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Don’t Panic: Nia Builds Her First Gaming PC
Tech Features

Don’t Panic: Nia Builds Her First Gaming PC

Breaking out of her comfort zone, Nia experiences the highs and lows of building her first-ever desktop PC.

Confession: I’ve never built a computer in my life. In the past, I’ve learned how to take care of one using compressed air, how to perform basic troubleshooting, and to convince myself that if nothing explodes that must mean EVERYTHING is working just fine. I’d been living safely in my pre-made computer bubble with nary a care in the world… that is, until my managing editor Nate Evans pitched me an intriguing idea: why not build my own computer?

After some uneasy thought, a reluctant yes was given since a newer, more powerful PC was something I direly needed for work anyways. The majority of my PC life was had on my Toshiba Satellite S55T-B5260 laptop, also my daily workstation and gaming center of my life. Clearly, this aging laptop was woefully under qualified as a primary computer, let alone a any sort of ‘gaming’ PC.

In recent times, my poor laptop was throttling to the point of me having to do a complete reset on it twice, among other things. With this in mind, I decided to jump in headfirst and finally attempt to build a PC of my very own. Of course, it helps to work at a website with friends in the business, and especially under the guidance and supervision of an experienced soul like Popzara’s own tech guru, Herman Exum (‘H’).

Pay Attention: There Are LOTS of Small Details

For your first computer build, try to purchase components from a physical store. Editor’s Note: many of the components for this computer came from a mixture of sources, including a local Micro Center, online, and some publishers Popzara has worked with. ‘H’ had already cooperated with AMD to provide a Ryzen 5 1400 CPU while Gigabyte supplied a AB350M-Gaming 3 Motherboard, a core combination that is the foundation of any PC build. Also critical was a Low Profile GeForce GTX 1050 graphics card from ZOTAC.

When building my computer, there was some trial and error involved, which can make assembly difficult and frustrating. I was surprised to learn that most motherboards don’t come with WiFi or Bluetooth as standards (there are a few exceptions to the rule), making separate PCIe cards or even USB dongles necessary. Not to mention other things like having the right-sized case to house all the components and to keep them clean from dust and pet dander, not to mention (as ‘H’ pointed out) a power supply that can handle the wattage of everything installed.

I never knew there was so much that went into building a computer! When I bought my laptop stuff like processing power and memory made sense to me, but nothing else. Plus, it came packed everything I needed out-of-the box: Bluetooth, Wifi, Windows, etc.

Watching PC Building Videos Helps a Ton

My anxiety over building a PC – and potentially causing something to explode—led me to seek out sources to better help prepare myself. I found watching PC building videos provided valuable insight into how different components of a computer were put together. I originally started watching a video by Jacksepticeye where he plays a game called “Build Your Own PC“, using the game as an impromptu demonstration of how a PC is pieced together. I didn’t understand everything he said, but it gave me basic knowledge of computer parts.

These videos helped eliminate the initial mystery of black magic associated with building electronics. I began to understand building a PC is similar to putting together Lego blocks, pieces just fit together when they go into the right places. There were other odd bits of knowledge I didn’t have prior to watching them either like to look for a small arrow on the corner of a CPU so it’s installed correctly or how to properly handle a motherboard.

It’s Only As Hard As You Make It

Herman (‘H’) and I met up, exchanged pleasantries, and quickly went to pick up a few components to complete the build. I got a tour of my local Micro Center and it really is a haven to geek out in if you’re into all things technology; but we’re here for desktop RAM, bigger CPU fan (Cooler Master Hyper 212 LED), and a surge protector so my shiny new PC had the processing power to do mid-range gaming without trouble. We ended up going back a second time as the fan I purchased wasn’t initially compatible with my build, despite the salesperson convincing me otherwise.

In the end, the final PC build consisted of:

  • Gigabyte AB350M-Gaming 3 AM4 Micro ATX Motherboard ($89.99)
  • AMD Ryzen 5 1400 Desktop Processor ($169.99)
  • GeIL EVO Potenza 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2133 RAM ($99.99)
  • EVGA SuperSC 16GB (2x8GB) DDR4-2400 RAM ($109.99)
  • ZOTAC GeForce GTX 1050 Low Profile Graphics Card ($119.99)
  • SanDisk SSD PLUS 480GB SSD ($113.50)
  • Rosewill RNX-N150PCe 802.11n Wireless Card ($8.99)
  • Onvian Bluetooth CSR 4.0 USB Dongle Adapter ($6.99)
  • Cooler Master Hyper 212 LED CPU Cooler ($24.99)
  • Enermax ETS-N31 CPU Cooler ($19.99)
  • Diablotek Diamond ATX Mid Tower with 400W Power Supply ($29.99)

After returning, ‘H’ supervised my PC build and we were finally underway. He (along with some of the Popzara team) is familiar with building PCs, what goes where, and knowing how to troubleshoot when something isn’t working right. He provided excellent feedback when we were building the PC together and he was on hand in case I made mistakes. For example, I misread the directions when attaching the power source to the motherboard so everything could be up and running. Herman pointed it out to me and I was able to correct it in a couple minutes.

We began by fitting the CPU and RAM onto the motherboard before putting it into the case. I was told that desktop CPUs have hundreds of contact pins that has to be matched exactly when seated; otherwise they can be easily bent and permanently ruined if hastily inserted. This method also helps to view the essential bits up close and better inspect your work, versus doing it all from inside a space-starved enclosure. Other steps like connecting power supply cable, fans, or a video card are done after the motherboard is screwed into the tower.

The CPU fan is another component that gave us some hassle. Our first fan wasn’t compatible without a standalone AM4 bracket, and also too big for the case we had. We returned it for a smaller and cheaper Enermax ETS-N31 Cooler that have fitting clamps instead of screws, but is a pain to tighten into place thanks to tiny tab holders on the motherboard itself. We also can’t forget to apply the thermal paste in a thin and even layer, which is needed to transfer heat and is a bonding agent between the heatsink and CPU. Whatever you do though, don’t forget this step or else you will quickly fry your newly-built machine!

DON’T PANIC!

Nate says ‘DON’T PANIC!’ nearly every time we talk and it drives me up the wall. He’s right though, as panicking is one of the worst thing to do when building a PC. With an entire afternoon and planning involved, I was hoping my PC would power up instantaneously.

Sure enough, when ‘H’ pushed the power button the lights came on and the fans spun to life, but something else was wrong. There was nothing showing on the monitor at all and my nervous optimism turned into total devastation. I thought I’d messed something up or damaged a component, rendering the entire day building worthless. I not only felt defeated but that I wasted ‘H’’s time as well.

I felt like a failure when the night got late and Nate eventually called for a status update. Oddly enough, neither ‘H’ nor Nate seemed worried after discussing the setback, aside from the annoying tedium of it all. Maybe they knew something I didn’t as ‘H’ volunteered to take the PC home to perform some further troubleshooting.

After a near-sleepless night and an early morning of drinking sugary coffee, it turns out the issue was the RAM that we’d purchased was a dud. It only took ‘H’ seconds to solve the problem by himself and he ended up going back to Micro Center a THIRD time the next day (thank you, man, you are a glorious and patient person) to replace the original RAM (GeIL EVO Potenza 16GB DDR4-2133), with modules that actually worked (EVGA SuperSC 16GB DDR4-2400).

I now get why the staff are adamant about buying components in-store whenever possible for this reason; it makes sense for returning any defective equipment easier. Moreover, the experience also made it perfectly clear why it was critical for me to learn why things work the way they do—and why they sometimes don’t. So if something unforeseen happens they said I’ll have to step up and figure it out on my own. And they will. Count on it.

I’d Like to Do it Again in the Future

Building a PC turned out to be a blast, if exhausting. I know Herman (‘H’) spent a few hours working on it (including driving to/from Micro Center on my behalf) and there were several weeks involved where everyone was helping me to get the components together. During the process, I experienced happiness, frustration, loss, love, and acceptance for a damn computer.

There’s a certain satisfaction in sitting down to work in the morning and hearing the whirr of the fans coming on with the click of a mouse. Of course, it was actually being able to play modern games that really got me excited, especially as some of the more graphically-intense ones were beginning to exhaust my poor old laptop. The clack of the keys is immensely exciting as I’m trying to survive another diplosaurus attack in Ark: Survival Evolved or dodging Goombas and Koopas in Super Brothers 3.

Building a decently powered gaming PC like this turned out a lot cheaper than buying a premade one, too. Yes, I had to spend more time and effort as a novice, but that feeling of accomplishment could be well worth the headaches. If something goes wrong with my computer now I know how to troubleshoot and fix it.

If it wasn’t for the push from the Popzara crew, I probably wouldn’t even have a desktop gaming PC at all right now. I’d be attempting a occult ritual with the disillusioned hope of ‘bringing’ my computer to life. Thankfully, I had my own superhero capable of performing such miracles (thanks, Herman!). At the very least, this was a learning experience that not only expanded those skills I was capable of, but also temporarily got me out of my personal shell. If you’re confident enough, it’s something I would recommend to anyone remotely interested in building the computer of their dreams. It doesn’t have to break the bank, and you’ll be surprised at what you’re capable of.