I know the basics, but I don't know in-depth details, such as why a 1.2 Ghz processor is better than a 1 Ghz, other than the fact that the number is higher and its more expensive.
Well, that one really is basic. 1.2GHz is .2GHz faster than 1.0 GHz, where 1 Hertz (Hz) = 1 cycle per second. More cycles per second means more processing per second.
I intend on using my computer for gaming, music recording and editing, and as a general home PC.
I need it to be fast, but I don't need a quad-core. Can I salvage the CPU from the Inspiron 545s I have now?
Well, since you listed gaming first, I would say you do indeed need quad-core. And only if your new motherboard supported the same CPU as the 545 could you use it. Same socket and the chipset must support it.
If set on using one of those CPUs, why not use the motherboard they are on now? That said, if looking for a new board that uses that CPU, I would visit Newegg, MWave or another site that allows you to select your CPU, then use it to show what boards will "bundle" with it.
Otherwise, and if me, I would abandon the idea of using the older CPUs. I understand the desire to not shelf something that is perfectly good - you don't want to know how many selves full I have of perfectly good but legacy hardware. Supporting legacy holds you back. Buying the latest your budget allows lets you look forward longer. I like Intels, but AMD makes great CPUs too.
Also, before going further, you defined the purpose of this computer, that is step 1. Step 2 is set a budget.
The case and power supply establish the "foundation" for your computer for years to come. Like anything, if you take shortcuts on the foundation, chances are good all will come tumbling down before its time.
I start my build buys with the case and end with the PSU. I like Antec cases, but there are many good makers to choose from. The better cases are made from steel or quality aluminum with reinforced corners. They are "true" - that is, bends are 90.0° angles. The cases provide several large (120mm or larger) fans, rolled (not jagged sharp) edges, provide easy access and I will never buy a case without a removable, washable air filter.
The biggest advantage to aluminum cases is weight - which matters when lugging the computer outside to blast out the interior. But aluminum is flimsy compared to steel. And a flimsy case will warp and wobble from "true" placing torquing forces and stress on the motherboard mounting points. Not good. So the better aluminum cases use thicker the gauge (thickness) metal and they reinforce each corner to prevent warping. This means an aluminum case cost more than a like steel design. Don't buy into aluminum cases being cooler. While true, aluminum is a better heat conductor, if it matters in a computer case that simply means the case is doing a poor job of extracting the heat from the case, allowing heat to build up - not good! The case's job is to protect the contents from kicks and bumps, and to provide adequate front to back air flow through
Fancy facades, like all faddish things, go out of style. And flashing lights do nothing for performance, consume some power, generate some heat, and do nothing for performance - worth repeating. That's my opinion, of course, but then it's my opinion most folks want their cases to sit "quietly" and "discreetly" out of the way so we can pay attention to what's on the monitor(s).
And note the "ATX Form Factor" Standard requires all ATX cases will support all ATX motherboards, and all ATX power supplies will support all ATX motherboards and fit in all ATX cases. Sadly, there is no such standard for notebooks or the self-built notebook would be popular too. Most mid-tower and larger will support Full sized ATX and smaller ATX boards. For extended ATX, you need a full size tower. Most user don't need extended boards, or full size (and very heavy) towers - often seen with servers these days.
I recommend a mid-tower, even if you plan on getting a microATX board. That will give you room for both hands and still see what you are doing.
The power supply should be your last, but perhaps most important purchase decision. When ready, here's my canned text on choosing a PSU:
Use the eXtreme PSU Calculator Lite to determine the minimum and recommended power supply unit (PSU) requirements. Plan ahead and plug in all the hardware you think you might have in 2 or 3 years (extra drives, bigger or 2nd video card, more RAM, etc.). Be sure to read and heed the notes at the bottom of the calculator page. I recommend setting Capacitor Aging to 30% (see my note below), and if you participate in distributive computing projects (e.g. BOINC or Folding@Home) or extreme 3D animated gaming, I recommend setting both TDP and system load to 100%. These steps ensure the supply has adequate head room for stress free (and perhaps quieter) operation, as well as future hardware demands. Research your video card and pay particular attention to the power supply requirements for your card listed on your video card maker's website. If not listed, check a comparable card (same graphics engine and RAM) from a different maker. The key specifications, in order of importance are:
Don’t try to save a few dollars by getting a cheap supply!
- Current (amperage or amps) on the +12V rail,
- Total wattage.
Digital electronics, including CPUs, RAM, and today's advanced graphics cards, need clean, stable power. A good, well chosen supply will provide years of service and upgrade wiggle room. Look for power supply brands listed under the "Good" column of PC Mech's PSU Reference List
. Another excellent read is Tom’s Hardware, Who’s Who In Power supplies: Brands, Labels, And OEMs
. Note that some case retailers “toss in” a generic or inadequate PSU just to make the case sale. Be prepared to “toss out” that supply for a good one with sufficient power.
Most PSUs have an efficiency rating of around 70%. This means for every 100 watts of power a PSU draws from the wall, only 70 watts is delivered to the motherboard, with the rest wasted in the form of heat. The best supplies are 85 to 90% efficient, and as expected, cost more. I strongly recommend you pick a quality supply with an efficiency rating equal to or greater than 80%. Look for 80 PLUS and EnergyStar Compliant
labels. 80 PLUS PSUs are required to have fairly linear efficiencies. This is important to ensure the PSU is running at or near peak efficiency regardless the load or power demands. Non-linear PSUs typically are most efficient when the load is in a narrow range between 70 and 90% of the PSU’s capacity and the efficiency may drop dramatically above and below those amounts.
Too big of a PSU hurts nothing but your budget. Your computer will draw from the PSU only what it needs, not what the PSU is capable of delivering. If a computer needs 300 watts it will draw 300 watts regardless if the PSU is a 400W, 650W, or 1000W PSU. In turn, the PSU, regardless its size will draw from the wall only what it needs to support the computer. In this example, it will draw 300 watts, plus another 45 – 90 watts, depending on the PSU’s inefficiency.
As noted, the eXtreme Calculator determines minimum and recommended requirements. If the calculator (with the changes I suggested) recommends a 400 watt minimum, a quality 400W supply will serve you just fine. However, a quality 550W – 600W supply will have, among other things, larger heat sinks to dissipate potentially more heat. It might have a larger fan too. The 400W supply will run most of the time closer to capacity, while the larger supply will be loafing along, rarely breaking a sweat. To help the smaller heat sinks get rid of the wasted 80 watts (20% of 400) of heat, the fan in the 400W supply may need to run full speed, while the fan in the larger supply, with bigger sinks just loafs along too – but in near silence. Also, it is typical for manufacturers to use higher quality parts, design, and manufacturing techniques in their higher power supplies.
Note: Capacitor Aging. All electronics “age” over time. Electrons flowing through components bang around and create friction and heat causing wear and tear, altering the electrical characteristics of the device. Over time, this weakens the device resulting in eventual failure. Power supplies have always suffered profoundly from aging effects resulting in a loss of capacity. In recent years, capacitor technologies have improved. The best PSUs use the best (and most expensive) capacitors which suffer less from aging effects than older capacitor types. If planning on buying a new, high-end PSU, setting capacitor aging to 10% may result in a more realistic recommendation. However, headroom “buffer” will be significantly reduced. You can expect your PSU to last 5 years or longer. Since it is better to buy too big rather than too small, and since it is hard to predict what your power requirements will be in 3 years, using 30% for Capacitor Aging ensures you have enough headroom for virtually any upgrade.
Don't forget to budget for a good UPS with AVR (automatic voltage regulation). Surge and spike protectors are inadequate and little more than fancy, expensive extension cords.