Idiot's guide to buying a PC?

Morning all.

I haven't purchased a desktop PC in over 8 years (still using my Dell Dimension XPS Gen5, antiquated I know) & subsequently my knowledge of PCs & their components is quite obsolete.

I checked out the alienware & overclockers websites & after browsing through the "customise your rig" sections for about a minute felt a seismic headache coming on as I realised I hadn't a bloody clue what to actually pick & choose.

I don't know the difference between core i3, 5 or 7.

I don't know which graphics card is mediocre / mid-range / best.

I don't know what "overclocking" my processor is and the subsequent cooling systems you can buy.

I don't know the difference between windows 7 or 8.

I don't know what a dual / quad core processor with 4 or 8GB RAM is, or what hard drive/ storage is decent / best.

Ad nauseum.

If I proposed a budget of say £800 what ideally could I acquire? I realise nowadays you can pick up a fairly solid gaming PC for £500-600 from what friends have said though would like to get 3-4 years minimum out of the rig for future game releases.

That is always a good place to start.

Scan do so built systems or motherboard/chip/memory overclocked bundles around the various guide specs (or maybe vice versa) as they have a tie up with bit-tech

Custom PCs built by the award winning team - Scan 3xs Systems

I have a not very special system built around an overclocked i5 and what is now considered an ancient Radeon 5870 graphics card but it monsters anything. Unless you are going to be a world class gamer running huge twin or triple screens at very high resolutions with everything cranked or doing heavy duty video encoding really do not need to spend stupid money.

Do splash out though on a decent case, good power supply and an SSD as a boot & core applications drive.
To just answer one bit of your question, ref overclocking, here's the definition from Wikipedia:

Overclocking is the process of making a computer or component operate faster than the clock frequency specified by the manufacturer by modifying system parameters (hence the name "overclocking"). Operating voltages may also be changed (increased), which can increase the speed at which operation remains stable. Most overclocking techniques increase power consumption, generating more heat, which must be dispersed if the chip is to remain operational.
In other words, it means making your PC run faster than it did when you brought it home from the shop.

However, if you run a processor faster it gets hotter (just like a car engine) and would eventually burn out if you didn't cool it (again, just like a car engine).

More techie explanations here: Overclocking - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
1. You have your budget set at £800.
2. What are you going to do with your pc.
3. Make sure its at least 3rd gen cpu chips easy enough to check. Look on the tag for i5,i7 (3224) its the first number that tells you about the chip generation.
4. My rule of thumb is make sure you put in enough RAM as you can afford.
5. Also Is your budget included a monitor.? A good monitor is always thought about last.
6. GFX cards best buys atm is ATI's from what ive read and best value for money. Plus BF4 is designed around the ATI architecture.

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Rule 1: Don't buy anything from PC World.
Rule 2: Don't buy anything from PC World.

Now I know technically, that's the same rule twice, but it is that important.
Firstly I echo post 8

Secondly, check out Novatech's website & I'm sure they have an online chat option too so you discuss with their online team all available specs & requirements for your own needs..
Decide what you want to do with it first - its like buying a set of spanners; no point buying metric if you work in imperial. Or no point buying routers saws and hammers if you work in a forge.

i3/i5/i7 refer to a range of Intel processors, in increasing processing power/performance (and price!). Forget the i7, you won't need the performance! The other brand is AMD, which have similar competing processors but are generally less powerful than their Intel equivalents. However, they are cheaper, as are their motherboards. I'll stick to Intel naming, you can always visit or for a comparison, then shop for prices and make a choice. Neither is bad.

For general 'office' and web work (word processing, email, web browsing, watching pron, and running the debt collection/protection spreadsheet) a core i3 and 4GB RAM or 8GB RAM will suffice, and a Nvidia 4xx/Radeon 5xxx or higher card will suffice. Play the odd game? Maybe a Core i5 and a Nvidia 460/Radeon6750, and 8GB RAM.

Reasonably serious about gaming? An i5 'k' class CPU with Radeon 7950 gfx card (its 90% of the 7970's performance for 50% of the cost). The i5 can be 'overclocked' out of the box on the stock (supplied) fan and heatsink without any dramas. 8GB DDR1666 RAM.

Given RAM is cheap, go for 8GB regardless. And no matter what you buy, get an SSD (solid state drive) to boot from, and a 1 or 2TB hard disk (HD) for data, etc. Both SSD and HD store stuff, but an SSD loads much, much faster. The downside is the 'affordable' ones hold maybe 10% the capacity of a HD, and cost more; a decent SSD costs about £80 for £128GB, whereas a 2TB HD (20x the capacity) cost about £75.

If you are buying from a dealer/custom builder, the case is secondary but make sure you get a decent PSU, at least 550Watts (preferably 750W) PSU as you can always add a second gfx card (NVidia SLI or ATI Crossfire are the terms used) later to improve gaming performance.

Windows 7 or 8? I'd recommend 7 if you have been using XP/Vista/Win7 for a while. Its easier to get to grips with, although many sites are showing that some games run faster under Win8; the drawback is re-learning how to use Windows. Yes it can be done, yes there are people who have "re-skinned" Windows8 to look like 7, no they are not novice computer users!
2. What are you going to do with your pc.
That is the question I was going to ask.

Answer that and better advise can be offered.

As for OS, wait until EOM when 8.1 should be RTM.

If you can't wait, buy PC with a W8 version with downgrade right to W7/XP and spec with downgrade installed.


PS Post 8: Don't buy from [add] or even enter PC World
My Dell laptop is on its last legs and before it decided to turn its toes up altogether I went, on Friday, into Novatech near Pompey and bought an N1535 notebook, and had Windows 7 installed (changing up from XP). I decided to stay away from Windows 8 after the reviews I'd read about it.

The good thing about Novatech is they don't fill your hard drive with bloatware. I've just about finished putting on the software that I want on, instead of all the shoite PC World/Currys/et al think I ought to have.
Thanks everyone so far for your input (I have just been dropping by on the thread every now and then and surfing the links you've all posted).

I want the PC primarily for playing high end games (or at least the potential to play them when the long haired CO permits it! Games such as Age of Empires 2 & Company of Heroes 2, I've never really been one for FPS) & for being able to handle the next 3-4 years' worth of new releases.

I've been a Windows XP user for a decade, I was curious about Windows 7 & 8 as I heard that the latter still wasn't up to scratch & was wondering what people thought.

I have no intention of ever using Dell or PC World again and am looking towards smaller providers such as overclockers, novatech (saw a few of you recommend then, the online team for interacting with sounds excellent), alienware, scan etc.
800 for high end gaming rig is a tad low, I would say anything from 1200 to infinity mate. For years of gaming fun your beat bet is too buy a SLI set up with some nvidia cards or plump for a titan gfx card but they run at about 1k a pop bit they will handle anything thrown at them for a good few years.

Check out and a company here in the north east
The last one has a FPS rating tag which is great, as it what your looking for in a gaming system.

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FWIW, I've used Scan and Novatech for components, no complaints with either. Feel Novatech have the edge though. Personal opinion, I'd avoid overclockers like the plague...

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