Book Review: Building the Perfect PC, 3rd Edition

I have a confession which may cost me a large portion of my geek cred.

I have never built my own PC.

This is not to say that I haven’t upgraded PCs, both my own and those owned by clients of the company I work for. I’ve installed RAM, hard drives, optical drives, and power supplies. I’m halfway to building my own PC, so why haven’t I taken the plunge? Put simply, it’s just been easier to go online to the Dell Outlet and buy what I want. For example, the laptop I’m typing this review on, a Dell Studio 15, I picked up last year for under $600. Here’s the thing, though: Dell and other retail PC sellers keep their prices down by using low end parts which have failure rates higher than normal. While you usually get a one year warranty on the PC you buy, you’re out of luck if something breaks after that year ends. While building a PC on your own may cost more, the quality and piece of mind you get are more than worth the cost difference.

This is where Building the Perfect PC comes in. This book, written by Robert Bruce Thompson and Barbara Fritchman Thompson, a husband and wife team who have written all three editions, presents multiple PC configurations based on their designed purpose, recommending the hardware for each configuration. Each configuration is given a chapter in the book, describing the purpose of the specific PC, the hardware chosen (and why), and step-by-step instructions, including pictures, on how to build that PC. Robert and Barbara also talk about why they chose the hardware components for each PC configuration and, after the PC is built, describes the results of the “smoke test” (if it smokes when you turn it on for the first time, you did it wrong), and gives their final thoughts on the PC they’ve built and the building process.

I’ve read through the book without building anything as I wanted to familiarize myself with how the book is written, plus I wanted to see which of the PC configurations I wanted to try. While reading, I enjoyed the writing style which the Thompsons utilize, referring to one another throughout based on the PC being built and their thoughts on each. There are also notes and interjections from other PC experts throughout the book, providing either supporting opinion or counterpoints to what the Thompsons recommend. Since I haven’t built any of the PC configurations yet, I will say that the instructions were very clear and, since the book was recently updated, the hardware recommended is still available. Even if the hardware is not available in the future, it’s easy to look up what models have replaced those recommendations and build a similarly priced PC with even better hardware.

If you’re looking to buid your first PC, this is definitely a book for you. Even if you have built multiple PCs in your geek life, you’ll still want to consider looking through this book to see if the hardware the Thompsons recommend are better options to what you currently use. As hardware continues to evolve, we’ll definitely want to keep our eyes open for the fourth edition of this book and see what Robert and Barbara have found to build their perfect PCs. You can purchase Building the Perfect PC at the O’Reilly website.