Saturday, June 28, 2008

On the building of computers.

Well, I built my new computer, and it now hums, loudly and proudly, at the center of my living room "entertainment desk". Without even overclocking it, it runs Oblivion "silky smooth" with all of the settings on max at 1920x1080.

Building it was not without some hard lessons, and so here is what I learned about buying parts and building a machine:

  • Avoid "PowerUp" cases (and other "bargain" cases). Many of them arrive with dead PSUs (mine, fortunately, works). Beyond that, they are very flimsy and malleable, and they have a ridiculous "door" assembly around the peripheral bracket screws (which I removed and replaced with tape). As well, the case was so thin that my GPU would not fit. I actually had to use pliers to "chew off" a couple cm from the metal bracket so that I could plug it in.
  • Again, be careful about the case/power supply you buy. This appears to be the most deception-ridden market in the PC parts world. I, unfortunately, was only checking for wattage and price. You also need to check for: (a) what fans does it include? Mine did not have any; fortunately, I got some free from a privately owned computer store. (b) what are people's experience with the PSU? Unfortunately, included PSUs do not generally have a good reputation. It's a gamble, especially if the case seller does not list any PSU specifications besides the wattage, or list the PSU's manufacturer.
  • Don't be fooled by the "stars" ratings on online parts stores. They are misleading. It's much better to read the comments left by people who purchased the part. For cases, this is where you learn about dead PSUs. For motherboards, this is where you read about overclocking ability, stability, and features. A "4-star" item might have dozens of reviews trashing its quality, and the positive reviews might be from people with very simple needs, low standards, or who don't know what they're talking about. Read the comments.
  • On CPU fans. Many of the bigger ones have the fan pointing to the side rather than out the top. I assumed that I was supposed to point the fan out the back of the case, and this was the way I originally installed it. The problem is that the CPU fan wasn't nearly as strong as a dedicated exhaust fan, and was never meant to replace a true exhaust fan. Sure enough, this picture of the Tom's Hardware $500 PC showed me the error of my ways. So I removed and resinstalled my CPU fan pointing toward the front of the computer. Keep in mind, no part is harder to install than the fan. Even my PC tech book (by Mike Meyers) says so, and this experience proved it. I was afraid of breaking my motherboard.

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