Box Project #2: Guess what I’m using to write this post!

Hint: it’s not something I got at Best Buy (except for the power supply, monitor, and keyboard anyway), and it’s definitely running Debian.

So, my build worked first time! I put the fire extinguisher away after it passed the smoke test. (Safety precaution. I didn’t actually expect it to burst into flames, but, well, you never know.)

The only thing that didn’t immediately work was one of the case fans, which I saw in the BIOS wasn’t on. I opened up the case again, rechecked the connection, and I don’t know if it’s on right now (I’ll probably check at some point) but nothing seems to be hot and bothered so I call that a result. It’s surprisingly quiet, too! You have to really listen to hear either the case fans or the stock CPU cooler. I guess they’re better than they used to be. Of course using an Antec case does help. It was really nice to work with, especially compared to Take Apart A Computer Day (which I wrote about earlier). Though, I don’t know if the computers sold whole to schools are actually meant to be taken apart. Probably you’re just supposed to buy 50 new computers. -_- Although I think assembly is just easier than disassembly, and for good reason, or computers would just fall apart in shipping.

I was pleasantly surprised by the number of Steam games in my library that are actually compatible with Debian. I’ll be asking for a graphics card for Christmas though–integrated graphics really can’t handle Don’t Starve and some of the other stuff in my library. It can, however, handle Cave Story+ perfectly, a game I haven’t played in years. (Classic RPGs tend not to demand much of graphics cards.) I missed Cave Story. Years ago I beat the Hell levels (several times, actually) because I was just That Determined to save Curly Brace. And then I did it again in Curly Mode, to find all the secrets. If you haven’t played this game, you need to. There’s a free version available for download online and there’s a Steam version (which may or may not still support Mac, I’m not sure.)

It’s okay that my box can’t handle the other games immediately, though. After all, my MacBook still works, although compared with the sleekness of the new rig it feels outdated and sounds asthmatic. I haven’t tried working on digital art yet with it, but I’m working on getting that set up. It’d help if more of these multi-platform programmers knew what a package manager was, though. >.< They go through the trouble to port to Linux and then they go “download here!!!”. I wanted to hear “the command is apt-get install whatever” — even if I had to add an aptitude source — the random .deb packages are not so helpful! (Edit: I miiiight have figured out how to do this. Not sure yet.)

I picked up and put down several assembly guides over the course of the project, but this one is the best I found: https://choosemypc.net/assemblyguide/

Other tips:

  • Install the motherboard port shield the right way up before getting confused about why the mobo isn’t fitting. I spent two minutes trying to figure out what was wrong and another five feeling really dumb.
  • I cut some cardboard from the box my case came in to put down on my workspace so my coffee table wouldn’t get scratched, and another piece to kneel on because a) it’s comfortable to have some padding and b) my apartment is all carpet and I was hoping it’d reduce the static.
  • I used an ice cube tray to separate screws. There are lots of screws and you don’t need them all. My extras are in a pickle jar along with the tube of thermal compound, the extra hard drive brackets, my green sticks, the protector cover that comes on the motherboard over the processor contacts, etc etc.
  • There aren’t instructions on which screws are used for what. You have to guess. My motherboard used two types of screws in different holes, too. Just be careful with your trial and error.
  • Sometimes Google is better at finding stuff in your motherboard manual than you are. Manuals are online, and it took me forever to find where you’re supposed to plug in the power button and reset and stuff–it’s easily overlooked in the manual but search is good at finding it.
  • Don’t be afraid to slide a side panel back on (to keep your cat out) and get some sleep. Even letting it sit for a few days isn’t going to hurt it if you can make sure it won’t be disturbed.
  • It helps to have a frozen dinner ready in your freezer that evening. Either it’ll take you a while because it’s your first time, and you’ll be tired and need a break and food and not want to cook, or you’ll have a new computer and you’ll want to set it up right away.
  • Fiddle with the buttons on your monitor until you can get it to auto-adjust or otherwise cooperate with your OS.
  • A wired connection, at least at first, doesn’t hurt. I tried one of those wireless USB adapter sticks and I don’t think it’s going to help. Debian doesn’t know what it is. I figured that was a nonfree driver issue, but it has bizarre install instructions for Linux and the manufacturers maybe don’t know the difference between Fedora and Debian systems? I don’t know what’s up with that, and I may look into it later, but for now I just bought a long CAT6 cable to run around the edge of the room and be done with it.

That’s that for now. I’m really pleased with this setup, and of course I have something to brag about when I go back to classes 🙂

Box Project #1

When did computers turn into a machine with so few individual components? Feels like I’m buying chunks of the machine already partway put together.

Here’s my parts list. Only seven items.

Plenty of room for upgrades in this, I know. That’s why the case isn’t one of those ridiculously tiny things the size of a sweater box. Those things… kind of weird me out, tbh. To me a computer is a big fifty-pound thing encased in sheet metal. But I digress.

Reasoning behind the parts list:

  • Integrated graphics is fine to start with. I’m not a rabid gamer. I could go out and buy someone’s 18-month-old external graphics card if I decided it wasn’t good enough, though. The case has room.
  • There’s no Windows license included. This should be obvious. It’s going to run Debian, of course. (I’ve had Elementary OS on a partition on my laptop for months… I’m kinda neutral on it. Shrug.) Windows might get a VM or a corner of the hard drive if my school has it for free, but otherwise…
  • Processor is quad-core, decent speed but not the fastest available. I like my VMs. The fans it comes with should be fine since I don’t feel the need to overclock it.
  • Antec case because I’m not a masochist–I want something nice to work in. It’s a sleek, sort of minimalist black, no weird lights or anything–and it’s $48 from Amazon.
  • A solid Antec power supply with the 80+ eco-whatever certification that means it’s efficient. I’ve had enough issues with laptop power supplies that I’m just super done with cheapness in this component.
  • 8GB RAM is solid enough for a Linux box, although there’s obviously room for upgrades. If I were building this to run mainly Windows I’d want 16GB.
  • Terabyte hard drive. I considered buying an SSD instead, or even a tiny one for just the operating system, but for now I’m putting that under the header of potential upgrades. They’re getting cheaper all the time, so it may be smart to wait, and this is good enough for me for now.
  • Nothing special about the CD/DVD drive. It reads, it writes, it’s $20.
  • Motherboards are kind of confusing to me. I don’t know what I’m looking for and they’re all labelled “gaming.” This one looks good though. ASUS is a good brand, it has enough RAM bays and outputs, and I’m pretty sure I looked up what the integrated graphics card was like when I picked it out months ago. My older brother (who built loads and loads of computers in the late nineties/early naughties and still takes stuff apart sometimes) thinks it looks good too so I’m running with it.

That’s my build–I’m ordering it now. It comes to about $600, which is a reasonable price for a computer where ALL the components are good quality, rather than just the ones that get showcased on the label (you ever hear a big-box computer store boast that their case and power supply are good quality? or that their computers are this upgradeable?). In other words, a “business” computer. That’s code for “it isn’t totally crap.”

Also, I don’t have to pay the Windows tax. ò_ó

I’ll let you all know when I get this done and can report on the experience and the performance of the result, so you can use or tweak my build example for your own purposes. I’ve never built a computer before but I’ve watched them being built and fixed, and lots of people are saying it’s gotten easier over the years. Anyway, I’m pretty jazzed about my new tech and this should be really neat!

Happy hacking!

 

Edit: Lucky I wasn’t being too literal when I said I was off to order it now. Martin in the comments is pointing out that I’m paying for way too much motherboard power and way too much power supply wattage. (I probably thought I was being careful when I picked these out and overestimated it.) I was not aware that there were calculators available for power supply needs–I didn’t see it in the PC building manual I bought or the online articles I read, and this seems a little on the bizarre side. If this were more my thing, I’d probably write my own, but I doubt I’ll have call to build more computers any time soon so I probably won’t be developing this skill much. Unless I go work for a repair shop or something, cleaning viruses and bad virus software out of PCs, and end up in that department. (Something I considered doing earlier this year.)

Anyway. I punched in the specs into the Cooler Master calculator and…

That is decidedly not a 650W kind of need. I’m going to try a couple of these calculators just to be sure but… uh. I think a cheaper power supply might be in order.

Edit #2: Newegg’s calculator says 400W for this build. I think a 500W with good efficiency will do it then…? Again, lots of potential upgrades. I don’t want to repurchase this component.

Edit #3: New build here. I added some trimmings and necessities so I don’t forget them. Also added a Mac keyboard, which I like because they’re aluminum, you can get keyboard condoms for them, they feel good to type on, and I don’t have to fight different muscle memory impulses for my laptop and desktop re: command vs. control. Worth $50 as long as it works correctly. My keyboard cover on my MacBook has saved my keys from all kinds of junk gumming them up.