The Terrifying Experience Of Building A PC For The First Time

The Terrifying Experience of Building A PC For The First Time

As someone that primarily gamed on consoles for most of her life, there's nothing quite like watching your old gaming rig die a slow, agonizing death.

I got my old computer sometime in 2011 or so, back when I was in college. That's not that long ago, but the computer has been through a lot. Living in California but going to college in Massachusetts meant that whenever the holidays came around, my computer would be precariously packed up in my luggage along with my consoles. I couldn't leave my PC behind. Not if I wanted to play stuff or do anything that was particularly intensive, anyway.

Inevitably, the old hunker got banged up pretty badly -- by the time 2013 rolled around, the thing was in horrible shape physically. I kept using it because it could run anything I wanted to play on high or at least medium, but by the time 2014 rolled around, the thing was definitely dying. Listening to it powered on, just standing idly, hurt. I had to start playing most new games on low, with everything turned off, with short draw distances -- and even then, the computer could barely take it. I might've been playing the latest and greatest, but it would look ugly as hell, or I got crappy performance.

There's nothing quite like that on a console. If I want to play a PS3 game, I can, with general confidence, pop in a PS3 game into my PS3 game and it will run as intended -- provided there are no bugs, of course. Even now, with a new generation of consoles, I can still get most of the new hotness on my old system. Heck, over time, things start looking better on consoles as developers learn how to optimise stuff. And when any transitions to a new generation occur, I won't be able to take a new game and pop it into my old system only to have it barely run in a playable state.

This isn't a knock on PC gaming, mind -- it's just that getting left behind is a different experience; you helplessly watch it happen. If you have a top of the line system, over time, you go from running everything smoothly to eventually acknowledging that you have to change up some parts or buy a new build altogether to keep playing. There is no "ten year life cycle," like you might sometimes find on consoles.

The Last Straw

The Forest, that new popular survival horror game, was the last straw for me. My computer could barely run it -- and it's a freakin' indie game. Indie games have been my lifeline in the last two years; while I might've not been able to run everything on high, I could, in general, play an indie game with no issues. Sometimes on high! But not The Forest -- that, I could barely run. I figured situations like this would only start getting worse as time went on, so after deliberating for ages on whether or not I should buy a new system, I finally did earlier this week.

Here's what you need to understand, though: I took forever in deciding to pull the trigger because I felt so conflicted about the idea of "keeping up" with games. I've been hesitant to buy all the new consoles because I'm sceptical that there's enough out there to warrant a purchase, especially when I'm happy with my older systems. Nevermind that I constantly feel the onslaught of marketing hype and Twitter chatter that's always poking me to buy the latest and greatest, to be an early adopter, to buy in. Buy in! Because a year from now, we might not be talking about the same games anymore, nobody might be populating the lobbies of the game you waited on, or the developer has stopped supporting the game you waited on buying. C'mon. Just do it. Buy in.

My New PC

There's only so long you can push back against buying in -- especially if you write about video games for a living. I ordered my parts online, and on Tuesday evening, I had everything I needed to build a new rig. It would be the first computer I put together: the last one, I had a friend pick the parts and build.

Because I know some of y'all will be interested in what, exactly, it is that I put together, here are the specs:

GTX 770 video card

i5 4430 processor

212 Evo heatsink

AsRock Z97 motherboard

8 GB RAM

SeaSonic S12II 620 power supply

Corsair 400R case (One quick note on the case: I feel like most PC cases are kind of ugly. But then again, how do you make a big, metal rectangle look sexy?)

It's a build taken entirely off PC-building guide Logical Increment's "excellent" tier. While I know I could have built something cheaper, there's something weirdly seductive about PC gaming, if you have the spare money. You can always build a monster, you can always spend just a little more to make your rig better. On consoles, there might be a couple of different versions of something -- maybe there's the normal version, the slim version, and maybe there are a few different colour options. But you can't just drop some extra cash to get the juiced up version of the newest Xbox. My Xbox One is going to be more or less your Xbox One, you know?

But there's something else too, something that makes it easier to want to build something powerful. Elitism. PC gamers love letting you know PC gaming offers the best experience thanks to the beautiful graphics, mods, customisation options, the robust indie offerings, the cheaper games, and the precision which mouse and keyboard controls offer. Even when PC gamers joke about this stuff -- like they might when they throw out terms like "PC Master Race," or go on about console "peasants," or talk about Gabe Newell as if he was a god, or make pamphlets that treat PC gaming like a religion -- I always get the sense that, even if it's all meant as a joke, there's still some kernel of truth in there. People do feel great pride about PC gaming. Maybe it's not expressed in the best way -- there's something uncomfortable about the language used, since the whole master race/peasant thing is gross, in my opinion -- but I always sense it's not entirely in jest.

And why shouldn't folks feel pride? Yes, PC gaming has a lot of benefits, but the act of putting together a computer for the first time feels like running the gauntlet. Of course people are going to boast about it after surviving it. Over the years, I've heard people say over and over that building a computer isn't hard. If you've never built a computer before, I don't mean to scare you, but those people are full of bullshit. Full of it. It's all lies.

Trying Not To Screw Things Up

Anyone is capable of putting together a computer; of that I'm certain. But damn, I can't describe to you the sheer terror I felt when I had all the different computer parts out of their box for the first time; each with their own little thick manual written in such a way that it almost seemed like normal, everyday humans weren't supposed to be reading it. I felt this way even though I had read up a bit on Lifehacker before starting. I knew what the different parts were. I knew where everything went, in a general matter of speaking. In a way, it was doing my homework which made the entire thing so difficult. It's hard not to freak about having to handle the brains of your computer when you might break it if you put it in the wrong way, if the little pins get bent. PC parts aren't cheap!

On my first try putting stuff together, everything felt like agony: I knew which parts were delicate, and anything involving those pieces seemed to require more force than I was comfortable exerting. When placing my processor on the motherboard, for example, I paid attention and made sure to align stuff in accordance to the packaging -- but just the same, I kept doubting whether or not I put it in the right way. It didn't help that when I tried to lock it in, it took so much force I think I straight up imagined the sound of my processor crunching. Ack!

Let's not even talk about how anxious I was around touching the motherboard after reading about how you can mess stuff up with static electricity and how it's recommended that you wear something special to avoid it, or how you're not supposed to touch the metal parts of the motherboard. Yes, you can discharge yourself, but still: it's hard not to get neurotic about the entire affair.

Lots of other little issues arose as I went along: the motherboard didn't seem to fit in quite right, I made the mistake of mixing together the screws for different things and I stopped being able to tell what screws belonged to what, and I even forgot about applying thermal paste to the processor. Heck, I forgot that I'd bought a special heat sink for that processor. By the time I remembered, I'd already attached the heat sink that the processor came with, and for whatever reason, it was hell trying to detach the thing. One of the corners got stuck on the motherboard, and I couldn't for the life of me detach it.

Eventually, out of fear I'd break something, I stopped trying. There was a point yesterday where you would have found me just kind of lying on the floor of my girlfriend's apartment, surrounded by boxes and computer parts. I just couldn't deal, especially after both manuals and YouTube tutorials didn't help me with the specific issues I was having. I looked at all the different cables in my case, and they almost seemed like they formed the mass of Medusas's head, complete with hair; of course I was petrified.

Calling In The Cavalry

I put out a call on Twitter for anyone that might be able to help, and thankfully my friend JJ, who has built computers before, was up to the task. He came over and we got to work. Or well, I guess it's more accurate to say he got to work and I watched and asked questions. I guess I helped in whatever small ways I could. It's kind of hard to have two people work on the same computer at once, especially when only one person really knows what they're doing. JJ marveled at some of the components, especially the heat sink, which required complicated assembly and looked like a piece that might belong in a car, not a computer. I marveled at the fact that it was 9pm but I could still use an app on my phone to call someone to bring us rubbing alcohol (to clean up the thermal paste, because it turns out that the processor's original heat sink already came with it) and screwdrivers, both of which we needed to build the computer. Technology, man.

The Terrifying Experience of Building A PC For The First Time

(No, it's not resting on the carpet, in case you're wondering.)

Eventually, after all the complications, JJ plugged the computer in and tried turning it on. We were worried that it wouldn't; that we messed something up along the way, or that maybe the computer would run a little hot because putting the heat sink in caused a lot of trouble. But no, the computer turned on just fine, much to my relief. The only problem was that I didn't have an operating system to put on it just yet, but otherwise, everything seemed to work out.

JJ suggested that I should try Windows 8, that it wasn't actually as bad as it seemed. I looked at screenshots of the OS. I read reviews on Amazon, I contemplated learning a new OS after spending so much time on Windows 7. I couldn't do it. I couldn't will myself to try the new OS. I bought Windows 7 instead. I thought to myself, cripes, I'm 24, but I'm already hanging on to the familiar, I'm already showing the ways in which I'm unwilling to keep up with the times. I thought about all the times I made fun of people who complained about small Facebook changes. I thought about my friends who were still using flip-phones, because they knew how to use them and somewhere down the line feeling safe with the technology you bring into your life became more important than keeping up with the latest and greatest. I thought about how the last time I saw my sister, she showed me Temple Run on her new phone and I couldn't quite grok the controls. I couldn't get the hang of a game that kids play all the time. Jesus. Why did I feel so old?

I'm still waiting on the delivery for the operating system. When it comes, I can install it and redownload all my programs, and eventually, I can start using my computer to game again. I have a feeling that whatever I decide to play first is going to feel particularly gratifying.

And yes, I'm aware the person in the first picture in this post is totally doing it wrong.

To contact the author of this post, write to [email protected] or find her on Twitter @patriciaxh.


Comments

    As some one who hadn't built a computer for over ten years, during my research period on my recent build I forgot to look up the current sockets for motherboards- processors; needless to say when my on the cheap temporary 3770 rocked up it was not the correct socket for my mother board. Thankfully a local business was happy to trade it (as the original store claimed it was my fault as I hadn't researched properly; which is completely fair enough) for a fair sized SSD for my OS. Long story short, there is no such thing as having enough research done before hand.

      Surely asking on a forum such as Whirlpool PC building forum would have prevented your problem. My first build got their tick of approval well before I purchased the parts. Asking people who have experience should always be recommended to anyone building a PC.

        I usually ask the seller/retailer to confirm that all the parts are compatible with eachother before purchase.

        As an example, I ordered an MSi Z87-GD65 gaming MOBO, with two Palit JetStream 4GB GTX 770's
        in SLi, I also ordered a mighty fast (albeit mighty expensive) 500GB PCIe SSD from ASUS.

        Now the provider went over everything in my order (which included a lot more then the above parts) and confirmed everything was good to go and compatible. However, during the build I quickly realised that the VGA cards were so chunky (3 exhaust slots in the center of the cards) that the SSD just wouldn't fit on the board without some sort of PCIe riser or something.

        Fortunately the retailer (PC Case Gear) allowed me to return the SSD for 'in-store-credit', allowing me to get a new Roccat mouse + mouse pad and Astro gaming headset.

        So if ever you're unsure, and you're buying all or most of your parts from the one place, email them to check compatibility, and KEEP that email!

    Protip: I don't know what the heck the person in the article image is doing, but if you are holding those parts in that way and trying to combine them you are definitely doing it wrong.

      Prepare for some bent pins on your CPU when placing it on the motherboard.

        CPUs don't even have pins on them. The socket has the pins.

    Lol my first thought when I saw that pic was omg the mobo is on the carpet. Yes building a new pc can be scary as hell when you have spent so much money and your a virgin builder. But once it's all together and working theres a extremely rewarding feeling of achievement that makes all that stress worthwhile.

    This is why I'm still desperately clinging to my 2008-era store-bought PC. I know someday I'll have to upgrade and that thought is kind of scary, for me and my wallet. It's never as simple as they tell you it is, especially when you didn't plan on upgrading when you first got it.

    Admittedly, replacing a graphics card or inserting new RAM is as easy as swapping out bits of expensive Lego, but it's when you have to worry about stuff like the power supply and upgrading the processor that it all gets a bit hairy. You have to make sure everything is compatible with everything else, and if you get it wrong it can be quite a few dollars down the toilet.

      Actually, not really. Just go with reputable manufacturers, make sure your motherboard is the right socket, and go for overkill with the power supply (there are online calculators to estimate how much power you need). An insufficient power supply can be unstable, but an excessive supply won't pull more power from the grid than the computer needs. I personally found manufacturer-approved RAM for my motherboard, but it's rare to find a conflict there.

      I mean, there are silly mistakes like buying a motherboard without enough USB3.0 headers for the case, but those are hardly computer-ending problems.

        I agree! OP PSU's are always the way to go!

        Especially considering I don't overclock because voltages, amps, resistance etc. are all a little out of my depth....

        Therefore, instead of worrying about current draw being enough.not enough. I simply whacked in a platinum rated 1000W from SeaSonic. PC before that was even more overkill with a 1350W Thermaltake monster for two 3GB 580's.

        Point to the story? I've never had power problems!

      The website, newegg is awesome for part compatibility. U just click all the parts u might want in ur rig and it tells u if anything conflicts. I built my first pc last year and if u spend a bit of time doing research u can easily build one in a day, with some trial and error

      Honestly building a whole pc from scratch without any prior knowledge is rather like diving in the deep end, you'll probably just end up with a headache.

      I always wanted to build my own but was a bit scared of the exact things in this article, about how "precious" the mother board is and how delicate you must be, I too was scared of static electricity and nuking my whole system ( made worse by my idiot friend telling me how he just cooked $1000 worth of pc stuff building is own rig for the first time).

      So two years ago I started doing it piece meal as I upgraded. I had the computer store i was using install the motherboard PSU GPU and cpu ( I bought the I5 and asus motherboard) to put in my NZXT phantom case because my last one over heated and fried everything.

      I then familiarised myself with the system and power cables by installing a HDD and the disk drive. On the next upgrade I put in the SSD (which I didn't have the right cables for later) So I had to buy some new cables and learnt about the placement of those (SATA stuff). Between those two I had problems with the fan controller and lose power cords so when i fixed that I took the time to check out all the PSU stuff. All of which took some time because I made sure I actually learnt what i was doing and went at a turtles pace (yah for static electricity paranoia) but they were all pathetically easy to actually do.

      This time I installed my gpu which is super simple, then I had the cpu cooler. Of course because of my case covered 2 screw holes behind the cpu I had to then remove the whole mother board to install it, so I learned about that.

      Doing it like this made it pretty much painless for me and now I could do the same things in 1/10 of the time. That way I also didn't have a giant $$$ sign looming over my head like with a whole new pc, if you screw that up you have $1000's out of pocket compared to the couple hundred for each individual part that I used every upgrade.

      With that said though, if I wasn't quite ill at the time (Still am) I likely would've attempted a full build myself at the start, but it would've taken a week or more at the pace I could've worked and I couldn't be without my computer for that long at the time.

    I built a PC almost 2 years ago now and it's still going strong. I'm not sure I'd do it again, there really isn't much cost incentive compared to pre-built units, particularly if you aren't interested in overclocking.

    Last edited 05/06/14 7:09 pm

      That is utter nonsense.

      Sure if you buy the parts yourself (and import) and get some store to install it all for you, they are going to charge you $100, that is the difference between a mid tier and gpu that will last another year longer. If you use a stores actual parts they might build it for free but that will cost you well over the $100 extra anyway.

      If you buy a pre built unit from someplace like Alienware Razor or say JBhifi/Harvey Norman you are probably going to pay 50% more than its worth at the very minimum plus the fact the part choices are often terrible. They cheap out on PSU's and put in I7's to jack the price when you only need the i5 and the motherboards are usually the bare minimum so if you want any future upgrades its useless.

      If you go to an actually computer store to buy a pre built system, outside some special deal you are going to pay that $100 they would have charged to make your own + the profit they want off the machine.

      Now there Is no way you can say that has no cost incentive, building your own after sourcing the cheapest and most suitable parts from the globe is by far the best method and allows you to save extra or build a better machine for less, period.

        Ok, should have stated no cost incentive for someone who is going to have to buy all the parts online. The shipping costs just about equal the cost to have someone else build it for you.

          Once again that isn't correct.

          I just bought my MSi twin Frozr gtx 770 for $350 AUD from amazon, the cheapest aussie online price is about $450 + shipping, it's also not carried by any store in my town.

          You can find almost any part online cheaper than any brick and mortar local store and quite a large difference, if your lucky you might have a store like MSY in your area and then maybe a few of your items would be cheaper than online (and only by shipping if at all) but not nearly enough to make a difference.

          So for the vast majority they not only save money buying the parts themselves, they also save by buying them online and by importing and then save further by building it themselves.

          It is a large saving to build yourself, doubly so if your an oz bargainer and only buy the parts on super special.

          Last edited 06/06/14 1:24 pm

    I build computers as a habit. Im actually going to be building a new one once I get to America. Definitely the. 2 trickiest bits for me over my 12 years of computer are selecting the best motherboard for the job and that damn heatsink clip. Ive even rigged closed water cooling systems and at one point it actually coiled and bent CPU pins.

    I fear uefi as well. Havent touched it but tge unfamiliar scares me to hell

      While it is different, EFI has some nice features. The biggest visible change you'll see is the EFI system partition: rather than just loading and executing the first 512 bytes off the hard drive to boot the system, you place boot loader executables in the system partition. This means you can install boot loaders for multiple operating systems side by side and the firmware will let you pick which to boot.

      There is also an EFI shell you can install as a boot loader that will let you poke around in the pre-boot environment if that interests you.

        Yeah, I really don't get the paranoia (hate?) around UEFI. It is simply a better solution.

        For a community normally renowned for embracing the cutting edge and, it's funny how many are actively clinging to BIOS.

          for me it's a fear of having to go over and learn the new nuances of something that I'll hardly ever use. My next computer will be my first custom build where I don't overlook it. I'm tired of extended sessions causing BSD. plus none of the new PC titles really interest me right now. I'm happy modding skyrim playing community missions and story arcs until then

    Buying an aftermarket cooler for a non-K Intel CPU? That money would have been better spent on a 4GB version of the GTX 770 (Watch Dogs requires 3GB VRAM for Ultra textures). Also overclocking is pretty much useless these days.

      Not necessarily. The intel coolers are much louder (at least, I think the 212 EVO was supposed to be relatively quiet). I have an excessively large cooler on my non-overclocked CPU to minimise noise. Unfortunately my graphics card fan is the only audible component of the computer and there's nothing I can do about it.

      Getting more performance out of your hardware is useless? You can't be serious.

        Yeah, I noticed like a 7fps difference in overclocking my i5 4670K from 3.4Ghz to 4.4Ghz

        Very noticeable

        EDIT: In Watch_Dogs

        Last edited 05/06/14 9:00 pm

          It's very noticeable when your cpu is bottlenecking your gpu.

            Well my CPU shouldn't be bottleneck ing my GPU should it?
            GTX 780 - i5 4670K

        I think it's a preference thing really.

        In the end 7FPS doesn't break the bank, but if you are chasing ever greater performance/ are desperate or perhaps both then yes. Yes it is worth it!

        I remember when I had a Core2Duo. I OC'd the crap out of it for Crysis 1. Was it worth it: Couple extra FPS and faster loading times for free, so maybe it was. The game still felt the same in the end though. Do I 'need' to OC my i5 right now? No. May I? Maybe.

        Like I say, different strokes for different folks I think.

      While I am with you about not NEEDING a 212 for a non K CPU, at the same time, just because you don't need to doesn't mean you can't/ shouldn't get one.

      I recently went from an old OC Phenom to a non-k i5 and you know what? I re-used my perfectly good 212X hyper. Why? Because:

      A) It looks nicer than the stock coolers if you are after that 'beastly' look.
      B) It was almost new and in perfect nick.
      C) More cooling is always a nice thing.
      D) You can still OC a non-k CPU, just not as much (certainly not enough to warrant a beefy cooler though so the point is kinda moot.)
      E) Why not its cheap!

        I agree.
        Personally I have a near identical rig to the author, I literally just upgraded my gpu to the gtx 770 (probably should have gotten the 4Gb but it was like $80 more and I have no intention of going past 1080p for a long time) and put an aftermarket cooler the NZXT respire t40 on my i5 (got it over the 212 evo because it was the same price performs identically and my case was NZXT).

        While I haven't overclocked my cpu and likely won't until i need to we also live in australia, if its 30-40 degrees in my room and that cpu is at 100% the stock cooler my not cut it. Not only that but even if it works fine it is going to be running hot and that is never a good thing the extra cooling will only help your whole rig run better for longer and at the $40 price point its hardly a drop in the bucket for a whole new pc.

        In regards to windows 8 its a waste of time imo, it really offers nothing worth upgrading for over windows 7. Its like going from xp to vista (only not nearly as bad), sure you can do it but its not really worth the effort.

        Last edited 06/06/14 12:10 pm

          Yeah, to anyone looking: I'd say only get Windows 8 if you don't have Windows 7. And if you do, get the 'Classic Shell' start menu, unless you actually like metro.

          It's just 7 with some new features and stuff I never use.

      I have two 4GB 770's in SLi, and Watch_Dogs still runs like i'm running it on a vacuum cleaner instead of a PC.....

    That stock photo in the header is a massive fail. How would you even manage to put a heatsink onto the cpu and then put the cpu onto the motherboard? Also wheres the thermal paste?

    Last edited 05/06/14 7:55 pm

      Hes also trying to stick a new cooler down onto a crappy old Pentium 2 or something.

      Most of the Intel CPUs now come with the fan already coated in thermal paste (as was the case with mine last month when I built my first computer, which was... a lot easier than I'd been lead to believe).

    are those instruction books on the floor!?!?
    shame on you... a real man needs no instructions!

      I suppose, fortunately then, that Patricia isn't a man...

    Seriously, if you're having that much trouble building a computer, just pay the bloke down at the shop $50 to build it for you.

    Just more of an FYI at this point: /r/buildapc still exists

    Major kudos to you for writing about your experiences in building. Most people only speak up to say "I am the world's greatest builder and here is my fully sick OCed beast of a system that is 10 x faster than anyone else's in the world". Enjoy your system, I hope it runs well for you for many years to come.

    Popping your cherry can be horrifying. I've built too many computers over the years (I turned it into a job) and have become somewhat blase about the whole process. This article reminded me of the 90s and my first Voodoo card :) The shakes, sweats and wondering. THE WONDERING! DID I DO IT RIGHT?!?

    My first PC I built, way back in 95 or so, I managed great, it went well, everything powered on..> And I accidentally dropped the drive cage on the mainboard from where I had it precariously balanced.

    Oops.

    Amazingly, Fry's swapped the motherboard for a new one, no questions asked. :)

    The author of this article really should stick to consoles and just buy a Macbook or Razer Blade.

    Why is your computer from 2011 not playing games still?
    my rig from 2009 is still killing it!
    i7 920 overclocked to 4ghz
    upgraded graphics to sli 560ti (swapped out 285gtx)
    12gb ram (3x4gb sticks in tri config lol old school)
    replaced broken harddrive with samsung SSD even though mother board only support sata 2 so only runs at like half speed.

    BF4 runs at full res I do have to reduce shadow detail and anti aliasing but thats it!

      Guess it depends how much they spent in 2011?

    I just got done building my pc and it was so scary, I used a fractal define r4 and kraken x60 not knowing that they were not compatible then when I got it in the fans brackets hit my fan pin, so I had to get my dremil out and do some cutting. Let me tell you cutting a new pc up is not fun . But it all went in well and now my I5 runs at 40degress max on bf4 ultra settings. It's well worth it. Uilding your own , just reasearch

    Building a PC for the first time can be a nightmare to some. But if you did some research,check out some PC installs in YT then there really shouldn't be any probs. As onesixone also stated, check forums like Whirpool for advice,parts comparability and answers for issues you might run into. Building my first PC was one of the most satisfying projects I've ever undertaken. Especially every time I press the power button to turn it on, knowing that it works and I built it,makes it all worthwhile.
    Never ever buy from retail shops like Harvey Norman,JB Hi Fi etc as they're rip off pc's with shitty parts that may not be upgradeable.
    Windows8?
    Functionality wise, Win7 beats it hands down.

    Last edited 06/06/14 3:11 pm

    Welcome to the club. You will never go back (unless you defect to macs but they cant play games anyway!)

    I remember trying to remove the default heatsink. That thing was scary and annoying and made me want to cry. I would always recommend a friend install or guide you through it the first time around. Just for peace of mind.

    Also you get tax breaks for building this so you should of gone for a better VC or at least gotten kotaku to assist!

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