I’m Kevin Dong, a current 4th year Computer Science and Engineering Student, and my STEP project was a two parter, consisting of a technical build, as well as a creative endeavor. I first built a PC following second semester second year, and used the computer to create and publish cooking videos through the next year, however not without complications.
The purpose of the PC wasn’t to just edit videos, but to also provide me with a powerful machine to use when programming and working on class materials or other projects. The fulfilment of the project also gave me an opportunity to learn more about computers and computer hardware since coming into the STEP fellowship I had very little knowledge on what I would be working with.
Starting from basic Google searches on what made a computer work, I created an initial build on pcpartpicker.com, an excellent resource when planning a computer build. It provides checks to make sure the components you add to your build list are compatible both physically and software wise. Learning from tech YouTube channels and other guides, I picked the most appropriate parts while considering budget, and came up with the following build list:
CPU: Intel i7-8700k OC @4.6ghz
GPU: Gigabyte Nvidia RTX 2070
RAM: Corsair Vengeance DDR4 32 GB 3200hz
And other parts as mentioned in the proposal, etc. While the other parts could be swapped out with marginal differences, i.e. different cooler for different temperatures or different hard drives or cases, these parts are what give the PC its purpose. I chose the CPU as it was the most budget friendly for performance, important for rendering videos, and it allows for CPU tweaking, as I planned to learn how to overclock as well.
I chose the GPU for various reasons. As the then most-modern line in Nvidia graphics cards, the RTX 2000 series were optimal for future longevity. In retrospective however, it may have been more beneficial to have waited for the next time of cards which were cheaper and more efficient. Additionally, more on this later, but this specific card also caused to me to delay my project due to performance issues. The card also had plenty of CUDA cores for coding computation and future machine learning, and the impressive 8 gb of video memory also helped with loading and displaying video while editing.
Along with the 32 gb of RAM, I also elected for a 1TB SSD for booting up my machine and navigating the computer faster, as well as making virtual environments more useful my providing ample resources. For video editing and general use, this meant less delay with performing more menial tasks, as well as increased capacity for switching between tasks more often. I also chose a 4TB hard drive for storage.
Motherboard before CPU
Motherboard with cpu
What went well:
In retrospect, the final build went smoothly, when it eventually happened.
When I received all the components ordered, I had believed I had prepared sufficiently for the build. Get motherboard, install CPU, install RAM, install GPU, install motherboard to case, etc. The process, while initially daunting, was actually fairly self-explanatory. The concept of opening a CPU, placing it within a bracket for mounting onto a circuit board, then applying paste before attaching a giant aluminum radiator was alien but not at all complicated. Squeezing some components into their sockets was a bit scary given the price of the parts, but all the pieces fit. I even found it fun to connect all the cables and mount the components, learning about electrical safety and the right way to discharge electronics. The final build ended up taking only 20 minutes, and by an hour I had installed my operating system, and begun to configure my PC’s software. That being said, this was the final build. The initial build did not go so well.
Motherboard with a cooler and RAM
Long story short, one of the rarer problems users run into is receiving damaged parts. While it is more common for bad parts to break down faster, components can arrive already in a state that already makes it unbootable. My motherboard came unknowingly damaged, and seeing as how problems don’t show up until after you get a PC built, I spent quite some time trying to figure out which component was causing the problem, or if it was user error. This involved the purchase of a “mobo speaker”, a little speaker that plugs into the motherboard and beeps out error codes. Since my computer was turning on but not doing much else, I installed said speaker after a week of troubleshooting and waiting for shipping, and finally identified the motherboard as the source of the problem after putting two and two together with the error code identifying a power issue preventing the CPU from starting. After another week after shipping out the broken motherboard and getting a “new” one, I was finally able to complete the final build.
PC after first booting
Ready for setup!
Despite problems that were ultimately out of my control, the build process went as well as it could, and I build a high-end PC that was able to perform tasks that it was meant to do. While I did run into another issue where I had a nonfunctional GPU for half a year, the issue was with the manufacturing of GPU rather than something that could happen to the average PC user. That being said, tips for PC building:
Get a motherboard speaker before you build,
The build really did go smoothly baring the initial issues, and watching building videos from any source gives an idea of what things should look like. Having a mobo speaker on hand lets you troubleshoot ASAP, and wearing gloves prevents you from getting your hands cut up while working with radiators in tight spaces. Building a PC has a fairly low barrier for entry, and I was certainly lucky enough to be able to build my first PC with little worry for budget and plenty of resources like pcpartpicker to use.
Following the build, I spent the last month of summer before school started to prepare my cooking videos. Writing the scripts, learning the video editing software, testing camera footage, and editing down recipe lists was the logistical work that I was able to accomplish before I moved in as a first year off campus student. Seeing as the focus of the cooking videos was for meals for college students, I wanted my videos to take place in the kitchen of a college student. So, after moving in and recording my first cooking video, I was ready to start creating.
I designed custom logos and artwork for my videos with the Adobe suite the third week of August, and immediately my graphics card died overnight. A quick google search revealed that for RTX 20XX buyers, this apparently was less rare of an issue, and that A new line of cards, the RTX 2000 Supers would not have this issue. Seeing as I had already reached the budget on my fellowship, I opted to RMA my card, beginning a 6-month process of shipping out a broken card, receiving a refurbished card up to a month later, only for the same card to be shipped back again, after testing caused it to fail.
Eventually, about a month before COVID-19 became a global pandemic, I received my final GPU. After filming my videos, I was finally able to start editing, until Spring Break was extended and my computer was left in my apartment in Columbus.
I am proud to stay that now, the first of my videos have been uploaded, with many more on the way.
One of many recipes that I’ve recorded
Especially with the onset of the coronavirus, this project has been very transformative. While the build opened me up to new knowledge and technical expertise, my goals and tasks for the project as well as its obstacles have made me a more patient and flexible person, able to deal with things as they come and find alternatives. This project has been a long-term commitment, and sticking to it for this long has only made me think of more ideas for it. While I was not able to adhere to my original plan, I adapted to the circumstances and plan to continue my videos into the future.
This applies professionally and academically as well, in the literal sense that I’ll be using my project build more often now that everything is virtual, but also in the sense that we now live in times where it pays to be that much more open to change and to be more adaptable.
The project has also definitely made me more open to this sort of creative endeavor in the future, especially for hobby that is useful and universally appreciated like cooking. As I make more videos, I ‘m already of thinking of how to make improvements as I go, and am very excited to see what else I can do.