So my desktop of three and a half years decided that it was going to start failing piece by piece. First the optical drive started to be very picky about what it would read and when it would read it, usually ceasing to respond to requests and becoming unusable until a reboot. Then one of my DIMMs died after Thanksgiving, a completely unexpected random event. Finally my hard drive stopped working correctly, making my computer unbootable… although now that I’ve got it hooked up externally to my laptop and it’s working fine, I’m guessing it may not be the drive’s fault.
Three hardware failures in a couple months makes me think it’s something else, most likely the motherboard or maybe even the PSU. But since I have no way of determining which it is (or if it really IS all of those things failing independently), and since replacing them all would cost almost as much as buying a new computer entirely.. well.. I figure I may as well update sooner rather than later.
Well, I started looking at Newegg for parts (as if there’s any other option). I remember when this was a pretty enjoyable task, looking at all the shiny new things, putting together compatible bits and pieces to build a decent machine for a surprisingly low price. But it’s changed.
The first thing that strikes me is just how many choices I have now. I remember when choosing a video card was simple: pick ATi or nVidia, choose one of two or three models, and find a decent manufacturer. But now.. christ on a cracker. Which series of Radeon do I want? The HD 6000, HD 5000, HD 4000, HD 3000, HD 2000, 9, or X1K? How about nVidia? There’s the GeForce GTS400, GTX500, GTX400, GTS200, GTX200, G, GT, 9, 8, 7, 6, and FX. And each of these series has dozens of possibilities: manufacturer, size, SLI capability, memory size, memory speed, built-in cooling, dual-head capability, HDMI, etc. etc. etc.
I. Just. Want. A. Video card. I don’t want the subtask of choosing one to become just as complex as building a computer itself.
So that’s one problem, and only with one kind of part; don’t even get me started on the CPUs. The other problem is that despite a selection of parts that has grown almost comically large in the last few years, it doesn’t seem like anything has cropped up to help consumers decide what parts to get. How do I know this video card, or drive, or memory, or CPU will play nicely with the motherboard chipset or with each other? How do I know how big of a power supply to get? Is the BIOS on this mobo good? Does part X support feature Y, and how well? Which is better, the “nVidia GeForce GTXSXTX 48253028 x2 XXX” or the “nVidia GeForce GTXSXTXXXXX 48253880 x6 XXYXX”? (By the way, manufacturers, I believe you’re more than milked the letter X for it’s “cool” factor. It’s getting to the point where you’re just obfuscating things now. I’m looking at you in particular, XFX.)
The only site I know of that comes close is Tom’s Hardware, and don’t get me wrong, they do a great service by trying to make this stuff at least somewhat manageable. But looking at TH more recently, I can’t help but get the impression that even they are now overwhelmed by the number of parts there are. A search for “core i5″ brings up over 14,000 results. What the hell am I supposed to do with that? Granted, most of those are forum posts, but even restricting the search to reviews leaves me with 661 articles. That’s still far too much information to grok. TH also seems to have a gamer-oriented view on a lot of things, which is fine considering most of the people who care about this stuff are gamers, but what about those of us with a more practical goal in mind?
So, tl;dr: there are FAR too many choices in hardware, and virtually no useful resources seem to exist to help with this monumental task. I’m actually beginning to welcome the idea of pre-built computers, a view that I have found untenable for years. But don’t get me wrong; I’m still going to build this sumbitch.