Help me spec out a new work at home PC?

So my current personal home PC workstation, while once state-of-the-art long ago, is really starting to show its age. Still, I do most of my WAH work on it because it’s still faster and better than my ancient work-issued laptop. Also, the work computer is so locked down it’s almost impossible to use (for example, I’m blocked from adding an external HD to it for backup, for security reasons).

I’ve been holding off because of the graphics card shortage causing prices to spike, but I don’t think I can wait much longer. My two kids have been pushing for me to buy the parts and build my own as they both did, but though I’m perfectly capable of doing that (I helped them build theirs) I don’t feel like a project. It’ll be enough work to configure the software. I want, as much as possible, something plug-and-play out of the box.

My spec reqs are pretty simple and straightforward, I think:

  • Graphics capability to run the Adobe Creative Suite-- especially Photoshop and Illustrator. I don’t do much in AfterEffects, but I’d like it to handle AE easily as well.

  • Ability to support twin 1920x1200 monitors

  • Just be fast and capable as a workstation in general, enough to be useful for the next several years.

  • Budget maybe $1500ish? Can go higher if necessary.

Also, any advice appreciated, such as: how much capacity do SSD drives have these days- they used to be a bit on the small side, but I think they’ve gotten larger. And I heard they used to have a hard limit on their lifecycle. Has that gotten better lately?

Feel free to ask follow up questions if I haven’t given enough info.


You definitely don’t want to build your own? I recently saw a video titled “prebuilts are about to get much worse.” Something about how new power regulations will target or limit gaming and crypto machines, but the restrictions only apply to pre-built machines. If you build your own you don’t have to worry about it at all. Let me see if I can dig up that video…

I only “skimmed” the video so I may not have all the facts correct.

As far as SSD drives, I would start with a 1 TB M.2 system drive as the sweet spot of performance, space and cost.

In addition to that, for my machine I built back in February, I added a 2 TB traditional SSD as my data drive. I have been thrilled with both of those decisions ever since.

Well, the “about to get” part makes me think if I’m going to buy a prebuilt, now is the time.

As for building my own, like I say, I could, but I just don’t want the hassle. When my older son built his, at 14 or 15, he found he didn’t know nearly as much as he thought, so I ended up doing much of the build. Then on first boot, it started to power up briefly and went black. He had a meltdown. I’m pretty good putting stuff together, but I’m not a hardware guy. Did I do something wrong? Did my son? Was it a bad part? Where do I start with the troubleshooting? Ended up taking it to a PC repair shop, where they took it apart and rebuilt it piece by piece until they isolated a bad RAM chip.

I want a computer that works out of the box, or if it doesn’t work, I send it back and get another.

ETA: and I’m not a hardcore gamer, and I don’t do cryptocurrency mining, so I don’t think any power reg issues would affect what I need to do anyway.

Are you a Costco member? They have some PCs that are reasonably priced and I think they offer some services over and above what the manufacturers do. Here for instance is a Dell XPS tower system.

Ha! Can’t really argue with you there.

On the plus side, a $1500 pre-built should come with a much better video card than a $1500 system you build yourself.

I am! Or, my wife is, so it’s in the family. I didn’t even think of checking out Costco. Your link is encouraging-- 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD drive out of the gate looks like it almost gets me there for just $999.

I think I’d want to upgrade to something with a better graphics card though-- would ‘Integrated Intel® UHD 750 Graphics’ do what I need it to do?

Would you be willing to do some work for a mostly complete machine?

Where prebuilts really gouge prices are hard drives, where they typically charge double what it would cost to just buy the drive yourself and plug it in. One compromise strategy might be to get a pre-built with just a system drive (maybe a 500 GB M.2?) and then buy your own SSD data drive from Amazon or NewEgg or whatever and add it yourself.

Would you consider doing something like that?

Follow up question: How much hard drive space do you think you need?

Maybe? Intel’s integrated graphics are really poor, even the newer ones.

On the plus side, it’s free to try and then if it doesn’t work you can always add a video card later.

Dual 1920x1200 monitors doesn’t seem a very challenging requirement so maybe that Intel graphics card would handle it? Costco has fairly liberal return policies.

How video card intensive is the Adobe stuff he wants to do?

That’s the CPU integrated GPU, so it would use motherboard display outputs.

Here’s Intel’s reference for multiple display outputs from their integrated GPU.

The critical point is that for a 2- or 3- display setup, the motherboard has to have at least 1 Displayport output (2 for a 3-display setup) plus an HDMI. And one of your monitors needs to plug into Displayport (adapter cable will probably work).

Due to extensive supply chain shortages, pre-builts are actually a better option for most people at the moment due to the fact the big PC makers have better access than regular people on Newegg and other parts sites. I’m not sure how recently people have checked those sites, but the components on those sites are at all-time highs, and I’ve been home building PCs since the early 1990s.

There may still be some reason to build your own, but for someone just looking for a PC to do as OP described, and given the current supply chain climate, I actually think going through a big PC maker is your best bet at the moment.

Yeah, I mean I’ve swapped out HDs (though that’s a major PITA matching up a million drivers), popped in extra RAM, added video cards, etc. Thing is with one thing at a time, if the computer stops working you know it’s probably that one new thing. Unlike with a new build.

I have a 1TB drive in my current PC, which is a quarter full, so I could probably get by with a 512GB SSD, and have a good backup plan.

Bu tit’s not just about the monitors, it’s about the rendering capability, right? As mentioned I’m not a big gamer or CAD designer so I don’t need any huge 3D capability, but I would like it to handle Adobe After Effects (video editing / animating software) with ease.

Pre-builts give you much better value on video cards, but building your own gives you better value for just about everything else. Especially hard drives.

(I built my own back in February during these same shortages. It went great except of course I was gouged horribly on the video card I finally caved and bought after the Intel integrated graphics just weren’t up to snuff.)

Based on what you’re saying I’m thinking the $1000 to $1200 range is more appropriate than $1500.

I just honestly have no idea how much video card power you need for the Adobe stuff.

TBH, raw system power (RAM, CPU speed) seems more important for video editing, AFAIR. Video processing (transcoding, etc.) is often used as a benchmark.

A slow system may wreck your working efficiency. OTOH, if your current system is fast enough, a newer system will still be an improvement.

How do you feel about AMD?

I’m an Intel guy so I stuck with Intel (and Nvidia) despite AMD being faster.

I don’t really want to watch an hour-long video to learn what this is about, so I Googled. (See also this from The Register.) Apparently new energy efficiency standards mean that Dell, for one, won’t ship certain gaming machines to California (or to Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Vermont and Washington State). It only affects really high-end machines, though.

My needs were a bit different, but as noted, prebuilt was the way to go right now if you want even a decent video card. We have monster machines at the office (think RTX 3090, 64+ GB memory, giant monitors, etc.) and wanted something that would handle remote desktop connecting to those machines, but with equivalent resolution (30+ inch 4K resolution rocks if you wish to go from a multi-monitor to single monitor setup, which seems to be the preference amongst our users who have been remote with both). Still, it might not be a bad place to start (it was actually a few hundred dollars less when I bought them as they were on sale):