Science fiction often waxes philosophical about the hubris of man. Whether we’re making apes hyper-intelligent or giving guns to robots, we’re always overestimating our ability to plan for the inevitable, totally expected outcome.
Building and upgrading PCs, it turns out, is exactly the same. I’ve been building computers for almost 20 years. I know how easy it is for building a system to take a left turn. And yet, as I shut down my computer to drop a new video card into place, I made exactly that mistake. I had an hour for lunch. Surely that was enough to swap out a video card, was it not?
Thanks to poor planning, a lack of research, and a poorly-stocked local retailer, though, an upgrade that should’ve taken two hours took two days.
Let’s dive in so that you don’t make the same mistakes I did.
It’s just a video card, right?
A few years ago, I’d built a new computer with a shiny, top-of-the-midline, ASUS GeForce GTX 970 STRIX. I’d bought it with the intention of playing The Witcher 3 at settings comparable to those in the preview videos. It served its purpose admirably in that and other games over the next 3 years, but lately, it’s been feeling a bit long in the tooth. Upgrading the full range of parts in my system remains out of range, but when a friend told me he was selling his EVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Hybrid at a deep discount so that he could pick up the new GTX 1080 Ti on release day, I decided it was time to bite the bullet.
Actually getting the card into the slot went fine. It isn’t quite as roomy as I might like, but it does the job. Getting the radiator All-in-One liquid-cooled radiator in place was a bit more difficult, simply because I was trying to run a long screw through the screw holes of a fan and into the tiny threaded holes on the radiator itself. It took some swearing and some bird-flipping, but I got it in there – not knowing I’d be pulling it out shortly afterward.
It was time to plug in the power cables. I have a whole heap of cables for my power supply unit (PSU), and I was quite sure the proper cables were in there. Despite the frustration from before, this was my first real mistake.
An old dog still just does the same tricks
When I built my PC, it was on the cusp of a bunch of generational changes. My LGA 1150 motherboard, DDR3 RAM, and Intel Core i5-4590S CPU were all about to be obsolete. They run fine to this day, but support for them dropped off quickly after that. Finding more RAM for my board is prohibitively expensive, and LGA1151 CPUs won’t work with my board. If I upgrade one, I have to upgrade all three.
The PSU, too, was outdated shortly after. At 620W, it has enough juice to power a GTX 1080 with ease. It’s a nice piece of hardware, too. As a Seasonic brand, 80 Plus Bronze certified PSU, I know it is delivering clean power to my system, helping prolong the lives of the components it connects to. But where the GTX 970 I had required a single 8-pin connector, the 1080 I’d bought off my friend asked for two 8-pin connectors. I had one.
There goes the idea of finishing it in an hour. I didn’t even have time to undo the work I’d done, so the rest of my work for the day was done on the laptop I reserve for mobile work. A trip to Microcenter that evening promised to resolve the issue, though. Microcenter has everything.
Except, a few hours later, I would find that to be untrue. Whether there was a rush on computer cables or what, I’m not sure, but there wasn’t a single adapter in the store. And digging around on Amazon and Newegg, while yielding more results, didn’t give me anything I was fully comfortable plugging into my computer.
After much deliberation, I ended up doing something I would’ve had to do eventually when all those other upgrades finally happen: buy a whole new power supply.
I’d missed the window for Amazon’s one-day shipping to get it in on Thursday, though, and the unit wasn’t to arrive until Friday. So I waited.
Friday came along and I put the new power supply in, even managing to clean up my cabling a bit in the process. But something wasn’t right, still. After booting up, I decided to take a look at the new fans I’d put in to assist with cooling the radiator for the card and to replace one of the other, lower-quality fans.
There are worse kinds of dead fans, I guess
The one I’d sworn at and sweated over, the one stuck between the radiator and the case, was dead on arrival. A few tests allowed me to verify this, rendering the half-hour of frustration useless.
Okay, fine. I replaced that fan with another one I had lying around and moved the radiator to a better location in my case and finally, we were ready. I booted into a few games. The first one worked, and so did the second – Doom and Battlefield 1. The Witcher, after just a few minutes, turned my computer into a jet plane. Shortly after, the screen went black.
Some troubleshooting and heart-wrenching anxiety eventually led to the realization that the card, as I’d forgotten, has a Dual BIOS for overclockers and enthusiasts. The switch for that had flipped in shipping, apparently.
After that, it worked. Like a charm, actually. I have a much more powerful computer that uses less power than before with only a minor increase in noise. But instead of one hour, it took about 50 – including 48 hours of waiting and about 3 hours of work.
If you pull on any of the threads connecting to your computer, they can come unraveled. Don’t be like me. Do your research. Test your hardware. Don’t try to do an upgrade over your lunch break.