Building my own computer

Posted in personal, technology at 12:53 pm by wingerz

My earliest memories of playing around with computer hardware were in high school, when my mom agreed to buy 8MB of RAM so that we could upgrade from the 4MB that our computer came with. Back then it was over $300, an inconceivable amount of money. I struggled with putting it in and I think we eventually figured out that I was being too delicate with the motherboard. In any case it was quite a stressful situation.

Later on in college I got a 3DFX card and it was amazing. Since then most of my computing has been done on a laptop (Thinkpads for 7 years and then MBP for 5 years). I had never put together an entire machine myself.

In any case, JR has been wearing me down over the past few months. For the most part it’s been easy for me to ignore his advice to get a gaming PC. The last thing I need is another platform to collect games that I don’t have time to play, no matter how cheap they are on Steam. But eventually I started looking into it. I still couldn’t justify the cost, but then the power of rationalization kicked in. I figured that if I installed OSX on it, Jen and I could use it as a family computer (mainly for organizing photos), which is something we’ve been wanting for a while but unwilling to splurge on a nice laptop or Mac Pro. Plus it could be a fun opportunity to build my own computer for the first time, something that was missing from my resume.

The research phase was really fun. I probably collected 40 links to PC-building websites that I’ve saved away. In particular:

Newegg and Amazon made it incredibly easy for me to quickly turn a whim into a pile of parts on my doorstep.

I raced to read every instruction manual and online resource I could find, and put the machine together over the course of a couple of evenings. Of course, when I went to turn it on, nothing happened, which was my biggest fear all along. I fiddled with a few ore things before taking the entire thing apart and trying to test individual components (which was really hard since I didn’t have any tools or extra parts).

I found a computer repair shop that (for a small fee) offered to help me test my motherboard and verify that most of the computer was working, so I swallowed my pride and brought some of my parts in. The guys were super-nice and excited on my behalf. My motherboard turned out to be broken, so I ordered a new one and we put the computer together and now it’s working.

A couple links that were helpful:

I’ve got all the parts hooked up now, but need to spend another few hours organizing the cables and putting all of the fans in. Right now it’s a mess of black wiring. But it works! Some highlights:

  • Dual boots Windows 8 and OSX, each OS has its own SSD
  • Windows: Bioshock:Infinite runs nicely, along with some cheap Steam games I’ve been accumulating over the last few weeks.
  • OSX: Lightroom installed and working. Will probably do some development on this side.

Overall building my own computer turned out to be a really fun experience. I obsessed over it for a few weeks. There are definitely some fun problems to wrestle with, mostly on the spatial front (in what order should these components get installed into the machine? Where do all these cables go?), and who doesn’t love looking around for good deals on components? In retrospect I probably should have been more patient with the whole process. Jen was super-supportive throughout the entire thing, even when we had a pile of parts that were assembled into a completely unresponsive paperweight. I also borrowed a lot of evening and weekend time from her and the kids.

I also realized that it would be a waste for me to only build one machine after doing all this research. So I’m on the lookout for friends who are looking to build a computer (or reasons for having more than one computer in the house).

Finally, thanks to everyone who got excited on my behalf and offered support on this project all throughout the last few weeks.

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