Love planning and building PCs? Here’s how to get paid for it (really)

A lot of people have a real passion for building a great computer. Whether it be a gaming behemoth, something that offers a great performance for a low price or weirder, more niche machines that consume very little power or have no moving parts.

Many are happy to do this free of charge, for complete strangers over the internet, just for the love of the hobby.

But what if you could get paid for it? I was browsing fiverr when I came across people offering this service for $5, and to my surprise, getting plenty of customers.

fiverr

How fiverr works is anyone can offer their services (known as a “gig”) with a basic cost of $5. Then anyone can purchase the gig, leave feedback and the service provider gets to keep $4, with $1 going to fiverr. Then the gig publisher can add on optional extras for the customer so beefier sums of money can potentially be made. From what I’ve seen a lot of fiverr gigs involve marketing in some way, such as making logos for websites, creating content etc. But some guys are offering their pc-building expertise for $5 a pop, and based on their feedback many are getting plenty of business.

So there you have it, create a fiverr gig, sell yourself as a massive expert that is conscientious about helping people achieve their ideal rig and with a bit of luck you’ll be receiving money for something you’d probably do for free anyway.

Pro tip: If you want to buy anything from fiverr, coupon code FLY20 gets first time buyers 20% off.

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Why your keyboard has an extra USB slot/port

A feature you see on higher end mechanical keyboards, and increasingly more mid-range ones, is an extra USB port (usually on the back).

See the image below I took of my Corsair Strafe:

Extra USB slot on keyboard (corsair strafe)

As you can see, to the left of the ordinary USB cable there’s an extra slot. It’s known as USB pass-through and enables you to plug USB powered peripherals into your computer via your keyboard rather than having to plug them in the conventional way (via your motherboard/computer case).

Usually with anything that has USB pass through, they’ll also have multiple USB plugs (see image below). This is because any peripheral you plug into your keyboard will need the extra power to function. So if you plan on using USB pass through, both cables need to be plugged in so there’s enough power for everything to function.

Double USB Cable on a keyboard

Just a quick post for anyone wondering what’s going on with them. Most people, AFAIK, just use the extra slot to plug in their phones.

How to get a good deal on pc components

So you’re preparing for your latest build and want to get the components as cheaply as possible – how do you find the best deals on parts? There’s four good sources that I know of.

1. https://pcpartpicker.com/. It’s US stuff by default but you can select country in the top right. When you select the part you need for your build it shows the recent price history of all the big retailers. When planning your build it will ensure your parts are compatible and total up the price from the cheapest seller of each product. There are tonnes of nice features on there to help you plan your build.

2. http://www.pcpricechecker.co.uk/. This helps you quickly view the biggest price drops on Amazon pc products. Looking for a good deal on some DDR3? Select “RAM” then sort by monthly or daily price drop to see which has come down in price the most. It updates hourly so it’s good for catching temporary price drops.

3. http://www.reddit.com/r/buildapcsales – US by default but there are other subreddits for other nationalities. Users scour the net and post up the best deals they can find so sometimes there’s stuff the sites don’t pick up for whatever reason.

4. Finally http://uk.camelcamelcamel.com/ – Tracks price history for Amazon products. For pretty much everything “top drops” can sometimes be worth glancing over to get a good overview of what’s dropped in price recently.

This stuff applies to anything you buy online really, spend an hour or two looking over these and you could save yourself hundreds overall.

The GTX 960 – what we know so far

A quick intro on the 960: it was originally supposed to be released last year with the 970 and 980, however it was delayed by nVidia basically because their other maxwell cards were selling brilliantly and they didn’t want their own cards competing with each other too much. So now the GTX 960 has been confirmed for a January 22nd release.

What do we know about the card itself? First of all there are going to be three in this “range”. The 960, the 960 ti and the 965 ti, the latter two released after the 960. The 960 is expected to be a 2GB card with a 128 bit bus (with possible 3GB and 4GB versions later on), much to the disappointment of many who feel that isn’t adequate in this day. However while other maxwell cards have used the GM204 GPU, the 960 will be the very first to be based on the GM206 GPU, which is interesting because we have no idea how it performs. So are there any preliminary benchmarks? No. The one below is being posted all over the place but is completely fabricated by someone who has no information – just to reiterate, it’s completely false, but sites are publishing it anyway, me included.

False benchmarks
False benchmarks

So that’s it, that’s all we know. The prices people have been guessing at have been ranging between $150 and $200 and no-one knows the performance yet.

I assumed that GM206 would be an improvement on 204 in terms of efficiency but what’s interesting is that early reports on MSI 960 cards have shown they have 8 pin connectors which suggests that a 6 pin’s power isn’t quite adequate.

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GM206, modest sounding specs, but an 8 pin connector, what’s going on?

We should know shortly either way how this card performs, and far more interestingly, the performance to power consumption ratio any day now.

What are the fastest, 17cm (mini itx) graphics cards? 01.01.2015

Mini ITX-sized graphics cards look great with a mini ITX motherboard, but how do they perform?

gigabyteminiitxcard

Currently there are (good) 17cm, or less, versions of just three GPUs, the 760, the 750ti and the 970.

There are plenty of 750 and 750ti options, and one 760 option, but for the sake of this article we’re going to have a quick look into the 970, “GV-N970IXOC-4GD” by Gigabyte (pictured above). It’s 17cm long, has 4GB of DDR4 and a 256 bit memory interface. The specs are pretty standard for a 970 and the price is lower than average, so what’s the catch? Does performance take a hit? Does it overheat?

The other is the GALAX version, which luckily I managed to find half a user review on, on [H].

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GALAX 17cm (or 173mm to be more precise)

Summarised: Apparently it performs great, makes unusual noises that aren’t anything to do with the fan (possibly extreme coil whine) and temps reach around 72 degrees C under load. It’s technically longer than 17cm long at 173mm but I don’t think that matters.

One thing that quickly became obvious while google-ing this kind of thing was that there’s very little information on these cards. No “real” reviews, very little discussion. This could mean two things: no-one gives a toss about them or no-one is buying them – most likely a combination of the two.

It makes sense though, if you’ve got space for a 22cm long graphics card in your case, why limit yourself to 17cm? Less heatsink surface area generally means fans need to spin more quickly, creating more noise. Shame they look so good tbh.

Frankie – PC enthusiast and Pure E Liquids mascot.

PCs use less power, yet we see an increase in stupidly high watt PSUs

We’ve seen some massive leaps lately in performance per watt. Intel and nVidia’s maxwell providing some really low watt options ultimately as a result of the ever increasing mobile market and the demand for decent looking games on portable devices.

With the release of maxwell you can, for the first time ever, run a good gaming machine that won’t exceed 100watts. But weirdly we’re seeing PSUs rated even higher, an increasing amount of PSUs not only above the 1kW mark, but even more towards the 1.5kW range.

What’s strange about this is that while a lot of emphasis has been put on efficiency in the PSU market with the 80+, bronze, silver, gold and now platinum – PSUs get dramatically less efficient the lower the % of the rated power is being provided. To be awarded with an 80+ certificate, a PSU has to be at least 80% efficient at 20%, 50% and 100% load to qualify. So this doesn’t take into account efficiency at say, 12%, or 4%. So if you bought a super efficient PSU rated at 1kW, and your machine is using 80 watts and therefore just 8% of it’s rated power, it’s likely to be stupidly inefficient.

Here’s a chart from hardware.info. To put it simply, if you need 80 watts from your PSU for your components, and you’re at 50% efficiency, that means you’re drawing 160watts from the wall, 80 watts is going to your components and 80 watts is wasted.

highratingineffcient

Ironically the super high rating, high quality PSUs are generally the more efficient at higher loads and finding something that has a reasonable rating at a lower load is much harder.

We have the 160 watt PicoPSU that’s very efficient at low loads, then the next best option is the 450watt e9 from BeQuiet. I think this is the most obvious market gap ever. Whoever brings out a 80plus platinum PSU rated at something sensible, like 300 watts, will make a killing. I’d certainly buy one anyway.

It’s official: Maxwell turned out to be amazing

I’ve just been reading all the new 750/750 Ti reviews popping up on the net over the past couple of hours.

The skinny of it is, is that the reference card has a TDP of about 60 Watts and is somewhere between a 650 Ti and a 650 Ti Boost in performance. It also shows a lot of overclocking potential as factory overclocked cards have comfortably beaten a 650 Ti Boost without a 6 pin connector for extra power

So basically it’s roughly twice as power efficient as other stuff currently out there. Here’s power/watt ratio graph from techpowerup:

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This is revolutionary, not just for compact/quiet/low power enthusiasts, but it has raised the roof massively for what high GPUs can potentially achieve. Personally I like it because it now means it’s possible to build decent gaming computers with a TDP of less than 100 watts, which before today would have been impossible.

Meanwhile, half the pc gaming community completely fails to see the significance. Here’s a couple of ridiculous comments to show what I’m talking about.

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It’s like complaining about a pube stuck between your teeth after an orgy.

4 benefits of having a caseless computer

Not housing your components in a case isn’t exactly popular. To many it would be seen as reckless, but I think that’s about to change. My next build will not have a case, and these are the reasons why:

1. It makes the whole thing smaller.

If having a smaller sized rig is important to you, there’s nothing anywhere near as big as the case. Small form factor cases exist but unless you fit your components in such a way that every inch is taken up with something, cases make your computer unnecessarily big. “Space” in a case is just wasted space, the idea that air needs room to flow is nonsense – the less air there is in your case, the quicker your extractor fan can replace the whole volume of air available. The more space, the longer warm air lingers.

In for example a mini ITX build, all vital components are squeezed onto a tiny 17cm by 17cm motherboard, then usually housed in a 20cm x 30cm x 40cm box. Insanity.

2. As of now, caseless computers look good.

This is obviously subjective. But most people like to at least see some of their machine exposed, hence all the windowed cases you see. The problem with having a caseless computer traditionally was that it wasn’t that attractive. All those cables… and what’s attractive about a PSU, a 3.5″ HDD or the backside of a DVD drive?

Nothing, all those things are ugly.

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Forget it.

But now, none of those things need to exist any more. When you’re building a power efficient machine, you can opt for a PicoPSU, which are tiny. Unless you have an unusual purpose for one, a DVD drive is completely unnecessary apart from the initial OS installation. SSDs are small and the majority are attractive. And finally, with a build this minimal, you now have removed the issue of the big mess of cables you’d usually have to put up with.

I think a computer with a PicoPSU, 1 SSD, 1 GPU and a nice looking CPU cooler – completely caseless, would look way more interesting than a metal box.

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Something more along these lines

3. Less compatibility issues.

When you’re choosing parts for a small form factor build, ensuring things fit can be a real ball ache. With a caseless build, you still need to ensure different components aren’t in each other’s way, but with no case it makes everything a hell of a lot easier. The only possible awkward component with a small form factor build I can think of is the CPU fan, it needs to clear the ram and leave space for the GPU. With the case? You still have that same issue, but you also need to ensure your GPU fits and that there’s even space for a decent sized CPU cooler. Watercooling is usually a nightmare.

4. Nice looking cases are expensive.

Cases in general are cheap, but desirable cases are not and isn’t because 0.4mm thick aluminium is expensive, it’s because people will pay more for a not ugly case. The reason I say not ugly is because most cases are hideous and all it takes is for a company like Corsair or Silverstone to make something that’s quite minimal and simple looking and it’s the new “must have” case – people will happily pay $200 for a small aluminium box.

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I’d think this looks badass. If I was 8.

Not having a case also saves you from buying case fans, not only that but you won’t have to have any other guff they may have included with it to justify the high price, stuff you’ll never use. Bad case stock fans you will have to replace anyway, card readers, LEDs you’d rather weren’t there.

To conclude. Cases suck. They all suffer from design by committee and nothing can be done about it

It’s not the manufacturer’s fault, either. They need to house an infinitely large possible combination of components, have good cooling ability, be user friendly, sound proof and most impossibly, they have to look nice. Whatever case you have, you’ll be forced to make compromises and it’s gotten to the point where it’s making more sense to just not have one.

Korean company aims to reduce victims of “fan death” with fanless cooling for gamers

There’s an urban legend in Korea that sleeping in a room with fans will kill you. “Fan death” is widely believed by the South Korean population to cause death either by somehow asphyxiating the victim or literally chilling them to death while they sleep. And it’s not just something neurotic middle aged mothers believe in – it’s so ingrained into the minds of Koreans that the government and medical authorities have listed fan death as one of the nation’s five most serious risks to Koreans during the summer.

But if a fan used to cool a room is dangerous, then surely a gaming pc with case fans, CPU and GPU fans is equally if not more life threatening? Aiming to cater to this market; enter eccentric Korean company nofan corporation.

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The monster CR-95C CPU cooler

Nofan manufactures weird and wonderful fanless computer components including the ridiculous looking CR-95C – which, while unusual and stupidly big, is possibly the most effective passive cpu cooling solution you can get hold of. It can cool overclocked high end processors completely passively due to it’s massive 217m² of heat dissipation – but with a 18cm diameter and height of nearly 15cm, its compatibility is pretty limited.

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NoFan CR-95C compared to other passive CPU coolers

Along with this they manufacture chassis designed to function completely passively, with ventilation just for the purpose of allowing convection to work effectively for your internal, fanless components. A fanless PSU and apparently some fanless VGA coolers are also in development.

If I’m being honest I would make space for components like these if I thought falling asleep while gaming had a chance of suffocating me.

How to build for maximum performance

Faster components will make a faster gaming computer. But how can you achieve maximum performance when your budget is limited, you want a low power consumption rig, silence or just something really compact? In this post I’m going to define high performance as being able to play the most demanding games released for as many years as possible.

Firstly it’s important to work out where you’re going to draw the line between power and the other stuff. A pocket calculator may be silent and compact but it’s never going to play Battlefield 4 on the highest settings.  I would argue that you should aim for your computer’s game-playing performance to be a bit better than the latest games consoles, but then to draw the line at that. Anything else is excessive. Too much performance = noise, excessive power consumption and most of all, money down the drain.

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Super high end gaming computers: epeen nonsense

While it’s tempting to build a super powerful beast when picking your components for your new build, it simply isn’t a logical option. We humans can’t appreciate more than a certain amout of frames per second and if you’re being honest with yourself, do you really play the most demanding games at maximum settings at ridiculous resolutions anyway? And if so, how often? Sometimes, while I’ve been reading hardware-type forums lately I’ve wondered whether a lot of these people whos main hobby and passion is messing around with gaming computers actually enjoy gaming anywhere near as much as building a gaming rig itself. It’s almost as if achieving a high frame rate in modern games for these people is more pleasurable than the game itself.

If you enjoy building a beast so you can get the highest frame rates possible, go for it. But otherwise, there’s a sweet spot for gaming performance and that’s generally somewhere just above modern games consoles. At the time of writing this the Xbox One and PS4 have recently been released and that means for the next few years, big multi platform games will be made to run well on these consoles and therefore in order to run these games well too you need the equivalent in power. Unfortunately due to the fact that consoles designed to do nothing much more than play games, they’re a little bit more efficient than PCs at getting the most out of their hardware. Developers know exactly what components they’re building the game to run on and can optimise the game to run as well on them specifically. Running the game on a pc? You could be using any arrangement of hundreds of different components, no one is optimising a game to run well on your machine.

That’s why we can’t match the consoles, we’ve got to beat them. Out of the two consoles, apparently the PS4 is a little bit faster so that means we’ve got to beat that. It’s said that the PS4s graphics processor is roughly equivalent to a Radeon HD 7850 which costs roughly £120 or $150 and is considered a higher end mid-range card. The TDP is about 130 watts and runs relatively hot. To have a card perform better than this, run silently and consume less power is going to be a challenge for me, but if you’re not concerned with most of these things then it becomes a little easier. Beat this card and you’ve got a gaming computer that will last you years, beat it by too much and you’re throwing money away.

battlefield3gpucomparison

So now you have a rough idea of how powerful you want your rig, you’ve got to make the most of what you’ve got to work with.

One key way to do this is to avoid bottlenecking.

When components are reviewed, you’ll notice that the test rig is very high end. If a GPU is being reviewed for example, the rest of the system’s components will be as high spec as possible – a high end cpu that’s been overclocked, an excess of fast ram, a top end gaming motherboard, etc. This is so that when comparing the graphics card performances, any slow down can more easily be attributed to GPU performance. If the CPU wasn’t top end in this example, a game could be tested and regardless of what GPU was used, the framerate would be the same because the CPU was the bottleneck. Use a beast CPU and the GPU becomes the bottleneck, making it easier to identify how well the GPU performs.

bottleneckcpugpu

This is important to be aware of when picking parts because you don’t want any of your components to be bottlenecking your other components, thus ensuring that whatever you’ve spent your money on, taking up space, using electricity and creating noise – is being utilized fully. Put simply: Your components need to match each others performances.

So how do you know if your components match? Generally you just read endless benchmarks until you have a good idea of what components are roughly equivalent to each other. But a good easy rule to follow regarding matching CPU and GPU in particular is to match based on their prices. Whatever you spend on your CPU, you add 20% and there you have your GPU cost. So a £150 CPU would match a £180 graphics card. Roughly.

Regarding ram, speed isn’t particularly important, don’t be tricked into buying unusually fast clock speeds or certain latencies because the impact on performance is minimal. The general rule with RAM amounts is to look at what games are recommending for high end games at the time you’re building and double that number, so currently some high end games are recommending 4gigs and in that case I’ll go with 8.

Regarding PSUs. A good general rule, unless you’re doing something unusual like adding 20 hard drives, is to add up your cpu and gpu tdp and double that number, then you’ll get your required PSU power rating. So a 85 watt cpu and a 150 watt gpu would give you 235, double that number, you have 470, therefore you need a PSU that is roughly 470 watts. Always make sure you buy from a reputable brand because  cheapo PSUs can fry your whole system. Buy a PSU with too high a power rating and you’ll never put it to use.

Motherboards – The cheaper ones are generally better. The performance increase of expensive gaming motherboards are generally negligible and the more features it has will raise power consumption. So you’re paying extra twice, firstly for the motherboard, then the extra electricity it will waste. Same rule as applies to PSUs, lean towards the low end, but always buy reputable, quality brand stuff.

Newer parts are better than older parts.

Always pick the latest generation parts when building your new computer. If two components have similar benchmark results and cost roughly the same, purchase the one that released most recently. This is because, as a general rule, newer parts have features and capabilities older ones don’t and some of these features may only become relevant at as time goes on. Not only that, it makes upgrading in the future easier and if you want to sell your components on at a later date they will hold their value better. Always buy the newest stuff.

Mantlebyamd
Newer components support features that can extend your rig’s life dramatically.

A good way to find out how old GPUs are is to check this database: http://www.techpowerup.com/gpudb/

Sorted by date released, you can easily see which are the newer cards.

And lastly, overclocking.

Overclocking can be of great benefit. Power enthusiasts tend to overclock immediately and as far as they can comfortably push it. I would recommend not even considering overclocking a new computer simply because it’s unnecessary and tends to involve increasing the voltage. However it can be a fantastic way to extend the life of your computer in its later life. If you’re at the point where you can’t quite play the games you like at a good framerate… overclock, push your rig to it’s maximum power and if you encounter issues, or even break something – it’s your old computer, it doesn’t matter at that point – the benefits outweigh the cost.

Summary.

  • Choose how powerful you want your computer to be, I recommend slightly more powerful than the PS4. (At the time of writing)
  • Match your parts to minimise bottlenecking.
  • Always pick new parts over older generation parts.
  • Don’t overclock until you actually may notice the benefits, later in the computer’s life.