One of my friend emailed me today saying that he wants to build a RISC-V PC and was asking for any tips/advice on the basic dos and don’ts and suggested that I can make it into a blog-post. So following the conserving the keystrokes rule from Scott Hanselman here is the blog post that generated out of it.
Disclaimer: I have only built one PC so far and it was back in 2013. Haven’t used that one since more than 3 years now but it is still working rock solid for my dad and hasn’t needed a single upgrade ever.
One of my main philosophies regarding electronics is to buy the best (no-compromises) stuff you can afford at any given time. This pushes back the compulsory-upgrade time much more in future. But always keep your budget in mind. I have no idea about RISC-V, the only PC I ever built was on the x86-64 architecture. Completely uncharted territory there. But these are the points I will take care of when building a PC myself these days.
- The most important tip in here is, check that all your components are compatible with each other. Double check it, because this can bite very badly down the road if you find out later that you have a CPU compatible with LGA-1150 socket while your motherboard has a LGA-1155 socket (numbers generated randomly from mind for example’s sake).
- Build only if it is completely essential. Due to silicone chip shortages (this was written in May 2021), prices are skyrocketing way beyond what they should be. The better performers in the market these days are generally a combination of AMD Ryzen CPU with an Nvidia Graphics Card (I suggest going atleast for 30XX series). And both of them are not available for any fair price. I’ve heard that Intel iX series processors are available for reasonable prices (they don’t perform as well as the AMD Ryzens though) so you may go with those if you absolutely need to.
- Make sure that you have a display output. If you are buying a discrete graphics card then all is fine, but if not then make sure that both your processor and your motherboard support onboard display output. Sometimes the motherboard might have a display out but the processor doesn’t support it or other times the processor might support inbuilt graphics but the motherboard might not have any display output port. Currently the AMD Ryzen line-up processors don’t come with inbuilt graphics so they necessarily need an external graphics card, even a pretty old graphics card should work if the only load on it is going to be regular graphics and no heavy gaming/computation or stuff like that. Intel iX series processors do come with onboard graphics, so that is another point in favor of Intel right now.
- 4 RAM slots are better than 2 and 2 are better than 1 (but I don’t think any motherboards come with a single RAM slot). Lesson here is, leave room for upgradability in future, and RAM is probably the cheapest thing you can upgrade. Another distinct reason for more slots in case of RAM is that it gives better performance when using say 2x8 GB RAM sticks than a single 16 GB stick because it gives more parallel channels for it to talk with your CPU, therefore better performance.
- Speaking of upgradability, buy a power-supply that is 25-50% above your needs (in terms of power output). So if you think your system would be fine with a 450W power supply, go for a 600W unit. This way when you upgrade your components in future or decide to add more components, you will be covered. Also you don’t want to go for an off-brand or a shady local brand for your power supply, this is a unit which literally has the power to fry your other components if not built correctly. Some reputable brands I can name off hand are: Cooler Master, Seasonic and Corsair.
- Check components compatibility with each other. I mentioned this at the beginning and am still mentioning it again, it is that important.
That’s it. Those are all the tips/advice I have right now for someone looking to build a computer for themselves. I will keep adding things here as and when I think appropriate.