A homebuilt computer is a computer assembled from available components, usually commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) components, rather than purchased as a complete system from a computer system supplier.
- 1 History
- 2 Development as a hobby
- 3 Standardization
- 4 Types
- 5 Kits and barebones systems
- 6 Scavenged and "cannibalized" systems
- 7 Advantages and disadvantages
- 8 Homebuilt computers and alternative operating systems
- 9 Homebuilt computers and high-performance systems
- 10 References
- 11 See also
- 12 External links
Computers have been built at home for a long time, starting with the Victorian era pioneer Charles Babbage in the 1820s. A century later, Konrad Zuse built his own machine when electromechanical relay technology was widely available. The hobby really took off with the early development of microprocessors, and since then many enthusiasts have constructed their own computers.
Early examples include the Altair 8800 from the United States and the later British Newbear 77-68 and Nascom designs from the late 70's and early 80's. Some were made from kits of components, or simply distributed as board designs. The Altair 8800 pioneered the S-100 bus which somewhat simplified the process. Ultimately, the development of home computers, the IBM PC (and its derivatives and clones), and the industry of specialized component suppliers that grew up around this market in the mid 80's have made building computers much easier. Computer building is no longer limited to specialists.
Development as a hobby
Many people have found great satisfaction in being able to build their own desktops from scratch. Not only can someone build a desktop that can outperform a significant number of pre-built models selling in retail stores, but someone building their own desktop has the freedom to add whatever components they may desire. Such components can range from a variety of HDD drive capacities and speeds, cold cathode bulbs for aesthetic purposes, performance graphics cards (GPUs), monitor configurations, resolution, OS (operating system(s)), among many others such as cooling systems, sound cards, large power supply, quality motherboard, and keyboard mouse configurations. Building your own desktop allows you to customize just about every aspect of your computing needs. Often, people are inclined to install two or more graphics cards to allow for highly demanding resolutions and computing/gaming needs. Additionally, for example, someone with gaming or video editing needs, can opt for a high level of RAM capacity, a high-end CPU, graphics card, and a quality monitor that can display according to the individual needs of the editor/gamer. People often enter competitions that compare individual "builds" (configurations) and computing power.
The same availability of standard PC components that makes computer building so easy and widespread has led to the development of small scale custom PC assembly; with so called "white box" PCs and commercial "build to order" services ranging in size from small local supply operations to large international operations. Practically all PCs except laptops are largely built from interchangeable standard parts because PC manufacturers enjoy an advantage of scale, and the system assemblers derive a commercial advantage from multiple sources of interchangeable parts. Even in the more specialized laptop market, a considerable degree of standardization exists "under the covers". Unfortunately many "big name" systems and especially laptops also contain components that vary widely from the "de facto" standards that generic PC systems follow, which are only obtainable from the system assemblers concerned.
Since it is possible to adapt, expand, update, or otherwise customise any PC within the limits of the PCs conformance to standard component interfaces, homebuilt PC systems form a continuum from standard system suppliers offerings adapted with an alternative video card or uprated hard disk, up to systems built from scratch from components, owing nothing to any specific system assembler.
Kits and barebones systems
Computer kits include all of the hardware (and sometimes the operating system software, as well) needed to build a complete computer. Because the components are pre-selected by the vendor, the planning and design stages of the computer-building project are eliminated, and the builder's experience will consist solely of assembling the computer and installing the operating system. In theory, the kit supplier will have tested the components to assure that they are compatible and free of conflicts.
A "barebones computer" is a variation on the kit concept. A barebones system typically consists of a computer case with a power supply, motherboard, processor, and processor cooler. A wide variety of other combinations are also possible: some barebones systems come with just the case and the motherboard, while other systems are virtually complete. In either case, the purchaser will need to obtain and install whatever parts are not included in the barebones kit (typically the hard drive, Random Access Memory, peripheral devices, and operating system).
Like mass-produced computers, barebones systems and computer kits are often targeted to particular types of users, and even different age groups. Because many home computer builders are gamers, for example, and because gamers are often young people, barebones computers marketed as "gaming systems" often include features such as neon lights and brightly coloured cases, as well as features more directly related to performance such as a fast processor, a generous amount of Random Access Memory, and a powerful video card. Other kits and barebones systems may be specifically marketed to users of an "alternative" operating system like Linux, with components selected on the basis of their compatibility and performance with that operating system.
Scavenged and "cannibalized" systems
Many amateur-built computers are built primarily from used or "spare" parts. It's sometimes necessary to build a computer that will run an obsolete operating system or proprietary software for which updates are no longer available, and which will not run properly on a current platform. Economic reasons may also require an individual to build a new computer from used parts, especially among youth or in developing countries where the cost of new equipment places it out of reach of average people.
Advantages and disadvantages
Building one's own computer affords tangible benefits compared to purchasing a mass-produced model, such as:
- Being able to choose exactly which components are to be used.
- Customizing the machine to the user's exact needs and preferences.
- Avoiding the advertising links, trial software, and other commission-driven additions and modifications that increasingly are made to mass-market computers prior to their being shipped.
- Ensure that one has all the individual driver and OS discs - many manufactured computers only come with one or two discs. one of which is the OS, and another is a "restore to factory condition" disc, which included all the "Bloatware" mentioned above. This inhibits latter modifiability (mentioned below).
- Being able to make modifications to the original build at a later date with little hassle.
- May be less expensive than a mass-manufactured PC, especially if extensive customization is desired.
- Enjoyment, personal satisfaction, and educational experience.
- Using the computer for video gaming.
For the general public, however, the lack of technical support and warranty protection (other than what is provided by the individual component and software manufacturers) may be a significant disadvantage. However, a person who is capable of designing and building a PC will most likely have sufficient knowledge and technical know-how to maintain his or her system, and will require little support from manufacturers.
Homebuilt computers and alternative operating systems
Because almost all mass-manufactured PCs ship with some version of Microsoft Windows pre-installed, individuals who wish to use operating systems other than Windows (for example, Linux or BSD) often choose to build their own computers. Their reason for doing so is not always related to saving money on an operating system.
Because Microsoft Windows is the de facto standard for PCs, hardware device drivers of different qualities can readily be found that will enable virtually any component designed for the PC architecture to function on a Windows platform. However, the same isn't true for alternative operating systems like Linux and BSD, so these system users have to be careful to avoid hardware that is incompatible with their choice of operating system. Even among hardware devices that technically will "work" with these alternative operating systems, some will work better than others. Therefore, many users of non-Microsoft operating systems choose to build their own computers from components known to work particularly well with their preferred platforms.
Homebuilt computers and high-performance systems
Most mainstream manufactured computers use common or inexpensive parts such as onboard graphics and audio. While integrated accessories offer dramatic economic savings (and satisfy many usess), these options generally do not perform as well as dedicated hardware under high demand situations such as current games and CAD.
Homebuilt computers are most common among gamers, engineers, or other people who demand more performance from a specific component than the average user. An example would be a gamer using a slightly behind-the-curve CPU and disk drive, spending the difference on a more capable dedicated graphics card.
Additionally, those with more specific computer needs usually appreciate the freedom to upgrade certain components to fit their needs and the evolving needs of the software being used; in a typical manufactured PC the support components (such as power supply unit, motherboard, or even the chassis) are unfit for accepting high-performance add-in components. Constructing a system with future expansion in mind allows for such upgrades, which in turn are much cheaper than buying a brand new computer every time individual components become obsolete or insufficient to meet the needs of the user.
- Murray, Mathew. "Build a Gaming PC for Any Budget". PCMAG. Retrieved 19 August 2012.
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