Mythbusting Five Common Misconceptions about PC Building

Mythbusting Five Common Misconceptions about PC Building

Over the last couple of years, I became interested in transitioning from console gaming and mobile computing to a desktop-based setup. I spent a great deal of time on Reddit and YouTube, learning everything I could. In the process, I became somewhat of an enthusiast. I now admin a modest-sized Facebook group where several professional PC builders and I help newcomers choose, buy, and build PCs for a range of usage scenarios.

However, despite the fabulous experience I have had in joining this community; there remain a range of misconceptions about it. Below, I will attempt to debunk some of these and provide a newcomer friendly look into the community and suggest places to look for advice.

desk pic
My corner…

It’s expensive

Probably the most common misconception about building a computer is that it is expensive. You will usually find people arguing this in the comments section of IGN Facebook posts and in articles by publications like Motherboard. It has even spawned a meme.

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Typical “PC gaming is expensive” comments…I am only half joking

This misconception arises from the assumption that every PC builder, particularly gamers, has to have the best of the best. The truth is people buy what they can afford or what gets them the performance they desire.  In the UK, you can build a capable tower using retail parts for around £650. If you desire better-than-console visuals, and a PC that is great for home use and some light productivity, then you are looking at sub-£1,000 for the full package, including peripherals and software. This is achieved by buying into the mid or mainstream-tier products that are often ignored by journalists and comment-section trolls. The fact of the matter is, you can game at 1080p60fps and have a great home computing experience for less than Apple’s base MacBook model.

Better still, if you are particularly thrifty, you can buy many PC parts in a ‘like-new’ condition from enthusiasts and eBay, and save hundreds. Moreover, in the vein of being thrifty, don’t do what Kotaku writer Kirk Hamilton did and pay full whack for Windows. Today, we have a mechanism called digital entitlement, where you can activate a legitimate Windows 10 license using a Windows 7, 8 or 8.1 product code. This will save you a few quid and helps you avoid the temptation of gray market key-sellers such as G2A and Kinguin.

The main point here is, not every user needs the computational power of a £1,600 Intel i7 6950X Broadwell-E processor or £750 Nvidia GTX 1080Ti video card. Instead, most people are price sensitive and buy into the mid-range market. This can easily be seen through the Steam hardware survey, which shows that the top three most popular video cards among responders are one and two-generation old cards, with the GTX 970, the former price-to-performance king, still ruling in 2017 with a market share of 5.89%.

handy dandy PC label pic
A handy-dandy labeled diagram of a PC (my first build)

It’s hard

Above, I mentioned an article by Vice’s Motherboard publication, where one of their editors opined at length about his trials in building a high-end PC. He was, of course, met with ridicule by the community and by industry heavy-weights. One YouTuber and respected industry voice, Steve Burke of Gamers Nexus, dedicated an entire video to debunking the Motherboard piece, including a speed-build with off the shelf components.

Suffice to say, this is one of the most overblown assumptions about PC building.  It stems from a misconception that the horror stories seen on some forums are common. From my personal experience and accounts of professionals I know and have heard from, it is very uncommon for users to experience serious issues so long as they are adequately prepared.

If you attempt to order a bunch of components from Amazon without checking compatibility and they try and throw them together after work with absolutely no knowledge, then, of course, you will have a difficult time. However, if you spend some time watching tutorials, check compatibility carefully, and take your time, it is rather similar to building a large Lego set. This exact advice is mirrored by Ryan Marinelli, the tech specialist at PC Part Picker, in a 2015 Vice article ‘Making Your Own Computer Can Be a Sad and Confusing Hell.’ Marinelli mentions that the process is not particularly difficult with some limited research, saying “PC building is often referred to as LEGO for adults.”

A snap of my rig’s innards after I upgraded my video card

It’s easy to break things

Many people assume that because they have little knowledge of how electronics work, they will damage their components. This comes from the prominence of horror stories on advice boards and a general lack of understanding of the industry. Most PC components are heavily resistant to static electricity, have strict quality assurance and compatibility standards, and have comprehensive instruction manuals.

Building a PC is much like assembling an Ikea bed or mounting a TV on a wall: it is designed for an average user to do at home, but many people end up getting scared and paying someone to do it. However, as I just said, PC building, like other DIY activities, is designed for normal people. Yes, some components have a limited tolerance for abuse, and yes, there is still the risk of static discharge damaging your components, but these concerns are easily remedied by taking precautions to ground yourself and handling things with care. You don’t throw your iPhone about your desk (I hope), so don’t slam your video card into your PCI-e socket like it’s a whack-a-mole and you should be fine. As Marinelli from the Vice story says: “95 percent of the connections are all keyed, so you couldn’t plug something in wrong unless you really, really tried to; or if you broke it, or you cut parts that you weren’t supposed to. Sometimes it’s even colour-coded as well.”

Lastly, whenever the “it could break” crowd gets backed into a corner, they bring out the ‘overclocking’ play. However, overclocking is not mandatory, or necessary for most users, and really is not that dangerous or hard. It is simply the process of pushing hardware past its factory set specification (generally a refresh rate or clock speed measured in Hertz) to achieve more performance. Generally, if you were a gamer, you might overclock your video card (GPU and memory) and your processor (CPU), while enthusiasts may also overclock their DRAM (system memory) and monitor refresh rate. However, as we are using electronics, increasing performance often comes at the cost of increasing power and/or voltage, leading to greater heat emission. So you need to have sufficient cooling. However, if you just want to build your first PC, most motherboards will have an EZ overclock in their BIOS and nearly every good guide will at least mention that it is an option and suggest appropriate cooling.

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The Glorious PC Master Race meme | Cartoon from The Escapist

The community is toxic

There is a widely held belief that PC gaming and building is a cliquey and toxic community. However, this, again, comes from a place of misunderstanding. As with many sub-cultures, the tropes, memes, and ways of communicating can seem nasty or non-inclusive from the outside, but this just isn’t the case. A prime example is the ‘Glorious PC Master Race’ meme. To someone with no knowledge of online video games culture, this could seem like a racist or classist slur. However, it is actually an in-joke that is often critiqued and laughed about on forums such as Reddit’s r/pcmasterrace. Instead, the core values of the community are sharing knowledge, fighting anti-consumer practices, and showcasing creativity. Yes, there is a malignant minority, who chose to belittle other gamers and fans of different hardware vendors, but they are often ignored or find themselves without a platform.

Don’t be like Linus | Linus Media Group

Troubleshooting

The biggest hiccup you can have during a build is the PC refusing to POST (Power-On Self-Test) or in the non-technical English: the computer doesn’t turn on or nothing shows on your display. If it POSTs, you are golden and can proceed to install the operating system of your choice, if not, there are a few simple steps to ascertain what ails your PC.

From my research, the biggest issues here are dead system memory (RAM DIMMs can often be faulty), incorrectly seated or faulty CPU cooler, power cables not connected, the display connected to the incorrect port, and general dead-on-arrival parts (video card, mainboard, RAM, processor.) In essence, many of the troubleshooting scenarios you are likely to come across can be solved by double checking things. To this end, there are certain best practices to observe when building.

  • Check compatibility and specifications before ordering/buying (pcpartpicker.com is a great reference for quick checking but always double-check)
  • Take some precaution to reduce static: this can involve standing on hardwood or tile floor and touching your case as you build, or buying anti-static mats, wrist straps etc.
  • Making a temporary test bench out of your motherboard box and plugging everything in outside of the case (makes it easier to assemble and saves you time if you have a faulty part)
  • Having a guide loaded on another screen or a friend reading the manuals to refer back to if you get stuck
  • Handle everything with care: you may have paid quite a bit for a component, so why treat it differently from a smartphone or expensive knickknack

If you are interested in getting into PC building I suggest checking out r/buildapc on Reddit and Paul’s Hardware’s ‘Beginner’s Guide to Building a Gaming PC’ series on YouTube. Alternatively, you can get involved in my Facebook community ‘PC Builders – Beginners and Enthusiasts.’

The third chapter begins on drones and the Oval Office

The third chapter begins on drones and the Oval Office

Photo: Predator drone by Marc Buehler/Flickr

Why Trump is unlikely to keep his finger off the trigger with drones.

President Trump stated when he addressed the CIA in Langley that: “We haven’t used the abilities we’ve got. We’ve been restrained.” The self-congratulatory rant came after months of casting aspersions, but now Trump needs the CIA’s drones, so he is playing ball.

Just over eight years ago, President Obama met with CIA director Michael Hayden. Obama, a constitutional lawyer, was about to be briefed on the existence of ‘signature’ strikes.

A Bush-era secret, ‘signature’ strikes or “crowd killings” target ‘military-aged males’ who share a ‘signature’ or ‘pattern of life’ with terrorist suspects. Newsweek journalist Daniel Klaidman (Kill or Capture) claims Obama reacted poorly to the news. “That’s not good enough for me,” he said, following a blunt explanation from Hayden’s deputy.

“[Obama] would squirm,” said Klaidman’s source; yet in the months following he authorised the largest increase in drone strikes in the history of the programme. According to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London, by the end of his term he had authorised a total of 563 drone strikes across Pakistan, Somalia, and Yemen, almost ten times as many as Bush.

Obama was enigmatic. The Onion captured this in their satire of his “loyal,” hound like drones following him out of the White House. It’s hard to reconcile a ‘squirming’ Nobel Peace laureate with the US drone master who authorised the killing of estimated 380-801 civilians. Trump is not though; he wears his comfort with violence on his sleeve. He said his counterterrorism approach would be to “Take out their families”.

Talking to Democracy Now, Jameel Jaffer (The Drone Memos), formerly legal counsel for ACLU said, “[Obama] had to build a legal and bureaucratic infrastructure for the use of targeted killing,” adding, “that infrastructure now exists for the next president, for President Trump, to use.”

“[T]he real concern,” he continued, “is that the lines that the Obama administration drew are lines that can be swept aside by the next administration. These are rules that the Obama administration adopted for itself, and it fought very hard to keep the courts from enforcing those rules or even asking whether the rules were the right ones, whether they reflected international law or reflected constitutional law.”

I would argue that the mind that brought you “bigly” inheriting the most extensive executive powers is scary; doubly so when he vows to eradicate the nebulous “radical Islamic terrorism.” A ‘liberal’ White House tried, and all they have to show are a string of war crime indictments and failed states. Civilians in Yemen and Syria should prepare for more of the same.

Furthermore, the eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the border authority’s recent purchase of several Predator drones. That’s the same model of drone used in the 2011 extrajudicial killings of three American citizens including Anwar al-Awlaki and his 16-year-old son Abdulrahman. His wall doesn’t seem so scary now, does it?

I might be wrong, but last time I checked it’s a lot easier to strap a couple Hellfire anti-tank missiles to an aircraft the size of a Cessna than it is to build a wall across a continent. I’ll admit it’s unlikely that Trump would authorise kinetic strikes in sight of El Paso, but the Predator’s surveillance capabilities should lift eyebrows.

With Trump, it isn’t the populist campaign lunacy or the twitter tantrums that scare me; it’s the very real legacy of power Obama leaves the new President. The buffoonery of a pension aged sex pest with too much money may seem funny; but the terrifying truth is, Donald Trump now has the authority to assassinate thousands of people globally, absent due process. He has the ability to play god, and as with his predecessors, we will likely let him.

Originally published in the opine section of The Gaudie Student Newspaper: 01 February 2017, p. 12.

This version contains minor typographic corrections. The featured image used in print is not reproduced. I would like to thank the Opine editor Jamie Smith for the opportunity to contribute to his section and for his help in editing the piece.

Despite austerity Govt. Spends Billions on Spying and Assassination

Despite austerity Govt. Spends Billions on Spying and Assassination

While politicians argue over NHS funding, the UK government continues to quietly spend billions on technologies for spying and assassination.

The current Tory government led by Prime Minister Theresa May — “the UK’s spy queen” according to Ars Technica — has pledged that the National Health Service will receive no additional funding; yet, that same government proudly pours billions of pounds into the military industrial complex?

Whether it is the hotly debated renewal of the Trident nuclear deterrent, the equally controversial adherence to NATO military-spending targets, or Mrs May’s ‘Snoopers’ charter’, the UK government spends big on defence. However, these have all been discussed ad nauseam in the press.

What hasn’t been covered to a similar degree is that the same government also spends billions on shadowy surveillance programmes and combat drones, with the expressed purpose of spying and killing, often outside of the confines of the law — and theatre of war.

While assassination and indiscriminate mass surveillance are illegal, to varying degrees, in both the Britain and America, both have become common practice following 9/11, and their popularity belies political affiliation, as seen with the continued use of drone strikes across the Bush and Obama Administrations.

What do you know about Drones?

Small civilian drones are increasingly present in our skies, a trend that may be bolstered with services like Amazon Prime Air. With their move toward the mainstream and legislation governing civilian drones lagging, they pose a small but significant challenge for lawmakers. However, the origins of these fairly innocuous gadgets are firmly based in the military industrial complex.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) — better known as ‘Drones’, for their bee-like buzzing noise during flight — are the weapon of choice for governments looking to spy on or assassinate individuals at range with zero pilot risk. With names like Switchblade, Reaper, and Predator, they evoke a sense of fear and impending violence.

Developed during the 1980s by the Aeronautical Systems subsidiary of nuclear energy firm General Atomics and Israeli-born drone engineer Abraham Karem, the Predator quickly became the poster child for the US military’s drone program. Borne from Karem’s Gnat 750 drone, used by the CIA and Air Force in Bosnia and the Balkans, the MQ-1 Predator and it’s sibling, the upgraded MQ-9 Reaper (Predator B), have become the US government’s favoured weapon in the so called ‘war on terror’.

While the use of drones by the US military and organisations such as Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) (a black ops organisation directly answerable to the president) and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has been thoroughly exposed through the tireless work of journalists such as Jeremy Scahill (Blackwater, Dirty Wars) and activists like Medea Benjamin (Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control), the role of the UK government in anti-terror strikes and its involvement in the purchase and development of drones, has gone sparsely covered and widely uncontested by the British public.

In a country crushed by austerity and mired by Brexit, does our government really have a mandate to spend billions on extrajudicial killings?

In addition to its development partnerships with Israel and France, Britain has bought drones from the Americans. The problem herein, does not lie with the press, as even the establishment has been fairly consistent at publishing the particulars, but with Britain as a whole for its uneven resistance. Here are just a couple examples of the UK’s appetite for drones:

The Watchkeeper WK450, based on the Elbit Systems (Israel) Hermes 450 and developed by a consortium of firms led by Thales (France), has seen a total of just 146 hours action in Afghanistan, between three vehicles. Worse still, many of the 33 drones that had been delivered by late 2015 are used exclusively for training or worse are simply gathering dust in storage. The controversial programme, which has been described as “just the latest of a stream of examples of overdue and overcost defence equipment projects”, managed to rack up a £1.2 billion price tag.

The Royal Air Force’s Reaper drones, which they bought from our friends in America, have seen far greater success. Flying equipped with a pair of 500lb bombs and four 100lb Lockheed Martin Hellfire anti-tank missiles, each costing $68,000, they have become the favoured drone of the British military. However, things would get tricky if the government had to justify paying £500 million for 10 of the aircraft.

In addition to its extensive partnership with the US on ‘The War on Terror’, British armed forces, enabled by their vast expenditure, have carried out a series of their own drone strikes against British-born terror suspects overseas.

In 2015, PM David Cameron credited an RAF-operated Reaper with the death of British-born Reyaad Khan, a fighter for the so-called Islamic State. This must have impressed Ministry of Defence, who disclosed in May that they have plans to double the Royal Air Force’s fleet of the deadly drones. However, as with the case of Anwar al-Awlaki, the ‘radical cleric’ assassinated by a Hellfire in Yemen, Khan’s Daesh affiliation counted for more than his right to trial as a British citizen.

Khan and Al-Awlaki’s suspected affiliations with terrorist groups marked them for death, despite their respective citizenship and the rights those entailed. This has set a dangerous precedent for how our governments choose military targets, especially when you consider that at the time of Awlaki’s death, Yemen was outside the publicly recognised theatres of war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Whether it is the exorbitant cost or the reckless and legally questionable taking of life, there are many aspects of Britain’s use of drones that should make us stop and take note. However, pilotless aircraft are not the government’s only shady vice.

‘Bulk Collection’ and other snooping

Aswith many euphemisms, the truth behind the words is often distasteful, with the ‘enhanced interrogation techniques’ (torture) of the past becoming the ‘bulk collection’ (mass surveillance through data collection) and targeted-killing’ (assassination) of today.

With Mrs May taking the reins in Westminster, it is hard to believe Government intends to slow the pace of its ‘snooping’. Described by Edward Snowdon as the UK’s “Darth Vader”, May is a champion of greater powers for the government to collect and store vast quantities of personal information. She has spent years carefully pushing for power which has culminated in the Investigatory Powers Bill, granting British law enforcement and security agency freedom to track individuals’ internet usage unhindered by the need for a warrant.

As with the drones, the lack of accountability is stark.

Take for example the ever mysterious US National Security Agency’s (NSA) base at RAF Menwith Hill. For years the government stonewalled journalists and activists when questioned about its activities. However, recently The Intercept managed to obtain documents which exposed the base’s role in questionable surveillance carried out in aid of “capture-kill operations” in the Middle East.

These revelations came on the tails of a report last year by the Intelligence and Security Committee of parliament on the practices of the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ), which held that the intelligence organisation had been illegally spying on the British public. In its report the committee cited the leaks by Edward Snowdon and called for significant legislative changes.

Above are only a few examples of a much greater trend towards secrecy and expensive mass surveillance, which when coupled with the government’s increase reliance on drones, shows a budgetary prioritisation starkly at odds with the needs of the British people. At every turn it seems that our government seeks to go against the spirit of our laws in its fight against terrorism, all the while millions of Brits suffer under austerity. This trend in counter-terrorism priorities may not have originated with the Tory party of Cameron and May, but has definitely been exacerbated under their governments.

While money is one aspect to worry about, the combination of a government eager to spy on its people and a trend, in the US at least, of law enforcement agencies seeking and obtaining sophisticated surveillance drones, provides us a serious cause for anxiety.

It’s time for the people of Britain to say no to the drone, to say no to being spied on, and demand that the government address the needs of the people, not pour money into the ever expanding sinkhole that is it’s objectively flawed policy for the War on Terror.

Originally published on my Medium blog: https://medium.com/@alasdairfraser8/despite-austerity-govt-spends-billions-on-spying-and-assassination-ff9a0aa6c229#.cwzxzbsja

Donald Trump’s Rhetoric is a Political ‘Race to the Bottom’

Donald Trump’s Rhetoric is a Political ‘Race to the Bottom’

Trump’s rhetorical ‘race to the bottom’ may well backfire. His race to the top of Republican polls has been remarkable but the more attention he gets, the more people learn how inept and vile he truly is.

donald-trump
Photograph: Jim Young/Reuters

Donald Trump, the son of a New York real-estate magnate and Scottish emigrant, is by far the most polarising figure in western politics this year. Part business man, part television personality, and part…racist? His mix of fascist rhetoric, neo-liberal economics, and world busting ego has made for an ‘entertaining’ media shit-storm to say the least. These things make him the Republican frontrunner in the U.S. Presidential race but they might also end up being his undoing.

Trump’s special brand of crazed populism has captured the minds of America’s ‘less educated’ and opportunistic voters. I will explain. Trump has something for ‘everyone’, so to speak. You want some McCarthy style xenophobia? You got it; Trump want’s to ban Muslim immigration and install a Nazi style religious identification system (even war criminal Dick Cheney thinks it’s un-American). You want some patronising sexism from a man whose hair looks like an escaped Guinea pig? You got it. Are you an older gent with heaps of cash? Do you like it that way? Trump will go on national TV and masturbate your ego with his weird victim complex. I’m sure the quote “It has not been easy for me. It has not been easy for me. I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars,”sounds familiar. Do you like dot replying people on Twitter with badly made pie charts that link to debunked stats? Trump is definitely your guy. I think you get the picture.

He has pissed off a lot of people. Trump recently prompted The Late Show’s Steven Colbert to comment “he is willing to offend every group in America except white people”, and that is pretty much it. First he went for Latinos, now its Muslims, but if there is a trend to be had, its that Trump will not point out crappy things white people do. Now hold up, this is not the white-guilt segment you have come to expect. This is simply a matter of, its normal to call people out for shitty or ‘evil’ behaviour. However, you haven’t seen a Trump press release condemning the motives behind the Planned Parenthood attack, have you? He simply called the attacker a “maniac” and said it was “terrible”. Such a defender of virtuous ideology is our Donald.

I don’t want to tread too much broken ground though, as I expect you are all fairly familiar with this, courtesy of that one guy on your Facebook I call ‘the news aggregator’ (I tend to be that annoying guy for my friends). Therefore, I will get on with it. Why do I think this will all come and bite ol’ Donald in the butt?

Well one of the things that happens when you upset millions of people is millions of people are disinclined to ignore your shitty behaviour. Students at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen petitioned their school to revoke Trump’s honorary degree in the wake of his problematic comments regarding Muslims. They argued that his political comments went counter to all that the university stood for, that endorsing him was no longer plausible. The university agreed, and stripped him of the degree. First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon felt likewise and stripped him of GlobalScot ambassador position. These happened to the backdrop of a petition calling to ban Trump from the UK, which is receiving “25,000” signatures an hour. We certainly aren’t buying ‘the Trump affect’ this side of the pond.

The most ironic thing about the fallout of Britain’s Trump pushback is hisresponse. The hubris of Trump really puts Poe’s law to the test. Not only does he claim “UK politicians should be thanking me” but that he has “done so much for Scotland,” a delusional remark if I have ever seen one. In case you are reading from outside of the UK, I will get into why he is categorically wrong. Not only was his golf links a resounding failure for the community (and financially), he embroiled himself in a protracted legal battle with the Scottish government over their alternative energy plans because their sea windfarms ‘destroyed the aesthetics of his golf course’ (paraphrasing). You heard that right, the Presidential hopeful tried to interfere with another sovereign state’s energy policy because it interrupted his view of the North Sea.

Moving closer to home for Mr. Trump, let’s segue into his finances. Trump loves to lie. It’s the chief component of his Trump ‘brand’, that on any given day he brags is worth in excess of $3 billion [~£1.98 billion](Forbes pegs it at about a tenth of that). Disregarding his brand and his exaggerations (over inflating his net worth in campaign material by at least 100%), Trump’s claims of being an excellent business executive fall flat. While he has never filed for personal bankruptcy, his businesses have filed for corporatebankruptcy four times. Additionally, one pundit claimed that if Trump had just placed his father’s money in a mutual bond that tracked the S&P 500 he would have $8 billion (double his net worth). If we go by the truism that the truth is in the middle, he still isn’t all that amazing. Consequently we should take his claims of ‘making America great again’ with a grain of salt.

Now for the Coup de grâce. We have briefly surmised but a few of Trump’s most egregious failures and faults, while skirting around the main reason its all going to fall apart for him; he can’t do half of what he says. While some have argued that his Muslim ban may be constitutional, the majority of media pundits and politicians believe it is un-American, and it wouldn’t have a chance in hell of passing in Congress. In the same vein, his fellow candidates in the GOP can’t stand him, so I highly doubt he will have much support from moderate Republicans, or many traditional conservatives. Essentially Trump is campaigning to bigoted or selfish Americans who don’t represent the modern American values, nor do they have the clout to affect the shift in legislation (Same-sex marriage, gun-control, health care etc.). Simply put, Trump won’t get the votes because the more he campaigns, the more people will realise he won’t be able to fulfil his fantasies of fascist America, because no one will back his promises in government.

I could be wrong. Trump may well get the nomination, and he may pick a strong running mate who isn’t as insane as he is. The thing is, he then has to fight Clinton with Wall Street and the women’s vote or Sanders with his left-wing populism. As scared as I am, I am glad it is an uphill battle for Trump; it’s a bonus that he is making enemies of everyone and their nan.

(Disclosure: I supported the petition for the removal of Trump’s degree, but do not endorse the ban on him entering the UK, although it is amusing.)

 

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