Defining the Need for Desktop Systems

I’ve been working on Build Your Own PC on a Budget for a while now and I’m nearing the end. A number of people have asked me precisely what market my book is for, especially now that smartphones and tablets are becoming the instruments of choice for consumer computing. In fact, someone recently sent me a ComputerWorld article entitled, Is your business ready for ‘stick’ PCs?. It’s important to understand that I really haven’t been living in a cave somewhere chanting a desktop PC mantra. The fact is that Build Your Own PC on a Budget is designed with the enthusiast in mind. This is the same person who would build a hot rod from scratch, even though they could probably get a nicer, more reliable, more fuel efficient car right off the lot.

The fact is that there are times when you want the flexibility that a desktop system can provide. If you want a system whose sole purpose is to check e-mail, do a little word processing, and possibly update your Facebook page, then you really don’t want a desktop system for the most part. The exception might be if you need a really large screen to see what you’re doing and many people simply plug their computers into the TV now in order to get the larger screen they need. For many people, a notebook, tablet, or smartphone really is all they need. When these stick PCs become popular, you can bet that a large number of people will use them for all their computing needs without any problem at all.

My book is designed around the needs of someone who needs a lot more than a simple computer. Of course, the gamer is the first person that comes to mind. When you read magazines like PC Gamer, you quickly find out that power says it all. These folks are constantly tweaking their systems to get out a little more power. Overclocking is something that these people talk about as casually as what they had for dinner last night.

However, I recently finished a book on data science and must admit that a tablet would never do the job. My desktop has power to spare and even it slowed down on some calculations (as in, I had time to get a cup of coffee while waiting for the processing to complete). A laptop would have a really hard time keeping up with even the minimal needs of the data scientist. In fact, many professional scientists and engineers really do need a super reliable, high power system. They can’t afford down time and they really don’t want to wait days for the results of a calculation. So, this is the second group for my book. They really aren’t looking for a stick PC.

The third group is experimenters. People who are interested in playing just to see what’s possible will love my book because I have all kinds of ideas in it for doing something interesting. Experimenters are those people who somehow manage to have these flashes of insight that result in major innovations. Many of the luxuries you enjoy now were the result of a mistake made by an experimenter. The mistake was turned into a profitable product only after someone looked at it from another angle.

A custom PC is also beneficial for specialized needs such as industrial automation or even for alarm systems. Special use PCs often require more ports than are available on something like a notebook, tablet, or smartphone. Just imagine trying to put enough cameras into the single USB port supplied with many smaller systems. So, I see a number of people who create special use systems buying this book as well.

Is the day of the desktop system as a commodity coming to an end? Yes, I definitely see consumers moving toward laptops, tablets, smartphones, smart watches, and even sticks in the future. If you don’t need the power a desktop can provide, there really isn’t a good reason to pay the price. Let me know your thoughts on the future of the desktop system at


It’s All in the Engineering

A considerable amount of my time in fulfilling the self-sufficiency dreams Rebecca and I have is spent building new items and repairing existing items. Existing equipment of all types requires constant maintenance as well. If you leave a cage exposed to the elements long enough, it’ll simply rot away. Everything has a tendency to fail without some sort of maintenance. All of these efforts—everything from building to maintaining to tearing down when an item is no longer useful—relies on some sort of engineering principle. If you want to get water to your garden, but the hose diameter is too small, the resulting trickle will only serve to frustrate you. Building shelves that don’t rely on proper engineering principles are downright dangerous. Installing electrical elements without regard to the amount of current the circuit needs to handle will almost certainly result in a fire. In short, in order to know in advance just how well something will work and what you need to do to maintain it, you need to know the engineering behind it.

In the Building Larder Shelving post, you learned about the engineering behind building shelves that will hold up to the weight of canning jars, which is considerable. This is just one of many posts that I’ve created that define the math behind self-sufficiency. If you ever find an error in my calculations, please let me know so that I can provide an update with the correct information. It’s also important to realize that my calculations are for a specific project type and you need to use them with your project in mind (making any required changes).

Fortunately, there are other places where you can find interesting information about engineering principles. One of the best places I’ve found recently (as passed on by a friend) is Engineering Toolbox. This site provides all sorts of useful information about various engineering disciplines, including how to create the proper sort of concrete for a project that you have in mind. If you were to mix the concrete without using a recipe, you’d either end up spending way too much money for your project or you’d end up with a project that won’t hold up to any kind of abuse.

It’s incredibly dangerous to take on a building or maintenance tasks for which you lack the proper equipment or training. Always make sure you understand not only the engineering behind the task, but that you also adhere to any required building codes and obtain the proper permits and inspections, as required. More than a few people have gotten hurt by not taking the proper precautions, so always verify that every step of a process you perform is done correctly before you proceed to the next step. The care you take in performing self-sufficiency tasks will always pay dividends in your personal safety and the longevity of the project.

Finding the right site to discover just how to create, maintain, and tear down the equipment needed to be self-sufficient can be an adventure akin to the mysteries solved by Holmes. You need to exercise care in using the information you find and verify that information across several different sites to ensure it’s accurate. Of course, there always comes a time when you’re simply in deep water and need the help of a professional. Some professionals will mentor you in building your project (for a fee in most cases); others will let you help them perform the task so that you gain needed knowledge and experience.

Building and maintaining your equipment can be a lot of fun. However, doing it the wrong way can be a disaster. Let me know your thoughts about building and maintaining equipment at