Welcome to my personal experience of modding a store-bought computer.
The Method Behind the Madness
I’m one of those people who doesn’t really put much forethought into their purchases. I get invested in an idea and tend to impulse buy. That’s why 4 years ago I bought a desktop PC from Currys to act as my first gaming computer.
Let me introduce you to this beast: The HP Pavilion 550-103na. This mighty desktop boasts an AMD A10 8750 processor (which the store assistant assured me was equivalent to a mid-range i5) with a CPU speed up to 3.6GHz. The 8GB of DDR3 RAM is plenty for the stay-at-home mum to make her family videotapes on, and the AMD Radeon Integrated Graphics means the kids can play Bloons Tower Defence until their hearts are content.
This beauty was brilliant when I was younger. I knew the square root of nothing about computers at the time, so a simple and sleek desktop that ran Minecraft at a comfortable 30 fps was quite alright for me. The trouble came as I grew older and began editing video more intensely, along with playing more demanding games as the PC gaming world accelerated. Naturally, I made the decision to begin modifying my computer.
Before we get into this, I’d like to say: modding my computer has been great and has taught me reams about how this tech works. However, it is not safe and will void your warranty, should you decide to do it - and I guess that's the first danger I should warn you about!
Danger #1: Fiddling with bits and bobs inside your PC will void your warranty and probably not be covered by your house insurance. If you seriously plan to upgrade your computer, do thorough research and consult people who know what they’re on about.
The Story of the 960 and the Hacksaw
I’d like to tell you a little about my graphics card. As I’ve already mentioned, my computer came with AMD Radeon Integrated Graphics, which isn’t quite good enough for the level of gaming that I was getting into. My friend conveniently was selling a GTX 960 as he’d just upgraded to a 1070, so I capitalised on the irresistible “mates rates” deal and copped my 960 for about £50. We exchanged the goods in the changing room of the gym and went home.
That night, in a Frankenstein-esque setting, I began tearing my case open. In a dimly lit room, with an array of tools before me (none of which I knew how to use) I set about disassembling my rig. After far too many screws, the side panel was off the case and I had located the pre-existing Integrated Graphics card. With surgical precision, I yanked it from the comfortable cradle in which it resided. Holding the GTX 960 aloft, I lowered the beating heart into the lifeless HP carcass and…!
It didn’t fit.
The skeleton on the HP case was built to fit slightly too snug to the components it came with. As a result, my new card physically wouldn't fit. The 960 laid discarded to the side. This brings me to the second danger I’d like to highlight.
Danger #2: Store-bought PCs are generally made to exist as they are, untouched by the user. The cases and drives are positioned in such a way as to save as much space as possible, allowing for a neat, compact, office-style form factor. The components are selected to be functional but not excessive. However most importantly, components are very often exclusive - proprietary - and made only to accommodate a single brand’s design. This is exactly the problem I had encountered.
The metal framework of the case didn’t accommodate the larger graphics card, and the DVD drive stuck awkwardly out into the atrium of the case. It clearly hadn’t been designed with upgrades in mind. Well… sometimes in life, one must accept defeat. Thankfully, this wasn’t one of those times. Knowing I had no chance of solving this issue in a smart way, I discarded the clever-looking tools and reached for my hacksaw, swiftly removing the DVD drive. Like a sweaty, oil-stained mechanic - freshly licked by blacksmith’s fire - I ruthlessly sawed through the metal chassis of the HP Pavilion. The clock struck midnight and I had yet to cleanly slice through one single metal strip. Fed-up and exhausted, I used my immense gym lad strength to bend the metal bridge which restricted the 960’s access just enough to let me slip it in. The 960 was sat snug in the bowels of the PC. Like a young Luke Skywalker inside the tauntaun, it was ugly, messy, and damaged - yet symbolic of hope, progress and betterment.
The end result is a HP Pavilion who’s side panel will no longer fit on due to too large of a graphics card. The SSD now hangs out the side because the 960 now sits where the SSD was meant to attach. It looks like an improvised explosive device if I’m being honest.
So what’s the over-arching moral of the story here? I’m not entirely sure, but I can say this: my computer works and it is performing better than it was before. It looks a bit messy, but fundamentally I have achieved my goal of creating a PC that better runs games. I should also mention that I upgraded my power supply from a 180W HP one to a 550W Corsair unit. The new card would have probably worked fine without the upgrade, but for the sake of about £40, it felt worthwhile.
What Happens Next?
I plan to upgrade my computer more this year, and it looks like I’ll soon have nothing of the original computer left. However, it isn’t as easy as buying some new RAM and simply popping it in, leading us neatly onto…
Danger #3: Compatibility. I’d like to improve my PC step-by-step, however to upgrade the RAM to 16GB of DDR4, I’d also need a new motherboard that caters for DDR4. I should also update my CPU while I’m there because it would take a lot to get it out the case. On that note, I will need to get a new case too to allow for everything to fit and… my point being, sometimes you can’t just pick and choose what to change. The manufacturer will restrict you greatly with the parts they choose, so if you’re looking to gradually upgrade make sure you choose a computer that will facilitate that.
And on a similar note:
Danger #4: Some computers will be technologically compatible but won’t be good to build a gaming set-up from. My PC is electronically compatible but smaller than average (hence the graphics card didn’t really fit) so I can’t upgrade my cooling system if I wanted to - there’s no more space for fans. It’s wise to consider whether the motherboard/case will accommodate what you want to do.
All of these observations come from my own personal experience and may not be entirely universal, but hopefully it’s inspired you to demonstrate a level of caution when choosing to mod a store-bought PC. For someone in my position, this approach has been the best. I never had the money to drop 3/4 of a grand on a gaming computer, so having the opportunity to improve gradually has suited me well.