I have built dozens, most from parts that I got from the "defective" parts bin at work when I was at IBM. The main problem with the "swap till you drop" maintenance philosophy is you condemn a lot of good parts. When I was building those machines the only part you couldn't get was the case because it had a serial number so I built "woodies". I always had a woodie on my desk at work, the parts room inventory machine was a woodie as were the servers for our dial up access to the network. When I started using a machine at home in the living room my wife said it had to "fit in" so everything but the monitor and keyboard was red oak.
I still have a woodie in the garage as an MP3 player for the pool bar and another one in my computer room/shop/den that streams TV from the Replay and one in the entertainment center in the living room as another MP3 player.
I am getting parts on the internet these days, usually from surplus places like Gearxs or PCSurplusonline. The only machines I have actually bought assembled were the laptop that I use as a server and this 2.4g Compaq I got from Gearxs, mostly because it came with an XP Pro license for $90. That is less than XP costs. It is plenty fast enough for me. Hard drives are just a consumable commodity that I get from whomever has one on sale. Western Digital is the only one I will never buy again. 90% of the bad drives I have accumulated over the years are W/D Caviars
This was my best Woodie. A PS/2 M70 with a 5.25" bay IBM never imagined. When it was on my desk at work it had this 5" floppy drive in it, when I got it home it had a CD drive.
I myself have butil;t quite a few computers and have soold them, and have built a few to customer specifications, it can be very erasy or hard depending on what you want to build, or what you want to use it for
IBM had a trouble shooting guide for lots of machines with symptoms and a "FRU (Field Replaceable Unit) Bucket" of parts you should suspect. We had a couple PC guys who would throw all the parts at every call. Their "first time fix" numbers were always very high and the customer was usually happy but parts coats were out of sight. I always knew most of the "defective" parts from these guys would be OK so I snatched them out of the returns and put something else in the box. They went to a bulk recycler for pennies on the pound so it was a win-win. There was a "Trade" forum on the internal network so I could swap good stuff for what I needed.
BTW I did have a picture of a red oak keyboard cover but I never made one myself.
My first computer, (after the apple IIe clone I used in college)was one I hacked together from old parts. Most of the parts were from my parents' first computer after they fried the mother board. I found a mother board and for about 3 years, just kept adding and upgrading components. Probably doesn't make sense now but at the time, a new basic computer was probably over $2,000. We called it the frankenputer.
In my own experience (which is modest compared to guys like Greg I admit) I find what matters most in the decision to buy or build depends on the hardware they are offering in the pre-built systems. Most times its junk but not always. It seems to be getting better actually. The OS and bloatware it comes with matters too but not as much as the hardware.
Just finding out about the WD drive thing.... two WD drives belly up this month. One a 3 year old 300G PATA that had my system and itunes collection on it in my media machine that I built (I'm not about to tell my wife about your woodie) and the other a one year old 320G SATA that had me rebuilding my mom's system drive (bought that machine from Acer) from the ground up. She keeps finding stuff that I missed. Both machines were left running 24/7 to be fair.
I helped my stepson pick out and build a Q6600 machine last year that absolutely screams. It came as a combo deal from TigerDirect and in hindsight a better mboard would have been in order. We went with an Intel board with onboard graphics to keep initial costs down but you can't over clock the thing which didn't take him long to figure out. Its a bummer because what I read indicates that the Q6600 was the best balance of cost at stock speeds while having excellent overclocking potential. I guess the I7 will rewrite all of that soon enough though.
It seems that equal or better levels of performance can be had for a lot less $ now from the major manufactures and as leary as I have been of their proprietary hardware I recently bought a HP Core2 Duo laptop from Costco and I'm very happy with it. With the exception of my stepson's quad, it easily outperforms every other machine in the house. Its only 2G but has a great 17.1" (battery hogging) HD display with ATI Radeon graphics, a full 101 keyboard, usb, firewire, ESATA, PCMCIA, VGA, HDMI, wireless N, Gigabyte, Bluetooth, high def audio including dual headphone output jacks, a good webcam and built in mics, and dual drive bays. It came with 2 250G 5400 rpm drives installed but I replaced them with 320G 7200 rpm Hitachi Travelstar drives to make it a bit snappier. They are reputed to give superior performance while using the same power of a 5400 and it seems to be true so far.
I read an article in EE Times this month that said the software really can't exploit those multi processors all that well and that you are really not getting the speed you are paying for. I am only running single core machines anyway but I don't do much that is speed sensitive. I do believe most of this quest for speed is driven my the bloatware Microsoft sells. Most of the time I suspect slowness is from "paging" in more code when you run out of memory. XP seems to have about a half gig of code loaded before you actually start doing anything. I do try to keep my active tasks (ctl alt delete screen) down to a page. If you run W/98 on even a 1gz machine with 128-256m of memory it is a racehorse. The junkbox video server I have back in my computer room can stream a Replay TV show and still do some work (copying disks or something). The bottle neck seems to be the disk controller. I thought about throwing a SATA controller in there and using the IDE for one thing and the SATA for another to see if it makes a difference. It could also be the actual memory fetch. I am not sure how many paths to memory they use these days. I lost track of that kind of detail when it all went to one chip. I still miss CPUs with 1000 cards in them ... a little
Greg, I bought a new motherboard, CPU and RAM for this desktop, about 8 months ago, it was using an old Socket A AMD CPU and it was as slow as. I'm using an Intel Dual Core processor now, 2GB of RAM. (With XP Pro) To put it mildly, things are about the same, although some things do work a bit quicker and you can get more done at once. Speed is subjective. One thing that really kills me is these "gamers" that want the best and the quickest computers NOW! Apparently, the quickest way to cook a new motherboard/CPU, is to over-clock it more than what it is designed for.
Is there any truth in the rumour that if a certain device does not have certain Windows signed drivers, it can't use the CPU resources (remember the old WinLucent dial-up modems?) and simply refuse to work, because the board itself is "dumb"?
Let's face it, these days if you're not young, you're old - Red Green
When you guys were young kids built hod rods. These days they hot rod computers. Same useless waste of time and money but hey, what's the harm if they aren't hurting anyone? At least they aren't doing drugs (I hope). The key to OCing (other than a suitable board) is cooling but you knew that of course.
My laptop came loaded with Vista Premium 64 bit and I was leary at first because most of the software world doesn't support 64 bit processing yet and I'm no fan of Vista ( the aforementioned MS bloatware) but I think the 64 bit OS and its ability to access all 4G of my RAM is probably where my perceived performance increase is coming from.
The machine I'm on right now is a P4 3.2 HT with 2G Ram ( it started life as a 2.4Ghz with 533 bus 512M, everything but the 865perl has been changed) and the Vista machine smokes it.
I usually try to keep my PF usage down to under a quarter of physical RAM at idle.