Building a computer, at least in the beginning, feels like something you have to do holistically and at the same time like a chicken and the egg scenario. For example, what size power supply you buy depends on what you’re going to use for your video card. Not all video cards fit in all cases. Motherboards are tied to processors. The case might dictate the motherboard, or vice versa.
Early Decision points:
- Which processor vendor, and preferably what CPU
- If case size matters
- Will you use the onboard video, and if not, will the video card require extra power/cooling
For me the first one was easy, it was going to be the Intel I7 chip, which seems to be the current top of the heap in the price/power equation. Case size I knew I didn’t want a super small machine, better to have some room to work when I wanted to make changes, so anything in the mid-size range would be fine,which in turn means most components would fit fine. The last one was tough. I’m not gaming now,I think the onboard video supported by the I7 will do fine as long as I only need two monitors, and I’d rather not spend money/power every month driving something I don’t need. But I don’t know. I decided to try to plan for enough power to drive one, make sure I had the slot.
So with those points in mind, it was easy to confirm that I wanted to go with an ATX motherboard. ATX for our purposes defining size (there is also micro-ATX, and seems to be some that are a bit larger than ATX). Rather than pick the motherboard then, I just used that to drive what seemed like the first piece I needed, the case.
My old machine used the Apevia X-Jupiter Jr. 420 Watts Case. A decent case, one with the window on the side and some LCD lighting for bling. This time I was agnostic on the bling. I wanted something sturdy, tool-less, quiet, and maybe – under stated, not a gamer rig. At the end of the day it’s a container, I want it to work, and ideally it would look nice (even though my kids will probably soon cover it with various stickers). I wanted one with a couple of USB 3 ports too.
I spent a few hours browsing Amazon, AnandTech, Tomshardware, a few others, looking at pictures, reading reviews, trying to get a feel for how much to spend. The price range is $30 to $200 or so. I wasn’t opposed to spending $200 for something I could re-use in a few years (the Apevia case still works fine, supports the ATX motherboard). What turned out to be helpful was going to my local TigerDirect store to look at their selection of cases so I could reconcile them to the reviews.
The $30 cases are junk. They will work, but it’s not tool-free, it is sharp edges, and they just feel cheap. Starting at $50 I think they are usable, my view of the sweet spot was the $80-$110 range. All the ones I saw in person or read reviews seemed good quality in that range. Keep in mind that is the price for the case only, you have to buy a separate power supply.
I ended up picking the Antec p280. It was designed to be a quiet case, had a front door that in general I don’t like but was relieved so I could hit the power button with opening it, and the door would open all the way around if I wanted to leave it open. $90 when I ordered it, $110 today as I write this. When the box arrived it was a big box, and it’s a big case, so much that I left it on the table for a day contemplating if I wanted to send it back. It’s a mid-tower plus, 22” tall. Decided to press on and if in the end I don’t like it, I’ll order something else.
So far I think my advice is economize if you must, but this feels like a good place to spend some discretionary money over what you have to spend. When I get to the end of the journey I’m going to show my configuration with the spend and lay out places where you might spend less (because you can always spend more).