In a recent column of veteran PC writer John C. Dvorak, he once again addresses the question of buying a personal computer, or using the hands-on approach, and building the machine from gathered parts.

Dvorak shows his growing years spent in the field, as he resolves, over the course of a few paragraphs, that buying is only a good thing for someone who wishes to know his machine. For anyone else, it is simply a waste of money.

I would agree in large part, but I still favor the build over buy decision, mainly for two reasons. The first is that the builder will usually, if not pinching pennies, choose better parts, all the way from the case to the CPU.

Some will say that there is no reason to have better quality, as the unit will frequently need to be replaced as an entire assembly, when the time comes that it is considered “old” and possibly “in the way”.

I have found, over the course of a few years, that choosing better quality will allow fewer large cash outlays at once, and make the machine something that gradually evolves, rather than moving from desk to recycling bin.

Choosing a quality case is something few consider, until it is too late, and the problems with the cheap, flimsy, and poorly designed case have reared their ugly heads. A choice of a quality case will benefit the user as much in operation of the computer as it will in aesthetics. Form usually follows function in these pieces, but attention to form is paid no less. A flimsy case can lead to many problems, such as spontaneous rebooting when an elbow is errantly placed upon it, to cracking of the mainboard because the mounting holes were not properly machined, and over time stress has built to a maximum tolerated level – this happens over many heating-cooling cycles. A quality case will usually be made with better cooling in mind, allowing better, and larger, fans to be installed, and allow them to work in conjunction, rather than at odds with each other.  Sometimes, a good design will mean that fewer fans, resulting in less noise, are needed, because the airflow through the case has been so well planned as to be very efficient. In either instance, better cooling will lead to longer life, and fewer equipment failures due to heat or dirt buildup. The high quality case, planned with the future in mind will frequently survive at least two builds of the user’s computer, and saving money in the long run yet another way.

The power supply is another area where the user will typically buy a better quality part than is able to be purchased. By purchasing a quality power supply, it is possible to see the chosen unit find its way into a second and possibly third rebuild of the computer, and still be in its warranty period. That cannot be said for any OEM computer. The typical OEM computer power supply is usually built well, but just enough so that it survives the warranty period, and then only if the user has chosen not to upgrade anything that might take more power. In the field, I have seen power supplies which are so “on the brink” that plugging in a couple of USB peripherals to them made them unable to boot. The typical aftermarket power supply has usually more than enough power for modest upgrades of the system, and because the user is buying with quality in mind, a larger than necessary PSU is purchased, allowing it to loaf along, never being pushed to its limits, and allowing it to operate at the sweet spot of efficiency, making energy savings able to be figured in to the overall cost of operation over time.

I have yet to see a major manufacturer advertising high-efficiency PSUs in its line, mainly because using them does cost more, which is passed to the consumer, along with the usual markup. Over the life of the PC, the difference between a 70% efficient PSU (typical) and a silver or gold rated one will more than make up the cost difference in energy savings, while giving the user that much more confidence in the quality of something that will not expire one day after the typical year-long warranty of the computer, taking out motherboard, CPU, and memory in its spectacular death spiral. (Remember, once the smoke comes out of electronics, you can never put it back inside!)

This is only the first two pieces of the overall puzzle, but in just those two things, it can be proven, time and time again, that quality wins out, and a bit more money spent up front will repay the difference in cost many times over the usable, and useful, life.

More components covered in the next installment. Stay tuned.

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