The downsides of building your own PCs

The downsides of building your own PCs

Summary: There are huge upsides to building your on PC, but it's not smiles all the way ...


I’m a big advocate of building your own PC as opposed to putting your money (and faith) in a manufacturer that has them rolling off the production lines by the thousands.  Don’t get me wrong, given the numbers of new PCs being made and sold every day, the failure rate is amazingly low and the prices are hard to beat.  For me, it’s just that these mass produced PCs lack a soul.  They feel cold and sterile and, well, mass produced. 

[poll id=104]

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to introducing thousands of people to the joys of owning a custom built PC without having to pay custom built prices, and once you’ve built your own PC you’ll never look at mass-market PC in the same way ever again.  It’s a bit like getting the opportunity to test drive a Bentley or Aston Martin and then driving home in a Honda, Ford or Peugeot. Or going to a jewelers and strapping on a Rolex or Omega and then having to hand it back and then go back home wearing your Timex.  There’s nothing wrong with a Honda, Ford, Peugeot or Timex (in fact, there are upsides), but a quality, hand-crafted bit of kit sparks that portion of the brain that made ancient man create that better spear or sharper flint axe.  Mass produced PCs feel thrown together, when in reality the parts need to be coaxed gently.  The number of stripped threads, chewed up screws, and (the worse sin of all) hot glue that I’ve seen inside OEM PCs shows that the right amount of care just hasn’t been taken during assembly. 

As you can tell, I’m pretty enthusiastic about building PCs!

But there are downsides.  Three to be exact.  They don’t put me off building PCs, but they certainly annoy me.  Actually, annoy is too strong a term.  Irritate is better. 

The first irritant is the volume of trash that building a PC generates.  In fact, the last two PCs I built created such a volume of waste that I was really appalled.  From what I can tell, building a PC with parts sourced online seems to mean that you end up with enough cardboard and styrofoam to fill the box that the case came in.  It’s not too bad because 99% of the trash can be recycled (so the process is pretty guilt-free) but you do need the space in order to be able to store the parts and work, and I’m certain that over the years that minimum working space that you need has increased.

The second thing that gets me emotional is the quality of SATA cables and connectors.  Why is it that when you buy a quality board like an ASUS or Gigabyte you end up with poor quality cabling that it inflexible and has massive end connectors that make it difficult to route the cables in a tidy fashion?  Why not just not bother to supply cables? Or, better still, supply decent quality cables with a decently-priced board?  I’m buried here in SATA cables.  I have dozens laying about the place.  I don’t throw them away because they “could come in handy one day” but they never do.  To top that off, why do the plastic SATA connectors on a motherboard need to be so brittle and flimsy?  Do they really need to break that easily?  Might it be possible to design a connector that can actually hold the cable in place?

Finally, what’s the deal with that patch of thermal compound that’s applied to stock heatsinks?  I understand why it’s there (convenience and all that) but it’s a major annoyance for anyone wanting to remove the patch and use their own thermal compound.  If you do decide to use the stock thermal compound, it’s not that good and makes disassembling the heatsink/CPU a major pain.  In short, it’s a time-saving gesture that costs me time.  Sweet.  It’s because of this hassle that I usually throw out the stock heatsink and fan assembly and replace it with a different model (preferably one that fits onto the existing motherboard fittings, anything proprietary usually means that I have to remove the motherboard if I need to replace the heatsink).

Still, all that said, these downsides are more than acceptable when you consider the upsides.  And anyway, buying a PC would still leave me with a pile of rubbish to get rid of, the same poor-quality cables would be used inside and the CPU would be gummed to the heatsink thanks to the use of the pre-applied thermal pad.

[poll id=105]

Do you build your own PC or buy them ready made?  If you build your own, what do you see as the downsides?  If you buy your PCs ready made, what’s holding you back from building your own?

Topic: PCs

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  • Building your own computer

    First a little about myself. Although I am probably not the everyday computer user I do have a long computer use history. I started using and making my own computers long ago 35/40yrs. If I was asked to give advise I would say not to strike out on your own find someone with hardware experience. Computer shops are ok but, they are usually young and may have a very different set of requirements for their use. Find someone who shares or can understand your your needs ie not everyone is a gamer.

    good luck have fun

    Joe S
    • I have to ask...

      what kind of computer were you building in 1967 (or even 1972)? ;)
      • Didn't they use tubes back then?

        Even a calculator could be considered a computer - even back then.
        • Addendum

          I usually build my PC's with components that are typically the 3rd best you can buy. Good performance and decent quality without going broke.

          I do like to invest a little extra for the faster harddrives - I hate waiting for things to load.
        • Tubes in computers were gone by 1967

          Even then we were building simple computers using discrete components such as 2 transisters per flip-flop. IC's came in about that same time.

          disk drive was ust coming into use about that time. Before that the drives were mostly drum memories.

          Sure a lot easier to build your own computer today.
  • Show us how to build our own Xbox

    We want to know.
  • The last PC that I built...

    As I recall, I bolted together all the parts that I wanted within my available budget. But then I had weeks and weeks of endless fun trying to stablize the thing (BIOS upgrade), cool the thing down (add more fans) and shut the dratted noisy thing up (change the power supply).

    Admittedly, this was almost 7 years ago when "dual CPU" meant "Slot 1 933MHz Coppermines". These days, any dual core CPU would almost certainly be a far better option and I can [u]not buy Windows[/u] as well! Except that I think my next PC will be a laptop.
  • Adrian - how to build a mini fanless PC?

    I've been drooling over the cool tiny computers (often fanless about 600-800mhz) at but they do seem very expensive, even bare bones boxes. I get a feeling that sourcing the parts separately might be much cheaper. I love the idea of a tiny fanless box running a fast light Linux distro like Vector just for surfing with no CD/DVD drive. Any ideas where to start or how to put together a compatible group of mini components?
    Don Collins
    • Buy an old Dell Optiplex workstation and recycle

      See [url=]George Ou's[/url] post about building a cheap firewall / pbx appliance.

      They are whisper quiet and very cheap. Upgrading shouldn't be too much of a problem, however check when upgrading PSU's on Dell machines. Sometimes the ATX cable is wired differently to normal, resulting in a fried mobo / psu if connected to the wrong equipment.
    • Mac mini

      Just spend $600 on a stock mac mini and call it done. Use OS X or wipe the OS and
      put your favorite flavor of Linux on it. You're not going to find a smaller, quieter
      computer anywhere for a comparable price, even if you build it yourself.
      • Or

        you can install Windows XP or Vista.

        Sorry, but we have to list ALL the options if we want to convince people.
        Michael Kelly
    • Checkout Logic Supply

      and Mini-itx

      also System76 has
      customizeble minis (the Kola)
    • ITX

      Here is a link to Newegg-not promoting, just where I saw the stuff. It is called an ITX form factor, and the mobo is about
      12 centimeters (about 5 inches) square. Comes with an embedded processor-well, check it out yourself...
    • me too

      doesn't need to be mini - but silent or almost silent would be good.
    • Here ya go...

      Look at auction 270096605878 on eBay - I bought one of these and now I'm just waiting on the memory. Completely silent and, in my mind, perfect for an internet gateway - which is what I'm planning on using it for.
      Beat a Dead Horse
  • Now for the Upsides

    Pride that you can do something with relative ease.

    Option that you had the option to suppy your own OS and don't have to purchase Windows OS

    Flexability of Design - You are stuck to using what Dell has. If you want to shove that $700 video card into a Celeron powered PC with 512 MB of RAM, more power to you.

    Though there are many more, I will just add one last one.

    Modding: Though you can do this with pre-built computers, like a friend of mine who is putting a AMD 64 X2 into a Packard Bell case, modding is hands down the coolest thing you can do to a PC. Think a Mac looks cool, go through the galleries of [url][/url] and tell me your Mac is the hottest thing on the block.

    I have two Mods in the pipe, first one is a Computer in a Tool Box, second is a Nuclear Power Plant cooling tower.
  • Nobody Builds their own computer

    They assemble parts rolled out by the millions in a manner no different than those
    corporate assembly lines you deride.
    • Taking parts and putting them together is ...

      ... called building. When the end result is a computer it is called building a computer. Who put the bug up your @ss?
    • That was the most retarded post I've ever seen on ZDNet

      What the hell do you think build means?

      Does a construction company make their own bricks, fabricate their own glass for the windows, mine their own slate for the roof tiles to BUILD a house?

      Assembling parts into a larger project is exactly what building is all about.

      Taken from [url=][/url]:

      [b]build[/b] [i]verb[/i], [b]built[/b] or [i](Archaic)[/i] [b]build?ed; build?ing;[/b] [i]noun[/i]
      [i]–verb (used with object)[/i]
      1. to construct (esp. something complex) by assembling and joining parts or materials

      • Next time I build a PC ...

        ... I'll be sure to mine the ores I need out of the ground! ;-)
        Adrian Kingsley-Hughes