John Chamberlain
Developer Diary
 Developer Diary · You Heard It Here First · 30 November 2003
Home-Built Systems Making a Comeback
Home-built systems seem to be making a comeback. For a long time users with high-performance needs like serious gamers have built their own PCs, but the interest in doing it yourself is spreading to everyday power users. The reason for this is that it has become much easier to reliably put together a working PC without requiring esoteric knowledge like jumper settings and BIOS configuration. All the key components are widely available and more or less plug and play. You can see evidence of the change in emphasis by visiting Microcenter. In their Cambridge location they have eliminated their desked parts department and replaced it with sort of a build-it-yourself corner. This section of the store now ties items traditionally sold separately like sound and video cards with do-it-yourself components like cases, motherboards, internal cabling, fans, and CPUs.

A home-built system will not beat a brand-name complete system in price. The real advantage is that you can get higher-quality, higher-performance parts in the exact configuration you want by going custom. For example, you can get a motherboard that will accept AMD's new 64-bit CPU. Even if you are not after this kind of power, you can buy ASUS or Intel motherboards that are greatly superior to the low-end generic boards you will find in an OEM system from manufacturers like HP, Gateway, and Dell.

Also, you have the freedom to upgrade your system in the future easily. This can be a real gotcha if you buy a pre-built system from an OEM. Most OEM systems including Dell use custom configuration that in many cases cannot be upgraded with other vendors parts. For example, Dell does not use the ATX standard for their motherboard configuration and has custom power pinouts which mean that you must only use Dell power supplies with Dell motherboards. If you don't know this you can fry your motherboard. When you build from scratch using top-of-the-line components you avoid the risks of customized OEM equipment entirely and thus you can do hassle-free upgrades in the future.

There are a lot of resources out there that cover the finer points of building your own system. For example a typical web site with hardware help is PC Mechanic. Also, there are people who have written whole online books about building systems. Another good resource site which has exhaustive hardware information of all kinds is Tom's Hardware.

Developer Diary · · bio · Revised 30 November 2003 · Pure Content