The End of the Hobby Era In Computing?

The lead story on Extreme Tech is all about building a computer. Build It: A Speedy PC For $800

I’m certainly not adverse to building a computer. The PC this is being typed on was assembled right here on my office floor from parts I specified. It does everything I designed it to do (though it has incredibly noisy fans to remove its internal heat, and I wish I would have designed that out). And, as a bonus, it actually worked when I plugged it in!

The question is why build… and even if you want to, how much longer will that be possible?

My computer was built to edit video. To that end, I threw in the ATI All-In-Wonder 8500DV video card (on which the DV “Firewire” connection never did work) and a Soyo motherboard with built-in RAID (two disk drives act as one for the faster service necessary for video). The on-board audio conflicts with the video card, meaning I then had to go get another audio card.

It was a great learning experience, but today you can buy machines off the shelf that do the same thing. And, increases in processor speed cover a variety of sins. So a machine not totally optimized for video will still do fine because everything else is so much faster and the disk drives are so much larger.

As I was passing by Home Shopping Network earlier today, they were selling a Gateway PC (I am not a fan of any particular brand. All major computer manufactures are just putting together other people’s parts.) with 17″ monitor and printer for under $1200. The CPU on their machine is better than twice as fast as mine! If you’re interested, here are the specs.

It’s tough to build when a speedy machine, pre-assembled, sells for a price like that.

For hobbyists, like me, there will always be the allure of building the ‘perfect’ screaming machine. But, I suspect within the next few years that won’t be possible either.

I remember in high school, a friend of mine bough a Model “A” Ford and restored it to running condition by hand. What he couldn’t get, he modified. Now, there’s hardly anything on a car you can fix or modify on your own.

Computers are going in that same direction. There are a number of reasons, but the most significant seems to be intellectual property rights. My computer is capable of copying DVDs… even copy protected DVDs. I can do all sorts of other things that upsets other rights holders too!

Just as printer manufacturers have added chips to try and thwart aftermarket ink cartridge manufacturers, PCs will be ‘smarter’ (really more restrictive) in what they let you do. The quaint concept of ‘fair use’ will go out the window, because manufacturers now understand how easily their hard work is ripped off.

Will future versions of Windows be built so it only works with ‘trusted’ hardware and software that can be more closely controlled? My opinion is, yes. Sure, a computer could be run on Linux or some yet-to-be-designed operating system, but that would deprive you of much of what’s available today.

I’m not sure where the ‘sweet spot’ is, balancing the rights of those who produce with the rights of those who use. I suspect that PC’s wouldn’t be where they are today… capable of doing what they do… if the restrictions to come had existed earlier.

Product Features


Intel 3.06GHz processor with hyper threading technology

Hard Drive

120 GB UATA100 7200rpm hard drive


512 MB DDR SD-RAM memory, expandable to 2048 MB

Optical Drive

DVD burner/CD burner (DVD-RAM/-R/CD-RW) all-in-one combo drive

Operating System

Microsoft Windows XP Home Edition


17″ CRT

Additional Features & Specifications:

Includes Lexmark P3150 color printer – copy, fax, scan and print. Comes with a media card reader for easy download and printing of digital camera photos right from the printer

3.5″ 1.44 MB floppy disk drive

Integrated Intel Extreme Graphics with up to 64 MB dynamic video memory

Built-in enhanced audio with Gateway 2 speaker solution

Watch DVDs, burn home movies onto DVDs, share them with friends and family or burn music and files onto a CD – all in one small drive

Hyper threading technology – improves computer performance through more efficient use of the processor

56K PCI data/fax modem

10/100 ethernet

8 USB v2.0 (2 in front), 2 PS/2, 1 each parallel and serial ports

Multi-function keyboard and Logitech PS/2 wheel mouse

Microsoft Works Suite 2004 featuring Word and Encarta

6 months America Online (AOL) internet access – new account creation required

Norton AntiVirus 90 day introductory offer

Comes with a 1 year, limited manufacturer’s warranty

For warranty information, please call 1.800.933.2887.

Software Included:

Pinnacle Instant CD/DVD, Master Cook Deluxe 7.0 OEM, Home Depot Home Improvement 123, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing v.15, Scrapbook Factory, Greeting Card Factory Express, Merriam Webster’s Medical Audio Dictionary, Print Perfect Gold, Photo Show 2.1, Quicken Lawyer 2003, WinWay Resume Express, Send Photos, iClean, Stuffit Standard 8.0, Diskeeper Lite, Eudora Pro Email, Expensable 6, Hacker Smacker Firewall, Financial Powertools, Laplink Gold 11.5, Monopoly 2 and Jeopardy 2

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