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 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.

Part 1: Why you can and SHOULD build an Evil Supercomputer to take over the world

Everybody uses computers these days, unless they work with their hands, making things out of wood, or ride a horse as they bring a herd of cattle from dusty Texas to the stockyards of Kansas City with only a harmonica and a fifth of Jim Beam for entertainment.

And all of us who use PC’s–or bang on a keyboard connected to a Mac, which cost more than many automobiles I have owned–encounter the Slowness.

Maybe when you’re surfing the web. Maybe when you’re opening applications, or editing photos. And if you try to edit audio or video, God help you, the Slowness will drive you to dark thoughts and homicide.

So: this thing will have TWO PARTS.

In Part 1, this here post will go into how to do the blueprints and pick the parts for a Black Box of Doom, one that lets you design a robot army to crank out with 3D printers in your garage.

Then in Part 2: The Reckoning, we will dive into actually putting the parts together. But first you have to use the Series of Tubes to order such parts, and give your friendly and competent unionized U.S. Postal Worker a nod and a wave and a smile as he or she delivers all these boxes to your front porch with gentle care. Some private companies tend to chuck boxes, which will ruin the precious, fragile, and expensive things you paid for with real monies. I will not name these companies. You know the deal. Try to get this stuff delivered by your postal worker, especially if they know your name and go to the same church on Sunday, or drink coffee at the same diner. Better yet, try to marry a postal worker before you start this journey. They look amazing in shorts, right? Because they walk all day. Public servants, too–god bless ’em.  

Why building an Evil Supercomputer is better than buying some boring pre-built box at Best Buy or whatever

Buying a pre-built thing, something that can actually blow through the Slowness, will cost you far more than Any Old Thing that Will Surf the Web and Run MS Word.

Building your own evil supercomputer, now, is far, far cheaper. Crazily so. Plus, who wants to own a pre-built computer where some corporate person decided what you wanted and needed, when they don’t even know you, and five million other people have the same exact thing on their desk?

So yes, build one if you can. 

Hear me know and believe me later in the week: I am the perfect person to talk you through this, standing before you not as a total expert who’s built zillions of computers, a gear-head who will make you all confused with jargon, skipping basic steps you ARE SUPPOSED TO KNOW while expecting you to spend $5,000 on a liquid-cooled, overclocked monster with LED lights. No. I’ve done this three times now, and therefore have hit the sweet spot where (a) I know enough to be dangerous while (b) still happily making common mistakes, the same mistakes you will, and therefore (c) know how to solve some common stupid mistakes. 

And no, it’s not completely easy. There are tricky bits. But nothing worth doing is easy.

How to pick the components of your own Black Box of Doom

Do not jump on over to or whatever to start ordering parts based on how cheap they are. That will not work. There are crazy technical reasons for that.

It could also take you days, or weeks, to sort through which CPU’s are compatible with which motherboards and memory sticks and such. You will go insane and I will not visit you at the mental hospital, because we may be internet friends, even good ones, yet driving 1,500 miles during this apocalypse to show up and sign a visitor log is not going to happen. My wife will wonder where I went, and why our VISA has charges at gas stations from here to Kansas.

The way to avoid wasting all sorts of hours doing research online, then learning Japanese to read the technical manual, is simple: hop on over to a site like, which is what I did.

First thing: Choose your CPU, which is the most important decision, I kid you not. If you’re a creative type like me and want to edit photos, edit video, and do cool stuff with Adobe Creative Suite, the CPU is everything.

I know, that seems weird. My previous Supercomputer had 32 gigs of RAM and a solid-state drive (way faster than your traditional Hard Drive, which spins around), yet the CPU was about five years old and Adobe did not give one single tiny poop about how much RAM was there, or how fast the hard drive was, or whether my graphics card could render five billion triangles per second or whatever.

Adobe only cared about the CPU, and told me Adobe Premiere would not render more than one frame per century until I got a new one. Maybe there’s some kind of dark alliance between Adobe, Intel, and AMD, or the graphics card people totally hit on Adobe’s girlfriend at that wine tasting last month, the one where Tyler thought he was being funny for bringing boxed wine and everyone told him that joke hasn’t been funny for years, please buy a real bottle, twist-offs are fine, and bringing a bag of Cool Ranch Doritos also does not make you a comedian, either, it just means you are cheap bastard who spent zero time on this while Heather over here baked a pecan pie from scratch and brought a bottle of sake she picked up in Tokyo and saved for this very night, you nitwit. 

So: the CPU is everything.

Also, you don’t need to spend time researching the best CPUs, because I found folks who ran tests on video editing, using all sorts of the latest AMD and Intel CPUs at various price points. IT WAS EDUCATIONAL. Go read it.

The TL;DR of those tests is pretty damn simple. Yes, if I was a Hollywood film editor, it would be worth the extra $1,500 to splurge for the top chip and another $1,000 the Largest SSD on Planet Earch plus $1,600 for a graphics card that weighs more than my house. Yet spending way, way less–$339 on an AMD Ryzen 7 3800X–would totally do the job.

Say goodbye to those old spinny hard drives

Physical hard drives that spin aren’t really the thing anymore. They’re not quite eight-tracks, but getting there.

I thought SSD’s were still the king, since they’re tiny and way faster than traditional hard drives with spinning disks and such.

HOWEVER: the breaking news is SSD’s are old and busted. The new hotness are itty bitty drives that attach directly to the motherboard. These suckers are so new, nobody has figured out a single name for them. You might hear them referred to as M2’s or NVME internal drives. And yes, you gotta have a motherboard (I can’t say mobo more than once, too weird) that can get hitched to a fancy M2, which are little sticks.

You would think these suckers would be expensive. Not really. I bought a 1TB shebang for $99, and though it’s not as fast as more expensive ones, this thing will talk to the CPU and transfer data up to 2 gigs per second.

Is that fast?

OMGWTFBBQ, you have no idea. If you’ve ever copied a ton of files, like photos and video, you’ve seen Windows tell you it’s gonna be five hours with that little chart showing how many megabytes per second are getting copied. Just did that last night before building the new Evil Supercomputer, and my old hard drives were averaging maaaaybe 100 megs a second. Even the SSD one.

Two gigs a second is so fast is should be illegal.

Which means you MUST pick a CPU and motherboard than can use these beasts. Not doing so is malpractice.

Fire up pcpartspicker or whatever. If your CPU and motherboard can’t do M.2 drives, choose a different kind. It may be an Intel vs AMD thing, and that used to matter. Since AMD chips are better at editing video, I divorced Intel this time and have no regrets.

You can, and should, think about a super M2 drive with a cheap sidekick, maybe an old obsolete 4TB spinny hard drive that costs you tiny amounts of paper decorated with dead presidents. That’s smart. Run everything from the M2 superdrive and use that big, old, slow fellow as your sidekick and backup drive. Stick your docs, photos, music, and videos on that sucker.

I sorta did this on steroids by re-using my old case along with four drives: the optical drive, an SSD, and two spinny hard drives with lots of space. This was both brilliant (saving tons of money!) and stupid, since it upped the difficulty, which I’ll get into in the next post, Part 2: The Reckoning. 

The RAM, it is important

You can never have too much memory. 

It’s pretty standard to have at least 8 gigs these days, and 16 gigs for higher end, and 32 gigs if your going all muscle car with flames on the sides.

So I went with 64 gigs, because I plan on keeping this thing running for years and absolutely hate opening it up and doing open heart surgery, seeing how things can go wrong, and wires can get knocked loose, making you spend hours trying to connect some tiny cable back to the motherboard except you put it in backwards because you can’t see a thing in there. My hands are big, and the space is small, and the pain is real.

Graphics cards are meh

Sure, they matter if you want to play Call of Duty on a 4k monitor at 140 frames a second or whatever. Not interested in that. If you’re a creative type like me, and are looking at editing photos and video and such, the graphics card doesn’t mean much. Get something, sure, but don’t break the bank. There are tons of good options. TONS.

I did a Radeon 570 with 8 gigs of RAM that was $160, and I probably could have done way cheaper without Adobe looking sideways at me–unless I was running After Effects, which will use your graphics card some. Might be some other apps that tap the graphics card. Be safe on this one. And don’t listen to anyone who tries to talk you into the latest, greatest graphics cards, which can cost more than what I spent on this entire Evil Supercomputer and require adding extra concrete under your house to handle the weight and cooling demands.

Everything else is up to you

Once you pick a CPU, motherboard, RAM, drives, and graphics card, everything else is pretty basic and a matter of taste, as long as pcpartpicker or whatever says it’s all compatible.

A few tips:

  • Get a full-size case. Itty bitty cases would be a pain, because it’s hard enough to do all the wires and such in a big case. Don’t go for one of those cases with transparent panels or whatever, since despite your best intentions, the cables will not look nice and neat, and your Black Box of Doom will not get its own centerfold in Custom Computers Monthly. You will be thrilled–THRILLED–if all the cables are plugged into the right spots and this thing works. Save the cable management OCD for your second or third shebang.

  • If you’re not sure about a certain random items–cooling fans, power supplies, and such–look for one that has tons of positive reviews and doesn’t cost much.
  • Splurge on some extra fans. They’re super quiet these days, and modern motherboards let you control the fans if you do it right. I got two extra fans (case already had two) which means there are four case fans, a power supply fan, a CPU fan and fans on the graphics card. Not gonna count those up because you and I know that’s a lot of fans. Expected it to be crazy loud. Nope. Quiet as a mouse. 

There will be blood

Maybe not literal blood, though you can cut yourself on the inside of the case and such. But you will run into problems, and frustrations, and want to smash things.

I will not lie to you and say actually taking all these parts out of the box and making your first Evil Supercomputer is no big deal.

Read all the instructions. Twice.

Then read them again.

Keep a phone or laptop handy to look up things online, including YouTube videos on how to do certain parts. Because it is not abnormal, especially on your first try, to have a shiny and freshly built computer not turn on and work.

There will be a plug that you knocked loose, or a part that isn’t fully seated in the motherboard. Something won’t be right.

And that’s the joy of doing this. It isn’t successful right off. You have to learn to do it, and figure out how to fix problems.

Next post: actually building an Evil Supercomputer, and then finding out, Will it turn on?