Building a PC is supposed to be a magical experience. All of your parts arrive on time, you take an afternoon to unwrap and assemble everything and then, with glorious satisfaction, you press the power button and hear your new creation whir to life. But sometimes building a PC can be harrowing. I'm not talking about having some dead-on-arrival RAM either, I'm talking true horror as pins bend and PSUs fry components.
We asked our community to share their worst horror stories and have gathered our favorites for you to read and enjoy. But be warned, if you're about to build a PC and don't have the budget for some replacement parts should you make a grave mistake, read these stories with caution. And if you missed the opportunity to share your story with us, feel free to do so in the comments below.
Blood and guts
All of the stories we chose to share involve some kind of hardware gore, but this is the only one to involve actual flesh gore. Sometimes you break a component by playing a little rough, and sometimes your PC breaks you.
My very first PC was a 486 DX2/66 and it was housed in a case that was so heavy and thick it could possibly have withstood a nuclear blast. One day I'm on the floor with the system digging into its guts for one reason or another. I can't remember exactly what it was I was doing but it was pretty challenging to get something in or out of the case and it caused the heavy case to start to tip over.
I stuck out my leg to catch it before it fell, and the inside corner of the case caught my knee. I was wearing jeans that had holes in the knees so the metal part caught bare skin and some sharp edge dug in and made a nice gash across my knee requiring 11 stitches.
To this day my (now) ex-wife still makes fun by pointing out that I am the only person she knows who has gotten stitches from a computer related injury.
PC Gamer to the rescue
Dallin is a kid who lives down the block from Jarred Walton, our hardware editor. He wrote in to share not one but three PC building horror stories (each more devastating than the last). Fortunately, Jarred was able to help him out a few times, so there's a small silver lining here. But man, poor Dallin. No kid should have to live through what he's been through.
I have horrible luck with PC building, as the following tales will describe.
For about six years my family had a very sub-optimal computer setup. A bargain shelf $400 Best Buy HP computer about nine years old as the main workhorse and a spare laptop or two we'd gotten from our grandparents once they got too slow for them. Which is saying a lot. So naturally, I figured I could fix it up. I bought an SSD and a 1050 Ti and plugged them in, then booted up the desktop. The first few seconds were good. It made it to the boot screen, it was in the process of posting, when suddenly a loud, ear shattering grinding was heard from within the case, and the computer shut down. Whenever subsequent boots were attempted, the PC would [blue screen of death] before the boot screen and turn off. Thankfully, PC Gamer's own Jarred Walton was able to assist me in reinstalling Windows 10 (from a CD of all things) and we got the computer running (barely) before I scrounged up the money to build a brand new rig, the one I have today.
Unfortunately, this was not the end of my tales of woe. When installing my second CPU (a Ryzen 5 1600 to replace the 1500x I was borrowing from a friend while I waited on the 1600), I decided to check out my cable management or something dumb like that. So I tipped the case upright and started poking around in the back. However, I had forgotten to lock the CPU down with the restraining bar, and next thing I knew my 1600 was on the bottom of my case sporting 5 brand new bent pins. Of course, I was able to fix it again with the help of Jarred, and all was good in the neighborhood. For a while.
You see, I am a man of fine tastes. And I decided one day that the Ryzen stock cooler's "AMD" logo facing to the left and not straight up was not aesthetically pleasing. So I went to unscrew the fan and reorient it in the proper direction. However, while doing this, my screwdriver slipped and hit the motherboard. It was fine I thought, only a love tap. Until I did it again. Dang screws. And then my sibling burst into the room to check on my progress and in surprise I dropped the whole screwdriver into the case, hitting the motherboard again. Then when I went to plug everything back in and turn the computer back on, it didn't turn on. Not so much as a glowing power LED. It's still in this state, unfortunately. Jarred tells me I likely need a new motherboard. RIP, dear PC.
After sifting through nearly a hundred comments, I can't tell you how many I read that involved people forgetting to use standoffs to raise their motherboard off the back panel and keep it from grounding itself against the metal. Please, do yourself a favor and use standoffs people.
I was working as a systems administrator at a large company and we had a new help desk tech who was interested in building his first computer. I helped him with his shopping list, making sure that he got all the parts he needed. The day after all the parts arrived I asked him how the build was going. He was having problems getting it to start and wasn't sure why. He said it seemed to briefly power on the first time he tried, but not since then. After a quick discussion about all the different cables and things that needed to be plugged in, we finally came to the source of his issue. He never used standoffs when mounting the motherboard in the case. He somehow managed to screw the motherboard directly to case, so most of the pins were touching the metal tray. The first time he powered it on it destroyed the motherboard and possibly more of the components. Last I knew he was trying to return everything, but I am unaware if he had any luck returning parts that likely had visible burn marks on them.
To sleeve or not to sleeve
Arrogance has been the death of many a PC, and Kodi's story proves why. Just when you think you know everything you possibly could, you realize there's always something new to learn. Just hope that it doesn't cost (or embarrass) you when you find out.
I was taking classes to get some IT certifications. Going in I thought I knew way more than any other student. Well when it came time for me to build a workbench PC I was given a lot of freedom. My instructor wanted me to take an unsleeved power supply and sleeve it manually. Just for the aesthetic. Well sleeving is just a bunch of mesh tubes, tubes that don't open very wide, and certainly not wide enough to push through a P20 connector (the big power cable that connects to the motherboard to power basically everything). To make it work I had to remove each individual cable and its pin from the connector head. Well a lot of the individual cables had duplicate colors which caused me to reverse roughly half of the cable pinouts. When I plugged it in, the magic smoke escaped and I found that I had fried the nic, all the usb ports, video card, 1 ram stick, and the i7.
Needless to say, I'll only buy pre-sleeved power supplies from now on.
Don't drink and build
We received a lot of far-fetched stories, but this one takes the cake. I spoke with hardware editor Jarred Walton about it and he's convinced it possibly can't be true unless the person in question was drunk. I think that makes the story funnier, so that's my theory too. Either way, this one doesn't need much explanation—just treat it with a bit of skepticism.
Not my story, but my boyfriend's. He had purchased a top of the line Intel CPU. I can't remember the model but he had saved up for months to buy it. It arrived in the mail, and he hurried to install it. When he switched on the PC, it wouldn't boot. He then smelled burning plastic. He switched off the PC and soon realised that he forgot to remove the plastic that covered the bottom part of the CPU (don't ask me how he managed... it's a mystery to me as well). The plastic had burned into his motherboard and of course melted all over the brand new CPU. Not knowing what to do, he took a chance and sent it back to the store he purchased it from. Only he didn't send it with a tracking number. The store claimed they never received it. He ended up buying a new, considerably cheaper CPU, and a new motherboard.
The standoff part two
Seriously. Don't forget to use standoffs on your motherboard.
After successfully building my first build in 2009, I was pretty proud of myself and bragged about it a bit. My boss overheard me talking about it and asked me if I'd be willing to build one for him. I told him I absolutely would, and he asked me to pick out all the parts, send him the list and he'd have the parts shipped to my house.
$1200 later, all the parts are at my house, being unboxed and put into the case. I get everything together, plugged the PC in, hit the power button and, after a slight flicker of activity… everything shut down, never to work again.
After a couple of days of wondering what I'd done wrong, I realized that I'd forgotten to put the standoffs in and had bolted the motherboard straight to the case. Needless to say, my next conversation with my boss was relatively unpleasant, and I didn't build another PC for someone besides myself for a little over five years.
The glue that binds
This is technically more of a PC repair horror story than a PC build horror story, but it's just so dumb that I can't not share it.
I was working in a company some years ago in an IT role, one of the junior technicians was repairing a laptop with a smashed screen. Nothing major, just a matter of replacing and he wanted to learn how to do it so I let him have at it. It was an expensive laptop but it wasn't really hard to mess up, it was Toshiba laptop so quite easy to take apart.
All going well until I saw him squeezing a load of super glue onto the other side of the screen in order to keep the wires in place once he had screwed it back together... probably the quickest time I dived across from one side of the room to the other. Took him a whole afternoon to scrape it all off before it was ready to be turned on again.
For anyone not hardware fluent: Very good chance the superglue would have become liquid again once the screen would have heated up inside after being on for so long, and eventually trickle down into the PC and wrecked the motherboard. You can use sellotape to hold wires in place if they're moving out when you put the monitor back in (although to be fair wires moving around isn't really a massive issue).
I think the lesson behind this one is obvious: wrestling and water-cooled PCs just do not mix.
I knocked my half-finished water cooled PC off the end of my desk into the glass corner of my TV stand. Side case was not on at the time and I was using hard plastic pipes I spent ages measuring and forming. Coolant everywhere, two 980 tis stripped with only waterblocks took the brunt of the impact and a motherboard and CPU (presumably) ruined. Not to mention my ruined TV stand.
I was so angry at myself I left the PC and gaming in general for a full year before I finally went back and rebuilt it: Stronger, better, faster and closed-loopier than it ever was before.
I guess the moral of the story is not to 'play wrestle' with your other half near ANY electronic equipment.
No one is perfect
Listen, some of these stories are pretty bad but we all make mistakes. That's why Jarred has contributed his own tale of woe. We might be the global authority on PC games, but that doesn't mean we don't have butterfingers now and again.
Commenter: Jarred Walton, hardware editor
True story here, from about ten years back. I had a collection of PCs scattered around my house, doing Folding@Home (and providing heat). Because I was a bit lazy, I didn’t even bother putting many of the systems into a case. One particular unit was a relatively new AMD socket AM2 build. The motherboard didn’t have any onboard power/reset buttons (those were relatively rare in the aughts), so I used a small screw to short the contact pins for the front panel connectors.
If you’re thinking that’s stupid and a good way to kill PC hardware, it actually didn’t cause me too much trouble. But, after powering on the system one day, as I was lifting my hand away from the motherboard, the screw slipped out of my fingers and landed on the motherboard. I’m not sure what exactly it hit, but there was a flash, a pop, and a puff of smoke—and the circuit breaker tripped, which is never a good sign. I doubt I could replicate the exact failure if I tried, but not only did I kill the motherboard, but the CPU, PSU, memory, and graphics card went with it. The only thing that survived the ordeal was the hard drive.
Those were just a few of our favorite stories, but head over to the original comment thread if you want to read the rest.
Some comments were edited for grammar and clarity.