PC Building & Humility

This is admittedly a weird title but it is to make a wider point. I’ve probably watched the below video about twelve times through. It cuts together a bunch of reaction videos from many PC/Tech channels to a PC Building Guide put out by The Verge back in 2018. The Verge is a tech website owned by Vox Media so it was simply baffling that they could publish something so obviously incompetent with the resources they have available. The original video was quickly removed so cuts like this and reuploads elsewhere are all that is left of its existence. The Verge‘s initial reaction to the negative feedback was to double down which only drew more eyes to it. It came a few years after similarly incompetent coverage of video games where journalists showed themselves barely able to play them. Naturally, things have only got worse since.

I have come back to thinking about this recently as I recently began a new PC build myself and discovered there was a heartening follow-up to all this a few years later that I wasn’t aware of. 

Now I am not an expert at PC building and when I saw this, I was already pretty out of the loop. I was actually unfamiliar with some of the components used such as M.2 SSDs but even in my ignorance, I could see there was a lot wrong. It is important to understand for those unfamiliar that the video wasn’t just amateurish but potentially dangerously wrong in parts. It was full of what not to do when building a PC. 

For a little personal history, the first PC I got on my own was built by a friend who started a computer shop with his father just out of High School. In hindsight, this was very impressive and they were quite successful. I paid them to put it together and they did a great job doing it. I took little interest in what was inside as long as I could do my university work and — more importantly — play games. After that, I switched to laptops for my next few computers (including one bought from the same shop), as my life was more transient over the next few years. The first computer I built was really mostly done by my brother about twelve years ago. I did later upgrade this PC myself but this was admittedly only switching in a new GPU and then CPU. It stopped working a few years later and I troubleshooted by buying new parts until I gave up and took it to a repair shop who told me the motherboard had died. With that fixed, I used the parts I’d bought and my older CPU and GPUs to make a new computer which is still around (though I don’t use it). I had other issues too such as finding out stock CPU coolers often don’t cut it — luckily before damage was done. I also found out you need to be careful to buy the right power supply though not before having two (thankfully cheap) power supplies fail on me. I also completely disassembled, cleaned and reassembled this computer last year and I am currently writing this post on it. Some of the parts are from the build I did with my brother twelve years ago and the rest of the components aren’t much younger. It still works!

This year (after almost a decade), I decided to finally get a new computer and researched and then bought the parts. I thought I had been careful. I made sure everything was compatible and I hadn’t given the computer any bottlenecks. I didn’t cheap out on anything important (like the power supply) and put together what I expected would be a significant upgrade. The day came to put it altogether. I double checked everything was assembled and then turned it on. Everything lit up but nothing came on screen. I quickly discovered I had installed the CPU wrong and worse — damaged the pins in the CPU slot on the motherboard. Looking around the Internet, I found I was far from the only one but I still felt very stupid. Especially after laughing so often at the above video. The funny thing about this is I believe it may have been as a result of watching the above video that I did this. You are not supposed to move the plastic cover over the CPU slot as it pops out when you close the latch after inserting the CPU. Had I not seen this, I probably would have just gone through the instructions as I was unfamiliar with the newer designs of CPU slots as the last I used was AM3. 

After some stressful consideration, I decided it would be best to take it back to where I bought it and I am currently awaiting repair to the motherboard. I was reassured that I was not the only one as they had seen it all before and patiently dealt with me. This is not complimentary as people in retail stores tend to be familiar with quite a lot from customers that they shouldn’t be. As I write, I have dismantled the rest of computer and will now have it built by professionals if only to avoid another mistake — especially around the CPU. And as they joked, if they stuff something up, it will be their problem and not mine. A small price to pay from my perspective.

I detail all this including my embarrassing incompetence to make it clear that I am no stranger to mistakes. I have made quite a few and a lot of these come down to simply not reading instructions properly or making silly assumptions. I have also sometimes just ignorantly dived in and hoped for the best. This is all risky when you’re handling components that cost hundreds of dollars. So when I thought I’d done it all right, in a mixture of haste and carelessness, I managed to stuff something very important up.

So what right do I have to laugh at the video above? Well, here are a few reasons:

  • I was not in a sponsored video posing as someone who knew what he was doing.
  • I wasn’t funded or supported by a large media organisation. 
  • The gentleman in the video didn’t even know (or take the time to learn), the names of basic tools, components and parts he is using.
  • He builds a powerful gaming PC and then plays the extremely undemanding League of Legends to “benchmark” it. 
  • In general, a lot of the things in the video are obviously stupid — even to people who have never built a PC.

That is far from exhaustive but I think it is sufficient.

As mentioned above, I was heartened to discover recently that a few years later there was something of a redemption for Stefan Etienne; the subject of all that ridicule above. He appeared in the below video on the Linus Tech Tips channel and put together (mostly) the same computer from the original video. He also has the humility to admit his mistakes and take on the chest the irresistible pokes Linus aimed his way. In general, the whole video was good humoured and fun and I came away feeling more sorry for him than anything. It seems, though he certainly wasn’t as prepared as he should have been that this could be blamed more on poor oversight by The Verge than the man himself. He was essentially thrown under the bus by them afterwards too.

What the video also does effectively is show all the mistakes that even the professional make that you don’t usually see due to the slick editing. A major (though certainly not the only), problem with the original video was the editing didn’t show the process of building the computer very well at all. Linus is up front with the mistakes he makes too. It oddly reminds me of a badly titled documentary I watched many years ago called Michael Moore Hates America. Now this has nothing to do with politics but there is a point in that film where the makers include themselves on film questioning their methods as being just as manipulative as the subject of the documentary. There are similar moments of honestly within the LTT video above where they reveal how the sausage is made and how it isn’t quite as pleasant as their regular videos would suggest.

I didn’t intend this to have a point but there is one. We all make mistakes. Sometimes careless ones. Sometimes bafflingly stupid ones. The important thing is to acknowledge these mistakes and do better. This is true of other things too like some silly mistakes I made with my first few cars that I’m sure everyone can relate to. I hope I’ve learned my lesson this time — or at least come away with more humility. This doesn’t mean the above video isn’t funny anymore. It is. I just hope time has allowed Stefan to laugh along with me.

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