My First Build

It’s rather strange that after more than 40 years of working with computers, I didn’t actually build one myself until I was a senior citizen. And even that build was a bit unusual. To begin with I didn’t build it to run Windows. Second, my pre-construction planning wasn’t the best. Third, I added to it as time went on. But I was certainly happy with how it turned out. Even today as this home built desktop turns 4 (pretty old in computer terms) I continue to use it and be happy with it. It was a long and winding road though.

My story begins when I inherited an old XP based desktop after my parents passed away in 2009. I still had the old box in 2013 but by then XP was obsolete. I decided to rebuld the desktop with new components, reusing the case and power supply. The old machine had AMD based technology so I decided I would go that way again. Most of the basic parts came from Newegg – a well known supplier of computer hardware.

However as I began to disassemble the older system it was immediately apparent that the case and power supply were going to be woefully inadequate. The old case was big and heavy but was a bear to work inside. The motherboard was mounted in a way that I didn’t want to duplicate in a new build. The power supply was antiquated and weak. And the case lacked proper cables to connect things up.

So I had to do some scrambling before building. I went to a local computer store where I got a new case and power supply. My case (shown above) was more brutalist / gamer oriented than businesslike but it was the right size to fit on my desk, and featured 3 dimensional (convex) side panels that made it easy to run wires behind the motherboard. The power supply was modular – I only had to run the cables I needed and did not have to stash a bunch of unused cabling somewhere inside. Off to a better start now.

I splurged a bit on the motherboard – got a higher quality one than I arguably needed but it gave me all the modern features and future proofed me a bit.

The build was pretty easy. I used the stock cooler for the processor (didn’t try to fit anything difficult.) The processor I chose was called an APU – it combined graphics and computing technology in one chip. I didn’t have to put in a graphics card.

I added a hard drive and optical drive. I got 8GB of fast memory. After I screwed it all together and connected up the cables everything worked the first time. Amazing. I installed Linux and was off to the races.

But that wasn’t the end of the story. I installed in a wifi card to communicate with my router upstairs. I decided I’d be better off with 16 GB of RAM so I got another 8GB stick for dual channel operation. And solid state drives were coming down in price, so not long after that I added one to boot the operating system. I used the mechanical drive for storage of photos and documents. That was the first SSD I ever had. There was a convenient spot to screw it down in the bottom of the case. Cooler Master is a very thoughtful case maker. That SSD addition completed my build in 2013. Not well planned but it worked great.

A couple of years later I found that my graphics solution wasn’t all that well supported any longer by AMD – even in Linux – so I put in a newer discrete graphics card. This improved performance again – to the point that even with essentially four year old hardware my machine is fast and powerful. I expect with Linux I’ll be able to extend its life for another 5 years or so.

I was sorry I couldn’t honor the memory of my parents by re-using their old computer case. But I think of them every time I turn my first computer build on and hear that satisfying “beep.”

Published by Ray MacDonald

Ray MacDonald is a retired food scientist who lives in Almonte, ON.
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