Here I go again. I’m starting to feel like a bit of a masochist building my own PCs rather than just buying something nice off the shelf. A colleague asked me the other day why I build my own and sometimes its hard to actually figure it out.
Ultimately it comes down to being able to spec out exactly the parts that I want. I can get the exact processor, video card, dvd drive, hard drives that I want. When you buy from a vendor you have to deal with their choices which are often optimizing for very different things. They also tend to have weird pricing where certain crappy components are cheap but the ones you want are a huge upsell (SSDs are still in this category- they charge far higher than market prices for them when you configure one with a PC now). Also by buying pieces I can more easily roll over components that are still working fine from the previous PC.
Either way the biggest pain is dealing with broken pieces. This is frankly where Apple has it nailed lately- bring your broken stuff into an Apple store for the first year and they just fix them (although sometimes you wait around for a year). Dealing with replacements and RMA shipping whether from Dell, HP or NewEgg is just a huge pain.
For components in general I’m a big fan of NewEgg. Buying stuff from them is great, their prices are decent, they ship things quickly, and its easy to find the right stuff on their site. But when something doesn’t work the RMA process can take hours to the point where I often just give up rather than try to get the component replaced (which I suppose is the point). I’ve discovered you need to be careful about buying the components of a system early since after 30 days returns become an extra-nightmare. I bought a nice slim blu-ray drive for the Media PC but took more than a month to try it out. It turns out it was DOA. So I contact NewEgg. They say “too late, contact the manufacturer for their warranty”. So I contact Sony Optiarc and they reply “we are just an OEM, contact your retailer for warranty support”. And thus we enter Kafka land… Eventually someone worked it out and $10 and several hours later my drive is on its way back to them to be replaced, but I assume it will be weeks before I get my replacement.
This year’s upgrades are both pretty similar. Both my Media PC and my main home workstation are getting new Sandy Bridge processors and new smaller cases with mini-ITX motherboards. The old Media PC was in a fancy “media case” which was about the size of a big receiver and the new one is more like 10″x12″x3″. It doesn’t have room for 5 drives in it like the old case, but then again I bailed on putting 5 drives in the old case since the heat and noise was a big problem and I didn’t need more than 2TB storage in the actual media center box anyway (all the big movies are off on the server anyway).
The workstation has moved from the huge and heavy Antec P182 case to a new mini-tower that is more like 14″x10″x12″ and is about as small as you can get with a mini-ITX motherboard, high-end CPU, a few drives, and a full double-width video card. Its still super-tiny compared to the huge old tower and I should be able to stick it in the corner of my desk behind my monitors and free up a ton of floor space.
More details on both systems in later posts.