Week in Tech: Alienware’s Non-Steambox, SSD No-Brainer

By Jeremy Laird on June 12th, 2014 at 9:00 pm.

Alienware's just-a-box, er, box

Can there be any of you left not running an SSD as your main boot drive? If so, do not pass go, do not worry about M.2 and SATA Express, do not collect 200 units in non-sequential, unmarked local denomination. Just buy a Crucial MX100. It’s now on sale with the 256GB effort yours for just £78 / $109. If you don’t do it, I shall sulk. Meanwhile, it turns out Alienware is pressing ahead with its Steambox thingie in spite of Valve’s foot dragging. Consequently, Alienware now plans to sell its Steambox without SteamOS or the Steam controller. Er, what? Oh, and there’s a spot of good news concerning Intel’s new Devil’s Dumplings CPUs. They’re confirmed compatible with a bunch of existing 8 Series motherboards.

Finally, home build versus factory built. Used vs new? What are your preferences and why? I’m planning on sourcing a pre-built PC from one of the UK’s better system builders in the next few weeks and comparing it to the home-built option using both new and used components. Speak now or forever hold your peace. At least, don’t complain if I’ve missed something you wanted to know!

That Crucial MX100 SSD, then. Covered it before. So all that remains to say is this. If ever there was a no brainer, this is it.

Oh, and a disclaimer. Other brands of SSD are available. Some may be faster. Some might just be cheaper. Hell, they might be faster and cheaper. But for me the Crucial MX100 is such a no brainer because it’s fast-enough drive from an outfit that isn’t going to go bust overnight and has a decent rep for long-term reliability. And it’s all at a price you might beat, but only by a bit.

It’s a zero effort, low-risk decision. It’s the drive you buy when you want to just buy an SSD and sod all the research. If you haven’t already gone solid state, you are so going to thank me.

Crucial’s new JFDI-spec SSD

So that Alienware Alpha Steambox. New details have emerged. We now know the US price, namely $549. It’ll come with an Xbox 360 wireless controller (thanks to Valve’s decision to delay the Steam controller). It’s got an Intel Core i3 processor and Nvidia ‘Maxwell’ graphics (I’m guessing GeForce GTX 750 or 750 Ti). Then there’s 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive (SSD highly unlikely) and direct HDMI passthrough for console-esque ease of use and compatibility with multi-box home ents systems.

And here’s the twist. It’s not actually running SteamOS. It’s running Windows with a custom console controller-friendly interface. Uh huh. So, that’s the two key things that define a Steambox. And it doesn’t have either.

Frankly, the price doesn’t look that great compared to the latest consoles. The spec doesn’t look that wonderful compared to a home-build budget gaming box.

Indeed, the whole Steambox project has seemed somewhat precarious from the get go. What’s more, in a funny sort of way, Valve is the worst company to be running the project.

It’s used to being able to set its own agenda. Steam as a games distribution platform is oppressively dominant. When it comes to its own games titles, it can more or less release as it sees fit, confident in the knowledge that adoring fans will wait and wait and still lap it up.

Fancy bindings all very well. When can we bloody buy it?

But I’m not sure anyone is really on tenterhooks waiting for Steamboxes to show up. Likewise, I’m not convinced the whole Linux thing is motivated by a belief it’s the best option for gaming as opposed to a power play versus Intel.

Big, fabulously successful companies coming unstuck when they try to do something well outside their core competence is a common theme. And with every new delay and every seemingly contrary strategic move, it makes me wonder. Is this the project that reveals Valve’s limitations?

Or maybe Valve’s got it all worked out.

Anyway, Intel’s Devil’s Dumplings chips, as they’re not called. I speak of those Haswell refresh stopgap chips designed to distract us all from the glaring fact that the 14nm Broadwell family is going to be about a year late to market.

It turns out they are compatible with a wide range of existing motherboards based on Intel 8 Series chipsets, subject to a BIOS update. Yay. See the full list of supported motherboards here.

Finally, DIY PC building versus paying someone else to sort it out. What are the pros and cons? I’ve got my own take on that. But before I unload an opinion bomb, I’d be interested to hear about your experiences and preferences.

No cable spaghetti? Can’t be DIY

As a tech journalist I can be a bit blasé about PC components. I’ve got CPUs knocking about in ornamental bowls on about the scale normal people distribute loose change. If something dies, I just swap it out.

But I do remember my first home PC build. I remember the terrible threat of static electric discharge (well, as I imagined it), the frustration when things didn’t work, the impotence of not having spare components to isolate any issues.

Put simply, I’m asking you for a reality check before I tell you how easy it all is. Fire away.

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152 Comments »

  1. iainl says:

    My only concern about the SSD (I could possibly do with a second, for my wife’s netbook, or rather drop my current one in there and get a larger model) is whether it makes sense to get a 500GB one for roughly twice the price of a 250GB. What with that then being big enough to be a real drive with games on, rather than just boot + Lightroom like I run now.

    • Geebs says:

      If it helps, I got a 256 GB SSD back in the bad old days (I am still ashamed of how much it cost), and kind of wish I had a bigger one, but only because it’s partitioned to hold MacOS, Windows and all their respective applications. If you’re only running one OS, you probably wouldn’t feel too cramped as long as you have another drive for files.

    • frightlever says:

      I was lucky enough to get three 128Gb and two 256GB SSD drives for review. I have them bolted about my PC like armor-cladding.

    • ramirezfm says:

      I have bought a 500GB Crucial some time ago. I remember I was a bit terrified when reading all that things how SSDs spontaneously crash and burn left and right. It’s been more than a year now. Everything is fine. I couldn’t be more happy with my purchase as I have all the space my bloated Steam library need. Having 30 games installed because those are the ones I ought to play soon-ish is the way to go surely… Anyway, it’s so damn fast compared to non-SSD!

    • Premium User Badge

      optimus_hippo says:

      From what I have read, the bigger the SSD capacity the better (faster?) it performs. I assumed that’s why there is no discount for the larger capacities.

      I would get a 500GB just for the benefit of storage then becoming an invisible thing you don’t need to think about. I have a 256GB SSD + 500GB normal drive for bigger files, which works quite well but I am always aware of where I want to store a new file, and I move my Steam games between the two drives based on what I am playing at present. It’d be nicer to not have to think about things :-)

  2. bhauck says:

    I built four computers from scratch between 2000-2003, helped my dad build two from 1995-1999, and gradually replaced every component of an additional one from 1992 to 1999. Since then I’ve fallen under the spell of laptops, but I really miss building my own systems. Paying someone else to build a system for me would be like paying someone else to eat an ice cream cone for me. I’m not even sure how this is a question. Have things changed that much in the last decade? Is it not fun anymore?

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      This is my main reason for building my own.
      It’s fun.
      I’m sure it’s not everyone’s idea of fun, but I really enjoy the whole process, from thinking about what I’m going to do, pawing through reviews, filling shopping baskets with prospective parts, and finally building the thing.
      I’m sure I could have save a whole lot of time, and probably some money by buying a pre built system, but that doesn’t interest me.
      If you’re interested in building your own PC then the best place to start is upgrading your current one.

      • Nenjin says:

        I do it so I have no one else to blame but myself.

        My first computer, an eMachine, taught me the value of knowing the limitations of the hardware you’re putting in your PC. Trying to upgrade it with anything was basically one dead end after another: proprietary case size, proprietary mobo dimensions, proprietary this that and the other thing.

        This was….like almost two decades ago. But since then, I research my own parts and build it so I know what I’m in for, and only have myself to blame when I hit a hardware bottleneck.

        I can’t say building my own PC is fun….it’s actually rather stressful. But it’s gratifying when you’ve gotten it up and running, and you did it without help.

        • zer0sum says:

          Well stated (“fun, but stressful”). I go into a deep, dark depression when I’m building a computer and it doesn’t POST. And I also go into a Super OCD mode where I cannot and will not rest until it does.

          • trajan says:

            That made me laugh. I always take a day off work and have some beer on hand when I build my computer. As soon as it POST’s I crack one open and let the party begin.
            I allot myself $5000 q3years for a complete system. A good chuck of that goes to the 3 replacement monitors. I salvage a few items off the old computer. I have a cd burner that is from 2001…I think and a blu-ray player from 2005 that I keep re-using. My current HDD’s are re-used as well. I’m actually over my 3 year mark, but the current PC is still running strong so I’m waiting for Intel to wow me.
            To Me the whole process is a lot of fun. It used to be about saving money, but now it’s just about the joy of building the thing…along with all the research beforehand. I usually shop for a good year before I buy anything.

        • TechnicalBen says:

          This too, and it’s fun.
          I’ve had “experts” build PCs and bikes for me or family. Never again, most fell apart the week of purchase on silly things like screws not being put together. Also, check out the Youtuber Nerd Cubed and “Sasha”. :P

          I don’t recommend friends or others build their own, but I do recommend they let me help them. Might get an occasional wrong heat sink, so return to the shop/post it back for a different one, but nothing dreadful.

          The only really difficult event was someone not taking my advice and buying some massive 4TB drives that arrived dead…

        • Elethio says:

          I was in a similar spot to you nenjin, having not built any since the nineties I tried to go the laptop root but when, my laptop developed one after another inexplicable faults, I decided to go back to building my own (about two years ago) there was a bit to catch up on but I was so glad I did it, its a great feeling when it runs for the first time, and its a relief to not be at the mercy of an inexplicable black box.

          Just one thing REMEMBER THE PSU, I planned my new machine including the PSU but when ordering I just forgot it and in my rush to build the machine I just used the standard one that came with the motherboard.
          Nearly had a heart attack when after running for half an hour it suddenly went bang and smoke drifted up from the machine :/
          Needless to say, next day I bought the fanciest PSU I could get my hands on, and amazingly my machine has worked fine since then.

          • Baines says:

            Also important, if you read forums and stuff online for advice, realize that people who brag about how cheap it is to build your own machine will often skimp on less “flashy” parts. Some just don’t value those parts, some just assume that anyone building a PC already has most of those bits salvageable from an existing machine, some don’t consider what all the bits and bobs can add up to, and some I believe intentionally leave them out in order to shave an extra hundred or so off their claims.

            Elethio mentioned the PSU, and that is one of the things that people can skimp on and blow off. Someone spending over $1000 on CPU and GPU and picky about how bright the LEDs are in his custom water-cooler lines will then say “Just grab any PSU with the wattage.”

            Others items that get skipped are keyboards (which are legitimately cheap), optical drives (DVD being legitimately cheap, BD being affordable), mice (which aren’t always cheap), gamepads (which some PC diehards are adamant against buying), Windows OS (which it seems many PC builders refuse to support, instead saying you should install Linux and conveniently shaving a hundred off their build prices), and the like.

            It is also hard to find decent reviews for a lot of these items, as PC hardware sites focus on things like motherboards, CPUs, graphics cards, and these days SSDs.

          • Quinnbeast says:

            PSUs are unfortunately subject to the numbers game; higher listed wattage = better (hohoho). It’s just a shame that some brands don’t even show sustained output in favour of (the ultimately pointless) peak output. But really, even £40 PSU is probably only costing about £20 at trade, which means manufacturing cost is about the same as a takeaway pizza. Really, would you rely on a pizza to provide 45 Amps on the 12v rail?

            The only sensible way to look at for me, if I’m investing in mid-to-high end components, then I’ll stick to that mindset across the board wherever applicable (PSU more so than any other item). I think I spent around 9-10% of my previous budget on the PSU alone. If it doesn’t have a 5-year warranty, I’ll usually keep searching. Besides, PSUs are waaaaay sexier than boring old CPUs. They’ve got tons of cables and pluggy-in stuff. Mmm.

          • Baines says:

            My next PSU will be modular. My current PSU has tons of cables, but I don’t need half of them.

    • Maxheadroom says:

      ditto
      I’ve built all my PCs from my first one in the early 90s (with a whopping 1GB hard drive! ) to the one im typing at now. I’ve considered pre built but where’s the fun in that?

      My basic rule of thumb for component choosing is to see what the absolute top of the range bleeding edge is, and then get the one below it. negligible performance difference but more often than not a fair bit cheaper

      • bhauck says:

        Holy crap, how expensive was that 1GB HD in the early 90s? We got our first computer in 92, I think, and it had an 8 MB HD.

        • fish99 says:

          I remember paying £109 for 2mb (yes two meg) of ram. I think that makes ram about 8,000 times cheaper now :D

          • karmafarm says:

            I remember paying a similar amount for 512k of RAM for my Atari ST so it could run Cubase back in 1991- a mighty application that came on TWO floppy disks and therefore required a collosal 1Mb of memory. Fitting it meant taking the machine almost completely apart and literally left me sitting in a pool of my own sweat.

    • Dozer says:

      My goodness.

      You’re traveling through time BACKWARDS!

      When you get to the 80s, remember to kill off Thatcher, OK?

    • Vinraith says:

      That must be nice. There are lots of good reasons to build your own computer, and I’ve done it many times, but I’ve always found it to be an obnoxious, finicky chore.

      • frightlever says:

        It used to be “fun”, like DF “fun”, insofar as there were many incompatibilities you could run across with miscellaneous hardware. These days, while you can still get caught out, it’s basically Lego. Just hit up Tom’s Hardware for sample specs and make a shopping list.

        • bhauck says:

          Look, don’t tell anyone, but it’s basically been lego since ~2000.

          • Hahaha says:

            I would go as far to say it’s been like that a lot longer, a little research and no one should be having any trouble

    • ramirezfm says:

      Since I switched from desktop to laptop building my own rig is out of the question. Switching parts in your laptop is fun though. It’s like extreme version of building your own desktop :)

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        drewski says:

        I’ve only really fiddled with RAM and hard disks in a laptop, not quite game enough to tackle anything else.

        • karmafarm says:

          Laptop user here, too, and although it’s rarely necessary I love taking the thing apart. It’s so shiny in there! Not very upgradeable, though…

      • bhauck says:

        I’ve had to replace motherboards and screens in laptops, and I don’t find it fun at all. Way too many screws.

    • Zafman says:

      I’ve fully upgraded my system two months ago (good old mobo-cpu-ram-gfx combo) and I must say, since they finally started to build decent cases (thanks, corsair!) it’s an absolute joy to cram all the new parts in. My last full upgrade was seven years earlier (!) and I was still running windows XP not too long ago (never change a running system, right?), but obviously that won’t do with the new hardware. So I decided to install windows 7 on a SSD, a process which only took about 20 minutes, that’s INCLUDING downloading and installing all updates. That thing booted to desktop in seven seconds! Not even enough time for the windows logo to fully appear on screen. After adding my old conventional drives it now takes about ten seconds to boot to desktop. I was used to waiting for two minutes for that, sooo…I can live with that. ;)
      I installed Fallout 3, just to see how fast it would load. It’s instant! There aren’t any loading times as such, unless you want to count fractions of a second. It’s absolutely beautiful.
      Where was I… ah… In all my years of building my own PCs, this build was by far the most fun I ever had! Nothing went wrong, installing the OS was not a headache for a change, and I can now wholeheartedly recommend SSDs.

  3. Premium User Badge

    Aerothorn says:

    “Finally, DIY PC building versus paying someone else to sort it out. What are the pros and cons? ”

    The main pro – the one I think is usually glossed over – is that, for me, it’s an enjoyable experience. It’s great to learn, even at a basic level, the makeup of your computer, to have ownership over it. There’s a real satisfying sense of progress, especially given how plug-and-play everything is today.

    On the flipside – if you HATE working with hardware, if opening up a PC makes you miserable, you probably should just buy one. The advantage of buiding a PC is more about parts flexibility than it is about cost savings, in my book. And that can mean real cost savings – some places won’t let you pick an SSD unless you get the $400 grapics card, etc.

    Ultimately the hard part of building a PC is not the building, it’s doing the part research and trying to understand things – or, more relevantly, finding sources you can trust.

    • Quinnbeast says:

      Yeah, definitely a flexibility thing for me, but moreover, it appeases my inner manchild too. I’m also too pedantic to let someone else do it for me. Things like PSUs aren’t particularly exciting, but they’re arguably the most vital component in having a system that’s stable and reliable (and efficient) for years to come, so I’d rather pick it myself.

      That said, I’ll happily research and pick components down to specific case fans, a particular HSF unit on the GPU etc; I definitely get some enjoyment out of doing the groundwork and getting immersed in all the nuts and bolts; sometimes literally. I usually build my PC around the idea of it being as quiet as I can possibly muster (which is now *much* less hassle than it used to be), while still being a full fat gaming machine.

      And when that mega delivery of a dozen different sized boxes turns up, it’s as close as I get to the feeling of being a child again on Christmas morning. LOOKIT ALL THIS STUUUFFFF! YAAAAS!

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        This is so true. That big pile of flashy looking boxes laid out on the floor looks great. I always end up giggling with glee as I unbox it all. Turning that into something that runs games better than you’ve ever experienced before after weeks and months of research and saving money is a great feeling.

  4. blur says:

    Building a custom PC couldn’t be easier nowadays. There are way fewer issues regarding compatibility, and newer UEFI-enabled motherboards (which is mostly all of them now) make all the basic setup a breeze.

    For going down the path of DIY, pcpartpicker makes selecting parts dead-easy, and is customizable enough that you can quite accurately predict the price of a system.

    But here’s what it comes down to. The justification for building your own machine can’t be cost. It can’t be time. It has to be purely interest. At the end of the day, there will be headaches. Something inevitably won’t work quite right, the system won’t quite behave the way you expected, and you’ll probably screw up drive partitioning. But it’s gratifying. Compare it to Dark Souls. It takes effort, but is that much more rewarding for the accomplishment at the end of the day. Then you can point to it and say, “I built that”.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      In my head, I read your last paragraph in the voice of Brian Blessed (or maybe Winston Churchill) and to the tune of “I vow to thee my country” (get the musical climax just right on “I…BUILT…THAT!” for maximum Churchillian effect)

      • blur says:

        While of the commonwealth, in Canada, Brian Blessed isn’t a big deal, and “I Vow to Thee my Country” isn’t a song that’s ever heard.

        But for the sake of anecdote, I went last week to the symphony, where Holst’s “The Planets” was being performed. “Jupiter” is, of course, the music to which “I Vow to Thee my Country” is set. The conductor, introducing the Suite to the audience before the symphony started, mentioned this fact. He then followed it up with, “If anyone has the urge to sing along, please leave.” (Spoken in a jovial way, mind you)

        • CookPassBabtridge says:

          *blush* :D Yeah I did find myself thinking that was all rather anglophilic. I just loved the pride that was coming through in the ‘being a PC builder’ thing.

        • Comrade Roe says:

          Jovial? Don’t you mean jovian? (I’ll show myself out now.)

    • Nosada says:

      “The justification for building your own machine can’t be cost.”

      Maybe not at the start, but it certainly becomes a major factor once you start getting the hang of it. Building a $2k monster that plays everything on max is easy as pie compared to trying to build a $150 quadcore NAS or a $300 low-end gaming PC for a couple of pre-teens that wanna play current games but don’t care about resolution or AA.

      EDIT: I just reread my post and realized it sounds very negative, so: I agree with all of your points, and you are an awesome human being.

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        I find building your own only becomes cheaper once you do it a second time though. To buy EVERYTHING that’s in this Alienware, you won’t save much if any, certainly try to put it together from amazon, you won’t do it any cheaper. However once you go to upgrade then self building yields big savings once you already own a case, power supply, hard-drives, RAM etc and all you need to do is buy a new motherboard, processor and graphics card, you can get what is essentially a brand new PC for a fraction of the cost.

        • Person of Interest says:

          The reason for this, I think, is because almost all off-the-shelf PC’s will skimp somewhere on parts to lower the cost. You’ll get a white-label PSU, or the case is a bit wobbly, or they use cheap capacitors on the motherboard… something will be cut-rate. Not to mention that it’s (nearly?) impossible to order a Dell/Alienware with an SSD.

          I also think that off-the-shelf PC’s are harder to upgrade. They may have a custom mainboard with fewer expansion slots or SATA ports, or their PSU may not support the low-power states that Haswell systems want. They use lower-capacity RAM DIMM’s so there aren’t any open slots on the motherboard. They’re even less likely to release firmware updates for upgrade compatibility. You’ll hardly get any support, from the company or from enthusiasts. You probably don’t have a disc, or a license, to re-install your OS.

          It’s worth it to pay for a good custom build, or DIY, and be able to upgrade your system going forward.

          • Smoky_the_Bear says:

            This is true. You will save more money in the long run if you buy quality stuff that’s well future-proof. Especially when it comes to things like your case and power supply. If you have to buy a new power supply when you upgrade because of not enough juice or if your case isn’t big enough to fit the graphics card you just bought (I’ve had this happen with one of my earlier PC’s) then you are going to have to unnecessarily buy the same components twice.
            My dad was given a PC once, the header connectors (i.e. the bit that connects the power button, reset button, hard drive lights etc) were non-standardised, meaning that when his processor died the rest of the PC was essentially useless because I couldn’t find a direct replacement processor for a decent price, the motherboard was useless in anything but that case and the case was incompatible with any replacement motherboard I bought. Meaning pretty much the entire PC needed replacing.

      • frightlever says:

        Is there a thread on here for donating hardware? I find that every time I build a new PC I look at the parts left over and have to fight the urge to build them into a new case.

      • Nate says:

        Recently bought a new computer after many, many years– used to build for a local mom-and-pop, so of course I never used to buy off the shelf. Started doing my research, re-learned just enough to say endlessly stupid things on the internet (sorry for the comments Mr. Laird!), and ended up going with a Dell when there was some kind of on-line sale advertised at Ars Technica or Extreme Tech or one of those places.

        That machine ended up being cheaper than Newegg parts, and very nearly matched what I would have bought for a scratch-build. Playing brand new games at 1440p on a US$1k machine.

        I think a big part of this is Windows. If you want a new copy of Windows for your next machine, people like Dell get them for darn close to nothing, and that shaves a hundred off of the cost. (The flip side of this is cannibalism, where a scratch build can save you significant money as you re-use your old computer’s case, peripherals, CD drive, OS key, etc).

        Ironically, doing things this way is actually harder than doing a scratch build, because you have to keep your eyes peeled for deals, and wait to buy. However, there are bonuses. For instance, no scratch build I’ve ever been involved with has ever been quiet– difficult to justify paying extra for that, but it turns out that I like it. Or for that matter, getting a CD faceplate that matched the case color was an even odds proposition on my older computers.

        As an aside, I was looking at craigslist throughout this process, and found that it would be really easy to pay more than new for a craigslist machine. People have some inflated ideas about the worth of their own stuff.

  5. Gilead says:

    I just built a new PC. I found that I didn’t really save that much money compared to buying one from Chillblast or whoever, but I was able to choose slightly better quality components than they would have offered as standard. So I could give myself a factory-overclocked and nicely cooled version of the Geforce 760 rather than the rebranded reference model they would have included, and a better quality power supply, etc.

    Also decided to just get a 256GB SSD and then add a regular hard drive later when I need it, a decision which would have generally cost me far more if I’d tried to add that to a pre-built model, as these companies don’t tend to update prices to reflect falls in the costs of SSD drives.

    Having said that, the first power supply I ordered died after three hours of use, which led to a quietly terrifying couple of days while I found a replacement and prayed that it hadn’t taken £750 worth of components out with it.

    Now it’s all up and running, though, I don’t regret it at all. I’ve got a PC with the components I wanted and I’m satisfied I made it work.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      The benefit you’ll have now you know what you are doing is that upgrading will be much cheaper. You don’t need to buy another power supply, case, most of your machine in fact, which means all your budget can go on your core upgrades, giving you either a much cheaper or much more powerful next PC than if you’d bought the next one from a company and paid for case, PSU, operating system etc again.

      • Premium User Badge

        jezcentral says:

        Agreed. My previous PC was an i7 920, and by the end it was still an i7 920 (what a classic CPU, the most obvious buy since the Q6600) but a lot of other things had changed.

        The only reason I still don’t own it, is I won a PC Gamer competition, and ended up with a ZooStorm with a 4770k CPU, SSD and Titan GPU (Saffir, FTW!). It’s a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t feel as much mine as the self-build.

        One con would be the warranty would be on the individual parts, not on the whole PC, which is what you would get if it was pre-built. You would have to track down the problems yourself, rather than just send it back.

        • Smoky_the_Bear says:

          You are correct about the warranty, that is the main advantage to buying a PC rather than building.
          One thing I will say though, is that after years of self building you generally end up with a bunch of spare parts lying around from previous upgrades. If something goes wrong this is nice because you can use these spares to trial and error diagnose the faulty component and then keep your PC running while you get a replacement ordered. If the dead component is under warranty you can send it back and get it replaced and mailing a single component is a ton easier and cheaper than sending your entire tower unit back, also you aren’t completely without a PC while this is all happening. This was the situation I found myself in when my graphics card died. I had a spare ATI card lying around. I was able to confirm my card had died, ordered a new one and was able to keep gaming on lower settings for the next few days. If I’d have had to send my tower back to the manufacturer it would have been a week or more without a PC and probably about £30-40 for the mailing.

  6. Azhrarn says:

    If this price trend holds, I may just as well throw 4 or 6 of these into my next build. My current PC has a small 80GB Intel X25-M and 2 1TB Spinpoint F1s for storage, and when I built it, the Spinpoints cost almost twice what this 256GB SSD is, hell, comparing the price of that 80GB SSD to these ones, I could almost get 3 Crucial SSDs for the original price of that one Intel SSD.

  7. Premium User Badge

    dangermouse76 says:

    Yeah gonna probably go for the SSD above. Only problem is I have a GA-P55-UD3 rev 1 motherboard and it seems only the Intel controller works well with SSD drives ( sometimes ). Also a forum post I read seems to suggest I will go down to x8 on my graphics card lane by enabling the SSD, I will also have to disable the USB 3 ports to do this.

    Not sure if it will impact running games with the bandwidth cut.

    I hear both yes and no depending where you read.

    • Person of Interest says:

      I have the same motherboard (maybe GA-P55-UD3R? anyway, no USB3 on-board) and it worked fine with both Crucial M4 and M500 drives. I didn’t check my PCI-E lane, but on the off chance that it was affected, I’ll take an SSD over x16 any day.

  8. db1331 says:

    I do not understand how someone can be a PC gamer and have neither the knowledge or desire to build their own PC. It’s like calling yourself a car enthusiast, and then getting your oil changed at Jiffy Lube rather than getting in there and doing it yourself.

    • CookPassBabtridge says:

      “Jiffy Lube” is a thing I have never heard of but now want to see on every street corner

      • alw says:

        I’ve never heard of it either – and to be honest, it sounds like something I’d probably rather not think about :/

      • Premium User Badge

        Martel says:

        There are plenty of them in the US, so feel free to come for a visit :)

    • dE says:

      I used to be all about the hardware and think like that. But there came a time when I just couldn’t be bothered keeping myself up to date on hardware developments. I’ve recently tried to get back into it but after two weeks of trying to get up to speed, I ended up just saying “fuck that noise”.
      Hardware Manufacturers have obfuscated the living hell out of their merchandise. All the numbers seem to have absolutely no meaning anymore and are just smashed together arbitrarily to make the least sense possible. So a graphic card called 2 is worse than a graphic card 1. But the graphic card 3 is better than both. Stuff like that. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

      Same with cars by the way, to mess with your car, you now have to use a laptop to hook up the onboard computer. Yeah. No. Go away.

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      Some people like tinkering with PCs, some people just like playing games. Some people like tinkering with cars, some people just like driving them.

    • lomaxgnome says:

      For one, being a PC gamer is a mass market appeal now, not the niche group it once was. PC gaming is easy enough now to be pretty close to plug and play for most people. Which means you’re ignoring not just a potion of the gaming population with your assumption, but the majority. For another, what savings you do get you give up in having any sort of customer service support at all. My father has been building and working on computers for 30+ years and a few weeks ago his computer just stopped booting for no obvious reason whatsoever. It took two weeks of swapping stuff in and out in order to figure out what was wrong. And he’s as close to an expert on computers as you can get. The average person doesn’t want to deal with that. Heck, even he doesn’t. If he had bought a premade, he’d have just gotten warranty support and it would have been over and done with. And the savings from building your own are trivial in many cases.

      Your perspective was probably apt and relevant 15 years ago, but it just isn’t now. To go back to your analogy, PC gamers are driving enthusiasts, not car enthusiasts. You can love to drive and not have any desire to work on an engine.

      • Archonsod says:

        To be honest these days building a PC is hardly a skilled job in the first place, what with most things simply being plug and play. As with other unskilled labour, most people are happy to pay slightly more to have some chap in the third world go through the tedium of doing it to save themselves the bother.

        Oh, and a lot of us who used to be tech heads work in IT these days. Why spend time mucking about with my own motherboard when someone will pay me twenty quid an hour to muck about with theirs ….

    • Korvus Redmane says:

      Personally, It comes down to not having the money to feel comfortable about building my own for the first time, as should I manage to screw up any part, I might not be able to sensibly afford to replace it, combined with the benefits of customer support lomaxgnome pointed out. I’ve looked at a few of the system builders online a few times, as opposed to the mass market fellows, so am looking forward to that, but always find that when it comes to adding bits I tend to go overboard…

      • mattevansc3 says:

        PC building is quite easy nowadays, there’s a lot more universal cabling and what isn’t universal is so specific you couldn’t fit the wrong cable in the wrong socket.

        If you have access to an old PC that’s out of warranty just open it up, take the parts out one at a time and resemble it, that’ll build up your knowledge and confidence no end.

    • Person of Interest says:

      Benefits to using a custom builder even when you could DIY:

      - Avoid incompatibilities which you can hardly know about until you have the parts in-hand. Both electrically (ex: matching motherboard to RAM) and physically (ex: getting a heatsink that won’t interfere with protrusions from your other components). Not many parts reviews talk in detail about this, and even if they do, they can’t give an exhaustive compatibility list.

      - Find DOA and fast-failing parts. It’s such a waste of time to 1) verify that the part is indeed flaky, 2) obtain an RMA, 3) ship it, 4) wait for the replacement.

      - Install all the Windows patches. At least it’s not as bad the XP days, where simply connecting an unpatched machine to the internet to download a service pack would get your PC owned.

    • Premium User Badge

      Monkeyshines says:

      Guess I’m just not a proper gamer. I have a Mac Pro and set up a small Boot Camp partition for gaming. I have never run into any issues with any game and do the whole Crysis/Far Cry/AAA du jour at max and have never had issues. I even run games off a cheap Seagate external drive on my Macbook Pro.

      Articles like this and comments to them sometimes make me think I’m missing some hidden secret, but I’ve never had any problems. *shrug*

      • madeofsquares says:

        I know how you feel, I’m running the same set up. I sometimes wonder if I should build a dedicated gaming PC, but then I remember I don’t have any trouble running games. For a 2008 Mac Pro, it’s still holding it’s own with one graphics card update so far. Although it’s about time I got some more RAM for it.

      • db1331 says:

        “Guess I’m just not a proper gamer. I have a Mac Pro…”

        You don’t have to guess anymore.

  9. Trespasser in the Stereo Field says:

    What a strange philosophy. I really love chocolate souffle, but I have no interest is cooking one. Does that make me a bad person? :(

  10. LennyLeonardo says:

    There’s nothing like getting your home build to post for the first time. I felt like a flipping genius.
    But I’m really not.

    • Premium User Badge

      jezcentral says:

      Oh god, yes. So much this. (Except for the “I’m really not” bit. You so are.)

  11. Myrdinn says:

    I must say that some games (especially sandbox games) benefit immensely from a SSD. Especially a game like Skyrim (where you encounter a loading screen every other moment) was improved vastly by the decreased loading time when I recently replayed the game on my SSD. Games like Civilization (turn time decreasing) also seem to benefit. Having said that, on games where there is almost no loading or where loading times are very short to start with, there aren’t any real benefits for a SSD.

    I have a 125gb SSD where I occasionally install games on. Most of my games are on my old trusty 500gb 7200rpm hd.

    • Rollin says:

      I’m surprised it improves Civ turn times, I thought that would be CPU based?

      • Premium User Badge

        Malcolm says:

        If the paging file is on the SSD (which it almost certainly is) then almost all non-trivial applications will see a performance benefit.

    • fish99 says:

      Gotta agree about Skyrim. When you get fully loaded down with stuff to sell, because the merchants have so little money (even with all the perks that boost said merchant money) you’ll find that you need to visit every merchant in every town to sell everything, which means probably 6-8 fast travels. So you’re looking at getting that down from 10 minutes with a mechanical drive to about 3 on a SSD, and you’ll probably end up doing that once every 2 hours or so.

      (I’m including the time to actually sell stuff btw)

      • Premium User Badge

        drewski says:

        Don’t you hit a point where you realise you’ve got more money than you can ever spend so you just stop collecting loot? I usually hit that once I’ve maxed out what I can sell in one city in Bethesda games.

        “Oh yeah, this is pointless, I don’t need money.”

        • fish99 says:

          Sure it’s pointless to have more money than you can spend, but the game is honestly less fun if you’re leaving loot in dungeons rather than selling it. And having an SSD makes the selling much less annoying.

        • njursten says:

          I just collect loot and store it in one of the houses, OCD style. When I drop by the town and the merchant has reset I visit my house and pick up some stuff to sell off.

  12. Geebs says:

    I’m calling it: Valve are going to drop SteamOS and pretend it never happened. *cough* halflifetwoepisodethree *cough*

  13. snv says:

    Only custom build PCs (for gaming, for office stuff it just does not matter as basically every PC sold is overpowered for office use), because off-the-shelf PCs usually put the focus on the wrong aspects.

    They can advertise with a CPU and RAM-Size, so thats what gets focused, but then it all sits on a cheap mainboard which can’t take a CPU upgrade when the time comes, possibly even a rebranded OEM-only board, with absolutely no aftermarket support. (Have already seen all that, since i basically do the tech support for the whole family)
    The RAM might be larger than is even sensible, but slow. Same for the HDD, which is also a loud one. And so on.

    It’s about quality and balance. Power-Rig or Budget-Machine: custom build you can do the sensible choices. Those prebuild quality PCs where everything is at least OK, have unnecessary overpowered (and therefore overpriced stuff) where it doesn’t make sense.

  14. fish99 says:

    Some pros to building your own PC –

    -It’s cheaper.

    -You get to hand pick every part, so you won’t end up with a cheapo PSU that won’t last long or doesn’t have headroom for upgrades. Or you won’t end up with a mobo that’s about to become obsolete.

    -You can pick a case with a dust filter, space for lots of fans and enough space for good airflow. You can also pick your own fans so you can have big 12cm fans, run them slow, and get good airflow but minimal noise. Same deal with CPU cooler, a good 3rd party one will cool better and be nearly inaudible.

    -You’ll learn about PCs by doing it – which means next time something goes wrong you’ll probably be able to fix it yourself, and you’ll be able to upgrade it yourself.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Being able to diagnose and fix your own PC is, in my opinion, a huge benefit. Even if you have warranty (which you probably won’t after a year), it can take an absolute age to send your PC in, get it fixed and get it back. Once it’s out of warranty you have to pay some dude in a local shop a bunch of money to fix it. Either way you can be without a system for a while and most people know how horrible it is to be without computer or internet. Most of the time it’s something you can fix yourself in an afternoon and there is no inconvenience.

  15. Person of Interest says:

    I’ve steadily upgraded my own Franken-PC for over a decade, and I’ll probably continue to Do It Myself. But I had a great experience using a custom PC builder for my father’s new computer, and I’m glad I used them instead of building it myself.

    The builder (Puget Systems in Washington, US, if anyone wants to know) has tons of customization options, so I still got to do the fun part of picking parts, but they took care of:

    - Listing compatible RAM for the motherboard. I’m fine picking speed and CAS latency, but I don’t want to worry about choosing RAM that “just doesn’t happen to work with this motherboard”.
    - Identifying heatsinks that fit my loadout of motherboard, case, and storage devices. They explained in an email how they’d need to arrange the drives based on which heatsink I chose.
    - Power-on test, basic test of all parts, and one hour Prime95/Furmark burn-in. Dead-on-arrival parts are a huge pain when you self-assemble.
    - Installing and patching Windows.

    Compared to buying the parts on Newegg/Amazon, they charge perhaps a 20% markup, but I thought it was totally worth it given the value they add. And they added nice touches, like a binder to hold all the manuals and driver CDs, and a box containing the unused cables and screws.

    P.S. they only offer high quality parts (everything was solid and name-brand, from the PSU to the wi-fi adapter), and if they didn’t offer pretty much exactly what I would have picked off-the-shelf myself, I wouldn’t have used them.

  16. Noodle says:

    Valve really did screw over a lot of people with that SteamOS delay huh?

    • Moraven says:

      You could ship with SteamOS probably, but there is no Steam Controller to go with it.

  17. Moraven says:

    See any tests on the Sandisk “gamer” SSD and if it provides any benefit (beyond a nice 10 year warranty)?

    I am happy with my Crucial drives, curious to see if it is like a lot of “gaming” versions of electronics that do not provide much more befefits.

  18. Nice Save says:

    I was looking into the parts I would probably buy if I was going to build a PC this week, with no real research. I eventually had a list of components which I believed would work together, and would make a decent system.

    Then I put it together in pcspecialist’s configurator, to see what the price difference was (£767 parts, £861 built but the built one had liquid cooling, overclocking done for me, and a basic HDD and DVD player which I couldn’t deselect).

    When I went to see if the build was valid, there was a warning that the motherboard wouldn’t work with the case, since the front command panel from the motherboard was incompatible (the case was a Corsair Carbide 540 which has the DVD bays vertical behind the motherboard).

    There was no way I could have known that until I’d received all the parts and tried to put them together, at which point it would have been extremely annoying to fix. That’s the kind of thing that puts me off building.

    Also, I hate and fear BIOS.

  19. pfooti says:

    I built a computer For My Very Own about a year ago. It was really quite easy – I used PCPartPicker to put some stuff together and create an amazon.com order and bam. There were really only two problems in assembly: getting the drives situated in the right spots so I could properly attach the sata and power cables (had to get things Just So) and getting the heatsink/fan on the CPU. Natch, I was really worried about that – didn’t want to overtighten and crush the CPU or undertighten and fry it. It was a cooler master evo 212, and it wasn’t the easiest thing in the world to install. Other than that, the rest more or less snapped into place.

  20. Person of Interest says:

    I own a half dozen Crucial SSD’s, and they seem OK apart from that stupid C300 firmware bug. But a system builder in the U.S. has posted their SSD failure rates and said the Samsung 840 Pro drives are significantly more reliable than their other offerings, including Intel drives. I’m personally wary of TLC’s long-term reliability, but Samsung uses MLC in their 840 Pro series.

    They listed failure rates, both in-the-lab and after delivery, for all components, not just SSD’s. Link to the article: http://www.pugetsystems.com/labs/articles/Most-Reliable-Hardware-of-2013-528/

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      SSD failure rates are coming on leaps and bounds in general. The early SSD’s weren’t very reliable but people can be much more confident buying a new SSD now.

  21. honuk says:

    The only reason whatsoever to buy a pre-built PC these days is for more robust warranty options. Custom rigs have them beat in every other possible way. I very much doubt any steambox will change this.

  22. Bracket says:

    I built my first PC a couple of years ago and enjoyed the whole process from start to finish. Dropped the CPU on the floor after the phone I was using to watch tutorials vibrated and made me jump – that part was less enjoyable.

    I found it was always easy to get help in forums, which was one of the main pros

  23. malkav11 says:

    256 GB isn’t nearly enough capacity for my system drive, and SSDs that start to approach reasonable capacity (I consider 2 TB a minimum generally speaking, but for an SSD’s speed I might settle for only one terabyte) are not remotely affordable.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      Yeah, I feel the same way. I’m feeling cramped by 1TB right now, and am waiting for a decent WD 4TB model to get into the $100 range. With games coming out that want 50GB a pop, I can’t even imagine a 256GB hd.

      • fish99 says:

        You’re not limited to putting your Steam games on the SSD though, you can have the most played games on SSD and the rest on a spinner, or split it over multiple SSDs. You’re typically only actively playing 2-3 games at any one time. Personally I have a 120GB SSD for my OS, a 240GB SSD for Steam, another two 120GBs SSDs for Origin and UPlay, and then finally a 1GB spinner for more Steam games and storage.

        Also the average size of the games I’ve got installed is still well under 10GB so you can get plenty on a 256GB SSD (mine has 32 games on it).

  24. vader says:

    Nowadays I go for hand picked by myself, built by one very specific local shop that doesn’t just slam the stuff in there together with a big portion of cable spaghetti. They know their shit and I have someone to blame if/when the shit hits the fan. Yes it does cost a bit extra but totally worth it compared to building your own when you have to prove what’s wrong yourself… something that happens far too often when building everything from scratch yourself.

  25. jayjello says:

    Personally ive found building your own PC to be both great fun, and also seemingly a lot cheaper way to get back into PC gaming of late.

    I actually originally tried to buy someone elses decent machine off ebay local, and ended up buying a fairly old machine for 100 quid. As soon as i did that i realised it wasnt up to much and so i sold the processor, motherboard graphics card and memory (16gb ddr2!) on ebay for £265 in total. Kept the PSU, the antec p182 case, the wifi card and the HDD, and DVD drive.

    then bought ASUS M5A97 R2.0 Motherboard, 8GB DDR3 Kingston RAM, an Amd Fx8320 with a CM hyper 212 evo and a XFX R7870, along with some apache fans, and 2 additional 20 inch tft’s of ebay local again.

    I now have a ultrawidescreen gaming setup, that while not perfect, has cost me 200 quid in total by the end, and allowed me to delay any purchase of a next gen console indefinitely. Time invested is probably way more than that, but the whole thing just feels like an awesome game of trading in elite to be honest so i probably shouldnt be billing for it.

    I guess i’m feeling pretty chuffed that i’ve got a machine that can game built for so little by the end. I will take my smug somewhere else now.

  26. Premium User Badge

    Rikard Peterson says:

    Go ahead and sulk – I’m not buying an SSD drive. I have no use for one (sure, getting some things a little speedier would be nice, but I can’t be *that* big a difference), and I can’t really afford it.

    • LionsPhil says:

      He’s going to be sulking twice over, since there’s no point me buying one until I rebuild my machine with a motherboard which can actually support it, and the Windows reinstall onto it that goes with that.

      • Premium User Badge

        Harlander says:

        There’s nothing wrong with waiting and doing all your upgrades at one time. It’s why I had XP until 2012.

        I’ve got to side with everyone saying how super-great SSDs are, though. Certainly make one part of your next major upgrade!

    • fish99 says:

      IMO there is that big of a difference.

    • Azradesh says:

      Just get on of these..

      http://www.amazon.co.uk/SanDisk-SDSSDRC-032G-G26-ReadyCache-Internal-2-5-inch/dp/B008U3038I/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1402641380&sr=8-1&keywords=ssd+cache

      You’ll get the benefit of an SSD without the cost of buying a decently sized one.

    • sophof says:

      I know it sounds unbelievable, but you will not believe the amount of difference it makes until you get one. It is the biggest advance in computing since the GPU imo.

    • Premium User Badge

      Foosnark says:

      Sulk a little for me, too.

      My next computer will have an SSD. But I don’t want to go through the hassle of reinstalling an OS and dealing with inevitable software regstration issues on the 6 zillion Peggles of music production software I have without upgrading everything all at once.

  27. mattevansc3 says:

    When spec building I go with the £100 rule of thumb. If you aim for about £100 per component (I treat the PSU and case as one item) you are going to get a machine that will play most games at good quality for a good few years before it needs an upgrade. I’m still running my stock Radeon 5770 in my system and it does its job fine.

    Also building the system yourself allows you to get the “unimportant” parts that make a difference. I’ve got a Corsair H50 water cooler plus four case fans all set to slow speed so I get good airflow without excessive noise.

    The main benefit with building your own going forward is going to be task specialisation. The old concept of general PCs is becoming archaic and we’ll be moving to a mainframe server with dumb terminal setup very soon.

    There’s very little reason to have a large hard drive in every device when Win7/8.1 and Linux make home networking a piece of piss and software like Plex can turn any machine into a media server. The same goes for gaming with Steam’s new streaming option, you just need one strong gaming machine and you’ll be able to play on a Win8.1 tablet, Macbook Air or anything running Linux.

    We wont be building home PCs anymore, we’ll be building servers and NASs.

  28. IonTichy says:

    Yes, there are some of us who have omitted the ssd upgrade…2 discs have failed so far against 0 hdds that have failed so far. The problem is that most of the affordable SSDs on the market are pure garbage, yet sold anyways because of the hype.
    At least that was my experience with SSDs so far.

    • Premium User Badge

      Chaz says:

      This is exactly why I haven’t dipped into the whole SSD thing yet.

      I keep hearing folks saying things like, “Oh I’ve had 3 SSD’s fail in the last year, but I still wouldn’t go back to a regular HDD”

      Well I’ve not had a single HDD fail on me in my home PC’s in more than 15 years.

      Until the reliability of SSD’s become much better I’m not touching them, especially considering how expensive they are.

  29. Boarnoah says:

    I built my first pc, all by myself last Christmas. It really was an experience, spent 10 terrified minutes trying to insert a CPU into it’s socket(It looks so easy on the pictures). Still the end result although nothing to brag about makes me proud to look at, it gives it that story you wouldn’t get with a pre built.

  30. wodin says:

    No doubt it will be £400 or more. In that case looking at the specs your best building yourself a PC.

  31. Snegletiss says:

    According to the comments, building your own computer doesn’t seem that hard. I’m starting to regret the new computer I ordered this week (after using the previous one for 6 years).

    The problem with building my own computer is that I’m too afraid. Where do I start? Who do I learn from or get help from if I can’t get the various components working? Isn’t it actually easier to start at a smaller scale, like replacing a graphics card or a hard drive?

    • Person of Interest says:

      To know what parts to get, you can use a custom builder site that lets you pick every component. Puget Systems can do that, and I saw a site in these comments called pcspecialist which seems to offer the same. That will give you a list of parts that are compatible.

      For installation instructions, you can watch videos and read reviews. Silent PC Review goes into a lot of detail on mounting when reviewing heatsinks, so that may help you feel more comfortable about mashing your expensive new CPU with a block of metal.

      If things don’t work, it can be really hard to narrow down the problem unless you have a known-good part to swap it with. It’s definitely easier to start at a smaller scale by upgrading individual parts, because you’ll have a good idea of what change caused a problem, and you’ll have a backup part you can use to test with.

      Don’t regret your new purchase: hopefully it will be a great system for future upgrades :)

      • wodin says:

        Building a PC isn’t hard at all mate. The biggets pain can be attaching the CPU fan (hate that bit). I bought a new MB\CPU\Case\Hard rive and motherboard a couple of months ago and used my old hard rives and memory\montior\DVD player\Mouse\Keyboard etc. The upgrade cost around £340 and I know have a new 6 core AMD cpu\270 AMD card and another 500gig hd upgrading from my old tri core amd and 6850 card. Like a brand new PC really.

    • Premium User Badge

      Harlander says:

      I almost broke the CPU mount on my current PC putting it together, and I also stabbed the hell out of both of my thumbs somehow, but if you’re less of a monumental klutz than me, it’s really plain sailing.

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Personally I started off in my teenage years doing some upgrades rather than trying to do the whole thing. Upgrading a graphics card or adding extra RAM, even adding a new drive like a DVD burner will give you a smaller task that will get you more comfortable with poking around inside the PC. Trying to do a build straight away can be more daunting because if something doesn’t work it could be any number of things and might feel a bit overwhelming to someone not too familiar with it.

      Having a second PC, a laptop, a tablet or smartphone will help a bunch too if you attempt it as you can use the internet to troubleshoot while you are doing it. If your sole source of internet is the PC you are building then you won’t have that option and chances are somewhere on a forum somebody will have had the same problem you are having and someone will have told them how to fix it.

  32. LogicalDash says:

    Yo, um, I think the Linux base of Steambox is a power play against Microsoft. Intel doesn’t make operating systems. Their Linux support is pretty good from what I’ve heard.

    • Premium User Badge

      whitebrice says:

      Yeah, I’m not sure what he meant by that remark, either.

  33. Shooop says:

    Valve doesn’t know what the hell it’s doing anymore. They’re a company suffering from ADD – they jump from idea to idea and never finish what they start.

    • alfie275 says:

      Seems a viable strategy though; they have enough ideas that some of them are successful and the benefits of those outweigh the costs of those that aren’t.

      • soldant says:

        One of them has been successful above all else: Steam. While they have Steam they can screw around as much as they like. There aren’t very many other companies in gaming in a similar position.

        • Baines says:

          Unfortunately Steam falls victim to their ADD as much as anything else that they do. Plus it falls victim to their desire to not be held responsible for anything.

  34. celticdr says:

    I’ve always built my own PCs but that’s due to the fact that I’m one of those people who derives enjoyment from working with tiny screwdrivers and pulling things apart, its actually getting too easy (i.e. less enjoyable for me) to build a PC today with less moving parts, etc…

  35. Jim Dandy says:

    A slightly tangential philosophical question: is there a point when a continually upgraded PC becomes a new machine?

    It’s like the philosopher’s axe. The haft wears out and gets replaced, then the head cracks and is likewise substituted. Is it still the same axe?

    Since my first build in the mid 90s I’ve always upgraded piecemeal, forced by software demanding more from my system, or lured by hardware asking less from my wallet. At no point have I replaced every component simultaneously, but like the axe there are no parts of the original remaining (it’s conceivable that one or two case-screws could have made the long journey through the years, and there’s an LS120 drive sitting uselessly and sentimentally in the FD bay that’s been there since the early noughties). Have I been running the same machine for (yeesh) 20 years?

    Hmm, back of an envelope time…
    Upgrades in rough order of replacement frequency: RAM, GPU, CPU/MOBO, PSU, monitor, case. HDDs tend to go on a ‘I thought I heard a funny noise and now I’m scared’ basis; also bigness/cheapness ratios. Compressing and averaging with wild disregard for accuracy, I’d reckon on spending around $250 per year since ’95, or roughly five grand in total. That seems like a modest fraction of fuck all for the quantity of awesome returned.

    PS – I must thank the esteemed Mr A. Jenkins, Esq., who from the first Matrox to the latest 6600ti has freely provided advice, assistance and fine companionship. If everyone had a guide of his caliber, Dell would not have a business model.

    • Jason Moyer says:

      I consider it a new PC whenever I replace the motherboard and CPU with something newer (i.e. it’s an upgrade, not a replacement for failing parts).

      • Smoky_the_Bear says:

        I’d agree with this. I’d count graphics card and RAM as an upgrade. Hard drives are bought based on it either dying or needing more space. Optical’s when the laser burns out. Generally though with me CPU, Motherboard and RAM have been changed at the same time and that pretty much removes any trace of the previous machine. That is when I’d call it a new PC. The graphics card usually being the first thing that gets upgraded, RAM is usually added to the empty slots at some point during a particular machines lifespan as a fairly cost effective shot in the arm, however when the CPU and mobo are replaced it’s usually coincided with a new RAM standard (DDR, DDR 2, DDR 3) so the old stuff gets scrapped too.

        I’ve had around 4 new PC’s in the last 12 years, one of which was a cut-price crap thing because it was the only thing I could afford when my PC died shortly after I left Uni and didn’t have a job (perfect fucking timing on that one, it’s also one of the main reasons for my prior addiction to WoW, it’s the only thing that damn machine would run). Every time I moved to a new CPU and with it a new standard of RAM I’ve considered that a “new” PC. Everything else as upgrades or replacements.

    • Nate says:

      I imagine there are people that upgrade every time Intel lists something new, but I tend to upgrade less frequently than that. So if I want a new CPU, I also need a new motherboard, and maybe new RAM, and maybe even a new video card (last computer had an AGP slot), and at that point, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if I need a new power supply.

      The thing is that once you get to that point, you can just buy a case, maybe an OS, maybe some peripherals used for about a hundred dollars, and find a cousin or a grandmother somewhere who needs a computer. Admittedly, that was a lot easier ten years ago; nowadays, if they don’t already have a PC, they’re probably holding out for an ipad.

  36. frightlever says:

    There’s a Dell outlet store where they sell “refurbished” PCs. I’ve bought a bunch of their basic desktops for work over the years and generally see no difference between refurbished and new. Like buying an Apple-refurbished product – they’re either returns or cancelled orders.

    http://www.dell.com/uk/dfh/p/alienware-desktops?~ck=anav

    You can save £50-£100 on builds, and sometimes more, but if you’re after an X51 be prepared to wait because they tend to get snapped up.

    • Premium User Badge

      drewski says:

      I got the notebook I’m typing this reply on from a Dell outlet store, and I’m delighted with it. It supposedly had “some scratches” on it but it was still sealed from the factory and flawless when I opened it. Probably cost me 60% of the new price for something which plays all my old games perfectly fine. Very happy.

  37. Premium User Badge

    drewski says:

    I’d have a SSD if I still used a desktop, but they’re not really practical, size/cost wise, for a general purpose notebook. I’m well over 250GB used on my current Win8 install.

    When I eventually get back to desktop gaming, though, I plan to build my system around a SSD drive, albeit with a high capacity storage drive as well.

  38. Premium User Badge

    heretic says:

    I use pcspecialist.co.uk to customise my PCs, first one lasted 4 years and current one is from 2011 and still going strong for most games.

    Since I got a good case to come with it I will probably attempt to upgrade this existing one, though last time I tried to bring myself up to speed on CPUs and GPUs I gave up :( any good resources to demistify all this?

    • natendi says:

      I also used pcspecialist for my first gaming pc, I think they offer a service where you can send your rig in and they will upgrade it for you. I’ve not really worked out the overall expense of doing this rather than yourself but might be an option. Obviously the big downside is you have to send your rig to them!

  39. Premium User Badge

    Lars Westergren says:

    > But I’m not sure anyone is really on tenterhooks waiting for Steamboxes to show up.

    Me, I am.

    > Likewise, I’m not convinced the whole Linux thing is motivated by a belief it’s the best option for gaming as opposed to a power play versus Intel.

    Could be, but Valve have also said they believe that open platforms are more viable and innovative in the long run. PC is open hardware, but the dominance of Microsoft Windows is a problem. Diversifying options here is a smart choice in my opinion.

    • soldant says:

      Windows hasn’t killed gaming, despite everybody shouting to the contrary, probably because it keeps people using the platform. Which is why I never bought into the “MS will close down Windows 8 to its own app store!” argument, because killing off the vast majority of your software library overnight is suicidal.

      That’s not to suggest that diversifying isn’t a bad idea, but this is ultimately about securing Valve’s dominance in PC gaming. Even though their efforts indirectly benefit Linux as a whole, the primary gains are to be held in SteamOS, even though things aren’t going as well as people probably hoped.

  40. Pangalaktichki says:

    Wow, 80 guid for a 256-gig SSD! Those things are 150+ eur in my country :/

  41. fredc says:

    Back when I was a teenager, we built our systems because this was before commoditisation of PC parts and anything branded came with an Apple-sized, you-mus-be-shitting-me price tag. If you wanted a fast PC that would have enough expansion slots and space for upgradability and one with the video and audio set up for playing games, you built your own.

    Because I already have a system I put together myself, I still incrementally replace what needs replacing. But if I had to replace the whole thing at once, I would definitely start with something pre-built. Firstly, because I’m not a teenager and don’t have a day to waste on assembly. Secondly because there is no longer any real cost benefit (it’s often a detriment) to buying individual components. Thirdly because given the foregoing, it’s hardly worth the arse-ache if you have a hardware incompatibility problem. Fourthly, thanks to Microsoft’s (this is a gaming machine) shitty licensing and reseller strategy and ludicrous limitations, you’re stuck paying full price for the OS (if you want one that won’t suddenly decide it’s unlicensed a few months down the line) and if you change anything in the machine you end up being told to buy a new licence. With the W7 and W8 licenses, this alone is a deal-killer, since you either live with a black-screen OS bitching at you or budget for spend £££ for a new licence key every time you replace something.

  42. Cockie says:

    To people saying pre-built doesn’t really cost more than self building: where do you buy those (in Europe) because all pc’s I see cost notably more than the sum of their parts.
    I’m looking to get or build my first pc this summer so any answer is appreciated :)

  43. Threstle says:

    “But I do remember my first home PC build. I remember the terrible threat of static electric discharge (well, as I imagined it), the frustration when things didn’t work, the impotence of not having spare components to isolate any issues.”

    Well, I just finished my very first build monday !

    Well, not ENTIRELY I’m still waiting for my GPU, but I wanted to assemble the computer as soon as possible. I experienced everything you said : static electricity felt like a lovecraftian horror, omnipresent and invisible to me, until I realised that, hey, I just touch this metal stuff on my water pipe every now and then, and it’s fine…
    I watched a tons of tutorials, read everything I could find on the internet on the subject, and I felt pretty confident when I began to build.

    Well, until it was time to prepare the motherboard…

    I was shaking so hard that it took me an eternity to get the CPU right into the socket, I touched the connector of one of my RAM module by accident, and it felt like the end of the world. And I almost cried when I thought I’d just broke one of the pin on the USB3 connector…

    By the time I pressed the ON button, I was pretty certain that it wouldn’t turn on. But, hey, it kind of did. And in the end, it’s working pretty good, and I must admit, I’m a little proud of myself.

    Overall it’s not the money I gained from choosing my own component versus buying a prebuild rig that I’m really happy of : it’s the ton of stuff I learned when choosing components, and when assembling it. I know exactly what is in my computer, how it’s wired, and what can I do if something fails.

    A LIFE CHANGING EXPERIENCE o/

    Well, I still have a weird snow screen sometimes when changing resolution, and it still won’t see my secondary hard drive, but I think it’s more of a software issue…

    • Volcanu says:

      Haha – I remember constantly touching my radiator pipe to ‘ground’ myself whilst building my first PC too….

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      Congrats on the build. I think most people’s first build has a few things that aren’t perfect, I know mine did. You’ve made the hardest jump in doing it though, now you should have more confidence to tinker around with your machine and in doing so will learn more all the time. It’s really great having the confidence to know what’s going on with your PC. The feeling of helplessness when something goes wrong and you don’t know what it is or how to fix it is horrible and probably costs you money to get someone to fix it. When I was younger I had a real sense of dread about my PC’s once they got over a certain age because you were almost waiting for something to go wrong. I’ve not had that in my twenties because I have the knowledge to diagnose and fix problems and I know I’m doing it as cheaply as possible and as quickly as possible.

      I’m lost without my PC and in the past have hated waiting around for someone to fix it, I’ve had minimal PC downtime in the last few years because I know how to keep my machine running smoothly and have some spares lying around to keep it going should something break and I’m waiting for replacement parts.

      I even built my dad a working PC from a bunch of old parts I had lying around, when that went wrong I built him a new one for about £100 worth of components so overall it’s saved him a whole bunch of money the last few years.

      Consider replacing that non-responsive hard drive though. If it’s new you could have just been sent a DOA drive. It’s best to at least check that and they should RMA it no problem.

      • Threstle says:

        Thanks. ;)

        The hard drive doesn’t seem to be a problem after all since I can see it in the BIOS, and even in Windows after all (it’s just says “reserved for the system”). But I can’t say “everything is working fine” aha. Got a NFTS_SYSTEM_FILE BSOD yesterday. At first, I completely panicked, then I thought “well, you’ve built this computer, you knew the risks, now let’s troubleshoot this like a real man !” I ran chkdsk on my SSD (where my system is installed), checked my RAM with memText86+. Didn’t try the CPU, but it passed the Intel stress test twice without any trouble a few days ago. Since everything looked fine, I reinstalled Windows and didn’t install any driver. I also removed the hard drive, just in case (since it was all “system reserved” I wasn’t able to run chkdsk on it, maybe the corruption was on it).

        Now I’m waiting to see if it happens again…

        But I honestly feel pretty confident, maybe it’s faulty hardware, but if it is, I’ll take my time to find which component is failing, and send it back. It’s not like before with my laptop where I was like “if something fails I wasted a lot of money “. Now, I know that if something is wrong, it’s unlikely two components or more failing at the same time aha (or so I hope ! :) ).
        Well, that would be great if it wasn’t hardware anyway.

        “I’m lost without my PC and in the past have hated waiting around for someone to fix it”

        Same for me ! I can’t do nothing waiting for someone to fix my PC. I’m always like “There GOTTA be something I can do about this !”. I sent my laptop for repair once : one of the most frustrating experience of my life.

  44. aircool says:

    For the last 7-8 years I’ve stopped building my own PC’s and using SCAN’s 3XS systems. They’re not much more expensive than buying the separate parts and building your own. On top of that, they’ll overclock your PC for you, making sure that all the components are suitable.

    There’s plenty of options and upgrades/downgrades within those options, so you can pretty much get what you want.

    I’ve had my current PC for nearly two years now (i5 3570 with GTX680) and it’s still eating games for breakfast. 60+fps on literally any game isn’t a problem at full detail, although shadows may need to be toned down. Planetside 2 at 60fps in a large battle; yup, and Wildstar is hopping along nicely at 60fps with full shadows (although I haven’t experienced pvp yet). I usually set maxfps at 60 as it’s well below my refresh rate (144Hz).

    Getting a reliable company to custom build your PC is the way to go for me. I’ve never had any serious problems, and I find there’s no need for the more expensive cooling options available above what’s required. They OC’d my CPU to 4.5GHz with just a big fan and heatsink. Never had any problems with heat.

  45. Tony M says:

    Home building a PC is much easier these days because of internet forums. When I get stuck, I post the full specs of my PC components and software and a detailed description of the problem. And I guarantee a squad of unbelievably knowledgeable people will remote diagnose your problem for you, at not cost! These gurus are just hanging out on the internet helping random strangers for free!

    So often internet communities fail to live up to their potential. But I’ve found PC tech sub-forums (and other technical forums of all sorts) to be amazingly helpful. Just be polite and put alot of thought and preparation into your question post.

  46. Volcanu says:

    I built my last PC about 7-8 years ago and found it to be a thoroughly rewarding experience, not to mention being much cheaper than buying a pre-built system at the time.

    I’m now after a new machine but am almost certainly going pre-built with Chillblast. It’s a combination of there having been so many changes in tech since then that it would take me a good while to get up to speed again and the fact that having gone on component comparison websites I have found that I would save next to nothing assembling the same thing myself. Therefore it seems a no brainer to go with the ‘safe and easy’ option and get a nice pre-built one.

    So what happened in the intervening years? Did prebuilt PCs stop being such a rip off or did component manufacturers cotton on and increase the prices? I’m guessing it’s the latter (at least in the UK) otherwise I don’t see how companies like Chillblast would have any profit margin to speak of – even accounting for bulk order discounts on the components they source…..

    • Smoky_the_Bear says:

      I think it mainly is bulk order they can save on. Windows being a big thing, they can undoubtedly get multi-copy deals for a fraction of the price per copy it would cost someone to buy it, after all it costs Microsoft bugger all to produce a single copy of Windows compared to the amount they sell it for.
      I can imagine big PC manufacturers can also take advantage of price fluctuations on certain components. RAM can go up and down in price crazily and is hardly evolving at a rate which is making it obsolete (the Corsair XMS3 RAM I have in my system has pretty much been sold since DDR 3 came out). Hard drives also can fluctuate quite a lot. They can buy at the right times to save money.

      With self-building I find the savings come from being able to avoid buying certain things again. For instance I have a case that cost £150, a power supply that was about £80, RAM that would currently cost £120 to buy, £20 of DVD burner and a copy of windows, none of this stuff needs replacing and will be fine alongside new components. If I were to buy a pre-built system I’d have to buy all that stuff again, it’s about £400 worth of stuff that I can save with self building that I couldn’t if I bought one.

      I find that the more you spend the more savings can be made with self-building. Companies are most likely working on a percentage markup on the systems they sell. If they are adding say 20%, a £300 quid PC costs you £60 extra, not a huge saving considering they can buy some components cheaper than you can. If you are buying a £1000 PC though their markup goes up to £200, a more considerable difference.
      Also high end systems, especially when they are overclocking them which requires 12 hour burn in runs etc and installing water cooling and other such things like Neon light strips for cases with a “geek portal” (which also requires more cosmetic work to fully hide cables and such), take considerably more man hours to build than a basic PC where they put it together, switch it on, install windows and it’s done. Their price has to reflect this extra work which is more money you can save by doing it yourself.

  47. popej says:

    I last built my own in about 2003. I had just bought Vice City and it literally made my old PC explode after about 30 minutes of play.

    I remember hoofing it down to Micro Direct in manchester the same day to buy all the bits.

    When I got home I had a right awkward stressful time putting it together. I remember you had to force the mounting clips for the processor back with a screwdriver. Of course I slipped and took a massive gouge out of the Motherboard! Impressively it still worked though and the faithful thing saw me through the next 5-6 years!

  48. Wulfram says:

    I find it stressful enough to just to get rid of the dust now and again.

  49. lukepilkington says:

    The reason I’m really looking forward to steam boxes and Steam OS is that (hopefully) they should just work! I have tried building small gaming machines for living room, but I have to go up to the box to turn on, sometimes when loading steam or a game a dialog box will pop up , meaning I have to get up and use a mouse. I know it is possible to do, but I want a slick box that sits under my TV thta just works. I want to be able to turn it on with the controller and simply select games and play, just like a console

  50. postconventional says:

    You guys, author included, need to read this to get more of an idea on what valve’s vision is for steam machines. -firstly -it’s a long term thing. They are not trying to compete with current gen consoles. They want long term independence for PC gamers from windows and other limiting, closed factors.
    http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2014-01-11-valve-plays-the-long-game-again?fb_action_ids=658661934176076&fb_action_types=og.recommends&fb_source=aggregation&fb_aggregation_id=288381481237582

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      Cantisque says:

      Then they will need to provide tangible incentives to switch away from Windows.

      Since that article was written, Microsoft have announced DirectX 12. OpenGL was already lagging behind DirectX in many aspects.

      As much as I like Valve, Steam and Linux, I don’t see the platform as viable for gaming with things the way they are now, and can’t see that changing by the time these devices are set to launch.

    • Baines says:

      Valve wants long term independence for PC gamers from Windows and other limiting, closed factors… with the exception of the limiting, closed factor of Steam itself.

      • postconventional says:

        Please explain. why is steam a limiting closed factor? Since they(valve and steam) almost single handedly kept pc gaming relevant from 2007-2011 I would like to know what they are. People have short memories, that or they were not around at the time.