Talk me into or out of building my own PC

I started a thread in GQabout the lack of T&L support in my video card, and became inspired by discussion by some PC enthusiasts who build their own.

The one thing that makes me hesitate is the hassles of having something go wrong. I have read lots of posts to Newegg by people who receive DOA equipment, or something dies after a month, or something goes wrong with their case lights a month after they build the machine (under warranty but not worth taking everything apart to ship it back), and other various problems. The problems are relatively few but I don’t know what I would do if I powered it up and it crashed before it could finish booting. Diagnosing hardware problems seems like it could get very sticky. Yes, the parts have warranties, but which part is bad?

I have tinkered with my computers since the first one I bought, and have upgraded memory, disk, optical drives, modems, TV tuners, 1394 card. So I am sure that I could put the damn thing together.

I have never experimented with overclocking and wouldn’t know where to start.

So should I?

I’ve built my own computer twice now. (Or rather, I take my tech savvy brother to the computer store, tell him what I would like the machine to do, he gives me options, and I select each component individually. He then assembles it for me)

Quite frankly, the savings are worth it alone for me. I can basically spend as much or a little as I want on any component. I can skimp on the case, but beef up the video card, etc.

The two times I’ve built my own computer, they’ve each lasted four years. (Far past their technological prime, ime) The one I’m using currently was built in late 2004 and its still going strong. When I built it, I used the best technology back then and its still a decent machine. I probably should upgrade, but why fix what isn’t broken?

I’ve built all my own computers for the last 12 years. It’s fun and rewarding, but there are also hassles involved, especially when trying to track down a problem. The best way to deal with that seems to be to build two identical computers at once. That way you have an identical component to swap out while troubleshooting. You then sell the second computer to someone else in your family. This part is key. Only sell it to someone who’s going to call you for tech support no matter where they buy a computer anyway.

If all you want is a machine for Internet, email, and the occasional Word doc, I wouldn’t bother. The pre-builts are cheap for that. If you’re looking at a nice gaming rig, you can build a better computer than you’d be able to buy for the same price.

Don’t worry too much about possible problems. For one, as long as you have access to another computer with Internet access while you’re building, you can almost certainly find any answers you’re looking for. For another, well, you have to build one some time to learn how it’s done. Trust me, they are much, *much *easier to build these days than they were twelve years ago (which is about when I started building mine, too).

honestly, if you’re building a computer with any sort of power, I’d definitely go for it. The first computer I ever built I ended up frying the processor on it cause I didn’t plug the CPU fan in or use any of that gel stuff :smiley: But a with a new processor it was still cheaper than what I would have paid for a comparable pre-built rig.

Also, diagnosing problems can be a pain, but not too bad. Whenever I had problems I would just take it apart and slowly put it back together (so if I thought it was the GPU I’d boot using the MoBo’s onboard GPU, then try again with the gaming GPU. If I thought it was a RAM stick I’d boot first with one, than with the other, than with both, etc. Can be a bit time consuming, but what’s more valuable to you, a couple hours or a couple hundred bucks? That’s your basic question right there

I don’t want a high-end gaming machine but I want one that meets requirements to play typical games. I also do a lot of photo and video editing. The core parts I’m lining up are a mobo with no on-board video, Intel E8400 (or E8500) dual core, and a GeForce 9800 GT-based video card.

Gel stuff? :confused: Do you have to buy the fan separately or does one ship with the CPU?

The gel stuff is thermal paste. You’ll need it (it’s cheap, though I highly recommend buying it locally. NewEgg usually charges as much to ship it as it costs to buy). The CPU ships with a heatsink and fan (or it should anyway).

I bought a 9800GTX card and an E8500 processor in August (well, I built an entirely new rig from the ground up) and my computer has been rock solid since then.

I have built two computers before. They worked great but they took way longer than expected to get everything right for hardware but mostly software. It ate up most of a weekend but I work in IT (software) and have serious needs. Building a computer is just a bunch of upgrades in a row so you should be able to do it. IMHO, overclocking is lame. You can often do it through the BIOS but you have to experiment how high you can go before the system becomes unstable and that takes a long-time. If you need a faster processor, just buy a better one.

My latest computer is simply a refurbished Dell. It was fairly cheap and works great. It is hard to save money on low-end to mid-range computers by building it yourself unless you just want custom components or want to experiment. You can easily save money on a high-end system but you have to devote lots of time for research to get the best out of it.

indeed, thermal paste. usually runs you a couple bucks, if you’re shipping stuff you may as well include it, otherwise you can pick it up at any electronics store with it’s salt. And almost all CPUs will ship with a heatsink and fan, even most OEM parts that I’ve purchased have 'em. My dumb ass just forgot to plug the fan in, which is a bit important if you want it to actually work :smack:

I built my own, and I’m no IT guru. And, I had plenty of problems in the process, from having to flash the BIOS (because it wasn’t booting properly), to having a bad serial port, to having the motherboard short out a few times. I had just the problems you’re afraid of–push the on button and get nothing but a high-pitched squeal, then fix that, then get nothing past the post, then fix that… The process took over a month, with many trips to the computer store. But it runs like a champ now, and I’m happy I did it. I learned a ton, and won’t be afraid to build my next one.

I more than have the skillset to build my own, and I’ve done so in the past. However, I so hate working on hardware that it’s well worth it to me to buy a computer already put together. The idea of spending a weekend putting a computer together is akin to spending a weekend doing home-dentistry for fun.

Add in that if something goes wrong a couple months later, I have to diagnose and fix it myself, and it’s a big no thanks to me.

Plus, every time I’ve priced out building versus buying, for the type of computer I typically want, the cost savings are in the $300-$500 range. That’s nowhere near enough to give up a weekend putting it together.

But that’s just me. I know some of you freaks out there enjoy tinkering with hardware. Me? I gave up hardware for software 15 years ago. Nowadays it pisses me off when I have to jiggle the network dongle to get a signal :smiley:

As has already been stated building a PC will allow you greater flexibility in terms of putting money into the parts that most matter to you, not what some big box company thinks should matter to you. It also teaches you about the components and how they interact. Something that will help you in the future diagnosing PC problems. And of course, if you are building a system not meant to just browse the SDMB, then you’ll likely save some cash as well.

My suggestions for reducing the chances of a problematic install:

  1. Check the mobo manufacturer website and see if they have a new version of the BIOS available for it. If there are compatibility or performance fixes, download it and put it on a floppy or CD (some bios will allow you to use a Cd to update them, all will allow you to use a floppy).

  2. Take your time. Array all the different components on a smooth, clean and clear surface. Make sure you have the tools you will need. Most likely this will include a small and large phillips head screwdriver, some thermal paste, and some cable ties. Be sure to touch the case before touching any electronics component. You don’t want a static discharge toasting your CPU.

  3. Again, take your time. Don’t try to do too much at the same time. Take it step by step, and don’t continue until you are sure everything fits correctly and is secured. Be sure to follow the assembly instructions for your case and mobo to the letter. It’s like cooking. Don’t improvise unless you know what you are doing.

  4. Once you have your hard drive, a single RAM module, your CPU set up, your vid card, and your mobo’s BIOS updated, attempt to boot into windows setup. Install windows and update. If the system is stable, shut down and install the rest of the memory modules. Bad memory is one of the most annoying problems to trouble shoot. Trying one module at a time is the best way to find them quickly.

Set aside a saturday or sunday to do this when you have nothign else critical to do. You don’t want to be stressed out because you have to be somewhere and the darn CPU fan isn’t going in. :slight_smile:

It might sound complicated, but it’s not. Whatever ytou do for aliving is probably 10x more complex. If you happen to be a brain surgeon then you can probably do this with both hands tied behind your back and just your left foot.

Right now I’m getting ready to build a computer; I’ve ordered some parts but not all of them. I want to make a “Hackintosh” to run Mac OS X on. It’s generally best to build one yourself because you have to make sure each component is one that’s compatible with OSX. I’m getting advice from forums and I’m choosing parts that are supposed to be safe, but I’m still worried that it could end up being a lot harder than I’m being told. Beside the problem of building the computer, I’ve also got to worry about getting the OS working.

After years of doing upgrades I built 2 computers myself about 6 months ago. It’s not hard.

The advantages far outweigh the time consumed, IMHO, especially considering that you can get Windows XP for cheap. If you buy prebuilt, expect a ~$150 premium for XP, do it yourself and pay ~$80 for the OEM version at New Egg.

For the record, Intel boxed retail processors come with a fan/heatsink. These will have the correct amount of perfectly good thermal paste already applied to the heatsink. An Intel brand fan sold by itself (without a CPU) will also have paste pre-applied.

The hardest parts for me were the cabling and seating the heatsink/CPU fan. Intel uses these incredibly sucky pop pins to hold the fan to the motherboard. Once they are on, they work, but I was convinced I was about to snap the board while seating it.

I’ve never had a failure of a newish part, but after a few years, sure. I’m sure DOAs and early failures happen, but I think they are rarer than the reviews at New Egg, etc. would have you believe. Judging from the grammar I think a lot of the people writing reviews are kids who don’t know how to follow directions.

As long as you want a computer that ‘just works’, avoid overclocking at all costs. It is a hobby, not a cost-effective way of improving performance. If you decide at some point down the road that you do want a faster computer, spend a couple of bucks on new parts.

My totally subjective and unsolicited recommendations for parts for your mid-level game and visual editing computer:

If you can, wait until the Intel i7 starts shipping later this month. That should drive down prices for other processors.

Get a good quality, but not huge, power supply. 80+ certified is good (why waste electricity?). 500 or so watts should be plenty for a single graphics card, 1-2 hard drive system. Modular is nice, because it cuts down on those blasted cables I hate so much.

Get 4 GB of RAM. Yes, 32 bit OS’s can’t address all of it, but the limit is somewhere north of 3 GB. The cost savings between 2 and 4 GB are fairly small.

Don’t buy fancy RAM. DDR2-800 is dirt cheap and within a few percent of the speed of the expensive stuff. When running real applications (as opposed to benchmarks) the difference is even smaller.

Don’t buy fancy cooling. The stock Intel fan/heatsink is perfectly good, quiet, and cheap.

Don’t bother with a RAID, unless you are dealing with really sensitive data. An external backup hard disk (or 2) kept in a firesafe is much less of a hassle.

Onboard audio is probably sufficient.

Dual video cards are likely overkill.

I’d recommend taking a look at the Ars Technica System Guide, they spec out three different systems and recommended components. When I didn’t have time to do the research myself I’ve fallen back on this list and it’s always worked out well for me. A friend just built the ‘Hot Rod’ box and he loves it.

You can build a much more powerful machine for the money by building it yourself. In exchange, you take a higher risk involving not really knowing what the fuck you’re doing (I wrestled with my newest machine for a week trying to figure out why some RAM sticks would work and some wouldn’t, and I screwed the motherboard in incorrectly, causing all sorts of problems I had no idea how to fix) and having no recourse for broken or defective equipment.

I would say that if you doubt your ability to assemble a bitchin machine, just buy one. It’s way more hassle for newbies like us than the geeks will admit.

What I found was that it may actually be more complicated than it should if you get a bad mobo. The first one I got was weird all around–nothing anywhere said I needed to put it on risers, but it turned out that I did. Just getting the CPU clamp to shut took an incredible amount of force. The RAM slots were so tight it took two hours to put in two sticks. Nothing anywhere said the installed BIOS version wouldn’t work with Vista. I had to fight through all of these problems, and more.

It does suck when you get a bad component. Specially the first time when it might be difficult for you to trouble shoot. But this doesn’t happen that often.

I’d also disagree with some of the statements made on overclocking. Overclocking is not just about pushing super high end hardware to it’s limits. It’s also about getting the last bit of performance from 2nd or third tier hardware you purchased. Often times you can pay less for a processor or RAM or video card, and have them perform as well as, or often times better than MUCH more expensive versions of that same part.

It is definitely part of my equation when it comes to the money I save. Now, this is not something I recommend you jump right into after assembling your first PC. But it might be something to consider down the line.

And finally don’t listen to the Anti-Vista crazies. There are plenty of reasons to go with that OS and very few reason not to. If it’s all the same to you then go Vista. If you use some apps/hardware that you know have problems with vista then stick to XP. Vista, however, will not, as some would have you believe, steal your soul and kill your children (unless you ask it to. Nicely)

But us geeks got there by diving in and doing it. I wasn’t born knowing how to build a computer. In fact, my very first computers were pre-builts. It was only after taking the risk that I learned how.

Hope you don’t mind me tagging along in this thread, but I’ve been thinking about building a gaming computer since Oblivion and Fallout 3 came out, and I don’t know jack shit about it, even after looking at several techie’s websites about how to do it. They seem to explain it so that it’s perfectly clear to anyone who already knows how to do it.

Do I understand it correctly that once you’ve chosen the components, you basically just snap them together, install the OS and go? What is “flashing” the BIOS? I understand what overclocking is supposed to do, but how do you do it? I can’t even tell from the sites I’ve been looking at if it’s a matter of adding a cooling device, installing a program, rewiring the whole computer, or doing a rain dance.

Am I in way over my head? Any good websites or books on this that are not outdated?

I’ve installed RAM +troubleshot software before, but not much else.