Buying a new computer can be an expensive ordeal. When you go to a big box retailer or manufacturer, you often pay for components you don’t need or get overcharged for the ones you do. The best solution is to build your own computer. What most people don’t realize is it’s actually surprisingly easy to do. To help you design your next computer, or just to become familiar with what to look for, WorldStart is doing a 10-part series on the components you’ll need to build your own computer.
In each part, I’ll offer recommendations on the components discussed. I’ll recommend parts to accommodate those both looking for value and those looking for high performance. Since manufacturers are always updating styles and features, your final decision should be based on your own judgment, aided by the knowledge you gain from these articles. You know what you want from your PC, I’m here to help you design it.
Part Nine: Cooling
The cooling solutions you choose for your PC components can mean the difference between years of reliable service and an early computer grave. Heat is the enemy of long-term reliability for computer components, so it’s important to understand which cooling products will work best for your computer.
CPU Coolers: Most processors will include a stock, or factory supplied, heatsink and fan. This fan and heatsink combination is designed to give you the minimum required cooling. While it will perform sufficiently, there are aftermarket coolers which perform better. When looking for an aftermarket cooler, it’s important to match the cooler to the socket version of the processor and make sure it will fit in your computer case. Some heatsinks are quite large.
Case Fans: While most cases will come with a few fans, there are often spots for extras. It’s important to balance the noise level with the amount of fans required to effectively exhaust heat. A good idea is to have at least two intake fans and two outtake fans. Placing a fan near or around critical components like hard drives, graphics cards and power supplies can help exhaust air from those hot spots.
Fan Controllers: Perhaps one of the best investments is a case fan controller. This component is a control panel that lets you adjust the speed of your case fans. This allows you to precisely control the balance of noise versus cooling. This is an especially good investment if you have more then three case fans and want to have fine control over them.
I want to take a moment to say that if you’re on a strict budget and have no interest in overclocking, the third party CPU cooler and fan controller is optional. I would still recommend making sure you have at least three if not four case fans, but you can make do with the stock CPU cooler and plug the case fans into your motherboard/power supply.
Budget CPU Cooler – COOLER MASTER Hyper 212 EVO – $34.99
The Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO is the latest generation of a successful line of processor cooling setups. It features a 120 mm fan and four direct contact heat pipes. The copper pipes and aluminum fins allows for effective heat transfer and it’s leaps and bounds above a stock cooler. The package includes mounting hardware for all the current popular socket types for AMD and Intel. All in all, a good value for someone looking for maximum processor life or some overclocking potential.
Premium CPU Cooler – Noctua NH-D14 – $89.99
The Noctua NH-D14 is the champion of air-based cooling. It features dual 140/120 mm fans and 6 heat pipes spread over dual radiator fin assemblies. The copper pipes and aluminum fins allows for effect heat transfer and it’s as good as air cooling gets. The package includes mounting hardware for all the current popular socket types for AMD and Intel and NT-H1 thermal compound. So what’s not to love? This thing is GIGANTIC, measuring 6.2 x 5.5 by 6.5 inches. If you have room in your case, you’ll find no better air cooling system.
Budget Case Fans – COOLER MASTER SickleFlow 120 – $7.99
While I’m recommending the Cooler Master fan, it really is just the lowest-priced fan I could find from a name-brand manufacturer. Look for a case fan that will fit your case, most will be 120 mm in size. This cooler master unit runs at 2,000 RPM and has a nearly 70 CFM (cubic feet per minute) air flow rating, which is sufficient for most applications. This unit also includes a 3 pin to molex adapter which lets you plug the fan directly into your power supply, a helpful feature if you run out of fan controller ports on your motherboard.
Premium Case Fan – Noiseblocker NB-Multiframe M12-P – $29.99
The Noiseblocker M12-P combines two things which are almost always at odds, high performance and low noise volume. The specially-designed fan blades and rubber mounting system reduce vibration and sound while still providing up to 79 CFM in air flow. The included PWM controller (4 port) allows you to control the speed of the fan from compatible PWM fan ports.
If you want the top-of-the line case fans and can afford the price there is nothing better then Noiseblocker’s fans. If your planning on buying a fan controller opt for the NB-Multiframe M12-S3 which has a 1800 RPM/73 CFM rating and a standard 3 pin fan cable.
Budget Fan Controller – Lamptron 20W – 4 Channel Fan Controller FC-4 – $29.99
This budget fan controller features four ports to plug-in case fans and backlit knobs to adjust the voltage. With 20 watts of power, it offers more then enough juice to run your fans. Turning the knob will allow you to adjust the voltage (and hence the fan speed), giving you the ability to turn down the fans when you’re browsing the web and turn them up on a hot summer day playing the latest 3D video game.
Premium Fan Controller – Lamptron FC Touch 30W – 6 Channel Fan Controller FCT – $74.99
This fan controller is just really cool. It’s got six 3-pin fan controller ports, a touch screen to control the fans and six temperature probes to measure case temperatures. The fans can be adjusted manually or set to automatic with a preprogrammed temperature goal. It comes with fan extension cables and can provide up to 30 watts of power. If you’re willing to drop some money on a fan controller, this is the ultimate in customization (and no pun intended, cool factor.)
P.S. While I don’t normally recommend any store (outside of WorldStart.com  of course!) the people at FrozenCPU offer an AMAZING selection of cooling solutions. I’ve personally visited their store (they do online ordering too) and the people who work there are computer enthusiasts who want to make computers cool and reliable. I’d highly recommend looking at http://www.frozencpu.com  if you need any PC cooling products.
For more articles in this series, click here.