The World’s Most Expensive PC Upgrade

One thing leads to another.

A month ago I thought I could upgrade my desktop rather easily to support video production. Now it seems that if I want to connect to an HDTV set for occcasional viewing of video footage, I need a PCI Express port to fit the video card onto. My motherboard doesn’t have this. It is exactly one year old. Upgrade costs will be $100 for the motherboard, and $40-80 for labor costs. (I want to pay someone to transfer the CPU so they assume the liability of damaging it).

Then, I need to spend $300 on the videocard and $200 on the sound card (I’ll be creating podcasts using the sound card too, so it will be doubly useful). Add $100 labor costs. So let’s tally up the upgrading costs: I have so far spent $100 on XP SP2, $200 on 2 gigs of memory (making 3 gigs total), $200 on a 400 gig SATA hd, 15$ on a floppy drive (not to mention $400 on Vegas 6 software).

In February I spent about $1200 to build this computer. This sounds like a lot, but I bought top of the line components (well, so I thought at the time). A year later, it looks like I will spend another $1100 just to do the upgrading ($1500 if you include the Vegas editing software). I am compromising on a few things. I still don’t have the latest and greatest dual core CPU or a high-def monitor (I’ll be connecting to my HDTV when I do my editing). On the other hand, when HD monitors do become affordable, it will be a relatively trivial matter making the switch. Also, for $2300 today, that’s not a bad machine. I just priced machines at HP, and for less than $2000, I could obtain a machine with 2 gigs of RAM, 500 gigs of memory, and premium but not hoity-toity multimedia cards.

Last year, interestingly, I was switching back and forth between whether to buy a HP or Dell machine vs. building my own. Yes, this month I am going to have to eat up the cost of a new $100 motherboard as well as a $70 video card. On the other hand, if I HAD bought a Dell or HP, it would have been next-to-impossible to repurpose the PC for new uses. I would certainly not have been able to swap motherboards without big sacrifice, and it’s likely I would have to ditch the motherboard and video card.

The fallacy of “throwing good money after bad” applies here. At what point do you stop spending money on a second rate system and buy yourself a brand new one? The problem here is not is identifying the money you are “throwing away” (with discarded components). Ignore what you are losing and focus only on the additional costs for today. (Of course, if you financed your PC over a two year period instead of paying it upfront, you are left with less flexibility).
I remember Paul Graham’s advice to high school students: keep your options open. I don’t love building custom PCs. On the other hand, it gives flexibility in planning for the future. If you can deal with bios upgrades or driver problems or the lack of technical support, there are dividends later on.

(To see the evolution of my thinking, see the video thread I started):

Incidentally, I still have to buy my tripod system AND my light kit. (and possibly an extra microphone!). I have days of research and forum trolling to go before I buy. Yes, managing equipment purchases can be a fulltime job.