Here are some of the most commonly received custom build PC related questions we receive at our Micro Center stores:
Q: Do I need a DVD drive?
A: A DVD drive is not something that is required but can be useful to have. A lot of software is now available as a digital download, so many people make do without one. Some cases don’t come with the slots for an internal DVD drive, if yours does not there are external options available.
Q: Which is better, SSDs or hard drives?
A: SSDs are much faster than hard drives. Your computer will boot faster, programs will open up quicker, and moving things around on the drive will be faster as well. They also have no moving parts which means they can be a little more resilient to things like dropping or bumping your computer. However, SSDs cost more than hard drives for the same amount of space.
Q: What is the difference between an M.2 SSD and a normal 2.5-inch SSD?
A: M.2 is just the form factor of the SSD. M.2 drives are smaller and will slot directly into a port on your motherboard with a screw to hold it in place.
Q: What are the differences between and NVMe M.2 SSD and a SATA M.2 SSD?
A: NVMe M.2 SSDs use a PCIe interface which allows for faster data transfers when moving things to and from your drive. If you spend a lot of time moving very large files between drives, having two NVMe drives will make the process much faster. For other things like booting up your system or opening applications the difference is negligible, and when transferring to or from non-NVMe devices you’re limited by the slower device.
Q: What are the differences between motherboard chipsets?
A: Different chipsets will have different features that they support. Higher end chipsets may have more PCIe lanes and USB ports. Some boards will support a multi-GPU configuration with SLI or Crossfire. Some boards can overclock an unlocked processor while others cannot. There are many different chipsets with all sorts of features that make them suited to different tasks, it all depends on what you want and need.
Q: What are the technical differences between the different processor like Intel i3 and i9, Ryzen 5 and Ryzen 7, etc.?
A: The different levels of processors will support different features and specs. The higher end processors may have higher numbers of cores, higher clock speeds, more cache, or various other features. Some may be “unlocked” which means you can overclock them, like the Intel i7-9700k, with the K at the end designating it as an unlocked processor. Some may have graphics integrated into the CPU, some may not. Depending on what you’re doing, certain features may very useful to your or may be redundant.
Q: Is overclocking your CPU safe?
A: Overclocking is very common and many people do it successfully, but you do overclock at your own risk. If you do not have adequate cooling and are pushing your CPU extremely hard, you can risk shortening the life span on your CPU or damaging it. Be aware of the limitations of your hardware.
Q: Which is better, air cooling or liquid cooling?
A: Generally speaking, liquid cooling has higher performance than air cooling. Top of the line air coolers can still compete with good AIO liquid coolers, but if you’re up for the challenge a custom liquid cooling loop, when designed correctly, has the best cooling performance you can get. However, that requires a lot of time and effort as well as future maintenance compared to a regular air cooler or AIO liquid cooler.
Q: What are static pressure fans, and what makes them different from a normal fan?
A: Static pressure fans create pockets of pressure that helps airflow across surfaces with a lot of resistance. Regular airflow fans work just fine when there’s little or no resistance. For example, if you have a radiator for a liquid cooler or your case has a good mesh dust filter, static pressure will promote better airflow since there’s impedance.
Q: Can I use different types of memory with my motherboard?
A: The memory you have needs to match the slot on your board, e.g. if your board has DDR4 memory slots, you need to have DDR4 RAM. You can use different brands and speeds if necessary, but it’s best to try and have all your memory be the same if you can help it. Mixing memory can cause issues so it’s recommended to use matching sticks of RAM whenever possible.
Q: What are memory channels, e.g. single channel, dual channel, or quad channel memory?
A: The channel refers to whether you’re running a stick of RAM by itself or running it in pair(s). Most modern motherboards will support a dual channel configuration, some higher end may even support quad channel or higher. It can be better to have two sticks running in dual channel mode as opposed to a single stick of the same capacity because both sticks are accessed simultaneously and you have higher memory bandwidth. This is important in applications that are very memory intensive.
Q: My RAM is advertised with a higher clock speed than it’s showing in my motherboard’s BIOS, how do I get it working?
A: RAM comes with a default speed that will load automatically to ensure compatibility for most motherboards and processors. For most motherboards the BIOS will have a setting you can enable to use the full speed of your memory. It’s called XMP (extreme memory profile) for Intel boards, but it can be called other things like A-XMP, AMP, DOCP, etc. for AMD motherboards.
Q: What is an 80+ certified power supply?
A: 80+ is a power efficiency rating for your power supply. The higher the rating, the less electricity your PSU wastes. For example, if you have a system that needs 400W of power, but your PSU draws 500W from the wall, it is 400W/500W, which is 80% efficient. The other 100W is just wasted. In order of least to most efficient it’s 80+, 80+ Bronze, 80+ Silver, 80+ Gold, 80+ Platinum, and 80+ Titanium. This is one area where you shouldn’t cheap out since this is the one component that drives everything else in your build. It could even save you a bit on your electric bill over time.
Q: My PSU died but I don’t want to redo all my cables, can I use the old ones and just switch the power supply itself?
A: No. Power supply cables are unique and designed for each PSU with specific power delivery requirements by the manufacturer. Using cables that were not specifically for your power supply could ruin components in your system. Always use the cables that came with your power supply, and if you need extras or replacements, contact your power supply manufacturer to see if they can provide them.
Q: Why do some video cards have a port to plug in your power supply and some don’t?
A: Some video cards with low power requirements will be able to draw all their power from the motherboard directly and don’t need a separate cable from your power supply. Higher powered cards will not be able to draw enough from the motherboard alone.
Q: Why do video cards have so many variations for the same type of card?
A: Video card manufacturers will customize video cards for different purposes. They may have a smaller card designed to fit into mATX or mini-ITX style builds that have limited space. They may overclock the video card out of the box and include a 3-fan heatsink on it to promote better cooling for it because it will be generating more heat with that overclock. This could result in that card having higher performance relative to its other variations
Q: Can you put older graphics cards in newer motherboards, or a new graphics card in an older motherboard?
A: Yes. As long as it’s a PCIe x16 slot on the motherboard and video card, the different variations of it for 1.0, 2.0, 3.0, etc. are all backwards compatible with each other. If you put a newer video card with a PCIe 3.0 x16 slot into an older board could be limited on bandwidth and lose some performance, but the slots are still interchangeable.
Q: I’m having trouble installing Windows 10.
A: If you’re installing for the very first time, insert your Windows installation DVD/USB drive and your computer should automatically boot to it and allow you to select your hard drive/SSD to install it to. If it doesn’t, you’ll need to load into your BIOS and select the Windows installation drive/USB as your boot device. If it’s not showing up, check your CSM (compatibility support module) setting and make sure it’s either disabled or set to UEFI, not legacy.
Q: Can I install an older version of Windows on my computer?
A: Older versions of Windows which aren’t supported by Microsoft anymore are also not supported by PC parts manufacturers either.
Q: My computer is powering on but not displaying anything, what do I do?
A: Check out our guide for common solutions to this at: https://community.microcenter.com/kb/articles/201-troubleshooting-for-when-your-monitor-wont-display
Q: My custom build isn’t getting power. What do I do?
A: Check out our guide for common solutions to this at: https://community.microcenter.com/kb/articles/55-how-to-troubleshoot-a-newly-built-pc-that-will-not-post-boot-power-on
Q: How easy is it to upgrade my computer in the future?
A: Many components can be switched, upgraded or added in after you initially build your computer. RAM, graphics cards, hard drives and SSDs, and power supplies are typically easy to upgrade later if you want. For processors and motherboards (and sometimes RAM) depending on how long it’s been since you built it you may find yourself needing to buy new components because the newest hardware won’t fit in or be compatible with your system anymore.