Spec your new PC
If you’ve decided to bite the bullet and buy a new PC, these are the key things that you should look out for
The time has come. After years of faithful service, your old PC is no longer up to the task. It’s time to upgrade to a new one. You might want to choose an off-the-shelf model for simplicity’s sake, but why not build your own? The self-build route not only saves you money – particularly if you’re able to scavenge components from your existing PC – but also enables you to craft the perfect PC for your needs.
Start by working out what you can keep from your existing PC. Monitor, keyboard and mouse for starters, but also consider the case. If it’s a standard ATX case then you should be able to re-use that, too, although check the vents are clear and any case-mounted fans are in good working order. Also make sure the power supply unit (PSU) is 500 watts or greater; otherwise you’ll need to upgrade that, too. PSUs can be bought cheaply, but check to see what connections are provided (are there enough SATA power connectors, for example?) and look for other premium features such as modular cables, which can be plugged and unplugged from the PSU as required to free up space in the case.
If you do need to buy a new case, make sure it’s got enough room for your needs. MicroATX cases may take up less space than a midi ATX case, but they’re incredibly cramped to work in and your expansion options in terms of additional storage devices and so on will be restricted. In most case, midi ATX tower cases are the best choice.
Your new PC’s motherboard and processor are the two most critical choices you will make. It’s a choice between AMD and Intel, and while Intel has the raw speed, AMD options – particularly when comparing motherboards – tend to be better value.
All Intel Core processors come with graphics onboard, while only a subset of AMD processors offer this – look for the ‘G’ in the model number, such as the AMD Ryzen 5 2400G. If you’re planning to buy a separate graphics card anyway, onboard graphics aren’t important, but do bear it in mind.
The motherboard itself should be a microATX or midi ATX model, but you should check to see whether it supports the processor you plan to pair it with. Other critical factors include the number of expansion ports – whether internal PCI-E for plug-in cards like graphics, or external USB ports – plus the number of slots for RAM. Aim for a model that supports four slots, making it easier to add extra memory later if required. All these extra features shouldn’t necessarily cost you a premium – we’ve seen them on AMD motherboards costing around £50.
Your final consideration is RAM – follow the advice on the previous page, remembering to pair the correct type with your new purchase. It’s extremely unlikely you’ll be able to re-use RAM from your old PC, and expect to pay a hefty premium for the new DDR4 standard: around £70 per 8GB of RAM.
Storage space and other considerations
You should be able to reuse any existing DVD writer from your current PC, or you might want to upgrade to a Blu-ray writer – expect to pay around £55-65. When it comes to hard drives, again you may be able to cannibalise some from your old PC, but now is the time – if you’ve not already done so – to make sure you invest in a solid-state drive (SSD) for Windows and your programs to reside on. If your new motherboard has an M.2 slot, you might want to investigate M.2 SSD storage – these resemble a chunky RAM chip and prices have fallen to compete with traditional SSDs (although the newer, faster PCI-E drives still command a premium). M.2 drives take up less space, consume less power, and offer superior performance. There are some considerations, however – see the boxout below.
One last thing: you won’t be able to migrate Windows 10 across to your new PC unless you bought it as a retail copy. Expect to pay around £120 for a copy of Windows 10 Home – make sure you choose the 64-bit version if it’s offered. Cheaper editions may appear online, but beware their veracity. OEM copies of Windows are legitimately cheaper, but they’re limited in that they’ll be tied to your new PC – you’ll discover that when you come to build your next computer, you’ll have to purchase a new copy whereas a full retail copy can be transferred to another PC.
MSI’s budget B350M PRO-VDH board ticks all the boxes for price-conscious AMD buyers.
If you’re in the market for a new case, they come in a bewildering array of designs and colours.