Build your own All-in-One PC

Custom building isn’t dead yet.

Many have wondered, with the rise of tablets, ultrabooks, and all-in-one (AiO) computers such as the iMac and HP Envy, if the days of being able to build your own desktop computer are numbered. Not that you wouldn’t be able to build your own system, but that it just wouldn’t be necessary. Back in the day when desktops were pretty much the only deal out there, building your own PC could not only save you money but give you a system better than many prebuilt ones. Today the desktop is declining and mobile computing is on the rise. While it’s not impossible to build your own tablet or notebook, it requires skills and engineering ability greater than most enthusiasts have. And none of them look as sexy as a Galaxy Tab or iPad.

However all is not lost, tinkerers! Intel is working with partners to help builders create their own AiO’s that can hopefully continue to give builders the challenges and satisfaction that making provides.

A recent article by Maximum PC details their own building of an AiO system and is extremely helpful for those interested in building one for themselves. While overall the process is the same as building a desktop, there are several crucial differences.

The 21.5 inch Loop 2150 L5 Touch

First, and most critical, are the core components. Intel offers a guide to components that is a must-read for anyone looking to build one of these systems. The two most critical choices to make are the case/monitor and the motherboard. Right now the only motherboard that is recommended for AiO systems is the Thin Mini-ITX. There are currently models out there by Intel, ASRock and Gigabyte, but finding these boards in the marketplace can be difficult. As far as the chassis goes, you’ll also want to refer to the component guide as well as Intel’s compatibility matrix to pair the right board with the right case. Many cases offer standard thermal solutions that will make pairing your motherboard and CPU much easier and guarantee a good fit, and many are also pretty sleek and offer 10-point multi-touch screens as well.

The other components, such as CPU, memory and storage are more straightforward but are still limited. As far as CPU goes, you’ll be getting an Intel i3, i5 or i7 chip. Unfortunately AMD’s APU chips, which are much better than Intel’s for integrated graphics, aren’t supported at this time. I believe that will change though if the Thin Mini-ITX standard becomes more popular. For memory you’ll be using the standard SO-DIMM modules available for notebooks, and these are easily obtained. You’ll also need an external power supply, SSD for storage (regular hard drives won’t work), and an internal wi-fi card (if it’s not integrated) all compatible with your motherboard. If you want an optical drive, you’ll need to obtain a slim one – check with your case manufacturer to make sure it’s compatible.

The second big difference is assembly. While things still go together in pretty much the same order, it’s extremely important to note that the internal components of your AiO are much more fragile and constrained than in your everyday desktop. Make sure to take your time and read directions thoroughly when installing.

The good news is that once it’s put together you’ll have a system that will have more life in it than your off-the-shelf AiO, as upgrading core components will be easier. Your system will likely blow the doors off any prebuilt system as well if you chose your components wisely. You’ll also have the satisfaction of showing off your sleek creation to all your geek friends. Maximum PC’s system ended up costing just over $1000, and featured a quad-core 3.1GHz Core i5-3570S chip that allowed the system to perform pretty handily in all tests. Considering that the HP Envy 23 sports an i3 chip and costs around $750, and the 21.5 inch iMac with 2.7GHz i5 runs $1300, you’ll see that building is not cost prohibitive.

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Posted on June 30, 2013, in How To and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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