Most updated copy always available at: http://tinyurl.com/FalconGuide
Q: What is TRIM and why should I care?
A: TRIM is a command supported by Windows 7 and various tools that tells the SSD which large blocks are empty and okay to erase / free up for use. Without this support, most drives eventually become slower and slower as they are used more. See this wikipedia article and this Anandtech article for more in depth information. (Some of the performance and price information in the Anandtech article is outdated, please just read it for how SSDs work)
Q: How many cores does WoW use? How many cores CPU should I buy?
A: WoW currently utilizes as many cores as it is given. WoW is made up of one big main thread, one big sound thread, and then many smaller threads. The two big threads would preferably run on the first two cores of your CPU. The smaller threads would spread themselves among any cores that remain, or they would jam themselves wherever they would fit within the first two cores (if there are only two available). Essentially, a tri-core or better CPU is suggested: one core for the main WoW thread, one core for the WoW sound thread, and one core for the remaining threads and background applications (such as your web browser). This is an oversimplified idea of multi-threading and CPU core usage, but it gets the idea across.
Q: All of these CPU choices! How do I know which will perform best?
A: Here is a good benchmark of current CPUs. This benchmark specifically uses WoW for testing. You can choose which test to view from the dropdown box at the top, so you can view all of the synthetic benchmarks and benchmarks for other games. Also, you can choose two specific CPUs and compare them side by side on any of the tests.
Q: How much RAM do I need?
A: Most users will benefit from having at least 4GB of RAM. The 1366 socket uses triple channel RAM, so the minimum that should be purchased is 6GB of RAM. While you can get by with only 2GB of RAM, this is not a smart decision, regardless of your budget.
Q: Ok, now I understand how much I need, but what is this "CAS Latency"?
A: CAS Latency refers to the time between the memory controller requesting information and that information being available from the RAM chip. Generally, the lower the number, the better. However, CAS Latency causes such a minute improvement in performance that it will likely go unnoticed outside of benchmarks. You can read more about CAS Latency on Wikipedia. In particular, check out the chart regarding the different return times based on RAM speed and latency. At the higher end (DDR3 1600MHz), we're talking about a 2-3 nanosecond difference (a nanosecond is a billionth of a second).
Q: Can I skimp on my power supply? Is this a good brand?
A: NO, the PSU is one of the most critical parts of a computer build. A low quality PSU can damage hardware when it fails, or cause stability problems when it is unable to deliver the power your system needs. In general, a safe bet for most systems is picking up at least a 550W PSU, and making sure it is a reputable brand. Saying that a certain brand is good is not always possible, as different companies may make different models of their PSUs. Picking one off of our recommended list is your best bet.
Q: Should I buy a USB3/SATA 6Gb/s motherboard?
A: Sure, as long as you aren't paying a large premium for it. Currently there are not many USB3 devices on the market, and adoption will take some time to rise. Keeping in mind that SSDs are coming close to SATA 3Gb/s limitations, investing in a motherboard that will allow you to drop in a fast SSD in a year or two makes sense.
Q: Do I need a separate sound card?
A: No, for the majority of people the onboard sound is fine. Unless you are doing audio sensitive work or have some hardware issues with your onboard sound, there is no reason to purchase a separate sound card.
Q: Will using SLI/Crossfire help improve my FPS?
A: Not in WoW, as it is currently unsupported. In some cases, WoW may perform worse with an SLI/Crossfire setup than with a single video card. It may give a performance increase in other games, but the extra hassle with buggy drivers, extra heat, and extra power used are usually not worth it. Note that this looks like it will be changing in Cataclysm!
Q: How do these AMD sockets work?
A: The AM3 motherboards will accept only AM3 CPUs and use DDR3 memory. The AM2+ motherboards will accept AM2, AM2+, and most AM3 CPUs. These use DDR2 memory and the manufacturer's site should be checked for a CPU compatibility list when using an AM3 CPU. There is no reason to buy an AM2+ motherboard at this time.
Q: How do these Intel sockets work?
A: The 1366 socket works with 1366 CPUs, such as the i7-930, i7-920, and i7-980X, and has triple channel DDR3 memory. The 1156 socket works with the i3, i5, and i7-860 CPU and uses dual channel DDR3 memory. This is the socket with more value currently, as an extra channel of memory makes only a very small difference, and socket 1156 is cheaper to build with. Intel also has the 775 socket, but please don't buy any of these CPUs, as they are outdated now.
Q: What are all these motherboard form factors?
A: Each form factor describes the shape and size of the motherboard. ATX is the current standard that most people build with, while some opt for an mATX board. mATX is a smaller size motherboard, often with less expansion slots and more cramped component layouts. It is typically recommended to just get an ATX motherboard.
Q: How do I know if something is really on sale or not?
A: Take a look at the item on CamelEgg. This site will show you the price history over time, not including rebates and such.
Special thanks to chaud for helping compile the vast majority of this information.
Outdated Recommended Sample Builds
Note #1: All of these prices are USD and using US based resellers, not including shipping. Monitor, case, keyboard, mouse, speakers, and Operating System are mostly personal choice items and are not included in the lists.
Note #2: Prices on computer components change constantly. The below parts have been chosen to be roughly around the dollar amounts they're listed under. They may fall slightly above or below that amount. The list will be revised every few months or so.
Note #3: This is not an exhaustive list of parts. Some parts can be swapped here and there. This is simply to give you an idea of what works well together and some generic setup examples.
Note #4: This thread will not discuss pre-built systems. There are plenty of fine pre-built computer manufacturers, but this thread is regarding building your own computer.
Note #5: These builds are based around gaming. If you need a build for a different purpose, they may not be that great for you.
I have replaced my sample builds with this chart. It's a bit more thorough and better looking than my previous build list. I disagree with the creator's statement regarding ATi being in the lead for GPUs. nVidia is now pretty much even with ATi. Look for the GeForce GTX 460 as a substitute for the Radeon 5770/5830. Look for the GTX 470/480 as a substitute for the Radeon 5870/5970.
Recommended Individual Parts
Note: Cases are very dependent on what you require for your system (expansion slots, cooling setup, looks, etc). All of the below are quality cases.
- Intel Core i5-750 2.66GHz 4 Cores/i5-760 2.8GHz 4 Cores - Lacks Hyperthreading, uses socket 1156. Best value CPU.
- Intel Core i7-860 2.8GHz 4 Cores/i7-870 2.93GHz 4 Cores - Has Hyperthreading, uses socket 1156. Not an amazing value, as HT is useless in most applications and adds heat.
- Intel Core i7-930 2.8GHz 4 Cores/i7-950 3.06GHz 4 Cores - This uses socket 1366, and has a slight edge over the above CPUs. The 920 model is being discontinued but is also just as good.
- Intel Core i7-980X 3.3GHz 6 Cores - Currently this costs as much as a computer for very little benefit over similar CPUs above. But if you have money to burn, why not!
- AMD Athlon II X3 450 Rana 3.2GHz AM3 3 Cores - 4th core can sometimes be unlocked. This CPU lacks an L3 cache, read more about it here.
- AMD Phenom II X3 740 Black Edition 3.0GHz AM3 3 Cores - Similar to the above CPU, has an L3 cache, the same article has benchmarks.
- AMD Phenom II X4 925 Deneb 2.8GHz 4 Cores - This is a good value, and should be overclocked to gain performance.
- AMD Phenom II X4 965 Black Edition Deneb 3.4GHz 4 Cores - A decent value CPU. In this price range you are coming very close to i5-760 territory however.
- AMD Phenom II X6 1090T Black Edition Thuban 3.2GHz 6 Cores - Mostly a waste of money, no significant advantage by adding another 2 cores. Good for burning money though!
- Dual-Channel (All 4GB sets (2x2GB), DDR3, 1600MHz, and from quality manufacturers. CL# = CAS Latency)
- Triple Channel (All 6GB sets (3x2GB), DDR3, 1600MHz, and from quality manufacturers. CL# = CAS Latency)
- Western Digital 1TB Caviar Black - 5 year warranty.
- Western Digital 1.5TB Caviar Black - 5 year warranty.
- SAMSUNG Spinpoint 1TB F3 - Slightly cheaper and faster. 3 year warranty.
- Western Digital Caviar Green 1.5TB - Great storage drive, not for saving games like WoW on, slower drive.
- Crucial RealSSD C300 128GB - One of the top performers, currently. Great performance all around. Also available in 256GB
- Corsair Force 120GB - Good bang for the buck.
- OCZ Vertex 2 100GB - Good performance at a slight price premium.
- Intel 80GB G2 - Old controller and reliable, not worth purchasing unless it is on sale at less than ~$1.80/GB.
- CORSAIR 750TX 750W - Good bang for the buck.
- CORSAIR 650TX 650W - Good bang for the buck.
- CORSAIR 750HX 750W - Slightly more expensive, greater power efficiency. 7 year warranty!
- XFX Black Edition 750W - Also slightly more expensive, greater power efficiency.
January 21, 2011
December 29, 2010
- Updated PC Buying Guide thumbnail
November 20, 2010
- Updated PC Buying Guide thumbnail (linked image is always the latest)
November 10, 2010
- Basic PSU listing started.
- Updated AMD CPUs.
- Updated SSD section.
- Updated HDD section.
- Removed Bing Cashback (The program ended in July)
October 29, 2010
- Added Core i5-760, i7-870, and i7-950 CPUs to the list
- Marked SSD section as potentially outdated, as I simply haven't been keeping up with them
- Added tinyurl.com link for most current Falcon Guide (in case I don't get the image updated)
September 12, 2010
- Updated the Logical Increments chart to the latest version (1.0C, Oct 28th)
July 20, 2010
- Updated the Logical Increments chart to the latest version (0.9I, Sept 4th)
June 12, 2010
- Swapped out my build list with the image above
- Added note to CrossFire/SLI section that they may be supported in Cataclysm
- Added CPU benchmark in Q&A
- Create alternate parts list for PSUs
- Create alternate parts list for heatsink