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Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

Posted December 17, 2012 2:00 PM by Mizuti

As part of an engineering forum, I can confidently say that at least a handful of you out there dabble in building/repairing desktops or laptops. Part of the fun in starting a new build or upgrading an old rig is looking at all the different parts by various manufacturers to optimize the performance per dollar spent. Any veteran of the hobby can tell you that one of the harder decisions comes down to what processor you're going to use and what motherboard you're going to socket it into.

For a while, there was a rumor that Intel wanted to streamline the manufacturing process and produce CPU's that are soldered directly onto the motherboard (here-by referred to as 'mobo'). The rumor grew so critically, that a spokesman from Intel made a rare appearance and gave the statement:

"Intel remains committed to the growing desktop enthusiast and channel markets, and will continue to offer socketed parts in the LGA package for the foreseeable future for our customers and the Enthusiast DIY market; however, Intel cannot comment on specific long-term product roadmap plans at this time, but will disclose more details later per our normal communication process."

Rumors of the death of the socketable CPU came when inside reports showed Ball Grid Array (BGA) CPU's that have to be soldered in place in order to be used. Intel is still continuing on this project, but assured the DIY community that they will continue to make products for the enthusiasts.

This isn't the first scare for the DIY hobbyists. MacBooks have already taken a step in this direction by soldering the memory directly onto the motherboard, preventing any kind of personal repair of the laptop and forcing a full replacement of both the mobo and the RAM should either become faulty. The battery is glued directly to the case of the laptop, making it nigh impossible for third-party techs to repair it should everything goes wrong. Instead, the whole laptop will have to be mailed in to Apple's battery replacement program for the low price of $199.

Microsoft's latest operating system, Windows 8, doesn't hurt the DIY market. Rather, it attacks desktops as a whole. I had the opportunity to play with it when it was a "Developer Preview". At that time, here was a registry tweak that could be performed to disable "Metro", the touchscreen over world of your computing device, and get the start menu back. Once I had the desktop mode that I was familiar with, the system commands actually ran particularly efficiently. With the actual software however, the Metro was been built directly into Explorer.exe itself. What that means is that Metro will always be the first thing you see on your desktop-- always. Rumor has it that there might be a way to use a Windows Explorer shell replacement to bypass it, but the typical user won't be able to figure it out. Businesses don't even have the option to disable it via group policies, leaving a clunky initial interface to deal with. Even with a mastery of Metro, it would seem that the whole user interface is built heavily around the ability to touch the screen, insinuating that the operating system was developed largely for mobile devices such as laptops, phones, and tablets. Large, brightly coloured buttons to attract the attention of consumers that want the "latest and greatest" litter the screen to show all of 10-15 restricted applications. I say restricted because most of the apps you'll find on a Metro screen come right from with Windows App Store. If you want something else, you have to jump through a set of restriction called API partitioning. I won't get into the details of that now, but suffice it to say, it's extremely limiting.

There is some hope on the horizon. Over the years, more people have turned to Linux-based OSs and modular designs for a variety of reasons, and a plethora of companies have created a more user-friendly world for desktop enthusiasts. Screwless cases that have you simply pop in a hard drive replace the cases of old that were machine cut to have razor-edged corners that could easily slice a cucumber in two. Modular power supplies make cable management easier than ever by allowing users to plug in only what is necessary instead of fumbling around with the extra cables throughout the case. Even if Intel were to jump ship and focus entirely on mobile platforms, we can rest assure that the demand is out there to allow some other business such as AMD to come in and save us from buying the un-optimized, ill-efficient, cookie cutter desktops for three times the price.

These thoughts are biased and open for discussion in the comments below!

Sources:

MaximumPC - Intel Company Committed to Sockets

Recyclers disagree on impact of glued-in Retina MacBook Pro batteries

MacBook Pro battery replacement

Metro app restrictions


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#1

Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/18/2012 3:52 AM

The sooner the major retailers offer a Linux based system as well as/ instead of Windows to make it available to the man in the street the better.
I actually think Microsoft has slowed down the developmental history of computing rather than expanded it. (especially the diy aspect of computing in a software sense)
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#5
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Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/20/2012 12:05 AM

The retailers are not given much choice, neither are the children. The only operating system used in the local school system, from kindergarten to graduation, is the one they will never be allowed to learn (or even legally look at), due to license restrictions. Does Microsoft have that kind of strangle hold over the school systems over there?

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#7
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Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/20/2012 2:48 AM

In Edinburgh, the local council provides a massive upgrade of Win PCs every 3-5 years. They state that they are used because of the back-up services which come with them. Schools are allowed to buy 'appropriate devices for learning' from their own budgets, so music departments have Macs with GarageBand, computing depts get Macs with Scratch, etc.... and the council pays licence fees for MS programs where Open Source alternatives are just as good, in the belief that the 'back-up' (read: bug fixing) is essential. There was a time, around 15 years ago when all Primary Schools used Macs, apart from the admin systems.

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#2

Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/18/2012 4:44 AM

Modular systems are nothing new - SGi used them since the 80s.

The problem is that with mass production and business optimisation, the standards introduced became a millstone to progress.

New and different are too expensive and quirky compared to the mass produced expectations of the media. The latest gadgets expect a mere swipe to produce the desired result, but how are these methods ever going to be accurate enough for designing the very machines they operate on?

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#3

Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/18/2012 9:01 AM

I think a lot of companies will start developing SW that is designed to run on mobile platforms rather than desktop/laptops. The point being that it's easier to design it to work on the mobile platform first rather than convert it later. Desktops/laptops as we know them, are dying out. So a Linux-based OS that is designed towards the mobile devices will probably be a big win.

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#4
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Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/19/2012 11:41 PM

It was a great win! Android is Linux based.

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#6

Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/20/2012 1:14 AM

I was contemplating something along these very lines not long ago. The way computers are put together doesn't make sense "this day and age". Higher speed, cooler running, lower voltage, etc are all things which can be done better and more efficiently if the components are are fixed in place...not socketed.

I have done my fair share of computer repair for 25 years and lament the days of actually working on a device...but those days are gone. Remember when Very Large Scale Integration was the new thing? Putting all of a CPU's components on one chip was considered crazy at first. We resisted that, too. The time for completely integrated PC's is overdue.[p/]

The industry cannot rely on not hurting hobbyists' feelings. Things like that never stopped the automobile industry.

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#8
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Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/20/2012 7:46 AM

To a degree, I don't mind the soldered CPU to the mobo, since I typically upgrade both around the same time anyways. Heck, we might even benefit from it in terms of overall performance.

I'm mostly concerned with the trend, particularly the one that Apple is taking that many companies are trying to follow wherein everything becomes proprietary, and a "genius" has to be used to repair your device.

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Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/20/2012 9:59 AM

I see your point that repairs are difficult (or near impossible) for most, but I have found Macs to be extremely reliable - we still use a pair of G3 iMacs. Computer parts are proprietory (Currently with the exception of RAM & HDD), and the OS is designed to work optimised to the system.

With Apple, reinstalling the OS is simple, as often as needed. I am more concerned about MS's methods where a single component change can make the OS unusable, causing reload issues or even re-purchase of the software.

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#10

Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/20/2012 3:53 PM

The only thing that worries me about all this talk of the "death of the PC", or the "death of the DIY PC" is that suppliers will take this to heart, options will start to decline, and prices will start to go up.

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#11

Re: Is the Death of the DIY Computer on the Horizon? [Opinion]

12/24/2012 10:36 PM

I'm wondering how long it's going to be before apple bails out Microsoft.

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Barchetta (2); cwarner7_11 (1); Del the cat (1); GM1964 (3); Mizuti (1); phoenix911 (1); The.Tinkerer (1); Tom_Consulting (1)

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