Know-how

After a 10-year break, I’m building a PC – can I still pull it off?

Samuel Buchmann
01.09.2022
Translation: Katherine Martin

Before winding up in the world of Apple, I used to build all of my computers myself. Ten years on, I’ve finally got a pile of PC components in front of me again – and I’m keen to find out what’s changed in the years since.

Whenever I see PC components, I get nostalgic. I built my very first gaming PC myself at the age of 14. Various others followed, including the legendary Lanboy case. Then I switched to Mac, putting an end to my PC-building exploits.

A colleague in the editorial team let me have this pile of PC components.
A colleague in the editorial team let me have this pile of PC components.

A budget gaming PC

Today, I’ve once again got the chance to knock something together myself. To help me do so, my colleague Kevin gave me a box of material. I don’t accept any help with the assembly, be it from people or guides – I want to discover what’s changed in the past few years for myself. Unlike before, the price difference between this and a pre-built device is negligible. That being said, if you build your own computer, you set your own priorities, spending more or less money depending on what the specific components will be used for.

Here are the individual components I’ll be using to build a budget gaming PC:

Fractal Focus G (Mini ITX, mATX, ATX)
PC case
72.10

Fractal Focus G

Mini ITX, mATX, ATX

117
Gigabyte GeForce RTX 3060 Gaming OC LHR (12 GB)
Graphics card
435.–

Gigabyte GeForce RTX 3060 Gaming OC LHR

12 GB

43
AMD Ryzen 5 5500 (AM4, 3.60 GHz, 6 -Core)
Processors
109.–

AMD Ryzen 5 5500

AM4, 3.60 GHz, 6 -Core

20
Crucial Ballistix (2 x 8GB, 3200 MHz, DDR4-RAM, DIMM)
RAM
Used + tested
128.70

Crucial Ballistix

2 x 8GB, 3200 MHz, DDR4-RAM, DIMM

90
Crucial P2 (500 GB, M.2 2280)
SSD
54.20108.40/1TB

Crucial P2

500 GB, M.2 2280

178
Listan be quiet! System Power 9 | 600W CM, 600 W, 200 - 240 V, 50 Hz, 6 A, Active, 120 W (600 W)
Power Supply PC

Listan be quiet! System Power 9 | 600W CM, 600 W, 200 - 240 V, 50 Hz, 6 A, Active, 120 W

600 W

I start with the case. It’s evident from the thin material that the Fractal Focus G is cheap. However, it does offer sensible cable management, enough space for my configuration and good airflow on account of the mesh architecture. Two 120-millimetre fans are installed on the front as standard, which, for my purposes, is good enough.

The Fractal Focus G is a good compromise between price and performance.
The Fractal Focus G is a good compromise between price and performance.

Rookie errors

«Right, time to put in the motherboard», I think. A pre-installed nub that fits into a hole in the middle of the board makes it easy to place. As a result, it goes in correctly straight away. I’ve never had anything like that happen before. Eight screws later, the penny drops: I’ve forgotten the IO shield. Dammit. Classic rookie error. Sixteen screw manoeuvres later, the back of the case is starting to look better.

The first thing I do is insert the motherboard into the case – a rookie error.
The first thing I do is insert the motherboard into the case – a rookie error.
Full of holes: the back of the case without the IO shield.
Full of holes: the back of the case without the IO shield.

Next, I put in the processor, at which point I notice my next mistake. The components that are supposed to go on the motherboard are far easier to install outside of the case. Unfortunately, I’ve only just remembered this and can’t be bothered taking the board out again. I keep working on the case. How do you get the processor into the CPU again? Not finding any clue in the instructions, I carefully place it into the socket in all four positions. Only one of them works, so it’s impossible to mount it incorrectly. Kevin points out afterwards that I can find the correct position by using the small rectangles on the corners of the socket and CPU.

How’re you meant to install the CPU again? Luckily, only one position works.
How’re you meant to install the CPU again? Luckily, only one position works.
The CPU cooler can be mounted without screws. Doing it outside the case would be even easier.
The CPU cooler can be mounted without screws. Doing it outside the case would be even easier.

The CPU cooler is no problem either: set it up, close the bracket, attach the cooler, done. What’s more, the AM4 socket doesn’t require any screws – handy. The thermal paste has already been applied. Installing the RAM goes just as smoothly – markings on the motherboard give me a friendly hint as to which two slots I should fill first.

Even semi-beginners like me get it: the markings on the RAM slots are self-explanatory.
Even semi-beginners like me get it: the markings on the RAM slots are self-explanatory.

Where did my SATA interfaces go?

With the M.2 slots, it’s a different story. First off, these interfaces didn’t exist 10 years ago. Secondly, even the instructions don’t help me understand which of the two slots is best for the SSD – or whether it even matters. After all that, I just take the top one, marked «CPU». This turns out to be correct afterwards, as Kevin explains to me: this slot is directly connected to the CPU rather than being connected via chipset. As a result, it’s slightly faster.

By chance, I choose the right one: The SSD harnesses its full performance in the M.2 slot marked «CPU».
By chance, I choose the right one: The SSD harnesses its full performance in the M.2 slot marked «CPU».

After slotting in the graphics card, I get to work on the power supply and all the connecting cables. Fortunately, the Bequiet System Power 9 is modular, which makes things simple. The cable routing behind the side panel of the case also helps make everything look nice and tidy. Ten years ago, this kind of thing was still hard to come by. The tiny, fiddly connectors for the On and Reset switches and case LEDs have stayed the same.

The tiny connectors that connect the case and motherboard are just as fiddly as they used to be.
The tiny connectors that connect the case and motherboard are just as fiddly as they used to be.
Cable management behind the case’s side panel is no problem thanks to the modular power supply.
Cable management behind the case’s side panel is no problem thanks to the modular power supply.

Verdict: (Almost) nothing has changed

Despite my 10-year break from PC building, the device looks decent, starting up on the first try. I didn’t expect to encounter so few problems. That’s less to do with my skills and more to do with the fact that, these days, anyone can do it. That is, as long as you know which components go together. Or, as was the case with me, they’re ready to rock on arrival. It becomes clear during my attempt that little has changed in the last decade when it comes to interfaces and connectors.

All I’ve got to do now is set up the PC and get used to Windows again. I’m dreading that slightly. You’ll find out next time how I get on. By the way, that’s when the PC will be given away to a lucky winner. Follow me so you don’t miss out!

The PC is good to go – I just need to set it up.
The PC is good to go – I just need to set it up.

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My fingerprint often changes so drastically that my MacBook doesn't recognise it anymore. The reason? If I'm not clinging to a monitor or camera, I'm probably clinging to a rockface by the tips of my fingers.


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