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5 reasons why Lego-like modular PCs aren't as exciting as they seem

Jared Newman | Sept. 15, 2015
The idea of easily-swappable PC parts has been floating around for years, but still doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

If you build your own PC, everything is replaceable, from the power supply to the wireless chip to the motherboard. That’s not necessarily the case with a modular design, which may bundle certain components together for simplicity’s sake. The Acer Revo Build is a case inpoint, with its motherboard, CPU, and RAM built into the base unit. Replacing any of those components individually will take a lot more work—if it’s even possible. Swapping motherboards would be an especially huge hassle, because OEM copies of Windows are typically bound to a single motherboard.

Razer Project Christine
One of the swappable modules from Razer’s Project Christine concept. These components were so specialized that you would’ve had to count on Razer to provide support for the long term.

4. Your ability to repurpose old parts is hampered

One nice thing about building your own PC is how easily you can reuse old components. A spare hard drive could make its way to your next rig, while an old graphics card and CPU could form the heart of a new living room PC.

Repurposing proprietary modules could be a lot more difficult unless you happen to own another machine that uses the same modular system. Otherwise, you’d have to crack open each module to free the components inside. That could be a huge hassle if vendors don’t use standard screws or rely on adhesive to keep their designs slim and snug. And again, there’s no guarantee you’d be able to reuse components from a modular PC in a standard PC anyway.

5. Tweaking your own PC is kind of enjoyable

This is sort of a geeky point, but there’s something to be said for opening up a desktop PC and replacing the components yourself. Swapping a hard drive or adding a DVD player is not terribly difficult, and even building an entirely new PC is more intimidating than it is challenging.

heatsinks 19 of 20
Credit: Thomas Ryan

Once you’ve done it, you’ll get the confidence to replace parts at will, without the risk of lock-in, higher prices, and reduced choice that modular machines could introduce. You can even decide what the computer looks like, for better or worse.

Where modularity makes sense

In fairness to Acer, for now the Revo Build is only aimed at emerging markets, where the goal is to sell people a basic affordable PC and let them add new pieces when they can. The idea at least comes from the right place, though it may still do more harm than good if the components are more expensive than they would be otherwise. (Acer still isn’t talking prices for the modules.)


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