Build your own PC: Why?

Intel LogoIt’s a rather silly question, drawing a number of equally inane responses. Anyone from Dell through to Dodgy Jimmy at the corner PC store will sell you a tool appropriate to your needs – whether that be a workaday carpenter’s hammer or a finely built CNC lathe. Fact is: buying an assembled PC from one of the common purveyors of such devices will stand you in comfortable stead.

Let’s assume then that you don’t want their ordinary stead. Perhaps you are looking for something unique. Something in stead. Or maybe it’s the thrill of the chase? Will this RAM work with that motherboard? Will these video cards suck the very life out of that power supply? Or perhaps that unknowable frisson that comes from the first POST: will it or won’t it?

My point, if unclear, is this: we build our own computers because we can. Sure, I’ll happily use a locked down, glued together device like an iPhone for a specific purpose, but the day that I can’t assemble a general-purpose PC from purchased parts is the day I go to the barricades.

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll be highlighting some of the modern options available to those of you planning on assembling your own computing contraption. On the processor front, I’ve been sampling some of the CPU wares from Intel. There was a time when the choice between AMD and Intel was tricky, but the word I would use for the current AMD situation is embarassing.

I must disclose that I’m borrowing this Intel gear for my own long-term use, but be assured: their shit is tight. I wouldn’t say this if it weren’t true. And my regular readers know I’ll call a spade a spade, especially if that spade can’t dig. Furthermore: I know you guys will call me on any attempt at bullshit. Don’t let me down.

By way of a teaser, I’ll leave you with this rather amusing image:

6 Cores, 12 Threads


  1. Yeah I can show something similar:

    Unfortunately that machine was only 2.26 GHz and supplied by a former employer. So now I built myself a Core i7 860 machine. Only four cores and hyperthreading and supposed to be running at 2.8 GHz. I’ve had it running stably at 4.1 GHz (BCLK = 196, multiplier 21) with SpedStep turned off, but it’s actually overall a tad faster at a slower BCLK with speedstep on. That’s on stock cooling, and standard voltages.

    AMD cpus aren’t *that* bad at the moment and the new 6 core chips look cheap. It was Intel who was embarassed sticking with the failed Pentium 4 and trying to restrict x86 to 32 bit for far too long. Intel just got lucky with a small team of renegade designers in Israel handing them the Centrino/Pentium M unexpectedly, and then running with the same basic design as the “Core” series.

  2. Missed opportunity: thrill of the case.

    I build my own machines for several reasons:

    I like to know what’s in there.
    It’s fun to gather all of the pieces needed.
    Computers become such intimate objects, I like to have control of what I upgrade my brain with.

    I’m about due for a new machine, too.

  3. The pros of building your own machine

    – you know what bits you chose and why

    – Someone who puts it together for you is going to spend less than an hour doing it. You don’t know what they did and I’m likely to be spending more time than that installing things and tweaking anyway, so I may as well do the first part too. It’s only plugging things together now, not like in 1983 when some friends and I designed our own 6809 computer, figured out to to interface parts that weren’t designed for each other, and wire-wrapped the whole thing.

    The cons:

    – I only do this once every five or six years — my last machine was an Athlon XP3200+ in April 2004 and I haven’t built any for others — so it’s hard to get back up to date.

    – if some core part is DOA (CPU, RAM, Motherboard, even PSU) you don’t have spares sitting around to swap out to work out which part the problem is in, let alone convince the supplier that it’s not your fault.

  4. And it’s also *so much fun to do*! spent a couple of weeks a month or three ago doing the same thing for the first time in years and I enjoyed myself so much I am so going to do it again. The computer before this one was a locked down Dell laptop so it had been at least 10 years sincei last built my own. Couldn’t recommend the experience highly enough. Not to mention you get to pick every little thing that goes into so you end up feeling that much closer to it.

  5. Perhaps it is for the multiple OOBE instead of just one Out of Box Experience.

    Unwrap the Processor box … oooh
    Unpack the HDD …
    Video card
    Tv Tuner
    Power Supply

  6. This very point has always been why I’ve never invested in Apple desktop/laptop hardware of any form. It simply seems to have less option in terms of upgrading piecemeal. The entire upgrade path seems to be controlled by Apple.

  7. I planned to build my own power business desktop over the winter. Started casting around and found the biggest barrier to home building a PC is the cost of the operating system.

    For my purposes Windows is a must – although I would consider Apple OSX if that were a practical option for a builder.

    Microsoft Windows 7 Professional costs around $430, Apple Snow Leopard costs around the same.

    You can buy a basic off-the-shelf desktop box including an OEM OS for about $150 more.

    In the past a computer store would sell me an OEM copy of Windows with a mobo or perhaps a hard drive. When I tried shopping around last week, I got the message that OEM prices are only for people buying complete systems.

    How do you get around this?

  8. Bill — not quite sure what store you’re looking at, but Snow Leopard is only 60 bucks. Unless you’re looking at the boxed pack including iWork and all that crap; even though apple call the $60 SL pack an upgrade, it’s the complete operating system.

  9. @Bill Bennet

    *COUGH Linux *COUGH*

    Why stop at building your own PC, whwn you can tailor your OS as well! 🙂

    Run what you need with WINE or on your old OEM XP in VMWare Workstation.

    Don’t fear the Penguin!

    But yeah, OSX is irrelevant to this discussion unless you are considering a sub-optimised Hackintosh.

  10. If companies like HP and Dell etc. shipped PC’s with built in raid arrays and decent low latency Ram then maybe I wouldn’t build my own computer… Until then though what choice do I have if I want a fast PC?

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