5 Common Mistakes of First-Time PC Builders
With laptops and other mobile devices getting cheaper and faster, the average computer user might consider the desktop PC to be an obsolete machine that no longer has a place in modern life. However, contrary to what some might say, a custom-built computer assembled from hand-picked components remains by far the best option for gamers and other power users. Likewise, those who prioritize productivity will also be able to get more out of a custom-built, full-size computer than any other type of machine currently available. Nonetheless, while building a PC is definitely within reach of the novice, there are some important pitfalls to avoid:
Buying a Cheap Power Supply
Your computer obviously requires power to run, but a machine with the latest processor and a high-end graphics card requires a lot more juice than a basic office machine. If the power supply can’t deliver enough power to run basic components, the machine will quickly run into problems, sometimes to the extent that serious damage may occur. The power supply might not be the most glamorous component, but it is crucial to choose something that offers plenty of headroom for future upgrades. Most importantly, always stick with branded models from reputable manufacturers, preferably with a Gold power efficiency rating or better.
Choosing the Wrong Form Factor
Desktop computers come in different standard sizes known as form factors, and this is an important consideration when choosing a case and compatible motherboard. The largest and most common form factor is ATX, which most cases can accommodate, closely followed by mATX (Micro ATX) and then by the smallest form factor mITX (Mini ITX). Smaller form factors severely limit upgradability, with most mITX cases being unable to accommodate full-size graphics cards. Since the main reasons to choose a custom-built desktop PC in the first place are upgradability and improved performance, you should go for the biggest form factor appropriate.
Using Outdated Components
Since upgradability is one of the main advantages of having a desktop PC, there’s little reason to use outdated components. However, your budget doesn’t necessarily need to accommodate the latest and most expensive hardware. Most importantly, you should always buy a motherboard and processor that use one of the latest and most common socket types, since this will give you more opportunities to upgrade later on than you could if you used an outdated and soon-to-be-obsolete socket type. By contrast, opting to save money by buying outdated hardware will likely cost you more in the longer term, particularly if you intend to upgrade regularly.
Forgetting about Compatibility Limitations
Compatibility concerns are not just limited to whether you choose to build an AMD- or an Intel-based machine. There are also socket types and firmware limitations to think about. Even if the processor you choose matches the socket of your motherboard, the firmware (the built-in BIOS or UEFI software) might not be compatible with it, at least not without an update. Generally, you should choose a processor first and then a motherboard, but make sure you check the list of compatible CPUs on the motherboard manufacturer’s website first. You’ll also need to buy compatible RAM, although the vast majority of computers still use DDR3 rather than the newer and far more expensive DDR4.
Installing the CPU Incorrectly
Processors and the motherboard sockets they’re installed in are incredibly fragile, and it’s easy to destroy the pins to the extent that the hardware is rendered useless. Incorrect installation of a CPU is one of the most common and expensive first-timer mistakes. Most importantly, you should never attempt to force a CPU into a socket. If it doesn’t simply slip into place without any application of force, then you’re either installing it the wrong way round or it’s incompatible with your motherboard. You should also make sure to apply just the right amount of thermal paste between the CPU and the cooling unit. A pea-size amount placed in the middle is optimal.
With careful preparation and patience, it shouldn’t be too hard to avoid the more common PC-building disasters. By spending plenty of time to choose compatible components and taking the necessary precautions to prevent damage, assembling your own computer can be a highly rewarding and educational experience.