Building a PC

Eve has been wanting to build a gaming PC. We finally found time for me to help her do it.

She’s been using her work laptop for playing Guild Wars 2 with us. It’s got a decent graphics chip, but a slow 5400rpm hard drive (encrypted, too!), so the game has been slow and flaky at times. I gave her a USB3 flash drive to run the game from because that’s actually faster than the internal HD, but it doesn’t help much. So this was good motivation for her to want a new computer – along with her feeling that building a PC will give her “geek cred;” it’s just something that a true computer geek must do at some point. (I called it “building her lightsaber.”)

It’s my belief that building a PC is better than buying a pre-built one. Besides the learning experience (and it is a learning experience), a PC can be built from good, reliable parts that’ll last a long time and that can be upgraded easily. She spent about $1300 on the whole thing, but later she can upgrade the graphics card if she wants to, or even replace the processor, motherboard, and memory while keeping the case and power supply. It’s a good foundation that’ll work well for her. I looked at the prices of pre-built PCs on Amazon, and while they save a few hundred dollars and have good specs on paper, the reviews often complain about glitches or shoddy workmanship or cut corners. I don’t think they would last nearly as long.

Another benefit of having a gaming PC is that there are so many inexpensive good games on Steam that she might never have any desire to buy a console!

So these are the parts we decided on, and why:

  • CPU: i5 7500 (LGA 1151), $190. I prefer Intel over AMD processors (for no good reason). The i5 is a good balance between price and performance. The 7500 is from the latest generation of Intel processors.
  • Motherboard: Gigabyte GA-Z270-HD3 (LGA 1151) ATX DDR4, $111. It fits the processor we chose, it’s standard and unsurprising, and it’s low-price. There are a lot of prices out there but I didn’t see a need to spend anything more.
  • Memory: Corsair Vengeance LPX 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4 DRAM 3200MHz C16 Desktop Memory Kit, $220. We probably could have gone with slower, less-expensive memory (since we’re not going to overclock), but that wouldn’t have saved us much money and I don’t know what speed the system needs to be able to run the memory at.
  • Power supply: Corsair CS550M 550 watt, $86. Corsair is a good name (another good name in power supplies is Antec) and this one gives good wattage. Likely much more than we need right now, but room for future needs.
  • Storage: Crucial MX300 525GB NAND SATA 2.5″ internal SSD, $147. I definitely recommended an SSD for her. Spinning hard drives are so much slower, and she doesn’t need huge amounts of storage.
  • Video card: PNY GeForce GTX 1050 Ti 4GB Graphics Card (VCGGTX10504PB), $210. If she didn’t want to do 3D gaming (like Skyrim) then the Intel built-in graphics (on the CPU) would have been good enough, but adding a dedicated graphics card adds so much more flexibility. The two major players are Nvidia (Geforce) and ATI (Radeon). I prefer Nvidia (for no good reason), and the 1050 Titanium is at a good price/performance point. Plus, it doesn’t require a separate power connection from the power supply; it doesn’t need any more power than it draws from the PCI-E slot! All we needed was an HDMI output, but this one also has DVI and DisplayPort in case we ever want them.
  • Wireless card: TP-Link N300 Wireless PCI-Express Adapter (TL-WN881ND), $19. Some motherboards have wi-fi built-in. The one we chose doesn’t, and Eve’s cable modem isn’t in the room where she’ll use her computer, so a wireless card is useful to have. This is a no-frills reliable model.
  • OS: Windows 10 Home 64-bit OEM, $110. Windows 7 is nine years old, Windows 8/8.1 isn’t worth using. Windows 10 is fine, Home is fine. The OEM version is fine as long as you don’t need to call Microsoft for support (and why should you?).
  • Optical drive: Asus 24x DVD-RW SATA, $20. Nothing fancy here.
  • Case: Corsair Carbide 100R, $50. It fits all the pieces and isn’t difficult to work with.

And then a few peripherals:

  • Display: LG Electronics Q Series 24M47VQ 24-Inch LED-lit Monitor, $140. Monitors are cheap. I recommend at least 1920×1080 resolution.
  • Display cable: AmazonBasics High-Speed HDMI Cable, 6 Feet, 1-Pack, $7. Because she doesn’t have one already.
  • Speakers: AmazonBasics USB-Powered Computer Speakers, $14. These plug into USB for power, and into a green plug in the back of the computer for audio.
  • Keyboard: Verbatim Slimline Keyboard, $6. USB, cheap and functional.
  • Mouse: she already has one to use.

The total price of all these parts from Amazon came to $1331.17.

And here are a few of the snags we ran into as I coached her over the phone through assembling all the pieces:

  • There’s a lever that needs to be lowered to grip the processor in place on the motherboard. Pushing it down into place requires an unnerving amount of force.
  • The motherboard took a few tries to get it seated properly inside the case so that she could screw it into place. The motherboard also comes with a backplate that needs to be snapped into the back of the case, but wouldn’t snap in until she realized she had to bend the edges of it out a little bit.
  • The way the case held the SSD (on a sled), it wasn’t possible to use the provided right-angle SATA cable to attach it. She had to cut away a little bit of plastic on the sled to which the SSD was attached, first.
  • The graphics card was difficult to get into place because of the way that the case holds the back-panel lugs. Was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to remove them and get the card into the right position.
  • The case has some wires (power button, power LED, &c.) which attach to the motherboard – or, in this case, to a little “G Connector” piece that the motherboard came with, which then plugs straight into the motherboard (that was nice). The first time she tried to power on the completed PC, it wouldn’t turn on. We found she had connected a few of these wires to the wrong pins; fixing them solved the problem.

Aside from these nervous and stressful moments, though, it wasn’t very difficult for Eve to assemble a PC for her first time! Once it powered on, installing the OS was a piece of cake, and it wasn’t long before she was playing Guild Wars 2 on it.

1 thought on “Building a PC”

  1. And I am eternally grateful to you for your patience, expertise, and reassurance during this process!! Couldn’t have done it without your help!

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