Building an inexpensive, high-performance PC for Windows 7

The time is right to start putting together a system that will make Windows 7 shine -- without breaking the bank.

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CPU cooler

It's important to pick a CPU cooler that can control the heat generated by an overclocked processor. What's more, the cooler needs to have some intelligence about it to inform users of heat-related problems. That led me to a liquid cooling unit from CoolIT Systems. A liquid cooler is a good idea for those who want to experiment with overclocking; installation is pretty much the same as with a standard heatsink/fan.

Available for about $70, the CoolIT Domino A.L.C. is one of the lowest-priced prebuilt liquid coolers on the market. The cooler's LCD screen shows CPU temperature and fan speeds and can be adjusted to reduce noise and power consumption.

CoolIT Domino A.L.C. CPU cooler
CoolIT Domino A.L.C. CPU cooler

Hard drive

Computer storage tends to be a lot like closet space -- you can never have enough. With that axiom in mind, it's important to select a hard-disk drive (HDD) that is large enough to meet all of your storage needs, yet is still reliable, offers great performance, and doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Although solid-state drives (SSDs) are all the rage these days, they are prohibitively expensive for building an economical system, and their advantages, such as low power use and small size, are often wasted on desktop systems.

Hard drives come in all shapes, sizes and interfaces. For most users, a traditional 3.5-in. hard drive using a SATA interface is the way to go. Prices per gigabyte have come down significantly of late, and hard drives of 500GB or more have become the norm.

Western Digital 1TB WD Caviar Green
Western Digital 1TB WD Caviar Green

After looking at the various hard drives on the market, it became obvious that it was pretty hard to beat Western Digital's WD Caviar Green series of hard drives. I chose model WD10EADS, which provides a terabyte of capacity for $120 or less. The unit offers a 3.0GB/s SATA interface and 32MB of cache, making it speedy enough for high-demand applications. The WD drive is also very quiet, uses very little power and doesn't generate a lot of heat -- all factors that help to create a reliable and quiet PC.

Optical drive

LG Super-Multi Blu-ray Rewriter
LG Super-Multi Blu-ray Rewriter optical drive

For most users, a generic internal DVD/CD burner would probably be adequate, but the goal of this project is to build a PC that can leverage Windows 7 to its fullest extent. That means it needs to be able to handle all of the common types of optical media -- CD/CD RW, DVD/DVD RW -- and take advantage of the CPU and motherboard's ability to process high-definition (HD) content, which translates to supporting Blu-ray media.

I chose an LG Super-Multi Blu-ray Rewriter (model GGC-H20L), which costs around $125. While that may be steep for an optical drive, the GGC-H20L can read Blu-ray discs as well as HD DVD discs. The drive also reads and writes to all of the popular DVD and CD formats, uses a SATA interface and features LiteScribe technology, which allows users to burn labels directly onto CDs.

Power supply

Corsair TX750W power supply
Corsair TX750W power supply

Choosing a power supply was a relatively straightforward task. Using common "green" guidelines to narrow down the field, I looked for a power supply unit that complies with the Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive and features 80 PLUS certification for energy efficiency. I also wanted a unit that would generate very little noise and could provide enough power for the addition of components down the road.

I decided on a 750-watt Corsair TX750W, which goes for about $120. The TX750W proved to be very quiet and has integrated cable management, which makes routing power cables simple -- all of the cables are removable and system builders need only attach the required cables for a system.

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