Fixing a Computer

Years ago, I decided that I wanted to get my own computer. My family had a communal laptop my brother and I hogged to play Starcraft (now free), but with my parents transitioning to the digital age, it was required for business. I wanted a PC I could use for my upcoming HSC, and I also wanted something to play video games on. The RTS genre, uncapped framerates and shiny graphics were more than enough to convince me I needed one.

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I would’ve been happy to buy a regular PC off the shelf, provided that it could run everything I wanted. But after a bit of research, 16 year old me decided that anything off the shelf was either not powerful enough, or way out of my price range.
The community over at /r/buildapc was invaluable, and convinced me that I could build my own PC. I lurked for ages, watching videos and reading up on parts, compatibility, and methods. PC Part Picker was helpful in finalising my /r/buildapc approved machine. My parents were surprisingly supportive when I told them I was going to build a computer, and let me order the parts on the condition I knew what I was doing.

The build went really smoothly, my brother and I stepped through the process with ease, and soon enough, I had a beastly rig (specs). The build took less than a day. We enjoyed it so much that we ended up building another one for him, so we could play games online together.


Four years later, I got a little complacent, and didn’t clean my dust filters for a long timeWhile I was out of the room, an internal dust filter got caught in the front fan, it stopped spinning, and my SSD and HDD overheated. This put the whole PC out of action, and I lost all my data (shoutout to onedrive and google drive for having my back).

I put off fixing it for ages, but a little uni project came along, which forced me to get it working so I could edit videos. I ordered a new SSD, HDD and some proper dust filters, to prevent a dust bomb from going off again. Unfortunately, after being away from the PC building scene for ages, I had forgotten a few lot of the details, but I stubbornly powered on with repairs anyway.

The first thing I did was clean the inside of the case – there was dust everywhere. I have three fans inside, but I have a suspicion that the air pressure in the case is causing dust problems. Something I’ll look into  another time.
The next step was starting it up – even without an operating system (OS), a PC still works on a basic level. It was turning on, but was stuck in some kind of restart loop. Luckily, my model of motherboard has a small LED display that gives the user error codes – it makes troubleshooting much easier.

DrDebug

I looked up the code in the instruction manual, and found there was a problem with the RAM. Praying to the machine god, I switched the RAM to different slots in the motherboard, hoping that there was something wrong with the slots, and not the RAM itself.

It worked. 

I was over the first hurdle, and while I was still confused as to why the original RAM slots were fried, I wasn’t going to ask questions. If it works, it works.
With the rest of the PC (seemingly) operational, it was time to put in the new parts. The new SSD was where I wanted to install the OS, to capitalise on the extra speed it would bring to startup. I ‘attached’ the SSD data cord (but forgot to give it power, which caused me grief later on), and booted up the computer. Everything was going to plan.

Next, I needed to install the OS on the SSD. I had an old windows 8 disc lying around, and was hoping it would auto-upgrade to windows 10 after installing, as I had previously upgraded my product key. Thinking about it now, I don’t think it would’ve worked, so maybe it was a good thing that the disc could not be read.

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Turns out the cheapo DVD drive was fried too.

I spent an embarrassing amount of time figuring this out. I played with boot order and a bunch of irrelevant stuff, never once checking if the drive actually worked. Eventually though, I remembered that windows can be installed via flash drive. I downloaded a copy of win10 and created an install drive, which worked, but took ages.

Always budget more time than you expect. Much more. 

Once the OS was ready to install, I ran into another problem. The system couldn’t detect the SSD to install onto. Little did I know, I had neglected plugging in the SSD power earlier. Thinking that the SSD needed a driver (software to communicate with the PC), I developed a highly complicated and unnecessary plan that involved installing the OS onto a hard drive, getting the driver, and transferring it back onto the SSD. As I went to plug in the hard drive, I noticed the power plug slot, and it all clicked.

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This whole ordeal could’ve been avoided if I went and did even a tiny bit of research, just to refresh my knowledge.

With the SSD powered, the install went fine, albeit slowly. I was just happy to have it working – troubleshooting is a real test of patience. Thankfully, the next few steps were straightforward, I plugged in the HDD and partitioned it – this time doing a little research beforehand. Then it was a matter of installing a few basic drivers and mounting the dust filters on to ensure it wouldn’t overheat again. Finally, it was back to it’s original glory.

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Building a PC is easy when you do your homework, and a nightmare when you wing it. But even after this mess, I still wholeheartedly recommend that you build your own if you want to use it for gaming or high end processing. The amount of money you save for just a bit of effort is amazing, and you get to learn so much more about how it works. The parts are interchangeable, so you can update bits of it it as time goes by, saving even more cash.

Do it for the character building – it’ll force you to develop a lot more patience.

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