A Case for the Desktop

The other day, I wrote about ripping my vinyl records and Noel said that he was interested in getting a turntable. The vinyl revival hasn’t escaped me, although it has puzzled me a bit. A compact disc revival I could actually understand. It did get me thinking to how these things change and that most alternatives have both pros and cons.

One thing that I believe has more cons than pros for many people is the laptop, as contrasted with the desktop. The main advantage of the laptop is that it is portable. Beyond that, I think they’re terrible. I have both a laptop and a desktop and I almost never use the laptop when I’m not traveling. I couldn’t imagine have that as my only machine. Almost everything I use a computer for I can do faster and better on my desktop. I can type more quickly. Editing photos is easier. I simply don’t do any graphics at all on the laptop. Plus, laptops are usually far worse for your posture. It’s much easier to find a comfortable position while using a desktop.

The screen on a laptop is almost always too small. I was surprised one day by someone saying that it was great to see their photos on a television because the screen was so big. For a moment, I was puzzled and then I recalled that many people have laptops. My own screen is so big that I’m pretty comfortable backing my chair up a few inches and watching a video, and it’s my favorite way to view photos.

I suspect these days people often choose a laptop without giving a desktop much thought. When my mother’s last computer finally died, her friends said, “Just go to the store and buy a laptop,” usually naming a particular line by a specific manufacturer. Instead, I built a desktop for her.

I would really encourage people, especially young people who may have never used a desktop at home, to try one.

If you do so, I’d also encourage you to build it yourself if you are so inclined. If you haven’t done it, it’s probably much easier than you think. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.

The other day, I went to Micro Center, an electronics store, to pick-up a few items. If you’re not familiar with Micro Center, it’s a chain of 25 stores around the U.S. They sell computers as well as some other electronics, but where they really stand out is that they cater to hobbyists and sell computer parts and electronic components. As I was on their website making my shopping list before schlepping out to Brooklyn, I noticed that they had a video of Micro Center’s CEO being interviewed by the founder of Adafruit Industries. It’s a little embarrassing, but I fucking love Adafruit. I have to control myself when I look at their website because I can blow through an absurd amount of money. Actually, now that I think of it, maybe the video was on the Adafruit website. (Trigger Warning: The following website might cause excessive salivating in sensitive individuals. (OMG! OMG! OMG! I wanna make this!))

At one point in the conversation, Lady Ada, the interviewer, asks Rick Mershad, “Do people still go in and build a computer by, like, getting a motherboard and a processor?”

Mershad responds, “It’s funny you asked. That customer is so important to us. I mean, there must be in every market that we serve… there must be fifty thousand people that want to build their own pcs, the reason being that they have a lot of specific uses and a lot of the manufacturers they don’t build pcs that were…”

Lady Ada at this point suggest some uses like gaming or engineering. Mershad adds graphics, which only confirms that he really does know his market. As an artist, I know that some of the most processor demanding tasks are involved in producing graphics. For some reason, it doesn’t cross people’s minds as readily as gaming does. Ironically, programming is one of the least demanding tasks, unless you need to test a program which is itself demanding of processor power. One of the reasons I built my own computer was that I wanted a beast of a graphics machine. Hence the great big screen. I keep threatening to buy a second one for a dual monitor set-up.

One of the great things about building your own pc is that you can have one that is suited exactly to your needs. As I said, it’s easier than most people seem to think. I just got a book. The book had several sample “builds,” but I didn’t follow any of them exactly. The kind people on the subreddits buildapcforme and buildapc suggested parts – just be prepared for everyone to disagree about what’s “best.”

You probably won’t save a whole lot of money building it yourself, but since you’re getting exactly what you want it will be a better value.

Here’s the whole interview. I actually thought it was pretty interesting. Also, a fun thing to look up is to look for images of computer case mods.

  1. Talking of building PCs, I built a pc when I was in campus. I think I will visit the electronic shops to see what they got here.
    I think I agree with you that the laptop’s advantage is portability.

    • fojap said:

      It doesn’t surprise me that you built one. 🙂 I wanted to for ages, but I just didn’t. I think the reason why some people, especially girls, don’t go into certain fields is a little more subtle and complicated than people think. There were a few people who discouraged me and told me that art was “nicer” for girls, but a bigger factor was social – and by social I don’t mean fear of being called a nerd. It was just that most of my friends didn’t engage with technology much and my parents weren’t interested, so it was just alien in a way.

      The internet has been a huge factor in opening things up for me. Being able to ask a question, not only of people who are not in your immediate social circle, but who could be anywhere, helps tremendously.

      • The things you are able to do inspire me to do more, to explore.

  2. I’m a former computer tech, and I built computers as part of the job. 😉 One of the things I used to bang my head against the wall about was the people who would buy an off-the-shelf cheap computer, then expect it to do more than it was meant to do, or ask me to “upgrade” it, or try to make it work after they’d upgraded it. My worst one was the couple who bought a cheap HP Pavilion with 256Mb of RAM, installed a very expensive high-end video card so they could do “video editing.” Then they called me because it kept “rebooting.” The problem was that the computer did not want to work with the card, it kept looking for the on-board video even after I disabled it. For what they’d paid, including my fees, I could have built them a computer which would have done everything they wanted to do, and more. My own recommendation has always been figure out what you’re going to do, look at the memory/video/disk space you’ll need, then double it.

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