Extreme PCs and "Homebrewing": Rest in Peace

Will custom, home-brew systems go the way of the Dodo or the Duesenberg with the retreating economy?
Written by Jason Perlow, Senior Contributing Writer

Being a technology writer in times like these can be difficult.

In the glory days, everyone had lots of disposable income, and those of us who called ourselves "PC Enthusiasts" thought nothing of doing complete hardware refreshes every six months to keep up with the technology. A new motherboard and processor (or two) here, a new graphics card there, a double or quadruple RAM upgrade another month... Bigger.. better.. faster... you get the picture.


A $16,000 custom "Extreme PC" built by Puget Systems.

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 like Tom's Hardware, ExtremeTech, AnandTech and until recently the mighty PC Magazine, which in late 2008 folded its magazine publication after 26 years in print and retreated like the rest of us to the web.

Maximum PCappears to be one of the last print bastions of PC hobbyism, although it's been a while since I analyzed its content for true homebrew-goodness.

It's been a long time since I myself have "built" a system from the ground up using OEM parts. Like I do with 12-packs of chicken breasts and cases of toilet paper, I now buy my computers from COSTCO in barebones configurations.

If I need to tweak the hardware for better performance,  I shop on the Internet for modest upgrades. While some of my friends are still hardcore system builders, I firmly believe that the build-your-own practice will become a lost art form, and that it will not survive the economy.

Oh, the white box Taiwanese OEMs will exist, such as ASUS, MSI and and TYAN, but they'll be making cheap consumer devices and netbooks, and acting as contract manufacturers for the big name PC manufacturers -- at least the big names that will still exist 2 or 3 years from now.

Also Read: Der Frankenputer, A Last Hurrah at System Building

I find it particularly obscene when PR agencies and independent systems vendors contact me about "Extreme" systems you can still buy. I'm not pointing fingers here, but one chap over at Puget Systems -- a respected custom systems builder -- wanted me to know about a $16,000 PC a private individual ordered from them and if it was something that would interest my readers.

I was not amused. I told this pleasant PR guy that "Extreme" PCs are no longer relevant. There's no market for them, and the "Extreme" publications that write about them are really no more useful or realistic than hardcore pornography.

The chances of your Average Paycheck Joe going out and buying a $5000 and up system is about as hopeful as a 400 pound dumpy-looking guy trying to find a date with a supermodel, or actually believing he can have relations with the women he sees pictures of in Hustler or Penthouse.

Now, don't get me wrong. I happen to think real pornography is healthy. This is something that addresses our base biological urges. "Extreme PC" publications? Not so much. And while I'm playing holier-than-thou, ZDNet is no exception -- our own Hardware 2.0 blogger's piece on a 1250 watt PC power supply struck me as equally retarded today. But I can't really blame Adrian, he has a hardware column to write about.

So where is this industry going? Just this week alone, two of my friends, both highly skilled systems integration professionals with large technology companies, as well as a close member of my family, a real estate attorney, lost their jobs.

I frequently wake up in the morning scratching my head wondering if anything I write about really matters when we have problems this huge affecting so many people. It almost seems that writing about technology at any level in this day in age that isn't related to how you can cut costs is no longer relevant. New processors? More cores? Faster graphics cards? Improved versions of Windows? Who gives a crap anymore.

So are the PC hobbyist sites dead? If they continue to publish the same fantasy porn and don't start putting out some practical advice, I think we'll soon be writing their epitaphs, just as we did for PC Magazine and other venerable print pubs for the PC industry that went before it.

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? How can you best make do with what you have now? Where are the best places to dumpster dive? How do you get in on asset liquidations?

Extreme PCs and Homebrewing are dead. And with this proclamation, I really hope I'm wrong. Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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