The part list I chose can be viewed on PCPartPicker here, a website I used to help compile the list. The website allows you to pick components from a very extensive list and instantly view compatibility issues. The compatibility filter automatically hides any results for motherboards with Intel sockets, for example, if an AMD CPU has been selected. This is particularly useful when selecting the motherboard and case.
As well as compatibility, the website lets you see the prices of all the options as you select, making it much easier to judge which particular models to add. The website finds prices on a number of different online retailers to find be best possible option, and tracks these prices in case they change in the future. People are able to leave reviews of the items they've bought as well, giving an accurate representation of the value of a product.
|CPU||Intel Core i5-3570K 3.4GHz Quad-Core Processor||£169.38|
|CPU Cooler||Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO 82.9 CFM Sleeve Bearing CPU Cooler||£23.82|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte GA-Z77-DS3H ATX LGA1155 Motherboard||£55.42|
|Memory||Corsair 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR3-1333 Memory||£59.94|
|Storage||Samsung 840 EVO 120GB 2.5" Solid State Drive||£53.94|
|Storage||Western Digital BLACK SERIES 1TB 3.5" 7200RPM Internal Hard Drive||£54.99|
|Video Card||MSI Radeon R9 270 2GB TWIN FROZR Video Card||£111.99|
|Case||BitFenix Comrade ATX Mid Tower Case||£28.79|
|Power Supply||Corsair CX 430W 80+ Bronze Certified Semi-Modular ATX Power Supply||£37.33|
|Total||Components from various merchants||£595.60|
The Intel Core i5 processor provides quad-core multitasking, opening the door to multi-threaded professional applications, particularly in the future, while still offering great single-core performance. The chip is highly proficient in managing large bulk or batch tasks, something that would be experienced when rendering 3D images or animations and video.
The CPU cooler provides a better cooling solution when overclocking, and not only from a well-respected brand in the cooling market, but is a very highly-regarded model for its price.
The amount of RAM provided means that there is plenty of space for memory-intensive applications to run; such as video, photo and graphic editors as well as 3D modelling packages. Much of the RAM will remain free and available to the operating system. Having this much RAM in the system also means that the designer will be able to easily multitask with several different applications without having the system performance suffer.
The storage is handled by an incredibly well-rated Samsung solid-state drive, bringing the best disc I/O performance into the hands of a professional. In addition to the SSD boot and software drive, there is a 1 TB hard-disc drive intended for use a data storage drive. Although one must sacrifice some performance when using platter-based drives, the capacities available, when considering the price, are a huge advantage.
The video card, although intended for gamers, will allow the designer to use hardware acceleration effectively, and will not become out-of-date in the near future.
The case is manufactured by another well-respected company, and has good customer reviews on a number of websites. Having had first-hand experience with other products of the same company's, I would recommend the case.
The power supply, once more, is from a well-respected brand in the field. The unit supplies plenty of power to the system, while still allowing for expansion in the future. The unit is also semi-modular, allowing for the inside of the case to remain free of unneeded cabling.
The CPU, or processor, is often described as the brain of a computer. It performs mathematical calculation and is very important to the running of the system. The CPU is not capable, however, of efficiently processing graphical data, a job which is left for the graphics/video card. That said, more and more processors are shipping with low-performance graphical units built in, and these are reaching levels that negate the need for a dedicated card for the vast majority of users' workloads.
I picked an i5-3570K processor from Intel for the system. This was for a number of reasons:
Although the chip is not hyperthreaded, as the i3 and i7 chips are, the CPU is very capable and includes four physical cores. This means that well optimised software, a category which many professional content-creation packages fall into, that is efficiently multi-threaded is able to run with superior performance.
The chip is unlocked, meaning that the clock speed of the CPU can be changed granted motherboard support. The CPU is shipped at a stock frequency of 3.5 GHz, but there are many people who have achieved overclocking the device to more than 4.5 GHz. This would present the user with a noticeable boost in performance and a welcome reduction in render times. Because the CPU is unlocked, and I picked it because of the resultant opportunity to overclock, an aftermarket CPU cooler was included in the parts list. This would be essential in order to take the CPU beyond 4 GHz, and will keep the chip cool when doing so.
I feel that the 3570K is a well priced product. Although there are CPUs made by AMD that appear to have similar or better statistics on paper, I am a firm believer that for graphic design, and at this price-point, Intel is the more suited option.
The cooler included is the famed 212 EVO from Cooler Master. This heatsink has a proven track record, and could be made even more efficient by adding fans from Noctua, for example.
Although water cooling, particularly in the form of a closed loop CPU cooler has seen a great increase in popularity in the last few years, air cooling has not become any less effective. No CPU manufacturer has yet shipped a CPU with anything more than a modest air cooler, and these are perfectly sufficient until overclocking is considered. Running a processor at a higher frequency, unless only by a very small percentage, will require an overvolt too. Pushing more power into the system will generate more heat which must be dissipated.
This cooler features the typical copper cooling plate, connected to copper heat-pipes that are cooled by a number of aluminium or steel fins. A dedicated fan is attached to the stack of fins, pushing or pulling cool fresh air through the metal. This airflow carries the heat out of the heatsink, and cools the CPU as a result.
The motherboard was chosen primarily because of it trusted brand name and low price. The motherboard is also verified to work with low-end overclocking, which is an essential feature for this system. The board also features plenty of DIMM slots (4) allowing enough RAM to be added to the system. Some lower-end boards, particularly in the micro-ATX form factor, only include 2 slots, which can be a problem. The motherboard is able support up to 32 GB of RAM, in fact, which brings the opportunity to use ram-discs to improve performance.
The motherboard features two SATA revision 3 6 Gbps headers, meaning that the SSD can be used to it's full potential. Three SATA revision 2 headers are also on the board, which is perfectly sufficient for a hard-disc drive, such as the bulk storage device chosen for this system. In fact, the SATA 3 standard allows for up to 768 MB to be transferred per second, and the SATA 2 standard 384 MB. Even some of the fastest enterprise-grade HDDs cannot be read quicker than 250 MBps.
I chose 8 GB of RAM for the system, produced by a company that originated in the flash memory field. In my personal experience, I found that no more than 6 GB of system memory would be used when rendering complex video, even while several other applications were open in the background. I feel that many systems built at the moment feature more RAM than is really required, and money can be saved by only adding what is needed. With the chosen configuration, there are still two slots on the motherboard, meaning that the user could easily expand the RAM capacity of the system, if they wished, at a later date. Such an upgrade is a very easy one to perform, and RAM is lowring in price all the time.
Although DDR4 memory has recently made it into the mainstream market, the modules are still a lot more expensive than their DDR3 predecessors. Using DDR4 is also more expensive because of the corresponding CPU and motherboard that must be used as well. At the time of writing, I don't consider the use of DDR4 viable, and would certainly not incorporate it into a budget–mid-range system such as this.
For primary storage, and in order to achieve the quickest possible boot and application launch times, a solid-state drive from Samsung has been used. Without costing more than is available, the SSD will greatly improve the computer's performance by allowing the system to read and write data from and to permanent storage, which will be noticeable when booting the operating system and opening applications. SSDs have become a lot more popular in the last few years, and their prices have dropped steadily.
An HDD, or hard-disc drive, is still kept in the machine to provide bulk-storage. Often not everything will fit on the SSD that would ideally be stored there, as SSDs offer much smaller volume capacities for their price, and the HDD is then useful. Data that needn't be accessed frequently or quickly, such as photos from a holiday, can be stored on the HDD to keep space free on the SSD. If the designer was to follow such data storage etiquette, the SSD could be kept free such that some project files for current clients could be kept there. This would make opening and saving these files considerably quicker.
The video card included, although not top-of-the-range, opens the door to hardware acceleration. Particularly in video editing, the video card can be used to process graphical data. As this is the strong-point of a video card, such hardware acceleration often leads to much quicker render times. In recent months, the popularity of GPU-based rendering software for popular 3D modelling applications has risen greatly. The performance boost experienced when utilising such software means that a capable video card is essential.
The power supply chosen has been certified by 80 PLUS a non-profit seeking to improve power supply standards and efficiency in general. It's strongly recommended in the PC building community not to buy a power supply that does not even qualify for bronze-level certification. Some models on the market offer not just gold or platinum, but titanium certification. The power supply picked is also from a trusted manufacturer in the field, Corsair.