Guide: Building a "idiot-proof PC as possible" for friends/family - Overclock.net - An Overclocking Community

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Guide: Building a "idiot-proof PC as possible" for friends/family

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post #1 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-13-2014, 10:38 PM - Thread Starter
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Intro
A lot of people here seem to have been asked to build computers for friends and family. I think that whenever possible, you should try to say "no" as often as possible.

What you want to avoid is a situation like this one:
https://www.overclock.net/t/1502807/this-is-why-we-cant-have-nice-things-aka-dont-build-your-friends-computers/0_100#post_22588576

I have come to the conclusion that a guide like this one is needed because of past experiences, from both myself and others.

Lessons learned:
  1. People don't take care of their computers; most people don't know that they should
  2. If there are fans, the next time you look, it will be horrendously dusty
  3. Don't expect the case to be opened at all
  4. Expect a ton of malware on the PC
  5. They will probably blame you or at least turn to you when things go wrong

A few months/years later, the computer will come back to you, and the computer will be in an appalling state. That's why I think saying no is the best option in the long run. You'll be saving yourself a great deal of potential grief down the road.


What to do
Ok, so what to do if you cannot say no? No moving parts in the PC. Think of it like building an HTPC. By the way, you can use this for an HTPC. So here's what to do:

Hardware to choose
  • Cheap i3 CPU (ideally undervolted) - could also consider an AMD APU
  • Large passive CPU cooler (something like the Scythe Orochi would be perfect, but any high end CPU cooler with medium fin density works well)
  • Passively cooled GPU (sometimes even midrange GPUs can be passive, although a low end or even integrated graphics is fine)
  • Inexpensive motherboard (choose one with a stable BIOS and not the crappiest VRMs, but just average)
  • Some cheap RAM (slowest and loosest timings)
  • SSD (only reliable vendors and reliable models)
  • I don't recommend you buy a case with holes, but if you do, put fan filters on the openings if you have funds to spare (dust can get in even without fans)
  • Passively cooled PSU (this also puts a limit on what kind of GPU and CPU you can have since passive cooled PSUs are generally not high in wattage)
  • Choose a case without large openings that people can stick fingers in (trust me people are that dumb) or that live animals larger than a mosquito can fly in (ideally as I said put dust filters in the case vents to be sure).

SSD because it's the most visible thing on "fast'. For the average person, a 3.5 GHz CPU is indistinguishable from a 5 GHz one. SSD by contrast will be noticeably smoother I figure for the average person. Also, I once saw someone who felt it was ok to "shake" a computer while it was operating. That does not bode well for the spinning hard drives to say the least. Only buy a value SSD from a reliable vendor, like Crucial.

If the person is not a gamer, they are probably fine with integrated graphics. Now if the person is a gamer, then pick the most powerful passive GPU that can be bought within the budget. Remember, no moving parts. Reference GPUs have blowers (attract dust that they will not clean) and non-reference coolers often have axial fans (which are often sleeve bearing that will die). You could consider an AMD APU too depending on the person's needs.

Also, even if the person is a gamer and there's money for it, do not set up a SLI/Crossfire configuration with the GPU. It will add heat. But that's not the worst of problems. There will be games that SLI/CF don't scale well and give issues. Remember, your user is a dummy so don't do it. They cannot fix it on their own.

You may need to modify the hardware slightly, like if its someone passionate about music, adding a sound card. But stick tightly to this. Remember, no moving parts or you'll set yourself up for pain down the road.

Software
If I could I'd install Linux, but most people would need something on Windows or would simply be too computer illiterate to use Linux. Ideal option would be Linux Mint LTS. Mint is the most "beginner friendly" distro I have seen so far. The reason why is because Linux is less likely to get crappy malware. That and I do not expect that anybody who is that computer illiterate to be able to gain access to the root user in Linux.

But that's not practical. So the best compromise is Windows + a free firewall. I use Comodo personally. Important: Set the firewall to manually update. (Edit: You could automate this if it's 100% in the background, otherwise your user might mindlessly click something). At the very least, keep the definitions up to date.

Put the computer yourself, install Windows, and install the drivers yourself. Also, install basic stuff like software (VLC, MS Office/LibreOffice, another browser, etc). Basically if there's software that they need, install it for them. Use the most recent version. They won't be updating the software themselves most likely.

If there is a Windows license, stick it inside the case. That way they won't open the case. Same with Office licenses. If you stick it outside, they may peel it and you'll lose it. You could even consider keeping it yourself. You are very likely going to be the one doing a fresh install if something goes wrong.

Try to set what you can to automatically update too. They won't update their software otherwise.

You as tech support to the rescue
Several months or a couple of years later, you will be called to rescue them. Don't be surprised if the computer smells weird, btw. You probably don't want to know what it is.

Ok, unfortunately, the one area that I cannot solve is malware and stuff people download from the Internet. There's a very high chance that they may disable their firewall out of annoyance. That can be a problem.

When you go back to their computer when they ask you for help, bring the following:
  1. The Windows restore disk of the Windows version you installed (or USB)
  2. A copy of the drivers (latest version)
  3. A USB stick with a lightweight version of Linux (choose one that you are comfortable with)
  4. A virus scanner, a registry cleaner (Auslogics is free), and registry defrag software (Auslogics is free)
  5. Maybe some cleanup software for deleting junk (I use ADWCleaner and MalwareBytes)

You may want to bring a DataVac just to be sure. Even if there's no moving parts, remember Murphy's Law.

What to do:
  1. Inspect the machine and check for dust. If there's dust, blow it out. Remember you are not dealing with someone computer-literate enough to know to clean that up.
  2. Now if you can boot the computer into Windows, proceed to step 3. If not, proceed to step 4.
  3. There's likely a ton of malware and other unpleasant stuff on the computer. If possible, use the cleanup software to clean things up. Consider updating the drivers.
  4. If you have a hard time with Windows, try booting into safe mode and repairing from there. Do a chkdsk as well. If that does not work, insert the Windows disk (or USB) and try to repair.
  5. One reason why I said to bring a Linux USB is because if things are so beyond repair that step 4 does nothing, you need a Linux distro. Use the Linux distro to clean things up.
  6. Before you go, verify that the hardware is working properly. Chances are it isn't hardware, but it's always possible. If it's hardware, you'll probably have to do the RMA yourself.

The Fly in the Ointment
The one thing I have not figured out how to solve is what to do about clean install and backups. You see, when a system has been damaged to the point where the only option is a format and clean install, the problem is that the person you're trying to help doesn't know what files they want to back up and where they are located. They often don't know where they have saved their files and stuff.

Compounding the problem, the files that need to be backup may contain malware (and often do).

I gotta admit I'm at a loss on how to solve this one. You may have to dig around and simply guess what is most important.


Final Steps
If you had to do a clean install, well, it's everything from the start again, only you gotta restore their previous files. Check them for viruses and malware. You know the drill. Install the latest drivers too and firewall.

If you were able to avoid doing a clean install, run the clean up software. Also, check the browsers. They probably have at least 10 toolbars or something like that. Next update the drivers and software, which unless they were set to auto update, probably have not been updated since you left. Update Windows too and set it to auto update. You may need to install the latest service pack.

If they are not genuinely curious, don't bother giving them a stern talking to on not downloading questionable stuff online. The big problem is not so much that people don't know how to use computers. It is one of willful ignorance, that is, they do not want to learn and are unwilling to put in the effort to learn something.

Conclusion
Remember, say no if possible if someone asks you to build them their computer.

But hopefully this guide will make your life a bit more painless for those you cannot say no to.

I know that the tone of this article is well ... cynical, but it's the results of years of experience and hard earned lessons.

Anyways, what do you think about this? Suggestions are welcome.
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post #2 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-13-2014, 10:46 PM
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I've honestly enjoyed reading that. A cheap ITX system as small as possible is usually ideal

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post #3 of 16 (permalink) Old 08-14-2014, 12:37 AM
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Nice read, agreed with most, if not, all points as well.

Because I usually do the same thing, but I just recommend Pentium/Celeron for non-gamers, and at least an i5 for the people who game or with budget. I recommend Pentium/Celeron because my backup rig is using it, and I do not have problems with it, even if I watch someone game on that system. My backup rig is using a 750ti though.

Also, I recommend them "dust proof" cases similar to a Define Mini, after I learned my lesson of recommending a case "full of holes" for airflow. It is 100% correct that they don't clean the internals at all. Specially for those people who put their cases on the floor.

Quote:
Remember, say no if possible if someone asks you to build them their computer.

Agreed with this as well, I just learned a lesson with this as well. I had built a friend's computer where the RAM died (I didn't know until I diagnosed it) and I have to travel 3-4 hours just to get there. lol, such a PITA. I even brought a PSU, GPU, RAM, and a spare motherboard besides my usual tools so that I do not need to go back to the place. frown.gif

Now I just usually recommend to friends what parts to buy, or even come with them to the store so that someone "knowledgeable" will be with them, and not get "scammed" by salespersons recommending a crap, overkill wattage PSU and a 280x (which also happened by the way, good thing I'm there) and have the store build the system for them smile.gif

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post #4 of 16 (permalink) Old 02-02-2015, 05:41 PM
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Great read.

One thing, I'd add, if you are someone that builds computers for other people alot, is to buy last generation motherboards in bulk.

Buying in bulk is generally alot cheaper than paying retail, especially when you already have sata wires and etc.

Intel LGA775 boards can be bought locally in sets of 10 for $30 a piece in Canada, so I'm sure it's much cheaper for you guys in the states.
In a year or two, I'm sure LGA1155 and 1150 will reach the same price range. Aliexpress already has China LGA1150 boards for 30$ a piece, so it's only a matter of time.

If something goes wrong, you have a replacement ready, that can be swapped in without having to re-install their OS. Plus you don't have to go thru that long procedure of waiting on a RMA.

Plus if you're in Canada, shipping to a warranty center will cost you between 10-20$ anyways.

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post #5 of 16 (permalink) Old 02-02-2015, 07:10 PM
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The one most important point about building computers for friends or family is quiet simply, don't do it. That's what Dell is for...

You can take my word for it or learn the hard way as I have...



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post #6 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-21-2015, 02:08 AM
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Great read.
Quote:
Important: Set the firewall to manually update.
Why manual for this?
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post #7 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-23-2015, 11:06 PM
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It is 100% correct that they don't clean the internals at all. Specially for those people who put their cases on the floor.rBRvSa
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post #8 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-24-2015, 08:38 AM - Thread Starter
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You know, I spent a long time debating whether or not to use low rpm fans or whether or not to go fan less. Low rpm fans are relatively quiet, but introduce issues.

Even low rpm fans will lead to a huge gain in temperatures compared to passive, but the issue is dust. They will not clean the case out at all. Passive means no dust and less maintenance to worry about. With a low power CPU and a power efficient GPU, you can have a relatively good silent PC that requires minimal maintenance.

Quote:
Originally Posted by MrKoala View Post

Great read.
Why manual for this?

Been debating that one, but people tend to mindlessly click.

It depends on the firewall, but I think that if for the ones that can completely be automated, then have it do so in the background.

Quote:
Originally Posted by niumanerq View Post

It is 100% correct that they don't clean the internals at all. Specially for those people who put their cases on the floor.rBRvSa


That is why I wanted a 100% passive case.

The trade-off here is that you can get 20-30C lower even with 500 rpm fans and still be very quiet.
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post #9 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-24-2015, 10:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by CrazyElf View Post

That is why I wanted a 100% passive case.

The trade-off here is that you can get 20-30C lower even with 500 rpm fans and still be very quiet.
A closed case with anything more powerful than the lowest Atom on passive could be a disaster. A case full of holes would do but dust can get in.

How about a super low fin density cooler (no clogging even with dust buildup), a reliable industrial fan or two, a lot of filters, and duck taping every gap on the case?
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post #10 of 16 (permalink) Old 06-25-2015, 08:31 AM - Thread Starter
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Quote:
Originally Posted by MrKoala View Post

A closed case with anything more powerful than the lowest Atom on passive could be a disaster. A case full of holes would do but dust can get in.

How about a super low fin density cooler (no clogging even with dust buildup), a reliable industrial fan or two, a lot of filters, and duck taping every gap on the case?

That's the problem that I see. Heat.

I would agree on the idea of sealing off all of the holes except where air is filtered though.

It's why I recommended:
  • Large passive cooler for CPU and only 2 core CPU
  • Large passive cooler for GPU and a low power GPU
  • Nothing else that can generate too much heat.


The ideal, money no object case would be:
  • Large case with 120mm holes on top (could put fan grills in the holes and filters beneath the fan grill thereby preventing dust - or fingers from damaging the filters), thereby allowing the heat to escape
  • Large passive coolers for CPU and GPU, possibly even hard drive
  • Perhaps a passive PSU, but if the PSU fan is on, then the intake air must be filtered

To be honest, I would love to use PWM controlled fans, but I don't trust a typical computer user to clean the filters.

As I said, even some 500 rpm fans could make a huge difference for temperatures. They would have to be good quality ball bearing fans though (typical user will never lubricate them). The slow speed Gentle Typhoon would be perfect, but those are expensive.

Basically this is like an HTPC more than anything else with an SSD.
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