Building a PC in 2016

So I finally got all my parts to construct my PC after receiving the monitor a couple of weeks back. I’ve built PCs for upwards of 15 years now, and every time it’s been a little easier, a little faster to put together the parts and get everything up and running. Even though the PC is definitely fading as a computing platform, it has continue to evolve and has actually taken advantage of some of the hardware advances catalyzed by mobile.

In the past, PCs were all about expansion slots and cooling capabilities, and the ATX standard checked all the boxes. PC peripheral makers prided themselves on modularity: with evolving hardware standards, the answer was an ever-changing set of ports and slots and cables, bought separately, and assembled with some amount of trial-and-error plus fighting to plug in tight adapters.

Assuming everything is put together properly and the BIOS boots up, the other hurdle was actually installing the operating system and the various drivers for said modular hardware1. With limited internet and computing devices beyond the PC I was building, I had to get creative a number of times to have a working box by the end of the month.

This time, it started with hearing about the NCase M1 and the Mini ITX form factor. Modern Mini ITX motherboards took advantage of the chips that phones were using, and have built-in most of the radios (wifi and bluetooth), along with pretty much all the video/audio/USB ports you’d need right on the board. Meanwhile, I discovered the M.2 standard and how it basically replaces SSDs that used to connect via SATA or (back in the truly old days) IDE, and saw that computer fans are also controlled via the motherboard as opposed to using their own switches and drawing power directly from the power supply.

Finally, no one cares about disk drives anymore.

Put all that together, and really, a PC build in 2016 is just the following pieces of hardware:

  • Motherboard
  • CPU + CPU cooler
  • M.2 Solid State Drive
  • RAM
  • Graphics card (if gaming PC, otherwise the onboard graphics may be sufficient)
  • Power supply
  • Case
  • Monitor

The internet makes building this even easier. There are of course instructional videos and forums to help those who’ve never done this before, and sites like PCPartPicker make it much easier to collect parts and determine whether everything fits. Having fast shipping online2 has also proved helpful; I had forgotten about case fans when I bought everything else, and it was a few clicks and a day’s wait before I was able to finish the build.

I guess the tradeoff for all this convenience and cost-effective computing power is that the desktop PC is no longer a monopoly device. It has to share time with tablets and phones and even laptops, which makes justifying a purchase more difficult. In my case, of course, better gaming and video were the catalysts, and I suppose it’ll be a year or two before I can say whether the new rig is worth its price.

  1. Sometimes the driver for the CD drive wasn’t there, which meant installing other drivers impossible until there was some bootup workaround.

  2. Nobody buys PC parts in retail stores, even a decade ago; the selection is just too limited compared to what Amazon and Newegg and others offer online.

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