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Wednesday, November 4, 2020

Getting My Son a New (To Him) High End Computer For As Cheap As Possible

One of the requests my son, Lee, has had, for what seems like the longest time, is a computer of his own. I use my computer regularly for work, and spent more than the bare minimum on mine so that I'd have a fast computer, but even my computer isn't good enough for what he wanted to use it. He wanted a gaming computer. And a desktop.

Computers and other electronics are ridiculously expensive where I live. When corona started and we were looking into the possibility of learning at home, I was looking into getting another simple computer, but the cheapest anything, the cheapest chromebook, was $285 on sale, usually more than that. For that reason, when I purchased my computers in the past, I purchased them in the US and had someone traveling here bring it to me, or my last one, I picked it up when I traveled there. 

But with corona, people aren't traveling. And he wanted a desktop anyhow, so that wasn't something I could really ask anyone to bring in their suitcase even if they were traveling.

But my son had very specific plans on what he wanted to use the computer for- specifically the ability to use games that require a good graphics card- he wanted to be able to play Scrap Mechanic, among other games, and desk tops that had the requirements he desired weren't cheap.

My best friend helped me out trying to find a cheaper computer- I didn't need new, just good specs. But even refurbished computers are pricey locally. The cheapest we found was $175 for a refurbished computer. But even that one, we weren't sure if it had good enough specs for what Lee wanted. 



So we decided to ask a friend who is good with computers, and he was trying to help Lee find something through our local second hand selling website. We found a few potential computer options there that looked good for a good price, but one was already taken, and another we never got a phone call back from. But this friend of ours, dubbed by my son as "Smart Guy" (and thusly he'll be referred to as such) taught Lee how to understand these second hand sale stats, and advised him on what type of things he should be looking at.

Finally, one day when Lee was perusing the website, he found a computer that looked not only the specs that he was looking for, but much, much better. And the price was unbelievably low for what specs it has. We sent the information over to Smart Guy who confirmed that it really was something that looked perfect for his needs, but gave us some follow up questions to ask. We did a lot of asking questions, and everything worked out, the specs were perfect for most things, but the few things that could use improvement, because it is a desktop, can easily and cheaply be replaced in the future if we want to. But the main important things, it had. 

It was a 10 year old gaming computer, that, when purchased ten years ago, was top of the line. And the hard drive was replaced 5 years ago. It is still good quality and much better than the refurbished computers we had been looking at. And the same price. $175. It's a computer that when new cost over $1000. And is still in great working condition.

There just was one problem. 

I was in quarantine because of suspected corona. And because the kids were with me, they were in quarantine as well. So how would I get the computer? I asked the seller if he'd be willing to have me transfer him the money and I would pick it up after quarantine, but he didn't want to wait. So I asked Smart Guy if he'd be willing to pick up the computer from the seller, for pay. He did so, and checked out the computer to make sure it worked properly, and it did. Finally, when I was out of quarantine, I picked up the computer.

But that wasn't it.

Because when you have a computer that is a desktop, even if cheaper than a laptop, you need to buy all these different parts to be able to use the computer. So in addition to the computer tower, I had to go get a screen, wireless mouse and keyboard (Lee abhors wires), a webcam, and a wire to connect the monitor to the computer. I still need a wifi USB adapter to pick up the wifi signal. Lee price compared these on a price comparison website and found the cheapest for each of them, and because of quarantine, with home delivery (and not to the post office as they usually are).

But even that was more complicated.

Because one day while I was in the city with a rented car for a doctor's appointment, I got called up by the company where he bought the screen from, and they told me they can't mail it to me because the mail delivery service they use won't deliver to my location. So I decided to just drive to that city to pick up the monitor, since I couldn't rely on the bus system to be able to pick it up from someone's house that I'd get it delivered to, assuming I wasn't in quarantine again, since I had a car anyhow. So add the gas mileage to the cost of that screen.

But finally we had the screen and the computer and the wires to connect them, and Lee plugged it all in, and... nothing. The screen turned on, but didn't actually show anything from the computer. The computer whirred and made noises but it didn't work.

I must admit at this point I was ready to cry. I put so much effort into getting this just right for Lee and it still didn't work. I went into my room to hide away because each time I heard the whirring but the computer wasnt turning on, it started me spiraling emotionally. I didn't want to have to pay for a repair person. I mean, I had already laid out money for the computer, pick up, monitor, keyboard, webcam, and now it wasn't even working and I had to pay more for it because it wasn't working?

But Lee is a really bright kid and a problem solver and good with technology, and he doesn't give up easily. He googled how to figure out the problem, as well as contacting "Smart Guy", and he literally opened up the computer (I am way too scared to do this!) and was checking that all the wires were connected properly, and found out in doing so that one of the wires that was supposed to be connected to the hard drive was unplugged! He plugged it back in and then got the computer to work! Go Lee!

So after all that, the computer worked. But was it usable?

See, another thing a laptop has that a desktop (or at least this one) doesn't is a wifi receiver. Which meant that I either needed to buy a USB wifi receiver, or had to connect the computer via an ethernet cable to our router. Lee chose the ethernet cable... only the desk is on the other side of the room from the router, and the standard ethernet cable was just barely long enough to stretch across the room and across Lee's bed if the computer was not placed under the desk. It was usable, but very uncomfortable. So Lee asked me to get him a longer USB cable, and unfortunately the store that I checked only had 3 meter and 10 meter ones, and only the 10 meter one was long enough so that was that, and I purchased it.

Ok, computer, check. Mouse and keyboard, check. Monitor, check. Internet, check. But does it actually work for Scrap Mechanic? He specifcally asked for a computer with a graphics card, and a decent one, and though that is what we bought him, and technically it should work, after a few days of work, trying to get it to work, downloading Steam and then various drivers, and computer update after update, he realized that Scrap Mechanic needs something called DirectX to work.

I have no idea what this actually means, so I'm sitting next to Lee asking him to explain to me how this works. What DirectX actually is. And this is technical and you can feel free to skip this paragraph if you want. He says DirectX is software that makes codes smaller and easier to run. Gaming is like making a cake in a kitchen, and DirectX is a good kitchen, and with a bad kitchen you can't make a good cake. He told me not to quote him on this but it actually finally made sense to me when he said this and that is why I'm sharing it anyhow. (He's watching me writing this so I'm not actually doing anything against his will- I don't share things about my kids on my blog without their permission.) The graphics card was older so didn't actually support DirectX even though it had it downloaded on it. According to the research he did "the card supported DirectX 11 but the feature level is onlyl 10." This is just a bunch of gobbledegook to me, but bottom line, he needed a new graphics card to run his games. And he said DirectX is needed for basically any gaming, not just Scrap Mechanic.

So back to the drawing board it was. Or not really. That is why Lee wanted a desktop and not a laptop. Because if a laptop doesn't have good enough features, you kinda are screwed. But if you want to make your desktop better, you can replace one part with another. Lee said we could just get a new graphics card and install it instead of the current one. So Lee searched the internet second hand sites for a graphics card that was advanced enough for what he wanted. Unfortunately, the ones he wanted most were all sold out, but fortunately he found a seller in a "nearby" city that had a bunch for sale. For $100. Which, while not cheap, is still much cheaper than any equivalent new.

And so, I went by bus to this "nearby" city (three buses each way, with a very limited bus schedule because of corona lockdown) and got to this guy's house, filled with tech. He lost his job because of corona, so he bought old computers that companies had in warehouses, and sold the parts. His house looked like a tech heaven/madhouse. All computer bits and bobs. 

He was an honest businessman, I have to say. Though he checked the graphics card before I got there, before he gave it to me again, he checked it again and it wasn't working, so he got me a different one he had and ensured that worked, and then I finally was on my way.

Lee figured out how to install this graphics card and finally, finally, finally he has the computer he likes.

At this point, I haven't added up how much it actually cost me. Definitely a lot. However. He now has a fantastic computer that works perfectly and he's finally able to do what he dreamed of for years. As well as use his computer for his daily Zoom school. And the equivalent computer new, if he hadn't bought all the parts he wanted second hand, and hadn't put it together himself, likely would have cost 2 or 3 times what I paid for it.
And best of all? Because it is a desktop, when he does want an upgrade, he doesn't need something new. He can just replace the hard drive or another part. And he's talented enough to do it himself.

Yes, this was a big deal. But this kid is thrilled and is making good use of it already.

Those of you with kids, do they have computers? What types of computers do they have? Do any of you have a fancy computer, or need a fancy one, either for fun, or for work? What did you do to keep down the costs? For those with gaming computers, how much did you pay for yours?

2 comments:

  1. Well done Lee and you. Thankfully when my kids were young there was no Internet. Now a young friend who looks after school computers looks after ours. Now 3 year old grand daughter's favorite toy is her vtech laptop. It won't be long until she wants a real one.

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  2. My kid is getting a laptop for his birthday. The Wi-Fi issue was the main reason I didn't want to get a desktop; plus the specs are good enough to play Fun with Ragdolls (my kid's favorite) and for 600 euros it's not bad. Gaming computers are easily double that, even refurbished, where I live, and I'm not nearly skilled enough to build a computer from scratch. I figure that, if he wants to play Halo that badly in the future, he can build his own.

    My computer is also refurbished. It runs Windows 10 and has 8 GB RAM, and is decent enough at doing what I need it to do: run Chrome, run Scrivener, do a little bookkeeping here and there, open Word/Office, run a scanner. I have a wireless keyboard and mouse, even though it is a laptop. I also have a 1 TB external hard drive, and a laser printer connected to it.

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