Building a PC is a wild idea. Years ago, this wasn't possible and a pre-built PC was the way to go if stability and convenience was what you wanted. People eventually discovered that you can cut costs a lot by building your own PC, and it has other benefits too: getting to learn more about how a computer works, getting the joy of owning different parts you can assemble, and getting bragging rights to tell others about your experience. For me, it's mainly about building something powerful that I know I can use for years to come while also being able to learn something new. I definitely came out of this with all this and more!
I knew nothing from the start. I heard whispers about the PC building space back in secondary school, but it wasn't really something I pursued until now in polytechnic (having the resources on my side to actually follow through!). There were so many questions to ask and answer, some of which I still don't have the until now, but at least now I have a PC that I can proudly say I've built!
If there's anything I've learnt from building a PC, here they are:
- look for people you know who've done it before;
- do your research (!!!);
- buy cautiously; and
- have fun, don't sweat it.
My friends are to blame
Being a student in IT, it's inevitable that I'll come across people who have had experiences building PCs. At first, I was just curious to know more about how they got to building: they were pretty welcoming with their stories and shared a lot about how they took the steps in their own time to build the PCs they're ravaging with games today. That me thinking: should I try building a PC myself? I honestly couldn't really tell you how I managed to push myself to actually build it, but I reckon it could be because:
- I really thought I didn't have a life in secondary school and wanted to try playing more games and doing more things in polytechnic.
- I thought that building a PC can do me good in the long run, especially with learning new things (like machine learning and 3D modelling, both of which are quite resource-intensive!).
- My friends mentioned how easy it was to get started, and it's a matter of simply making sure everything matches.
I've had my fair share of peer pressure to tell that maybe this might be a case where I succumbed to it, but at least I know that I'm reaping off something good with this, too. Building a PC can be a wonderful experience for me to apply whatever I've learnt previously in O-Level computing (though not a lot) at the expense of my poor, poor wallet. Sounds like a good deal to me.
I must say that my friends were central to me building a PC. They were the ones guiding me all along, whether it's helping me figure out what the current best specs are to answering questions I had about specific parts. One friend in particular was a huge help: he went out of his way to accompany me to Sim Lim Square1 to figure out where to get the parts from and even came down to my house to help me assemble everything together. I definitely couldn't have done this without him or my other friends I've bugged along the way!
Research is important
As with most things, the place to start is to start looking things up online. PC building has exploded in popularity particularly within the past few years such that it's now easy to figure out what you want to build and what people have said about the parts you want to pick. Review videos are commonplace nowadays, with people frequently comparing processors, GPUs, and all kinds of parts together. There are some resources I've come across like PCPartPicker and r/buildapc that helped me tremendously.
The biggest questions I've had during my research are:
- Should I choose to go with an AMD or Intel processor? It's really dependent on how much you're willing to splurge (and I will keep saying this throughout), but I decided to stick with a 13th-gen Intel processor after comparing them against the 5000-series AMD processors. Both are within my budget for processors and I couldn't spend more on them, unfortunately!
- How do I get my graphics card? Getting them first-hand is very expensive, so I got mine off Carousell2 instead. This was where I relied on my friends to really help me out, especially because I'm getting this second-hand. They taught me how to spot defects, negotiate a price, and figure out whether something is generally in the range it should be in. It was pretty wild, considering how I impulsively went for a more expensive but better one rather last minute.
- Isn't there something about how motherboards and processors need to match? Yes. And this was the part I was quite concerned with the most, because one small mistake of buying a mobo that didn't match the processor can mean that that amount of money in my budget is wasted! I eventually learned that just like many parts, motherboards tend to have their own model names that follow a certain standard, and I used that as a guideline.
- What must I keep note of in parts? Generally, you'll need to make sure that:
- There is enough power running in your system, meaning that your PSU wattage needs to be enough
- The motherboard and processors are compatible with each other
- The kind of RAM is compatible with your motherboard (some motherboards only support DDR5 RAM!)
- How much storage you're willing to get
Research is so important in building a PC because not every part can play well with each other. You'll really need to scout the internet to see which combinations work well and not based on what other people have said, and the most important things (e.g., motherboard and processor) simply cannot be mistaken. I was quite scared by this, but as I eased into it and got into searching, more of my doubts were cleared as I got the answers online. Imagine if the internet hadn't been as populated with PC building information: where would I be?
The truth is, building a PC is a huge game of trade-offs. You're picking parts that work the best for you and your budget, and there's usually a chance that there'll always be something better that's just out of reach because it doesn't fit within your constraints. This is where buying cautiously and really keeping a close eye on how you spend things really play a role. Throughout my time evaluating my choices of parts to buy, I was practically scrutinising everything: prices between stores, deciding whether it's worth (by looking at reviews and general perceptions), and whether the parts are compatible with each other.
Part of buying cautiously is also buying things smartly. When I started, I was still one foot in the door: I wasn't sure if I was gonna fully commit to building the PC or not. That's why I started buying the peripherals first, like my monitor and keyboard, so that I can at least use them with my laptop if I'm not following through with building the PC in the end.
When trying to purchase parts online, we tried to see if we could get the stuff from reputable stores online. We generally avoided sites that were either sketchy or had to import from another country (also because that complicates warranty and having to return the item for repairs in the future). When walking around Sim Lim Square, something my friend did that I didn't know was possible was to each store we wanted to check out and get a quotation for the parts we wanted. At the end of the day, I was content with how much we spent (quite less than expected, meaning we could splurge more on the GPU)!
Part of buying cautiously is also having a budget and really sticking as close as you can to it. For me, I've consulted my friends and got a rough price range that I can expect each part for: that way, I know when is considered too much given my total budget for a specific part, and I should consider looking at different stores or find a lower-level part entirely.
Like the nerd I am, I made an Excel spreadsheet trying to assemble things together. The best part is we didn't really use it much when we came down to Sim Lim, and just looked at whether it matched the budget I wanted before making a decision to buy it. I think it's good anyway to come prepared and to know how much you're willing to spend: that's definitely something you need when you come down to look for parts yourself!
Have fun, really
Writing this post, I haven't realised how much I've missed the thrill of finding parts only until reflecting and looking back. At Sim Lim, I remembered staring in awe at shops with TONS of RTX 40 series (which cost more than my laptop at this point) stacked on top of each other. At home, I was worried of applying force to put in the RAM sticks in their holder. When my friend came down, we both had to take a break after spending an eternity figuring out cable management.
What I'm saying is that there were tons of moments where I had a bunch of fun, stress, and adrenaline all in one. Some moments where I really felt stuff are like when:
- I came back home with the plastic bag full of parts I've bought from Sim Lim, thinking "hey, this is actually gonna happen!"
- Going down to meet with a seller to get my GPU (which, I have to say, is my favourite part of the PC) with my friend
- Setting up the bare-bones stuff alone (opening up the motherboard, sliding in the processor and RAM sticks, then installing out the CPU fans) and installing Windows on it
- Sliding the fully-build PC into its place and plugging in all the cables
- Running a game I had previously been playing on my laptop and just melt at the difference in experience (look, I only had my laptop before and I was perfectly fine playing 30 FPS and above)
That's all, folks!
It makes me slightly sad knowing that all this will be forgotten in the future and I'll subconsciouslly take things for granted (I'll never be able to re-experience 1440p 120 FPS from 1080p 30 FPS gameplay the same again), but I know that I've had a heck ton of fun getting there. Now, I can say that I'm becoming a casual gamer (but the most casual; I couldn't care less about games except a select few), and I'm genuinely having a great time with my good pal PC. Some stuff I've done on my PC:
- Tried OpenAI's Whisper on some recordings to transcribe them
- Played some games, some of which became my new favourites (Hogwarts Legacy and the Star Wars Jedi series!)
- Explored virtualisation with Hyper-V
and there's so much more to do after that, too! If you're curious to know the specs of my PC (both planned and final), here they are:
|Intel Core i5-13500 OR AMD Ryzen 7 5800X
|Intel Core i5-13500
|A B660M/B760M (Intel) OR B550M (AMD)
|GIGABYTE B760M GAMING X AX DDR4 rev 1.0
|16 GB DDR4 RAM
|Klevv Bolt X 3600 MHz 16 GB (8 GB x 2)
|NVIDIA RTX 3060 Ti
|MSI GeForce RTX 3070 Ti GAMING X TRIO 8G
|The cheapest, really
|ID-COOLING SE-214 XT ARGB
|850 W (for the future!)
|Superflower Legion GX Pro 850W 80+ Gold
|1 TB (idk what brand)
|Lexar NM760 1 TB NVMe M.2 PCIe 4.0
|Tecware Neo M2
I had a budget of $2000 including peripherals. I've gone a little more than that budget, but was rather surprised I managed to stick close to it anyway!
I'm excited to see how else I'll be using this PC, and I'm glad and grateful that I got the people and resources I need at the time I thought of embarking on this. PC building is definitely something worth trying if you have the means to, and even if you don't, I hope that you'll be able to experience it for yourself one time!
Thank you for reading!