2011) as your motherboard of choice. A lot of PC builders find it easier to choose their processor first and then find a compatible motherboard.

PC Building Beginners Guide: What is a CPU?

Other considerations when choosing a CPU are: does the CPU have built-in HD graphics? This is not necessary if you plan to use a discreet / separate graphics card. Does the CPU support your speed and type of memory? This is usually DDR3 at the moment. And, can the CPU be overclocked?

Note: Basically put, the “K” at the end of a Core i5 4770K (for example) means that the CPU is unlocked and can be overclocked. It will also specify the frequency that it can be overclocked to, for example “Clock Speed: 3.4 Ghz, Max Turbo Frequency: 3.8 GHz.

This PC Building Beginners Guide will continue over the next few weeks. I hope you found this guide useful and I welcome any questions!

PC Building Beginners Guide - Useful Resources:

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<< Part 2: PC Building Beginners Guide: Processors

<< Part 3: PC Building Beginners Guide: Graphics Cards

<< Part 4: PC Building Beginners Guide: Memory

This PC Building Beginners Guide aims to offer core information regarding motherboards, Intel CPUs, memory, graphics cards, power supplies and solid state drives. It will hopefully become a growing archive of everything you need to know if you are new to PC building – especially if you are looking to build your very first gaming PC!

PC Building Beginners Guide: Motherboards

Probably the trickiest thing to consider when PC building is picking the right motherboard to suit your purposes. The things to consider are brand, socket number, chipset, form factor, compatibility with other hardware, number of slots and ports and upgradability.

Motherboard Brands: The major and most popular brands (in no particular order) are Asus, Gigabyte, MSI and ASRock. They all have different pros and cons and a lot of research is required here, however these are some of the important things to consider.

Motherboard Sockets: The first thing to consider is that your chosen processor (CPU) will fit into your motherboard of choice. If you decide to purchase a socket 2011 CPU for example, you will need a socket 2011 motherboard. Other more popular socket numbers are socket 1156, 1155 and 1150. Out of these three, socket 1150 is the newer one and is recommended if you would like the option of replacing / upgrading your CPU in the future.

PC Building Beginners Guide: What makes a Motherboard?

PC Building Beginners Guide Motherboards

PC Building Beginners Guide: Motherboards (image: www.computer-hardware-explained.com)

Chipset: I personally find this part quite confusing. But generally speaking if you plan to use an Intel CPU then your motherboard should have an Intel chipset. Currently, Intel Z87 or Z87X chipsets are preferred for gamers, as this chipset allows you to overclock and supports the newer Haswell CPUs. I have no idea what the different letters stand for, so please don’t ask. If anyone does know, please do share.

Form Factor: This basically refers to the size of the motherboard. The most commonly-mentioned PC form factors are ATX (large), micro-ATX (smaller), mini-ATX (smaller) and the new mini-ITX form factors (smallest). There are several others, such as BTX, DTX and ETX, but the most important thing to consider is that your PC case or chassis supports the motherboard form factor you desire.

PC Building Beginners Guide: What is a Motherboard?

Compatibility: Apart from ensuring that your motherboard is compatible with your chosen CPU and chassis, you also need to ensure that it will be compatible with the graphics card (CPU) and memory (RAM) that you wish to use. Most graphics cards are PCI-Express and require a x16 PCI-Express slot on your motherboard. Motherboards will also specify what memory speeds they support, for example: DDR3 1333MHz, 1600Mhz, 1800Mhz etc. so you need to ensure that your chosen memory is compatible.

Slots, Ports and Upgradability: The newer motherboards have ports and slots that offer faster transfer rates. USB 3.0 for example currently offers faster speeds for USB devices, so you want to ensure that your motherboard has a few of those. Similarly, newer eSATA cables now offer faster speeds for your harddrives and SATA devices. It’s also a good idea to pick a board that has 4 (or even 8) RAM slots so that you have the option of adding more memory to your PC in the future. Other considerations are HD Audio, on-board graphics, SLI and / or Crossfire support, headphone ports, number of fan connectors and HDMI ports.

This PC Building Beginners Guide will continue over the next few weeks. I hope you found this guide useful and I welcome any questions!

PC Building Beginners Guide - Useful Resources:

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Big Bang Meets Big Data: SA Joins ASTRON and IBM to Build the Foundation for a New Era of Computing (i.e. DOME)

IBM has entered into a four year collaboration with ASTRON to research extremely fast, but low-power exascale computer systems (collectively known as DOME) targeted for the Square Kilometer Array (SKA). The goal of the 10 countries involved is to decipher radio waves from deep space to solve the riddles of the universe and the nature of matter.

Introducing DOME

On March 7, 2012 the Square Kilometre Array South Africa (SKA SA) announced it anticipates working with IBM with the goal of developing a next generation big data analytics platform (titled DOME) with self-tuning and self-learning capabilities to better analyze large volumes of radio astronomy data. SKA SA is building MeerKAT, the largest and most sensitive radio telescope of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere.

An artist's impression of the MeerKAT array (image IBM Research) DOMEMeerKAT is one of several new radio telescopes being built as precursors to the Square Kilometer Array (SKA), an international project that should reach its full capacity in the early part of the next decade.

On April 2, 2012 ASTRON, The Netherlands Institute for Radio Astronomy, and IBM (NYSE: IBM) announced a five-year collaboration to research extremely fast, but low-power exascale computer systems targeted for the international Square Kilometre Array (SKA). The collaboration is called DOME, named for the protective cover on telescopes and the famous Swiss mountain.

As part of the global effort to solve this unprecedented challenge ASTRON and IBM launched a public private partnership called DOME, to develop a fundamental IT roadmap for the SKA. The collaboration includes a user platform where organizations from around the world can jointly investigate emerging technologies in green computing, nanophotonics and data streaming. Through its SKA South Africa unit, the National Research Foundation is now a user platform partner in DOME.

Scientists from SKA SA will focus on the following research themes:

  • Visualising the challenge: fundamental research will be conducted into signal processing and advanced computing algorithms for the capture, processing and analysis of the SKA data so clear images can be produced for astronomers to study.
  • Desert-proof technology: the DOME team is researching and prototyping microserver architectures based on liquid-cooled 3D stacked chips. The team in South Africa will extend this research to make the microsevers rugged or “desert proof” to handle the extreme environmental conditions where the SKA will be located.
  • Software analytics: the 64 dishes of the MeerKAT telescope in South Africa will be used for the testing and development of a sophisticated software program that will aid in the design of the entire computing system holistically and optimally—taking into account all of the cost and performance trade-offs for the eventual 3 000 SKA dishes.

I will be following the progress of DOME over the next few months and have access to information regarding any new discoveries made by the system. If you would like to keep updated yourself, consider subscribing to Email Updates or the RSS feed up top.

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