Build Your Own Gaming PC by Adam Barnes (book review).

November 28, 2019 | By | 1 Reply More

Although I’m not sure if I’ll ever custom-build a games computer, I have modified every desktop computer I’ve owned with videocards, modems and RAM so it’s not as though I wouldn’t have some background knowledge of matching specifications and making things work. I’m also aware of the problems a single component failure can have repercussions on the rest of the computer.

In many respects, Adam Barnes’ book, ‘Build Your Own Gaming PC’ is very much in that light as he points out the various needs for a relatively cheap to expensive version in terms of picking up with right components and ensuring compatibility in making the ideal gaming computer that will fit your wallet. Although I’m not sure if I could live without having a DVD drive even to just make back-ups of important files, he seems to think we can live without such luxuries in a desktop box.

One thing I was surprised at was no mention that as fast as sold state hard drives are, when they do fail then you lose everything on them. Remember that from using the solid state finger drives? Same thing. Considering the number of times that W10 uses the hard drive, then you need to way up speed against longevity. The boss still has nightmares about that problem.

Even if you aren’t planning to make a gaming computer, there are some odd tips that will make you think in regard to your normal computer in terms of how much RAM you need and other performance issues. Barnes doesn’t think you need 16gB RAM and 8gB is good enough. The result of which has made me update my old back-up computer’s 4gB RAM with a videocard supplying another 2gB, finally realising the main RAM was causing the bottleneck when it came to processing W10 downloads and 6gB isn’t enough.

Then again, when you see how many current computers are sold with only 4gB RAM, they are clearly not working at the right capacity neither. Just because you think if might be something else causing problems, like loading up an Internet page, this book will make you check even the most standard things. I did wonder on this for a long period but this book gave the final confirmation. If you only have two RAM slots on your motherboard, you can’t just replace one of them, they need to be done in pairs of the same capacity.

Be careful should you do that, though, even if you think you have the right RAM, a small difference in voltage and it won’t run. If it’s an old computer, let it run its course.

When it comes to constructing your own gaming computer, I wish Barnes had discussed the order of things a little more. I mean, when I bought my first computer case, the power supply tended to be locked in place already. Putting it in after the motherboard and graphics card are in place seems a little counter-productive, more so as he points out that the cables can now be secured into the sides of the case. I would be more inclined to lay them in first than manoeuvre around those two boards. Either way works but, like any model construction, planning goes a long way and what works for you.

When it comes to software, I’m not sure if I followed how he was going to install Windows 10 or even Linux without some form of DVD drive unless you know how to buy, at least with W10, it on a memory finger than a DVD for initial installation. Certainly, a boot disk will need something to be put in which counters his earlier point that he doesn’t use one now.

I’m just thinking of the layman approach here and asking a friend to provide a boot-up disk certainly means knowing people who actually prefer to have DVD drives in their computers. Of course, you could always have an auxiliary DVD drive or even share one amongst your friends but considering how little it costs compared to the money you’re putting into your gaming computer, having an internal one makes more sense.

I’ve been wondering why ‘Fortnite’ has appeared to be sluggish for a while now and discovered in this book that less is more. For any computer, checking your video settings and make sure the frame rate is 60 Frames Per Second and you get everything working faster and no time outs. I had it at 120FPS on the assumption it would make targeting easier but in fact it was the other way around and was causing it to slow down. 60FPS turned the game around in seconds and even the run speed worked properly. My opponents are trembling now.

As to Internet browsers, unless things have changed in the past couple years, using the exclusive likes of Firefox and other Internet browsers does actually prevent W10 from updating.

Something that would also help is that although there are a lot of photographs, there is nothing identifying them to the parts discussed in the text. Although I can see it avoids problems of promotional advertising; knowing what you’re looking at would save endless searches.

The maintenance section would apply to any computer. I was surprised that replacing the motherboard battery that keeps the clock ticking over didn’t get proper prominence and only hidden in the BIOS beeps list. Usually the giveaways are the computer doesn’t keep time, although these days the Internet link hides that and just a failure to boot-up. When it does happen, it does tend to surprise people and unless you hear the double beep and know what is means, people do think the computer has died and take it to a computer shop for a repair when it’s a simple thing to do yourself.

Another omission is not to keep a notebook of what you’ve done as you build any computer and especially for what you do to the software. I find it makes it a lot easier to track down something I did many months ago than just take a wild stab at what could be the problem.

Please don’t take these criticisms as reasons to not buying this book. If anything, you’re seeing me thinking as I read and I did a lot of thinking. I’m applying a lot more to my current computers that will certainly have an influence on any future ones.

When building any computer, you learn from what you read and personal experience and mine are from experience. The fact that I’ve applied some things from what I learnt from this book should speak for itself and not necessarily just to a gaming computer. If you’re using a normal computer, you might well find some advice in here useful.

Although I might not custom-build a gaming computer any time soon, I found some information valuable. It would be interesting to see if Haynes will do a follow-up in doing a custom-build ‘normal’ computer and things to look out for doing that.

GF Willmetts

November 2019

(pub: Haynes. 172 page illustrated indexed large hardback. Price: £22.99 (UK), $29.95 (US), $35.95 (CAN). ISBN: 978-1-78521-668-8)

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

Comments (1)

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  1. DMcCunney says:

    I’ve gotten cured of building my own machines from components. Hardware has gotten fast and cheap enough that an off the shelf system handily satisfies my needs. But I’m *not* a gamer, so my perspective will differ from those who are. Among other things, I don’t need the latest and greatest nVidia or AMD-ATI video card.

    My current desktop is a refurbished ex-corporate desktop by HP, It came a quad-core Intel i5-2400 CPU, 8GB of RAM, 512GB SATA HD, onboard DVD, and Intel HD-2000 graphics. It was a replacement for my earlier desktop that was a refurb Dell Small Form Factor box that suffered a power supply failure. I’d gotten a few things for the Dell like a 240GB SSD and an AMD-ATI low profile video card for better 3D performance than the onboard Intel graphics it came with. I reused the SSD, wiped it, then cloned the Win7 Pro OS the HP came with to the SSD and set it as boot drive. Worked fine, and sped things up a treat. I also discovered that the Intel HD-2000 graphics offered *better* performance than the AMD-ATI card, so I pulled it and it’s in a parts drawer.

    Once it was up and booting from HD, I installed Win10 Pro. MS’s free upgrade offer had long since expired, but when I got it the first time around, I didn’t do an online installation. I downloaded the upgrade media and stuck it on a USB thumb drive. I was betting that I could install Win10 Pro from teh thumb drive and it would work. It did.

    I actually removed the onboard DVD. A limitation of the Small Form Factor was limited SATA drive ports on the motherboard. I wanted to have the SSD as boot drive, the SATA drive as data drive, and the old drive from the Dell as auxiliary storage. I used the port the DVD plugged into to support the old Dell drive. I almost never need a DVD drive, and if I do, I have a USB DVD drive that handles my needs.

    I am nowhere near as paranoid about SSDs as many are. Solid State Drives are NAND flash. Storage is in cells, which are roughly analogous to blocks on a spinning platter HD. The issue with SSDs is that there are limits to the number of times a cell may be *written* to. For the sort of SSDs used in consumer PCs, that’s generally about 10,000 times. But the firmware on the drive attempts to evenly spread writes over the *entire* drive. Just how long do you think it will take before a specific cell is written to *10,000* times?

    And SSDs are over provisioned with spare cells. The firmware attempts to keep track of wear, and transparently migrate data on a cell reaching its limits to another cell, then mark the old cell as unusable, the way hard drives had bad block maps the OS wouldn’t try to access. What you might see as drive wear would be gradual degradation as cells got marked unusable and usable drive space would shrink. But in normal use, you would replace the whole machine with a newer, bigger faster one before you even *noticed* SSD wear.

    Yes, SSDs can fail catastrophically, like spinning platter HDs can, but it doesn’t happen often. Back when I was first looking at them, the consensus among techs I knew was use the high-priced spread and buy Intel SSDs. The technology has improved. I’ve see SSD torture tests posted on line, and even “budget* SSDs require *petabytes* of sustained writes before they failed. If you are smart, you make backups, so even if an SSD does fail you can replace it and recover.

    I don’t lose a moments sleep over wear on my SSD. I’m set up so OS and programs live on it, and data most lives on a SATA drive. For the most part, teh drive is read-only. With 8GB RAM, there is seldom any need for Windows to use virtual memory and write pages of RAM out to swap to free memory for other uses. (It’s highly unusual for me to see even half of installed RAM in actual use here.) The only other thing that write to SSD is Firefox, updating it’s profile. That total is negligible, all things considered.

    “As to Internet browsers, unless things have changed in the past couple years, using the exclusive likes of Firefox and other Internet browsers does actually prevent W10 from updating.”

    You are rather behind the times. Back when, Windows updates required you to use IE, because the Windows Update site would try to download an Active-X control to your machine. The Active-X control scanned your system and determined what updates you needed. Firefox (and Chrome, and others) deliberately did *not* support Active-X controls as a security measure, so you had to use IE when visiting the Windows Update site.

    This has not been true for years. Win10 currently auto-updates, and you get new critical patches automatically. The complaint users have is lack of control over this. It was possible to get patches delivered in the background and have the PC decide to reboot. What? You were in the middle of something? Too bad… MS has gotten better about this. Win10 Pro provides finer grained control over when things can happen, and even Win10 Home can be given a range of hours in which installation is permitted, so you can schedule update that require a reboot to happen while you sleep.

    I use Firefox as my production browser, and have used Mozilla code since it was still the code name of an Internal project at Netscape Communications to create the followup to Netscape Navigator 4. While I keep things like MS Edge and Chrome around and updated, I almost never have call to *use* them.

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