Choosing and Understanding PC Parts

In the past decade the household desktop has evolved from a hamster in a wheel to Hussein Bolt strapped to a rocket. Personal computers have gone from clocking 24 frames per second to nailing 117 frames per second. Yeah, no if you’re turning your head at the frames per second talk don’t worry – we all did at some stage. The best way to learn the inner-workings of those magical internet boxes we call PCs is to build one yourself. Let’s get cracking, shall we?


Central Processing Unit (CPU)

We’ll start by choosing the CPU as this will dictate the rest of the components we will be jobbing into our science experiment. The CPU acts as the brain of the computer. It sends out electronic signals to the entire computer to out stored program instructions. Just like that lump of protein in your skull it does not carry out any actions; instead it directs other parts of the system to do so. There are two major CPU manufacturers: AMD and Intel. These two companies have been neck and neck in the battle for top processing power. Intel is often seen as the hard working CPU mainly used in the design, film and music production industries, and that is why Mac is so popular amongst those who use editing suites as Apple solely ships with Intel chipsets. There are three things to keep in mind when choosing a CPU: the amount of cores the processor has, its clock speed (measured in Ghz) and which motherboard it’s compatible with. The more cores a CPU has the more instructions it can send out in a single instance; the more Ghz a CPU has the faster it can send out those instructions.


The motherboard acts as the central nervous system of the computer, shuttling commands to and from the processor. It is also the platform from which all the components communicate with one another – that’s why everything plugs into it. The number one rule when choosing a motherboard is to make sure that the socket type fits the CPU as Intel uses a different socket as opposed to AMD. A quick internet search will be able to steer you in the right direction. Another important thing to note is the motherboard’s form factor. Motherboards come in different sizes such as E-ATX, ATX and Mini-ATX of which ATX is the most popular size. A standard ATX board won’t fit into a Mini-ATX case so make sure that it  fits the case you are building in to. Make sure that the chipset – which shuttles the data – is compatible with your CPU, i.e. Intel chipsets won’t run AMD processors and the AMD chipsets won’t run Intel processors.

Random Access Memory (RAM)

RAM is where all the applications stored on your hard drive is kept before it is sent to the processor. Programmes are stored in the RAM when the PC is switched on because the CPU can reach it a lot faster than if it were to fetch the information directly from the hard drive. Of course, 8 Gigs of RAM can store more data than 2 Gigs of RAM. If your aim is to build a PC that will be able to run the latest games or the most memory draining design programmes then you should aim for 8 Gigs of DDR3 RAM. As with any other PC component there is a lot of reading up to do before you can wrap your head around all this info. Always check the motherboard’s service manual before purchasing any add-ons or any other pieces of the puzzle.


Graphics Processing Unit (GPU)

This is the part where you kind of rethink exchanging a fist full of cash for a weird contraption the size of a small pencil case. The GPU’s role is exactly as its name states: It processes the graphics displayed on the screen. This nifty little monster is responsible for turning binary codes from the CPU into the images displayed on a screen. Everything from the photos you took in Dullstroom to an online gaming session is put together by the GPU. When using a GPU you need to make sure that it’s GDDR5 as this uses a much faster setup than standard DDR3. The industry standard when it comes to 1080P, Full-HD display would be a GPU with at least 4 Gigs of memory. From here on upwards the prices become very steep very quickly. Make sure that if you buy  an AMD processor and AMD motherboard that the GPU runs on an AMD chipset as well.

PC Case

What seems like a no-brainer can quickly end up costing you a tonne of money and weeks of tears. Because PCs generate a lot of heat, these systems run the risk of over-heating and crashing. That’s why most PC cases- or towers as they are often called – come with fans and air vents. Ventilation and space inside the case are the two important factors… and, to make sure that your motherboard fits. You need to make sure that air is being blown out of the case at the same rate it is being sucked into it. One of these always needs to be slower than the other to ensure that the cold air cools the components instead of just passing through.

Power Supply Unit (PSU)

Just as its name states, the Power Supply Unit supplies power to all the components. These come in different sizes: some put out more wattage than others. The number one rule when it comes to choosing a PSU is to go with a brand name as purchasing an inferiorly constructed product will cost you big time in the end. Here are a list of trusted manufacturers: Corsair, Silverstone, EVGA, Seasonic and FSP to name a few. Make sure that you buy a PSU strong enough to run your system. Under powering may cause a lot of unnecessary trouble. The same goes for power supplies that are too big. Running a 1300 W PSU when in fact you only need 450 W is over kill and will run your power bill up.


Don’t be impressed by 1 TB hard drives and shiny cases from big brands. What you really want is a Solid State Drive (SSD). Skip on the old hard drive and invest in a decent SSD. They become quite pricey the bigger you go, but then again you don’t put an SSD into any old computer. For gaming we suggest you invest in a 250 GB SSD. These nifty little storage devices can run up to 15 times faster than standard hard drives.

These are all things one should take into account when building that monster of yours.

By Shawn Greyling

Did you like this article? Then get more of the same from our weekly newsletter delivered to your inbox for FREE!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More from Tech: