How To Build A PC From $300 To $3000 [3]

Last time I described how the key parts of an entry level $300 computer system could be obtained. This time I am going to write about the parts needed for a mid range system costing around $1000.

The key decision for any computer is the type of CPU required. I could choose either the same Pentium G CPU as in part 1, or perhaps a Core i3 which is the next step up. After that I need to choose a board, and a more expensive one with four memory slots and additional capabilities will be the basis of my choice here. I will also choose more RAM for the system. I will also specify new SSDs and a power supply, and install two main storage disks in a RAID-1 array.

Here are the detailed choices for a system, with again pricing from Ascent Computers

  • CPU: Pentium G 6400 – $104.38
    Alternative: Pentium Core i3 10105F – $161.90
    The i3 is faster if you are doing intensive work as it has four cores whereas the Pentium G only has two. There are quite a range of i3 models, the one shown is the cheapest. To enable the second M.2 slot, a minimum of an i3 is needed and not the cheapest model either. In my experience, even with doing very intensive graphics, the extra cost is rarely justified as the CPU is still not loaded to full speed that often.
  • Mainboard: Gigabyte GA-B560-HD3 – $239.90
    This board supports both types of CPU mentioned above. It has four memory slots, six SATA ports, two M.2 sockets, and VGA, DVI, DP and HDMI display connectors. It supports a maximum of 128 GB of RAM. However, there is a requirement for a specific type of CPU to enable the second M.2 slot. If you need more than one M.2 slot, a cheaper alternative to the higher spec CPU is a add-on card for extra M.2 socket(s).
  • Memory: The amount of memory required depending on the user’s application; around $60 per 8 GB. My view is if you have a choice between more memory or a faster CPU, memory wins out since it has a material impact by reducing the amount of swapping for highly resource apps. That said, with SSDs especially the M.2 variety able to dramatically increase swap speed, this is much less of an issue these days.
  • Power supply: If a chassis has one supplied, the user may still want to buy a better one. For example, I have recycled Inwin tower chassis to build most of my systems, and these just have a basic (though reliable) Powerman supply, which is an Inwin rebranded low end PSU from another manufacturer. In the past I have purchased sub-$100 Enermax supplies (they supplied some of the PSUs in the older Foxconn TS001 tower chassis I previously owned). For a good system I would suggest something like the following, which is a fully modular supply. Modular supplies don’t have built in internal cabling, instead they let you connect just the cables you need. I don’t consider this a major issue, and my main motivation here is to get a higher quality supply, which in this case offers very low fan noise. This unit can supply 650 watts and meets the 80Plus Gold standard. There is no way my systems will use anywhere near 650 watts but that is the minimum size of this PSU brand.
    SilverStone ST65-GS – $143.14
  • M.2 SSD: One of three possible types of storage capacity you may wish to install. SSDs are coming down in price but are still a bit too expensive to completely replace HDDs where storage in the terabyte range is needed. As such, the main use for an SSD in a high storage capacity system is for two purposes: operating system installation and virtual memory or swap storage. For my Linux systems I have used a 250 GB SSD as the swap partition, which allows virtual memory for large applications that need it as a cheaper, slower way of effectively expanding the RAM. The M.2 SSD interface enables the device to work much faster than the SATA interface.
    Western Digital WD_BLACK SN750 WDS250G3X0C – $100.16
  • SATA SSD: As M.2 has advantages, you’ll only really need one of these for compatibility reasons these days in a new system. Until recently, Linux support for UEFI has lagged behind Windows. For this reason I had my systems nearly all set up with Bios/MBR installations, which don’t work on a M.2 SSD, since these are only supported with UEFI. But Intel is now phasing out support for that in its chipsets so we have to get it working. It is for this reason that my new system has Debian Bookworm (testing edition currently) installed because without that it would not even be able to boot, but especially booting off the M.2 SSD. So the Sata SSD is currently being used as extra swap in place of the second M.2 card that wasn’t possible because of lack of CPU support.
    Kingston SA400S37/240G – $64.57
  • SATA HDD: For the main file storage, normal HDDs are still the most cost effective option, for a few more years before SSDs eventually come down to a low enough price point to be competitive. For a mid range system, I am recommending two of these in a RAID-1 mirror. This can be a software-supported RAID system (generally known as “fakeraid”) which doesn’t require a special controller card to be installed in the system. When it comes to regular HDDs the cheapest models these days use a recording technology called SMR which is relatively slow, so I would not recommend purchasing these types of disks. Hence, the recommended types of disks are either WD Red Plus or WD Black.
    • Western Digital Red Plus WD10EFRX Hard drive, 3.5″, 1TB, SATA, CMR @ $118.77
    • Western Digital Black WD1003FZEX Hard drive, 3.5″, 1TB, SATA @ $141.45

So that about covers the main internal components of the system, and depending on how you juggle the various costs, a price of around the $1000 mark should be achievable. Some people may look at a graphics card for a system like this, but for most mid range users, the onboard Intel graphics are fairly good. Linux also supports Intel graphics much better than some of the other manufacturers, with NVidia support being especially an issue due to their lack of open source.