Motherboard, Cooler, Memory, Power Supply
Once you’ve settled on a CPU for your system, you’re going to need a place to install that guy. This is where your motherboard comes in. While you could go out and buy the cheapest motherboard available at your local hardware shop, chances are you’d get nowhere in the overclocking department following such a strategy.
Instead, I would suggest basing your motherboard selection on four criteria: features you need, strong reviews, support and price. By using these selection criteria, you should be able to narrow down your choice of motherboards to one suitable for your needs.
These days, motherboards are chock full of features. Between SATA II, DDR2, AM2, PCI-Express x 2, and High Definition Audio, it’s hard to differentiate between marketing-speak and practical features. Don’t get drawn into the marketing hype of the latest motherboard, instead, look for a motherboard that has a feature set that best matches your needs. If you need a motherboard with onboard audio, HDMI and two PCI-Express x16 slots, don’t compromise on your needs by considering the Toenail Trimmer 2000 motherboard because it includes a FREE 24k TOENAIL CLIPPER!
Once you’ve found a couple motherboards that have the features you’re looking for, this would be the best time to read some reviews on these motherboards. Try to find as many reviews as possible on the motherboards you’re considering by visiting established enthusiast websites like PC Perspective, FiringSquad, AnandTech, T-Break, Tech-Report, [H]ard|OCP, SharkyExtreme and Tom’s Hardware. If a particular motherboard is repeatedly receiving positive reviews, and is noted as being a particularly adept overclocking motherboard, you’ll definitely want to consider it for purchase.
Once you’ve narrowed the list down based on features and performance you’ll want to give some consideration to the level of support offered by the motherboard manufacturer. Since it is inevitable that any computer hardware will have bugs of some sort, it is important to make sure that the motherboard manufacturer stands behind their product by releasing BIOS updates to address these problems as often as is necessary. In as much as I adore most anything “shiny and new,” I certainly don’t mean to say that you should download every BIOS release. However, if you are facing a particular problem with a motherboard, it would be nice to know that the manufacturer is on the ball working towards a solution or has already made the fix public.
If you’re still having difficulty deciding on a motherboard, let the price help you make your decision. If you’ve narrowed your list down to two motherboards with a similar feature set, favorable reviews and excellent manufacturer support, compare the prices of the two. If one motherboard is priced significantly higher than the other, the choice is obvious. If the motherboards cost about the same, go with the one that consistently overclocked higher in reviews. Remember, so long as you’ve done your research, you shouldn’t be getting a ‘bad’ motherboard in any case.
If thou overclockest, thou shall generate a crapload of heat. Without trying to sound high and mighty, (okay, maybe it’s too late for that) when you start overclocking, it’s a foregone conclusion that you will generate added heat (more on this later). To help ease the burden on your CPU while overclocking, and potentially reach a higher overclock – you should fit your CPU with a performance cooling solution.
Performance coolers generally come in two forms – water or air. Water coolers, while definitely gaining mainstream acceptance, are still not as readily available and easy to install as air coolers. Still, water coolers can offer two significant benefits over air coolers – better cooling and less noise.
Water coolers are very efficient at dissipating heat, and as such, will allow a CPU to run cooler while overclocked than if it were air cooled. Because a water cooled CPU runs cooler, it will have additional room to continue overclocking before it reaches the top end of the safe operating range. An air cooled CPU, on the other hand, will reach the maximum safe operating temperature quicker, and subsequently limit your overclock. Unfortunately, water coolers come at a steep price – a good setup will easily cost you upwards of $300.
Air coolers tend to be a combination of a cooling fan mounted atop a heat-dissipating heatsink. The heatsink makes direct contact with the CPU, absorbing away heat while the cooling fan works to cool off the heatsink. This general idea has been implemented in a variety of ways by a number of manufacturers.
As with motherboard selection, it is vital that you read reviews of coolers to find the unit that best serves your system. Bear in mind size, (does the cooler you’re eyeing fit in your case?) cost, (how much will the cooler set you back?) and performance considerations (can the cooler handle the overclock I’m planning?) Keep in mind that many high-performance heatsinks do not come with a cooling fan. The cost of a cooling fan should be factored into your total system cost in such a case.
Quality RAM and Power Supply
Though it may not seem obvious, if your RAM and Power Supply are not quality components, your system stability could be compromised. Generic or off-brand RAM is generally of a cheaper grade than the premium or “boutique” RAM offerings of Corsair, OCZ Technology, Crucial and their like. What this means is that increased heat or stressful operating conditions could bring the RAM to its knees. If your RAM gives out, this will lead to data integrity issues, which in turn, could bring your system down altogether.
Rather than playing with fire by pushing unbranded RAM past its intended operating settings, you would be best served buying the best possible dual channel RAM kit you can afford. In this case, the “best” RAM would be that with the highest operating speed at the lowest RAM timings and DIMM voltage. Usually RAM with this combination of speed and tight timings is offered by the boutique RAM manufacturers (again, Corsair, OCZ Technology, Corsair, etc.) with a lifetime warranty. If anything is to go wrong, you can rest assured your RAM modules will be replaced.
While you might completely understand the significance of having premium RAM in your system, you might be scratching your head wondering how a power supply could have any significance on system stability. I cannot begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen a system suffer from chronic blue screens because an incapable power supply was manning the power delivery duties.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to see why the power supply plays such a major role in system stability: it only provides power to the CPU, the RAM, the videocard(s), the optical drives, the motherboard, the fans, the soundcard, the network card, the list goes on and on. And yet, the power supply is often the most overlooked component of a PC build. I’ve seen a couple friends plan out their PC builds and give no consideration to the power supply beyond planning to use whatever would come with the generic, no-name case they’d purchased. I would urge you to avoid following this line of thinking, and instead select an appropriate power supply by doing just a little bit of research.
By now, you should have settled on the guts of your new system. If you know what you’re going to use in the way of a videocard, optical drive and other add-in cards, (or perhaps already have this hardware in your possession) there is an excellent tool that will present the minimum power output necessary for your proposed configuration. Start your search for an appropriate power supply by visiting the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator and establishing how much power you will need.
Before you go out and grab any power supply that meets the wattage recommended by the eXtreme Power Supply Calculator, I would strongly urge you to visit one website and do a little reading. JonnyGuru. I’m convinced that this website should have more than enough articles and reviews to help you select a quality power supply based on the output you need. (Editor’s note: Be sure to take a look a look at the in-depth power supply reviews here at PC Perspective as well.) The power supply is admittedly a component that is glossed over in PC builds; it would be a shame if you were unable to achieve a stable overclock after putting in hours of hard work all because your off-brand power supply is incapable of providing clean, consistent power.