Life after PC build
December 31, 2012 2:50 PM   Subscribe

I recently built myself a PC for the first time since the 1990s and really enjoyed it. What fulfilling hobby can I grow from this?

When I was a teenager in the 1990s, I used to love building and tinkering with PCs. Then I went off to Uni, and other interests took over. I hadn't really touched anything other than laptops until a few months ago, when I took a chance and built my own PC for gaming, using the build-a-pc subreddit and the various helpful sites they link to.

I really, really enjoyed it and I'd love to get a hobby out of this - something about putting together a load of technical kit myself and then seeing it all lit up and working. But what should I do? Electronics? Programming? Is there some sort of advanced pc-building I can do?? I have absolutely no idea what to do next!

Has anyone got any ideas?
posted by sarahdal to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
In ham radio, kit building is still big. You also get to build/install antennas, which provides a different set of challenges.

You might also want to take a look at Make Magazine. Lots of interesting projects every issue.
posted by bitterpants at 3:00 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Have a closer look at either Arduino or Raspberry Pi which should fulfill all your needs or at least point you into new directions.
posted by KMB at 3:01 PM on December 31, 2012 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Something gaining a bunch of popularity is circuit-bending, where instead of building something from parts and making it work, you take something already put together and see if you can make it work differently.

A friend of mine, before realizing he wanted to go to school to be an electrical engineer, busied himself making effects pedals for his (and his pals') guitars.
posted by carsonb at 3:14 PM on December 31, 2012

I would love to build a quadcopter, but simply don't have the time :(
posted by ReiToei at 3:16 PM on December 31, 2012

Anal-retentive structured cabling, as seen in the wonderfully nerdy subreddit, /r/cableporn (link SFW, but all the links will have the word porn in them-- your call) Never forget your drip-loops.

Also second bitterpants' and KMB's comments above.
posted by Sunburnt at 3:23 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

What about getting involved in 3D printing? There are some interesting links in this "Ultimate Guide" from the aforementioned Make. For the most part, it's a hobby where you build and tinker with the printer, rather than just picking something up off a shelf that's ready to use.
posted by bcwinters at 3:26 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I can think of a few ways to go, depending on your proclivities and budget.

One option is to graduate from putting together a single PC, to putting together a network of computers, each running software to fulfilling a different role, which, in combination provides one or more useful services. This opens up the fun of equipment racks and network switches, and cable management, along with system configuration management, etc.

If the hardware aspect of the above is too expensive, or less appealing than selecting and configuring the software components, you could instead use one or two computers, and use virtualization software to carve them up into multiple virtual machines which could be connected in virtual networks.

If you want to scale up you can get an account with Amazon Web Services or similar and assemble even larger collections of virtual machines to run larger scale distributed applications.

In the other direction, you can start to play with things like Arduino, or Raspberry Pi, mentioned above to create and program digital gadgets.

Other options, distributed sensor networks, home automation, neighborhood area networking with fiber optics, or network cabling, robotics, RC vehicles, autonomous vehicles. "Desktop manufacturing" (3d printers, CNC machining, laser cutters...)

Possibly related hobbies, brewing beer, hydroponic gardening, salt water aquariums.
posted by Good Brain at 3:30 PM on December 31, 2012 [2 favorites]

There's also PC Case Mod and Overclocking/Extreme Cooling as two possible avenues, depending on your skills and interest. Got something roughly PC-sized? Put a PC inside it!
posted by Sunburnt at 3:32 PM on December 31, 2012 [1 favorite]

I should add that there is some oportunity for synergy between most of the things I mentioned. Also, most will accommodate as much or as little programming as you'd like, though you'll probably broaden your horizons considerably if you do enough programming to lash together software and libraries that other people have created.
posted by Good Brain at 3:47 PM on December 31, 2012

Best answer: If you want to dive down into the guts, learn to solder and you can put together kits like this one I bought from my Dad. I can vouch for that kit having complete instructions that aren't too hard to follow. And Evil Mad Scientist has more kits, many of which literally light up when they work.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:54 PM on December 31, 2012

Response by poster: All of these answers are great! Thanks everyone, plenty to look into here.
posted by sarahdal at 10:47 AM on January 1, 2013

A friend of mine created his own case from scratch using CAD software, a CNC milling machine he had access to at work, and the MicroITX (or similar) spec. He needed something that had room for a large GPU but could still fit in his backpack for transport, and seemed to have a lot of fun designing and building the whole thing. Maybe bespoke components would be fun for you, too?
posted by migurski at 1:41 PM on January 1, 2013

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