Tinkering with Computer Guts

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I’ve recently heard—and had—conversations on the subject of “P.C. versus Apple”. If you know me, you know I’m firmly in the Apple camp. This is mostly because I prefer the Mac OSX operating system. But also I do like the way Apple computers are built and designed. Sure, you can get a plastic laptop for $500, but it will not be nearly as tough as a machined aluminum MacBook Pro. On any $500 laptop the keys will undoubtedly be chintzy and the hinge will probably squeak and bow as you open it.

Perhaps more frivolously, Apple products are sleek and pretty. I like the way they look. But there is one area that Apple is soundly defeated in the P.C. versus Apple argument: variety. If you are looking for a lot of choices, Apple is not your company. For example, there are currently two Apple laptop lines, the Air and the Pro. There are a couple of tiers within each of these lines, but that’s it. If you want an Apple laptop, those are your choices. You have two choices.

There are people (smart people) out there who seem to simply hate Apple and all of its products. Despite shouts about pricing or just being “too designy” I think many computer buyers get frustrated at how few options Apple offers. Add to that, with the exception of the Mac Pro, most of Apple’s computers are somewhat limited in their configurability (when you buy a MacBook Air, you don’t get to choose the WIFI card).

Of course, this lack of variety isn’t hurting Apple. They have clearly differentiated themselves, even on the product line strategy. And being different is helping them.

When shopping for a P.C., it becomes obvious is how confusing it is to buy a computer. Dell’s homepage asks if you will be using the computer at home, work, public sector or large enterprise.

Here is how Peter Bright, writing for Ars Technica, explains shopping at Dell.com:

It’s even worse if I just browse without searching. The options I get are just… meaningless. Yes, I want “Everyday Computing,” so I want an Inspiron. But hang on, I also want “Design & Performance,” so I want an XPS. Wait a second, I want “Thin & Powerful,” too. So maybe I want a Z Series? But the only line that apparently matches my broad search criteria — lightweight, 11-14” — I wouldn’t even consider because I don’t want a “gaming” laptop, and so I’m never going to click Alienware!

I used to use a Dell as my primary computer (back in the days of Windows 98 versus Mac System 8), and I enjoyed tinkering with it. Over the three years or so that I owned it, I upgraded the video card. I upgraded the hard drive twice. I eventually added a CD burner. And I really enjoyed tinkering with the computer guts. I learned quite a bit about computers in the process.

But over the years, I’ve let that go. Really, I had to let it go. I no longer really have time, nor the inclination, to be unendingly modifying my work station. On a typical day I may be color correcting photos, editing videos, writing HTML & CSS or doing layout in an InDesign file.

These days, tweaking or modifying my computer is downtime. It’s lost time. It’s lost money. And it’s frustrating. My computer strategy these days is simple: buy a top-of-the-line computer, max it out in terms of hard drive space and RAM, and use it as long as possible. Sure, I miss tinkering with computer guts, but I can get over it because tinkering with computer guts doesn’t help me get anything done.

Ars Technica link via Daring Fireball.