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matt the n00b

Part 1: A n00b In Need

matt the n00b
Matt calls on the friendly masses to help his PC build


For 6 long years I’ve sat here helping to shift boxes of things I don’t really understand. Don’t get me wrong, I know DDR5 memory is an improvement on DDR3 and that Intel’s Core i7 processor is a step up from their Core i5, but I don’t really know why. (Apparently, “cos it’s 2 more“ isn’t a sufficient answer!)

So to try and expand my limited knowledge, and to keep me busy for the next few weeks, I’m going to roll up my shirt sleeves, do a bit of research and build a desktop PC from scratch.

I could make this easy for myself – I can throw an antistatic wristband in any direction from my desk and it would hit someone who’s built more PCs than this laptop has had Java updates – but I like a challenge and I thought you guys might want to lend a hand.

Lost in a sea of components

So where do I start? Where do YOU start?

Is budget the prime decider for your build? Do you see what spare components you’ve got laying around and use them as a base? Do you go for the best value setup or aim for the ultimate in performance? Or do you think through what the PC is for and then spec to your needs?

So with a little help from you, and if the self-build Gods are looking favourably on us all, maybe, just maybe, I’ll manage to get a working PC out of the other end with only minimal harm to my physical and mental well-being.

Keep checking back as I’ll be updating this regularly with progress reports and a live count of how often I’ve electrocuted myself, and if you all behave yourselves and don’t troll me into making a timebomb, we may even run a competition for one of you lucky people to be the proud owner of the very first Matt Berry PC.

Soooo, who fancies pointing this n00b in the right direction??


The best Intel Sandy Bridge motherboards around

Editor’s note: this is a guest post by Dave at TechRadar.com, one of our favourite sources for tech news and reviews. Here’s his thoughts on the best Intel Sandy Bridge motherboards around today.

Intel’s current best consumer processor is undoubtedly its Sandy Bridge range with the second generation of Intel’s Core architecture. You know, that ‘visibly smart’ stuff.

But, as ever, you need to have the right motherboard in order to get the most out of your CPU. There are a host of motherboards out there capable of playing host to your Sandy Bridge CPU, ranging from £40 all the way up to well over £200.

It’s all down to what chipset you drop your CPU into – the bottom of the range is the H61 chipset, which is about as basic a Sandy Bridge setup as you can get, and at the top you’ve got the all-singing, all-processing Z68. We’ve looked at the lot in our recent Buying Guide on TechRadar.com.

We’ve taken a look at seven of the best Z68 boards around as well as a selection of the lower-end chipsets.

7. MSI Z68A-GD65 – 4 stars

MSI definitely had the enthusiast in mind when it designed the Z68A-GD65. It has some features on the board that only they could appreciate; for example there is a checkpoint block to take direct measurements of various voltages the board is using via a probe.

As usual MSI has gone to great lengths to get the best components for the power circuitry, which it likes to call its Military Class II. These top notch Hi-c Caps, Super Ferrite Chokes and Solid Caps all help to keep the board stable, particularly when it’s being pushed hard during overclocking.

6. Gigabyte Z68XP-UD3-iSSD – 4 stars

Gigabyte has wasted no time in producing boards using the Z68 chipset, in fact you could say it’s gone slightly overboard with the excitement as it has no less that 20 motherboards currently in its line-up.

These iSSD boards though offer something very different, namely a tiny mSATA connection that allows the installation of small form factor SSDs to work alongside Intel’s Smart Response Technology (SRT). The drive bundled with this board comes in the shape of one of Intel’s new 20GB MLC 311 series SSDs.

This isn’t a board for everyone, but if SRT appeals to you, and you can’t afford a serious SSD, the Z68XP-UD3-iSSD is an interesting option.

5. ASRock Z68 Extreme 4 – 4 stars

The Extreme 4 performs about as well as we’ve come to expect from standard Z68 boards: our 2600K happily hitting the 4.6GHz mark. That’s no market leader, but it’s not a bad mark up for a 3.4GHz CPU.

The Z68 Extreme 4 keeps up the tradition of good build quality, using first-rate components and stable performance that has come to represent ASRock boards in recent times. And having reasonable price tag for a board sporting the latest hardware doesn’t do it any harm either.

4. Zotac Z68-ITX Wi-Fi – 4 stars

The Zotac Z68-ITX Wi-Fi really is an ITX board. Zotac, the mad fool, has opted to stick Intel’s latest and greatest tech – the Z68 chipset with Sandy Bridge processor architecture – onto one of the smallest motherboard form factors available, but that’s what Zotac does…

Beautiful build quality, solid if unremarkable benchmarks and a neatly packaged product help justify the pricing of this latest Intel Z68-based motherboard.

3. Asus P8Z68-V Pro – 4 stars

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As a whole the Intel Z68 chipset, as represented here by the Asus P8Z68V Pro, does indeed provide the best of both H67 and P67 worlds, with a few extras thrown in for good measure. The combination of iGPU and discrete graphics working together has made the P67 all but redundant unless you’re steadfastly a PC gamer only.

This then is the platform many have been waiting for before they take the plunge into Sandy Bridge, and the Asus P8Z68V Pro handles the responsibility pretty well.

2. Gigabyte Z68AP-D3 – 4½ stars

The Z68 platform has seen a lot of love from Gigabyte since it came about, and the Z68AP-D3 has to be one of the cheapest Z68 boards we’ve ever seen. But does that also mean it’s one of the weakest?

If you’re looking to build a budget Sandy Bridge machine the Gigabyte Z68AP-D3 will give you relevant performance compared with pricier boards and allow you to spend more in other areas of your build.

1. ASRock Z68 Pro 3 – 4½ stars

At the price ASRock can apparently produce motherboards like the ASRock Z68 Pro 3 you might find yourself asking the utterly reasonable question: “what’s the point of anything else?”

It’s not just a winner on price. At stock settings, benchmarks for the ASRock Z68 Pro 3 look good too. It’s got all the hugely desirable features of Intel Z68, including the ability to turn QuickSync on and off, and yet costs less than some low-end H67-based motherboards we’ve seen.

And the rest…

P67 chipset

Asus Republic of Gamers Maximus IV Extreme

The P67 was the first performance chipset for the Sandy Bridge era, but unfortunately lacked the later Z68’s ability to access all the processor graphics goodness; namely the QuickSync video for lightening HD video transcoding.

But if that doesn’t float your boat and straight-line performance is your bag then the Maximus IV Extreme will wring every last MHz of speed out of an unlocked, K-series Sandy Bridge chip. It’s all about overclocking here, and if that’s your bag look no further. There is also a Z-series version featuring the Z68 chipset too.

H67 chipset

Gigabyte H67MA-UD2H

The H67 chipset may not have the overclocking capability of its performance sibling, the P67, but with its full support for the integrated graphics of Sandy Bridge processors it makes an ideal base to build a powerful home theatre PC.

It’s good to see Gigabyte paying as much attention to the small-form factor focused H67MA-UD2H as it does on its full sized ATX motherboards. So this is a well-featured board then, perfect for the HTPC if not the performance crowd.

H61 chipset

Foxconn H61MX

The H61 chipset is basically a cut down version of the H67, with only SATA 3Gbps support and up to 10 USB 2.0 ports instead of 14, making it an ideal platform for entry-level PCs.

If you are on a very tight budget and want to experience what the Sandy Bridge CPUs are like, then the H61MX might be worth having a look at, but even at this price it does feel like a false economy.

Dave James is the Components Editor for TechRadar.com and as such is a massive PC geek of the highest order. What he hasn’t destroyed through benchmarking, overclocking or general tweakery isn’t worth looking at.



Buyers’ Guide: The top SSDs on test from £130

Storage News

There is a wide range of SSDs to choose from and selecting the most appropriate drive can be a tricky choice.  Having a good look around can be very worthwhile, once you know what it is you need to look out for and doing so will ensure that you make a purchase that you’re going to be happy with until you’re ready for your next upgrade.  To help you be better equipped to pick the SSD you need, we’ve put together a short guide and taken a look at five SSDs from £130.

What you should look for

There are a few terms that will crop up fairly often and these are as follows: Future solids, controlling force, write amplification, memory size, performance, Read/write speed

Corsair Force 3 120GB SSD


1. Corsair Force 3 120GB – £130

Corsair’s new Force 3 continues to look like a great deal, even when the scrutiny begins. You get the  SF-2281 controller found in several much more expensive drives, meaning this drive will provide key performance for your needs as well as considerable longevity.  Also, the Corsair is very reasonably priced for a 120GB SSD powered by the latest SandForce SF-2200 controller and 25nm NAND flash memory.  The data compression from the DuraWrite is another fantastic point feature that is set to contribute greatly to reducing write amplification.  To put this in perspective, a typical installation of Windows 7 and Office 2007 involves 25GB of writes to a standard hard disk or SSD, but with DuraWrite, this is reduced to just 11GB.


2. Crucial M4 256GB – £290

Well noted for its reliability, memory size, and support, the Crucial M4 is better value for money than you might consider it to be at first glance.  It’s a rather impressive piece of tech due to its 6Gbps SATA support and 415MB/s read and 260MB/s write ratings, it’s eight-channel controller ( just like the SandForce SF-2200 ), and the input-output operations per second.  All of these features make it strong contender for real-world performance when you need it.


3. OCZ Vertex 3 240GB – £380

The new Vertex 3 240GB boasts sequential reads and writes of 550MB/s and 520MB/s respectively, which are pretty spectacular.  With those sort of figures, you’re left gawping at the awesome performance of the OCZ Vertex 3 drive.  The synchronous NAND memory modules that make up the drive are widely held as one of the best.  Solid state drive in terms of both compressible and incompressible file transfers is an additional boon.  Only the Vertex 3 has huge bandwidth reserves, which is a feature of considerable note.  It tops the performance tables across the board and along with its 240GB of memory; it makes a bold statement and is highly desirable.  This is at the top of the price range of devices covered so it’s no wonder that it’s a strong contender.


4. OCZ Agility 3 240GB – £315

This little piece of magic has an arsenal of top features.  These include a new SF-2200 controller, SATA 6Gbps support, read and write performance of roughly 500MB and a 240GB of solid state memory.  The Agility 3 makes do with asynchronous rather than synchronous NAND memory.


5. Intel 510 120GB – £204

Intel’s latest SSDs have faced stiff competition of late and whilst their heritage alone means that they are still a force to be reckoned with, many will say that they have a battle on their hands when it comes to the SSD throne.  This is forcing Intel into becoming more creative in the production of the SSD drives.  In this case, they have started going into buying in a third party SSD controller, giving them more time to get their house in order.  Now, onto the SSD drive, this 120GB version has a reduced capacity and a reduced read/write speeds of 450MB/s and 210MB/s.   Still, this is a pretty good drive for its price, performance and name.


I’ve whizzed through a range of SSDs here to give an overview of the sort of features and specifications to look for in choosing an SSD for yourself.  This will have been a pretty intensive course, so if you have any questions regarding anything covered here be sure to post a question in the comments.

Let me know what is your SSD manufacturer of choice or what SSD you’re currently using in your rig.