One reason to ditch the PC


A long time ago I had a dozen PC's running various of the x86 operating systems, including Windows, FreeBSD, Solaris and Linux. A dozen computers all at once. Yup, I was real hardcore.

Why? I don't really remember, but I learned one important thing. The typical PC hardware sucks big time.

I was reminded of this tonight while going through some old pictures. These are a series of pictures showing how to construct a typical PC from spare parts. I'd always meant to publish it as a how-to article but never got around to writing it. Instead I learned to hate the typical construction.

The reasoning is shown in the pictures. It's just completely insane how poorly the parts fit together. For example the motherboard is attached to a metal plate, but held away from that plate using "standoff" screws and little plastic bits. But what if you didn't get enough of those plastic bits, or what if the holes on the metal plate don't quite match the ones in the motherboard, and the metal plate has sharp edges which can cut you, and it's really hard to jiggle the metal plate into the correct spot once you've got the motherboard mounted, and then what do you do when you learn you've mounted the motherboard in the wrong orientation?

But, wait, that's not all ... on at least one occasion I screwed up the motherboard due to the flexing induced by pushing components into their sockets.

And then there's the endless series of parts you can install. But what if you don't have enough of the right kind of slots to install the bits you want in the computer? And what about connecting up the power supply connectors? I found that the power supply connectors were always done as pairs of connectors, but the pairs were never marked as to which was which. One of the pair is pins 1-9 (or some such), while the next was pins 10-18 and there were no clues which of them had what pins, so how do you know which are which? And will it kill the motherboard if you get it backwards?

And then configuring the motherboard once it's installed is strange. First installing the motherboard involves routing a bunch of cables so they run "neatly" through the case, a task infinitely harder than it sounds. Then to do the configuration you must make settings on the motherboard by connecting pins, setting dip switches and more. Those pins and dip switches are UNDERNEATH all the cables you just ran, and more often than not you may have to remove the cables to get to the pins and switches. Oh, and when you reinstall the cables will you remember to do them all? Will you remember the right place for them all to go?

Eventually I learned, this is nuts. I was wasting untold hours configuring and reconfiguring these computers just to get them running, and I wasn't getting done the work I wanted to do.

That's when I bought my first Mac. I'd never have bought one except OS X promised Unix with a pretty face. I bought my first Mac based soley on that promise, and have been happy that I did. Secondly I had heard that Mac's just worked, no mess, no trouble, they just work. And generally they do with very few exceptions.

In truth todays PC's aren't going to be quite as complex as the parts shown in the pictorial linked above. That hardware is now considered to be "legacy" and some of the bits and bobs are now integrated with the motherboard, such as USB. Further some of the parts, such as the old style keyboard and mouse connectors have been jettisoned. I haven't tried to build a PC from parts in a long time, I've been much too happy in the bliss of preconfigured machines. I'm also down to owning one, count 'em, one computer, and am getting a lot more accomplished today than I did then.