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Topic: Tips for computer builders (Read 2046 times)

  • ersi
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Tips for computer builders
This is my advice to first-time computer builder: DON'T! The process is not easy. The components may be faulty. Accidents happen. And you don't have enough tools to find out where the problem is.

Tutorials on youtube by professionals don't help. Professionals don't get into trouble. Noobs do. Professionals have mostly forgotten how it was to be a noob. Instead, they give you the false impression that the process is easy and fun like a game of Lego with a screwdriver.

Many video tutorials tell you all you need is a screwdriver and the computer components. This is wrong. You will need at least

- two sizes of screwdrivers (preferably with magnetic tips), if your box is anything less than huge,
- pliers (very tiny pliers to pick fallen things up from tight places if your screwdriver doesn't have a magnetic tip),
- cutters (not scissors, but specialist cutters in order to avoid damaging the bundles of wires when you cut them open),
- alcohol for cleaning,
- clean (dustfree) wiping cloth,
- thermal paste (even if the stock CPU cooler has thermal paste preapplied, be ready to install the CPU multiple times, so you will have to clean the parts and apply your own thermal paste),
- a small flashlight to examine things in the case,
- tons of patience and time,

and it will still not be enough. Something will go wrong. They tell you it's max two hours of assembling things. No. It will be weeks of troubleshooting, months if you have nobody to help you.

More thorough video tutorials by professionals tell you to start by choosing the "right" case. This is a strong clue that we are dealing with someone who has forgotten real-life situations, who has lost the capacity to be useful to a first-timer. People in the real world actually already have a computer and are looking for a way to reuse some parts from there to spare money - at least the case should be reusable, if not anything else. Computer cases have been most resistant to change and innovation. There is no "right" case. There is the case you have wherein you want to build a new computer. If you as a PC build first-timer need to buy a new case, then you should not be doing this. You should take a very good look into your old case first and find a way to reuse it (and maybe a thing or two in it), but even so you will remain a noob. You won't become intermediate by staring into a box.

There is no gratification to be had from building a computer. It is not cheaper or better. It is not cheaper because you cannot afford to cheap out on any of the components. You may think you are putting together something precisely for your own needs, something that is best for you, but in truth you don't know your needs. You certainly don't know which parts correspond to your supposed needs, because you are noob. You think your idea has hatched long enough, for months even, but this is a process where no amount of planning will be enough. You will end up in frustration and overpaying on top of that.

Specifications and manuals don't help. They only tell you what things should fit together, but if the things don't fit together in reality, you are out of luck. And there will surely be some things that don't fit together, unbeknownst to you, because some parts require a surprising amount of force to connect, while the components mostly are very fragile and should be treated gently. As a noob, you will never know if you did it right. More precisely, you cannot be sure what exactly you did wrong. Either you didn't press strong enough where needed or you broke or bent something without noticing or, even if you apply the right force at the right times, the surface you work on isn't quite right. And you don't have enough tools to figure out later where the problem lies.

Something will definitely go wrong along the way. There's no escape from it. You will need someone to share the responsibility with. First-timers should be building under expert guidance the first twelve times or so. Otherwise you will be like me, like many other first-timers who did it wrong. They don't get likes on youtube, they usually don't share their stories, so you don't know about them.

Yesterday I tried to assemble my first PC by myself. The motherboard manual that I got doesn't contain anything about troubleshooting. They expect everything to work. A completely unjustified expectation.

I assembled enough things outside the case - CPU onto motherboard, stock cooler on top of it, RAM into its place, PSU connected at the necessary places. Then, outside the case, I attached the monitor and keyboard to the mobo and the PSU cable to the wall and switched the thing on. Fans spin, mobo lights up, cool. But the monitor has no signal. I thought it was something temporary. I disconnected the power and removed the power cable. I put everything into the case, added a DVD drive and a harddrive, reattached the power cable and switched the thing on again. The DVD drive opens and closes. There seems to be power in the harddrive too, so these parts are getting electricity. And the fans are spinning. The other side however, HDMI and USB and other holes, they don't get anything.

Googling I found out that this is actually a common noob problem. Noobs should not be building computers. I tried some advices. I tried removing and reinstalling RAM. I tried booting without RAM. This is the best troubleshooting list I came across http://www.mysuperpc.com/build/pc_first_boot_common_problems.shtml

They say the mobo should beep when you try to boot it up. No, it doesn't. I understand that this is a basic thing, to have a feedback signal whether things are right or wrong, but looks like modern motherboards, certainly the one I have, don't have this basic thing. The manual does not mention it nor indicate where such a beeper could be attached. Also, the mobo lights up in cool colours when turned on, but there's no indicator light to show whether the mobo recognises RAM or such. Pointless.

Basically, I tried everything short of removing and reinstalling the CPU. My next step will be to call someone who has actually assembled computers and who has an electrometre.

Let no one else undertake this useless and frustrating experiment.

  • ersi
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #50
If a distro doesn't do something similar I'd probably avoid it as deeply user-unfriendly. We're talking hundreds of kilobytes here, megabytes at most.
Sure, if your user experience involves graphics cards. Mine didn't until now.

Besides, Manjaro does do something similar. I had the vesa driver. The boot got stuck, as far as I could see, at NetworkManager, which should not be related, but occurred specifically when I inserted/removed the graphics card. I reinstalled because it was the fastest option I could figure out, I had the settings backed up already, and I had to run somewhere else the same evening.

There are very different Manjaros and, for this particular system, I had gone through, for example, changing the init from systemd to openrc, just for fun. I cannot generalise that Manjaro always fails when you add/change the graphics card. This is my first experience ever with a graphics card. I did no research prior (except checking that the card fits the motherboard), no research afterwards, and the whole operation took an hour. Good enough, I'd say, even though of course I'd want it to be smoother. For that I need more experience and research to know what precautions to take.

  • Frenzie
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #51
It always involves GPUs in the sense that you want things to be painted on the screen smoothly. Without the right drivers it can take seconds for a window to show up.

  • ersi
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #52
Right, I'm not on my phone. You didn't have floppies? How did you save your documents?

I had no need to save things to take them elsewhere. I saved it and reopened it on the same computer. When ready, I e-mailed it for whom it was designated. Occasionally, but rarely I indeed needed to move things for myself between computers, and then I e-mailed stuff to myself. From this you can deduce that I had nothing to do with computers prior to e-mail era and for a long while I treated them like a static writing desk, not a mobile multi-tool on the run the way it is now.

Back to computer building. The machine I started in the beginning of this thread came out excellent and was in good use with myself first and now at someone else. Meanwhile I bought another used machine, but this turned out pretty unfortunate. Once I get rid of that purchase, I will be ready to build a permanent machine for myself, finally. Now I know what I want and how to achieve it.

  • Frenzie
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #53
E-mail, how fancy. :) (Although I've always thought of mailing to yourself as less elegant than simply carrying a floppy/USB stick around except as a kind of backup.)

Now I know what I want and how to achieve it.
Excellent! What do you want? :P

  • ersi
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #54
Now I know what I want and how to achieve it.
Excellent! What do you want? :P
A computer with a graphics card that can run three displays, with a processor that can handle a 4K video while a graphical webbrowser (or two or more) are up at the same time. This way buying a 4K monitor would make sense.

I currently have a 21:9 aspect ratio monitor. Not 4K, but better than FullHD. Quite good for watching the movies of the golden era. It's also great for examining Google maps and having three-four docs side by side. So I basically have everything I need, but I want it a bit more updated/upgraded, because right now it's sometimes a bit of a burden on the hardware. It would be nicer without hiccups.

  • Frenzie
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #55
A computer with a graphics card that can run three displays, with a processor that can handle a 4K video while a graphical webbrowser (or two or more) are up at the same time. This way buying a 4K monitor would make sense.
I'd say every halfway-decent CPU from the past five years should be capable of that. The admittedly slightly overclocked '09 AMD Phenom II X4 955BE I ran for about a year before acquiring my current computer could almost deal with a high quality UHD video -- at least in mpv.[1] In VLC it couldn't manage at all. Anyway, point being if you get something sensible like an Intel Core i5-4590 (admittedly that's slightly older now, so the successor) or one of those nice new Zen CPUs you should be set (given enough RAM, which is currently at some kind of record high).

The GPU part of that is a lot more complicated.
That means smooth video at times, too slow but watchable at others. And we're not talking silly YouTube "4k"; every computer can handle that nonsense. :P

  • ersi
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #56
The admittedly slightly overclocked '09 AMD Phenom II X4 955BE I ran for about a year before acquiring my current computer could almost deal with a high quality UHD video -- at least in mpv.
I happen to be stuck with the exact same processor (or maybe X2, I cannot check right now). Unfortunately the box (bought used) has given me troubles - not the processor, but some other part or combination of parts that I cannot identify - and I am doomed to sell it at some point somehow. That would be a good moment to make the next acquisition so that everything would be cool for a very long time.

  • Frenzie
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #57
The playback codecs also increase in efficiency, even without GPU involvement. Back in '07 my Core 2 Duo E6600 could barely deal with HD video, whereas by '14 it was a breeze. I never had a GPU that did video decoding in that machine.

  • ersi
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #58
I know little about the chemistry of video. I know that intensive processes require muscle and that's CPU and RAM. Whereas when buying a GPU you have to observe how many monitors it can take in at the same time (often it's limited to two, despite the number of available holes) and the greatest resolution and framerate sometimes depends on how many monitors are plugged in.

  • Frenzie
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #59
Most GPUs can offload H.264 decoding to the GPU now. It's how something puny like a Raspberry Pi or slower cellphones can still playback video well in spite of their slowness. But even on a proper computer it's still helpful because it saves your CPU for other tasks. The same built-in chip can often help encoding video, but unfortunately such hardware decoding is often rather limited in scope.

  • ersi
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #60
Here's another experience of building a PC (with Linux), worth reading in full https://lukas.zapletalovi.com/2017/10/ryzen-and-linux-is-a-disaster-2017.html

  • Frenzie
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #61
It's unclear to me from the post how much of that has to do with Linux. Someone who works at Red Hat is probably sufficiently knowledgeable, but it should be obvious that to use a brand-spanking new CPU you should also use a brand-spanking new kernel and such.[1] Or as one of the comments says: use Gentoo, not Fedora 25 from November of 2016.

My Debian Stretch, for example ­-- that's a no-go.

Code: [Select]
$ uname -a
Linux frenzie-desktop 4.9.0-4-amd64 #1 SMP Debian 4.9.51-1 (2017-09-28) x86_64 GNU/Linux

I'm pretty sure you need at least 4.11 for Ryzen. For such purposes you can get 4.12 from stretch-backports.

Or maybe you get that standard in Fedora?
https://www.phoronix.com/scan.php?page=news_item&px=Fedora-Linux-4.12
Although to be fair I would only expect gross inefficiencies, like not throttling up or down. Not crashes.

  • ersi
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #62
It's unclear to me from the post how much of that has to do with Linux.
It's to do with Linux because Linux was the first OS to be installed on the hardware and ended up with the described problems.

Or as one of the comments says: use Gentoo, not Fedora 25 from November of 2016.
Since works for Red Hat and with Red Hat, Gentoo is out of the question. But I assume he knows how to install the newest kernels for Red Hat.

My own (first lengthy) experience with an oldish AMD was about as frustrating. Being a noob, I was unable to figure out the problem and wasted a lot of money changing RAM and the graphics card, which were pointless expenses. The problem affected all Linuxes I tried, but I most definitely wanted Manjaro. Eventually, either Manjaro's kernel updates and modifications fixed the problem (because I complained on the forums too) or some other miracle happened and I am free of freezes now.[1]

My box originally came with Windows, which was probably unaffected (I looked into Windows too briefly to be certain). The end of the article says that Ryzen is not smooth even with Windows. 
Incidentally, when I was having these woes, I noticed that Arch guys had made custom kernels tweaked specifically for that AMD CPU. So I grabbed them and installed them, but it turned out that Manjaro does not play well at all with those kernels. Manjaro and Arch are not too close for all purposes.
  • Last Edit: 2017-10-22, 13:35:10 by ersi

  • Frenzie
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #63
Since works for Red Hat and with Red Hat, Gentoo is out of the question. But I assume he knows how to install the newest kernels for Red Hat.
I wouldn't be inclined to use Gentoo over precompiled alternatives like Arch, Debian, Fedora, Manjaro, Ubuntu, etc. anyway,[1] but I wasn't quite able to glean from the text to what extent AMD is to blame. I actually got more of an "Intel didn't bother testing their stupidly expensive SSD" and "ASUS messed up their motherboard" out of it. Which to be sure isn't good for AMD -- they should be on that ASUS thing like hawks -- but who knows. :)
It's pretty much just a waste of electricity and time at best if you ask me.

  • ersi
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #64
wasn't quite able to glean from the text to what extent AMD is to blame. I actually got more of an "Intel didn't bother testing their stupidly expensive SSD" and "ASUS messed up their motherboard" out of it. Which to be sure isn't good for AMD -- they should be on that ASUS thing like hawks -- but who knows.
Well, here's what I gleaned: After the (Intel) SSD issue was identified and bypassed, the CPU problems (AMD's Ryzen) became evident and were deemed unsolvable. As he was waiting for a replacement CPU, he tried lots of different settings with the (ASUS) mobo.

After getting the replacement CPU, another set of problems became evident (earlier there were freezes on load, then freezes when idle). This is similar to the issues I used to have with my AMD computer, and even though I am not competent in debugging and identifying the source of problems very well, I can say that the issue must have been CPU most likely, because the HDD did not pose problems when installing/booting, and changing RAM and graphics card had no effect on the user experience. Until everything became okay after a certain update from Manjaro. So there was something in the relationship of CPU with the kernel.

The quality of hardware can be random and extremely hard to solve.

  • Frenzie
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #65
the CPU problems (AMD's Ryzen) became evident and were deemed unsolvable. As he was waiting for a replacement CPU, he tried lots of different settings with the (ASUS) mobo.
Of course, but hardware failure has nothing to do with Linux. The title of the post is "Ryzen and Linux is a disaster". But the post itself is "Ryzen had a bad hardware revision, Intel SSD underperforms for price, and ASUS mobo needs BIOS updates." The "and Linux" part feels needlessly restrictive. :P

  • ersi
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #66
Hmm, I guess you are right. It should be "Building a computer is a disaster".

  • Frenzie
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Re: Tips for computer builders
Reply #67
Maybe so. :lol:

I've been lucky overall, except on my/my wife's ASUS motherboards I think the way they did the RAM is really confusing.

On the old '09 board, also DDR3 (an early one), you still have the two clicky things on both sides so you know exactly when it's in properly and when it's not.

On the '14 motherboards, only one side has that. Because -- motherboard maker logic I suppose -- that's all you need to get it out. But seating it was a lot harder than it always used to be.