Games Life

Building Your Own PC


My first ever PC was built by a couple of economics majors(now big time moguls) who probably had no clue what all the parts did but found ways to snap them together like Legos (ok, am I being too harsh?).

The components were mainly “no-name” or “built on a ship from Taiwan” as we used to say. Well, at least the CPU seemed to be legit (a cool 300MHz Celeron of Pentium II fame).

It was a damn bad PC but I had it running Windows, Linux and whatever else I could get my hands on(in the pre-Internet or broadband era).

After a couple of years, as I got more confident, I realized there was simply no point in paying some not so talented guys to assemble MY PC. I am not talking here about brand name computers like Dell or Alienware – I never owned one of those. I am talking about custom built, choose your components, kind of PCs.

The last fear I had to overcome was the thermal paste and CPU heatsink installation dark magic. I did it anyway. Nowadays stock CPU coolers have a pre-applied thermal pad so you don’t have to sweat the little stuff.


It’s been 14 years more or less since I’ve been using computers. With the exception of the first 2 rejects I owned(the Celeron and the AMD Duron based PCs) I’ve built my own PCs since the early 2000s.

At first I had a thing for Asus mainboards. That was until one got deep fried while I was playing a game… I switched to EVGA and only recently switched back given the good reviews they got.

I’d like to think that in 10+ years I’ve learned something about computer hardware. I am not a hardware engineer, I deal with software mainly as a software developer but I know a bit about the stuff under the hood.


Here’s a simple comparison. Back in the day, let’s say the 1970s or the 1980s a car driver had to also be a decent mechanic too in order to always have his car running (or rolling?). While PCs live in a lot less harsh conditions than cars the early days components weren’t that great. Heat, humidity and dust were pretty dangerous to computers.

Fried mainboards were a common side dish at any local computer hardware store. If you could go more than 2 years without a hardware malfunction you were kinda lucky. I personally fried a couple of mainboards in the early days and 2 videocards.

I usually got the following argument: “But you are using your computer too much, that’s why it breaks down”. Huh?


I will not claim to be some sort of expert. What I do claim is that I’ve had enough hardware failures and issues to have learned a couple of things.

The current algorithm I’ve come up with this:

  1. Select the CPU  you want. I’ve built my system before Haswell was launched so I went with the sensible choice at the time, Core i7 3770K; In the current generation I would have chosen a 4770K.
  2. Select a Motherboard that matches the socket on your CPU. Don’t spend as little as possible on your motherboard. I know many people overlook the MB. Just like the power source(PSU) the motherboard routes all the information from your CPU to all your components. A lame MB will sometimes fry for no reason because it cannot handle the temperatures or the load you throw at it over time.
    1. Features are also important. If you want to keep the system around for as much as possible for good capacitors(heard of those solid state capacitors?)
    2. If you need SLI or CrossFire, choose a motherboard that supports this. Even if you don’t need it, SLI/CFX are better built than your run of the mill motherboards.
    3. Check if the board has all the connections you need
    4. Again, don’t be cheap! Since the motherboard receives almost only passive cooling the components need to be of good quality to avoid dying from wear and tear. I went for the Asus Sabertooth Z77 which is a mid-range mainboard with the Asus thermal armor that protects it from dust and heat. Pretty neat. I used to run on an EVGA 790i Ultra SLI that was once top of the line but that was somewhat of an excess.
  3. Select a GPU/videocard. It’s OK to change your mind when it comes to videocards; since most mainboards now run both SLI and CrossFireX you don’t need to base your mainboard choice on the GPU. I went for SLI at the time because it gave me the option to “upgrade” to a second videocard. With the recent advances in tech you can pretty much throw any too GPUs together(either NVIDIA or AMD, not mixed!).
    1. If you don’t really need a GPU then just stick with the integrated one in your CPU(assuming you went for a Core i5/i7). Save yourself the power cost.
  4. The Power Source a.k.a the PSU. Oh, man. This is a tough one. I’ve had at least twice problems because of an aging or a just bad PSU. A few rules to follow:
    1. Get more than you need in terms of Watts! Even the best PSUs have an efficiency a little over 80% when in full load so 600W actually becomes 480W. If you get the lowest possible wattage for your rig you’re going to wear down your PSU. Ideally it needs to be at 50% load most of the time(when not using the GPU for example). I went for 850W when I probably just needed 650W.
    2. Higher power PSUs should mean better construction.
    3. Absolutely no cheap-ass no-name PSUs! They will kill your system and might take your other components with them when they go.
    4. State of the art PSUs contain all sorts of protection mechanisms against over-voltage(well, current really). This is to prevent the PSU from frying your components in case of failure. It’s kind of important don’t you think?
    5. If you’re thinking of just chucking your old PSU in your new shiny PC… Well… I did that and an 5+ old PSU which was originally a rather good PSU(Thermaltake Toughpower 850W) gave me some headaches. Of course, YMMV, things might be better for you. Some people say that components aging is not as bad as one might think. In the end I thought: screw it, why kill my components with an old PSU? I need proper, good power so I switched to a Seasonic X-850W. Supposedly state of the art with Japanese components. Will see.
  5. The case. ah, the case… 4 things to consider:
    1. Airflow: the GPUs heat up pretty seriously in full load(80-90 degrees Celsius). I vote for a large side panel fan that is quiet and blows hot air away from all the components. Too many fans will make it very loud though.
      1. Also, larger fans run at a lower RPM making infinitely less noise than a puny fan running at 6000RPMs! So choose a case with cool large fans.
      2. Hey, you can even go for liquid cooling, I hear they are getting easier to use.
    2. Size: Not all cases can accommodate larger mainboards and, especially, videocards. In one case I had I had to remove the drive bay to accommodate the videocard. Bad, I got rid of it. The more space, the better! Think of all the cables you need to run from the different components; you’ll want a bit of wiggle room in there. And also air!
    3. Noise: I don’t care much about that now. But there was a time when I really hated it. I slept next to my computer and if I had to leave it overnight to do some task it killed my sleep…
    4. Aesthetics: no comments here, de gustibus non est disputandum.

Does all this make sense? It should, it’s a distillation of my experience of choosing the right components.

Maybe it will make sense to you, maybe it won’t. I really wanted to put it out there in hope of helping out.


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