My PC Building Adventure, Part Two: Something Went Horribly Wrong

Last week, I wrote that my PC building adventure would lead to a three-part series on Kotaku, unless something went horribly wrong. Well, my friends, it may not shock you to hear that something went horribly wrong.

On Friday afternoon, all of my parts in hand, I ripped open my sleek new case and started getting ready to build a computer. I'd watched some NewEgg videos and read some instructions online, and with a handful of guides open in my browser (and Kirk available via text) I felt prepared enough to get started.

The process was satisfying and exhilarating, like building an ultra-fragile, super-expensive LEGO set. I refused to wear a jacket or socks and grounded myself every few minutes just in case, and I did my best to meticulously follow every instruction manual I could find.

Here is what I started with:

And here is what I finished with:

You might notice that the power isn't plugged in. Well...

I'd originally planned on turning this article into a minute-by-minute diary full of the details and mistakes I made during this process. Such as:

  • Trying to fit the cooler on top of the case, as the instructions told me, then freaking out because it blocked the RAM, only to be informed by Twitterers that I could in fact just mount it to the front.
  • Spending at least a half hour trying to jam in the video card, only to realise that I had removed the wrong two back-panels and had misaligned it.
  • Discovering that if you don't have tiny hands, it can be very hard to screw an M2 SSD into your motherboard.
  • Realising that the ASUS Prime 270K manual is truly horrendous, especially when it comes to telling you how to properly install RAM.
  • Learning the true horror of every PC builder -- figuring out which little pin goes with the power switch.
  • Being so entranced by the work that I forgot to eat dinner or drink water for a solid five hours.

I figured that this diary of errors would conclude with triumph, as I pressed the button and felt the exhilaration of a job well done. At around 10pm on Friday night, after five hours of building, I called over my fiancée and told her to witness the moment of truth.

Then I turned on the PSU. The motherboard lit up orange. Then I pushed the computer's power button, and...

Nothing.

OK, I thought. I probably just put the power switch cable in the wrong set of pins. After some more careful reading of Asus's useless motherboard manual, I realise that I had indeed done that. So I swapped pins and tried it again, only to see...

Nothing.

For the next two hours I unplugged and plugged everything, assuming that I had missed a step or accidentally left one of the cables too loose. Still, my computer wouldn't turn on. The fans wouldn't even start. The only indication that this expensive new machine was actually using electricity was the orange light on my motherboard and a "click" sound I'd hear when I pressed the power button (or shorted the power button pins with a screwdriver).

The motherboard's aesthetic orange lights would turn on, but not much else.

On Saturday morning, I went into debugging mode, going through just about every guide on the internet in an attempt to diagnose the problem. (This checklist was particularly thorough.) I took the motherboard out of the case and "breadboarded" it, trying to get it started on a cardboard box, but again nothing worked.

I posted on Twitter, Reddit, and computer gaming forums, only to be met by suggestions that I try doing all of the things I'd already tried.

By the end of these diagnostics, I was pretty sure that either my hand-me-down motherboard or brand new PSU was dead. On Saturday afternoon I Facetimed with Kirk, so he could look at my machine and see if I was missing something obvious, and after talking it through, I decided to go to a nearby PC repair shop.

On Sunday morning, I lugged my PC to a store two blocks away, stressing the entire time that I had somehow dislodged and destroyed my video card or something like that. The guy at the store told me that they'd diagnose the machine for free, but if it turned out to be human error -- if I had missed a plug, for example -- he'd charge me $US100 ($128) plus tax.

Fine, I said.

Later that day, I called to check in. "Oh, your PSU is dead," he said. "It makes a clicking sound that's not supposed to be there. I tried one of my PSUs and it worked fine."

AHA! After briefly raging at Corsair for sending me a dead unit, I realised that this was, in fact, good news. Now I know what the problem is. Swapping in a new PSU should be simple and easy, and I've ordered a new Corsair 750 RMX (replacing the dead Corsair CM650) that is supposed to arrive on Thursday.

At the end of this story, you may think: Jesus Christ, why would anyone ever build a PC? There are a thousand variables and any of them could go wrong in a thousand different ways, and it can take hours and hours off your life just to figure out what happened. But here's my takeaway: I'm so glad I did it.

This has been a complicated, infuriating process, but it's also taught me so much about what's going on under the hood of a computer. It's been satisfying and exhilarating.

I now feel familiar enough with a motherboard that I can tweak things without freaking out at how complex it all looks, and after going through this insane, convoluted diagnostic process, I feel like I'm prepared for whatever other problems might come up, because I'm sure more problems will come up. (Note: I am definitely not prepared for whatever problems come up.)

Stay tuned for part three, in which I put in my new PSU and see if I can get this thing to actually turn on.


Comments

    I still remember the first time i built a PC over 10 years ago and i forgot to put in the raisers.
    Thats right. i screwed the motherboard right into the case.
    Derp.

      Oh no!!! I actually almost did that and then was like hold up - what are these screws! LMAO

      Caught myself just in time but it's bloody easy to do!

        It's great fun when you only get 2 stand-off screws.. I was so careful connecting everything because the board would flex.

          Was that with or without a gigantic CPU cooler? I remember years back I had a massive Noctua cooler that when the PC was standing up, I swear the cooler began to sag down and warp the motherboard.

            That was no cooler at all. Ended up mounting a liquid cooler to it.

      lols, thats a goodie

      I recently built a new PC. The CPU was compatible with the motherboard (obviously i checked this out before purchasing them both) BUT!! only after a motherboard update...... so how do i update my motherboard without a CPU in it? turns out you cant.

      By the way, only took me about 40 hours of checking and testing every single component in the pc before i stumbled upon this. I honestly wanted to die.

        I had a situation similar to that. Bought a motherboard, ram, cpu etc. cpu was fine but the ram wasn't - but I didn't know that. Kept getting weird errors, programs crashing. Took it back to the repair centre for the place I bought them from - and they did a check and then told me the memory chips were a newer version than the motherboard so I needed a motherboard update (rom update). And then he said that he won't charge me for doing the diagnostics (real generous.. they never bothered to tell me this when I bought the parts).
        Anyway, managed to get the update done and all worked fine.

    I had a similar experience. The HDD was dead, I returned it, the next one was dead too and I got told by the shop that they wouldn't be replacing it again because there wasn't any way that I would have 2 dead in a single batch. I ended up pulling the whole thing apart, double-checking everything, then putting it back together. 3rd time worked like a charm.

    Ultimately I don't think I'd ever bother building my own PC again. The stress involved is pretty intense, you've got thousands of dollars on the line, and if you're just doing it casually you don't have the necessary equipment/spares at hand to test component failures.

    Given that stores will do the assembly for you for about $90 I'd rather just let someone else put them together and verify that everything is OK. Hell, BudgetPC will do it for free if you buy all the components from them.

      See I'm in the opposite camp, I've probably built several hundred machines through various workplaces, and have spent enough time in IT diagnosing issues that it's almost cathartic for me to stumble on a problem, eliminate possibilities one by one until I hopefully get through it.

      I'm pretty much the same... I can build them, I've built plenty.

      But with my personal computer I'd simply rather a computer shop assume the risk involved with screwing something up by accident.

      A simple graphics card or PSU replacement, etc, sure, fine I'll do that. But my next upgrade will basically be a whole new motherboard & cpu combo... Even thinking about the tedium of putting it all together and hoping it boots just fine is enough to put me off entirely.

        Yep this...built a few comps myself...its fun but a little stressful (god I hate it when the motherboard flexes).
        But a little over it now.. decided to replace motherboard/CPU and bought a prebuilt desktop..and I'll just add in my old hard drives myself.

    Glad you got it sorted!!!

    I built for a family friend a few months back... First build since i was a kid doing it with my dad and needless to say it's all a different game now!!!
    You made me laugh about needing tiny hands for that SSD - I know that pain!!!

    Didnt have anything dead but did get stuck into a boot loop which took an hour of troubleshooting to get sorted. Turns out I just hadn't got one of the ram sticks quite flush and just be pulling it out and making sure it was properly secured everything seemed to work

    The hard part about troubleshooting at that stage though is going back through each individual component to the best you can - while trying to test if it's going to boot. Strip it back to bare bones and add slowly again wasn't something I was prepared to do so I tried removing the GPU, then tried reducing the power load (fans/lights etc) and finally the ram was the last thing i was going to test. Booted fine when I ran with just one to test startup so BINGO! Got it

    Took me hours though and it was fairly stressful because NONE of this was my equipment and I'm talking a Rizen build with 1080 on a smallish Asrock Mobo... Very stressful when it's not yours!!!

    Great article - PC building is rewarding and fun but not for the faint of heart! Glad to hear it was just a dead PSU!

      I can't imagine doing someone else's build if you haven't been doing your own for a while. You've got guts.

      Locking in the CPU is the bit that always puts me on edge. You always have to push a little bit harder than you think you should, and it snaps just that little bit louder, and then you've got the rest of the build to fret before you find out if you broke everything.

      Probably worse when it's someone else's top of the line CPU.

        Agreed at least now the CPU's fit perfectly and have a plastic overlay to help you position it properly. I still recall the old days... when you had to apply your own amount of pressure to get those things in. Reading those stories in mad onion (Futuremark now) where people snapped their pins didn't help either, just added to the immense pressure you had. And yes... that sound... you hear the snap... and you just pray when you switch it on, all goes well.

          This was one of the things I was impressed with - I grew up building a lot of PCs with my old man in the 90s he taught me everything he could about PCs when I was a kid - Not much has really changed apart from everything looking cooler. Snapping in the CPU was actually a piece of cake compared to how I remembered it!!!

        Yeah a friend asked and I suggested taking it to a store and they were like but if you know how to - YES I know the how mostly but havent for ages!

        It was still a fun ride but I was super cautious with everything!!! I would have been a lot more gung ho with seating the ram if it were my equipment and thus probably not have had the boot loop issue I came across too!

    A long long long time ago.

    When i was 13 yrs old i flipped the voltage switch on the back of the psu wondering what it did. This was my first hardcore lesson in introducing me to the world of computers.

      Old school computers were brutal. I accidentally plugged a power cable in upside down once. Always terrifying when your pc starts smoking.

    I remember my first build, had similar issue all went fine until I tried to power it on and it wouldn't power on, just black and silence. I was young so no manuals read. We ended up taking it to a shop and apparently that MB had a jumper on pins to stop it from booting during build. PC guy took off the jumper and it booted up fine.

    Building PCs is the most fun. I loved the days of new PCs ever year. It wasn't just about the latest and greatest hardware, it was also the 5 hrs of sweating it out building the case and that magic moment your heart stops when you push that button and it seems like it's not going to boot up, then it does. Next step "Where'd I put that bloody windows disc again?"

    i workin IT tinkering in mmachines in some form or the other every other day. i havnt built a new PC from scratch in about 2 or 3 years, but im looking forward to finally doing it when i have the money to treat myself to a new home PC.
    i have learnt lots of lessons about the fragility of some components and what to do and not what to do, thankfully i worked for a company that had a bit of disposable income so it wasnt much of a biggy if i accidentally damaged something. but yes, the best lessons were the ones learnt from something breaking, or something not working like it should.
    good luck and have fun.

    I had built more than a dozen desktops over the years, so I was very comfortable and familiar with the insides and swapping bits around.

    However, all those had been done on top of the desk or workbench...

    So when asked to install some new Ram into a colleagues computer, "oh don't worry about unplugging everything, I can just do it under the desk"

    Who needs a torch right...?

    Well, I forced that new ram in, nice tight fit, clip the sides, good to go.
    Plug power back in, turn on...
    hmmm not working... "can you smell that?"

    SHITTTTT

    Pulled it out on top of desk... nice burn mark on Ram slot... I had inserted RAM backwards, assumed it would not let me lock it in if it was not correct... But the ends of the RAM were in the slot... the middle of it was not (due to the bump to stop you installing it wrong).

    Fried the RAM and the Motherboard...

    "Yeah sorry about that Mate... would you like to use my computer for the next couple of days until the new parts arrive?"

    My first build experience involved soldering a hard reset button for my Commodore 64, followed by soldering a device number switch into to my 2nd floppy drive. After the stress of doing that, my actual first PC build, plugging a few things into matching sockets was a breeze.

    That said, I bent the pin on an old CPU once while trying to install it in a new motherboard. I never, ever got it working - had to buy a new one. What should have cost me a couple hundred ended up being over a thousand.

    Last edited 09/01/18 1:30 pm

    I’ve built two. One as a teenager with friends and the other in my mid twenties. First one came with a DOA hard drive. Second one came with a faulty stick of RAM.
    Both easily returned. PC building isn’t too tricky if you really do your research online (or from people you know) and are willing to patiently invest some time in the building process. It’s pretty fun and looks intimidating at first, but it is actually pretty straightforward and I’m very glad I did it.
    However, if you’re not confident and at the end of the day you want a PC that you can customise and forget about, I’d recommend paying a little extra for a professional to build it. That way you have peace of mind (and decent cable management to boot).

    Hmm, I see what you mean about the RAM instructions. My experience with ASUS manuals has been really good in the past i.e. with the ROG boards. FYI, the recommended DIMM config for ASUS boards is usually A2 & B2 slots for two sticks. I think from the pictures you have them in A1 & B1?

    http://i.imgur.com/1K39hPk.png

    Heh my first PC was a shop built one which was good but came with a sticker on the side of the case that wrapped around the back, it's hilarious now to remember how it terrified me to think about breaking the seal. I'm currently designing an SSD holder to 3d print so I can tidy things up a bit and not have my SSDs just laying on the bottom of my permanently open case...

    Last edited 09/01/18 3:23 pm

    It's so weird that in the last couple of years two of my friends built their own PC's (which I was coaching them through), and they both had some parts DOA.
    I have built myself 4 PCs and upgraded them and built PCs for other friends and family, never had an issue.
    Just chance I guess.

    My biggest "oh god what am I doing" was maybe 6 years ago, upgrading my computer's CPU. When I opened the CPU I noticed a good bunch of the pins weren't facing the saw way as the rest. I manually turned each pin to be the right way with a screwdriver or something, hoping I wasn't inadvertently destroying the CPU, stuck it in and hoped for the best.

    Turns out in that scenario it was the right thing to do. CPU still works to this day.

    I remember when I first had my PC and started delving into PCs stuff, I bought my PC a gaming case, with the flashy lights and fans and everything. Put it together and turned it on, worked wonderfully ... till I saw 'No HDD found'.

    Worked out I managed to short out ALL my HDDs and Blueray/HD Burner somehow without effecting anything else.

    I always wanted to create a PC with a fiberoptic cable spool for ram/rom, and an online emulator in cloud.

    Oh wow! A dead PSU is really bad luck... the RM750X is a really nice choice for the replacement.

    I've see so many dead Corsair power supplies, I work in a computer store and I can no longer recommend them. I have had a incredible experience with the Silverstone essentials range here in Australia they sell for AU$48 and have probably sold over 1500 units in about two years with currently no failures. One did suffer a capacitor squeal, but still was running fine. Just wish Corsair would start using their old manufacturer from the early 00's they always topped reviews.

      I've had few dead power supplies has one almost 2 decades ago go up in flames. But recently had a Silverstone die in my old desktop that's still used, though I did replace it with another Silverstone.
      I think what I like about them was they were one of the first with modular cables i loved not having a ball of unused cables in my case and they give some very detailed specs on their products.

    Don't worry, first time I built my PC I forgot to connect to the power button to the motherboard and for months (Yes, months, I was 14 at the time) I had thought I had shorted something by not properly grounding myself.

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