<< 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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GAMIFICATION: Steampunk & Gaming Trends in Education

I find gaming trends (specifically, gamification) hugely interesting. But before I go any further, it's important not to think of gaming as mindless blood & guts violence, or as the pixelated TV games from the 1980s (apart from the greats), but rather as breathtaking imagery such as this:

Gamification: Screenshot of the fantasy, medieval game, Skyrim

Screenshot of the fantasy, medieval game, Skyrim

Gamification: Bioshock Infinite: A popular steampunk game set in the late 1800s ... in the skies! (image: pcgamer.com)

Bioshock Infinite: A popular steampunk game set in the late 1800s ... in the skies! (image: pcgamer.com)

Gaming is currently the fastest growing entertainment industry in the world. It has influenced music, films, art, education and popular culture in general. To me, gaming is the height of entertainment. I like to think of it as watching a great, immersive film, but playing an active role in how the story pans out. It is edutainment at its best.

I firmly believe that gaming is what will prevent me from getting Alzheimer’s one day too – in all seriousness. It encourages lateral thinking, logic, multitasking, good hand-eye co-ordination; in short, it keeps the brain active, engaged, rewarded and excited. It is literally reshaping industries and the way we learn.

Gamification: Fallout 3: A popular post-apocalyptic game that offers an experience of what a post-Word War 3 world might be like ...

Fallout 3: A popular post-apocalyptic game that offers an experience of what a post-Word War 3 world might be like ...

Gaming Trends in Education

I mentioned how gaming trends are influencing formal education too. Gamification (as it is called) has started being implemented by several schools around the world. Because the younger generation can relate to gaming, school-work and learning can be made genuinely fun through gamifying education, and there is much evidence to point to its benefits. Check out "7 ways games reward the brain" by Tom Chatfield, or the below TED video.

Gabe Zichermann on Gamification: How Games Make Kids Smarter

A lot can be learned from several tasteful games themselves. Gaming trends in recent years have brought a lot of history to our PCs and consoles. A popular genre in gaming trends at the moment is steampunk – which adds a beautiful and atmospheric science-fiction twist to history.

Many steampunk games offer an alternative look at history – i.e. a look at how things may have panned out differently, but also insight into the minds of those who lived through the Industrial Revolution.

“Steampunk perhaps most recognizably features anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions as people in the 19th century might have envisioned them, and is likewise rooted in the era's perspective on fashion, culture, architectural style, and art.” - Wikipedia

Gamification: Popular steampunk game, Dishonoured (image: forbes.com)

Popular steampunk game, Dishonoured (image: forbes.com)

There is no doubt that steampunk has had a profound effect on contemporary society. It has influenced literature – such as the works of H.G. Wells and Philip Pullman. It has influenced the genres of fantasy, horror and historical fiction – specifically Victorian-era fiction. A number of visual and musical artists have been described as steampunk.

I could never seem to justify the number of hours spent gaming in my youth to my parents – arguing that I was genuinely learning and loving the process. I can only suggest that parents today take an active interest in the games their children play. As Gabe Zichermann suggests, "enter into the game with your kids". Watch how they engage and help them choose the educational masterpieces over mindless blood and gore.

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