Building a PC isn’t simple, but it’s easy

PC image03
(Source: Imgur via Reddit)

By Kevin Casper

Like any other hard-working fellow, I was browsing the PC Master Race earlier today when I came across a post highlighting this tweet by John Bain, aka popular gaming content creator Totalbiscuit. That tweet is a response to this article by Emanuel Maiberg on Vice’s Motherboard channel. Around TotalBiscuit’s comment was a flurry of remarks, opinions, and responses being thrown around from the PC building and PC gaming fans. As an avid gamer and PC builder, I understand the context and reactions, but I generally disagree with the sentiment and presentation on all sides.

In my opinion, both the Motherboard article and the PC Master Race community response sounds uninformed. The article seems to have gaps in product knowledge while the community seems to have a gap in empathy. To disagree with the article, building a PC for gaming is not a difficult process, as the vast majority of it is lining up pegs and holes with matching shapes, sizes, and colors as long as you have all of the correct pieces. On the other hand, to disagree with the community response, there are problems that come from the complexity of understanding the labels and finding the right pieces for what you need.

PC image02
(Source: Imgur via Reddit)

For the sake of qualifications, I work directly in the PC hardware industry. I’ve written technical manuals, designed booths for the PAX show floor, and have crowd-sourced marketing and product development knowledge through the very same communities mentioned above. That said, this industry is ridiculously confusing. Take a look at the image above. This is the pile of parts packaging that went into a PC build by /u/crowleyr and shared with the Build A PC subreddit. Read the names of these parts: Z170X, H100i, 850 EVO, GTX 1080. Look at those names and tell me you have an idea of what they could possibly mean, ignoring any previous knowledge if you’re familiar with these products already. Someone new to this space will see this string of characters and likely find themselves lost.

These product names and numbers provide some more context when they’re posted alongside others in their series. For some current examples, the GeForce GTX 1080 is part of a series that includes this sampling:

⦁ GTX 1070
⦁ GTX 1060
⦁ GTX 980
⦁ GTX 980 Ti
⦁ GTX 970
⦁ GTX 960
⦁ GTX TITAN

Looking at the list, a sort of pattern might emerge. Higher numbers are indicative of more power, so a 1070 is stronger than the 1060. So, where does the TITAN fit in? How does the 980 Ti compare to the 980? You wouldn’t know based on the name, so even in the context of the product series, the uninformed may still be at a loss of what compares to which.

Now allow us to assume you have a full understanding of each part specifically, possibly because you read the long-form names of something like GIGABYTE G1 Gaming GA-Z170X-Gaming 7 (rev. 1.0) LGA 1151 Intel Z170 HDMI SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 USB 3.0 ATX Intel Motherboard, which is how the motherboard in the above picture is listed on Newegg.com. You know, in fact, that is a motherboard and that it’s made by Gigabyte, or, wait, is it Intel, since they’re in the name there? Does a motherboard work like a monitor, because the name lists HDMI in there. What is LGA 1151? There are a lot of pieces to understand, thus the complexity. Luckily, as mentioned in the Motherboard article, there are resources that can help.

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(Source: PCPartPicker)

Many of the specific products and their additional details, like LGA 1151, are easily searchable to learn more about. Everything from Wikipedia to the manufacturer’s own product page will have additional details about all of these pieces of information. There are communities like the aforementioned Build A PC subreddit with its own Beginners Guide, active IRC chat channel, and additional supporting links. Various editorial sites provide build guides from time to time, some more up to date than others. All very useful with lots of reading to do to cope with the complexity of it all.

My personal favorite approach to the complexity is being done by PCPartPicker, a PC building assistant and community site that spawned out of PC building communities. This site provides a fairly simple interface that helps you connect the dots of all of the components you’re looking for. You can simply look into some of the site’s build guides and purchase what’s listed there, or follow through your own system build using the interface pictured above. One of the perks of using PCPartPicker system build interface is how it walks you through parts selection. As you pick a component for your computer, your future part selection will be automatically filtered for compatibility to prevent you from buying square pegs for round holes, so to speak. This kind of user experience greatly reduces the need to completely understand each and every specification discretely, thus reducing that perceived complexity and research time.

Another boon of PCPartPicker is its offering of multiple vendor sources for each of the parts, a simple view to compare prices, and records of price history for the more-involved shoppers. While you might be used to Amazon for your online shopping, it might turn out that Newegg has a specific component with a $20 rebate available. PCPartPicker can show you that side-by-side with other retailers. It’s worth noting that the list isn’t comprehensive, as it won’t have the prices of your local computer parts store, but it hits the majority of the big sources. For those not in the US, PCPartPicker has information for quite a few countries, including vendor prices and links. Overall, presentation of information can be just as important as the information itself.

PC image01
(Source: imgur via reddit)

Even researching pre-built options requires some investment if you don’t know what you’re looking for. When buying a PS4, it has the implicit guarantee that it will be able to play any PS4 game with a reasonable presentation. When buying a PC, it’s going to take some of that extra knowledge to know whether or not it will be able to play any PC game. This complexity has lead to people, businesses, and communities compiling information and providing resources to help each other in the process, but it’s hardly perfect and still doesn’t solve the actual complexity. It can take a lot of time and effort to get a grasp on everything you need to buy or build a gaming PC. Once you have that knowledge, of parts and prices, the entire process becomes much easier. The physical build is, as mentioned, a matching game of shapes, sizes, and colors until everything turns on. If you’re still concerned, there are even more resources, such as this video series by Newegg. Of course, that means more time spent learning new things. Silly complexity.

Thinking about building your own PC? Here is a summary of the resources I listed above that can help:

PCPartPicker
Part 1 of Newegg’s How to Build a PC video series
Build A PC subreddit community

If you’re looking to buy a gaming PC, then I would recommend referring to the information available in the Build a PC subreddit to get started on learning what everything means and use PCPartPicker to look up and list some of the parts listed on the pre-built PCs to do some price comparisons. Thanks for reading. Keep an eye out for additional articles relating to some of the other points around this article!

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