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Computer Builds

Introduction

Photographers spend an inordinate amount of time on their computers processing images.  While they recognize post-processing as necessary, and most even come to enjoy it as they gain proficiency, no one relishes sitting in front of a slow or error prone computer.  What they want is a computer perfectly in tune with how they use it.  The bottleneck of waiting for the computer to process a task every time you click the mouse to largely disappear.  Yet, everyone understands they don't need the latest fastest system to achieve this, but many go shopping for just that.  And most of the time they end up with a bunch of expensive parts which don't fit their specific needs, and/or don't work as expected.

Notebooks and laptops are attractive pre-built options, and they just keep getting better and better.  But they still leave much to be desired for a complete imaging, video editing, or even intense administrative functions like a professional's day trading or online marketing machine.  Often a client needs both, a laptop/notebook for field and travel use, and a much faster workstation with large secure storage once back home.  With all the new technology available, coupled with aggressive marketing, many people find themselves without an obvious choice.  And sometimes they know what they want, but finding it in Thailand, and the person to build it eludes them.

This is where I come in.  Anyone who has read my About Page has noticed I have an strong technical background in electronics, computers, and cryptology.  What it doesn't say is I was a VAR (value added reseller) during my college years, designing and building systems for students and faculty alike.  Since, I've maintained a professional interest keeping up on the latest technologies and equipment.  This came in very useful when writing reviews, building my own workstations, and helping clients build their own workstations. 

Since my return to the states I've had a few dozen clients express regret I'm no longer physically there to help them, and while they accept I can make a list of parts for them, they don't want to take the step of putting it together themselves.  While in Thailand I designed and assembled many workstations for clients, so I thought "how can I provide the same service from my location in America, and still make it financially feasible?"  Having recently accepted and completed several build requests, and started a few more, I've come up with some attractive solutions.

 

The Solution

I will help you evaluate your needs, we'll discuss available technology and choices, and then we'll order what we need to build your system and ship it to you in Thailand.  Let's go through the process by the numbers:

1.  We discuss your individual workflow, what bothers you the most about your current system, how you'd like it improved, and then I'll present the best choices and price levels to get there.  Often this is the most time consuming part of the process, but you must be comfortable with your choices so it's not an area we try to save time with.  Though, every once in a while I get someone who doesn't want to discuss anything, they just want the best and that's that.  We can accommodate.

2.  I'll take what I learned from our discussions, do research as necessary, and then propose a system, or perhaps several.  We might go back and forth several times discussing certain aspects of each.  I call this the "discovery process" where we both learn more.  Me about your workflow and desires, and you about how different choices come with different advantages and disadvantages.  This is where a comfort level forms and you become more sure of what you want and how to go about getting it.

3.  I'll complete a shopping list on my favorite resellers website of each individual component in your system.  This will be emailed to you from this website and at this point you'll know the equipment you need.  You can either place your order on this website, or shop around on other websites for a better deal.  I choose specific websites for a combination of low prices and a decent return policy, but if you find another you like more I encourage you to use them.  You'll have them ship the parts to my address.

4.  Upon receipt of the parts I'll unpack and inspect each item.  I'll put aside your receipts, warranties, accessories, and instruction manuals in a large sealed envelope.  Some items like your power supply will be tested.  Power supplies are tested for the correct voltage, and then I'll use an oscilloscope to test for excess AC ripple voltage which is a critical measure of a power supplies quality and function.  Each component will be inventoried, inspected for shipping or other damage, tested as necessary, and prepared for assembly.

5.  Next, your new system will be assembled.  Assembly is more than plugging the right piece in the right place.  Assembly is often about making the best choices for component placement, and then taking the time to install it correctly.  Airflow can be severely restricted by simple mistakes like positioning a fan in the wrong direction or allowing cables to block airflow.  We check fan direction and neatly route all wires and cables making sure to secure them with guides and wraps.  Your CPU and GPU coolers (if ordered) will be carefully installed.  These components are checked for flatness and lapped if necessary.  A tight fit ensures proper heat dissipation. Finally, a high quality thermal compound is applied and the coolers installed.  Drives are installed and their cables routed.  The power supply and it's cables are then placed.  Before closing the machine, everything is double checked one more time, screws are snugged, and a power cord, keyboard, mouse, and monitor attached.

6.  With your new system assembled and ready to go it's now time to power it up, run diagnostics, and set up your system BIOS.  Your new system will be powered via a Uninterruptible Power Source (UPS) for protection. Often I'll need to update the firmware in your BIOS, SSD, and other components and now is the time this is done.  Not upgrading firmware properly almost always results in "bricking" the component requiring a warranty return, so it's critical it's done properly and near support facilities in the event something goes wrong.  I'll check CPU, GPU, north/south bridge, RAM, and other temperatures both at idle and under load.  It's during this testing phase where problems with new components or installations are found.

7.  Finally I'll install your operating system and any other software you ordered.  Once completed all Windows updates are completed and the newest driver for each component is sourced from the manufacturers website and installed.  Every component is covered.  This is an important step, drivers are most often upgraded to fix performance and/or error conditions so it's critical these are properly done.

8.  Next, I'll benchmark your system so you know where it stands performance wise, and then I'll set it to run under load for the next 48-72 hours to fully burn in while monitoring temperatures and air flow.  As a last step I'll once more run diagnostics to ensure all is well, and then your system will be powered down and prepared for packing.

9.  There's a lot more to packing a system for international shipment than just stuffing it in a box.  The machine must be opened up once more, and supports placed where needed to ensure heavy video cards and other component are supported during shipment.  Once this is done I'll take a photograph and mark each piece of protective material so you can easily find and remove it on receipt of the system.   Finally, your completed system will be double boxed and your manuals, warranties, accessories, and receipts enclosed unless instructed differently.  Often, some or all of these items are requested to be shipped separately. 

10.  You will be notified your system is ready for shipment.  I recommend you make arrangements for your own shipping online via Fedex or UPS or I can do this for you if you prepay shipping costs.  I recommend you ship it either directly to Thailand (in which case I'll fill out and complete your custom labels as per your instructions on description/value), or to www.shipito.com where they'll ship it internationally at steeply discounted shipping rates and allow you to fill out your own customs label online.  We can talk more about shipping options once you contact me.

 

Delivery Time!

This is a fun moment.  Your new system is delivered to your home, or is waiting for you to pick up at your local post office depending on which shipping carrier you select.  I recommend you follow these steps:

1.  Inspect the outside of the box for any shipping damage.  If there is damage snap some pictures before opening.  Place your shipping documents near the box and take a clearly focused picture.

2.  Carefully open your new system and place the envelope containing your receipts, warranties, accessories, and manuals to the side.  Place your new computer on your work surface.

3.  Referring to the photos I emailed you, open the case and carefully remove the materials I placed to support the heavy components.  I'll number the pieces themselves, and on the photograph.  Make sure you check the numbers to get them all.  Close the case.

4.   Now it's time to have fun.  Connect your power cord to your UPS device, plug in your mouse and keyboard, and power it up.  It should boot directly to the desktop.  Set up your desktop and install programs as desired.  If at any time during any part of this process you can call or email me for assistance.   Use your new system for the next few days and make sure your satisfied.

5.  You might have noticed that I haven't purchased your components or even paid for your shipping.  You've handled all the payments yourself and I prefer it this way.  I mark-up nothing and receive nothing back from the resellers I recommend.  All I get is the fee we've agreed on, and if you're satisfied with your new system, now is the time to transfer my fee to my local bank.  If you're satisfied I'll have more than earned it.  If not, I won't expect payment.  It's your choice.  I don't do this for the money, though I do put this money to good use inside Thailand.  I do it because it serves potential workshop clients, it keeps me current, provides occasional equipment review material, and it allows me to give back to Thailand.

 

Questions and Answers (Q&A)

Q.  Is it economically viable to purchase a system this way as compared to having a local Thai builder build it for me?

A.  Including all equipment costs, shipping costs and my fee, it is often less expensive than local purchases.  In any case it will be close. The United States is the largest market in the world for such goods and the prices are significantly less expensive than in Thailand, often enough to compensate for the associated shipping charges and my fee.  Thai customs fees vary by how you fill out the custom forms.  We can talk about this via email.


Q.  Are there advantages concerning equipment availability and choice?

A.  Absolutely!  The manufacturers serve the world's largest market well.  All the newest equipment is shipped to dealers in the states often months ahead of arriving in Thailand.  Everything is available, while Thailand is limited.  You've read my equipment reviews, often I mention having to order certain items in the USA because they weren't available in Thailand.


Q.  Are there any items I should purchase in Thailand regardless?

A.  Yes.  Some items due to weight, or because they're fragile, make shipping from the USA problematic.  Monitors are one example.  They are fragile, heavy, and require more warranty support than other computer components.  I highly recommend getting your monitor(s) inside Thaland.  Of course we can source and ship monitors if there is no availability.  UPS devices are another item you should purchase inside Thailand due to both weight and warranty.   As we discuss your build I'll always make sure you know when it's a more sound choice to buy locally.


Q.  What about manufacturers warranties?

A.  Most often, if an item requires warranty support you'll be able to contact the manufacturer and request local repair or replacement.  This has been my personal experience 9 out of 10 times.  In any case you can always send the item back to the states as a last resort, though many components are not economically feasible to be serviced in the USA due to shipping charges.  Properly built, and powered through a UPS, component failure will be rare.  This is an area I'm rarely concerned with.


Q.  Computers are great, but what if I need something else sourced in the USA and shipped to Thailand?

A.  Sure.  Let's talk about it.

 

 

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