Everyone knows I’m an Apple person. My household is full of Macs, my family has iPhones and iPad, I’ve got an Apple TV, I’ve even got a Mac Museum. If Apple makes it, I will likely shell out the money to buy it. Apple products are often associated with simplicity – they are “easy to use”, limited even. That reputation tends to be applied to people who purchase those products as well. Mac and iPhone users like things simple. Windows and Android users like settings, configurations, and customizability. That is of course a generalization. I’m a Mac user, but I’m also a developer. I write code that moves bits and bytes around for a living. I’m incredibly detail oriented and really enjoy understanding how things work. I love customizing things and fiddling with settings – just ask Sally about watching a movie with me. I’m an Apple guy, but I’m also a nerd. That’s why I’m so excited about that gaming PC that I just bought.
Macs are very simple to a degree. They can become pretty technical (they run Unix for Pete’s sake), but on the outside they are pretty well packaged up so that you don’t need to get into the details. There aren’t too many settings to configure, there are few drivers to install, and everything usually just works. The hardware side is even more integrated. There are some basic configurations with a few customizable options. Usually Apple offers a base CPU and one performance upgrade CPU, a base GPU and an upgrade, a few storage options, and memory. That’s it. There are very few hardware modifications that you can make to a Mac after purchase other than adding memory and possibly upgrading a hard drive. You get what you get and that is fine for most scenarios. It’s easy to get 4-5 years out of a Mac without doing anything other than adding memory.
PC’s can be quite a bit different. A lot of manufacturers are following Apple’s lead in releasing sleek, integrated, limited-expansion products, but it’s still pretty easy to pick up a tower system that provides room for expansion. If you go to any of the name brand websites – Dell, HP, Acer – you can customize the systems more than you can at Apple. There are often more choices in terms of CPUs, graphics cards, and storage, but the set of options is still limited. Once you purchase the system there are a few more upgrade options as well. You can open up the tower and replace a graphics card, add a network card, add a hard drive, and even upgrade the CPU.
The world of custom PCs like the ones built for gaming take that a step further. Suddenly you have every choice available. You aren’t limited to a small set of CPUs that have been chosen by the manufacturer. You can choose from every compatible CPU on the market in every price range. You can choose your socket, speed, manufacturer, and feature set based on your price/performance/future upgrade needs. There are similar choices for graphics cards. There are usually several generations of GPU technology available, again for every price range. You can choose various combinations of GPUs and memory, levels of overclocking, or even multiple cards that work together.
You might think that decisions end once you pick a CPU and GPU, but they just get more complicated. When you buy a PC from a name brand company, you don’t really think about the details of the motherboard, memory, or power supply. In a custom PC all of that matters. Just like the other components, there are many choices. Several companies manufacture motherboard that include different chipsets from AMD or Intel which provide different features. Manufacturers layer their own features on top of that such as accelerated network and USB ports, high quality audio, static discharge protection, humidity protection, and even software that can overclock components and provide custom cooling controls. Memory isn’t just about capacity, it’s about speed and cooling. Power supplies are an entirely different story with different wattages, different levels of efficiency, and different cabling (modular or not). Toss in different cases and different cooling solutions and it can quickly become overwhelming.
That’s part of the reason I purchased a system from a company that builds it for me. I started researching a build on my own and quickly became overwhelmed with it. Using another company at least gave me a base set of components and some choices that I could research. Now that I have the system built (it has shipped and should arrive on Wednesday), I’ve started researching all of the features of the various components and I’m getting pretty excited. The motherboard alone, has a humongous number of features that can be customized in the BIOS. I can control a huge number of overclocking, cooling, and general feature settings. I’ll spend a couple of hours tweaking that alone. The GPU has its own settings, though most of the important ones are within games.
In addition to playing with all of the settings in software, I’m also excited to see all of the components. I’m definitely going to open the case up and inspect things a bit. I’m going to look at the components inside and inspect how it’s all wired together. I know how it all works, but it will be interesting to look at the individual components as products as opposed to just parts. They actually have a bit of design to them. The more I’ve researched, the more I understand why people put windows and lights in their custom PCs – it’s a way to show off the components inside and as a result, a person’s style.
I’ve learned a lot about the various components in a PC lately and I feel like I’m up-to-date on the latest features and functionality. Now I’m excited to get my system, install everything on it, and play some games!