It seems more and more people are choosing to construct their own gaming machines rather than buying them already made. It’s cheaper (in theory), you get to choose the exact specifications, and it’s something to do while you’re stuck at home in lockdown. Even Superman actor Henry Cavill has been getting in on the act, making a video of himself constructing his new machine while wearing a really tight vest. I thought it would be a fun thing to do with my 13-year-old son as a sort of Easter holiday treat. We’re both nerds – what could go wrong?
It’s just like building Lego, they said. Enjoy the process, they said. You’ll have such a feeling of accomplishment when it’s finished. This is what friends and colleagues told me when I set out to build a PC. It did not quite go that way.
The first part – choosing the components – really is fun, although it involves a long process of reading reviews on sites such as PC Gamer and TechRadar, comparing specs and looking forlornly at your bank balance. The basics are a central processor (CPU), a graphics card (GPU), a motherboard (MB), some RAM, some storage space (a hard drive or solid state drive or both), a power supply unit (PSU) and a cooling fan or two.
The key decision is whether you’re basing your build around an AMD or Intel CPU – everything else will flow from that. I went with an AMD Ryzen 5 5600x CPU and an AMD Radeon RX 5500 XT GPU because these are the fastest, most powerful processors in my price range, and I wanted the best gaming performance I could get without remortgaging my house. I also opted for an Asus Rog Strix B550-E motherboard, because Asus is known for its super-reliable components, and this board is designed with gaming in mind, with lots of fan and RGB headers for cooling and lighting, and two slots for modern M.2 SSDs, which are teeny, fast and offer huge capacity. Western Digital lent me its excellent WD Blue SN550 drive, which, with its 2TB capacity, meant I didn’t really need an accompanying HDD.
As for the case, you should choose a full or mid-size model for your first build and don’t scrimp. be quiet!, Corsair, Phanteks, Cooler Master and NZXT all make great, user-friendly cases, but I went with the be quiet! Pure Base 500DX, which has cool minimalistic styling, plenty of room inside, clever cable management and nice compartmented areas, as well as three built-in fans, which is enough for my build (the faster your CPU and GPU processors, the more heat management you need). I also used a be quiet! power unit because it’s a good, trustworthy model and I knew it would fit in the available space as it’s by the same manufacturer. It’s also 650W, which I knew would be enough for my build, though it’s worth checking an online power supply calculator to make sure your PSU can handle your rig’s power demands.
That was the easy part. Then came the construction. I watched a few YouTube tutorials (try this or this) and felt pretty confident. However, once we got everything semi-assembled and inside the case, things started to get fiddly. The motherboard sits right at the back of the case, so once it’s fitted, plugging in the various cables often requires extreme dexterity and a steady hand. It’s like playing the old board game Operation, but with 2ft-long tweezers and no hilarious illuminated nose to tell you you’re getting it wrong.
It took all afternoon to assemble the parts, before at last I felt ready to connect the PC to a monitor and turn it on. People had joked: “Be prepared for when nothing happens!” I laughed along. But I can tell you when nothing actually happens, it’s not funny. This is where the pain begins. My motherboard has a little LED display for error messages, and mine was saying “0d”. When I looked this up in the manual, it said, “reserved for future AMI SEC error codes”, which was not exactly helpful. I checked the Asus site and there was nothing on there.
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