Off The Shelf Or Self- Build? (Part 2)

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Pro: You Avoid Build Problems

Let’s face it, even though building a PC can be great fun, there are times when even the most dedicated system-builder has been reduced to tears of frustration by an unexpected problem. Sometimes there are inscrutable performance issues that defy explanation. Sometimes an unanticipated hardware fault might hold the process up for days while you wait for a replacement part. And sometimes you drop a screw behind the motherboard and have to take the entire machine to bits again just to retrieve it.

You Avoid Build Problems

You Avoid Build Problems

Common Mistakes In System Building

Using an online system builder is a great way to stop yourself running into problems, because hardware conflicts and incompatibilities should be taken into account for you by the experts building it, if not the system itself. There’s no danger of buying an AMD motherboard for your Intel CPU, the wrong size RAM, or an IDE hard drive if you only have SA TA connections.

However, that doesn’t mean there are no mistakes to be made. Here, we suggest a few you might want to watch out for:

Forgetting the network capabilities

Most motherboards have built-in Ethernet, but what about a wireless connection? Although common in the home and a mainstay of portable computers, Wi-Fi is actually quite rare on motherboards. If you’re planning to run your PC on a wireless network, you may need to buy a separate wireless adaptor. Of course, the opposite is true as well. If your motherboard has Wi-Fi, you don’t need to buy a separate wireless card.

Failing to make correct RAM configurations

Remember that the way RAM can work in pairs means that it’s a better idea to buy two 4GB modules instead of buying one 8GB module. Even though they give you the same amount of RAM in total, you’ll get better performance with the latter, as well as a PC that’s more resistant to failures, and it sacrifices only a little component space in the process. Most system builders won’t stop you buying one 8GB module, because it’ll technically work fine, but be aware it is possible to get better performance by taking another route.

Remember that the way RAM can work in pairs means that it’s a better idea to buy two 4GB modules instead of buying one 8GB module.

Remember that the way RAM can work in pairs means that it’s a better idea to buy two 4GB modules instead of buying one 8GB module.

You should also take care not to fill up the RAM slots. A machine with all four memory banks full is harder to upgrade, because you have to take some out to put more in, meaning every step forward involves a partial step back. The rule of thumb: always fill two RAM slots when building a new PC.

Including unnecessary/unsuitable components

The problem with system builders is that they don’t tell you when to stop. And why should they? You’re the boss, after all.

The problem with that thinking is that a novice might not be aware that you don’t necessarily need three case fans and water-cooling if you’re building a Core i5 system, or that there’s no point buying a top-end graphics card with a low-end CPU. So before you put together your dream machine, look at similar ones that you might consider buying and ask yourself: are you spending extra money on components because you need them or because you think it’s somehow better to have them?

One of the main benefits of having someone else build a PC for you is that these problems, quite simply, are no longer yours to deal with. When a PC build goes well, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world, but for the same reasons, when a PC build goes badly you’ll find yourself wondering why you ever bothered to try. It’s worth remembering that the reason people buy systems off the shelf from big retailers like Dell and Currys is because they can get a computer without the hassle of having to build it. Should you be denied that convenience just because your needs are slightly more specific than the average user?

Experience, after all, is something you can’t shortcut your way to. A problem that might take you hours or even days of online investigation might be common enough that a system-builder can fix it within minutes. Letting someone else take care of the problem sure beats trawling through web pages, unsure where to go next, running into the same dead-end solutions, so don’t be too hasty to dismiss it.

Con: You’ll Avoid Learning About Your System

The flip-side of this problem-avoiding convenience, however, is that you don’t actually learn anything as a result of getting another pair of hands to do the work. As we said, experience isn’t something you can shortcut your way to; it’s a quality you have to build. And if you’re letting another person put your system together, they’re the one getting the experience. If you don’t start learning now, when will you start?

“Choosing what goes into your PC is ultimately the best thing about buying one from a serious PC-builder”

“Choosing what goes into your PC is ultimately the best thing about buying one from a serious PC-builder”

Don’t get the wrong idea; we’re not suggesting that everyone should be forced to build their own PC, but if you’re interested in understanding the guts of a machine, the only way to do it is to stick your hands into them and find out what happens. As the sort of person who reads a computer magazine, you’ve probably been asked how it is that you know so much about how printers work, or fixing web browsers, or setting up network connections. The answer is the same every time: you do it and do it and eventually you understand enough to fix any problems you encounter or, at least, know where to look in search of a solution.

Admittedly, trying to build a system from scratch is something that probably happens a lot less in your day-to-day life than helping someone fix their broken wireless configuration. However, even if you think you understand computers, you really don’t until you’ve built one. The best time to learn is always now.

“Choosing what goes into your PC is ultimately the best thing about buying one from a serious PC-builder”

Pro: Post-build Obligations Completed For You

One of the more tedious things about building a system is the process, once it’s complete, of testing the components, troubleshooting any issues, and then starting the even more unrewarding process of setting up your operating system and installing applications.

Conversely, if you get a system that has been constructed for you, you’ll have the peace of mind of knowing that the system builder has already run the kind of benchmarks, stress-tests and troubleshooting procedures that you’d ordinarily have to take care of yourself. Duff memory modules will be weeded out, hard drives with bad sectors replaced, CPUs and graphics cards tested to their limits for stability - often using tools and standards that would be unavailable to the casual home user. CCL reportedly runs its pre-build systems for a full 24 hours and makes them pass a visual inspection afterwards before they’re allowed anywhere near the customers.

And then, to make things even more convenient, your system builder can even install your operating system and software suites, if that’s what you want. Unlike the big companies, they probably won’t have a generic ‘factory-default’ disk with an default image so that they can install everything in one go, and that means you’ll get a genuinely clean installation tailored to the contents of your system.

Again, you won’t learn anything by letting someone else take this step, which is arguably bad, but then again, if you’ve installed Windows once, there’s probably nothing else left for you to learn…

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