Part 2: The Reckoning–Actually building an Evil Supercomputer to take over the world

Creative types today need more than a typewriter or any old computer that can run Word.

You have to do social media, and maybe some video, which means having a computer that can run things like the Adobe Creative Suite, which wants you to have a supercomputer that can model nuclear explosions, even if all you want to do is add captions to Ice, Ice Baby.

If you haven’t read Part 1, which is about why this is smart, and how to pick out all the parts, go do that now, then come back to read this post while you wait for the Postal Service–which always, always delivers.

Once all of your precious, fragile, and magical parts have arrived, it’s time to unbox that stuff and build, right?

This is where things go wrong. Totally normal.

Keep the boxes and receipts in case (a) parts are broken or (b) you screwed up and there are incompatible bits.

The Case: You can’t have a Black Box of Doom without a black box

Retrieve all the wires they may have snaked all around. THERE ARE MANY.

These wires are actually Important, since they’re the ones that make the Evil Supercomputer turn on when you push the power button, or connect your USB ports and such to the actual computer bits that make them go. Those things are not wireless.

Thus the wires.

If you bought a bare case with no fans pre-installed, now is the time to screw some fans.

Your Motherboard is the Matriarch of All Power

Everything connects to the Motherboard, which has to corral all the random parts and make sure everybody gets fed power and data. She basically runs the world.

Treat your Motherboard right by having the correct number of Weird Little Bolts (I believe they are called stays, but who knows) to screw into your case to support the MotherBoard, which then is secured to your case with more normal-looking black screws through holes pre-drilled through the layers of silicon.

I say the word “pre-drilled” intentionally. You will not be drilling any holes today.

Double-check this step very, very carefully.

If you just put Weird Little Bolts wherever the hell, and not in the right spots for your size of Motherboard and case, things will not end well. Having random bits of metal poking in spots it’s not designed to poke can short your Motherboard, zap, goodbye, goodnight, game over.

Not having enough Weird Little Bolts can make it so your bendy and fragile MotherBoard isn’t fully supported. I made this mistake because the old components I took out were a little smaller and needed fewer bolts and screws. This could have been a disaster, as you need to press pretty damn hard to make the graphic card, sticks of RAM and such connect.

I got lucky. Nothing broke. But I should’ve gotten more Weird Little Bolts, which leads us to this pro-tip: No, do not order them online and wait two days for amazon.com.gov.org to deliver more tiny shebangs while your dining room table is covered in computer parts and half-opened cardboard boxes. Head on down to the hardware store, which will have them on that long aisle full of every screw, bolt, and nut ever invented.

Install the Hyperdrive

You are required by law to have bought one of those tiny and fancy M2 drives, the kind that connect directly to the Motherboard and make her extremely happy because now homework gets done A BILLION TIMES FASTER than connecting a stupid cable upstairs to the attic where an obsolete thing known as a Hard Drive lives, playing eight-track tapes of Billy Joel, who is fine and all, but please listen to something new because none of us can hear Uptown Girl on endless repeat, that is the torture.

There is a trick with these M2 drives. They come with a tiny, tiny screw–get a microscope, seriously–that is insanely easy to drop and lose. Also, this screw didn’t seem to fit in the hole.

I finally read the instructions again, and found a Silver Weird Little Bolt hanging out on the Motherboard, asking strangers if they’d buy him some beer, I’ve got money, come on, man, a six pack of whatever, please. Put him in the right spot, dropped the tiny screw for you know, six hours, and finally secured the Hyperdrive.

Other drives, they are optional

If you are smart, and starting from scratch, using an M2 Hyperdrive means two fewer cables to worry about: one for power and one for data.

This becomes important.

Since I saved money by reusing the same Black Box of Doom and FOUR DIFFERENT DRIVES (optical, SSD, then two big fat spinny hard drives), that means wrestling eight different cables. It worked, eventually, but it was not fun.

Try to connect the power cables first, then the smaller data ones are a lot easier because of the orientation of cases and drives. I had the data ones all hooked up, making me happy, and had to undo them all from not being able to see a damned thing when trying to shove power cables into tight spots.

Learn from my stupidity, and thank you for coming to my TED Talk.

Has the moon lost her memory?

She is smiling alone.

Sticks of memory–RAM, build Dodge tough–do not like being alone. They also hate dust and cat hair, so be aware.

You gotta install RAM in identical pairs, like junior high kids who synchronize outfits and go everywhere together, even the bathroom.

If you’re only putting in two sticks of RAM, they gotta go in specific slots. Listen to the Motherboard and re-read her patient instructions.

I put in four sticks of 16 gigs apiece. If you want to upgrade later, you gotta use identical sticks again.

Pinky and the Brain

Your CPU is itty bitty. A little square. Make sure you do all the things and put it in correctly, given the fact that bending the pins is a sin against the tech gods, who will punish you with the Slowness, the Black Screen of Death, or the eternal damnation of This Thing Won’t Even Turn On.

Put it in the right way. Read the damn instructions, for brand new CPUs cost many dollars.

CPU’s have sidekicks called coolers. Your own Brain may have come with a Pinky cooler, with the manufacturer designing them to get along. Maybe these things got ordered separately, and you’re hoping this arranged marriage will work out.

The CPU is easy, as long as you don’t flippantly put it in the wrong way and bend all the pins.

Coolers these days are like oversized carburetors on muscle cars, giant air-breathing contraptions with metal tubes running everywhere. I will bet you the deed to my house that the the people who design CPU coolers drive muscle cars, or have posters of them on their wall.

You gotta have thermal paste between the Brain and its cooler. Read the instructions. Do not cook Brain or you’ll be eating the cost of a replacement.

All the random non-power cables

I would suggest this as the time to put the funky cables coming from various parts of the case, along with any cables you might need for drives and such.

Manufacturers, hear my plaintive cry: this part does not have to be so hard.

Connecting fans isn’t bad. Same deal with the cables that make your USB ports talk to the Motherboard without pissing her off.

What’s truly awful, and The Stupid, is a set of cables every case seems to have that ends in a nightmare of a rat’s nest. Some need to get plugged into single pins, others double, except they all go into the same array of pins and there’s no room to see what you’re doing and whether it worked and OMGWTFBBQ.

If you do this wrong, pushing the power button and such will do nothing.

Please, please, manufacturers of cases and Motherboards, pick a standard configuration of pins and that Rat’s Nest Cable from Hell, and make it so it’s all together and you simply plug it into the right spot instead of wanting to drive to whoever designed and engineered this and put a flaming bag of donkey doo-doo on their porch.

The Graphics Card

These things are pretty big. Get that sucker in there before you go wild with the power cables, which will totally get in the way.

That’s it. I’m not even making jokes here. Pretty simple.

Power Station

Nothing runs without the power supply, and it knows. Oh yes.

When you order one of these bad boys, the photos are deceiving. A square box, no big deal. Except when you take it out, there are all these fat cables coming out of the end. Tons of them. And they are long.

If you only have one M2 Hyperdrive, and maybe a big old obsolete spinny hard drive as your storage, the number of power cables you need is way down.

Since I had four–FOUR–different drives already in the case to hook up, my cause was lost. Cable management? Hah! We were shooting for Yes, This Looks Messy, But the Evil Supercomputer is Happy and Turns On.

The instructions here are a little tough. Be careful. There are what seems like 25 different types of power plugs. I will not go into it here except to say a giant plug goes into your Motherboard, another feeds the CPU, and your graphics card may get TWO plugs, because he is a selfish dweeb who drinks straight from the milk carton no matter how many times you tell him that’s gross and will tell you he plans on going pro playing Call of Duty when really that’s an excuse to spend all day wearing a headset and talking smack when he should be not failing Pre-Calculus already when the school year is only a month old.

Will it turn on?

Unless I’ve forgotten steps, which is possible, all the parts should be installed and fed a steady supply of power and data.

This is where you hook it up to your monitor, keyboard, and such, and get out the USB drive of Windows 10 to install. You pretty much buy the DVD for the product activation key, then stash that thing in a shoebox full of CD’s from way back that you plan on converting to MP3’s someday.

And the magical moment arrives: you hit the power button.

It will not turn on.

I mean that literally. Unless you are lucky, and smart, and have spent the time to locate and sacrifice a TRS-80 to the tech gods, your Evil Supercomputer will sit there and laugh at you while you swear in languages you did not know until now.

This always happens.

Unplug it all and open the thing back up. Check every single cable and plug.

Did it happen to me this time? Oh yes.

I checked every data cable and power plug. Nope. Then I considered the unthinkable: unplugging that rat’s nest of connectors, the ones that go to the power button and such. Except getting to that was impossible with all the power cables and data cables clogging up the works. Couldn’t see a thing.

After talking to my brother, who is an actual Tech God, I figured out one stick of RAM was rebelling and poking out. Once that thing was fully connected to the Motherboard and listening like a good stick of memory, the Evil Supercomputer came alive and asked me if I wanted to play a game. You know, tic-tack-toe or Global Thermonuclear War.

Final thoughts

Though the hour or so the new computer would not come alive was maddening, overall this time wasn’t that bad and I could not be happier with how much faster this thing is than the old Black Box of Doom.

It’s not even close. Most of that is because of the M2 Hyperdive, but doubling the RAM and having a modern CPU and graphics card doesn’t hurt a bit.

Economically, building your own is smart, and having thought about and researched trying to upgrade the old one, building a new one every three years or so makes sense–but only if the current one can’t handle the latest requirements of Adobe and such.

If you’re not focused on creative things, and are more concerned about hitting 140 frames-per-second as you play Call of Duty on a 4k monitor that takes up an entire wall of your house, that’s a different deal.

I hope you find this useful, and if you do go down this path, please remember me when your 3D-printed army of robots designed on an Evil Supercomputer starts taking over the world.

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