The zen of building gaming PCs

I’m all for building a box for gaming, or other stuff I guess.

The big thing for me is choosing the case, since I don’t particularly need all the power in the world, or might want to save on the guts.

But tons of prebuilt boxes come in shitbox cases that inhibit useful upgrades.

Sure, you can buy a $500 box these days that will play most games just fine and it comes with 1TB of hdd space, that’s more than enough… today. Then when you realize you really need some additional terabytes you crack that shitbox open to realize there isn’t actually a place to put it. Or the fancy ram won’t fit because that part of the mobo is jammed up under/beside the hdd carriages., or a million other things that shitbox cases do for you.

I haven’t done it in awhile though, loved aluminum cases back in the day, those still popular?

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You’re really going to take computer advice from someone who can’t be bothered (or God forbid, doesn’t understand) a paragraph?


No idea about popularity, but Lian Li still makes them. I adore mine… all the right functionality with zero superficial gimmicks.

Ha, I was just googling “Liam Le” because it was 13 years ago when I bought one from them & my memory sucks. Google didn’t even correct me right away, had to add “case”

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As to that computer specifically (the linked config w/Core i3 and 8GB RAM): if you’re gonna play at 1080p or smaller resolution it’ll handle all current games but you’ll have to set the spiffy effects down on the more intensive ones. Note that you won’t be able to upgrade its GPU (which is generally the part you want to upgrade soonest) because it’s a proprietary design. If you want recommendations I’d gladly offer some.

As to DIY: as others have said, it’s easy. The article is entertaining but exaggerates.

Pre-built is fine, and in that case your warranty is centralized, too. There’s not a compelling savings advantage in DIY unless you’re really strapped for cash and can’t save for a while (which is, I understand, a depressingly-growing demographic).

If you like to tinker, though, DIY is great. Its biggest advantage to my mind is getting to choose exactly the components I want rather than selecting from an inevitably-disappointing list of radio buttons. There’s also the inherent satisfaction of assembling and neatly tidying up a custom build; anybody who likes to put things together would appreciate this.

To newcomers I’d suggest The Tech Report’s System Guide, which is updated regularly throughout the year by passionate geeks who can explain things well in layman’s terms. It’s broken into reasonable price categories. There’s a pretty comprehensive assembly guide, too.

I also like PC Part Picker, which a very handy online tool which does what it says on the tin. The site operators posted a series of guides in November which are quite reasonable.

Yes, they are; more than ever, in fact. As with auto tinkering or home improvement (or any hobby, really) there’s an ever-expanding variety of options to lose oneself in. As in the past, aluminum is still reserved for pricier cases since it’s more expensive than steel. Cheapo steel cases are actually pretty damned good now, too; in the 40-60 USD range there’s a swarm of chassis that are easy to use and come with decent fans and expansion options. And with all the sharp edges rolled over, too! It took the industry a while to do away with exposed razor-sharp metal in its products, but by god, they eventually did it.

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My 16-year-old son would be happy to recommend a system for you. He’s into that stuff. I use his cast-off parts from last year’s machine.


Last year I built my 12yo a custom gaming computer partly to save money and partly as a teaching/learning experience for both of us (plus, he implied he didn’t think I could actually do it…so it was game on).

Ordered all the parts through Amazon, took about 6 hours over two days for us to get everything put together, OS installed and playing games.

From a strict economic sense, the opportunity cost of those 6 hours was probably not worth the few hundred I saved in parts. The educational experience of understanding how the PC works and how all the parts fit together was invaluable for my son.

(That said, I use an ASUS gaming laptop which has a ridiculous price premium given I could build a desktop with the same performance for about half the cost).

In a strange way, I kinda miss the days when building a PC involved a certain amount of blood sacrifice.


Could be worse. You could game on a mac…

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There’s basically no savings to be had on the hardware these days - you might be able to shave off a couple off a few bucks, but comp hardware has very little in the way of margins. You can save the cost of assembly (which is somewhere under $60), but when you’re spending north of $1k on the machine, that’s barely noticeable.

You want to save money? Don’t buy the “you need to spend $3k on the machine!” hardcore gamer hype. They’re the computing equivalents of people who pay $300 for magical-copper-and-gold speaker cables. More powerful, yes? Can some people tell the difference? Yes. Can /most/ people tell the difference? Not really, no.

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You could /try/ to game on a mac. With a very limited array of exceptions, you’ll fail.

Wasim Salman writes about videogames using short, mechanical sentences…

and demonstrates little understanding of paragraphs.

Exactly, Even the most expensive iMacs only have mobile GPUs. The Mac Pros come with dual desktop graphics cards, but they’re comparable to a rather middling graphics card. People claim that they’re comparatively great at OpenCL, but I have my doubts.

Best point you can give to someone building, at a certain price point your are not getting much for your returns.

Yup, I have used one of their early mid towers for 20+ years now. Still has everything I would need in a case, slightly modded for function over looks, and still looks brand new.

I remember having more time than money, and buying such cases, and then getting rid of the sharp edges using either a dremel mill wheel or a tungsten-carbide lathe knife or a file. Especially with the knife you had to take a lot of care to not let it slip, as the force needed would impact your finger to the untreated-yet sharp edge in a sliding way, and the cut was rather deep. Don’t ask how I know.

Many aeons ago I built my PC case from scratch. It was designed for abuse and built from aluminium L and T profiles. A rack-mountable aluminium shell, with rails on which a removable chassis with a front panel was mounted. Every connector was led via a short patch cable to the front panel, on replaceable 2x10cm aluminium bars. Every signal had its corresponding LED; you could watch the traffic over serial and parallel ports, which was priceless for debugging laplink-style connections in the field. When a shoulder strap was attached, you could carry the whole assembly over your shoulder with ease. The two disks were mounted on a separate cradle that was hung inside the chassis on four springs, to protect them against shocks in transit; indeed, the thing survived a fall from stairs once.

All done with only manual tools; a hacksaw, a power drill, a set of files. (With experiences like this you can properly appreciate the value of a band saw.)

But a few years later I had to decommission it as the AT spec changed to ATX and things got mechanically too different… :frowning:

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The part that made me do a double-take was seeing someone, at the end of 2014, saying that they want to build a PC for reviewing games. If tech journalism of the past 5 years was to be believed, nobody wants one of those antiques.

Of course, I’m typing this response from DIY PC…

One of my responsibilities is to train new IT Security folks. For the last 10 years it has been 1 or 2 per year. We are a university. We are chronically underpaid. But, we have excellent access to young, intelligent, motivated people. I prefer to start with somebody who has several years of experience in IT. But, I work with whatever I get.

Teaching professionalism takes the longest. Next, is teaching attitudes. Teaching skills is easy. The single hardest thing to teach is how to not deceive yourself. To see what is in front of you. And, to then see what it implies and what happens next. If they can’t learn it, I have to teach them to be something else.

Part of the problem is, almost everybody stops trying to see their environment as a single consistent whole. Once you give up on consistency, you break the world up into pieces and don’t connect the bits to each other. Afterwords, you develop blocks to perception and analysis. I call two of the most common of these blocks: “Magic Box” and “I’m Too Dumb”.

Magic Box is where they compartmentalize an entire area of human activity as free of constraints. After they classify it as magic, they can no longer draw rational conclusions about anything involved with it. I’m Too Dumb is where they limit themselves by believing that some processes, people or sources are beyond their ability to analyze or predict. The I’m Too Dumb block prevents them from subjecting those processes, people and sources to common sense analysis and scrutiny. The funny thing is that I have trained several people that actually had extraordinary genius. That didn’t prevent them from having these blocks. Nor did it render them any less susceptible to self delusion.

Both of these blocks are reduced by having them complete challenging tasks that are outside their previous experience. And the task must be solidly anchored in reality, with real world feedback and consequences. If their previous technical experience is limited, I always have them spec out, build and maintain their own PC. Then I force them to to install, understand, and control Linux. It is not that these skills are a required subset of the security field. It is that the sense of accomplishment, understanding, control, and mastery is essential for what comes next.

There is one critical skill that I have never successfully taught. At least, it doesn’t impact their ability to do security. No matter what I do, they always call me up after they get a new job and tell me how much more they are making than I am.


This is only true for a very narrow segment of mainstream machines - like the ones you see at best buy for $249. If you’re talking about a gaming rig, it will always be significantly cheaper to build yourself. I just built a cheap gaming box for my brother in law for christmas - $500 for a PC (i3, 8GB, GTX750ti, 250GB SSD) that will certainly outperform the $680 alienware Rob linked. Total build time was about 20 min. and it booted just fine on the first try.

I have had fine luck gaming from Mac, but I use Mac OS on blacklist hardware, so I can choose my components. My setup is high-end circa 2009 and I haven’t found much it can’t handle. Apart from the lack of native Mac game software. Best cross-platform support has traditionally been from ID (Quake engine), and lately Valve have been quite driven to migrate away from Windows-native.

I still have a lot of ancient MacOS games. Last week I messed around with Descent and Galapagos in MacOS 9.2.2 which was a blast. Even though I am hardly a programmer of any sort, I was apparently the only person to compile a fully 64-bit OpenArena / Quake3 on my last-gen G5. And I used it as a VR file browser / desktop for my system. It can be done!