Your Worst Computer Building Horror Stories

Your Worst Computer Building Horror Stories

The excitement of working on a computer can be replaced with devastation in an instant. We asked Lifehacker readers for their wildest, most rage-inducing computer "whoopsies", and they shared some real doozies. From bricking to fires, water cooling to blood stains, here are your worst computer customisation horror stories. Illustration by Fruzsina Kuhári.

The one with the PC-building rookie, from Connor Ciecko:

I was building a gaming PC for a friend of mine who had never done so much as open a PC, and he insisted that I let him do some of the work... I said "ok sure, take the processor and just put it in the white socket," assuming that he couldn't possibly screw that up since it only fits in one direction... We finally finished it, got everything plugged in, and tried to turn it on. The fans spun and the lights turned on, but nothing else was happening. I went into full troubleshooting mode and started working everything backwards, only to find nothing. My last thought was to re-seat the CPU, so I take off the cooler and somehow that genius managed to put the processor in BACKWARDS and lock the clamp down on it, bending almost all of the pins. I spent the next hour bending the pins straight again because it was a second hand part with no warranty of any kind. Needless to say: I am never letting a rookie touch anything ever again.

The one with those little brass gizmos, from pjhalifax:

I forgot to use the spacers that went between the motherboard and the case when I built my first computer. I had no idea what those little brass gizmos were for — I spent a ton of time researching that system and somehow never saw anything about spacers — and you could screw everything in just fine if they weren't there so that's what I did. Carefully installed everything (well, everything else), powered it up, and zap!

And Jsmitty:

This would have been roughly 20 years ago, fresh out of my hardware tech class. I was so "knowledgeable" at the time and full of pride. I could now build my own PC, and spent some time getting just the right parts and case. Got everything put together and am now ready to power up for the first time. Almost immediately upon hitting the power button, there was a quick popping noise, and then nothing. During my troubleshooting process, I had figured out that I screwed the motherboard directly to the case - no spacers or anything. Nice. In the end, I was able to get a free replacement by stating that the board didn't work right out of the box. Not necessarily an incorrect statement, per se, but not the full truth either. Lesson in PC humility learned.

The one with blood everywhere, from 6m9j28vsc:

This happened to a kid the level below me in a series of certification classes in high school. As part of the first level class you can build your own computer at the end of the year; provided you bring in your own parts and everything. Well, he was doing that and everything was going fine, until he sliced his arm open on the case. There was blood everywhere and he had to be rushed to the nurse's office. Unfortunately the "nurse" at that point was a secretary who had a First Aid certification, and she was freaking out. They managed to get an ambulance there and he was taken away and had to get stitches. Everything turned out fine, but the carpet in that area has forever been a darker colour.

And Tek9:

Roughly 20 years ago or so I was replacing the modem in my PC. This is one of those times where you regret the nice card slots we have in machines now. In the process of seating the new modem my index finger slipped down the side of the card giving myself a wonderful 1/2" gash.

The one with the far too tiny case, from Wo0tus:

...I bought a shiny new video card. I was upgrading from a GTX 430 to a GTX 960. I didn't really expect any complication while ordering, but I hadn't considered how much I had cheaped out on the case when I originally built the PC. When I received the part I tore open my PC, and to my horror, I discovered that there wasn't nearly enough room with the current configuration. After stripping the entire case to drill out a couple pop rivets, everything wound up fitting, but rather snugly, and to my chagrin, my system ran much hotter than I was comfortable with. Which forced me to buy a new case...

The one where work surfaces matter, from josephbloseph:

...I ended up spending $30 on a case, $50 on a power supply, about $120 on a motherboard that had the bells and whistles I was looking for, $100 for some RAM. Not the best deals necessarily, but reasonably priced... Oh, and $800 to refinish a table after the bottle of isopropyl alcohol I used to clean the thermal paste off of the processor heat sink spilled all over the table I was working on. That brings the price of the build up considerably.

And Dustin:

...while working at the same computer store a couple came in all happy that they had just passed their A+ certification test. First on their list was to come in to buy everything to build their first computer. As a policy we always installed the CPU, ram and a test video card to make sure it posted, which it did. The guy insisted that I put the processor back in the box and he would install it on his own because he was A+ certified! So I put everything back in the original boxes and sent the happy couple home to build their first computer.

The next morning they came in bitching up a storm that I sold them bad parts and they wanted replacements. I explained to him that I had posted the computer which he saw, and signed saying he saw it happen and that if there is a problem it was due to his mistake. He bitched and whined until I agreed to test the components to find out which components were bad. So I took apart the computer and the first red flag was the carpet fibres stuck in the thermal paste on the fan and the processor. Then when I took the board out I found more carpet fibres. These two A+ certified GENIUSES decided to build their new computer on their living room floor. By the time I tested everything the power supply, the CPU fan, hard drive and disc drive were the only working components.

Bonus from Bad teeth:

Girlfriend had a Compaq laptop back in the day, but the pins in the back were loose and the laptop wouldn't charge. Re-soldered the pins and got it working.... then accidentally set it on the baseboard heater and melted the screen.

The one with free viruses for everyone, from norgedane:

A client hired me to build the take-home packets for his latest marketing effort. Die-cut folders, inserts, collateral, and a CD authored in Macromedia Director. This was the late 1990s and the gig was, at the time, the highlight of my career. He contacted me midweek after the presentation. The disks had a not-very-virulent virus — though a virus nonetheless — that proliferated between definition updates. When I put the disk in my drive the alert window came up immediately. Soooo... I asked if I could call his prospects, identify myself as his MarComm guy, own my error, and offer to FedEx a "clean" disk their way... Surprisingly, he trusted me to do this. Longest. Week. Of. My Life... Half the people were unaware I had infected them, because they had no antivirus software on their computers... The other half were split between people who hadn't even played the disk and folks whose updates warned of the cootie. ("Can I send you a new disk? I promise it will be clean!"). It turned one of my most profitable jobs into one of my most expensive.

The one where they pulled a Whitson, from Stizuner:

Two machines back I built a massive water-cooled beast. So the next machine I wanted to do the opposite — Z97 in a mini-ITX case. I got it done and it worked well. One day I noticed a small drip leak from the reservoir... Few random drops here and there. I shut down down and cleaned up. Ordered a new reservoir and figured since I had it apart it would be a good time to swap out some fittings for rotaries and clean up some connections for a nice tight look. Ordered my new fittings and waited for it all to come in.

Here we are a few days later and I have all my parts. Install everything and it's looking good! Do a leak test and everything is good! Turn it in on and get to benching. About an hour later I notice a slight drop on a fitting so I start tightening things. Mind you the machine is full on running! Tighten some more.... All of a sudden a hose shoots out of its fitting (the hose on the output of the pump) and water is full on spraying directly on the running motherboard and down onto my new Titan X! I pull the hose out, screaming, and yank the power plug.

Everything is soaked. I know I'm ruined. I disassemble everything and remove all the blocks. Dry everything and clean it all with alcohol. Wait a day to make sure it's all dry. Reassemble with standard cooling test each part. EVERYTHING WORKED! I was going to send a nasty email to EKWB, but it turns out I ordered the wrong size fitting! Duh! I haven't water-cooled since...

The one where that doesn't go there, from jbhelfrich:

My wife and have a friend who lived, at the time, in the great white north. The closest computer store was a mum and pop shop most of an hour away. And she wanted to build her own computer. Since my wife and I have both done this, we talked her through the pros and cons of different brands... She did the build, and was justifiably proud of her work. There was just one little problem. Her power supply had a floppy power connector. Her computer did not have a floppy drive. It did, however, have a fan header on the motherboard that was the exact same size.

Powers it on, and she's almost immediately got a fire in the power supply, and both ends of the connector are melted, since they were both providing power.

And RolanddArt:

Almost twenty years ago, I had a tape backup for my computer with a power plug that looked just like a keyboard plug. I had just built a brand new system, my first 486, and was plugging in everything for the first boot. As you may have already figured out, I plugged the tape's power supply into the keyboard jack. A loud pop immediately followed. Upon autopsy, I found the silicon was blown clean off one of the chips on the motherboard.

And Carl:

Got a new case for Christmas, and decided this would be a good time to upgrade my PSU and switch to a fancy closed loop liquid system for my 980 Ti. These are not upgrades that should cause your DRAM_LED to flip out and reject any memory combination of the 8 4GB sticks I tried. 35 hours of WTF and not sleeping, entirely too much coffee, 3 DBAN wipes and fresh installs of 8.1 later and... I've got my SSD as a boot drive with System on my 2TB SSHD.

Everything works. Everything is quiet, cooling is magnificent. I don't notice a difference in speeds. But the OS is on the wrong drive, and it's really, really driving me crazy.

And techcore2:

A former friend of mine had me fix his computers off and on over the years. He always watched what I was doing. Then he got me roped into fixing a computer for a lady photographer that shot weddings and receptions that he DJ'ed... one time he called me from her house while I was at work. PC was giving POST beeps indicating a bad video card. I told him I was busy but the PC had VGA on-board so just pull the card and go VGA. He calls me back and said it was working but she needed high resolution to do her photos. I told him to go to the local computer store and buy a video card and I would put it in after work...

Well he thought he was a computer repairman and was trying to impress photographer lady so he goes and gets an AGP card and somehow stuffs it in a PCI slot. Totally smoked the motherboard. She was pissed.

The one with the "Magic Bullet Incident," from Mr. Snips:

During an epic 3-day Winter-Wonder-LAN my friend's neighbour accidentally discharged a .45 pistol in our direction. The bullet came through 2 walls, hit my friend's disc drive straight on, then skipped up into, and subsequently exploded, his PSU inches from his leg. There were 14 of us in there playing plus his 2 parents and 4 siblings. It's still referred to as the "Magic Bullet Incident." Within 2 hours there was a screaming match with the neighbour, a Best Buy run by said neighbour for a new disc drive, case, and PSU. A quick hardware swap and my buddy was back in Diablo II like nothing had happened.

The one with the super helpful friend, from The Knitigator:

I was super excited (and delightfully reckless) back in the days when I just graduated law school. "F**k bar study," said I, clicking the 'submit order' button on my brand new gaming PC order, rush shipping included for an extra $100. "I'll study when I'm bored of playing WoW."

So I get the order two days later, put everything together, hit the power button, nothing. Can't figure out why. Call my friend, who says, of course, "Sounds like you didn't seat the processor. Are you sure you seated the processor?"

"OF COURSE I SEATED THE F**KING PROCESSOR YOU ARSEHOLE!!"

Thirty minutes later, after crying on the floor in the fetal position, I decided that I probably got a defective processor. I slowly began to take everything apart, deciding that I'd have to ship back the processor for a new one. But that meant I would a) have to wait and b) have to study, in the absence of anything else to do. I unclamped the processor, and as I reached for it...

It slid a couple millimetres over and fell into place.

I hadn't seated the processor. And somehow, I had avoided bending any pins. I quickly rebuilt everything and of course, it fired up. I called my friend, apologised profusely, and took him out for fried chicken. Being an awesome friend, he forgave me.

The one with the unlikely culprit, from HoshinoKaze:

First computer ever, I worked all summer to save up $600 to buy the parts. This was in 1995, so I was looking at a Cyrix 133, 32mb of ram, 640mb hard drive, the best deals I could get on parts with my budget. Did all the research carefully, ordered all the parts from various sources, and assembled the computer, all very gingerly. It must have taken me something like 4 hours to get it together since I was so scared I'd ruin a part... Finally, the machine was together, jumpers were all set, everything was ready to plug in and push the power button. Most tense moments of my life. No dice. No lights, no beep, no anything.

So, I started troubleshooting, half wanting to figure out what was wrong, but also half wanting to just swear off computers all together, just say "f**k it" and buy a Dell. 4 more hours, after checking everything with a fine tooth comb, come to realise one of the smt parts on the motherboard had been knocked clean off the board, NOT by me, I am positive. I found it floating around in the motherboard anti-static bag... Got new board, got it installed, ready to power. No dice. Knew it wasn't the board this time, double check everything again with a fine tooth comb, just about ready to fill out another RMA. In another fit of "f**k it" decide to double check the front panel switches and wiring, something I had not done before...

AHA! The power button wire had been pinched between the front panel and case when it had been assembled, and it was shorting against the case. After fixing the wire, finally, FINALLY my machine booted and worked just fine.

The one with the endless rebooting loop, from heylonghair:

I had researched and carefully picked out my parts all based around Silverstone's Raven 2 case. Ordered the case, assembled all the components and put the thing together. Well, I go to fire it up and it just goes into an endless rebooting loop. As an IT tech I figure this shouldn't be that hard to fix. Yeah, right... I spent a week returning parts, swapping out one part at a time, with no results until I finally decided to bare-bones it. I hooked up just the motherboard and the power switch connection and lo and behold, it fired up. OK, so I then proceeded to connect the reset switch at which point it started rebooting again.

After all that time I finally discovered that the spring in the reset switch had shifted during shipping and was wedged in there basically holding the reset button down. Once I reseated the spring everything worked fine.

The one with the metal clip falling in slow motion, from Luke_L:

After reapplying thermal paste to a slightly older PC, I was in the middle of powering it up to run a CPU test, when my Wi-Fi adaptor metal clip (it was a dell Zino with built in Wi-Fi) fell into the case...

There was a bright glow (like a mini angel appeared in my tower), the PC instantly powered down, and then smoke. After removing the clip, I found I burnt out one of the circuits on the motherboard.

And because this one was just too good to not include, The one with the wrong ACL, from MyIThurts:

I was working on a network device remotely (3000 miles away) in the middle of the day and had the simple task to update an ACL (access control list). Normal thing to do during the day. Well, I applied the wrong ACL denying all traffic. It completely shut off all traffic for the site and access to it and we didn't have an OOB (out of band) connection to it. So, I turn white and look at my supervisor and just mutter the words "oh shit." I tell him what happens and he replies with "When is the next flight?"


Comments

    I spent high school years in a pretty small town, with only a couple PC hardware/sales shops (in the 90s-00s, before they were being sold pre-made by Harvey Norman style outlets). There were two places in the 'cbd' that would build PCs.

    I bought my first PC from one of them, but ended up doing work experience at the other. And one of the most amusing (and depressing) things that happened was that a sort of arrangement sprung up where the bigger store would actually send their machines to us to build or repair. We'd charge the other store our standard consumer prices, and then they'd tack a little extra on top and charge that to the customer.

    It's almost hilarious how unethical the other shop was, though. We'd build a machine at standard costs with decent hardware, but later we'd see that same machine come back for repairs, only to discover that core components had been replaced with shittier, cheaper versions. No word on where the very nice, expensive components had got to.

    (Tangentially, we reckoned they must've had a good crack at building their own machines for a while, because after a while we got a rash of repairs for cases we hadn't seen before, stuffed with cheap, shitty, no-name-brand motherboards that bent in the Qld heat, so the pins were all out of alignment. The initial 'other store' fixes which we could see the evidence of were horrifying. I'm talking about bent-plastic heat-melted motherboards being held in place with improvised objects, like an eraser jammed between the board and case where the board was sagging, or in another case, a rolled-up newspaper.)

    I had a client ring me claiming his kids spilt Ribena all over his expensive dual GTX690, water cooled, quad ssd i7 rig and wanted a report to give to his insurance company.
    I could tell by looking at it that he totally botched the water cooling as it was leaking everywhere, pools of green liquid at the base of the case had rusted it out so it must have been going on for a while. Removed the processor and underneath was a pool of green liquid, both GTX690s were dead too.
    Estimated damage $4000.00 Kids didn't seem worried either so I wonder whether they were given a serving or whether their dad was just a really understanding fellow.

    Pretty sure Ribena isn't green either, but for the sake of good order there were some sprinkles of Ribena on top of the case for consistency..

    i remember when windows 3.1 was released i picked it up, reformated my computer, went to install it and relised it was larger than the harddrive and i now had a brick

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