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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.

On paper, the modular desktop PC seems like a dream come true.

Companies like Acer, which recently announced its Revo modular computer, promise to make PC component upgrades as easy as snapping together a few Lego bricks. The idea is that anyone should be able to customize their own desktop rig without the usual tangle of wires, finicky connectors, and exposed circuit boards. You may recall Razer making similar promises a couple years ago with Project Christine, a modular PC that didn’t get beyond the concept stage. And of course there’s the recently released Micro Lego Computer and its accessories, all of which literally look like Lego blocks.

While these announcements always elicit oohs and aahs from the tech press, in reality they just don’t make a lot of sense. Without a concerted, industry-wide effort to make the modular PC a reality, you’d be wise to steer clear of the concept. Here’s why:

1. Upgrades aren’t guaranteed

The promise of a modular system is that you can easily add new components or update existing ones, but that assumes new components will actually be available a few years down the road, when you get around to needing them. You don’t see Acer making any sort of promises in that regard with the Revo Build, and a major reason Razer abandoned its modular PC was due to resistance from component vendors, who wanted guaranteed margins and sales projections before they started making any custom modules.

It’s a classic chicken-and-egg problem. There’s no way your favorite graphics card maker would guarantee a lifetime of modular upgrades for a system that could easily be a commercial flop, and your average risk-averse PC maker isn’t going to make sales promises it can’t keep.

christine
Razer’s Project Christine concept, which never became a real product.

2. You lose buying power

Hypothetically, let’s say Acer does manage to get some vendors on board, promising at least five years’ worth of modules from various graphics card, CPU, and storage vendors. Unless each component type has support from at least a few vendors, buying this machine would essentially lock you into an ecosystem where there’s little to no competition. Combined with the use of specialized modules that likely cost more than a typical PC part, and you’d almost certainly be paying higher—maybe much higher—prices.

You’d also end up with fewer options overall. Want a specific graphics card from Nvidia? You’d better hope there’s a module for it—assuming Nvidia even supports the system in the first place.

3. The PC maker decides what you can swap

 

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