I was asked to revise the Foreword I wrote for the first edition of this book, but I found there was no need. A few details have changed, but the principles haven't.
However, the details are important. My main systems at Chaos Manor now mostly run with dual core (both Intel and AMD) CPU chips. Since the first edition of Building the Perfect PC, the video card scene has changed several times. Intel lost its dominance as the maker of the fastest desktop CPUs for the money. AMD took advantage of the Intel stumble and surged ahead to its highest market share yet. AMD and nVIDIA joined forces, and now AMD has bought ATI. Case designs have changed. We have both DDR and DDR2 RAM to contend with.
If you have the first edition, you know how important the book is, and when you contemplate building a new system, you'll be wise to upgrade. And if you don't have the first edition, this remains the best book you can buy if you're building or planning to build a PC. Now read the Foreword to the first edition.
Jerry Pournelle, Chaos Manor, December 2006
Foreword to the First Edition
I presume you're reading this because you've either just bought this book, or you're thinking of buying it; so let's get that out the way now. Should you buy this book, or, having bought it, should you be happy you did? The answer is yes. If the subject of building your own computer interests youand why in the world are you reading this if it doesn't?then you need this book.
That out of the way, we can look at the broader question of whether you should build your own computers.
As I look around Chaos Manor (http://www.jerrypournelle.com) I see that I have over 20 computers, all networked, and I built nearly every one of them myself. The exceptions are Princess, an ancient Compaq desktop Professional Workstation running Dual Pentium Plus 200 MHz CPUs; a Mac; a Tablet PC; and another laptop. No one in his right mind builds his own laptop or Tablet. I keep Princess because I've had her for a decade, and she hasn't been shut down in more than a year, and I haven't the heart to scrap her; besides, she's still useful for doing long web searches. Until fairly recently I had a Compaq Professional Workstation (Dual 750 MHz Pentium III) as my communications system, but I retired it a few months ago in favor of a new 3 GHz built here, and since then every server and workstation added to the Chaos Manor network was built here. Clearly I must like building systems and using them.
It wasn't always this way. Until a few years ago I had at least as many brand-name systems as home-built "white boxes." Then came the consumerization of the PC industry. Manufacturers were forced to make cost reduction after cost reduction. Some of those cost reductions were not wise. Some were disasters. Worse, component makers were themselves competing on cost. It became more and more difficult to build a quality line of PC's to sell at any realistic price.
It is still possible to buy quality computers. You'll pay for them, though, and sometimes having paid an arm and a leg you still won't know what quality you have bought. There are still big companies with mission-critical tasks who are well advised to buy the very best machines from top-of-the-line companies; but most users and small businesses would be better advised to consider building their own, or having them built to specs by a trustworthy local shopand this book is indispensable when it comes to writing out those specifications.
In general there are two reasons why you build your own systems. First is if you want the highest possible performance using only the latest and greatest components. When new and better components come out, it takes a while for commercial system builders to change over, and the first ones to come out with the latest in high performance demand and get premium prices. If you're interested in building a really screaming machine, you need this book, because building that kind of system is tricky. Components like power supplies, cases, and fans are important, and information about why they are important is often hard to come by. You'll find all the information you need in this book.
The other reason for building your own system is to get the best performance and quality for your money, and to customize your high-performance system for your specific needs. You probably don't need the very best performance available, and often you can get more than good enough systems at dramatically lower prices. These are known as "sweet-spot" systems, and once again, if that's your goal, you need this book, because that too can be tricky. Sometimes saving money isn't a good idea at all. You can fudge on some components, but you're better off paying premium for others. Bob and Barbara Thompson offer great advice on which is which.
So. If you're thinking of building your own system, you need this book to give you some notion of how difficult it's likely to be, and help you decide if it's a good idea; and if you're determined to build a PC, you need this book because most of us who build PCs have picked up a number of techniques and tricks over the years, and the Thompsons know nearly all of them. Learn from our mistakes. It's a lot easier.
Jerry Pournelle, Chaos Manor, August 2004