For years, I have considered building a gaming PC. From the cost to the high-minded desire to not play more games, I have always found reasons to not do it. On the flip side, I never found a good enough reason to do it.
Until this past year. A few months ago, we watched the first gameplay trailer for Hogwarts Legacy, and despite various concerns, it looked awesome. However, we did not own an appropriate device to play it.
We have a Nintendo Switch, but I doubted the graphics and performance will really show off what this game is about. I considered buying an Xbox or PlayStation of some recent generation, but didn’t commit.
On Thanksgiving Day, I suddenly got the will to build a PC. This wasn’t the first time, but I didn’t chicken out as quickly as usual. Of course, PCs are always getting cheaper and more powerful, but with Black Friday sales, it seemed as good a time as any to buy.
I gathered my passive research from the prior months and began to pick out specific parts to go into the PC.
Building a PC really took me back. For the past 15 years, I have primarily used various MacBooks. Being both laptops and Apple computers, there isn’t much to be done with hardware. As such, the last computer I really got into the guts of was my Dell Dimension 4×00.
My parents got it for me in middle school, and I’m still not entirely sure why. I really just wanted it to play video games, and they knew that. But maybe they knew what they were doing: it definitely shaped my relationship with computing and was likely instrumental on my path to being a software engineer today.
Anyways, I did a little work on that computer. I installed a CD-RW drive. I upgraded from 256MB of RAM to 512MB of RAM. Thankfully, Dell sold us the 256MB as a single stick, so we just needed to find a matching stick.
It came with a 40GB hard drive, which seemed like a ton at the time. Later, I installed a second 120GB hard drive so I had more space for games.
I thought that computer was wonderfully designed since it had a single hinge to easily pop the computer open and closed without any screws. I sometimes just opened the computer just to look in and marvel at the concept of it.
Most people build gaming PCs around a budget. I didn’t have a specific budget in mind, but I did get general approval from Julie to do it.
However, I did set a conceptual budget in my mind to not spend more than I was willing to lose. Being a first-time builder, I was worried about breaking parts while building it. And even if I didn’t break them, I might still buy the wrong parts for any number of reasons, and I wanted to be comfortable eating the cost on that.
Second, I wanted to connect it to the 4K TV in our living room. We conveniently have built-in shelves next to the TV, but those are only 40cm tall. Unfortunately, the most common PC tower size is at least 43cm tall. Hopefully I could find something to fit without compromising on performance.
Third, I wanted to get a AMD processor. I was unhappy with the anti-competitive behavior of Intel over the past decade or so. And to go with a AMD processor, I would probably get a AMD graphics card as well.
My main source of research was asking my gaming friends. I have a weekly gaming group, all of whom have built their own PCs, so I probed them and others for tips. Past that, they had a few suggested resources.
First, the Linus Tech Tips YouTube channel. I had never heard of it before and briefly wondered if it was related to another famous Linus in computing (it isn’t). However, not only did everyone mention Linus Tech Tips, they mentioned it offhandedly as though I should already know it. That was invaluable.
Second, I used Slickdeals and /r/buildapcsales to look for Black Friday deals. The last time I used Slickdeals was a decade ago when I got a 23″ 1080p monitor for $75. Their site looks about the same.
/r/buildapcsales was helpful for getting opinions on whether the deals were any good. I didn’t know the price history to compare against, and random internet strangers were very enthusiastic in sharing their opinions.
Third, I used PCPartPicker to check the parts compatibility and consolidate the links to all of the parts. Although I could have done without it, it was much more organized than putting together my own spreadsheet.
After having spent years considering it, it all happened surprisingly quickly. I woke up that morning and wanted to build a PC. After breakfast, I started my research. And then after lunch, I started buying everything.
All in all, it only took about 4 hour, and that includes time with family on Thanksgiving. The urgency of Black Friday sales and stock running out made decision making happen quickly.
As expected, it came in higher than I initially expected. I spent more on memory than recommended, but that was my own bias in parts. I needed a copy of Windows.
The parts trickled in the following week. In my next post, I’ll talk about the process of actually building the PC.