Wossit cost, then?

Originally published 2003 in Atomic: Maximum Power Computing
Last modified 08-Feb-2013.


How much does a computer cost?

That depends on who you ask.

[NOTE: This page is really old! You don't need to e-mail me about how out-of-date it is.]

Ask a typical with-it Atomic reader and you'll get an itemised quote, featuring the latest tweaky motherboard with striped lime-green and International Safety Orange PCB, a processor that's five steps down from the fastest one you can get but has an 83% chance of overclocking to 15% above the fastest one's sticker speed, a couple of sticks of RAM that total as much storage as sixteen thousand C64s, a video card that preferably takes up two slots but must require an auxiliary power cable, a case that weighs about as much as a milk carton and has a factory fitted side panel ant farm, and a smattering of other components chosen on the basis of a democratic survey of the opinions of Tom, Anand, Kyle and Agg. And maybe me, if I'm really lucky.

The price of that little lot is likely to wind up around $AU2000 (in the vicinity of $US1400, as I write this). Assuming you value your time assembling the thing at zero dollars an hour, that is.

(If you'd like to build your own machine but you're klutzy, or just too darn busy, then bear in mind that some computer stores - like my friends at Aus PC Market - will assemble a PC for free, if you buy a whole computer worth of parts from them. Hard to complain about that.)

Now, try asking someone's uncle who reckons he knows a bit about computers, seeing as how he's bought four brand-name boxes since 1983.

He'll nip off to ibm.com.au or dell.com.au or the now-interchangeable hp.com.au and compaq.com.au (or, of course, the local equivalents, if he doesn't live in Australia...), and play with the Build Your Own Box That Your Cheeky Nephew Will Laugh At widget until he's come up with something with most of the CPU power of the abovementioned pile-o-components, almost enough RAM, a fatal flaw somewhere in the graphics subsystem (if he manages to get a fast video adapter, he'll pick a slow-response-time LCD monitor to go with it), and a case that seven out of ten focus group participants agreed looked "serious, yet stylish".

He'll probably pay at least three grand Australian for that, because that's what a decently fast computer used to cost.

Now, try asking a Linux geek. Try to find a mellow yet knowledgeable one - somewhere between the ones who get angry if you don't say it "GNU/Linux", and the fakes who don't even have a beard.

Hi-ho to ebay.com.au you'll go - or auctiontrader.com.au, in case they've got a liquidation batch - in search of a perfectly serviceable used P-II (or, these days, slow P-III) box for a couple of hundred Aussie bucks, at most. You'll probably get a monitor as well, for that money.

You're likely to end up with a superannuated business machine with 64Mb RAM, a well-used low capacity hard drive and The Worst Mouse You'll Ever Touch, of course. But for unpretentious users of the Finnish OS, that's A-OK.

Search for used computers on tradingpost.com.au and you'll find a lot of people who need to be told that they're dreamin'. But if you just need a basic box, hit the auction sites and you'll find that the price/performance ratio of unsexy machines two CPU generations behind the cutting edge really can't be beat. Just stay alert for hard drive failures, and clapped-out CPU or PSU fan bearings.

(Oh, yeah - spend another $AU400 on a new hard drive and more RAM than existed in the whole office where your cheapo PC used to live, and an auction site P-II will happily run WinXP. Shh.)

Now, go and ask an corporate PC procurement nebbish. In between soulful stares at the Dilbert cartoons on the walls of his cubicle and tiny facial twitches, he'll spec out a $AU1000 box that'll be on eBay for $AU150 by the year 2007. He'll probably pare the price down by picking a P4 Celeron, a small-ish monitor and the bare minimum RAM needed to run Windows, because nobody ever got fired for making a computer take five minutes to boot.

His advice probably won't help you much, though, because the same box will cost you a quite undeserved $AU1500 if you don't have the buddy deal he has with his Preferred Supplier.

That deal's not worth what he had to do to get it. Trust me.

OK, so what's a computer cost, if you ask me?

Well, I'm not a big fan of brand-name machines. I'll give you all a moment to get over your astonishment about that.

I suppose brand-name boxes can be good for people who reckon they're likely to need a slab of free support, but really, if you Just Want A Computer For Home Stuff And A Bit Of Word Processing and you're not too PC-savvy, be sensible and get a Mac, OK? If you're short of cash, check out the second hand Macs on eBay. Perfectly good CRT iMacs, $AU500 to $AU1000. Quality beige G3s cheaper than old P-IIs. Bewdy.

Back in PC-land, a titchy low-noise microATX-or-smaller box is now a thoroughly sensible choice for a lounge room PC, or for anybody who needs to tote their PC to and from the office or geek gathering regularly. You can throw a good one together for a thousand Aussie bucks, sans monitor.

But, of course, you wouldn't catch me using something the size of a toaster as my everyday PC. God would be angry.

It's full ATX mobo, funky case, bit of an overclock, build it yourself for me. Naturally. And yes, two grand Australian sounds about right.

If you're part of the Australian population segment that regularly sends letters to their Member of Parliament complaining about the law that precludes non-cola soft drinks in this country from being caffeinated, thereby forcing you to attempt to recreate the authentic LAN party Mountain Dew/Bawls experience with water, Fruit Tingles and No-Doz, then I'm presuming you'll be with me on this.

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