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Throughout the 3+ years I’ve used this website and spent some time in subreddits like /r/buildapc, I’ve found that people tend to not have much understanding of what they're talking about or how what they're talking about works. I’ve been in, and still am in such a place in many areas, so I get it. But for someone to mitigate this issue for themselves, they need to find the right information, and more importantly, correct information. Problem is, this isn’t always easy, especially if you want to go in-depth.
There's a lot of good information out there regarding PC hardware and peripherals. From PC components and peripherals, to networking and audio, the goal of this post is to consolidate links to this information in hopes of helping to make understanding of these topics more widespread. In addition, unless otherwise noted, links are given in a suggested order within a sub-section, from top to bottom. This post is meant to provide a structured learning experience, where one can start small and build their way up. As such, every link is included for a reason. While the vast majority of links are included for this reason, a few (such as some in the PSUs section as an example) are there for clarification or a more easily understandable explanation. Sub-sections aren't necessarily layed out the same way, although for them it is generally assumed you have gone through any "basics" or "general" sub-section before others in a section (excluding anything categorized as Advanced) if there are more. The information that can be learned from here isn't practical by itself (for practicality, see the complementary thread linked below), but can certainly help you to figure out how to make decisions regarding hardware, understand reviews, and of course, know how everything works to some extent. To put your newfound or otherwise knowledge to some use, I have added a list of good reviewers for different things.
This thread is aimed at the curious, from beginners to those who want to get more in-depth without reaching for entire books (which are also suggested when I know a good one). Beginners can learn lots of what they should know, and those wanting to know more can find some resources to learn what they want to. Make sure you don't run before you walk or bite off more than you can chew, because there's a lot of information here to take in and it can get pretty in-depth at some points. I hope that if everything is read or watched through entirely (excluding Advanced category, including the complementary thread linked below), you can achieve a well above average level of hardware knowledge compared to the typical PC-related forum user, and learn almost all that is worth knowing.
Any sections or sub-sections marked with (lacking) I believe have some sizeable gaps of information and so require learning material of which I don't have off-hand at the moment. It's there mostly to mark where I should look to add on to if possible. Do note that my ability to know what is actually in real need of additions is still limited by the natural limitation of my own knowledge. Any section or sub-section marked (lacking, see complementary thread) has informational gaps that are filled thanks to the complementary thread.
Some informational gaps exist because trying to fill them here goes against the focus of this thread one way or another, due to the articles or videos in which these gaps are filled. Instead of doing that, I made another thread to complement this one that helps to fill in the gaps and also give information on topics that didn't quite fit this thread such as the actual act of PC building, troubleshooting, computer and online security, and many more individual smaller topics. At the same time, that thread provides many links for various guides, tutorials, how-tos, and useful websites or webpages. Check it out here:
If I notice any incorrect or misleading information I will make note of it, along with anything important to know/remember and any clarifications I feel are worth pointing out.
If a link does not work, use archive.org as nearly every link is archived there (I go through them all and archive through that site, even individual pages). Some such as Tom's Hardware links however aren't archived because they don't allow it, and YouTube videos aren't archived for obvious reasons.
Anything marked Recommended is highly recommended by me to read or watch. Do note that it is still assumed you are following the suggested top-bottom order of reading/watching before getting to the Recommended material.
As always, keep in mind the age of the learning material. The fundamentals of everything have stayed pretty much the same over the past decade or so, but the details may be different.
Beginner: Anything in this category covers things beginners should know for a given topic, and does not go in-depth. These tend to be a good starting point and in most cases are easy to understand.
Beginner/Intermediate: Anything in this category is a combination of beginner and Intermediate in terms of depth, complexity, and possibly length. These are easy enough to understand provided you know at least some necessary basics.
Intermediate: Anything in this category may go into topics not covered by material in beginner category, go even more in-depth about them, or both; but without reaching Advanced category levels. These may require some prior knowledge and/or may benefit with use of glossaries provided in this post, and so are not very beginner-friendly. These will also typically be longer than what is in the first two categories.
Advanced: Anything in this category gets in-depth and technical. These are best left for those who are serious about learning more, and almost definitely require some prior knowledge to understand it. Everything in this category is at least a bit long.
This is so you can get an idea of the relative complexity and length without having to look at it. Categories are chosen based off how it compares to other content in a given section (except for Beginner category), so there will be some variance. For example, the bar is higher in the CPUs, SSDs, and Electronic Components sections, so content beyond the Beginner category will tend to be more technical and/or complex in those sections relative to some others.
If you're not too familiar with a given topic, I suggest holding off on anything in the Intermediate category until you feel comfortable with what is in the Beginner and Beginner/Intermediate categories for a given section.
If you're a complete beginner to PC parts (which is unlikely if you are reading this, but hey), I suggest you first introduce yourself to the components of a PC, the peripherals, and some of the different ports and cables there are before you move on to the rest of the post.
-“Tips and tricks”
-How to articles or videos (i.e. how to identify a CPU or GPU bottleneck, how to buy an X, how to upgrade to an SSD, etc)
Since this post is so darn long, here's the main contents in here. Anything on the first line is a section, and anything on the second lines are sub-sections. Use CTRL + F to easily jump to where you want to go. If you're on mobile, your web browser should have a similar function such as "Find in page".
Note for beginners
What you will NOT find in this post
Table of contents
Glossaries and the like
CPUs and related
Threads and Multi-Threading
Hyper-Threading / SMT
Going more in-depth
SDRAM (and DDR gens of it) as used in system main memory, general and misc
Other types of DRAM not used in system main memory, general
Storage - Solid State Drives
Going more in-depth
Storage – Hard Disk Drives
Heatsinks, heatsink-fans (HSFs)
All in one closed-loop liquid coolers (AIO CLLCs)
Thermal interface material (TIM)
Graphics Cards, GPUs
Networking and Internet
Freesync and Gsync
Mice and Keyboards
Surge Suppression and Uninterruptible Power Supplies
Surge suppression devices
Uninterruptible power supplies
For PSUs (Not in English)
For graphics cards
For CPU coolers
Getting more added to this thread, and expansion.
Due to this post's formerly-extreme length (over 10,000 words, and only growing with every addition), I have moved individual sections of the main body of it and the Good Reviewers section offsite separately and linked to each individually. This should make this post much more easier to navigate.
12/2/2018: Added Wireless Routers 101, Network Interface Cards (NICs) 101, and USB Wi-Fi Adapter 101 to the Networking and Internet section.
11/5/2018: Removed How a CPU Works from the CPU-related section for being too outdated and misleading for my tastes. Added IBM Knowledge Center - Simultaneous Multithreading and A Modern CPUs pipeline to the CPU-related section. Added a Miscellaneous section with Guide to USB Microphones, USB Microphone Buying Guide, Desktop CD, DVD and Blu-ray Buyer's Guide, Buy Smarter: what you need to know about... optical disc drives, How to Choose the Perfect USB Hub for Your Needs, Redundant Power Supply Units (PSUs) – How They Work – An Overview, Beginners Guide to Server Racks, Server Rack Buying Guide - Server Rack Ordering Info, and What is a RAID Controller Card? Why do I need one and what does it do? Why not use a software RAID?. Also added a Thermal interface material (TIM) sub-section to the Cooling section with Thermal Compound Guide and Thermal Interface Materials. Lastly, added How Graphics Cards Work to the Graphics Cards, Graphics Processing Units (GPUs) section.
10/28/2018: Added Gaming Mice: Grips, Behaviour & Motion Explained to the Mice section, FreeSync 2 Explained to the Monitors section, and GDDR6 Deep Dive to the DRAM section.
3/11/2018: Added PC Case Buying Guide 2018 to the Cases section, and What is a headphone amplifier, and why do I need one? to the Audio section.
1/12/2018: Added the Operating Systems section with Operating System Design/Introduction, Introduction to Operating Systems, Operating Systems, and Operating System Design.
1/6/2018: Added The User Datagram Protocol (UDP) to the Networking and Internet section, and added Transistor Specifications Explained, Different Types of Integrated Circuits, and Fuses to the Electronic Components section.
12/19/2017: Added Home networking explained, Part 1: Here's the URL for you and What is Firewall to the Networking and Internet section, added a Misc subsection to the Audio section with Op Amps: Myths & Facts, and added Tech Tip: Audio Gear Specifications—What They Do and Don’t Tell You, Headphone Measurements Explained - InnerFidelity, DACs: everything you need to know, and All About Gain.
12/13/2017: Added About VRMs & MOSFETs / Motherboard Safety with high-TDP processors to the VRMs section, How Web Servers Work, How LAN Switches Work, How Routers Work, and How TCP/IP Protocol Works – Part 2 to the Networking and Internet section.
12/4/2017: Added Networking 101: Ethernet, LANs, and How They Work to the Networking and Internet section, Cache RAM section of of Chapter 13 of Computer Organization and Design Fundamentals to the CPUs section, On PSU Voltages to the PSUs section, and Cactus Tech's Flash Storage Glossary, List of computing and IT abbreviations, and Computer-Related Abbreviations and Acronyms. to the glossaries and the like section.
11/30/2017: Added A Short Guide to Motherboard Parts and Their Functions and CPU Socket Types Explained: From Socket 5 To BGA [MakeUseOf Explains] to the Motherboards section.
11/25/2017: Added What makes a good VRM and Multiphase Buck Design From Start to Finish (Part 1) to the VRMs section, added a GPUs, misc subsection to the Graphics cards / GPUs section with SIMD < SIMT < SMT: parallelism in NVIDIA GPUs, added UPS FAQ to the Surge suppression and uninterruptible power supplies section, and added Choosing A Case Pt 2: Silent Cases to the Cases section.
11/7/2017: Added Describing Sound A Glossary to the Glossaries and the like section.
11/3/2017: Removed Audio Specifications from the Audio section because, after re-evaluation, I decided it unnecessary for the most part and an awkward inclusion. Also removed Ask Ars: what is a CPU thread? in favor of Hyperthreading and Multi-Core, as I decided the latter fills the role the former did while fitting the rest of the section better.
11/3/2017: Added Guide to Audio Basics to the Audio section, added a DACs, amps subsection to the Audio section with DAC/Amp Basics. Added CPU Instructions and Hyperthreading and Multi-Core to the CPUs section. Added Everything You Wanted to Know About Hard Drives to the HDDs section.
10/31/2017: In some form of celebration of me being on this website for two years, a special "Nobody cares about this stuff" update. Added the Surge Suppression and Uninterruptible Power Supplies section with How Surge Protectors Work, Anatomy of Surge Suppressors, and The "Uninterrupting" Uninterruptible Power Supply (UPS) Guide, added a Performance-related subsection to the HDDs section with Choosing High Performance Storage Is Not About RPM Anymore and Hard Disk Internal Performance Factors, added a Hybrid drives subsection to the HDDs section with Hybrid Hard Drives Explained: Why You Might Want One Instead of an SSD, added Storage Networking Fundamentals: Storage Devices to the HDDs section (General), added The Basics of Fan Performance Tables, Fan Curves, System Resistance Curves and Fan Laws to the Computer fans section, added an Integrated circuits subsection to the Electronic Components section with Integrated Circuits, and added Everything You Need to Know About Home Networking and A guide to the interworkings of the internet to the Networking and Internet section.
9/26/2017: Added XP Power Essential Guide to Power Supplies to the PSUs section.
8/30/2017: Added the BIOS/UEFI-related sub-section to the Motherboards section with What Is UEFI, and How Is It Different from BIOS? and CMOS, BIOS and Boot Process, What Is a “Chipset”, and Why Should I Care? to the Motherboards section, and Video card to the Graphics Cards, GPUs section.
7/3/2017: Added Animagraffs - How Hard Disk Drives Work to the HDDs section.
6/5/2017: Added a 3D Xpoint sub-section in the SSDs section along with How 3D XPoint Phase-Change Memory Works.
5/30/2017: Added Technical Deep-Dive: Closed-Loop Liquid Cooling to the closed loop liquid coolers section.
5/7/2017: Added FreeSync vs. G-Sync Delay Analysis to the monitors section.
3/19/2017: Added Lantronix Glossary to the Glossaries and the like section.
3/18/2017: Added Misc sub-section to the Monitors section with High Dynamic Range (HDR), Panel Coating, and Factors Affecting PC Monitor Responsiveness.
3/9/2017: Added Cases section with Choosing a Case Part 1: Case basics.
3/6/2017: Added A Dictionary of Keyboards: a keyboard for writing to the glossaries and the like section, [Official] Mechanical Keyboard Guide to the Keyboards section, and Mouse Guide 2.0: A list of mice with superior sensors and more. to the Mice section.
3/3/2017: Added Benchmarks : Measuring Cache and Memory Latency (access patterns, paging and TLBs) to the DRAM section.
2/27/2017: Added Making Sense of Next-Gen SSDs to the SSDs section.
2/22/2017: Added CUI INC's Glossary of Power Supply Terms and SNIA 2015 Dictionary to the glossaries and the like section.
2/18/2017: Added SSD Performance - A Primer to the SSDs section and The Fundamental Characteristics of Storage to the HDDs section.
2/18/2017: Removed SSD Performance In Crysis 2, World Of Warcraft, And Civilization V because, after re-evaluating the SSDs section, I have decided it unecessary to include.
2/13/2017: Added Motherboards section with Motherboard Parts and Functions: Getting to Know Your Hardware, Introduction to Computers - Motherboard, Understanding Chipsets: What is a Chipset, Anyway?, Introduction to PCI Express, and PCI Express – An Overview of the PCI Express Standard.
2/10/2017: Added Modern GPU Architecture in the Graphics Cards, GPUs section, Power supply de-rating in practice in the PSUs section, and SSD Performance States in the SSDs section.
2/1/2017: Added A Comparison of NVMe and AHCI in the SSDs section.
1/27/2017: Added Heat Pipes in the Cooling section.
1/23/2017: Added An Overview of Mouse Technology in the Mice section.
1/4/2017: Added Keyboards section with How Computer Keyboards Work, Mechanical Keyboard Switches, added Audio section with How On-Board Audio Works, How Analog-to-Digital Converter (ADC) Works, Noise & Dynamic Range, Audio Specifications, An Introduction To Headphones, Headphone Impedance Explained, More Power?, Headphone Amps/DACs Explained, and Glossary Of Terms - Head-FI.org.
1/3/2017: Added NAND Basics - Understanding the Technology Behind Your SSD in the SSDs section.
1/3/2017: Removed NAND Flash Faces Off - Synchronous vs. Asynchronous as it only compares two outdated ONFI generations and the results can easily be taken the wrong way.
12/10: Added Flash Management - A detailed overview of flash management techniques in the SSDs section.
12/8: Added Intel Hyper-Threading Technology Technical User's Guide in the CPUs section.
12/1: Added Graphics Cards, GPUs section with How GPUs work, Understanding Graphics Cards – a Laymen’s Guide, GamersNexus GPU Dictionary, Specs Explained: Video Card, and A trip through the Graphics Pipeline 2011.
11/21: Added Anatomy of Switching Power Supplies in the PSUs section.
11/13: Added Misc. in Networking with How TCP/IP Protocol Works – Part 1, added Overview of DRAMs in DRAM section, added Anatomy of a Monitor in Monitors section, added CPU Caches part of Ullrich Drepper's What every programmer should know about memory in the cache part of the CPUs section, and added Wear Leveling - Static, Dynamic, and Global to the Misc. part of the Storage - Solid State Drives section.
11/11: Added Misc. in Storage - Solid State Drives with What is SLC Write Cache?, Power Loss Imminent (PLI) Technology, and Solid state drives: Backup capacitors in modern solid state drives.
11/10: Added Networking section + Lantronix's Ethernet Tutorial parts 1, 2, and 3.
11/8: Added How VRMs work (I give up edition) in the VRMs section.
11/7: Added The Physical Characteristics of a Hard Drive and Organization of Data on a Hard Drive sections of Chapter 13 of Computer Organization and Design Fundamentals in the hard disk drives section.
Additions since creation: 137
Removals since creation: 5
This post as it stands has reached a point where my own knowledge is a major limitation for future additions to existing sections. That is on top of the already limited appropriate additions where any content necessary for filling gaps is spread across many articles/videos in the form of only tidbits of information, or only in very unfitting sources (as a good example, the GPUs subsection). Not to mention my own ability to notice where additions need to be made, and find more to fitting content to add. Updates will be coming at a slow pace, as they did in the spring and summer of 2017. As such, I need suggestions to keep things going.
If you have a link you want to suggest adding to the post, PM me or leave a comment on the build guide backup linked at the very top of this post with it so I can look at it and decide if it's worth including. Same goes for the complementary thread.
If you have a suggestion for adding an entire section or sub-section to the post, PM me or leave a comment on the build guide backup for me to consider it. Same goes for the complementary thread. Right now in this post I'm only focusing on the hardware sides of things, but I'm willing to consider expanding beyond just that.