Building a PC

Mysteries of the UniverseAwesome Moments

I wanted to bang my head on the table as I once again experienced a massive frame drop in my video game.

My dad’s computer was only a few years old, but it was already lagging far behind in terms of performance. Even turning the graphical settings on my game to ultra-low didn’t help me achieve a playable experience.

It was around this time, a few months after I moved back to the United States from China, that I decided to build a computer that could run games and video editing software smoothly. I remembered one moment at my old school, the International School of Beijing, when one of my friends was looking at a website called, choosing parts for his dream PC build. I stared fascinated at his screen, not knowing what any of it meant, but still thinking, “Wow. That’s really cool.”

When I approached my parents with my idea, I was immediately met with skepticism and attempts to dissuade me.

“You don’t have any experience at all,” said my dad in a dismissive tone.

“Why not just buy a computer instead?” asked my mom sympathetically.

In order to convince my parents, I started looking into the strange and mysterious world of DIY PC building, browsing countless forums and watching many YouTube videos. There were countless terms that I didn't understand. RAM? CPU? GPU? What did it all mean? I was extremely confused. All these people in the forums and videos knew what they were doing, and I was some sort of alien from outer space, not understanding what they were talking about. I felt as if I should give up.

Nevertheless, after weeks of research and hard work, I still managed to work up a budget and parts list for my PC, and my parents agreed in the end. Yet their skepticism continued to haunt me. Maybe this was too difficult a task for me — I began to wonder if I had made a bad decision. The next few weeks were a blur. At school and at home, my computer was constantly on my mind.

When my parts finally arrived, I started building right away. I was excited and hopeful. When I finished plugging all my cables into the motherboard, I felt that this was the moment I proved my parents’ — and most importantly my own — skepticism wrong. I pushed the power button and waited for the system to boot. But nothing happened. There were no fans spinning, no lights shining, and no noises from the power supply. Even worse, when I tried to diagnose the problem, I ripped out the PCI-E slot on the motherboard while pulling the graphics card to clear up space, breaking one of my most important components.

At this point, I felt like throwing my hands in the air and giving up. I started to think that my parents were right from the beginning, and that I was foolish and ignorant to lure myself into this false hope of building a PC.

As a last ditch effort to save my computer, I persuaded my dad to buy me a new motherboard. Over the next few days, I had my build in mind every moment. I still remember those nights when I couldn’t sleep from thinking about how I could free myself from this increasingly hopeless situation. So when the new motherboard arrived, I took everything apart and put it back together again, being extremely careful with all the parts. I felt that this was my last chance to save this project, along with my feelings of self-worth and confidence.

Once again, I pressed the power button and waited for the system to boot. But once again, nothing happened. My hopes were crushed. When I looked closer at my failed computer, however, I saw a tiny blue light in the front case IO (Input/Output). This light, this tiny little spark, rekindled the fire inside of me and showed me that even when things seem absolutely hopeless, there is still a reason to keep going.

As I approached that pivotal moment of pressing the power button after my third rebuild, I didn’t expect my computer to turn on. But I still pressed the button and waited for the system to boot. Just when it seemed that — as I was now fully prepared to accept — it was going to turn out to be another failure, the computer exploded with life.

For a few seconds, I was so shocked that I couldn’t form words. The yellow lights on the motherboard were shining, and the fans on the case and heatsink spinning. In that moment, I forgot about school, tests, and the troubles with my parents, and sitting on the floor, I looked at the computer in awe. Then, as if just waking up from a sweet daydream, I kept shouting to my father in Chinese, “爸爸!爸爸!爸爸!行了!行了!行了!” (Dad! Dad! Dad! It works! It works! It works!) That moment, frozen in time, made all the effort that came before it seem like an insignificant sacrifice, like drops of water compared to an ocean.

When my mom came home and congratulated me, I felt more confident in myself than ever before. I was skeptical from the beginning about whether I could build a computer, and my parents were even more so, but this experience taught me that I can accomplish difficult things if I just try. It also taught me that if I want to do something, I need to put in lots of work. I had researched computers for days, learning about PC parts and components, and it all payed off in that one moment.

When I first decided I wanted to build my computer, I didn’t know what to expect. I said it was something I wanted to do, but I had never really looked into it. I thought it would be ridiculously complicated, and when I first started delving into the strange and unknown world, I was so confused. Even after I had done research, I still felt like a person flailing in the dark, trying to make sense of something that he couldn't see. Yet, after I built my computer and it turned on for the first time, I experienced a dramatic change, as if somebody flipped on the lights, and I suddenly understood all those people online who told me building a computer was easy. I know so many things that I didn't know before, and the world of PC building no longer feels like the unknown and foreign place it once was. Instead, it represents a warm community that I am proud to be part of.

Nathan Zhang is 13 years old and in eighth grade at Meadowlark Middle School, Winston Salem, North Carolina. He lived in China for about three years. His hobbies include reading, writing, gaming, computer hardware, and enjoying all kinds of food.

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