How to choose a system unit?

The main advantage of the PC as a platform is the ability to change its configuration. You can choose the “hardware” that will best meet the tasks assigned to it and will not require excessive spending.

But sometimes you need a ready-made device that you can buy and start using literally the same day. What should you look for when choosing a ready-made computer?

System unit type and size
Yes, the choice should start with the form factor of the future computer. Each solution will show its advantages in its own scenario.

The thin client is a rather specific device. In fact, this is not even a personal computer, but an interface for input / output of information, the processing of which takes place entirely on a remote server.

It is very convenient in offices: space is saved at the workplaces of employees, the problem of installing third-party software and, in part, the safety of information is solved. But the performance of thin clients directly depends on the state of the internal network of the enterprise, communication with the server and, of course, the server itself.

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Nettop is almost a full-fledged PC on which you can install an operating system and other programs. These computers are small in size and use energy-efficient but low-performance hardware. However, there are many more scenarios for using a nettop than a thin client. And they are not even limited to offices: many ordinary users purchase such systems as a computer for a garage or summer cottage.

The platform is basically the same nettop, but it is not supplied completely ready for use, but without a hard disk and RAM modules (and sometimes even without a processor). You can add them later by choosing the appropriate models yourself.

Stick – a kind of “big flash drives”. True, their main interface is not USB, but HDMI. With this connector, they connect to a monitor, TV, projector or any other device that displays an image, and turn it into a full-fledged PC.

But, of course, there are traditional system units, and their range covers all market segments, from office “typewriters” to gaming systems and workstations. And here also has its own gradation in shape and size.

 

Slim are assembled in compact low-profile cases. Their main advantage is space saving, but do not think that this is always achieved at the expense of low-performance hardware.

Thin cases present powerful solutions for working with professional software, and even gaming stations, not to mention multimedia PCs, which are easily installed in the living room instead of a VCR or DVD player.

Micro-Towers are compact system units that greatly limit the possibilities for connecting additional devices. And, if the lack of bays for optical drives in our time is not a drawback, then the restrictions on the number of hard drives and expansion cards can already cause inconvenience.

Mini-Tower is also a compact format, but only in height. As for the rest, these are already completely ordinary cases, so that efficient cooling systems and high-performance video cards can be installed in them. Consequently, the range of gaming systems in this form factor is much wider.

Midi-Tower is the most gold standard in the PC space. Here, the dimensions of the cases no longer impose any restrictions on compatibility with hardware, so that system blocks of this format can represent absolutely everything their owner desires.

Processor make and model
The processor is, in fact, the device that determines how quickly the archive with the sources you need will be unpacked, how long it will take for the code to be compiled into a ready-to-use utility, how quickly the original layout will be written into a printable format … And also how quickly mathematical calculations will be performed in any given game scene.

With the choice of the processor manufacturer, everything is simple: here either Intel or AMD. Only thin clients stand apart, where you can find VIA, Allwinner and other exotic products.

But with the choice of a specific model or at least a line, everything is somewhat more complicated: there is a huge heap of proposals, it is not always clear how one processor model differs from another.

But the issue is solved quite simply. All you should be interested in is the performance of the processor that falls within your budget. It doesn’t matter who wins in price segments higher or lower – you have to get along with a specific CPU model.

A marker (not always accurate) of a processor’s performance can be the number of cores and its position in the line. Everything is pretty transparent here.

Processors with two computing cores from the AMD Atnlon and Intel Celeron / Pentium lines are solutions for exclusively office work or completely undemanding to user productivity.

AMD Ryzen 3 and Intel Core i3 quad-core processors are the right choice for a low-cost home PC with a gaming claim. And even for a part of workstations where more than four cores are simply not used.

Exceptions to this rule are Intel Atom processors, as well as their descendants masquerading as Pentium and Celeron. Despite the four physical cores, these are processors exclusively for nettops and low-cost laptops. You will not get any special performance in games and professional tasks from them.

The six-core processors from the AMD Ryzen 5 and Intel Core i5 lines are the gold standard for gaming and mid-range workstations. They are naturally not as productive in multithreading as eight-core models, but they do an excellent job with modern games and not the most difficult professional tasks.

AMD Ryzen 7 and Intel Core i7 processors with eight cores are a way to put together a workstation at no extra cost. Their performance is already quite enough for amateur video editing, creating 3D models and other professional tasks. And even more so for games.

AMD Ryzen 9 and Intel Core i9 processors with 10, 12, 16 or more cores are solutions for more specific tasks. In games, you most likely will not feel the difference between them and the Ryzen 7 / Core i7, but when streaming through a processor, professional video work and creating special effects, designing complex engineering structures, etc. – very much even.

Although you purchase the system unit as a ready-made device, in addition to the characteristics of the processor installed in it, you should also consider the possibility of its further upgrade.

To do this, you need to pay attention to the following points:

What processors at the software level are supported by the motherboard installed in the computer.
How powerful is the power supply subsystem of the board, and what CPU models it can withstand at the maximum load on them.
How effective is the standard cooling system, and is it possible to replace it with another model.
All this, of course, is not necessary, but it can simplify the system upgrade in the future. Unless, of course, you are going to change the whole PC again.

Motherboard model and specifications
As a rule, manufacturers of ready-made system units do not advertise the models of motherboards on which computers are assembled. You often cannot influence the choice of the motherboard model, but before buying, you should pay attention to the following aspects:

The number and quality of the phases of the power supply of the central processor. Since the processor does not have its own connectors for connecting to the power supply, it is the motherboard that supplies electricity to it. And, therefore, she also perceives the accompanying load.

 

And it may happen that the motherboard copes with the power consumption of a processor running in the standard configuration, but installing a CPU with a higher power consumption will bring mosfets to extreme temperatures, and the processor itself – to constant throttling, which, of course, you don’t need.

The number of slots for RAM. It is the RAM that users have to upgrade in the first place, and – almost guaranteed. Therefore, it is desirable that the upgrade procedure is not complicated by anything.

For example, purchasing a ready-made computer with 8 GB memory, you can get the following options: two 4 GB modules in two slots on the motherboard; one 8 GB module under the same conditions, or two modules with four slots on the motherboard.

And, if in the last two cases you just need to buy the required number of modules and fill the empty slots, then in the first case, you will have to replace both modules with larger slats, which will be much more expensive.

Connectors for internal drives . As a rule, when assembling a ready-made system unit, the type and volume of data storage devices is the last thing the manufacturer pays attention to. Therefore, the need to add new disks or SSDs arises almost before the issue of upgrading the RAM.

For modern systems, it is highly desirable to have at least one slot for an M.2 SSD and support for the NVMe protocol. As a system drive, such drives are better than traditional 2.5 “SATA drives, and space saving is not superfluous.

As for the SATA connectors themselves, today it is difficult to find a board on which less than four are soldered, if we are not talking about boards for nettops. However, it is worth looking into which of these connectors work under all conditions and which are disabled when an SSD is installed in an M.2 slot.

 

Also, if you are planning to organize a RAID array, be sure to check what possibilities the motherboard offers for this.

And of course – don’t forget to see how many hard drive bays are provided in the case. This is especially true for nettops and slim cases.

Wireless interfaces Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. As a rule, their presence is considered as an advantage of a ready-made computer, and this is indeed the case.

However, it is worth checking exactly how these interfaces are implemented. If the corresponding controllers are simply wired to the board, great. If an expansion card is used, it is worth seeing how much it can interfere with the installation of the same video card, and how many PCI-e slots remain free in principle.

If the Wi-Fi / Bluetooth module is presented in the form of an adapter for the M.2 slot – again, it is worth checking whether its installation affects the functionality of the SATA ports and PCI-e expansion slots.

RAM size
You also cannot influence the brand and model of the installed memory modules if you buy a ready-made computer. But choosing the amount of RAM and planning its upgrade is quite possible.

512 MB and 1 GB are for thin clients.

2GB is typical for nettops and the weakest office PCs, but even there this amount of memory can only be considered a starting point.

4 GB – for office PCs and home systems that are not busy with too serious tasks. This is enough for working in an office suite and surfing the Internet, if you do not open hundreds of tabs in the browser.

8 GB for entry-level home and gaming system units.

16 GB is the standard for modern gaming machines and work that is not associated with serious calculations and heavy sources. It is enough for a web designer’s or content manager’s work machine, but a video editor will look at such a volume rather with bewilderment.

32 GB or more – mainly for workstations or streamer machines.

Of course, when buying a ready-made computer, you should pay attention not only to the amount of RAM, but also to how this amount is recruited.

So, if only one memory module is installed in the system unit, this means that it works in single-channel mode. Performance in some tasks will be lower than it could be. But on the other hand, when you upgrade, you just need to buy and install a second module of the same volume.

If two or four modules are installed, you get a two-channel (or four-channel, if the chosen platform supports it!) Mode, but you can increase the memory only by replacing the standard modules.

Video card
In addition to the fact that it is the video card that determines the performance of the system in games, it is also engaged in decoding and playing media content, and accelerates the work of modern browsers. And sometimes he even does quite serious things, for example, speeds up the imposition of effects in design programs or helps with the rendering of videos and projects in software for engineering design.

 

Video cards are divided into discrete and built-in. A discrete video card is an expansion card for a PCI-express slot (less often for outdated AGP and PCI). An integrated graphics card is a graphics core built into a central processor (less commonly, a motherboard chipset).

Modern built-in graphics are far from the useless add-on that they were literally 8-10 years ago. Graphics in modern Intel and AMD processors can not only decode video hardware, it is capable of great feats in games as well. Thus, if you do not need too high performance of the video subsystem, you can safely choose system units with integrated video.

If you are interested in new games at high settings or specific computing capabilities, then you cannot do without system units with discrete video. Only, of course, the video card in this case should be faster than the built-in one.

The chip manufacturer for discrete video cards can be AMD or Nvidia. Both companies produce both conventional gaming cards and specialized computing accelerators.

Looking to choose the graphics card that’s right for you and the best choice for your budget? Then choose not manufacturers, but specific models. And choose, again, not based on reviews on youtube, but from comparative tests on authoritative resources. It is advisable to use several sources at once.

Power and other characteristics of the power supply
Like the model of the motherboard, the characteristics of the power supplies in the case of ready-made system units are a secret behind seven seals. Of all the characteristics, manufacturers indicate only the peak power, and even that is not always the case.

You should pay close attention to this, because the possibilities of upgrading and retrofitting a computer depend, among other things, on the power supply.

Nettops, thin clients and ultra-compact platforms are most often equipped with external power supplies, which are literally in sight, and everything is immediately clear with them.

 

But with “traditional” system units, everything is somewhat more complicated. Before buying, you need to know:

The peak power of the PSU and the power on the 12-volt line. It depends on these indicators how much “gluttonous” hardware you can install in the system unit later. So, if the power of the power supply at its peak is only 350 W, it is clearly not worth counting on an upgrade of the processor to the Core i9.
The number and type of power connectors. If you plan to install a powerful video card in the system unit, it is worth checking if the unit has additional PCI-e power connectors, and if they are in the right amount. For hard drives, check the number of SATA connectors, and so on. In principle, there is nothing complicated about this: all connectors must be visible.
Features of a specific PSU model. Yes, today you will no longer find a non-standard-format power supply unit in a finished computer that cannot be replaced with anything. But different lengths of wires for the additional power supply of the processor and the main ATX cable still occur, especially in cases with a non-standard position of the power supply unit. In them, it is worth paying attention to how the block is cooled so that if it is necessary to replace it, it does not fall into a mess.
Volume and type of solid state drive
A solid-state drive (SSD) is practically an indispensable element of a computer today. This does not mean, of course, that all drives must be solid-state, but you must use an SSD as the system drive if you want to get a quick system response and load frequently used programs.

Therefore, when choosing a ready-made system unit, it is worth considering either the presence of an SSD in the basic configuration, or the possibility of installing it.

In the second case, the choice of a specific model will be yours, in the first case, you can only choose the type and volume of the drive.

All other things being equal, it is worth choosing an SSD for the M.2 interface, operating under the NVMe protocol. Such drives work much faster than their counterparts for the SATA interface. Pay attention to the latter if the system does not support NVMe, or there is simply no M.2 slot on the motherboard.

As for the volume, a reasonable minimum for today is 120-128 GB. This is enough for both operating systems of the Windows family and for the minimum required set of programs. SSDs with a volume of 240–256 GB will be required if, in addition to the OS, specialized software that runs faster on a solid-state drive will be installed on them. 512 GB or more – useful for installing games or storing heavy sources.

Optical disc drive and accessories
More recently, it was difficult to even think about purchasing a PC without a CD / DVD drive. Do you need a DVD drive today? Decide for yourself. Absolutely unnecessary for a large proportion of users.

But a card reader is a very useful device, since it allows you to “feed” memory cards from cameras, smartphones and other devices directly to the system unit, without any adapters and wires. If you are a professional photo and video shooter, having a card reader will greatly simplify your life.

Choice options
If you plan to organize the work of the office through remote desktops, and a computer at the employee’s place is needed only as a means for connecting peripherals and encrypting the transmitted data, pay attention to thin clients . This option will not cost much cheaper than a conventional computer, but in some areas it can easily justify the costs.

If the cost of thin clients and related infrastructure seems overpriced to you, and compactness in the workplace is important, nettops are your option . This is already a completely full-fledged computer, and if we consider the options on full-fledged desktop Ryzen 3 and Core i3, it is also far from the slowest.

Moreover, the latter options can well be used at home, if design and space saving are more important to you than performance. But, if energy efficiency and low cost are also important to you, pay attention to nettops with “mobile” CPUs .

For those looking to keep the base cost of a computer down, compact build platforms are the way to go . Unlike nettops, these devices are not ready to work out of the box. They will need to install RAM, hard drive or SSD, and sometimes even a processor. But the configuration can be assembled to your taste.

Traditional system units, depending on their basic configuration, can be roughly divided into office , home and gaming segments. But naturally, this does not mean that with the help of an upgrade you cannot turn one into another.