I first began tinkering with computers when an 80/88 was top of the line and the most memory you needed was 256KB. My most recent building project put together a very speedy, and very cost effective system based on an Intel Core2 Quad (that’s 4 processing cores in one CPU) and 4,194,3044KB (4GB) of memory. Computer technology has come a long way, and building a system has become easier, more cost effective, and remains as satisfying as ever. However, why I’ve long recommended building computers is for these two reasons: quality and sustainability.
The truth is, computers from manufacturer’s are cheap… really cheap. Some desktop models run around $300. I could never build a computer for $300, the case and power supply could run that much – not to mention some operating systems. Manufacturer’s are able to achieve these low low prices because they get a volume discount for buying parts in bulk. They also buy really cheap parts.
Most very inexpensive computers have very limited warranties. Some as short as 90 days. This is extraordinarily ridiculous. 90% of the computer parts available on the open market come with a 3 year warranty, and all system memory comes with a lifetime warranty. So why are the manufacturer’s offering such short warranty periods? Because they’re building cheap junk. It isn’t until you get into the $1,000 range that you start finding computers with 2+ years on the warranty. The system I recently built cost a few hundred less, and all the components have 3 or more years on their warranties.
Then there’s sustainability. Upgrading a computer you build yourself is infinitely easier. Many times the systems you buy from manufacturers don’t even have room for expansion. One system I recently bought for work is completely void of all expansion slots for PCI or PCI-E cards, and the two SATA ports are taken up by the 120gB hard drive and DVD burner. (4-6 SATA ports is typically standard, but not when you buy cheap!)
Most systems I build easily last 5+ years, and are usually replaced because I’m ready for something faster, not because they’ve stopped working. For example, a personal computer I originally build in 1998 and gave a memory and processor upgrade in 2002 was still operating as a Linux-based (small) business web and e-mail server in 2007.
Of course the real benefit to building your computer, and what makes it truly sustainable, is the fact that there are certain parts that you can reuse for many year, which cuts costs on future systems. For instance, I had the same CD Burner in 3 systems, and only replaced it when dual-layer DVD burners dropped in price to $35. My current case is now encasing its second system, and is already 5 years old. The previous system is now a HTPC running MythTV. (I got rid of my old case because I tired of the Plexiglas window and bass-driven blinking lights. And yes, my cable management is very poor.)
Building a computer is easier than ever. I’ve always said, if you can play with building blocks and aren’t afraid of a screwdriver then you can build a computer. Besides being cost effective and sustainable, building your own system is a fun and rewarding experience. One that I recommend for everyone.