Will my son's project be a computer or a pile of components?
September 6, 2017 10:51 AM   Subscribe

My thirteen year old son wants to build himself a computer. He will do this at school as part of his once-a-week maker-space experience. He wants the computer for school work, internet and gaming. Could you help with the build he's put together from Newegg? And can you help with my specific doofus questions? 

Here is the build (he already has a monitor). Is everything compatible? Do you recommend any changes?

Power Supply:
EVGA SuperNOVA 850 G2L, 220-GL-0850-X1, 80+ GOLD, 850W Fully Modular

G.SKILL Ripjaws V Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) 288-Pin DDR4 SDRAM DDR4 3000 (PC4 24000) Intel Z170 Platform Memory Kit Model F4-3000C15D-16GVKB

Hard Drive
WD Blue 3TB Desktop Hard Disk Drive 5400RPM SATA 6Bb/s 64mb cache 3.5 inch – WD30EZRZ

CPU Cooler
Silverstone TD02-lite durable high performance all-in-one liquid CPU cooler with dual adjustable 120mm PWM fans

Intel Core i7-7700K 4.2 GHz LGA 1151

DIYPC Zondda-O Black USB 3.0 ATX mid tower gaming computer case with 3x orange fans

MSI Z270-APRO LGA 1151 Intel Z270 SATA 6Gb/s USB 3.1 ATX Intel motherboard

Graphics Card
EVGA GeForce GTX 1050 Ti SSC Gaming ACX 3.0, 04G-P4-6255-KR, 4GB GDDR5, DX12 OSD support (PXOC)

I know he'll also need a grounding wrist strap. What other basic tools will he need? (Forgive me) where is the wi-fi capability in everything he's listed? Does he need an optical drive and do you have a recommendation? Anything else?

Thank you.
posted by firstdrop to Computers & Internet (29 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
He'll definitely need a WiFi card somewhere in there. Otherwise it generally looks like it will work, but I can't speak to performance.
posted by jferg at 10:58 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

A small Philips head screwdriver. If it's for gaming it'll need a current windows 10 license. Linux will run fine on this but many serious games are windows only. Do suggest to installing dual boot software with a nice linux like Ubuntu or Mint. If he was older or if he's really wanting go deep technical try Arch Linux.
posted by sammyo at 11:12 AM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Most of the assembly can be done with maybe two different sizes of Phillips screw drivers. They do sell kits like this one that constantly come in handy (and sometimes include the wrist strap), but they're not required.

You can get by without optical drives these days. Most things are digital downloads, or have the option to use a USB drive instead.
posted by Krop Tor at 11:15 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd get him a prepackaged set of computer building tools that should include a wrist strap, a few sizes/bits of screwdriver and probably some tweezer-like thing to hold tiny pieces in place.
posted by soelo at 11:16 AM on September 6, 2017

Running it all through PCPartPicker (except for the video card since they don't have that exact one in there yet), it all looks to be good to go as parts compatible with each other. If you want WiFi, either an add-on card or USB WiFi antenna would do the job.

Nthing a toolkit.
posted by deezil at 11:19 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

That 5400 rpm hard drive is going to be disappointingly slow.
posted by scruss at 11:24 AM on September 6, 2017 [25 favorites]

Small zip-ties for cable management.

Seconding what scruss said, I'd strongly recommend getting a solid-state drive for system/applications and using the traditional HD for storage.

Does the CPU cooler come with thermal paste? If not he'll need to get some. Not having it can hold up the build. Sometimes coolers include it and an applicator. If you need an applicator, a grocery store rewards card, hotel keycard or similar plastic card will work, just make sure the edges are smooth. Isopropyl alcohol and cotton swabs are usually used to clean the surfaces before applying the paste.
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:28 AM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

That's a cool project! Working with computer hardware can be fun, and it's rad that the school is supporting it. Here's my thoughts on these components.

850 watts is more power than you need to run this build. That's the sort of power supply you might choose for a high-end build with multiple graphics cards. Around a 500W power supply would have enough overhead here. Though a modular power supply is certainly a good choice: it makes the build process easier, with fewer cables to get in your way. EVGA is a solid brand.

I strongly recommend a solid-state drive for any new computer these days. They're more expensive per gigabyte, but the drastically increased performance in everyday use is worth it. Something like this Intel drive should be fine. If that's not enough space, you can always add a cheap traditional hard drive to the build. If you do decide to go with a traditional hard drive, do not buy a 5400 RPM drive. In traditional drives RPM directly translates to how quickly the drive can find and load a file. 7200 RPM is the standard for desktops, 5400 is more common in laptops, trading a significant amount of speed for lower power use. A large 5400 RPM drive can also be useful for secondary storage, if you need to store a lot of large files, but used as a system drive it will make the entire experience of using the computer much more sluggish.

Adding liquid cooling may be excessive unless your son is planning to overclock (increase the speed of the processor at the cost of additional heat & breaking the warranty). Or if he just wants liquid cooling for fun and the price isn't a problem, that's fine too. The usual standard for CPU cooling is the Cooler Master Hyper 212 EVO.

You'll need a copy of Windows 10. If you decide to forego an optical drive, you can get Windows 10 on a USB flash drive, and just about everything else is downloadable these days.
posted by skymt at 11:31 AM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

Also, a good supply of patience will be helpful. Screws will get dropped in hard-to-reach places, things will feel like they don't fit the way they're supposed to, components will be hard to get to, and it's really easy to get a substantial way through the build and then realize you have to unbuild a bunch of it because you forgot something, or the case clearance won't permit an assembly to slide in so it has to be assembled in place, RAM sticks can be hard to align and on and on and on.

Forcing things, going too fast and not adequately understanding and following directions can result in a lot of frustration, damaged parts etc. So I'd be sure to let him know that slowing down and taking his time will help ensure a satisfying and successful experience
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:36 AM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

Definitely do not build a PC in 2017 without an SSD. Even if it's just a 128GB that holds the OS and just his current favorite apps, it will be worth it. A spinning disk drive is fine for media and mass storage. I don't think the difference between 7200 and 5400 RPM drives is worth talking about these days.

Wi-Fi-- the other option is to use a wireless bridge. Some routers and access points can be reconfigured to work this way. Basically they will take in a wireless signal and convert it to ethernet, which you can plug in.
posted by thewumpusisdead at 11:50 AM on September 6, 2017 [4 favorites]

Oh, and nthing an SSD. Also send along a couple small bowls, really handy to keep parts from getting lost. A couple small ziplock bags too.
posted by sammyo at 12:03 PM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Along with the other recommendations, I'd bump up the graphics card to a 1060 at least. The 1050 is the budget pick, and the rest of the build isn't. Also, the 1060 is the lowest recommended card for VR, if that's an interest.
posted by Huck500 at 12:18 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

One thing I don't see mentioned: make sure everything is going to fit in the case (once I built a PC and I had to saw off one of the hard drive bays to make the graphics card fit. Oops.)
posted by airmail at 12:40 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to hop in and add one more vote for a SSD. Prices have dropped like crazy, and even when they weren't this cheap I recommended them above all else. Having a SSD instead of a mechanical hard drive absolutely changes the way you use your computer, for the better.
posted by destructive cactus at 12:46 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

That's a really nice computer for a 13 year old. He's probably learned a lot studying the parts. Assembly is not difficult. Agreed with SSD - Hard drives with spinning disks are slower, a solid state drive is way faster, but more expensive per gigabyte. The usual is to have the SSD to boot up and run software, and a standard drive for storage. Yes, he'll want networking capability, probably a wireless network card. A CD/DVD drive would be useful, but can be added later. Even the SSD could be added later, and might be a learning option. I agree that 850 W seems high, and air cooling may be optional. I'd maybe leave out the cooler and get a thermostat.
posted by theora55 at 12:49 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

That case does not support 240mm radiator mounting. While it is possible to mod the case he'd be better off with a different CPU cooler (or case). While there are 120mm radiator AIOs available. If he really wants water cooling he'd be better off with a case that designed for it. But air cooling is perfectly fine.

That Power Supply is overkill. Definitely get a full modular PSU with a windowed case. But 550 Watts at most.

That HDD is fine for storage but get an SDD. Note: that mother board does support NVMe's like the 960 Evo.

That Processor is also overkill. The i7 7700k is top of the line, but for gaming and most everything else there is no added benefit with 8 threads over the 4 you get with an i5. The i5 6700k is still more processor than he needs. But will allow overclocking if that is the goal.

That graphics card is decent (I have a 1050TI). But if gaming is the goal take the CPU and PSU savings and step up to a 1070.
posted by zinon at 12:53 PM on September 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

I agree that I'd get an SSD. He can still get the HDD, but I'd at least get an SSD for the operating system drive. Then he could use the HDD for music, movies, etc. I have a 500GB SSD for my C: drive/OS, and then a 1TB HDD drive.

He's not going to need a wifi card if he plans on plugging an ethernet cable into the back of it, which I suspect he is. None of my builds have had wireless cards because I locate the modem in the same room and plug them in.

I also agree that the power supply might be overkill. If you google something like "power supply calculator" you should be able to input all the components and see how much you need. I would try go down to 700W. My friend had a huge power supply and when he turned his computer on, the lights in his room dimmed, haha.

I don't mind the i7 because it's powerful enough that it should last him a long time without needing an upgrade, hopefully. I got an i7 in 2012 that I still have in my PC and it works great.

I've built my last two computers and I just watched and followed tutorials posted on NewEgg.com's YouTube channel. I never used a wrist strap, I just made sure to ground myself and the machine to avoid any static. He'll just need the appropriate screwdrivers. If he needs thermal paste for the CPU, it should come with the CPU in my experience and may already be on it when he opens it up. But he can check the reviews or the product details to be sure.
posted by AppleTurnover at 1:04 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

There's no wifi there, but if he's serious about online gaming he'll want to plug it into the router via ethernet anyway. Wifi latency could kill him (in the context of a fast action shooter, not in real life).
posted by fedward at 1:07 PM on September 6, 2017 [2 favorites]

Oh yeah, I didn't even notice the CPU: with the money saved getting an i5 instead of an i7, you can add a SSD. Definitely do that!
posted by destructive cactus at 1:13 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

People have you pretty well covered here, seems like. I can think of a couple of useful tools that I don't see mentioned, though: a headlamp for getting a good clear look at some of the fiddly little bits he'll be working with, and a magnetic retrieval tool (one of those things that looks like an old car antenna with a magnet on the end) for picking up the tiny screws that will inevitably fall deep into the recesses of the computer case. Invaluable.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 1:47 PM on September 6, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'd say get some thermal paste. The stock cooler that comes with the CPU is likely going to have its own thermal compound already on the cooler. Applying paste will require some cardboard with straight edges, i.e. a note card or business card.

What's the plans for the cooler's fans and radiator? It's not clear to me where they would go in the case; I would expect that the fans would be exposed to the exterior of the case, but there's no place to put it thanks to all the other fans and that side-window. I'm not saying the case isn't compatible, but it's far from obvious that it is, so that's worth a bit of research.

In addition to magnetic retrieval tool, I really like those little magnetic bowls that hang on to the misc screws he'll have around. Both need to be kept away from magnetic media including HDDs, though.

The last tool worth keeping around is a bent paperclip, which really is the prescribed tool for opening an optical drive that has no power. Does he need an optical drive? It can't hurt. I have two on my 5-year-old computer, and mostly use them to burn DVDs for friends and BD-ROMs for storage. Plextor's my usual brand, but I've been out of the market for a while.
posted by Sunburnt at 4:01 PM on September 6, 2017

Nthing the suggestions for an SSD (even an entry-level 128GB drive will seriously improve performance); if budget is a concern, drop the PSU down to 500w and the CPU down to an i5 and I expect that should leave enough headroom to purchase one.

As mentioned above, that liquid cooler probably isn't going to fit into that case. I find liquid coolers easier to install, though, so you might look into a single-fan 120mm cooler (like a Corsair H60) that would replace the rear fan. A normal air-cooled heatsink would probably be more than adequate if you want to save on the budget; I like the Hyper 212 EVO mentioned above as well. If he really wants that cooler, you'll need to look for a different case; probably a full-tower case. I'd recommend checking for specs and reviews that explicitly mention compatibility with liquid cooling radiators. Expect to pay $90+ for a suitable case (like this NZXT case) though. If you're on a budget, I'd forgo the liquid cooler.

If this is meant to be a gaming machine, I'd also bump up the GPU to a 1060 or 1070, personally.

If you want WiFi, you'll either need to buy a WiFi PCIe card, or a USB WiFi adapter. I'd recommend plugging it directly to your network via Ethernet if possible, though.
posted by Aleyn at 6:42 PM on September 6, 2017

I built my first PC at about the same age and it took an afternoon without the benefit of the internet, I think I would have been extremely frustrated building it over several weeks a little bit at a time at school, unless there's a particular reason he can't do it at home I think he should consider it. You don't need a special workshop, a kitchen table or even the floor is fine.

I agree with everyone who suggested an SSD over an HDD (or in addition to one as SSDs tend to be smaller than HDDs, or much more expensive for the same size). That motherboard has a spot for one of the extremely tiny (and very fast) M.2 flash drives which would be tempting.

I don't think that cooler will work in that case.
posted by The Monkey at 7:22 PM on September 6, 2017

Nthing that the motherboard has a wired connection built-in. If the computer is next to your router or you can run a cable between the two, you won't need a WiFi connection.

Also Nthing downgrading the CPU to an i5 7600k and picking up an SSD with the remaining money, as well as upgrading the GPU.
posted by cnc at 7:24 AM on September 7, 2017

It is really important to read the motherboard manual cover to cover before you start assembling anything. There is some crucial information in there.

Congratulations to your son on trying this project! Please let us know how it goes.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 2:55 PM on September 7, 2017

Also, don't forget to install the metal I/O shield in the back of the case BEFORE you start installing anything else. It's easy to overlook. If you forget to install it, and then have to go back and dismantle everything after you have started to assemble it, you will get annoyed.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:38 AM on September 8, 2017

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your help. We both still feel like we're speaking a foreign language with this but we knew enough to put in the order. We went with as much SSD as we could afford, an i5 processor, smaller power supply, NZXT case, and better video card. I'm a bit worried that 16gb of RAM won't be enough but I figure he can add that later.

He's silly with excitement and so am I. I'm making him read and reread your cautionary notes and insisting he watch some videos and read some stuff to get more fluency before he starts.

You all gave best answers as I knew you would.
posted by firstdrop at 7:44 AM on September 8, 2017 [1 favorite]

I run 16 GB of RAM on my home machine without issues and I'm pretty hard on it. It should do just fine for you. Hope everything goes well with the build!
posted by Aleyn at 2:31 PM on September 8, 2017

Response by poster: Put this in the box marked Highly Successful Undertaking. Thank you all. He and his friend took four hours to put it together and another three working with friend's experienced brother during which time the words "You did read the motherboard manual cover to cover didn't you?" were muttered more than once. Since then I've hardly seen him except to deal with a complaint about wifi speed and an observation that we were out of cheerios. I fixed both.
posted by firstdrop at 12:53 PM on October 6, 2017 [3 favorites]

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