Gaming computers, business computers, graphic design computers, and entertainment systems are all filling out their niche in the tech market. To figure out which systems you need, or to figure out which marketing terms are feeding you a load of rubbish, here are a few retail and custom computer details.
It’s All About the Parts
For a specialty computer to be worth its money, it needs something vital and useful that sets itself apart from other systems.
Specialty parts could mean adding a video card for a gaming computer or 3D CAD computer, or a special sound card with input ports to connect musical instruments if you’re a sound designer or DJ.
You need more than just “more power” and faster versions of the same equipment inside most computers. For example, a video card does something that a standard computer can’t do today: process complex graphics instructions to produce graphical results.
You could add the fastest processor on the market and install as much random access memory (RAM) as your system could hold and it won’t make a difference. Without a level of hacking that would make you a video card manufacturer in your own right, your system just wouldn’t understand what’s going on.
There are more subtle specialty systems that enhance a specific task that a standard computer could do. Entertainment systems, for example, include a soldered-on set of chips that add a small boost to graphics performance while delivering better sound.
These embedded chips are nowhere near as good as a dedicated graphics card, but people who watch Netflix, Hulu, and other streaming videos on their computers will be able to notice the difference in either quality or less computer performance problems.
Niche Upcharges May Not Be Necessary
For many systems, being better at a specific task means adding a particular part. It’s understandable that the piece may cost some extra money, but how much can you expect to pay?
Video cards can be anywhere from $75 to $500 at the “reasonable” hobbyist level, and it’s understandable to tack on a bit more for labor. Although installing a video card is as simple as popping a wafer into a slot for experienced computer builders and many computer gamers, it’s still a task that can quickly ruin an expensive part without a decent chance at a refund.
Don’t pay more than $100 in labor. If necessary, go to a website such as PCPartPicker.com to build the computers you see. The significant costs will be the motherboard type, processor model (such as Intel i7), the amount of RAM (DDR3 or DDR4 for modern systems), the hard drive or solid state drive (SSD) size, and the video card model.
There are a few other parts, but the price shouldn’t go beyond $200 in most cases. If you’re paying $1000 for a $600 computer, walk away immediately and consider having a private company or solo technician build a custom system instead.
A notable exception would be business computers. There is no “business part” to speak of, so you’re mostly paying for pre-installed programs and support services. That means having a copy of the latest Microsoft Office, Adobe Acrobat Pro, and other productivity software suites. They have a real cost that can be baked into the final product, even if the computer designer gets a discount.
That said, if your computer comes with nothing but trial versions of productivity programs, you may have fallen victim to a marketing scheme to make the cost appear lower, when it really is not. You may have picked up the wrong system or lack the instructions for activating your software, but it’s best to figure that out within a week before you’re stuck with the system.
The next time you shop for a new system, have specific tasks in mind. Be ready to weigh the price against the cost of parts and what you’d pay in labor if you went to an independent computer builder, and make sure that your specialty machine has all of the services you’d expect from the label and price tag.