Hope me buy a computer!
August 26, 2012 10:31 AM   Subscribe

Help me buy a new desktop computer when I'm not really sure what I need.

I'm looking to get a new desktop computer after having a laptop for many years. I feel I am, in general, technologically adept but I'm feeling overwhelmed looking at all the specs that are offered. I know what all the different parts of a computer do and I generally know what specs would be considered “good,” but I'm not at all sure what actually meets my needs and what will give me the most bang for my buck.

1. One thing that I definitely want to be able to do is edit HD video. 1080p video tends to come out choppy and slow on my current setup, especially when trying to do any kind of editing. These would be home videos.
2. I don't do a lot of gaming on my computer, but if I was able to play some new-ish games, that would be a plus.
3. I want my new computer to be “good” for as long as possible, so I'm definitely not opposed to purchasing more than I need.
4. Any thoughts on the upcoming Windows 8 versus Windows 7 would be helpful. I know they are offering a cheap upgrade option for those buying Windows 7 now, so maybe it is not worth waiting?
5. I want to spend under $1000 (before monitor and peripherals). Closer to $800 would be a bonus.

So, given these parameters, what kind of advice can you give me? I'm in Canada and have looked at machines on Amazon.ca and have also looked at configuring my own through Memory Express, which is a bit more like a local computer shop. Any specifics you can give me would be awesome. When it comes to things like GB on video cards and how many cores and GHZ I need in my processor, I feel lost. Thanks!
posted by Nightman to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
"Once you know, you Newegg"... Here's a good start, with tutorial video and some DIY sets where all the compatible stuff is picked out for you - you can select your price and get WAY more bang for your buck than buying pre-built system.
As for Windows 8, it's off to a very rocky start - I'd recommend 7 and then see what happens later. You can get 7 Home Premium for $100.
posted by hypersloth at 10:51 AM on August 26, 2012

I just want to point out that due to the nature of AskMeFi, most of the responses are going to ignore the fact that you are in Canada and dealing with Canadian dollars.
posted by zebraantelope at 10:57 AM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

Look at the system guides at techreport, arstechnica, and anandtech. They all feature systems in the USD 800 to 1K range.

Then look for systems with similar components. A local system builder is more likely to use industry standard components than Dell/HP/etc. There are probably .ca equivalents of ibuypower, puget, or other internet builders that offer a wide range of industry standard components, but I don't know what they are.

Or just buy the component list and assemble it yourself. It's about as hard as legos.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:01 AM on August 26, 2012

googling around, there are Canadian companies who will build you a machine very close to techreport's sweet-spot for a little more in CAD than they quote in USD. I've no idea how their reputation is and so don't want to link directly.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:21 AM on August 26, 2012

Er, newegg.ca then.
posted by hypersloth at 11:38 AM on August 26, 2012

Thanks for the responses so far! I have watched a tutorials on building your own machine and have been reading articles, but when I go to a site like Newegg or Memory Express, there are a lot of choices for any particular piece of hardware and the specs can often seem pretty smiliar from one to the other. Are there any particulars that you think I should be specifically looking for regarding any particular piece of hardware? Anything that I should be avoiding?

I'm fairly confident I can put a machine together. I'm more concerned about buying substandard equipment (for my needs) out of ignorance.
posted by Nightman at 11:55 AM on August 26, 2012

I've had good experiences buying from NCIX, which is located in BC but has a warehouse in Ontario, and some brick & mortar stores. I've also had good experiences buying from Canada Computers stores here in Ottawa; I haven't used their online services though.

Both tend to have prices close to or better than newegg.ca.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 11:59 AM on August 26, 2012

Just get the parts in the most recent system guide in your price range and forget about it.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 12:23 PM on August 26, 2012

So if I were in your shoes, I'd build something like the Tech Report's Sweet Spot, but without the sound card (integrated should be fine; if it's not, you can just buy the sound card later), and with an AMD 7770 instead of the GeForce 660 Ti, since gaming isn't priority #1, just nice to have. I'd also go for a cheaper case, like the $50 (this week) Three Hundred Two. Or if you don't mind cases that have that "gamer" look, a $50 (-$10 mail-in rebate) Zalman Z9 or a MSI Barricade for $35 (-$10 MIR). For the case, you'll want to look locally to save on shipping, too.

Make the Power Supply an XFX 550W for $50.

Then I would go with a Z77 motherboard, and an Intel i5-3570k, so you can overclock later. 8 Gigs of ram (2 x 4 GB), as is standard nowadays, an SSD (maybe a crucial m4 in 128 GB) and a hard drive, maybe a TB.

Oh, TR recommends the Samsung F3 -- neither Newegg.ca, NCIX nor CC carry it, AFAIK. I'd probably go with a Western Digital Caviar Blue (the Blacks are faster, but way too expensive).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 12:30 PM on August 26, 2012 [1 favorite]

I would recommend building your own, as it is not very difficult. I am in IT and have been working with pcs & macs since I was 9. Some basic tips I always recommend to people when building your own pc:

1) What do you NEED this pc to do. Chances are, you want to surf, get email, organize photos, and watch the occasional video. If that's the case, your build can be pretty inexpensive. If you catch yourself saying "it would be cool if", "my friend has," or "maybe I'll learn how to do x and on the computer" stop yourself, because it can get very expensive.

2) Spend no less than 10 hours researching the parts. It may seem like a lot, but I assure you that it will save you days of being down and out when something goes awry. Overclocker's forum and Tom's Hardware are good places to start.

3) Consider the reviews, but don't make decisions based solely on them. First, there are people who get perfectly good hardware who don't know what they're doing, but they'll give a 1 star review because this is America. In other circumstances, vendors will buy their own product to up the stars. Read the reviews and see if there are patterns, but only after you've done the research from step 2.

4) Don't be scared of Linux/Open Source SW. I built my grandmother's friend a pc for $275. She just wanted to do email, Internet, and Skype, but didn't have a lot of money. If I bought Win7, that would have made the price $400 or so. I set up Ubuntu, and a few customizations, she has an icon on her desktop called "how to use this thing", and she is the only customer I've ever had who called me months later to say "nothing's wrong, I just wanted to let you know I really like this computer."

5) If you're asking yourself whether to go Intel or AMD, go AMD. The only people who absolutely need the more expensive Intel chipsets know they do, and they know which one they need.

6) Don't skimp on the "extras." If there's anything you should spend an extra few nickels on, it's the less glamorous parts like PSUs, fans, cases, and HDs. A $40 PSU can ruin your $600 chipset in a heartbeat. A cheap HD can ruin your life even faster.

7) $10/$20 for a two year warranty is damn well worth it. Problem is, the people who learn this learn the hard way.

8) If you have working peripherals, you don't need to buy new ones. I've seen people hem and haw over whether to get more RAM, then drop $90 on a wireless keyboard. Why? The keyboard never leaves the desk and all it does is run through batteries. Also, this day and age, you may need a printer, but you don't need a $400 wireless laser jet. You will use it maybe a dozen times in a year. Are you a professional photographer? If the answer is no, don't spend $200 on a "photo printer" because they'll look like crap, and don't spend $500 on a photo printer because unless you print 1000 photos in a year, you haven't saved yourself what you would spend going to Walgreens or somewhere.

I could go on for pages, but I figure this will point you in the right direction.
posted by Bathtub Bobsled at 12:43 PM on August 26, 2012

Honestly, I'd go the opposite way from Bathtub Bobsled. Spend no time looking at parts and just get the techreport sweet spot.

The only changes I'd really suggest making are that you can probably cannibalize the optical drive from your old box.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 1:26 PM on August 26, 2012 [2 favorites]

That 660 Ti is really very expensive for someone who lists gaming as a "plus". It's an awesome deal in that it offers performance that's close to the $400 GTX 670 for $300, but it's not really worth it unless you're building a machine that has gaming as a primary purpose.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:33 PM on August 26, 2012

(I mean, OP, if you have the budget, that thing is dynamite; but a 7770 will allow you to play most current games at mid-to-high settings at 1080p)
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 1:47 PM on August 26, 2012

If you're anywhere near a Canada Computers, those guys have great prices and are genuinely helpful. For a while, even before the dollar parity, the GTA had even lower computer prices than the US.
posted by scruss at 2:20 PM on August 26, 2012

If you are looking on Newegg, buying all five star rated parts can save you from DOA problems and reshipping components back and forth.
posted by BrotherCaine at 6:04 PM on August 26, 2012

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