Practice the Fundamentals: Build Your Own PC

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This weekend I spent upgrading, updating, and reconfiguring my daughter’s and my son’s PCs. For the holidays my children received various films on Blu-Ray discs as gifts. We have a Blu-Ray player in our living room, family room, and my wife’s and mine bedroom. You would think that would be more than enough for a family of four, but imagine the following scenario:

  1. Child A wants to watch Blu-Ray A.
  2. Child B wants to watch Blu-Ray B.
  3. My wife wants to watch a television program on one of the larger television screens in the home. Two of these screens are already in use by the children.

The end result? Dad ends up watching Netflix on his laptop.

Okay, I confess that one of the reasons that we have all of these systems is because I just like to build this stuff. The family room PC was my personal project to setup Artemis on a really big display with surround sound. The master bedroom system was my personal project to build a great media center and to eliminate needing a separate device like a Blu-Ray player. The living room system was setup just because I had so much stuff left over from past projects that, hey, why not build it?

So this weekend I had to, had to mind you, rebuild both of my children’s PCs to be capable of playing Blu-Ray discs. Faster CPUs, more memory, new motherboards, HD capable video cards, new HD capable monitors, Blu-Ray drives, and all of this for as low a cost as possible. Then I needed to address the software issues. How would I update the OS to boot after replacing the SATA controller? What software would I use to play the Blu-Rays with? That combined with all of the new software that the hardware came with took up a whole day.

Needless to say that I was in techie heaven this weekend. Unexpected problems came up, and had to be addressed. I drove myself a little nuts getting some of the software to work, but in the end everything did work exactly as I wanted it to. The kids now can watch their Blu-Ray discs in their own rooms, and I have enough spare parts to build two new Linux systems with! I am sure my wife will be as excited as I am by the idea of some thin clients for accessing the home virtual environment with.

And by “excited” I mean my wife will “tolerate yet another one of Patrick’s tech projects”.

But the best part of this experience was that I was able to go back to the roots of my career in IT. I had my hands on the very core hardware components that every complex system needs. CPUs, cooling fans, power supplies, RAM modules, and even those tiny computer case jumper cables were all reminders of what it takes to build a proper solution. Not taking the operating system for granted (anyone can reinstall one from scratch) and having to dig into how it functions brought me back to the days when I was saving an end-user’s system from fatal errors and crashes. Maybe I am just being nostalgic, but I believe that building a PC piece by piece is a wonderful review of the fundamentals that every IT professional should know.

When was the last time that you built a system from scratch? Or maybe tinkered with writing a simple program just for the fun of it? You might not make your living from it, but chances are those were the skills that got you started in IT. Plan a personal project or two to use those skills just for the fun of it. You will not regret it, but make sure that you get your spouse’s consent first. 😉

Like what you read here? If so share it with others! Plus feel free to connect with me via LinkedIn, and share with me your latest IT projects that you are pursuing just for the fun of it.

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