This was a talk I gave a few days back at Nippon Kerala Centre, as part of a new effort by IEEE Kerala and ASA Kerala to start Ruby training courses. The audience was mostly new engineering students, a few of them good 🙂
So after a long, long time, I assembled a PC again.
The inspiration for this was the untimely demise of my Xbox, and the vigorous urging of my brother Hari who is certainly of the PC Gaming Master Race camp. After Hari’s initial list of parts, I went ahead and did a whole lot of reading about assembling PCs and realized had stuff had changed a lot (a lot) since the old days when I helped dad assemble a few PCs at home1.
Building a PC from scratch is pretty much the opposite of the usual world where I live and thrive (hello the vertically integrated fiefdom that is the Apple Universe!) but I have to say, it’s a very rewarding process for the inner geek.
Why? You get to choose exactly the components you want. And you get to unbox all of them, separately. And then you get to put them together one after the other until you have a fully working PC. If you haven’t done this before, I recommend you do this someday. It’s a great experience.
The first task when you assemble a PC is to pick parts. This means you pick your Form Factor, Motherboard, CPU & Cooler, Graphics Card, RAM and SSD/HDD.
I wanted a high-end PC that I could use for the next 5 years or so without much upgrades. I also wanted one that I can place in my living room and connect to my TV. This meant a nice case & a smaller form-factor.
These are the parts I picked:
- Case: Corsair CC-9011061-WW Graphite Series 380T Portable Mini ITX Case. It looks cool and it’s a Mini ITX form-factor, which means it’ll fit under most desks. I always planned to keep mine on display, so a cool-looking case was a must. If you’re planning to keep the case hidden away, an alternative could be the Cooler Master Elite 130 Mini-ITX Computer Case. Price ₹10,1002.
- PSU: Corsair RM Series RM650 – 650 Watt 80 PLUS Gold Certified Fully Modular SMPS. The important bit here is to buy a fully-modular PSU. This means that you can choose (& reduce) the power connections that go through the case to keep everything cleaner. For a small case, this is super important. Note: be sure to check the dimensions of the PSU against the case. Next: How much power do you want? For a single graphics card system, 450W is A-OK. Choosing a higher-rated PSU however means that the PSU fans can run silent at lower power-draws, especially if you buy a PSU from a quieter-line (like the RM series). Price ₹8,853.00.
- Motherboard: Asus Maximus VIII Impact Mini-ITX Motherboard. One of the most flexible Mini-ITX motherboards out there. Frankly, you can go with any motherboard that supports the latest-gen Intel CPUs. Gigabyte GA-Z170N-WIFI Motherboard is a cheaper alternative. Price ₹23,999.00
- CPU: Intel Core i7-6700K LGA 1151 Processor). Buying a CPU depends heavily on the kind of games you play. The game I play the most doesn’t do threading well, so I went for a higher base-clock. For most systems, this CPU will be an overkill. Buy a Core i3 instead. Price ₹27,799.00
- RAM: 2xG.SKILL Ripjaws 4 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4 SDRAM 2400Mhz. I just bought these for the looks. Matches the case. You can buy RAM that can be seriously overclocked, but I wasn’t interested. Price ₹6,100.00
- SSD: Kingston UV300 480GB 2.5-inch Solid State Drive. This is pretty much how much you want to store. For me, this was mostly a gaming PC where I’ll install a few games, so didn’t need much storage. Add a slower terabyte HDD if you’d like to store more media. Price ₹9,045.00.
- CPU Fan: Corsair Hydro SeriesTM H100i V2 Extreme Performance 240MM Liquid CPU Cooler. You need a good clean CPU fan, and I opted for a water-cooled model. This was not for any added cooling efficiency. A normal CPU-mounted fan will work the same. The water-cooled model made good use of my case-space & combined with the combo front & back coolers in the case, provides very good ventilation3. Price ₹8,940.00.
- UPS: APC BX600C-IN 600VA, 230V Back UPS. It’s India, with its power cuts and voltage fluctuations. Save your costly investment with a UPS! This one has sufficient amp to backup my entire Gaming PC setup (including TV & Internet router) for 15-30 minutes. Price ₹2,698.00.
- & finally, the Graphics Card: MSI GTX1080 Gaming X – Twin Frozr VI. The GeForce 10 models had just come out, so buying one of the series was a no-brainer. Frankly, this card is a bit overkill for me. I bought this one simply because I didn’t want to plan on an upgrade any time soon (if ever). You can safely opt for a cheaper 1070. On the other end of the spectrum, true 60fps 4K would probably require two of these babies4. Price: ₹63,200.
- Total Bill of Parts: ₹174,633.005 (yes that’s a whopper).
- The guide I most closely followed was this excellent Build Log from Corsair. Almost every step is exactly the same.
- The motherboard didn’t exactly fit into the holes in the case & come out the back. Hari & I had to remove the back-padding on the motherboard to make everything fit fine.
- Fitting the cooler was a bitch & not at all as easy as in the video. This was compounded by the fact that I bought a smaller version of the cooler first3, and that didn’t fit at all.
- The system worked at the first try, so that was great.
- The ASUS Bios software is very good. I haven’t played around with all the settings yet (especially the overclocking ones6) but it’s a sensible no-nonsense BIOS. I like the aesthetic of the default launch screen too.
- The case with the fans look really nice. A lot of people (especially the newer generation who have never used anything but laptops) are genuinely confused as to what that red thingy is. The most common guess is high-end speakers.
- The performance is super-sweet. There’s no game that’s not playable at high settings in 1080p. 4K is a different matter, but if you are willing to go below 60fps, almost every game is playable.
- This is VR-ready and more. That obviously means more hardware though.
- The entire case can easily be lifted and transported, especially with the grab-handle at the top. It’s almost like a console in that respect. Heavier and denser than you’ll expect though.
- PC Gaming has a lot to go for it. One of the best reasons is probably much cheaper games. Steam Sales ftw! I’ve already amassed more games than I had in my Xbox collection. A lot of them are PC-only. A few of them turned out to be the best games I’ve played.
That’s it. If you’ve got any questions, holler at me in the comments or on Twitter.
- Just for context, this was in the days of serial ports, so yeah a pretty long time ago. ↩
- All prices are from when I bought. They keep swinging up and down. ↩
- Note, I screwed up initially and bought and returned the one-fan version of this model. That did’t fit. Again case fit = important when you are building out Mini ITX. ↩
- If you are building out a dual GTX setup, please opt for a full form-factor PC. Otherwise you are just in for a world of trouble. ↩
- Software costs extra when you are building a PC. Add ₹7500 for Windows 10 Home. ↩
- Auto-overclocking is also an option. ↩
Steve Blank has a pretty articulate post here about why Apple is doomed because Steve Jobs has left. The reasoning seems simple and sound: a brilliant visionary finds as a successor an execution-focused CEO, and the company is left to falter without that stroke of genius. Apple loses the drive to reinvent itself (as it did multiple times in the past) and instead only nurtures its cash cows leaving itself open to disruption.
Everything seems logical until you consider a few facts:
- Steve Jobs almost ran NeXT into the ground. And his performance at Apple (in his first incarnation) wasn’t stellar either1. This selective read of history seems problematic.
- The only big company CEOs that Blank doesn’t mention in the article are the founders of Google. That’s largely because the founders of Google now run mostly failed experiments at a weird company called Alphabet and it’s an execution-focused employee of theirs who runs (& excels at running) Google.
- The fallacy that only founders can drive change or influence products in a company. This is the same kind of thinking that’s behind the largely discredited Auteur Theory, where only the director is credited for a movie. Does that seem sensible?
The romantic notion that a brilliant founder can change the direction of a company and move mountains to build great products can be a great movie script. In fact in companies where the CEO is also the major salesperson (like Apple earlier & Tesla now), this is exacerbated because the public only sees a single face.
A real company is more complex. Dozens of human beings work hard to build great products. In good companies, disruption comes from below. An engineer with a great idea made Gmail (just for comparison, the CEO drove Google+). Somebody at Apple invented the Touch Bar to replace the ageing function keys.
Now: Apple might very well get disrupted. It might very well stop building innovative products. The examples that Steve uses definitely illustrate areas where Apple hasfallen behind (AI and Cloud Services).
But the solution is hard work, ground-up iterative innovation and continuing to solve difficult problems. Not a magic reincarnation of Jobs.
My aunt passed away today. She was 68, and a happy, lively soul. Heart attack was the initial diagnosis. Some raw thoughts while I still feel them:
- There is no dignity in death. The instant you die, you become a body to everybody else. “Where are they keeping the body?” People ask. When is the cremation? When are the kids coming?
- My parents are getting old too. It’s hard to deal with your mom’s and dad’s mortality. Especially when all through they’ve been a fixture, and larger than life.
- People really don’t know how to behave when they come over to visit. There’s a stilted awkwardness all around.
- When your kids are so far away, your body is kept in a mortuary until they can come and attend to your last rites. This takes at least 48 hours.
- My uncle is resigned to his new life, but his eyes brim over when he talks of her death.
- And finally, I’m 31 now, so around 50% of my life is over. Have I really done what I wanted with my life?
I bought my Xbox One around a year ago. It was a good time to buy: Flipkart, Amazon and Snapdeal were head-to-head trying to outdo each other with offers, and I’ve always wanted a gaming machine of my own.
Hari asked me to build a PC gaming rig instead, but I didn’t want to go through the pain of purchasing parts, building and maintaining a custom rig.
In hindsight, this was the wrong decision.
Why? Because one of the major reasons somebody like me would buy an Xbox is to offload the support and repair work to somebody more capable. Apparently though, in India, Microsoft will not repair consoles after the warranty expires. Even if you are willing to pay for the repair.
Microsoft will not repair consoles after the warranty expires
Yup, you read that right. At first I found that hard to believe, but the Xbox Repair Request Website shows something like this:
Note the text in red: “There are no Offers associated with the problem/accessory type selected.”
Because Offers is a pretty vague way to phrase a repair request, I decided to talk to customer support. Elaine Q at Xbox Support was very friendly but equally unhelpful.
Here’s an extract from the chat log1:
> Vishnu: at 14:26:06 But just to check, can I not pay for the repair? > Vishnu: at 14:26:11 If I send it in? > Elaine Q.: at 14:26:46 Thank you so much! So sorry but there's no paid repair option that's also showing up here, Vishnu. The paid repair option is also not offered. My sincere apologies for the inconvenience. > Vishnu: at 14:27:27 Ok, that's bad. I'll try with OSUDT3. > Vishnu: at 14:27:33 Is there any other way you can help? > Elaine Q.: at 14:29:58 Yes please do try it out, Vishnu. It will be very much appreciated. I would really love to process a repair order but I am really sorry as there's no option that's showing up since the system detected that your console is no longer within warranty. But no need to worry, trying out the offline update again is the best possible option. This is not a guarantee and we don't recommend this but you may also try to check with retailers near you if they have any possible option for xbox one consoles which are no longer working but please consider it as well that in case if they modify or alter the console and it gets fixed, you will no longer be able to connect to live.
This is frankly, preposterous. Microsoft can sell its consoles here, but can’t be bothered to offer support.
If I can’t find a way to resolve this, I’m swearing off the Xbox platform entirely for a long time. A shame, because it was looking really promising with the Windows 10 unified app platform and backwards compatibility and all.
Following Hari’s advice again, I’m going to go with a PC gaming rig instead. Other positives that work for a PC:
- It’s a real computer. Every app should work.
- Games are so much cheaper.
- One major drawback was a good interface for TV, but Steam’s Big Picture Modeis looking really good. It can even add apps and games that are not bought through Steam.
- No Xbox Live subscription for network play2.
If you have any suggestions on how to fix my Xbox, I would love it. Things I’ve tried:
- Soft and Hard-Reset. No change, the screen still takes a long time to get to an Error E200.
- The Offline Diagnostic Tool.
- A Factory Reset.
Just a note that I didn’t cause this Xbox failure in any fashion. The power conked off in the middle of a software update and from then on, Xbox wouldn’t start up3.
In short, nothing seems to work. If I’m not able to find a solution for this, I will strongly recommend that you do not buy an Xbox One from India.