To Build or Not To Build

There comes a time in the course of a computer geek’s computing that he (or she) realizes that upgrading has been put off for WAY too long. That time came the other night as the desktop started choking on HD episodes of Lost, sputtering to a halt as it struggled to find enough CPU power to turn the bits into video. Granted, this only happened about 1-2 times per episode, but it seems like such a basic task. How could I, a certified computer nerd, have gotten to a point where the Tower O’ Power lets out a mere whimper?

I’ll admit, it’s been a while since this PC saw an upgrade. It was pretty close to top-end when I built it in the summer of 2003 though the only upgrades it’s seen since then have been a newer video card and a ton of storage space. This may not seem like a long time to most non-techies, but it’s considered a small eternity when talking about PC capabilities. I didn’t consider it a problem until my actual non-gaming usage started to be impacted.

Price can’t really be a factor either. When I could do a cheap and simple upgrade, building or buying a new system just didn’t make financial sense. Upgrading now involves a lot more than it used to. Instead of picking up a new CPU, motherboard and possibly memory, I’m also going to have to go for a newer power supply (the old ATX12V just doesn’t cut it anymore) and pony up for a new video card (AGP has given way to PCI-E). I’d also have to ditch my old UDMA-100 drives for newer SATA ones. By that point I’m only keeping one of my hard drives and replacing the rest of the guts. This puts me a stone’s throw from just building an entirely new PC. So now I’m researching and browsing on many sites like, to get my finger on the pulse again.

This brings me to a conundrum. Since my first hand-me-down computer from my grandfather (a glorious 286 running at 20MHz), I’ve always built my own computers. Not only was it much cheaper, but I enjoyed knowing that I had hand-picked every part and put it together with painstaking attention to detail. I still enjoy the idea of building a new PC to replace this one, but I’m lured by the siren song of Apple.

Back in the day, Macs were more expensive than PCs and mainstream programs just didn’t run on them. They were a niche solution to my mainstream (read: gaming) needs. This changed when Apple decided to start using Intel processors, the same type that powers PCs. Suddenly a Mac could run Windows AND MacOS, the best of both world. Then Parallels entered the realm and I could run my Windows programs in MacOS without even rebooting. It’s like some kind of computer nerd’s wildest fantasy.

Thus my dilemma: a Mac would come with a very powerful combination of software and hardware whereas a custom-built PC would give me more of the hardware features I want. It’s the difference between buying a Porsche or rebuilding an old Mustang that could perform about as well. You’ll have a lot more fun doing the rebuild yourself, but it’ll never be a Porsche.

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10 Responses

  1. Misty Fowler says:

    Don’t forget your roots…PC is where you came from! Where is your loyalty? đŸ™‚

  2. Jeremy says:

    I was confronted with a similar choice about 6 months ago and I chose a new mustang. I built it myself and I really like the setup. Still…I often find myself feeling let down by the fact that it isn’t a porsche. It runs my games beautifully…but I still feel like I’m missing out.

    I’d advise the going with the Mac. I’ve never had one but I’m getting to the point where I feel like I’m too old to have to try and hold my computer together with bailing wire and duct tape. Everything new is another hassle I have to figure out how to make Windows handle. I still haven’t even considered going with Vista…what a nightmare.

    It would sure be nice to finally have a computer that doesn’t require that I have to work on it every time I want to try to make it do something new.

  3. Jesse says:

    I’m so in the “don’t use Vista” camp. I haven’t heard anything about it that makes me think that it’s worthwhile. About the only “must-have” feature is CableCARD support for media center PCs, but then you have to deal with it degrading HD signals. Bleck.

  4. Let me know what you decide…

    I’ll be very interested in the outcome.

    (Seeing as this message is being typed on a certified Jesse-built PC, circa 2003)

    (A PC, I might add, that has run smoothly and quietly for four years, with absolutely no problems, either major or minor, except for one very strange beeping noise, which apparently meant, “pull out my memory stick, blow on it, and put it back in.” You might think it would be hard to get that out of a “BEEEEEEP” noise, but Jesse managed to translate.)

  5. Vanessa says:

    Knowing very little about computers, all I will say is that I absolutely LOVE my Mac and wouldn’t go back to a PC for personal use under any circumstances. I’ve had the same laptop with only 1 upgrade (newest version of OS) for 3 years now with ZERO problems, ZERO crashes and ZERO viruses.

  6. Oh man…why did you have to say the word Lost. I’m so mad its not starting til January!

  7. Reach Upward says:

    It turns out I’m not as much of an under-the-hood kind of guy as I thought I was. I know my way around the guts of the computer fairly well. But I long ago gave up on biulding my own. In the commoditized world, you can get close to what you want without all the hassel.

    And since I’ve got kids, I don’t do major upgrades any more. My pattern has been to pass my old computer to them and get a new one. By that time, the old one they have been using is ready for the scrap heap. The laptop I acquired earlier this year substantially outperforms my 4-year-old desktop in every way — and it cost quite a bit less too.

    For those of you that are in the fear Vista / hate Microsoft crowd, Vista Ultimate 64 has performed pretty much flawlessly for me. It’s been pretty sweet.

  8. jeremy says:

    I used to not really like Macs, but since going to the U they have both and I had to use Macs for a lot of certain programs, I would go for a mac especially that they have intel and you can run windows and the mac os.

  9. Mike says:

    You know where I stand on this…

    Get the Porsche!

  1. June 29, 2008

    […] been putting off upgrading for a really long time. In the last several years, the entire PC market has gone through a big […]

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