PC Building Simulator is a good intro to PC building

PC Building Simulator header

PC Building Simulator should really be called IT Support Simulator. You spend a fair amount of time doing the former, but your main role in the game’s career mode is to deal with varying degrees of customer complaints as soon as they plop into your company inbox – which I’m surprised still exists considering you start your new enterprise with -$15 in the bank thanks to your conniving uncle having scrounged it all before he handed it over to you , presumably so he could make his quick getaway before the authorities did him in for fraud.

As a result, it’s up to you to get your shop back in order, making enough money from client orders, virus removals and repair jobs to keep the lights on, pay your bills and gradually upgrade your workshop into the PC building dream palace you’ve envisioned since you first got a whiff of some that sweet, sweet CPU thermal paste.

PC Building Simulator is still in early access at the moment, but I feel there’s already plenty here to admire for both novice and veteran PC builders alike. Using real-world, fully-licensed components from a wide range of manufacturers such as AMD, Cooler Master, Corsair, MSI, EVGA and Gigabyte to name just a few, PC Building Simulator does a pretty good job of walking you through the motions of creating a fully-functioning machine.

In its How to Build a PC tutorial mode, each component receives a detailed explanation on what it does and where it fits into the overall PC build, and I could easily envision using this as a template for making sure I’d got each and every last bit screwed in correctly in the right order if I was building a PC for the first time – even if it does let you fling hard disks and CPUs around in your inventory box with worrying abandon.

PC Building Simulator screenshot

Prepare for some intense component education in the game’s tutorial mode

Naturally, clicking and holding down the left mouse button to undo screws, connect cables and lift up CPU shields doesn’t quite capture the same sensation of handling it all with your own fingers and experiencing the white hot fury of losing every last screw down the back of your power supply cage. I’ve mangled more than a few nails trying to push stiff power cables into awkward motherboard slots over the years, and there have even been times when I’ve sliced open my hand on particularly sharp bits of case.

In this sense, PC Building Simulator often glosses over the hard graft involved in real-world PC building, but the developer’s road map for the game shows that some of that physicality is at least on its way. Features like cable management, allowing players to thread their own cables and make their own routes as opposed to having it magically snap into place, and case modding are all in the pipeline, as well as overclocking, water cooling and RAID options. It may not be wholly realistic at times, but as an introduction to PC building, I’d say it lays a pretty solid foundation.

PC Building Simulator workspace

Your PC building mind palace, once you’ve leveled up enough and earned enough cash to buy extra workstations that is…

It’s when you switch over to the career mode, however, that you begin to feel your own internal clock speed grinding to a tedious halt. The first job that arrived in my inbox, for instance, was to run an antivirus program on a corrupted PC using my trusty one-stop-shop USB stick in my inventory. No building, no undoing of screws, nothing. Just installing a simulated program on a simulated PC inside my own, real-life PC and waiting a few seconds for it to clean it before I yank out the cables (apparently you don’t need to painstakingly disconnect everything when you finish a job despite any given PC refusing to boot properly unless you have both your simulated mouse, keyboard and monitor plugged into the back of it when you first power it on) and deposit it back at my workshop door and wait for it to be magically whisked away by an invisible courier as soon as I claim my payment.

PC Building Simulator isn’t just about removing viruses, of course, but the kind of jobs you eventually move on to, such as upgrading hard disks, replacing graphics cards and adding more RAM, aren’t the most thrilling of objectives either, especially when most of your early tasks simply involve going from 2GB to 4GB of RAM or sticking in yet another 500GB HDD.

PC Building Simulator inbox

Occasionally you’ll get a few hints about what a client wants in their email, but usually you can skip all that and focus solely on the job details at the bottom

Part of it, I feel, is because there’s no real incentive to make these people nice machines, especially at the start when you’re strapped for cash. Yes, you could spend more on flashier bits of kit from manufacturers you’ve actually heard of, but there’s no penalty for giving them cheapo budget stuff, or even replacing broken components with something that’s laughably inferior to what they had originally.

As a result, there’s a strong temptation to just keep buying the same old junk for every client, particularly when repeat offenders (a particularly irritating film buff who writes 500-word nonsense emails) keep asking you for the same type of component because they keep breaking it. Newer, more interesting components, such as AMD’s Threadripper processors and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050Ti graphics cards become available as you level up by completing more jobs, but unless clients specify something particular on their job sheet, it’s very easy to slip into business mode and focus on getting a good profit rather than pouring your heart into creating the best PC.

That said, there’s nothing more soul-destroying than watching a simulated benchmark run on a simulated PC, especially when said benchmark (the real-life 3DMark, for those interested) runs at an excruciatingly slow 8fps and a client insists you run it as part of your repair job just so they can make sure their new 4GB’s worth of RAM is working properly. RAM! And an intensively demanding graphics benchmark! It’s like taking orders from an irate pensioner who still goes to the library to make phone calls and use the internet (who do still exist, I assure you, as I had to deal with them on a monthly basis when I used to work on a tech magazine). Utter madness.

The game does a good job of making sure you remove components correctly, but nothing's more tedious than having to continually run the same benchmark over and over again...

The game does a good job of making sure you remove components correctly, but nothing’s more tedious than having to continually run the same benchmark over and over again…

It’s also telling that the main upgrades available in PC Building Simulator let you automate most of the more frustrating elements of fixing a PC. For instance, the first upgrade (an absolute must, in my opinion), is the option to auto-connect all the monitor, keyboard, mouse and power cables when you press P to boot up any given PC, as clicking each individual cable and matching it to its instantly-highlighted port quickly became the most tiresome part of each job.

Admittedly, the general tedium isn’t helped by the fact that the game only has four backing tracks available on its in-game music player, all of which sound like slightly duff covers of fake real-world rock and electronic songs. A wider selection of background music is something the developers are working towards in their v1.0 road map, admittedly, but the option to plug in your own local music files would be even better. You can always turn them off if they start doing your head in, but then you’re just left with the monotonous hum of your whirring PC fans to fill the silence.

Sometimes, clients will ask you to build them a system that has to run a specific game

Sometimes clients will ask you to build them a system that has to run a specific game

I would have also liked to have seen a greater degree of time management in PC Building Simulator. Clients’ PCs always take a day to arrive once you’ve accepted the job, and you’ll need to go to your workshop door to end your working day in order to progress. You can also pay more for faster postage when ordering components to complete each task, but there’s often no time limit on when jobs need to be completed by (and if there is, it’s usually pretty generous), nor are there any restrictions on how long you can spend working each day.

As the game currently stands, there’s no reason to reject a job that lands in your inbox, and if you’re stingy like me you’ll soon have enough cash to order most things to arrive the next day ($30) in time with your next client’s PC, or even opt for same-day delivery ($100) if you’re feeling extravagant and haven’t been able to diagnose the problem from the initial email.

To be fair, the occasions when you don’t know what the problem is in advance are where PC Building Simulator really shines, as you have to plunge headfirst into taking everything apart in order to work out what’s wrong, and then put it all back together again. In these moments, it really does feel like you’re a proper PC builder. If only there were more of them.

Most of the game's upgrades are designed to speed up the process of PC building rather than make it more fun

Most of the game’s upgrades are designed to speed up the process of PC building to make it less tiresome

There’s also a free-build mode where you can make the ultimate PC of your simulated dreams, but when you can’t actually do anything with it at the end of it, the pay-off is pretty depressing. The best part of building a new PC, after all, is being able to boot up your favourite games and playing them in all their shiny glorious detail.  In PC Building Simulator, the only thing you can do is stick it in a cupboard, and that makes me very sad indeed.

I’ll be interested to see how PC Building Simulator progresses over the coming months as it heads towards a full release, especially as the developers have promised more career content in the form of new job types and customisation features. If they can tap into the real nitty-gritty of PC building instead of weighing you down with simple, rudimentary installations and virus removal jobs, then it could turn into something quite special. In its current form, though, I’d recommend it only as a visual guide to first-time PC builders, as its career mode just takes too long to really get going.

PC Building Simulator is available now on Steam for £14.99.

25 Comments

  1. caff says:

    There is no way this could simulate:

    1) The heart dropping feeling when you realise you’ve killed a hard disk by disconnecting the power whilst the machine is on.

    2) Attempting to bend CPU pins back with a micro screwdriver after clumsily crunching the clamp down whilst it’s 180 degrees at the wrong angle.

    3) Sticking your finger into a GPU fan to test if it’s spinning.
    It is, and you’ve snapped one of the fins off. It starts making a terrible rattling noise.

    4) Pushing some DDR RAM sticks into the motherboard so hard you hear a crunching sound.

    I have done NONE of these things and I would be ashamed to admit it if I had.

    • DarkFenix says:

      Yeah those are pretty monumentally retarded. I did know a guy once who managed to get his CPU cooler on the wrong way round, he had to force it into place so hard that when the time came to remove it, it had to be essentially crowbarred off.

      I can’t even fathom how people manage to do anything like that, most of PC building is putting the square block into the square hole, but spikier and with your hand wedged round the back of a heat sink or threaded between cables half the time.

    • anevilyak says:

      1) The heart dropping feeling when you realise you’ve killed a hard disk by disconnecting the power whilst the machine is on.

      You mean it doesn’t simulate the option to install a hot-swap SAS controller?

    • citizend13 says:

      Pretty much taught myself how to build PCs – so, I have done a lot of stupid shit

      – pushing too hard on those little tabs that pop out your RAM – breaking them off…

      -pushing too hard on the screw driver, slip, mangle the motherboard.

      -reusing 5 year old thermal paste (for testing purposes) then completely forgetting about it.

      -plugging a fully loaded 800 watt (calculated) power draw PC on a 200 watt voltage regulator (which didn’t have it’s fuse since I was too dumb and lazy to replace it) this was particularly dumb and dangerous.

    • MattM says:

      So my PC building f-up stories.
      On my first build I couldn’t get a post and could not figure out why. I managed to talk my boss at work into allowing me to take home my work pc and use it as a part swap base in order to identify the problem. When disassembling the work PC I noticed the extra power cable near the CPU socket. My mobo manual had described it as optional so I hadn’t plugged it in. Not a big f-up but it took me days to figure it out.
      I have a big case, the Raven-02. The front panel audio cable wasn’t long enough to reach so I cut it in the middle with the idea I could extend it with some wire I had. As it turned out, the tools I have couldn’t work with those tiny little wires, and to this day I don’t have front panel audio. There are extension cables available for like $15.
      I overclocked my i7-920 with mobo base clock frequency. It worked fine for awhile, but I started getting random restarts. One day, before I tracked down the problem, I heard a pop and the PC died. I found one of the CPU VRM modules had released its magic smoke all over the case panel. That stain is still there but since the i7-920 was getting a little old it provided an excuse for upgrading.

      I still cringe at the crunch sound when installing ram. I had to do it many times at work when upgrading some $500,000 systems .

      • MattM says:

        Oh! Touching the case fans while they were operating in my Raven-02. The initial model of the AP-140 fans were super delicate and even the weight of a power cable resting on them could cause them to break. To Silverstone’s credit when I contacted them they sent me 4 free next model replacements for a case that only had 3 AP-140s.

    • Mr. Unpleasant says:

      5) Ripping off the CPU socket clamps with an overenthusiastic CPU-fan spring clip.

      6) Swapping and testing all components and software for hours until you realize that those erratic bluescreens are caused by a defective PSU.

    • poliovaccine says:

      Honestly, I doubt I’d ever play this for entertainment value, but I’m already considering grabbing it just for something to keep my IT skills, if not “fresh,” at least not dead. I don’t expect it to be anywhere near as fiddly and variable as real life, especially not in early access, but I mean, Human Resource Machine isn’t the same as writing a program, and yet, last time I wanted to write a simple script and couldn’t remember how to do what I wanted, I played up to that point in HRM. I have that game around for a similar reason as I’d consider nabbing this. I’ll have to read up a little more and see how in/applicable it may or may not be.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      2) Attempting to bend CPU pins back with a micro screwdriver after clumsily crunching the clamp down whilst it’s 180 degrees at the wrong angle.

      I used to build PCs for a (poorly paid) job, and one day the guy who was laying out the parts for the next batch decided to be helpful and install the CPUs for us.
      He mangled 40 brand new CPUs by putting them in the wrong way around. We managed to fix most of them though.
      A knife is a pretty handy way of bending back CPU pins, as it’ll stop you from bending to pin too far the other way.

      What no-one’s mentioned yet is the pain of slipping and getting one of the motherboard pins jammed under your fingernail. OUCH!

      • frenchy2k1 says:

        Mechanical pencil trick!
        True, bending a series of pins all together can be done well with a knife and it’s a great first step to line up most of the pins.
        For single bent pins (on the CPU, mostly for AMD processors or old intel, before they made the socket with pins and CPUs flat), you could use a 0.7mm mechanical pencil. Slip the pin *inside* the tip and manipulate to desired position.

  2. Kits says:

    As someone who works teaching teenagers basic building and tech support up to server management…
    You really would be surprised at some of the mindbogglingly dumb things people can do when it comes to computers.
    This seems nice though. Might be a good starting point for said dumb students, before letting them loose on the actual hardware.

  3. ADorante says:

    This game seems to have the exact same gameplay as the Car Mechanic Simulator series. Are the developers somehow related?

  4. alienryes says:

    Slicing open your hand on sharp bits of case and then lightly smearing blood around the components is the blood sacrifice the PC gods require of us all. No new machine will work without it.

  5. MrEvilGuy says:

    Is there any reason I should play this if I already know how to build PCs? At least with Car Mechanic Simulator I learned some things about car anatomy that I didn’t already know.

  6. Sin Vega says:

    a particularly irritating film buff who writes 500-word nonsense emails

    I KNEW they were being read out at Castle Shotgun. I KNEW IT.

  7. Konservenknilch says:

    I only ever build my own rigs, but that’s more of a hobby. Waiting for the new Ryzen gen. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like GPU prices will become sane anytime soon.

    However, if someone asks me to design something for him/her… “Eh, get a Dell or something. Good enough and well put together.” Life’s too short for neverending hassles.

    • frenchy2k1 says:

      Good news: with falling crypto coins prices, GPU prices (at least in the US) are coming down.
      You can now find new graphic cards near MSRP and plenty of used ones (early mining quitter) for cheap on ebay. Your local situation may vary.

  8. Railway Rifle says:

    I hope this leads to a similar game where tou try to scrape together enough cash and parts to keep your creaky old PC ticking over, which will be called JaloPC.

  9. EthZee says:

    For some reason reading this article about simulating building a PC and running benchmarks and the like gave me a weird feeling, like vertigo. It’s too many layers.

  10. SaintAn says:

    Maybe I should get it. I need to learn more about PC’s, and my sister is taking a PC building class or something in college (though she is cheating her way through the class).

  11. madve2 says:

    They should make a retro version of this where properly putting together a 286 actually results in being able to boot it up (via running dosbox and slapping its output on the in-game monitor maybe?) only to realize that the client actually wanted to play Doom, so you have to start ordering more expensive parts…

Comment on this story

HTML: Allowed code: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>