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Building PC series: What is wrong with retail PCs?
  • I am starting new series about building PC that you can use (tablet related one will come slightly later), and for first part we'll look at the retail PCs and see that is wrong with them. I mostly focus on principles, so you won't see many names, brands, models, MHz, etc.

    Most retail PC configurations sucks.

    I am serious. Look only on top of the range, as below you can find such strange things like top CPU, little memory, horrible or even lack of GPU all of this paired with small slow HDD, all in blinking red-blue case. Such monsters come to life due to simple fact - it is also business. Every company is interested to throw maximum of junk and sell it for highest price possible.

    Common things that sucks the most in every retail PC

    General parts:

    • Keyboard. Keyboards on all retail PCs are just horrible, usually it is $5-10 crap with modern design. 98% of them use cheap membrane approach, 2% left use scissors like on good notes. Both you do not want. Check part about input devices to get an idea that is made for real work.
    • Mouse. Same shit. Not so bad as with keyboard, but it is usually cheap small wired or wireless mouse. Mouse is one of three main things (other being keyboard and monitor), so do not save on it. Good mouse for you must be good for your palm size, must be made by reputable firm, and must be produced for quote long time to see the issues. Usually none of this is true for cheap mice.
    • Case. Exceptions happen here, but they are all in red book. Companies throw plastics rich "games" cases or ultra thin, bad steel cases. You do not need it, it is DOA products. They look cool and works only for people with severe brain damage and heavy drug use. Bad case won't allow you to install top GPU, will be noisy and will eat dust by kilos. It also usually hard to add things and have limits on HDDs you can install (preferably with good cooling).
    • Fans. Usually it is two extremes - one fan in more entry models, and up to 8 in the "gamers" editions. All of them are pure junk usually, even one that with work more or less tolerable noise will start to die in a year or two.
    • CPU Cooler. Around 90-95% of retail PCs use bad coolers (or stock ones), they are fine if PC is under no or light load, but as soon as you start heavy editing, grading, encoding, it'll be real mess. Some top configurations can use good ones, but it is rare thing and you usually pay big premium for this.

    Power stuff:

    • Power supply. Most retail PCs come with default supply that came with case they use. Usually it is real shit. Inefficient, with inflated power ratings. Few manufacturers make quote good cheap PSUs, but it usually do not come together with low noise and efficiency. To be short - you'll get underspecced, noisy and inefficient PSU.

    Storage

    • SSD. While they dropped significantly, that are still too costly for mainstream retail PCs. And you really need at least one SSD as disk for your OS.
    • HDD. Most common size in retail PC is 500GB, all else usually go with 1TB. It is just waste of your money. As you need lot of space. For backup and general storage it is good idea to use slightly below the top sizes (now it is 2-3-4TB) as they are economically more interesting. We'll go in details in corresponding part.

    Now we go to the PC components itself:

    • Motherboard. Many retail companies not only install cheapest MBs that manufacturers have in their line, they can even order special custom versions with reduced price (and some removed ports, PCI or PCI-E slots). Only in top gamers PCs you can usually see more or less good motherboards. Manufacturer can also use MB without slot for second or third video cards (yes, they are useful for grading).
      Remember - with motherboard now also comes sound part and network chip. Cheap MBs like to cut on this.
    • Memory. Memory are usually not extra important if you are not doing heavy rendering or encoding all day. But companies try to save here also. You can find cheapest DIMMS, with worst parameters, with no memory heatsinks.
    • Graphics card - GPU. It is not so bad now, as middle to top class GPUs can be seen in retail PCs (most are still sold with entry GPUs somehow claiming that it is "for games"). But no one will select for you card with best cooling system and with better clocks. If you are not gaming usually you do not need top GPU, just middle NVidia one (AMD support is growing also) with lot of memory (DaVinci likes GPU memory and more GPUs).
    • CPU. Just ignore anything except top of the i5 and i7 lines for mainstream (now it is 1150 socket) and enthusiasts (2011 socket), including all AMD chips (they are cheaper, but you later pay it out in electricity bills :-) ). Usually it is models with K in the end (overclocking ready). Retail companies like to use one year old CPUs, and all the range, starting from Celerons (so consultants can push something with people with any amount of money).

    Next part will be about places for getting stuff.

    Provide you input, if you agree/ do not agree with something.

  • 18 Replies sorted by
  • Thanks, very useful.

  • HP Z series are good CPUs, with good components. I don´t know about the Lenovos ThinkCentre... anyone?

  • @heradicattor

    It is more about general principles that live for years :-) I highly doubt "good components" part as they always cut on something, and usually cut on all.

  • Will follow it. Never had a retail PC, mounting all my computers since 1990. :)

  • Sample of mouse you do not want :-)

  • I am a Mac user but I am sick of the bullshit, and the very expansive prices, so I'm thinking about building a PC. so any thoughts? components? My need I guess are like everyone in this forum. Editing (4k now), Color Grading, and a little bit of AE. Thank you in advance for your help.

  • I am a Mac user but I am sick of the bullshit, and the very expansive prices, so I'm thinking about building a PC. so any thoughts? components?

    It is just wrong topic to ask it. We have special topics for this, including GPU selection and such, check them out.

    Next parts will be also not about brands but about principles that hold for many many years, just focused on all important PC building blocks.

  • @Aksel if you can do the software installation of a Hackintosh, it's worth doing in this age of expensive thunderbolt trashcans. If you can't, you have still bought yourself the components for a very nice PC: http://www.personal-view.com/talks/discussion/4150/the-definitive-hackintosh-topic/p14

    Thanks for the article @Vitaliy_Kiselev

  • @CFreak thank you

  • I built my own PCs for several years, always sourcing the best components that were available at the time - usually it was an Asus motherboard, always a higher end Intel CPU, Soundblasters, nVideo cards, Corsair ram, 500+ watt quality power, etc etc.

    But after awhile, I found the performance gap closing with highend retail, and the cost difference dropped significantly. So after I had one more component die, or had to reinstall a driver for the 100th time from a CD I couldn't find in a desk drawer, I'd had enough of the whole "build it" routine. Drove to a computer retailer and bought a high-end HP workstation. I'm still using it years later, and the only part I've ever replaced was upgrading the Geforce card.

    I think doing your own build does give you lots of options, and allows you to customize things that an OEM may not consider as critical. But at times, it can also feel like a part-time job at a computer repair store. While it was fun in the beginning - the learning and doing - I've no patience nor time for it anymore. And my experience with high-end HP and Dell workstations has been quite good... so for the moment, I'm staying out of the "where's my tube of ArcticSilver" game. ;)

  • But at times, it can also feel like a part-time job at a computer repair store. While it was fun in the beginning - the learning and doing - I've no patience nor time for it anymore. And my experience with high-end HP and Dell workstations has been quite good... so for the moment, I'm staying out of the "where's my tube of ArcticSilver" game. ;)

    Do you also build custom PCs for firms? Like 100-200 a year? No?
    In reality, building PC is super easy and fast task. btw, I even do not remember last time I reinstalled driver from CD or used CDs at all. Also, it is fully ok to go an "buy a high-end HP workstation", but this series is not for guys who do it.

    I built my own PCs for several years, always sourcing the best components that were available at the time - usually it was an Asus motherboard, always a higher end Intel CPU, Soundblasters, nVideo cards, Corsair ram, 500+ watt quality power, etc etc.

    :-)

  • I usually copy the drivers to a folder just in case and throw the cd in back in the box. With imaging software, normally I do not have to install drivers over and over unless I do a componant change or install a new OS.

  • Do you also build custom PCs for firms? Like 100-200 a year? No?

    No, but I think you know I was using a bit of exaggerated humor to make a point. ;)

    In reality, building PC is super easy and fast task.

    This is very true. Once you know the process, it certainly is. And for awhile I enjoyed it... but when that time passed, it was just a task to keep it updated or running. I wanted to spend more time USING a computer, not upgrading or troubleshooting another component.

    Sort of like owning a classic car, I guess. If you love turning a wrench - great hobby. If you really dont, then prepare to pay a mechanic or don't buy a classic car.

    Also, it is fully ok to go an "buy a high-end HP workstation", but this series is not the guys who do it.

    Fair enough. :)

  • HP and Dell building some nice boxes, but - like Apple - you also pay a lot for the brand sticker.

    Here was my shopping list for a video workstation in the neighborhood of 3000 bucks.

    Add a nice housing, cooler, and a beefy power supply to it, and call it a day.

  • @FrankGlencairn

    Frank, topic is about principles, not about lists, so removed.

  • The principle is, you need to look at the sort of material you want to use (R3d has different needs than CineDNG or AVC) and the workflow you need - than choose your components accordingly. Dell, Apple and HP out of the box, don't get that specific. And there is no "one-does-it-all" machine. Best thing you can get is a ether a super specialized to the T computer, or at least something well balanced.

  • I even built a Hackintosh rather than a Mac Pro about 5 years ago. Built it on SSD, i5, 16GB and a solid GPU HD5770. In terms of price (apple hardware) nothing could even get close, like 1/2 price. Sure it didn't have the build or component quality, but the time span these things fail, they're probably obsolete anyway.

    Laptops I find a bit different. Build quality is a bit more important as they're slung around everywhere.