Buying a new PC: build your own, get a off the shelf clone or a brand name PC?

As someone who worked for a large scale clone PC manufacturer, built and upgraded clone PCs and also fixed, upgraded and supported brand name PCs (Dell, HP, etc) I thought I would share my experiences and dispell any myths that surround different types of PCs.

For a while now, if you are or were a gamer or PC enthusiast it was thought if your own PC wasn’t built yourself you didn’t have any hairs on your chest. The challenge of piecing together a PC from its standardised parts of motherboard, processor, memory, hard disk, optical drive etc, can be rewarding and you can get everything set up exactly the way you want it, and its cheaper! Or is it?

Clone PCs

When I worked for Novatech, customers would buy all the parts but some people would frequently buy the wrong parts or not have all the knowhow to make their PC work often blaming the retailer.

My experience has found clone PC parts like the case and power supply often come in two varieties, cheap and nasty or good and expensive. Many PC cases I have seen are utterly awful, the steel case is made of very thin bendy steel, with brittle plastic trim, and why is it you have to have a transparent window on the side? Also cheap power supplies can fail, either by one of the individual voltage rails might say, read 4.5v instead of 5v causing the PC to reboot or bluescreen inexplicably. On the other side of the market is products from companies like Coolermaster or Zalman, these are specialist PC part makers and these are often usually very expensive. There often isnt much to choose from in the middle of the market. Really there should be a better range of MicroATX cases, as most motherboards come in this format (ie: smaller having only 3 or so slots) The average clone PC case is far too big having far more space and expansion than anyone would ever need. Does anyone need more than two 5 ¼ drive bays now?

Frequent problems PC builders can get into are, cant install Windows as wont recognise hard disk, solution: have floppy disk handy (yes you still need a floppy drive for this aspect of installing your operating system which seems crazy when they havent been used in such a long time) with the Serial ATA drivers on, if your PC has a hard disk with those narrow style cables, and no, you cant get the drivers on a CD or USB stick. A PC not POSTing (that means Power On Self Test, ie: getting a picture on the monitor, counting its memory and ready to boot off a storage device) can often be 12v cable not plugged into motherboard (this is needed for PCs of Pentium 4 or Athlon 64 or later) a brass spacer or screw stuck behind the motherboard in the wrong place causing a short, or bad memory.

If the PC thats newly build happens to be defective, the retailer will expect the customer to do the troubleshooting and bring back the correct part. This can be a real headache if the user cannot work out which piece is the cause of the malfunction, and this can be why building PCs can be a painful experience for some.

The home built PC gaming crowd generates a lot of money for computer retailers as people upgrade so frequently as people want a certain amount of oneupmanship on gaming forums, and specialist parts like watercooling kits are often sold, all this adds up to a very expensive way of keeping and maintaining a computer though.

Ready-clone PCs, these are often can be a bad choice for a business customer, why? The parts change regulary, so large companies cant make a mass copy of the same Ghost image onto hundreds of PCs.

Brand name PCs like HP and Dell.

Some people might not like HP and Dell as their PCs have non standard parts. The chassis on these brand systems often is different, often coming in about 3 or difference sized cases often with the same motherboard. This is often a good thing, someone like the NHS has its PCs in small form factor, this is useful as the PC can be carried by the staff under one arm, and if you are installing 6 machines in one day, being able to fit them all in your car and carry each of them up steps and through security doors etc is different a good thing to factor in.

Now, most large businesses only have a small number of different model PCs, as Dell or HP normally keep the specification the same of the PC the same for a whole year. Most IT departments of big businesses need to keep installation of new system up or re-setting up after a repair or a operating system crash as quick as possible. In a business setting, PCs are rolled out using Ghost images,

Fitting a card to a brand name PC:-

Open lid, often PC can be opened with out tools using some kind of lever or button on outside of PC, remove lever covering slots on backplane of PC, slide out metal bracket, fit card. Reassemble.

Install required software.

Fitting a card to clone PC:-

Use philips screwdriver to remove screws from left hand side panel, struggle to make panel slide backwards, which will need good fingernails or flat screwdriver. Find metal plate covering slot you want to use, stab these piece hard with your screwdriver, give nasty sharp piece of metal a twist to break it off. Cut finger. Bleed a bit and swear. Fit card in slot, look through boxes of screws for a screws to find one that fits to hold the card in. Put PC together, put the side panel on a bit wonky. Install required software.

Replacing CD drive on a brand name PC:-

Open lid, often PC can be opened with out tools using some kind of lever or button on outside of PC. Disconnect ribbon cables and power cable on CD drive, squeeze drive rails to make CD drive slide out. Remove rails with screwdriver and transfer them onto new CD drive and set jumpers on the unit and refit into PC and reattach cables. Close case and start up PCs.

Replacing CD drive on clone PC:-

Use philips screwdriver to remove screws from left hand side panel, struggle to make panel slide backwards, which will need good fingernails or flat screwdriver. Then realise you need the other side of the PC off to access before sets of screws. Disconnect ribbon cables and power cable on CD drive, remove two screws off each side. Slide in replacement drive and fit screws to and set jumpers accordingly on back drive. Put both side panels back on the wrong way round, then put them on correctly.

My point is, after playing with different style of PCs, clone type systems are useful from the fact they are design to be easily adapted but quality is not always great, and PCs for businesses are different purely as they are made and produced with businesses in mind and are easier to replace bits with a minimum of tools.

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