Media Professional Builds a New Custom PC

Client Name: John J.
Service Details: Home client, in-shop project
Problem and Request: Professional graphics and sound editor needed a powerful PC to run graphics-intensive apps like Adobe Premier and Adobe Photoshop (plus occasional 3D gaming) using the latest available CPU, RAM, graphics, and storage.

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Hard Drive Factories Flooded In Thailand, Price Increases Make SSDs A Better Storage Option

Massive flooding in Bangkok has severely affected production of hard disk drives, a primary component used in computer storage.

Nearly 25% of the world’s hard disk drives are made in Thailand, but with major fabrication plants currently submerged under several meters of floodwater, major HDD manufacturers are being forced to cut supply, and raise prices on hard drives across the board.

For someone starting to build custom pc, this presents a problem. Only two months ago, I purchased a Western Digital hard drive for $54.99 for a custom PC build: that same drive now sells for $149.99, representing a 170% price increase.

As inventories shrink and producers struggle to keep up, it looks like hard disk drive prices will remain high. The question is: do I eat this price increase, or pass it along to my clients?

Or should I switch to an alternative storage solution instead?

Solid State Drives

Until recently, solid state drives (SSDs) have been too costly to be implemented on a wide scale. SSDs have a high cost-per-storage density; currently around $1.75/GB (cheaper hard disk drives cost around $0.25/GB). But as SSD technology improves and prices continue to fall, more custom pc builders are offering them as a primary storage solution.

The best part about SSDs is that they are fast. Really, really fast. We’re talking around 5x faster than hard disk drives, for typical uses such as booting a computer, launching applications, and copying files. And they keep getting faster, as new advances in storage drive controllers and file systems are taking full advantage of the higher speeds SSDs have to offer.

My second favorite feature of solid state drives is that they are based on flash memory technology, and thus extremely reliable and efficient. Traditional hard disk drives, in contrast, contain sensitive moving parts that are prone to mechanical failure, are noisy, and consume lots of power. SSDs do not suffer from these problems.

Using HDD and SDD Together

At first glance, a big problem with solid state drives is that they are simply too small. For $150, many consumers will go with the 500GB hard disk drive over the 100GB solid state drive. After a basic Windows installation (25 GB) and program data (50GB), a 100 GB SSD just doesn’t have much room left for storing photos, music, and large movie files.

A great solution to this problem is to use both types of storage devices in one computer system, getting the best of both worlds. For storing large volumes of media data (music and movies), a big and cheap HDD works just fine. But critical operating system and application files should be installed on an SSD, to take advantage of the ultra-fast read/write speeds and reliability offered by this new technology.

Closing the Price Gap, and Making the Switch

Despite my love of technology, I’m not the type that goes out and buys the newest tech when it becomes available (I’m looking at you, iPhone fans), and I’ve so far resisted switching to an SSD-based computer system myself.

But SSD technology has advanced past the awkward and expensive first-generation phase, and I’ve used it in a few custom PC builds with impressive results every time. Their speed and efficient operation just can’t be matched by hard disk drives.

Now, with the future of hard drives looking uncertain and prices remaining high, solid state drives are looking better every day. I just may pick one up for myself.

Planned Obsolescence: Why You Should Buy A Custom PC

On the inside, computers are all the same.

This iMac uses the same standardized hardware as a custom PC

All computers use a processor and memory to crunch the numbers, a hard drive to store the numbers, and a motherboard to hold it all together. Plug in a monitor and keyboard, and you’ve got a computer!

Manufacturers like HP®, and Apple® put together standard parts and sell “pre-made” computers (such as this iMac® pictured to the right). Although fast enough for typical use and competitively priced, these systems use second-rate hardware with limited upgradability.

Planned Obsolescence

A big problem with pre-made systems is that they don’t last very long, at least not in a useful way. After a few short years, even the most expensive pre-made systems will start to slow down. This is because most manufactured systems are built with cheap (and/or integrated) parts that have limited upgradability; and with no capacity for upgrades, the only way to speed-up an aging pre-made system is to replace it with a brand-new computer!

Pre-made systems are poorly designed with this kind of “planned obsolescence” in mind: manufacturers purposefully use inferior hardware, so that their products become unusable in a short time. And when consumers incorrectly believe that they have to buy a brand-new computer every few years, manufacturers make more money from selling more pre-made systems!

But don’t despair: on the inside, computers are all the same, and there are alternatives to pre-made systems!

Custom Computers and Long-Term Value

Did you know that it is possible to build high-performance custom computers, for less than it costs to buy “pre-made” systems?

Since all computers use standardized components on the inside (for example, Intel® processors), you can choose your own hardware components to create a fast, rugged, and truly custom machine.

A custom PC being assembled.

To build your own computer, first pick a motherboard (along with matching processor and memory), choose a hard drive, video card, and PSU, and then wire it all together in a case. Install the operating system, update the hardware and software, and voila! You now have a fast and reliable computer, built with the latest technology and high-quality components.

When you build your own computer, you get to choose the hardware that goes inside. If you want a huge hard drive with lots of storage space (or even better, a state-of-the-art solid state drive!), you can install it. If you’d rather spend your money on a super-fast processor and RAM, you may do so. And if you want to customize your machine with extra USB ports, a Blu-Ray drive, or even an old-school floppy disk drive, guess what? You can!

But the main advantage of owning a custom PC is that when you choose the hardware components, you know that you’re getting the best available hardware that is ALSO upgradable. Pre-made systems lack this feature, because manufacturers don’t want you to upgrade: they want you to buy a brand new computer when your old one slows down.

When you build your own computer, you get an upgradable and “future-proof” system that will stand the test of time. However, assembling a computer requires extensive technical knowledge: this is where I come in!

My Custom PC

My six-year-old custom PC.

I use my computer for photo editing, multimedia and video streaming, 3D gaming, and other graphics-intensive applications, so it’s important for me to stay up-to-speed with a reliable machine that does what I need it to do.

When I first decided to build myself a custom PC, I had no idea I’d be using the same computer over 6 years later! I’ve done a few inexpensive hardware upgrades in that time, but the computer is still so fast that I don’t need to buy a whole new system. Realistically, I plan on using this computer for at least four more years… giving my custom PC a useful lifespan of 10 years.

In my opinion, assembling a custom PC is the best way to buy a new computer: the long-term value gained from choosing quality, upgradable hardware makes building a custom PC extremely cost-effective. Dollar-for-dollar, a well-built custom PC is faster and more reliable than a pre-made, and over a longer useful lifespan.

If you are interested in building a custom PC, order now or contact me for a free consultation and estimate.

Is the Apple Name Really Worth the Price Tag, Or Should You Get a Custom PC?

What’s So Great About A Mac?

I’m the first to admit that I love Apple products. They’re user friendly, stylish and innovative. However (and it’s a big “however”), they’re so expensive! And, God forbid, something goes wrong with a MacBook and you’re out of warranty – it’ll cost a fortune to repair!
Is a Mac Better Than a Custom PC?
So, despite my love for sleek Apple computers, I’ve come to realize that there must be a more affordable alternative that’s equally user friendly and has the same (or at least comparable) hardware. And, after searching around a bit, what I’ve found has been a bit shocking to this Mac devotee.

Are you ready for this? Newsflash: all computers are virtually identical on the inside! Maybe I’m just really not technologically savvy, but for some reason I just assumed that the higher price tag of a Mac was for a good reason (i.e., that there was better or faster hardware used in it). That really, really isn’t the case.

Newsflash: All Computers Are the Same

Evidently, all pre-made computers (e.g., Mac, HP, Dell, etc.) use more or less the same cheap processors, memory, hard drives and motherboard, and you’re just getting charged more based on the brand. Because these manufacturers use cheap parts, the computers become antiquated and bogged down really fast. So, you end up paying for something that should last many, many years, but you only get a couple of years’ use out of it!

And because Apple especially has many of its features “integrated” into the pre-made computers, it makes it either really difficult or really expensive to upgrade. So, when it comes down to it, when you buy a Mac, you’re getting something really stylish, but you’re also getting a really low performance to cost ratio when you consider that you could get the same thing from a PC for about half the price.

What Kind of Computer Should I Buy? A Custom PC, Of Course!

A Custom PC Is Better!
Really, when you look into it, the best route to take seems to be building a custom PC for yourself (or having a professional do it for you, if you’re tech skills are anything akin to mine – sheesh!). When you take the extra time to have a custom PC built, it’s really worth it because you get a truly custom computer, made just for your needs, with an emphasis on long-term value. And, when the time comes, you can easily make hardware and software upgrades to fit your changing needs, without having to buy a whole new computer!

Once you know (like I now do) that all pre-made computers use the same cheap parts, getting a PC custom made seems like the only logical option if you want custom specs, superior performance, a great cost, and an easy and affordable way to continue to upgrade your computer to fit your changing lifestyle.

I know what my next computer will be… do you?