Homebrewing isn't dead yet

Homebrewing isn't dead yet

Summary: Jason Perlow wrote a really funny (yet oddly touching) piece this morning about homegrown enthusiast PCs. These are the souped up computers that bigger geeks than most ZDNet bloggers spend lots of money on to achieve better frame rates, faster video editing, or whatever it is you do with an 8-core PC on your desk.

TOPICS: CXO, Hardware

Jason Perlow wrote a really funny (yet oddly touching) piece this morning about homegrown enthusiast PCs. These are the souped up computers that bigger geeks than most ZDNet bloggers spend lots of money on to achieve better frame rates, faster video editing, or whatever it is you do with an 8-core PC on your desk.

To paraphrase Jason, this market is now dead. Who has disposable income to improve their PC gaming experience anymore? Besides, Dell has Alienware, HP has Voodoo, and even mainstream PCs have lots of power. Moore's Law is our friend. I couldn't agree more.

Except on one little point. While the enthusiast market is dead, the homebrew market is not. There are two places where it still makes sense to build your own PCs. The first is for us geeks who know what we're doing, can undercut Tier 1 vendors by going to places like Frye's or TigerDirect, and get precisely what we want and need. Especially those of us who favor Linux can save some cash (or take Jason's approach and buy low-end OEM systems from Cosco or BJs and buy some moderate upgrades on the cheap).

The other place where it can still make sense is in K-12 educational settings. Lots of us are looking at 1:1 initiatives (many made possible by cheap and plentiful netbooks), but we also need dedicated lab settings. Most of us also offer some introductory computing courses, giving us a pool of "skilled labor" needing hands-on experience. In this case, if we can save money over the major vendors and give students some time not only building computers, but defining system requirements, conducting end-user acceptance, etc., then homegrown computers can be a real asset.

True, they lack a warranty or support, but given the right setting (appropriate classes, motivated students, limited budget, and motivated teaching staff), whiteboxes can allow schools to access purpose-built machines (whether high-end multimedia, low-end kiosk, server, or generic desktop) at rock-bottom prices.

What do you think? Is it worth it to roll your own in a school? Computer, that is.

Topics: CXO, Hardware

Christopher Dawson

About Christopher Dawson

Chris Dawson is a freelance writer, consultant, and policy advocate with 20 years of experience in education, technology, and the intersection of the two.

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  • Should be programs for asset re-use by big vendors for K-12

    I don't see why IBM, HP, Dell and a few others can't take off-lease near-EOL equipment for enterprises and re-distribute it to K-12 with a limited warranty for reclamation costs and for re-use in educational environments. The servers that just ended their 4-year lifespan are far more than adequate for K-12 use, just throw a classroom of 3-year old plus PC's at it for thin clients.
    • Yes to re-use

      Exactly what HP has in its reburbished PC area online where schools and business can buy machines with the 3 year warranties and get monitors for half price. And these PCs are only a year old.

      The other option is to have those 3 to 4 year old PCs coming off leases to be put in the schools. IBM has a website selling those type of machines, though 4 years old is bordering on too old for school. Depends on the intended use.

      For a CAD lab, its not good. For a general PC lab, maybe fine.
  • Still kicking

    Take a look at Tigerdirect, Newegg, etc, and you will find there is still an active home built market. I know many people that still build our home systems, including myself. Why build when we could just buy a Dell? Why not?

    When I build my own systems, I have total control, personally choosing every single component in the system. My system is unique, designed by me specifically for my needs. I not only take great satisfaction from this process, but save money as well. While building systems is not for everyone, those who try it are surprised at how easy it is.

    One friend of mine recently had to replace his Mother in Law's computer, which had died. He talked to me, and at my urging went to Tigerdirect and ordered one of their complete kit specials. For only a couple of hundred dollars, he ended up with a computer that was a vast upgrade for her as well as one that he is comfortable supporting. He told me later how much he enjoyed the process, and plans to do that for his own system the next time he upgrades.
    • Definate allure

      Of building it yourself. Putting together a PC from parts and having it work perfectly without all the "fluffware" that litter pre-build machines. But maybe a better term would be to call it a "hobby" market. That market will never go away but maybe it no longer exists as a driving force behind hardware advancement.

      A trip to Fry's confirms this, I definitely noticed the sections previously dedicated to "build it yourself" folks getting smaller, fewer choices, less shelf space, shelves that were previously loaded with various motherboards now filled with flash memory and GPS's. The graphics cards shelf space less than half it's former size with mostly low end stuff.
      • Is the market fading...

        ...or just being taken over by the internet vendors? Why go into Fry's to look for components when we have sites like Tigerdirect and Newegg with 10 or a 100 times the selection and better prices? The last system I built I spent 3 months picking out pieces, starting with the case and working my way up from there. In a way, I was almost disappointed when it was finished, as I had almost as much fun researching and choosing my components as I do now using the system. I am really looking forward to Win7, as it will give me an excuse to build again.
        • 3 months!

          Awesome :)
          My last build-it had some parts from Newegg. The mail-orders have always served the hobbyist well. And it is a hobby, putting together PC's, for me anyway, or was. You can look at it both ways, the local market is eroded by the mail-orders and/or the local market is no longer large enough to support the locals. Despite Dell being a sure bet to buy a PC, Best Buy, Fry's, Walmart and others are still loaded with pre-fab PC's so you can probably conclude that the profit from selling homebrew is becoming insufficient.
    • I used to do this

      My last two computers have been Dells, but before that I built all of my computers. I got a lot of bang for my buck and I enjoyed the building process. The reason I stopped doing this is that when you factor in the cost of an OS, the savings drop quite a bit. So much that I no longer find it worth my time.
  • RE: Homebrewing isn't dead yet

    I was going ot post a reply on the other article, but I saw this one it its wake.

    I am a hobbyist myself and know many that are. Sure, we rarely build that bleeding edge PC, but what we do build is capable of running any game comfortably. Customization, cost and pride are just a few of the reasons why we do it.

    What I do know is that every time I walk into our local Micro Center, the BYOPC section is very busy. They have plenty of inventory for hobbyists and they seem to refresh it regularly. Of couse, this store is down the road from MIT and a number of other schools which probably helps.

    Interesting take on the schools though. I think you are right. I would like to see more younger students with hands-on experience. We don't churn out enough of them and we feel it when they are injected into the real world.
  • RE: Homebrewing isn't dead yet

    Homebrewing IS dead when you factor in the cost. You simply can't justify building your own when the system + OS license from dell, is cheaper than buying the parts yourself.
    • RE: Homebrewing isn't dead yet

      Except you CAN usually build a computer yourself for cheaper than most off-the-shelf PCs. Maybe not for the low-end PCs but that isn't the market most homebrewers are aiming for. Their usually interested in the middle of the road to high end and there (especially for the high end) the savings can be significant.
    • Totally wrong.......

      I can build a much higher performance computer for almost half the price of the typical Dell, HP, etc... off the shelf system. this includes the cost of Windows if I ever wanted to use it. I avoid the MS tax this way.
      linux for me
      • Not only that...

        ....but, let's say you build every 2 or 3 years. If you do choose MS OS, remember that XP Pro is supported until 2013. Theoretically, you're able to install one OS on a new PC every 3 years, which gives one 1 OS with 4 builds. After all, you do "own" the SW, so you can use it as many times as you want/need....right? That really cuts down on the cost of the homebrewed system...
  • I haven't bought Dell, HP, etc since 2000.

    My current PC was built by Cyber Power PC when I found that I could choose parts from there and pay only a $50 premium over DIY via Newegg. That was in mid 2007 for a price of $1550 (minus monitor). That same machine still plays Crysis just fine, so I won't be worrying about building/buying anything until probably 2012. I may do an upgrade or two but so far I don't need it.

    Still, being able to choose each part is a deal breaker for me, I don't trust OEM's to select components. Those guys do too much cost cutting on to build anything reliable.
  • RE: Homebrewing isn't dead yet

    As a former homebrewer I say its dead, I contracted fro Intel some time ago and realize there is more to building the PC than slapping together a cpu, motherboard and power supplies. As speeds get into the Gigahertz, there issue such as impedance mismatch. A poorly designed motherboard will that causes a mismatch on the bus line will introduce instabilities that can run anybody?s day for example random reboot. The problem is Frys and Tiger direct just do not have the resource like Dell to ferret out these issues before selling the product to customers.

    As for schools, sound good until the Unions and politicians find out you are muscling on their jobs.
    • Thus one buys quality motherboards

      and in so doing alleviates any problems you describe.

      There will always be whippy-dip manufacturers, making less than desirable products - part of the home building experience is ferreting out those problems.

      The biggest difficulty the home builder faces is the lack of local stores, and a liberal return policy. Newegg used to be very good about this, but those days are gone, necessitating much more study before the very first purchase.

      I build machines for others, and tell them at the outset that I will probably only get within 10% of the price of a Dell or HP - but what I build will have better performance, better documentation, and better upgrade potential than anything that can be bought from Dell, HP, Acer, or any other name supplier.
      • agreed

        When I was building my own, which I don't any more, I would do lots of research on which parts to get. Which companies were reliable and which gave the most bang for the buck spent. I even did a bit of overclocking to squeeze out some more performance. I would save a couple of hundred dollars back then. Nowadays I doubt I could build up a machine within $100 of what it would cost buying from dell.
  • AH yes, the HEATHkit days . . .

    My father (and I) built stereos, TVs and even an electric organ. It was like a puzzle - only with a purpose. I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon on that HEATHkit TV . . .

    I have always built my PCs by hand. I enjoy seeing it all come together - it keeps me fresh WRT hardware and software. In the old days it was because of cost - name brand PCs were exorbitantly expensive. Today I do it because I want to.

    My dual-Opteron quad-core water-cooled monster is ALMOST finished . . .
    Roger Ramjet
  • I think everyone misread the story.

    [B]Those of us who were of the ?Extreme? hobbyist or PC homebrewer persuasion ? those of us who weren?t content to buy systems in a box from a major PC vendor would read websites and publications[/B]

    I would have to agree, the need for the upgrades to super-powerful super-expensive is dying. (Does Youtube renderring 400 msecs faster justify the $2000 extra cost, lol) That said, he then said...

    [B]The new ?Extreme? will be ?Miserly?. What system gives you the best bang for the buck? What system components conserve the most amount of power? Who makes the cheapest and best netbook for the money?[/B]

    So, it isn't home brew that is dying, I expect it will grow massively as more of my friends want to get faster PCs (I won't tell you how I regain most of the performance), but bigger HDs, memory, etc is part of the the "New Extreme" he, you, and others are talking about.

  • RE: Homebrewing isn't dead yet

    "Most of us also offer some introductory computing courses, giving us a pool of ?skilled labor? needing hands-on experience. In this case, if we can save money over the major vendors and give students some time not only building computers, but defining system requirements, conducting end-user acceptance, etc., then homegrown computers can be a real asset."

    Makes sense to me. My home machine was built by my 14 y-o in Jan '08 with me looking on. He knew his requirements, put in the research, did the finger work, etc. Purpose-built would be really useful in a school. For example, a high-end video editing machine would definitely save you money & train a few kids.
  • RE: Homebrewing isn't dead yet

    I tried to do something like this when I did IT at a private high school. I ran into a basic problem. The kids weren't interested in building computers, they were interested in programming them so they could make video games. In the end, the kids ended up being skilled labor of the lifting and carrying variety moreso than the put together and test variety. It was really a waste of their talents, and our time, I thought. Fortunately, a programming teacher was hired to get these kids motivated into their dream idea of writing their own game. I ended up putting the machines together by myself. :-P