Well it happened a few months ago really. My sister’s laptop finally bit the dust. The screen was cracked and fuzzy, the casing falling to pieces and weird noises emitting from the machine constantly. Of course this is to say nothing of the now dismal battery life of the machine after years of use (and probably abuse). Instead of opening the machine for the Nth time and trying to doctor up some sort of competent technology, I told her to give me some money and I would just build a better desktop for her at an affordable price (probably near the cost of a ‘cheap’ laptop).
Well after a few weeks, I finally completed it and here it is:
Over the next few paragraphs, I will show you the pros and cons of the Desktop and why I made my decision regarding that versus having her buy another ‘affordable’ laptop.
Why a Desktop vs a Laptop?
There are 3 reasons I opted to have her get a desktop versus a laptop:
- Price to Performance – Desktops tend to be more powerful than laptops for a lower cost.
- Durability – Desktops can take a beating and I know many people who have had older computers for years
- Upgradability – A custom desktop parts can be upgraded every few years to keep it current
Price to Performance – Desktops blow the laptops out of the water in terms of performance versus price. Especially if the same level of parts are used. I mean I am not telling you anything new. The biggest draw of a laptop is the portability factor. Performance isn’t an afterthought, but with a battery-powered device with huge performance, expect a decent laptop to cost $1500 or more. Screw that. It is more cost efficient to get a $1000 desktop and a $500 laptop to instead of having a $1500 laptop which is gonna have some sort of trade off (Price/Performance/Heat/Durability/Weight/etc). For my sister this is true, but if you need portability and performance (for creative work, video editing, and such on the go), then buy all means get a machine that pays your bills 🙂
Durability – Desktops last forever. I am sure some of you out there have old Dell desktops from 10 years ago with Windows XP on them that still turn on. On the flip side of a coin, I had laptops that become unusable after 2-3 years. Even deleting files and replacing parts on them seem to have no effect. Maybe $1000+ laptops fair better but I can guarantee that a $500 laptop isn’t going 3-4 years with daily travel and use.
Upgradability – We talked about price to performance and durability but the big part of a desktop is that it could be upgraded every few years to keep it current in terms of performance and modern updates. Some general upgrades that could be done every few years are: Hard Drives for more storage space, a Video Card for better performance in games and creative work, and RAM for better multitasking and increased number of programs. Each of these upgrades can range from $50 (for 1 Terabyte hard drive) to roughly $100-$200 for a newer model video card. These are small prices to pay for additional years of life out of a machine in a time where everything else tends to bring or become usable in a bid to force you to upgrade.
BluReign – What will it be used for?
This desktop will be connected to 32-inch TV operated through the wireless keyboard and mouse combo. This will be used for playing games (Second Life, Stardew Valley, etc), doing productive work (using Microsoft Office and online tools), and of course watching Youtube, Hulu and Netflix in HD without any sacrifice to quality or expandability.
BluReign – The Nuts and Bolts
I won’t go into much detail of the basic computer parts (such as the hard drive and the processor, but they will be listed at the end) but I will explain my decisions regarding the video card and the additional accessories and why it all matters. Regarding the most basic parts, the machine will get many years of use out of it. I did plan for upgrades in the future to extend the life even further. Additionally, most parts can be reused in a new case or with a new processor, compared to something like a Dell or HP where most parts are NOT interchangeable. So on the main course, the accessories and major parts:
The Logitech MK270 Wireless Keyboard/Mouse combo is what I use on a day-to-day basis. It comes with batteries and one USB dongle which you plug into the computer to have the both devices auto-sync. After a brief period, everything is good to go. The mouse takes 1 AA battery and lasts for roughly 12 months with constant use. The keyboard takes 2 AAA batteries and lasts for roughly 18 months. Both devices automatically turn off to save power, which can easily be initiated again by just clicking the mouse or hitting a key. For BluReign, this combination means someone can be across the room and use the computer on the TV screen without any issues, either to play a game or to click the next video in the YouTube playlist.
I know Windows 7 is old and that Windows 8 and Windows 10 is out but I have a mentality about Windows operating systems: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” For all intents and purposes, Windows 7 is reliable enough for my sister to user on a day to day basis without any hiccups (and or calling me). There is the guarantee that anything she buys for her computer will WORK out of the box and there isn’t any additional need for troubleshooting. Really it seems to be I just threw this on here, but you really can’t argue with peace of mind when it comes to your operating system. I still used Windows 7 on my desktop and I refuse to upgrade to Windows 10 at this time, because I place more value on having something that works in 99% of all cases versus the latest and greatest (in terms of an operating system). Maybe you feel the same way, maybe not.
This is a set because you need both of them for the purposes of my sister. Since I did state that she will be playing computer games on BluReign, it is important to have a controller to play games with since her computer is connected to her TV screen. There are about 3 reasons why I chose the Xbox 360 controller for this purpose:
- Ease of Use – Games that support a controller 99% of time supports the Xbox 360 layout right out of the box…no setup needed. A few examples I can think of is Grand Theft Auto V, Just Cause 3, among others.
- Durability – I use the same setup and mine has been going for 3-4 years so far. That’s including all of the drops and spills and pizza grease from constant use.
- Stability – I listed this separately from Ease of Use because in this case, I am thinking about the OS (Windows 7). Windows 7 will be 10 years old in 2019 so I can bet there won’t be any surprise drivers/updates that would disrupt her playing to where she would have to call me. Always plan around future headaches. ALWAYS.
I have done it multiple times on my machine and if you didn’t know any better, you would think we were playing Xbox until you saw me quit and switch games.
I added the CD/DVD as an external add-on. There are some cases where even in 2016, you may need a CD/DVD reader or burner. With most media being consumed through Youtube, Amazon, iTunes, Netflix, and etc, there isn’t hard requirement to have a built-in CD/DVD drive. Even though the cost would be about the same, the portability this options gives mean that it could be used for other computers or laptops in the house. I personally keep one around just in case I need give someone a copy of a file or video and I don’t have a free USB drive around. An external CD/DVD option is useful in certain cases since a lot of the newer laptops forgoes including a built-in drive to save on space.
And for the last accessory, I got her decent headphones and a microphone for use in games, Skype and other stuff. There are hundreds (maybe even thousands) of different types of headphones and microphones out there in the world but I chose this particular set because of 2 reasons (the same 2 reasons mentioned elsewhere in this write-up) are AFFORDABILITY and DURABILITY. After spending hours on research, I opted for this microphone and headphone combination. At the price point for both items, they just can’t be beat. The microphone can hook along the line of the headphones so my sister doesn’t have to worry about having that in her way.
BluReign – How does it perform?
The machine performs very well. I haven’t seen any slowdown at all. And in games, everything is buttery smooth for the types of games my sister plays. I figure a quick upgrade in the future would be a SSD for faster loading times. If you want to see some video recordings of the machine, just leave me a comment and let me know and I will try to record some games and/or anything else you want.
What if a laptop is needed in the future?
If my sister needs a laptop, I always suggest getting a second-hand BUSINESS class laptop for use when away from the Desktop. There are 2 reasons why I think this is the best course of action. One, business-class laptops tend to last longer than the normal 2-3 years of a consumer grade laptop. And secondly, a business class laptop (even a few years older) tends to have enough power and performance to keep it ticking for years on end.
Personally, I am rocking a Dell E6400 when I needed a laptop which I purchased from Craigslist for $60. You can see see pictures below. This machine has Windows 10 on it and has been working like a champ.
The Dell E6400 came out in 2008, so 8 years ago but all I have done was add extra RAM to the machine for $20 (bringing total cost of ownership to $80). Is it sleek and sexy? No, of course not and it has a little weight on it but the most important part is that it works for what I need it for. I will be sure to update this post when I find my sister a suitable laptop in a price that I think is fair.
BluReign turned out really and I was surprised by the gaming performance using the RX460 from AMD. Doom 2016 was definitely a treat to be running it on near medium to high settings at 30 frames per second with no slow down. For most games tested (everything but Doom) I was able to record at 60 frames per second at 1080p HD resolution without any noticeable difference during actual gameplay. She likes the system very well and spends a lot time of using it. I am just happy it turned out better than expected and that i went with a path that is easily upgradable. To be honest, if she wanted a “new” machine in 2 years, I could replace the CPU and the motherboard and plug in everything else and she will be good to go. Also by making a custom PC, she can upgrad a part as needed instead of shelling out hundreds of dollars upfront. I expect her to get 2-3 years out of BluReign until upgrades are required to see the investment continue to pay off.