in which a mom & her two kids build a $600 gaming computer and it actually works!

We did it!  We built a freaking computer!  Let it be known that if a not-very-tech-savvy woman of modest intelligence, an eight year old, and a nearly ten year old can figure this out, ANYONE can do it.  On the other hand, maybe we have buckets of heretofore unaknowledged geek bad-assery that we drew upon to face this challenge.  Whatevs.  We did it.  See our build here at, a totally awesome site that anyone building a computer should make use of.  Other resources we used are at the bottom of this post.

But first, some pictures.

Because if you don’t blog it, it didn’t happen.

Here is the elaborate tool kit we needed for doing this epic task.

See, we decided to build a computer this morning (“why not? we’ve got all the parts and it’s raining today….”) and then at the last moment realized we had no idea where Paul keeps the good tools.  This was the only screwdriver we could find.  But it totally did the job.  You really don’t need much to put these babies together.

The other very important item necessary for for computer building?

Strawberry Pocky.  Food of the Gods.  Good thing we went to the Asian Market yesterday.

So that was it.  We were ready.  Time to unbox the motherboard.  And away we go!

This is me taking pictures of Luc, 8, who is taking pictures of the motherboard.  It’s all very meta.

Moving right along, here is Luc installing the RAM.

He was so nervous!

Henry, on the other hand, was totally relaxed.  He slept through the whole thing.

Here is Sophie, 9, installing the mobo into the case.  My first panicky run-to-google moment was when I didn’t know what the standoffs looked like.  Was it this tiny, black, screw-like thing?  Or this one?  Or this one?  We are newbs, all the way.  The blind leading the blind, baby!

Second tricky moment: the screw holes didn’t line up well with the standoffs.  You don’t want to use brute force when installing a motherboard!!!  But we did, a little bit. It was okay.

Sophie plugging in the front panel connectors….

Etc, etc.  When all the components were in, we broke for lunch.  It had taken about an hour and half to get that far…we went slowly and followed along with this excellent video (also in the resources section below).

After lunch came plugging in the power supply, mostly me at this point, although Sophie helped.  Several tricky moments there…what does this plug into?  I can’t get it to go in!  What the fuck is this cord for????  [pant pant pant]

But in the end, we had this:


Although, I feel like we could have done better with the cord management, and I’m not sure we’ve got enough cooling in there.  *chews nails*

But, of course, we were miles from done because, although everything was in, it still might  be just a giant, black, brick. If we pushed the power button, would it sit there, still and lifeless?  Where and how would we find the problem if it was broken?

Moment of truth.    No more stalling, it was time.

Sophie pressed the button.


We cheered!  Henry, startled, barked.  The BIOS screen came up, all blue and texty.  It was goddamn beautiful.

An hour later I had Windows installed and was putting in the drivers, which I had already downloaded onto a thumbdrive, thanks to the tip on the Newegg video below (the part 3 vid).  And here is the new computer, mid installation, my yellow tablet of notes from various sources, ready to be referred to, as needed, plus the Windows 7 magic key box….

It took about two hours to work through all the drivers and updates and virus software, yada yada.  This was the hardest part, especially for the kids who were bored and hot to play the new machine. I only had an upgrade Windows 7 disk, so I had to do some work-arounds to get it to give me a clean install, plus adding the virus software, 133 Windows updates, and Java (for the all important Minecraft!).  Thank the gods for google or none of this would have been possible.

And that’s it!  It’s up and running.  Luc is playing Minecraft LAG-FREE as we speak.  Here he is at the very first Minecraft moment, showing the screen to his bestest Miinecraft buddy through Facetime on his ipod.


Super exciting!  And dang if this machine isn’t crazy fast!  At least compared to our old rig.  And the visuals are super pretty, plus the rendering seems nearly instant.  A tremendous improvement over our six year old Gateway system.  Six years, that’s like a hundred in computer years.  That thing was practically wood-burning.


We spent time reading Building a PC in Easy Steps by Stuart Yarnold out-loud over breakfasts.  It really helped us understand the components inside a computer and the state of the computer world.  Books are pretty much outdated the minute they are published, but this one had just, just, come out, and I found it jibed with most of the bleeding-edge stuff I read on Tomshardware.  Lots of great pictures and a solid overview for the kids, especially.

I already mentioned which lets you put in your very own parts list, and it will tell you the cheapest price for each item (including current rebates, etc), as well as telling you if your list is compatible.  Amazing!  Plus a little graph for showing how that combo of components would have priced out over time.  I put in our build list (once we had come up with it) and then watched the prices, waiting for it to drop before I pulled the trigger.  You can also look at other people’s builds, and read a TON of reviews.  A great site.  Indispensable. and Newegg are two more great sites I read quite at bit at for reviews, both pro and user.  I bought most of the components at Newegg, a few at Amazon, depending on who was cheapest.

I used this page to do a clean install of Windows 7 from an upgrade disk.

And the videos.  The first by TechReport was the one we watched as we did the build.  It did a great job of walking us through each step, and used AMD parts as well as Intel, plus several cooling options, so we could watch the bits that applied specifically to our build and fast-forward the rest.  Thanks TechReport!

This Newegg series was terrific. Here is part 2, on the building. I used part 3 for the Windows and drivers installation. Super helpful.

This is a great vid from EasyPCBuilder, excellent for brevity, clarity, and just giving us another view of the process.

Finally, this video, over at PCpartpicker, was the first one we watched and made it all seem doable. Luc and I watched this one together and decided that, yes, we could do it, and from there it all got started.

But wait, no, it was Polykow who inspired me to even try all of this when she told of building a computer with her son. Her unschooling enthusiasm is infectious.

And a huge thanks to Grandma for helping to fund our project! It would have taken a lot, lot, longer to get here without you. xoxoxox

3 thoughts on “in which a mom & her two kids build a $600 gaming computer and it actually works!

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