I think that comes under "Obviously a dozen other things come into the equation, too, but let's keep the list manageable."
I could easily add half a dozen essential (to me) other options, and two dozen not quite as essential ones. Ask other, and they might add a few more dozen examples. We might create a thread for that in the Lounge; I don't think it belongs here.
Nowadays, with the crazy conditions that often prevail in our workplaces, this has become an equally important feature for many when choosing/composing new computers. When concentration drops and work slows down due to uncomfortable external disturbances, every ability of a computer becomes almost helpless.
I thought it would be ok to mention these options here, but well, not here.
Something about which we often break our head:
"In the name of the Compiler, the Stack, and the Bug-Free Code. Amen."
I, too, "build" my own computer. Nowadays, that is like saying that you craft your own furniture, unpacking that IKEA cardboard box, inserting the screws in the right holes and tightening them. You can even make your own decision about where to place the pegs for the shelves, to design a bookrack with a unique pattern of shelf intervals (several of the most popular patterns are taken, though).
In my first "home build", even the COM port, i.e. keyboard interface, required a separate card (in my case, shared with LPT). The MB had no sort of video (and sound wasn't invented then). Network interface was a rarity, obviously not on the MB. RAM was on separate cards. An important criterion for MB selection was the number of slots; you had to make sure that you could fit in all the stuff you needed. Nowadays, the MB houses almost everything; "building" consists of fastening the MB inside the case with eight screws.
Last weekend I was helping out a friend who lost two PCs to the lightning; modern power supplies are rather sensitive to spikes. The salesman claimed that the PS couldn't be replaced, which was incorrect, we discovered when opening the cabinet. The big box contained a PS and a MB, that's all. But ... Where is the disk?? If I hadn't bought my first M.2 a few weeks ago, I would never have recognized it: The small 'platform' it made above the MB was almost unnoticeable due to other components along the long sides of the M.2.
Obviously, when I "build" my computer, I can select a different GPU. I can mount a supplementary internal disk, rather than using USB disks. Yet I consider this to be at the IKEA level of "building my own".
(Note: I still consider the survey question relevant: When I plug together the pieces, which pieces do I select for plugging together - a top rate CPU, or just 'upper middle class'? Do I fill all memory slots? Does the GPU cost more than all the rest? and so on.)
Building a computer is NOT like putting together an IKEA cabinet. You don't walk into a computer store and buy a box with all parts and instructions for installing them. You buy separate parts, usually from separate places, and carefully choose which pieces you want. And there's no guarantee the parts you buy will work together - that's up to you. Comparing it to IKEA is a huge over-simplification.
You are selecting, not creating. Like when I buy a new car: I select a motor size, an entertainment system, color and seat finish, and studded or un-studded winter tires. That doesn't make me a car constructor. Or builder. Plugging a card into a motherboard slot, along with the plugs from the power supply, doesn't make me a computer constructor/builder.
Sure enough: When I buy the car, the motor, stereo and seats are in place; they are not delivered as separate components. Buy the winter tires are. The ski rack for the roof as well. The baby seat. When I mount these, am I then a car builder? After a few year, the lead battery needs to be replaced - it was delivered as an integral part of the car. When I lift out the old one, and put the new one in its place, am I then rebuilding (or possibly even reconstructing, if the new battery is of a more modern kind) the car?
Another analogy: In the 1960s and 70s, top range SLR cameras (in the class of Nikon F) offered a multitude of viewfinders, focus screens, backs, and of course: lenses. The photographer put together what he needed for the job - all those components were field replaceable. Did it make the photographer a 'camera builder' to replace one focus screen with another one? When I switch lenses on my system camera, does that make me a camera builder? (The camera neither has a replaceable viewfinder, focus screen or back.) Where does the line run between mounting a lens and building a camera? Between plugging in a disk in the SATA socket or in the USB socket, and building a computer?
The was a period when every new computer I bought had a different bus solution, at least partially: Display cards (today: GPUs) switched buses evert year or two, and I think the card box in my basement has a complete selection of cards for every one of them. Also, there was a bewilderment of I/O-sockets: I had separate interface cards for hand scanners and flatbed scanners, tape stations, network and lots of other equipment. Of course they must match the system bus; for my next PC they might be useless. They must provide the right socket, of which there were dozens. And they had to provide the right signal on that socket; otherwise you had to mess around with adapters (which was a very common situation).
But that is many years ago. PCIe is 18 years old. I have never had any compatibility problems over those 18 years: Plug the card in, and it works.
USB2 is 22 years old. You can say a lot of negative things about USB2 (I frequently do myself), but it has replaced that mess of different plugs and cables and device-specific interface boards. The first few years (although mostly in the USB1 days) we were joking about 'Plug and Pray', but for the last fifteen years, it has been flawless Plug and Play.
Obviously, you will not buy a Canon lens for a Nikon camera. There is no such thing as an M.2 to SATA adapter (that I know of). You must have some basic knowledge of standards to select the proper components. But nowadays, interface standards are so well defined that components not working together (even though both parts follow the same standard) is extremely rare, in my experience. Actually, I cannot think of a single case the last ten years.
You may say that they 'sort of' work together, but not in an optimal way. Yes, that may be true. E.g. if you pick your external USB2 disk out of its box, the disk itself may be a SATA600 one that will work much faster if you install it with a SATA600 cable inside your tower cabinet. It would be similarly sub-optimal to buy old, slow memory chips if your mainboard can handle much faster ones. But you don't have to be a certified engineer to read the mainboard instruction booklet to select proper memory chips.
To put together a computer from a PS, a GPU, a few memory cards and possibly a disk (unless the MB comes with an M.2) by inserting them into sockets of a MB can be done without knowing the difference between a vacuum tube and a transistor. It requires no electronics competence whatsoever. Even selecting one GPU over the other, or an MB with one CPU socket over one with another socket, requires no knowledge of neither circuit design nor component technology. In my eyes, if you don't know the first thing about how the electronics work, enough for you to use that understanding in choosing one alternative over the other (both viable), then you are putting together pieces IKEA style - even if you were the one making the choice of finish and number of shelves in your cabinet.
For all I know, you may actually be highly competent with a Ph.D. in some specialized area of circuit design, knowing very well what your are doing. But anyone without such background could have done the job equally well, based on reading specs sheets and reviews published on Tom's Hardware and similar sites.
And there's no guarantee the parts you buy will work together - that's up to you.
Have you tried NewEgg's PC Builder thing on their website ?
From what I understand, they have some sort of big database trick to give you a little confidence that the specific components you buy will (or will not) fit with the other parts; the most obvious one being the CPU and the motherboard, but plenty of other stuff as well.
I have been seriously looking at it, but I'm still just too chicken at the moment.
Not sure where to find unbiased opinions about them.
Again, I haven't used them, and I'm asking; not telling.
I use pcpartpicker.com. It has the most comprehensive set of filters for searching. That helps a lot. I don’t rely on it 100% but it will warn you of major incompatibilities. They have lists of complete builds for every part so you can get an idea of what other people have put together. That could help if you’re doing it for the first time. You still have to research each component. It can take a while.
I don’t use Newegg much so I can’t comment on their tool.
I usually buy the components from Amazon or BestBuy because their prices are competitive and their return policies are good.
No seriously. Do you consider phones as a computer? My car is essentially a computer with 2 motors. Are IoT devices computers? If only laptops/desktops are computers, then I have not bought one in like 10 years.
You will never get a clear answer to what it takes to call something a computer. It is like asking how long is a rubber band.
I guess that most people would say that if all they see are effects that could have been made in this or that way, a programmed CPU being only one alternative, then they don't consider it a computer. Your (previous) car essentially ran in the same manner before it got microprocessors to monitor and control everything. You turn the dial on your radio: Nowadays, the dial sends interrupts to a CPU. In the old days, it would turn an adjustable capacitor to set the frequency, or a potentiometer to set the loudness. The sound coming out of the speakers is very much the same; you see the knob as operating the radio, not as operating a computer.
We had cellular phones long before they had microprocessors; we had the fully automatic, cellular NTM network from 1981. (A manual, non-cellular mobile phone network existed from 1966.) Pushbutton phones became common from around 1980. So even though GSM is a fully 'computerized' phone, a user hardly notices it; it works the same way as the old, non-computerized phone.
You can say similar things about all sorts of equipment with embedded electronics (and that covers about all but safety pins nowadays). Maybe there are some revealing clues, such as the touch panel on my baking oven, telling me that there is a CPU somewhere in there. Yet I am using it the same way as my old, all mechanical baking oven.
On the borderline is various electronic games. A number of games (say, Flipper) was originally mechanical; then you certainly didn't interact with a computer. When you interact the same way with a digital Flipper-clone, I find it hard to say that you are "using a computer" (any more than when you drive your car). Many modern games have been all-digital since birth. Are they computers? I would say no; you interact with them as a game, not as a computer.
But as a game developer, you relate to CPU, GPU, RAM and interrupts from the game console. Then you are certainly a computer user - even when you run the game in a debugger.
If you are aware of the primary components of the computer - the CPU, memory and such - then you are using a computer. If you are just aware of what they do for you, then I do not see it as a computer, but as a car, a game, a baking oven, a cash register, a stereo system ...
I remember from my childhood a case where a low value was a high rating. For the last 30 years, I cannot think of one such rating case. 'Lower is better' is limited to physical measurements, such as timings and resource consumption.
I just replaced a 9 year old laptop with a new one. I can't see much difference in performance. I don't game, so there isn't a need for crazy performance. I've rendered video with the new one and it isn't significantly better.
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