Great moments in PC gaming: Building your first desktop PC

(Image credit: The Irregular Corporation)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

Thankfully, there aren't a lot of times in my life when I've been terrified that one small move could lead to disaster. Building my first custom desktop PC is one of those times, though. I wasn't even old enough to go to an R-rated movie by myself yet, and I was keenly aware that a single little zap of static could fry any of the expensive components in front of me, none of which could I afford to replace with allowance money. It felt like defusing a bomb.

The number of cards, cords, and drives I had to fit snugly into a black ATX case was overwhelming. At first, I didn’t even know what most of them did. The power supply by itself was like something out of a nightmare, hailing from the era before modular PSUs when every possible connector you could ever need sprawled out of the housing like an angry hydra. All I could do was read and re-read every step of the process carefully from an old issue of PC Gamer, hold my breath so I wouldn't shake plugging in each component, and hope for the best.

If building a PC is a thriller movie, the moment where the killer finally comes after the heroes is installing the CPU and its cooling unit. As one of the most expensive single items I'd ever held in my hand, the tiny Pentium processor was the part I’d most been dreading trying to install. There was so much that could go wrong between seating it correctly (which wasn't as foolproof as it is today), applying the thermal paste correctly, and mounting the bulky cooler without shorting the motherboard. I went into a zen-like state during that part of the build. I was "in the zone", as they say. And when everything was in place, I breathed one of the biggest sighs of relief of my life. Every other step was downhill in terms of difficulty from there.

(Image credit: The Irregular Corporation)

All the stress, all the uncertainty, was of course worth it when I closed up the case, plugged in my monitor and peripherals, and got a good boot on my first try. Plenty of builds I've done since then haven't gone quite so smoothly, and I thank the PC gods that they showed mercy on me my first time out. The feeling of having a working computer in front of you that you built is truly something special. And along the way, you learn about the hardware and what everything does. Aside from the enjoyment of demystifying something very complex, it also gives you the basic tools to diagnose a lot of your own tech issues in the future. And that's a valuable skill to have, even if it means getting a lot of calls from relatives at Christmas because they can't get whatever newfangled gadget someone got them to stop rebooting.

I highly recommend everyone try to build a PC at some point in their lives. It's very nerve-racking, especially the first time. But the reward is something that's not as easy to come by as certain games would like you to think—a sense of pride and accomplishment.