I hear people all the time tell me the same old story: building a computer is both cheap and easy. To which I have typically responded with a resounding “so is your mother, but you don’t see my playing Crysis with her” (a good, but oddly specific way to end any argument). I used to read articles, some on DToid, that listed out how you can build a PC for under 1,000 dollars. Wow, that sure is cheap! And then you have to build it yourself. Sounds super special awesome! Recently, my laptop reached the end of its life cycle and I was forced with a choice: join the PC master race, or shop at Best Buy - a fate worse than death. Long story short, I have decided to document my first ever PC build process. Now, do I know what I am doing? Not really. But I had some good ideas where to start. Part 1 is going to be the backstory and parts/pieces, and is probably boring as shit. Part 2 is going to be the build. Part 3 will be the results. So strap in, and lets get ready to rock.
First off, my current computer is old. Here are some stats: 4 GB of RAM, a 2.4 Ghz processor (i3), and a GPU that can almost run Borderlands the First at minimum settings. I don’t know what most of the numbers mean, so I decided bigger number equals better number! I set my sights on at least 8 GB of RAM, greater than 3 Ghz, and an HDMI port (for reasons to be explained later). So I began my search at Costco, Best Buy, and H.H. Greggs. Then I realized the universal truths about computers: naming conventions are absolutely fucked.
Let me explain, using Windows and Apple: Windows alternates between some stupid name that catches on, usually reserved for the shit OS, and a numbered OS. Is Windows 8 later than Windows 7? Yes Barry, I think it is. Is 7 after 2003? Yep. Then we have Apple naming conventions: Snow Leopard and Lion and Puma and Chupathingy. Is Puma better than Snow Leopard? Who. Fucking. Knows. Except Apple enthusiasts. See, to make it easy to understand, you should put things into an ordinal sequence, so at a glance you can tell which part is better.
This brings me to my first major hurdle: CPUs only list their number on the product card, and not the ghz, a usable statistic. Graphics cards are even worse. At times with both, the ‘6900’ might suck less than the ‘8008’ model, because bigger number not always better (see above comments). So I had to find some way of figuring out what the numbers mean, Mason. This brought me to my favorite site during this first part of the process: http://www.passmark.com/products/pt.htm. I owe these guys some serious head or an internet shoutout. I’ll go with a shoutout. While looking at computers, I would google the numbers on my smartphone, and it would spit out a metric that equalized all of the cards with something that I assumed was important. My current laptop’s CPU has a score of 2000, so I now have a baseline for what crap is. So I searched and searched, and settled on a score of 5000 being ‘good enough’. After searching high and low I found a computer that seemed to work: 800 dollars, and it had a score over 9000. Actually, not kidding, that was the score. It even listed the GPU separately. Hooray!
Lets google the score on that GPU.
So, dejected, I realized I couldn’t buy a reasonable gaming PC on my budget of under 800 dollars. Thats when the thought first started that I could build a computer. But could I do it? There comes a few times in a man’s life, where the layman test comes into play. My laymans test is as follows: for any large event in my life (childbirth, buying a house, building a computer), I ask myself if a highschool dropout could do it. And building a PC? Yes. Yes one certainly could.
So now I just had to figure out what I needed, and the best to buy such equipment. So google, google, google, google. I wound up on Newegg to purchase parts. I decided to start with the Graphics card, and settled on the Radeon HD 6850. According to PassMark it was a 2000 (tenfold improvement), and according to Tom’s it could run Skyrim on Ultra at well over 30 fps, which for no reason whatsoever was my benchmark. Hooray!
Skyrim on my current computer (artists rendering)
Step 2 was to find a CPU. I originally went with literally the first one I saw, which was an AMD 6 core 4 ghz processor. In hindsight, I figured it was too much, so I went with an AMD FX 6100 (score: 5400, so over 2x improvement on the score). Why AMD? I went through the top cards on PassMark, and AMD seemed cheaper to go with for the score. So then I had to get the everything else: motherboard, cd drive, hard drive, 16 GB of ram (4 x improvement, but probably wasted), case, power supply, HDMI cable, and some rather important protection in the form of an anti static wrist strap.
So PC geeks: lets talk. Real talk. Look at the processor ass chip kind of real talk. When you say that you can build a competent gaming rig for under 1,000 dollars, you are an asshole. Because that includes everything I listed above in the 1,000 dollars. What it doesn’t include is an operating system, a monitor, keyboard, and mouse. An OS is 100 dollars. A monitor depends on what you want out of it, but could easily be over 200. So, you know, you lie. However I solved this monitor problem by buying an HDMI cable and using my TV as the screen. Is that cheating by not including the price in there? Yes. But I do what I want.
So what is the damage done? For the computer, about 525 dollars. OS and peripherals at about 125 dollars, so overall, 650 all in for it. For a computer at the store with similar specs, this is considerably better, so the whole ‘you could build a computer for cheap’ thing is still really, really bullshit. It should say: You can build a competent computer for cheaper than buying one in the store. That being said, the price of the actual computer is less than the PS3 at launch, and should be upgradable, so there’s that. Full disclosure though, most of the parts I bought were on sale. I think overall, I saved in the realm of 150 dollars through discounts, promos, and buying the GPU refurbished.
Say, where'd you get such a mediocre computer?
Now, Newegg has several videos on how everything fits together, which I sat through. I feel like I have a pretty good chance of making this happen. Looking at that video, assembling the parts only reminds me of Dexters Lab, namely the Justice Friends. In honor, this rig shall be called the Infraggable Krunk. After watching those videos, I feel like I stand a pretty good chance of completing all of this, assuming I purchased things that fit together.
So how am I feeling right now? The first feeling that comes to me is the feeling of being pregnant. I have something special coming for me in a few days. It is something that I built myself, but it is probably going to be a loud pain in the ass, that came as the result of a half baked decision. The other feeling is similar to what I imagine sex is like: I am nervous, but ready. I have what I think is the correct protection, and I am pretty sure that after a few hours of nervously shoving things where they don’t belong, I will emerge satisfied.
Stay tuned for part 2: The build (as soon as everything ships). My hope is that everything goes wonderfully for the build, so I can keep my head enough to take pictures regularly. Then one motherloving piece will not fit, then the next picture will either be a bottle of scotch or a finished computer. Anyway, should be a good time!