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:
- People don't take care of their computers; most people don't know that they should
- If there are fans, the next time you look, it will be horrendously dusty
- Don't expect the case to be opened at all
- Expect a ton of malware on the PC
- 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:
- The Windows restore disk of the Windows version you installed (or USB)
- A copy of the drivers (latest version)
- A USB stick with a lightweight version of Linux (choose one that you are comfortable with)
- A virus scanner, a registry cleaner (Auslogics is free), and registry defrag software (Auslogics is free)
- 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:
The Fly in the Ointment
- 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.
- Now if you can boot the computer into Windows, proceed to step 3. If not, proceed to step 4.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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.