The return of the desktop PC (but not really)

January 13, 2013 § Leave a comment

Back in the “day” (which for me was the 80’s and 90’s), most families had one PC, and it was usually a monster of a box that sat in a specific place. Laptops were uncommon, and heavy, and personal computers were pretty expensive.

Jump forward 20 years, and almost everyone has multiple computing devices that they use ever day in multiple areas of the house, and on the go. In my own house, we have at least 13 internet-connected devices, almost all of which can be easily picked up and taken with us somewhere. I haven’t had a traditional desktop PC in my house for over 10 years.

And yet, that’s exactly what I set out to build over Christmas break.

I’ve been dreaming of a powerful, media center PC for a long time…at least 8 years. I made one attempt at it about 6 years ago, but the technology I was using wasn’t powerful enough to make it all work. But the prices of components have come down enough that I was able to purchase everything I needed without breaking the bank. I was also able to leave out some components because of how I consume media. For example, we haven’t had a DVD player in my house for quite some time because we watch all of the movies we want online. The physical DVDs that I do have have all been ripped and stored digitally, so I didn’t need to put a DVD or even a CD drive in my new PC. A wireless card would be nice to have, but I recently updated an old wireless router with dd-wrt and turned it into a wireless bridge that I keep by the TV, so I’ve plugged my new PC into that. I also didn’t get a keyboard or mouse because, well, that brings me to my next point.

Ever since I laid my hands on a Chromebook, I knew I had to have one. But having a Chromebook would mean that I’d have to store all of my files in the cloud. I’ve been slowing moving this direction for a while. I removed Microsoft Office from my personal and work laptops last year, using Google Docs for all of my word processing. My music lives on Google Music, and when I do purchase new music, it’s usually from Amazon or Google, so if it’s from Amazon, I just download it and upload it to Google again immediately.

The photos I take with my phone are automatically uploaded to both Dropbox and Google+ Photos (aka Picasaweb), and my mail has been Gmail for at least the past 6 years.

But there was still the problem of my photos. I have a lot (over 20,000) going back more than 10 years. I’m a picture guy, and I just like having a local copy of all of those. Of course, I also wanted at least one cloud backup, so last summer, when was offering 50 gigs for free, I jumped on it. I uploaded every photo I had to it, and at the end of every month, I upload the photos from that month.

I’m also incredibly lazy, and I really hate doing a manual upload every month. I wanted to find a way to automatically back up everything in a specific folder. Enter Picasa. I’d started using Picasa a few years ago when I switched from Mac to PC. It does a great job organizing photos, and as a bonus, it will automatically sync any folders you choose to Picasaweb. The only problem is that you can’t upload your photos full-size, of your very quickly eat up your 5 gigs that Google allots. It’s not ideal because it’s not a true cloud backup, but for the past year or so, it’s been my go-to, along with uploading to

In addition to being lazy, I’m also cheap. I know that I could pony up for 100 gigs on Dropbox, or Skydrive, or Google, or SugarSync, or any number of other services (and trust me, I’ve tried all of their free versions and checked the pricing on all of them – Skydrive appears to be the winner on price and how big a file you can actually upload), but I just can’t seem to pull the trigger.

I DO already have a Flickr Pro subscription, and I thought that a sync tool for Flickr would be the key to my photo backup woes, but the two that I’ve tried crashed and burned. Disappointing, but what can you do. I’d love to see an official Flickr sync tool (not one made by a 3rd party) because Flickr is actually ideal for my situation: I don’t have a lot of anything else that I want/need to upload to the cloud EXCEPT photos. Flickr gives me unlimited storage at full resolution for under $30/year. If they had a sync tool, my problems would be solved!

But…we’ve finally come full circle. The Chromebook. with gift cards and store credit, I had enough to get one from Amazon. As a bonus, if you buy a Chromebook, you get 100 gigs of storage on Google FREE for 2 years. While that’s only a temporary fix, it is a fix, nonetheless. So now I just need to go into Picasa and change my sync settings to upload full resolution photos.

And where, exactly, are those photos now that I have a Chromebook? They’re on my media center PC. A mammoth (by today’s standards) metal box sitting in my entertainment center.

This is the point I’ve been trying to get at. With a single, centrally located, full-on PC, I don’t need to carry around all of my stuff with me. Carrying a laptop with all of my music, photos, documents, etc. on a hard drive that’s going to take abuse and is bound to crash (I’ve already replaced the one on my laptop once) just doesn’t make sense. I have a PC that I can remote into from anywhere in the world from a web browser so if I ever need to power of a full PC, I have it. But for day to day computing, the most I need is a web browser and a keyboard, and the Chromebook fits that bill very nicely.

I will say that since I get everything put together, I’ve spend quite a bit of time on remote desktop on the new PC just trying to get everything squared away. But in the very near future, I suspect we’ll be using the PC more for entertainment than for doing any kind of work.

As a final point, I’d like to talk about cost. I moved from a Mac a few years ago, and for less than the price of a new Macbook, I built a quad-core, Windows 8 desktop with a 2 terabyte hard drive, and 8 gigs of ram AND purchased a Chromebook that weighs less than 2.5 pounds, boots in less than 10 seconds, and allows me to access my quad-core media center from anywhere. I’m just sayin’.


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