The Verge’s $2,000 build and what went wrong

It’s been a few months since The Verge posted a video about building a $2,000 gaming machine, that was filled with misinformation and improper technique; so much so that they took down the video. Since it has been floating around the internet to the point where people have asked me what I thought about it. And without intentionally bashing them, I’ll offer constructive criticism in a somewhat professional manner.

Calling something best practice, doesn’t make it best practice

When journalists use the term “best practice” doesn’t always mean best practice. While some journalists will go through the trouble of researching or asking an expert if they already don’t know, a few will jump to conclusions and label something as best practice. This is a dangerous practice as it can mislead some people in the general public into doing something that can possibly cost them a lot of money or even harm them.

“The CPU cooler already comes with thermal paste preapplied in a circle around it (the center; I’m assuming), it’s usually not enough. It’s good PC building practice to have a little extra.” Said the host while he applied gratuitous amounts of thermal paste on the IHS of the CPU and sandwiches it with the cooler and preapplied thermal paste. This “good PC building practice” is something any PC building expert (or anyone that can pass a CompTIA A+ exam) would not recommend.

Thermal paste applied onto thermal paste.

This is not a good PC building process because the preapplied thermal paste can ripple when it slides against the postapplied thermal paste, which can cause air bubbles (leading to poor thermal dissipation). Also if the chemistries of the two thermal compounds aren’t compatible, it can cause deterioration of the metallic surfaces. Not to mention that is way too much thermal paste, and can create a messy situation. And the preapplied thermal paste is usually enough. When applying thermal paste, the following is best practice:

  1. Clean off any remaining thermal paste, and other contaminants (off of the bottom of the cooler). For this process you can use isopropyl alcohol and a durable paper towel and q-tips. Be careful not to leave any paper or cotton debris behind.
  2. Apply one pea-sized dot to the center of the CPU’s IHS (Integrated Heat Spreader, the shiny metal top of CPU’s)
  3. Install the CPU cooler right on top. The pressure of the mounting system will push the thermal paste and spread it out more than evenly enough to do the job.

Misidentifying and improper tools

I’m nitpicking here, but near the beginning of the video the host calls some zip-ties “tweezers.” Also he says you should “use a swiss army knife, that hopefully has a phillips head screwdriver.” I know that all the people watching probably don’t have a professional level screwdriver set, nor do they want to sink $60 to $100 into one. But telling them to use a multi-tool that might not have a proper phillips bit isn’t the answer. A much better answer is to tell them to run down to the hardware or department store and get one of those 4-in-1 screwdrivers. For under $10 they can use a tool that is actually proper for working with custom desktop computers; which seems like a no brainer when working with hardware that’s more than $600.

The outside of the power supply won’t short circuit against the case

Also in the video the host notes that when installing the power supply to make sure to get it on the rubber pads so it doesn’t short circuit onto the case. The rubber pads are for vibration dampening and not to keep it from short circuiting. The bigger issue is that the host installed the power supply with the fan facing inward which is incorrect for the case that they used. Since the power supply fan will be facing the back of the motherboard, it will be drawing hot air from that. It’s better to pay attention to the orientation of the power supply, if your case has an external vent it’s almost always better to face the power supply’s fan to that external vent instead of to any internal components. Only exception to this I can think of currently is if it’s a bottom mounted power supply and you’re going to have the computer sitting in plush carpet, and there’s no internal components near it.

The final product

The picture that they still have live on their website here, tells a story. Some things I noticed right away included the fact that the power cables for the motherboard and video card could have been rerouted a heck of a lot better (highlighed in blue). Also, one of the CPU cooler screws is missing. This can cause issues down the road due to uneven tension on the board, which can cause bubbles in the thermal paste, and contamination of said thermal paste (circled in red).

The final product of The Verge’s build.

Also the RAM is not positioned right to run right in dual channel for that motherboard (as well as most ASUS boards). On a side note, I’d love to see the Verge redo this build and video with better researched information, and better techniques demonstrated. Especially since The Verge is a well known (and arguably well respected) tech news outlet, to redub the video with correct information would show humbleness and humanism, and show that they care about, and listen to their audience.

The takeaway

If you’re going to build a PC on your own (which I encourage, especially if you’re a gamer), I’d advise doing so under the guidance of a friend who PC builds. If that’s not a possibility, make sure to do a lot of research and watch a lot of videos on it prior to performing the build, so that you can fact-check the material against each other. Reputable PC part suppliers such as NewEgg will sometimes post videos on how to build PC’s which are a lot more factually correct. Getting started is the hardest part, but in the end PC building can be a fun and rewarding hobby.

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