I’ve been into computers for a fair while – pretty much all of my life. Yet I’ve never really been into the hardware, and haven’t ever built my own PC. With some recent struggles with my laptop I decided it was time to build a proper personal use desktop.
For the past couple of years I’ve been using an HP Envy Laptop. It has served me quite well, though a number of issues have cropped up recently. First, the battery can’t hold a charge anymore. This isn’t so much of an issue for me, as I almost always use a laptop at a desk with a nearby power supply. Second, and more important, if I’m doing anything that requires a lot of use of resources (such as playing a video game) it tends to shut down to avoid overheating. It was once I successfully ran for a full gaming session by sandwiching the laptop body between two ice packs that I decided maybe it was time for an upgrade.
I’ve used desktop / “Tower PCs” in the past, though they were always rather low-end. And I had never before built one myself. But now I decided the time was ripe to jump in and build my own. For a person who has always been more knowledgeable about the software side of things than hardware, this was a challenge and I wasn’t sure where to start.
My first port of call was the last place I had actually seen anything about building PCs – reddit 🤮. Reddit is a bit of a funny place and I haven’t used it in a while, but I did have previous knowledge of a subreddit that was helpful. /r/pcmasterrace, despite it being a cesspit of memes and general awfulness, does have some good build guides and for a novice like me, these were a good place to start from.
Especially useful was the PCPartPicker website, had I known about this from the beginning I could have just forgone reddit completely. It is set to the US market by default but actually works really well in the UK when you switch it over. It’s really easy to use to pick different components, and it has some basic sanity checks about component compatibility.
I am especially a fan of how it automatically suggests the cheapest markets you can buy from. Annoyingly, often enough amazon ends up being one of the cheapest. I am not a fan of amazon: forget “no buy July”, I haven’t bought anything from them in years. Luckily it seems this market is very competitive and the alternatives end up being only a little more expensive.
My last big hurdle here was getting my credit card to allow me to actually buy this stuff. My building society, Nationwide, is very good at spotting suspicious transactions. Too good, almost.
As a result because these are not places I had bought from previously, and I’m buying high ticket items no less, of course I am blocked from using my card 🙄. Still, it only took a phone call to fix.
I have a suggestion for you, Nationwide: You have an app. Let me use it as an authenticator in situations like this. With other authentication apps all I need to do is press a button and I can log in to an account without even needing a password. Thankfully, the UK is rolling out new legislation which should make this kind of process a bit easier. Over SMS, which isn’t perfect, but it’s some kind of 2FA which I welcome.
The parts list
To my untrained eye, this looked like a decent future-proofed build. Here’s what I ended up going with:
- Thermaltake Versa H22 Case
- TP-Link TG-3468 Ethernet
- AMD – Ryzen 5 2600 Processor
- Palit GeForce GTX 1660 Ti GPU
- 550W EVGA G3, Modular, 80PLUS Gold PSU
- Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB 3000MHz DDR4
- Western Digital Blue 3D NAND 500GB 2.5″ SATA III
- ASRock B450M Pro4 AMD Socket AM4 Motherboard
I decided to get myself a second monitor, an AOC I2481FXH 23.8″ IPS Monitor. I already had an HP monitor that I was using for a second display for my laptop, but the contrast on it isn’t great, and I find it useful having two screens on the go.
The first thing I noticed was that the motherboard already had a built in Ethernet card🤦♀️. That was only about £8, so no big loss there, and a double check on PCPartPicker revealed that yes, had I bothered to fully read the description offered, I would have known about this before purchase.
The more sensitive components all make a big song and dance about having proper anti-static tools and workplaces when building 😬. I don’t have any of this, the best I could do was not build it over a carpet. I didn’t see any visible discharges, but I did find that the plastic wrapping that a lot of the components come in actually cause the hairs on my arm to charge and rise up. Why on earth would you go to the trouble of using special anti-static plastic to wrap the component, only to use cheap static-inducing plastic wrapping on the outer box? Still, I grounded myself constantly and kept working.
The first thing I noticed when I was working with the motherboard was that it like to make lots of crinkly sounds when I press down on it to screw something in or attach of component. I don’t think that can be very good, can it? It stayed in one piece, but still… that was a bit disconcerting.
I didn’t get a high end case. As a result, the PCI slot covers on the back don’t just slide out. You have to pop them out. I did not know this. It took me a long time to figure out that there are small welds that you can just tear off. Nowhere in the manual did I see it explaining this, maybe I wasn’t looking hard enough, or maybe manuals need to stop assuming knowledge and start making everything explicit.
In a classic move that most Lego aficionados should be well aware of avoiding, I mixed up the packets. As a result, it quickly became difficult to keep track of which components go together. The good thing about building a PC is that for each component, there’s only one place it can actually go, so the only consequence of this was slowing me down. Which is good, because it gave me time to think and double check. Except that I forgot to put on the back cover for the motherboard (the metal sheet that prevents large foreign objects coming in alongside the USB ports at the back – I don’t know its name). So I had to take everything out and start again for that 😤.
The last step, attaching all the wires, was both the most satisfying and also most annoying step. The nice thing about the wires is that they’re all labelled and they only fit in one place. So even without the manuals (which I still checked), I could have figured out how to attach them. But there were so many wires… and such an apparently small case to fit them in. oof. Still, I got there in the end.
Finally switching everything on, and no fuses blew. Nothing caught fire. It works🎉🎈. And this far it seems to be working well.
I was installing Windows 10 here, and it asked me for a product key. Me being cheap, I decided to not pay for an installation license. Instead, I found an old Windows 7 disc I had lying around and just typed in the product code for that instead… It worked ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. Turns out there is something valuable in hoarding old tech parts.
The case needs to sit somewhere with good ventilation. Right now it’s sitting under my desk, hopefully that’s good enough. I’ll need to keep an eye on it, but it looks good so far. The only thing that bothers me is when I installed Open Hardware Monitor. I don’t like the temperature readouts telling me some sensors are sitting idle at either 99℃ or -22℃. I’m going to hazard a guess and say that’s probably not accurate, but i’ll need to keep an eye on it all the same.
Overall, despite some stresses while building, this has been a success. Now I can avoid ever having to do it again for the next several years. Yay!
I probably should have taken some pictures… welp, I’m not re-building it again for the sake of this blog post.