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My PC Specifics - Part 2.5 of 4 on How to Build a Computer: Advice from a Local Big Sister

If you haven’t already, I’d recommend checking out my last post on Planning and Buying Parts for your pc build where I give more detailed advice on the what, where, when, and why of pc part research.

This is going to be a breakdown/introduction to my computer build as an example for you to use for your build. As an FYI, my budget was $1,000 so the parts you are looking at may be more or less expensive depending on what you are willing to spend. This build was also a combination of a gaming build merged with a graphic design build. I’ll be sure to call out which parts were nicer quality for which build below.

This is a photo of my computer’s guts

This is a photo of my computer’s guts

So without further ado, it’s time to meet my technological daughter! <3

After all the work, research, and money I’ve put into her, she feels a bit like what I assume Doctor Frankenstein felt when his creation first came to life. And as an added bonus, my computer can’t attack local villagers like his creation did.

I built her with function over form in mind - meaning that I didn’t focus on all the parts being similar colors or getting LEDs to show off the guts. I just focused on getting good quality parts that were within my $1,000 budget. I could definitely see myself getting into the design and coloring of my pc later in life, but for my first build I wasn’t too concerned with that.

Her Specs/Guts

Processor (CPU): Intel 8th Gen Core i5-8400 ($170) -- I opted for a nicer CPU due to graphic design programs tending to be harder on CPUs. If you were going for a straight gaming build with the same budget, you could opt for a cheaper CPU.

Graphics Card (GPU): MSI GeForce GTX 1050 Ti ($200) -- Better quality GPU since I use this computer for gaming. If this were a graphic design only build, a simpler GPU would be fine.

Motherboard: MSI ATX Z370-A Pro ($100)

Memory (Ram): 8GB DDR4 ($87)

Solid State Drive (SSD): Crucial MX300 275GB ($110)

Power Supply (PSU): EVGA 500 B1 ($50)

Case: Fractal Design Focus G ATX Mid Tower ($50)

Fans: Set of Two 120mm Case Fans ($6) -- Two nice fans already came in my case so I only bought two more.

WiFi Adapter: Netgear Wireless AC Adapter ($60) -- I actually forgot to buy this until after I built the whole machine so it technically wasn’t in my budget, but seeing as you’ll probably also use one, I added it to the total cost below.

Monitor: Acer 23.8 inch Monitor ($130) -- I already had this to use with my laptop so I didn’t have to add this into my budget, but I will add it into the total for this exercise.

Keyboard and Mouse: Logitech MK520 Wireless Keyboard and Mouse Combo ($30)

DVD/CD Drive: Asus DVD-RW Drive ($20)

Operating System (OS): Windows 10 ($100)

Total Cost: $1,113 (without monitor, $983)

Remember to add in the cost of your security system, design programs, and anything else you know you will need to get your computer build set up. I didn’t add them here because those will differ from person to person and can vastly change your total cost. And another reminder, I got these parts during Amazon Prime Day 2018 so they were likely cheaper than they are now.

In the next part of this series I’ll go into Building Your PC, such as where parts should go, fan set up, and in depth tutorials that I recommend. That’s coming out on Nov. 26th, around when your purchases will probably be arriving from Amazon and Newegg, so stay tuned!

I hope you enjoyed meeting my computer! What kind of setup are planning to build? Have you giving your computer a name?

Until next time,

Caitlin

Planning & Buying Parts - Part 2 of 4 on How to Build a Computer: Advice from a Local Big Sister

Now that you’ve decided to build to a pc, we can move on to the next step, research.

Although research is the most time intensive parts of building a computer, I’ve compiled most of the resources and information that I used below to save you some time. (As a warning, this post is pretty long, as I’ve tried to give you a full catalogue of information to work with.)

When planning out your computer, the first thing you need to do is:

Young woman (hopefully) researching computer parts by Rawpixel from Unsplash

Young woman (hopefully) researching computer parts by Rawpixel from Unsplash

Set Your Overall Budget

Before you look at anything you need to know how much you can spend, because that will determine what parts you should get. You can definitely build a decent computer on a budget, or you can plan out to buy pieces one at a time as you can afford them instead of all at once. Either way, it’s important to use your budget as parameters otherwise the vast selection of parts can be a bit overwhelming.

Decide How Your Computer Will Be Used

Gaming? Video editing? Surfing the web? Depending on what you use your computer for, different parts will be more or less important (which affects what percentage of your budget you should spend on them).

For instance, with gaming builds you want a higher quality graphics card so that the games not only play well but also look nice. Meanwhile, a computer built for graphic design will need a better CPU to process the large design programs properly. I’ve linked to some example computer builds (including mine) below if, like me, you’re not sure where to start.

Where & When to Buy

The two best places that I found for buying pc parts were Amazon and Newegg. Newegg tended to have better prices than Amazon, however I have an Amazon Prime account so occasionally the difference was close enough that Amazon’s free shipping made it cheaper.

If you can wait, I would highly recommend buying during a big sale event. I bought most of my parts during Amazon Prime Day, which Newegg competed with by having their own big sale event on the same day. I ended up saving about $200, which meant I was able to get a few slightly nicer parts than originally planned since my budget now had more wiggle room.

With Black Friday and Cyber Monday coming up soon, you likely won’t need to wait long for a big sale event. But if you happen to be reading this after November, Amazon Prime Day (July 16) as well as Amazon and Newegg ‘Daily Deals’ tend to have decent savings. I’d also check Clark Howard’s website for deals you might not know about.

Close-up of a motherboard taken by Aler Kiv from Unsplash

Close-up of a motherboard taken by Aler Kiv from Unsplash

Basic List of Parts & Info on Each

Processor (CPU) -- The CPU is the brain of the computer and is what your programs will be running through.

Graphics Card (GPU) -- As you decide what you want your computer for, that will determine the size and cost of your GPU. Depending on what you need, your GPU could range from a small card that is included with the motherboard, or a large card that has to be specially attached because it is too heavy to stay hooked in by itself.

Motherboard -- Your motherboard helps all your other parts talk to each other. Therefore you want to make sure they are all compatible (especially your CPU) to your motherboard otherwise they won’t be able to talk.

Memory (Ram) -- Memory, also known as Ram, is comparable to the short-term memory of your pc. When you are actively using a program on your computer, like a web browser or Microsoft Word, it runs through your Ram to temporarily store what you are doing.

Hard Drive (HDD)/Solid State Drive (SSD) -- HDDs and SSDs are like the long-term memory of your computer. That’s where any programs, music, pictures, etc. that you save onto your device will be stored.

Power Supply (PSU) -- The power supply is essentially the battery of your machine (although it consistently has to be plugged into a wall). It makes sure to draw enough power from a wall outlet so that your system can run smoothly.

Case -- What holds all your pieces together! The case also protects the sensitive parts of your set up safe from damage. Most cases are pretty good, just make sure that everything you’re getting will fit. The only cases I’d warn against are Mini Towers since you usually have to buy special small parts to make sure it all fits.

Fans -- Fans keep the inside of the case cool, clean, and at a proper pressure level. (I’ll go into this more once we start building.) Most cases will come with a few fans, but I’d aim to have four unless you have a crazy big set up, then I’d search online for suggestions.

WiFi Adapter -- This allows your computer to link with WiFi in the area. You can also always go old school and use an ethernet cable if you prefer. Ethernet cables tend to be a more consistent connection, although obviously you then are limited how far the computer can be from the WiFi Router. Also, I’d make sure not to skimp on this as a poor quality WiFi Adapter can mean a bad connection to the internet, which most of you will probably be consistently using.

Operating System (OS) -- If you don’t have a preference, I’d suggest Windows 10 as your operating system as it has the widest range of support and compatibility. Almost all games and programs will work on Windows, however there are a select few that only work on Apple or Linux, so be sure to double check that if there is a program you have to use.

Anti-Static Wrist Strap -- Not technically part of the computer, but necessary for building. I’m only mentioning it hear so that you don’t forget to buy one when you get everything else.

A sleek photo of someone’s pc build taken by Luke Hodde from Unsplash

A sleek photo of someone’s pc build taken by Luke Hodde from Unsplash

Parts You Might Already Have

Monitor -- Some people have monitors lying around from old desktops or because they wanted a bigger screen when on their laptops at home. If it’s either a new TV or a computer monitor, I’d recommend buying the computer monitor and using it as a TV screen when needed because monitors tend to have higher quality graphics. Also, be aware that not all monitors come with built in speakers, so you might need to add in the cost of that as well.

Keyboard and Mouse -- If you are building your pc for gaming you might want to look at keyboards that are recommended for that, but overall, you can just use whatever you have. Just make sure the motherboard you are getting will attach to your mouse and keyboard plugs.

Gaming/Design/Microsoft Suite Programs -- Whatever programs you will need to get your set up to where you need it to be. A lot of these programs have free alternatives so if getting Adobe Photoshop is going to break your budget, maybe try out Krita.

Controllers/Headset/Tablets -- Whatever you need to be successful in your programs.

“Add on” Parts

DVD/CD Drive -- If you are on the fence about getting one, I’d recommend it. It gives you more flexibility when buying games, movies, or music so that you don’t have to always buy the online version.

Security System -- I’d highly recommend a security system for your computer, that way all your time and work won’t be destroyed accidentally. If nothing else, I’d suggest Avast Antivirus’s free version. It’s well ranked and offers a lot of free features to keep your system safe. But again, I’d suggest paying for one on top of that once you are able.

LEDs/Lights -- Not necessary, but some pc builders like to add in lights to add some flair and excitement whenever their system is on.

Resources I Recommend Checking out

Tom’s Hardware -- Tom’s Hardware ranks parts based on several intense criteria pieces and shares all of their findings with readers for free. It’s one of the best resources when you just aren’t certain which piece is the best bang for your buck. Great resources for anything computer related, not just gaming. They also have a catalog of recommended builds based on budget.

PC Gamer -- This site discusses all things related to gaming on your pc, including how to create a budget gaming computer. They also have a nice tutorial that walks you through the actual building process, which is getting a little ahead of ourselves, but I’ve included it here just in case you’re curious.

One of my favorite streamers, Dexbonus, has her computer specs listed on her website (PressHeartToContinue.com), there is even a discount code that could help you save money.

One of my favorite streamers, Dexbonus, has her computer specs listed on her website (PressHeartToContinue.com), there is even a discount code that could help you save money.

Creative Pro -- The Creative Pro website is mostly about graphic design in general, but they do have some suggestions for building a graphic design heavy computer that I’d recommend if you are building yours for design.

Your favorite gamer, designer, etc. -- Most “internet celebrities” like artists, video editors, and video game streamers will have a section of their site that lists their computer build and parts. They likely will have a much larger budget than you or I, however if you take a look at their parts and can see what pieces they spent the most money on, it will likely give you an idea where to spend your money (assuming you are going for a similar build). If you ask nicely, they might even share the information for one of their first builds!

Clark Howard -- Although technically an advice website on saving money, Clark Howard usually has really good posts on what types of technology are on sale at different stores, especially around Black Friday.

Other Helpful Hints

Make sure everything hooks up to your motherboard. Almost everything will attach to your motherboard, so make sure everything from your keyboard to your CPU are compatible. If you need some help making sure it all fits together, check out this awesome motherboard guide from Tom’s Hardware.

Get a Bronze or better power supply. Bronze PSUs and better have been regarded as better power supply units and tend to work a lot more efficiently, giving you more power for less electricity.

I’d recommend Solid State Drives over Hard Drives. HDDs have a small part in them that spins. This part will eventually break, rendering the HDD unusable. SSDs don’t have this spinning piece so they last a lot longer. However, HDDs are cheaper and won’t break immediately, so they could be a good purchase for now to them replace later.

Definitely buy an anti-static wrist strap. A lot of the parts in your computer will be sensitive to static electricity (so sensitive that wearing socks on carpet can fry them), so having an anti-static wrist strap assures that everything will stay safe and not electrocuted.

This post is already plenty long, so you can check out my personal build in another post as another example to work off of. Part three of this series is going to be about actually building the computer, so stay tuned for that on Nov. 26th.

Is there anything else you’d like to know about building your own computers? Are there any other resources you’ve found helpful while planning your build?

Until next time,

Caitlin

Should I Build a PC? - Part 1 of 4 on How to Build a Computer: Advice from a Local Big Sister

Before we get into whether or not you should build a pc, I want to bust some myths that I know I personally hear all the time:

“It’s really difficult to build a computer. You can’t do it unless you have some sort of degree in it.” -- I’d really like to pretend this was true and give myself a pat on the back for being “so smart”, but it’s really not that difficult. Even if you have very little computer knowledge, many websites and kind souls across the internet break down exactly how it all works,goes together, and what to get.

“Building a pc is soooo expensive. You shouldn’t even bother unless you have a lot of money.” -- I’ll talk about this more later, but actually building your own pc will save you a lot of money in the long run, especially if you’re just going to buy a pre-made desktop instead. Plus, if you’re that strapped for cash, you can just buy your parts individually as you save up money instead of one big purchase.

“People only build computers for video games.” -- First of all, video games are great, so there’s no problem if you are building a computer for better gaming. However, that’s not the only reason one might be good for you. I myself use my pc for a lot of graphic design work, and lots of people use them for video editing and other intensive software needs - all of which are fine reasons to build your own pc.

But all that being said, maybe you’re still on the fence as to if you want to build one or not. If so, let me break down some of the pros and cons of building your very own desktop computer.

I promise you building your own computer is not nearly as difficult as people would have you believe, photo by Umanoide on Unsplash

I promise you building your own computer is not nearly as difficult as people would have you believe, photo by Umanoide on Unsplash

Pros

Easy to Update

In essence, a pc that you build yourself can grow with you. As you save up money or as your needs for a computer change, you can switch out sections of your pc for newer and better pieces while keeping it overall the same. This will also save you money in the long run, because if your CPU dies, you won’t have to go out and buy a whole new computer, just a new CPU. Pre-built computers (laptops especially) tend to have pieces that are soldered together to save space and money, meaning that if one of those pieces dies, you might have to just replace the entire machine.

Better Parts for Less Money

A good chunk of the cost of a pre-made computer goes to the labor of the computer being built for you.That means that when you buy a $1,000 computer, you are actually getting parts that are equivalent to around $600 - versus if you build it yourself you can spend all of that money on the parts, giving you a machine that is actually worth the $1,000.

The Price Is Right

Let’s be honest, computers are expensive, especially your ideal version of one. However, that is true of all computers, not just ones you build yourself. And since a pc you build yourself isn’t pre-assembled, you can work on buying one piece at a time as you are able, instead of putting down the one large lump sum you would have to do for a pre-built one.

Bragging Rights & Technical Skills

This probably isn’t something everyone thinks about, but when you build your own computer you are investing in a new skill that many other people don’t have. While it may not be something you put on your resume, being technically savvy is only a positive in our current “digital” age.

Cons

Difficult to Travel with

Travel-ability is probably the biggest weakness of building your own computer, since laptops are difficult to build yourself and you can probably imagine how awkward it would be to drag a desktop computer into a coffee shop with you. That being said, if you had a laptop already, you could remotely access your desktop computer, in essence, using your fancy computer on a different computer. But unless you have a laptop available to use, it would be difficult to use your computer anywhere outside of your home. If mobility is very important for you, building your own computer might not be the best idea.

“All I Do Is Surf the Web”

If all you use your computer for is occasional web surfing and listening to YouTube playlists, then building a computer probably isn’t necessary for you. You can definitely still build one if you want, but you could probably buy a cheap tablet or laptop and get great use out of that for a lot less money. It all just depends on your computer habits, needs, and interests.


Hopefully this has helped you decide if you should build your own pc or not. Either way, I hope you enjoy the next part of this series on Planning and Buying Parts.

Until next time,

Caitlin

How to Bake Like a Pro

In high school I owned my own cupcake business along with a friend of mine. We loved baking for fun and figured we might as well get paid for it. Therefore, I'm going to give you some simple advice, coming from my professional experience. Some of these will be obvious, but a simple change can make a big difference.

1. Have a recipe you trust.

The most important thing when making any food, is having a recipe you trust. For instance, Paula Dean is known for her southern fried comfort food, so a recipe from her on kale chips might not be the best idea, while her mac and cheese recipe is probably stellar. This is especially important if you've never made the food before as you'll likely have no idea what anything should look like as you go. A good recipe is your guide through the unmapped wilderness of cooking and baking.

A delicious pie waiting to be baked, from Wiki Commons

A delicious pie waiting to be baked, from Wiki Commons

2. What are you aiming for?

It's good to know how you want the food to turn out. With cookies, for example, some people like crunchy while others like soft, this won't be as big of a deal with cupcakes, but depending on what you add, your cupcakes/cake could be dry or moist, dense or light, and compacted or crumbly. Recipes will usually give you an idea of how they will turn out and if you are looking online, reviews will also give you a sense of how everything ends up. (This can also be helpful if you know something generally comes out dry, you can then try adding a bit more liquid to the recipe to see if it keeps it more moist.)

3. Use a cake box mix.

If you're baking a cake or cupcakes for a casual event and want to save time, then I would recommend using a box mix, especially on a basic chocolate or vanilla recipe. However, I would also suggest adding in a packet of instant pudding to the mix. (You add it to the dry mix at the beginning and don't need to change anything else in the recipe.) It makes cake mixes richer and more moist, as well as keeping them from tasting exactly like a cake mix. This can also give you more flavor variety, by adding different flavors of instant pudding to different mixes. Some people even make soft cookies with cake mixes.

While I will say baking from scratch is generally preferable, saving time and energy is also important. Let’s work smarter, not harder.

4. Read the recipe before starting anything.

Mix or not, there is nothing worse than getting halfway through a recipe you're excited about and realizing you don't have pumpkin puree or a food processor, and that it's going to take three hours to cook. Make sure you're prepared.

Delicious cupcakes from Wiki Commons

Delicious cupcakes from Wiki Commons

5. Sample the goods.

Sometimes desserts look perfect but taste horrible because you forgot half the sugar or the inside is under cooked. I always bake a small separate piece, so I can sample without messing up the finished product. You can also usually find a few willing taste testers if needed to help you decide if you’re on the right track. :)

If it didn’t turn out how you wanted, that’s ok! You still tried something new and that’s always a step in the right direction. Even after several years of baking professionally, I still have weird batches of cupcakes every now and then, so don’t ever let that discourage you! Just trust me, it’s better to know if your food needs to be redone in the privacy of your kitchen instead of at the event with everyone there.

6. Make the dessert the same day as the event.

The closer to the event you can bake your dessert, the closer it will be to the desired taste and texture. This isn't always an option, but if you can work it so you're baked goods are done 30 minutes before you have to leave for the event, they will be richer and more moist than if they've waited overnight.

7. Store everything properly.

Whether you had to bake a day ahead or have extras left over, as a general rule of thumb, use plastic containers to keep the food soft and glass to keep them crisp/crunchy.

8. Never skimp on the icing!

While boxed cake mixes are generally fine, canned icing is not. Homemade icing can be as simple as pouring powdered sugar and milk into a mixing bowl until it's the consistency you want but will taste so much better. Making your own icing takes any dessert to the next level.

9. Always make fudgy brownies.

If they wanted cake, they would have eaten cake.

Family baking together, from Wiki Commons

Family baking together, from Wiki Commons

10. Have fun!

Baking is really just about trying new things and bringing joy. Don't get too upset if it doesn't turn out how you hoped; it's just a part of the process. Worst case you can always buy something to replace the food, but you can't replace the memories and smiles. :)

Until next time,

Caitlin