Fuck PC Hardware

I’ve spent nearly $2k, over a month of RMAing parts, and 24 or so working hours trying to get my new gaming rig to work. It sort of does – I can get it to play Oblivion without sound – but I’ve had it. I’m putting the whole thing up on Craigslist for $1300. The parts alone are worth nearly $1800.

Then once I get that hardware sold (including the old hardware still left over from my last machine), I’m buying a couple of external drive housings for my extra hard drives and just sticking with my Macbook Pro for gaming, even though it is probably half the FPS machine my Windows gaming rig should have been.

I sat with my head in my hands tonight, nearly in tears, wondering why it’s still so god damned hard to build PCs. I used to think it was getting easier, but now I’m not so sure. Cars didn’t get easier as they evolved. Why would PCs?

I’m sorry, I’ve got no point to this. In fact, I think I’ve made nearly this same post on this board before. But I need to so something to remind myself that I should never, ever purchase piecemeal hardware again, but it always ends with me about to put my fist through a wall.

Maybe I do have one little point: Case et al, please stop writing ‘anyone can build a PC!’ articles. It just encourages me and that’s clearly not what I need.

Sorry to hear your troubles. Perhaps the happy medium would be to order a custom built rig from a place like http://monarchpc.com or http://www.cyberpowerpc.com. It won’t cost you all that much of a premium over a do-it-yourself rig, and they’ll have tested everything before shipment.

I just priced out a pretty high-end rig at monarch with a 3 year warranty for $1400. They take top quality enthusiast-level parts then assemble and test them for you. How did you manage to spend $1800 assembling it yourself?

Anyway, just buy a cheapo dell, upgrade it to 1 or 2GB of ram, and pop in a 7600gt or 7900gt. It’ll make a great gaming computer.

The actual assembly isn’t really any more complicated than it ever was, but there does seem to be more ‘voodoo’ creeping in.

Are you going to have heat issues? Is the power supply stable enough? Is there going to be some conflict between the chipset and cards? Is the memory timing tight enough for dual channel use? shrug Plug it all in, cross your fingers, and hope for the best…

Issues like those never really came up in my 486/Pentium/P2 days, but suddenly became important with my last couple of Athlon chips. I still have a hang problem whose cause I can’t reliably pinpoint.

For the price and labor conscious, the way to go is to keep an eye on the deal sites and snag a highend system from a huge volume vendor like Dell, but get it barebones, then upgrade the video card and memory and you’re all set with a powerhouse system.

Alternatively you can snag a Dell 9400 laptop with a Geforce 7800 for 1200 or so if you get lucky (edit: not lucky, looks like a 1.83 Ghz Core Duo, 1 gig Ram, Geforce 7800, is less than 1200 at normal discounts even without a coupon) – it’s a pretty decent gaming desktop (it’s big enough that’s it’s hardly a laptop). And super easy to carry to LAN parties.

See, I live in perpetual, choking fear of this very situation. Whenever I build a PC or upgrade the current one, I sit there working in a quivering funk of stress.

But, nothing has ever gone wrong. I look back, and every one of the dozen or so computers I’ve built was plunked together with all the ease of lego.

As smug and throttleable as I must be to you right now, I too have had enough of the pheer. My current rig was built for Oblivion, and will last me perhaps 2 more years. The next computer is likely to be an iMac, or, hopefully, the Mac Mini-with-decent-video-adapter that currently exists only in my mind.

shrug

Then don’t. Follow some of the other good advice:

  • Get a custom built rig to your specs from any of a number of white box shops.

  • Get a cheap Dell and add a few parts to it.

We have Friday night LAN parties almost every Friday, and every rig here has been hand-built. We have very few issues. But I’ve learned to be conservative about parts choices, memory timings, power supplies, et al.

Building a Windows gaming PC is a lot easier than, say, building a Linux-based media PC ;-)

Here is how I build a system:

Step 1: I decide what basic platform I want to get. (AMD vs Intel, ATI vs Nvidia)

Step 2: I start researching the motherboard. Easily I spend 70% of my research time on picking out the right motherboard. Once I decide on a quality motherboard, I go to the manufacture’s website and find out what memory they recommend/tested and use that. THIS IS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP! I know so many people who just buy a cheap ECS motherboard and then slap any bargin memory in it and gasp they have lockup problems.

Step 3. I pick out the filler parts (eg dvd drive, hard drive, case, etc) based on New egg ratings and reviews.

Step 4. I do the basic math of what the compents need at load for power supply, go with a brand name that reviews well and add at least 30%

For friends and family, I’ve built a dozen systems in the past two years and never had issues with lockups or performance. Out of ~140 parts ordered, I only had to rma one thing back to new egg for not working and that was a DVD drive.

When I build for myself, there is an extra step of posting on forums just to see if anyone sees any issues that I missed.

The one thing that annoys me is I can’t build a system as quiet as the prebuilts. Finding information on noise on performance is really hard. Sure if I wanted to build a modest performance HTPC, there are lots of websites that have that info. Want to make a AMD FX-60 7800 GTX SLI system and have it not sound like a jet, you are on your own.

Want to make a AMD FX-60 7800 GTX SLI system and have it not sound like a jet, you are on your own.

There’s always watercooling. Certain motherboards make squeezing GPU blocks onto an SLI setup kinda tricky though.

I think part of my frustration this go’round is that I bought all top-shelf parts: Asus MB, good RAM. I mean, I even bought a sound card, which I haven’t done since the SB16.

Put it together and what have you got? Bibbity bobbity buttfuck. When things don’t run right, there’s really no way to know what’s going wrong except doing research about parts combinations on message boards and hoping that ‘-=GrUnT*MuNgEr=-’ knows what he’s talking about when he tells you what he did to fix his machine.

There weren’t any replies on C’sL this morning, though, so it looks like I’m going to have to suck it up and figure out what’s wrong. It’s just such an awful feeling, though, staring at a lump of hardware with a fresh install of Windows and having no clue whatsoever what could be causing the problems, because learning how to troubleshoot Windows is never orthogonal.

But I need someone to blame!

Yea, that is a lot of money, I do not know how you could spend so much on it. 2 years ago, I got myself a top notch gaming rig (which I built myself without a single issue) and it cost me about $1200 bucks. It included 1 gig of pc2100 ram (the really fast one), a hyper threaded cpu, and at the time which was pretty good, a ATI 9800 pro. It has lots of extras, even optical sound outputs, 2 built in Nics, as well as like 6 USB ports and all that. I can’t imagine trying to spend 2k if I tried.

Now I have had problems custom building PCs from the ground up in the past. I have had 2 DoA CPUs, 1 DoA Motherobards, and 3 DoA RAM sticks. Not at the same time mind you. I even had a problem with a soundblaster card where it would prevent my system from booting (even bios post) with it plugged in. The card worked perfectly in other boxes I had, but not my new box I had made.

1 gig of RAM wasn’t top notch two years ago. “pretty good” isn’t top notch, either.

When you have video cards running over $500 bucks a piece, processors running up to $900 a piece, how is it so hard to believe someone spent $1800 on a gaming rig?

[Edit: Just checked newegg. A mobo, CPU, and video card for just under top-of-the-line parts is around 1200 shipped. That’s without a case, PSU, hard drive, monitor, etc. X1900XT (not XTX), X2 4800, DFI LanParty UltraD mobo (Not even SLI)]

I have a friend who has been jinxed from birth with bad luck and exudes a powerful, invisible anti-electron force field. Computers seem to malfunction for no apparent reason when this guy uses them, only to return to normal once he calls someone over to look at the problem. (like the way your car stops making “that noise” when you take it to an auto mechanic")

Perhaps his brain waves generate an EMP field. I don’t know. I just don’t let him get within 3 feet of my computer. I’m not taking any risks.

So, no, Joel’s story does not seem unusual to me.

You know, it’s worth mentioning, too, that I scoped out Monarch PC and a few other white box shops and they were much more expensive than buying your own box from parts. Like hundreds of dollars more – and they didn’t always have the parts I wanted. I’m sure there’s someone out there who will just buy the parts you request and charge an extra $150 to build it or something, but I couldn’t find one. In fact, I hired a guy here in Brooklyn to put together this machine including the hard drive from my last rig and he delivered it to me working, but with screws missing, no plugs on the video card, and the same copy of Windows installed on the drive as when I gave it to him. So fuck him, too.

That’s because Monarch knows what parts work and what doesn’t.

What you might want to try in the future is to spec out your system using Monarch’s web system configurator, then buy the listed parts and assemble it yourself.

In this way, you benefit from the extensive system integration knowledge that they’ve built into their web-based system configurator, but without paying the premium.

You too? Thank God I’m not the only one with a friend who is cursed by gremlins! He once had a keyboard which made his PC lock up. No clue why the hell that happened.

As for Joel’s woes, he reminds me of this guy… :-)

If your sound card happens to be an earlier x-fi (with an earlier firmware) and you use a nforce4 mb I hear there are some compatibility problems that can be fixed by either flashing the mb bios (depends on mfg if a xfi fix is available) OR sending the card to creative to get the sound card flashed (since creative won’t let users flash their own cards).

When I hear crap like this, I honestly wonder how Creative is still in business. I know I’ve vowed to never use their products again.

Hopefully with the way VISTA works wrt Sound Cards we can get some serious competition on the sound card arena again.

I’m not talking studio work here, but for gaming.

Are there any alternatives?.. Creative can f*ck over their consumers since … what else is there to buy?

Checking my “local” net store.
PCI Soundcards:
Creative: 13
Hercules: 2
Terratec: 7
SunSway: 2

How viable are the Hercules, Terratec and Sunsway sound cards as alternatives/replacement for SB Audigy X-FI.

I’ve built every computer I’ve ever used on my own, and only twice have I ever had real problems. I’ve also helped fix friends computers many a time, and guaranteed, there are three things that will always be the culprit (if you discount faulty hardware, which was one of the issues I had once).

  1. Power supply. Do not fucking cheap out on the power supply. Do not buy a cheap fucking case, because cheap ass cases have cheap ass power supplies. You will have problems. Which leads in to…

  2. Cooling. Don’t buy a cheap fucking case. Because cheap ass cases have cheap ass cooling. Buy a case from a quality company like Antec who knows what they are doing. You need a fan in the front pulling in air, and you need a fan in the back sucking it out. Your power supply needs to be built as part of the case to work properly as a cooling solution. Since I started using Antec cases I’ve not had a problem with this. And as a bonus, you can grab a Sonata and have an uber-silent PC while you are at it.

  3. Ram. Don’t buy cheap ram. Ram, like power supplies and cases, is something you don’t cheap out on. Do what was said above, make sure it’s on the motherboard manufacturer’s list of safe ram. On top of that, you can usually make a safe bet on good namebrand ram. Corsair, Crucial (micron), etc. Don’t let a store sucker you by saying ram is “micron” because it uses micron chips – that doesn’t make it micron ram. Best yet, buy it straight from Crucial. Also, if you are going dual channel, don’t just buy two sticks of ram, buy a pair of sticks that are packaged together by a company (not the store). I use Corsair Value Select, and I’ve never had a problem with ram.

Anyway, those are the biggest issues. Instability and random crashes are almost always due to heat or ram, but power fluctuations due to a crap power supply can exacerbate those problems.

edit: I also forgot to add with cooling that case cooling is often more important that CPU cooling specifically; the HSF that comes with a boxed processor is plenty good enough. Also, using a different one almost always voids your CPU warranty, as does using anything other than the thermal material packed with the CPU. From my experience buying third party heatsinks and thermal material has very little impact on anything unless you plan on overclocking, which is plenty stupid for other reasons (not to mention a huge contributor to system stability problems).