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Tips for choosing the right graphics card for your custom-built computer

Are you building your first custom-built computer and looking for a graphics card? Or you may want to upgrade the graphics card in your current system. In this article, we'll provide some tips for choosing the right graphics card for your computer.

Tips for choosing the right graphics card for your custom-built computer

When it comes to choosing the right graphics card for your computer, the abundance of options available can be overwhelming. A graphics card is vital to any modern computer as it processes images and videos.

Now, graphics processing on a computer is done with GPUs (Graphics Processing Unit). GPUs can be built into a CPU or be part of separate graphics cards. If the GPU is built into the CPU, it is called Integrated graphics. If the GPU is on a separate graphics card, it is called Discrete graphics. Let's take a quick look at these two types of graphics that you can use with your custom-built computer.

Integrated or discrete graphics

  • Integrated graphics: Some CPUs have a built-in GPU, commonly called on-board graphics. To use the GPU feature in a CPU, your motherboard has to support on-board graphics and include a connection or two for display connection(s). Integrated graphics are excellent for text-based applications like word processors and spreadsheets.
  • Discrete graphics: A separate graphics card with a GPU, memory (VRAM), cooling system, and dedicated power regulators. The types of display connections will vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, and multiple displays can be connected simultaneously.

Determine your needs

Before jumping into the vast sea of graphic cards, you need to determine what you need it for. Different tasks require different levels of graphical horsepower. Here are three (3) of the most common scenarios:

  • General user: Everyday tasks like checking email and surfing the web. Integrated graphics work fine. But if you want smoother video playback and better multitasking, consider a low to mid-range GPU
  • Content creator: Video editing, 3D modeling, and rendering require graphic cards with GPUs optimized for creative workloads. Look for CUDA cores (for NVIDIA GPUs), stream processors (for AMD GPUs), or Xe-cores (for Intel)
  • Gaming: If you're a gamer, prioritize graphic cards that have GPUs with high clock speeds, ample VRAM (Video RAM), and support for the latest gaming technologies (like ray tracing and DLSS)

Graphic terminology

Let's take a quick look at the terminology associated with graphic cards. Though understanding GPU specs can be daunting, fear not! Here's a quick rundown:

  • GPU (Graphics Processing Unit): Chip designed to accelerate graphic and image processing
  • Clock Speed: Higher clock speeds mean faster performance
  • VRAM (Video Random Access Memory): More VRAM allows for smoother texture rendering and multitasking
  • CUDA Cores (NVIDIA), Stream Processors (AMD), or Xe-cores (Intel): These parallel processing units affect performance in specific tasks
  • Ray Tracing and DLSS Support: These features enhance visual fidelity in supported games

Check your system requirements

Once you've determined your needs, checking your system requirements is important. Make sure your computer has the necessary power supply and enough space to accommodate the graphics card. You'll also want to check the compatibility of the graphics card with your motherboard and operating system.

Also, consider the weight of the graphics card. As graphics cards become more and more complex, the weight of them can also get excessive. If the graphics card you are considering purchasing is relatively large, you may also want to look at getting a graphic card brace.

Consider the brand

There are several brands of GPUs on the market, including NVIDIA, AMD, and Intel. Each brand offers different features and performance levels. NVIDIA is known for its high-end GPUs that are ideal for gaming and video editing. AMD offers a range of GPUs that are more affordable and suitable for casual gamers. Intel is known for its integrated graphics that are built into the CPU, but it has recently ventured into the desktop market.

Look at the performance

When it comes to selecting a graphics card, performance is a key consideration. The performance of a graphics card is influenced by a number of factors, including its clock speed, memory size, and memory bandwidth. Clock speed determines how quickly the graphics card can process data, while memory size and bandwidth determine the amount of data that can be processed at any given moment.

Consider your budget

When selecting a graphics card, it's important to remember your budget. Graphics cards come in a wide price range, from less than $100 to over $1,000. To get the most out of your money, you should decide on a budget and search for a graphics card that provides the best performance within that budget.

Read reviews

Before making a final decision, it is essential to read reviews from other users. Look for reviews on reputable websites such as Amazon or Newegg, as they can provide valuable insights into the performance and reliability of a graphics card.

Future-proof your system

When choosing a graphics card, it is crucial to future-proof your system. You should look for a graphics card that comes with the latest technology and features, such as DirectX 12 support or VR compatibility. By doing so, you can ensure that your system can handle the latest games and applications for many years to come.

Choosing the right graphics card for your computer can be a challenging task, but by following these tips, you can make an informed decision. First, determine your needs, then check your system requirements and consider the brand. It is also important to look at the performance, consider your budget, read reviews, and future-proof your system. With the right graphics card, you can elevate your gaming, video editing, or 3D design experience to the next level.

Creative ways to repurpose your old Windows-based computer

Do you have an old Windows-based computer you no longer use? Maybe you got a new one and just do not know what to do with your old system. Here are a few creative ways to repurpose your old Windows-based computer.

Creative ways to repurpose your old Windows-based computer

Are you tired of your old Windows-based computer collecting dust in the corner of your room? It's time to give that outdated device a new lease on life by repurposing it for other uses. With some creativity and basic technical skills, you can turn your old machine into a valuable tool for various tasks.

For this article, I will reference the two (2) types of networks you can use your repurposed computer on: Internet and Intranet.

  • Internet: A global system of interconnected public networks. The Internet is a type of Wide Area Network (WAN).
  • Intranet: A private network for sharing files and printers that you cannot access from the Internet. The Intranet is a type of Local Area Network (LAN).

The first thing we need to address is the version of Windows the computer you want to repurpose is running. The version of Windows your computer is running should dictate what you should use it for. Older versions like Windows 8.1 and Windows 7 no longer get security updates and should only be used on your Intranet and kept off the Internet when possible.

Intranet uses

The most popular use of a spare computer is as a server. There are several different types of servers, so let's take a quick look at each type.

Home Media Server: If you have a large media collection of movies, TV shows, or music, you can turn your old computer into a home media server. By installing Plex or Kodi, you can stream your media to other devices in your home, such as a smart TV or mobile device. This can save you from purchasing a new media server or subscribing to a streaming service.

Plex: Stream Movies & TV Shows

Kodi: Open Source Home Theater Software

File Server: If the computer you are repurposing has a drive with plenty of free space, you should consider using it as a file server. In just a few minutes, you can share folders and files between devices on your Intranet. Not only can you share folders and files, but you can also use a file server to back up your various Windows-based computers.

How to share a folder on a private network

How to backup your Windows 11 computer using Windows Backup and File History

Backup your files with File History and Windows Backup in Windows 10

Print Server: Do you have an older printer with only a USB or LPT port and would like to share it with other computers on your Intranet? Just set it up on your repurposed computer, then go to the Devices and Printers section of the Control Panel and right-click on the printer you want to share.

From the context menu that appears, left-click on Printer properties and then select the tab labeled Sharing. Place a check mark in the Share this printer checkbox and give the printer a share name. Your printer should now be ready to share on your Intranet.

Web Server: If you are interested in web development or want a testing server for your website, Windows has an extensible web server called IIS (Internet Information Service). This feature is not installed by default but can be quickly installed by simply turning it on. Just go to the Programs and Features section of the Control Panel and select Turn Windows features on or off.

Internet uses

Gaming Rig: If you're a gamer, you can repurpose your old computer into a gaming rig. While it may not be able to handle the latest games, you can still play older titles or retro games. You can also install emulators, like DosBox, and play classic console games on your PC.

How to use DOSBox to run old DOS games and programs

You can access some old software and play old video games at the Internet Archive. They have all sorts of older software, games, books, movies, and, of course, the Wayback Machine. This is one website you could spend hours, if not days, exploring.

Download old software and play old video games at the Internet Archive

Dedicated Streaming Machine: If you're a streamer or content creator, you can use your old computer as a dedicated streaming machine. By installing OBS or XSplit, you can capture and stream your gameplay or other content to platforms like Twitch or YouTube. This can be a great way to start your streaming career without investing in expensive equipment.

Open Broadcaster Software | OBS

XSplit: Livestreaming and Webcam Enhancement Tools

Education and Learning: Finally, you can use your old computer for education and learning. You can use websites like Khan Academy, Duolingo, or Coursera to learn new skills or brush up on your knowledge. You can also use your old computer to teach your children or grandchildren basic computer skills or programming.

Khan Academy | Free Online Courses, Lessons & Practice

Duolingo - The world's best way to learn a language

Coursera | Degrees, Certificates, & Free Online Courses

In conclusion, there are many creative ways to repurpose your old Windows-based computer. By giving it a new life, you can save money, learn new skills, and make your life more productive. So, dust off that old machine and start exploring the possibilities.

Tips for choosing the right motherboard for your custom-built computer

Are you planning to build a custom computer? If so, the motherboard is one of the most important components you'll need to consider. It's the backbone of your computer system, connecting all the other components together. In this article, we'll provide tips for selecting the right motherboard for your custom-built computer.

Tips for choosing the right motherboard for your custom-built computer

Choosing the right motherboard can mean the difference between a stable, high-performance system and one prone to crashes and other issues. And depending on what you plan to use it for, the features may and will change.

CPU: The first thing to consider when choosing a motherboard is your CPU (Central Processing Unit). Your motherboard must be compatible with the CPU you plan to use. If you plan to use an Intel CPU, you'll need to choose a motherboard with an LGA socket compatible with your CPU. If you plan to use an AMD CPU, you'll need to choose a motherboard with an AM4 socket compatible with your CPU.

There are times when you might need a BIOS (Basic Input/Output System) update to run a newer CPU. Always check the motherboard manufacturer's website for a list of CPUs that are supported and what version of BIOS it may require.

Now, Intel CPU motherboards do not come with brackets to mount a CPU cooler, but AMD CPU motherboards do. If you decide to go with an AMD CPU, remember that some CPU coolers come with their own backplate, and some use the default AM4 backplate that comes with your AMD motherboard.

If your CPU cooler comes with its own backplate, remember to put the AM4 backplate that comes with your motherboard in a safe location, just in case you need to replace your CPU cooler and the new one requires the original AM4 backplate. Finding a replacement backplate can be time-consuming and a little expensive (around $20 w/ shipping). I have had to order plenty of replacement backplates, as the originals got lost.

Chipset: The chipset is another important factor to consider when choosing a motherboard. The chipset determines what features and capabilities your motherboard will offer. The chipset also affects the performance of your system, as it manages the data flow between the CPU, memory, and peripherals.

Size: Motherboards come in different sizes, ranging from mini-ITX to ATX. The size of the motherboard you choose will determine the size of your computer case. Make sure you choose a motherboard that's compatible with the size of your case.

Tips for choosing the perfect case for your computer

Memory: Memory has always been one of the most vital components next to the CPU. Remember that the memory slots have a maximum amount of memory each can use. You multiply that by the number of memory slots, and you get your maximum usable memory.

You always want to have memory modules that have matching specifications, so it is recommended that you purchase your memory modules in twin or quad packs. That way, you will be assured that all of the memory modules will match.

PCIe Expansion Slots: Expansion slots are another important factor to consider when choosing a motherboard. These slots allow you to add additional components to your system, such as graphics card(s), sound card, or WiFi adapter. Make sure the motherboard you choose has enough PCIe expansion slots (x16, x4, x1) for your needs.

How to add an expansion card to your desktop computer

Storage: The type of storage you use with your motherboard will have a direct impact on the performance. Solid State Drives (SSD) are faster, but Hard Disk Drives (HDD) have larger capacity. There are two type of connections for SSDs (M.2 & SATA) but only one (SATA) for HDDs.

The fastest and most common type of drive is an M.2, with SATA drives coming in second. The typical gaming system has an M.2 drive for the operating system and programs files and an HDD for data storage. Once you decide on what drive(s) (M.2 and/or SATA) and quantity you want to use, you can make sure your motherboard has all of the correct (M.2 / SATA) connections.

I/O Ports: The I/O ports on your motherboard determine what devices you can connect to your system. Make sure the motherboard you choose has enough USB ports, audio ports, and other ports you'll need for your peripherals. It's also important to check if the motherboard has a built-in WiFi or Bluetooth adapter.

Also check the on-board headers for the matching connections for your case. You will want to make sure you have headers for the USB (3.2, 3.1, 2.0) ports, case fans, and lighting features your case may have. It sucks if your case has a USB 3.2 port on the front but your motherboard doesn't have a USB 3.2 header to connect it to.

Power: The majority of ATX-type power supplies have all of the necessary connectors (Modular ATX (24-pin), ATX 12V 8-pin (4x4), Molex, etc.) for almost any motherboard. But to be on the safe side, always check the specifications and connectors for any motherboard you are looking at purchasing.

How to estimate the power required for your custom-built computer

Brand and Warranty: Finally, consider the brand and warranty of the motherboard you choose. Choose a reputable brand that offers good customer support and a solid warranty. This will give you peace of mind knowing that you'll be able to get help if you encounter any issues with your motherboard.

In conclusion, choosing the right motherboard is essential for building a stable, high-performance, custom-built computer. When selecting a motherboard, consider your CPU, chipset, size, memory, PCIe expansion slots, storage, I/O ports, power, and brand reputation. With these tips in mind, you can choose the best motherboard for your custom-built computer, ensuring a smooth and enjoyable computing experience.

Tips for choosing the perfect case for your computer

Are you building a new computer or upgrading an existing one? The computer case is one of the most essential components you'll need to consider. In this article, we'll go over some tips to help you in choosing the perfect case for your computer.

Tips for choosing the perfect case for your computer

When it comes to finding the perfect computer case, you have to remember that not only does it protect your components, but it also affects your computer's cooling and noise levels. With so many options on the market, choosing the right computer case can be overwhelming.

Size matters: The first thing you will need to consider is the motherboard that you are going to use. The most common sizes are ATX, Micro-ATX, and Mini-ITX. Make sure you choose a case that fits your motherboard size.
A home theater computer case
Beyond that, you'll also need to consider the size of your graphics card(s), power supply, CPU cooler (air or liquid), and drives you plan to install.

Airflow and cooling: Proper airflow is crucial for keeping your components cool and extending their lifespan. Look for a case that has plenty of ventilation and supports multiple fans. You may also want to consider a case with liquid cooling support if you plan on overclocking your CPU (Central Processing Unit) and/or GPU (Graphics Processing Unit). Remember, a larger case will give you more room for expansion, but it will also take up more space on or below your desk.

A gaming computer case

If you plan on using a liquid cooler for your CPU and/or GPU, you will need to take into consideration the size of the radiator(s) and cooling fans. The mounting depth for a cooling radiator with fans attached can vary, so definitely make sure you have plenty of clearance in the case where you plan on mounting the cooling system. Remember that a case with more fans will generally be louder than one with fewer fans, so you'll need to find a balance between cooling and noise levels.

Noise levels: Speaking of noise levels, consider the noise output of your case. If you're building a home theater PC or a workstation that needs to be quiet, look for a case with sound-dampening materials and low noise output. On the other hand, if you're building a gaming PC that will be under your desk, noise may not be as much of a concern.

Cable management: A clean and organized interior not only looks better but also helps with airflow and cooling. It also comes in handy when it comes to maintenance. Look for a case with plenty of cable management options, such as routing holes and tie-down points. Some cases even have built-in cable channels to help keep everything tidy.

Build quality: Next, consider the build quality of the case. You want a sturdy, well-made case with no sharp edges or flimsy panels. A good case will also have easy-to-remove panels to access your components easily.

Some 'no name' generic cases have a tendency to have metal edges that are not deburred, leaving them extremely sharp, which will lead to cuts on your hands as you assemble your computer. Since a good quality case can last for years, spending a little more on a quality case is just good sense.

Serviceability: With living in a dry environment like Phoenix, we have an extreme amount of dust and need to clean our systems on a regular basis. Having a computer case that can be easily cleaned of dust is essential.
An open-design computer case
Remember that most computer cases also come with dust filters that need to be cleaned, so having side and top panels that can be easily removed is handy.

In addition to these tips, you'll also want to consider the overall style and design of the case. Do you want a sleek and minimalist look or something with more RGB lighting and flashy designs? Ultimately, the right case for you will depend on your personal preferences and needs.

For more information on building your own computer, check out the following articles.

How to build a computer

How to find compatible computer parts online

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Common problems to avoid when building your own computer

Common problems to avoid when building your own computer

Are you planning to build your own computer? It can be an exciting project, as you get to choose the components that match your needs and preferences. However, building a computer from scratch can also come with its own set of challenges and errors. In this article, we will discuss the common problems to avoid when building your own computer.

Common problems to avoid when building your own computer

Having built and serviced many custom-built computers, there are certain things I watch out for. The tips outlined in this article are meant to assist you in building your own computer. For the basic steps to building a custom computer, check out How to build a computer.

Choosing components: One of the most common mistakes people make when building their own computer is selecting the wrong components. You must choose components that are compatible with one another. For example, if you choose a motherboard that only supports DDR4 RAM, you won't be able to use DDR5 RAM, no matter how much you want to.

How to find compatible computer parts online

Enough space for components: When building a computer, it's essential to make sure that you have enough space for all the components. If you're building a Small Form Factor computer, make sure that all the components you choose can fit inside the case. It's also essential to make sure that there is enough space for adequate cooling and airflow. Remember, you cannot install a full-size ATX motherboard into a microATX case.

Things to keep in mind when building a custom-built computer

Motherboard IO shield: If your motherboard comes with a separate IO shield, remember you have to install it before the motherboard. Also, be careful when installing the motherboard so you do not bend any of the prongs on the IO shield.

Photo of a motherboard IO shield showing the grounding prongs

These prongs are meant to ground the various ports but often get bent out of shape. Install the IO shield in the case and then test fit the motherboard into the case. If you place the motherboard at an angle in the case, you can get the ports on the back underneath any IO shield prongs that need to be on top of them.

Cable Management: Cable management is often overlooked, but it's essential to keep your computer tidy and organized. Proper cable management can help with airflow, reduce dust buildup, and make it easier to troubleshoot any problems. Make sure that all cables are neatly tucked away and secured to avoid any damage or interference with other components.

Photo of plastic coated wire tie and plastic zip tie side by side

When performing cable management, use only velcro or plastic zip ties. Never use plastic-coated wire twist ties since they contain wire, which, if used too close to any exposed circuit board or bare metal, could cause a short.

Power Supply Requirements: The power supply is one of the most critical components of a computer, and it's essential to make sure you get the right one. A power supply that isn't powerful enough can cause your computer to crash, and one that is too powerful can waste energy and increase your electricity bill. Make sure that your power supply can handle the wattage required by your components.

Also, use a modular power supply if possible. With a modular power supply, you only have to attach the cables required for the components inside your case. For example, if you use only M.2 SSDs (Solid State Drive) for storage, you would not need to attach any SATA cables to the power supply, thus saving space inside the case.

How to estimate the power required for your custom-built computer

Cooling: The components inside your computer generate a lot of heat, and it's essential to keep them cool. If your computer overheats, it can cause damage to the components, shorten their lifespan, and even cause them to fail. Make sure you have enough cooling, either through fans or liquid cooling, to keep your computer running at optimal temperatures.

When it comes to the airflow direction, I usually will have air coming in through the front/bottom of the case and going out through the top/back of the case.
Photo of a case fan with directional arrows highlighted
Case fans typically are marked with the direction of both the fan blades and airflow.

In conclusion, building your own computer can be a fun and rewarding experience, but it's essential to avoid these common problems. Take your time, do your research, and make sure that you choose the right components that are compatible with one another. Always double-check that everything is installed correctly and that you have enough cooling and space for all the components. With the right approach, you can build a computer that meets your needs and performs well for years to come.

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Repairing a PC can sometimes be expensive, and that is why we offer free basic in-shop diagnostics. Give one of our professional and experienced technicians a call at (602) 795-1111, and let's see what we can do for you.

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Repairing a computer can be time-consuming. That is why we base our in-shop service on the time we work on your computer, not the time it takes for your computer to work! From running memory checking software to scanning for viruses, these are processes that can take some time.

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