The death of the homebrew PC will be the death of the PC

Summary:The PC is, at its heart, a gestalt of components that come together to serve a purpose. Lose the ability to choose what goes into a PC, then a PC becomes nothing more than a black box, like a DVD player or a games console. And that's not a PC.

This week I went head-to-head against ZDNet's Tech Broiler guru Jason Perlow in a Great Debate. The question –  PC homebrewing and white-boxing: Dead or alive?

It seems that while Mr. Perlow and I were at odds, readers saw sense when it came to the voting and unanimously agreed with me that the homebrew PC is alive and well, decimating Mr. Perlow.

I'm a huge fan of building PCs. I make no apologies for being a hardcore supporter of building PCs. Want to take that away from me? You can pry the #2 Phillips from my cold, dead hands!

Want to know why I'm such a huge supporter of DIY PCs? It's because I know that it's a system that works.

I've built dozens of PCs, and each one of these has outlasted any brand-name PC I've bought, and by a comfortable amount. After the initial build and testing I get several years of happy computing out of the system before it's time to repair or upgrade something.

That's an excellent track record, and it makes me more and more determined that taking the built route is the right idea.

I can't even begin to work out how much time and money I've saved from building and using quality PCs.

I've built my desktop PC systems for almost two decades, and I will continue to do so for the foreseeable future for the following reasons:

  • Price: I build quite high-end systems, and these are invariably cheaper than anything I can buy with a name-brand badge on it.
  • Quality: I like to make sure that my systems are built from quality products, and I can only do this by taking charge of every component that goes into the system.
  • Ease of repairs: If you built it, you can fix it. No having to wait for a technician.
  • Ease of upgrading: Again, I know what went into it, so I can upgrade it, and there are no warranty issues to worry about.
  • Warranty: All the parts I buy come with a warranty, usually a better one than a complete PC comes with, so I'm better covered when things do go wrong.

I look at the difference between a PC I build myself and one I buy from a big box OEM as the difference between building (or buying) a gourmet burger made with care and the best ingredients, and picking one up something thrown together from a McBurger and throwing it down my neck. Sure, they both accomplish the same thing, and sometimes you just want a quick, bulk-buy burger, but it's unlikely to be a product of quality.

Same is true of PCs. There are times when an off-the-shelf PC is the best options, both in terms of price and convenience, as long as you're aware that you've traded quality for price and convenience.

That burger's only going to be around for a few minutes, after which you'll never see it again – hopefully! – but your PC is going to be staring you in the face for months, if not years, to come.

Don't you want to make the right choice from the start, and make sure you have a quality product made from the finest possible ingredients?

The PC is, at its heart, a gestalt of components that come together to serve a purpose. The idea is that you can pick and choose the right parts for the job at hand. What OEMs have done over the years is boil down the PC into generic categories such as budget, mainstream, and high-end. These have less to do with picking the right hardware, and more to do with hitting an ever-decreasing price point.

While OEMs would love nothing more than to limit your choice of PCs to a few – think what Apple has done – this is not what a PC is to me. I like being able to pick the CPU, the motherboard, the amount and speed of RAM, the graphics capability, and storage. If we lose the ability to do this, then a PC becomes nothing more than a black box, like a DVD player or a games console. And that's not a PC.

Once we lose the ability to choose what goes into a PC, then it's no longer a PC. And that will be the end of the era of the PC.

Topics: Hardware


Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is an internationally published technology author who has devoted over a decade to helping users get the most from technology -- whether that be by learning to program, building a PC from a pile of parts, or helping them get the most from their new MP3 player or digital camera.Adrian has authored/co-authored technic... Full Bio

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