If you like to build computers, chances are you have heard a common piece of advice: “Buy parts to ensure a clear upgrade path or future expansion.” On the surface this sounds reasonable, but looking closer, it can be a huge waste of money.
People buy and upgrade computers for all sorts of reasons. However I see a ton of advice online that leans to the vocal enthusiast/gamer. This article is aimed at those of us who have more limited budgets and want to have tangible, impactful or meaningful gains to make buying decisions without having to spend a lot of money down the road. Basically, best bang for your buck advice.
If you are looking to build a PC and keep it for 3/4 years and beyond, this is article is for you. My philosophy on building PC’s is to max out best bang for your buck with current parts and ride it out until it doesn’t do what you need it to. So buying for the long term on a budget is a little different than buying for maximum performance with intentions to upgrade parts in the near future.
It’s a dead socket
This is probably a phrase you may have seen when looking for part advice online or from other geeks. “That socket is dead, only socket ‘Y’ is the current socket with a future. Skip ‘X’ and save your money”. Hold that thought. Just because a new socket is inbound or already here doesn’t mean the old one is worthless. Actually, if a new one has just landed chances are the older socket may be having a price drop. So now if you were looking at previously top tier parts, buying mid tier is a great way to save some money and get the performance you wanted. Unless you really have the need for cutting edge, chances are you probably don’t need the performance boost of 10-20% and the price tag that is much more inflated that these performance increases.
Some may say, buy a cheaper CPU now and then upgrade later when you can afford it in these cases. However the issue with this is that unless you have someone lined up to buy the used processor you will take a sizable loss when upgrading. You certainly won’t get what you paid for it.
Additionally, how soon do you plan to upgrade your CPU? Although sockets are generally stable for a generation or two, I haven’t seen any revisions that have had major better CPU’s released other than what was first launched. Sure there may be a few more options, or maybe a slightly higher clocked version, but usually an architecture change means a socket change. So depending on how soon you plan to retire your initial buy, you may find yourself in another generation of CPU’s when you want to upgrade. So now, why buy the max in the old architecture which is exactly the train of thought that led to buying the cheaper CPU until you upgrade? In this case, I feel buying the best of the last generation can be the best value for your money and less time spent taking apart your rig and upgrading it.
DDR’Y’ RAM is the future
Tied to the motherboard(with few rare exceptions where both slots exist) you will need to pick your RAM type. I have seen a lot of talk online with both camps talking about how currently DDR3 is fine or enthusiasts not settling for anything less than DDR4 base speeds(and the CPU’s that are required for them). The truth is that RAM speeds don’t matter as much as they are made out to be. Sure there are benchmark differences, but when it comes down to it, you probably won’t notice anything different.
PCIE ‘Y’.0 required
There is a current debate between what version of PCIe you need. According to Guru3d.com (article from 2/19/2015) it has been found that you can run any new generation graphics card with PCIe 3.0 speeds in a PCIe 2.0 without any noticeable loss in performance(being that PCIe 3.0 only adds a slight gain of about 2-3%). The only major noticeable difference is if you use SLI/Crossfire and 2.0 vs 3.0 had a slightly higher difference of ~5% performance.
AMD runs hot/increased power consumption
Yes, AMD does run hotter than Intel. With their top chips running at about 125W TDP. Intel’s are at 91W TDP. There is a difference and yes, that will translate into a real world temperature difference but only a small one. Any PC will help heat a room. The difference isn’t as big as it’s made out to be.
As for power consumption, yes AMD does use more power(this is also why it’s hotter as thermals are from lost electrical efficiency). As a matter of fact, to illustrate this point there is an article that shows you the correlation from Pudget Systems/Maximum PC. Effectively for every watt your PC uses it will generate the same amount of heat which is explained here: Maximum PC: Can Your PC Replace Your Space Heater in Winter? This is actually a summary of a Pudget Systems article: Gaming PC vs. Space Heater Efficiency. So, if you are concerned about power/heat you will want lower wattage components.A difference of 30watts for a CPU isn’t that much, and I am willing to bet you wouldn’t even notice.
If you want to offset the heat generated by a more power hungry CPU, switch an incandescent light bulb to an LED that’s on as often as you PC is on. You will get the same thermal offset and the power saving will probably even out as the wattage offset is neutral(but I am no electrician to calculate the real values but here is an article on stack exchange to help explain it if you are interested: http://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/15590/heating-from-power-dissipation).
Bottom Line: It’s not something to really deter you.
So, if you aren’t in the market for the best of the best and want to upgrade parts every year, I suggest you buy the best bang for the buck and not worry about the numbers and marketing differences between these pain points. Clearly the manufactures want to sell more parts, and the best way to do this is through marketing. So ignoring the marketing and looking at benchmarks and real world use is the best way to lead you to get all the power you need with the assurance that by dropping an extra few hundred dollars you wouldn’t be getting the value or speed increase you may otherwise be led to think you’re getting. As with everything, to each their own and everyone has different needs and reasons for their purchases. These are my recommendations but doesn’t mean what others have or use is wrong or invalid.