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Published July 5, 2021
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I’ve always dreamed of building my own gaming PC, hoping to end a desktop-gaming existence of painfully long loading screens, laggy gameplay, and dated graphics. I’ve also made every excuse in the book not to do it, instead jumping over to consoles to get my fix of newly released, big-budget games. But as I learned firsthand, there’s no secret entrance to the world of PC building, no black door with a gold star on it guarding an exclusive club for hobbyists and tech gurus. Anyone can build a PC from scratch with a bit of patience and the right guide. For me, that guide was a video game.
By the end of last year, my boredom during the pandemic had hit its peak, and after spending dozens of hours researching—and agonizing for weeks over which parts to buy that would best fit my unreal standards and my very-real savings account—I realized that the most helpful tool was a game called PC Building Simulator.
The internet is brimming with great resources and guides for enthusiasts, but if you’re brand-new to the world of PC building, the sheer amount of information can be overwhelming. It’s hard to anticipate the questions or issues you might come across once you begin.
I set a budget cap that let me splurge on certain components without getting too out of control.
PC Building Simulator is designed for just such novices. Literally a game about fixing and building personal computers, it presents a catalog of real-life parts from manufacturers like Asus and MSI and accurately reproduces them on a workbench. You can pick out components such as cases or motherboards you’ve had your eye on and inspect them up close with the camera or click around to plug them together.
For total beginners, there’s a tutorial mode that plops you in front of a workbench and has you build a PC from scratch. You start by holding the mouse down over the side panels of the case to remove them, after which you unscrew the power supply’s mounting bracket. Then, you reach into a pile of parts and pick out, say, the motherboard, where text bubbles appear to point out features such as the hard disk drive’s SATA ports or the chipset. If you click on a bubble, you get a summary for that part: For example, it explains that SATA ports are where hard drives are connected, and that I/O (input/output) ports are where peripherals such as keyboards and mice are plugged in. If you know nothing about PCs, the tutorial is a foolproof way to get familiar quickly.
Before trying the game, I had narrowed down which parts to get. (My approach of shopping first and learning how to build second was a bit foolish, but it all worked out in the end.) I wanted a small PC that was light and compact enough to easily move around, but I also wanted power. Despite a deep longing for the best graphics and the fastest performance unlimited money could buy, I couldn’t justify spending many thousands of dollars on this particular project. Instead, I set a budget to splurge on certain components without getting too out of control.
The GPU market has been dramatically impacted by global component shortages and manufacturing issues, and as a result even mid-tier and lower-end cards have inflated in price or disappeared entirely. That made availability an important variable in my decision making. I elected to use the graphics card from my old computer, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti—a solid card that met my needs well enough to orient my build around it. More important, I already had it.
With my GPU as a base, I started putting together ideas for potential parts using a website called PCPartPicker. You can research and shop for parts on PCPartPicker, and you can use the site’s filters to find options that work with your existing or planned parts, budget, or other needs. Once I finally felt confident in the choices I had made for my dream build, one looming question remained: Would they all fit?
Although it’s easy enough to find size measurements for each part, mapping out the physical placement and clearance for everything is a different challenge if you’ve never gone under the hood of a PC before. That’s where PC Building Simulator saved the day.
Nothing had really prepared me for the difficulty of connecting wires to tiny ports on the motherboard or screwing in the world’s smallest screws on the heatsink, where my hands all but covered everything in view.
The game’s Free Build mode grants open access to the full catalog of parts and doesn’t interrupt you with any challenges or scenarios to play through. I easily found almost every piece of hardware I wanted to buy in the catalog, and after finishing the game’s tutorial for a basic explanation of each component, I graduated to Career Mode.
There, you operate a PC repair shop and use the parts in the catalog to fix computers with a variety of issues. Customers come to you for help with problems such as recently upgraded PCs that keep crashing, and the game guides you through identifying and fixing them—in one case, it prompted me to install a new power supply capable of supporting the upgraded parts. After a couple of hours, I’d disassembled so many customers’ computers that I felt like I could do it in my sleep.
Then it was time to practice in Free Build mode, where I virtually built my PC at least three or four times until I felt comfortable tackling the project for real. Of course, I encountered hiccups when I built the computer in real life. The game had simulated the building process accurately, but nothing had prepared me for the difficulty of connecting wires to tiny ports on the motherboard or screwing in the world’s smallest screws on the heatsink, where my hands all but covered everything in view. When you’re simply clicking around in a game, the challenge of these tasks is downplayed immensely.
I hit snags—most user manuals that come with the parts are generally unhelpful—but I built with far more confidence than before PC Building Simulator. I knew where each part should go, the role each one played, and most important, that everything would fit and be compatible.
Spending a few hours with PC Building Simulator can be instrumental if you’re new to understanding computers, overwhelmed by the sheer amount of unfamiliar vocabulary, or turned off entirely because you’re unsure about where to start. I still take the time to play certain games or genres on my PlayStation or Nintendo Switch, but after a few months with my new PC, I’m spending a lot more time at my desk for long sessions of World War Z, Valheim, and Dead by Daylight.
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