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Internet communities help beginners build computers

This article is part of a collaboration with iQ by Intel.

The PC modding community turns building computers into a social art form that people of all technical skillsets can enjoy. Constructing a computer from spare parts sounds intimidating, but it’s not just for hardcore geeks anymore. PC modding, the term used for customizing or “modifying” a computer, is going mainstream, and the online PC modding communities are happy to share the craft with newcomers. “I truly believe anyone ages eight and up could learn to build a computer with no problems due to the abundance of information available on the subject online today,” said Hassan Alaw, who runs two of his own computer-modding companies, V1 Tech and Red Harbinger. He said that for a seemingly solo activity, the modding community runs on passionate interactions. “The social part of building computers is really why I wanted to get into it.”

Even beginners can produce a rig that’s uniquely their own

His skills pulled him into a battle for bragging rights in the 2016 Expert Mode: Rig to Victory competition. Like fixing vintage cars or capturing analog photography, PC building takes dedication and a willingness to learn. Bustling online forums not only provide easy-to-follow guides, but they’re also fostering a strong sense of camaraderie by sharing tips, tricks and finished creations. The mixture of practical high-end tech and visual one-upmanship gives beginners the sense of peeking under the hood of the Batmobile. One of master modder Lavins’ recent builds, for example, shows just how magnetic these creations can be. Made in partnership with ASUS and Corsair, it sports a Vengeance LED DDR4. Aside from giving the rig an ethereal glow, it features an overclockable Intel Core i7 and Intel X99 chipset.

Building Dream Machines

Thanks to instructional videos to forums like r/buildapc, building a cool computer is easier than ever. An endless array of ideas and variety of possibly modifications ensure even beginners can produce a rig that’s uniquely their own. PC modding forums, which thrive on the exchanges between enthusiasts, can provide invaluable support and information throughout the building process. Often, forum members exchange words of encouragement, supporting one another’s dreams. Philip Carmichael was just one of nearly 400,000 Redditors gaining expertise on r/buildapc. Two years later, he established himself as a local expert and founded PCPartPicker, a website PC makers use to easily compare and mix-and-match parts. “I started this because I love it—not for money—and now I get to do it as my full-time job,”Carmichael wrote in a thank-you post. “It is truly a dream come true.” More than 400 messages of support followed.

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“I grew up really poor but always loved gaming,” wrote one poster. “I am turning 30 in a couple of weeks and I could not be more proud than what I have worked for. I just wanted to share my rig with some people who would appreciate it.” Posts like this are common, and according to r/buildapc moderator LumberStack, this is an important aspect of what makes PC modding groups so special.“Communities like this thrive because people can come help others and learn in the process or show off what they’ve done with their builds,” he said.

PC Modding for the Masses

Alaw believes the internet has the potential to democratize PC building, reducing the intimidating factor and transforming it into an activity anyone can pick up.“One piece of advice I would give to someone getting into PC building or modding is don’t be afraid,” Alaw said. “It’s actually a lot simpler than you think.” He would know: Before fulfilling his dream of turning his hobby into a full-time job, Alaw was just 14 when he built his first rig, the summer before ninth grade. He knew he wanted to play Crysis (2007), the most graphically intensive game around in 2007. This presented a real challenge for any computer to run at a fluid 60 frames per second. At the time, Alaw didn’t have the money for a proper gaming rig, but the desktop his dad had built for him when he was younger was collecting dust in the closet.

Anyone ages eight and up could learn to build a computer

So Alaw sold his laptop and started doing PC repairs to save up money for used parts. Before long, he was disassembling his old computer piece by piece and taking notes and pictures of each step. It was a lot different than the tech he was used to — an outdated graphics card, an unfamiliar layout and oversized ribbon cables — but he got the idea. Alaw successfully rebuilt the desktop, learning more than a few skills along the way.“The best part is that the older computers were actually more difficult to build and understand,” he said, adding that working on an outdated, clunky desktop eventually made putting together his Crysis rig a snap. Before building a system, it’s critical to check component compatibility and interoperability, and be careful when handling components, which can easily be damaged.

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Alaw said modders who want to use their rigs for gaming and livestreaming need to invest in top-of-the-line graphics cards and processors. “It takes a lot of the processor to be able to run the game and livestream at the same time,” he said. “If you wanna get ahead of the pack, a good processor is the way to go.” While the Intel Core i7 is engineered for enthusiasts like Alaw, he said the Intel Core i5 serves as a great all-round computing device. That said, everyone should buy the most CPU power they can afford to ensure the rig has the longest possible shelf life. While the knowledge and experience was harder to come by when Alaw built his gaming PC, he thinks the hobby is more accessible now than ever before.

“I truly believe anyone ages eight and up could learn to build a computer with no problems due to the abundance of information available on the subject online today,” he said, explaining that for a seemingly solo activity, the modding community runs on passionate interactions. “The social part of building computers is really why I wanted to get into it.”