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Are questions like

"I want to build a gaming computer that does a b c and also does x y z for less than $___"?

on topic here? Or do they have to be recommendations about an already existing list of hardware that the OP provides such as...

"I'm building a gaming computer to do a b c and x y z for less than $____. I'm thinking about using a ... GPU and a ... CPU.

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This has been briefly discussed in chat here and there over the months, and it currently isn't on-topic either way.

Asking for a build from scratch
This is definitely the more off-topic question of the two you suggest. Although it has good intentions, this site only accepts questions asking for a single, specific piece of hardware. This means that asking for recommendations for entire computer builds (i.e., many different types of hardware) is easily off-topic.

Only a single type of hardware can be asked about in a question — that is the basis of the scope of this site.

Asking for a review of your build
This seems like it could work, and that's exactly why it's been discussed in the past, but alas it doesn't (at least not yet). It isn't really asking for a single product recommendation, but it also isn't clearly off-topic by definition — asking about a current build could possibly be read as asking for a recommendation. It's a gray area we currently have, and it's best to avoid these areas.

Additionally, as a few people have pointed out recently (example), a build review/the system in question could be seen as one piece of hardware. Going about it this way has its pros and cons though. Would they elicit too many broad answers? How would the answers be judged for quality? There are several downfalls to this approach, yet there is a chance it could work nonetheless.


If you really want to ask for or about a build, for now the best way is to ask one question for each component. This way each question is about a specific piece of hardware.

  • So for the second case, what is the appropriate action? – Jason Apr 6 '16 at 19:39
  • You could split it up into questions for each component. This has been done before, as Cfinley mentioned in his answer. See his link for examples. – Adam Apr 6 '16 at 19:41
  • I am deleting my answer as yours is better. Here is the link to my questions. – Cfinley Apr 6 '16 at 21:06
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I propose that for consistency's sake, custom PCs taken as a single piece of hardware really need to be part of the site's scope. There are some negative consequences I can think of which, in my view, heavily outweigh the benefits of excluding questions and answers which potentially deal with custom PCs, and I also think most of the problems this site's scope has with custom PC questions can be mitigated if we exercise this site's current best practices in moderation wisely.

As I understand it, the primary benefits/reasons for excluding these kinds of questions are:

  • We avoid ambiguity about our site's purpose
  • We avoid a lot of spam "custom rig" questions and answers
  • It is usually difficult to conclusively answer the question because of the very wide solution space (due to the combinatorial nature of the solution)

To be totally clear, I value all of the above and do not want to change anything if change would lead to a worse experience in any of those regards. However, I think there are some serious foundational/conceptual weaknesses with our current way of achieving those goals which @ArtofCode's question tends to lay bare:

  • Much like the classic Ship of Theseus problem of philosophy, it becomes difficult to define hardware as unitary or modular, since much of the difference is a matter of how we are acculturated to perceive "pieces" of technology.
  • Because of that indistinctness inherent to our definition of the cutoff point for our scope, it becomes difficult for askers and answerers to do their jobs well - it is difficult to define whether they are doing it right, and they will err often because of it. It effectively creates ambiguity where we sought to avoid it.
  • We are unwittingly biasing our site toward turnkey solutions, which in many, many cases, are not in fact the most desirable answer due to cost, inflexibility, or that they will be already known to most people who have done a little research in their area - this last really diminishes our value.
  • For people looking for advice on how to build their own computer, especially their very first, it simply replaces one kind of spam ("rig" spam) with another ("component" spam). Worse, it takes less effort to make a legitimate post about a single component than it would take to make a legitimate post (if such posts were legitimated) about a whole computer.
  • Requiring people to ask questions about individual components only instead of whole computers inadvertently places an unneeded and significant knowledge prerequisite on our askers, because many people who would otherwise be perfectly capable of defining their needs in terms of specifying the problem they want to solve with new hardware are instead asked to learn not only about the specific hardware which will solve their problem, but about entire classes of hardware which are only tangentially related to their problem (e.g. a person wishing to "play Witcher 3 at 1008p/60fps maximum settings for the least amount of USD and using Windows 10" - a question which is amenable to specific answers - must know about hard drives, even though the vast majority of things they learn about hard drives are immaterial to the question of whether their PC can solve their problem). Of course askers need to do research prior to coming here, but the difference between "doing some research" and "knowing enough about PC building to make a specific guess about the requirements of each component" is vast and, I think, unfair to askers.

That said, if we just did away with our rules about custom builds and opened the flood gates, I realize this place would rapidly become useless. Rules are needed to regulate "rig" spam into something more useful. I think it is possible to thread the needle on this and have some specific requirements which pertain only to hardware questions and answers which involve the recommendation of a whole computer system (in any form factor - desktops to phones). I am basing these recommendations on my work experience with how the FDA determines similarity of "devices" for the sake of 510K certification; they grapple with a remarkably similar problem:

  1. If an asker would ask us to recommend a computer (turnkey or otherwise), they should present the question in terms of using it to solve one specific problem (play one game title, render one specific video in X amount of time, etc.)
  2. If an asker would ask us to recommend a computer (turnkey or otherwise), they should include an example of one or more turnkey solutions which have been empirically or qualitatively determined to solve their specific problem, so that answers can be held to the standard of substantial equivalence in determining whether or not they constitute a helpful answer.
  3. If an answer would recommend a computer (turnkey or otherwise), they should accompany that answer with an explanation for how its specifications are substantially equivalent or superior. Explanations which rely primarily on brand preference should be disfavored compared to explanations which try to show comparative or empirical evidence of their sufficiency.

I am not sure whether that would actually put too much onus on answerers, and perhaps there are better ways of doing this, but I felt I should call attention to the problem with our current state of affairs and at least try to present a solution.

  • 2
    I'm going to pick on one of your answers. The issue with such answers, is that now I, as another answerer, can go change a single component (say that power supply) and post a new answer. Or, perhaps the video card (I mean, do you really need a video card in a server?). Or maybe larger hard drives (2x 2TB drives, or a larger SSD). There are so many possibilities that the answers become meaningless. You can't compare the responses on anything other than price at that point. [1/3] – Andy Jul 27 '16 at 23:00
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    By restricting it to a single component, a user can get much more focused answers for individual components. It also helps the user focus on what is important. If they don't care about a video card in their server that's probably not the component they are most interested in. If they are interested in both storage space and file access speed, they are going to focus on hard drive related questions. That's the problem they want to solve. [2/3] – Andy Jul 27 '16 at 23:00
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    They aren't trying to solve the "I need a new server" problem. They are trying to solve the "It is taking a long time to access my files over the local network" problem (or similar). Generally, you don't just go upgrade a computer because you can (some do, not all). You upgrade because something isn't working how you expect it to. [3/3] – Andy Jul 27 '16 at 23:00
  • I appreciate the level of detail in your response, but some of this is really easy to respond to. The idea that simply because multiple very similar builds CAN be posted makes posting builds at all a bad thing, for example. You will note in your own cherry-picked case that not a single other person responded to the question. You will also note that even with turnkey solutions, especially when it comes to computers, the number of options with only one or two spec differences is bewildering. If custom builds can't be too similar, then neither than turnkeys - and we have nothing. – Adam Wykes Jul 27 '16 at 23:48
  • Further, if you had read the question and my detailed explanation for my part choices, you would see that there are fundamental reasons why, for example, a GPU was chosen, why those HDDs were chosen, etc. It was such a good answer that the OP wrote "wow, thanks a lot, that is exactly what I was hoping to get. a very solid list I can work with :)". In other words, I was embodying, to him, what this exchange should be all about. – Adam Wykes Jul 27 '16 at 23:50
  • The issue of single-component recommendations in place of whole-system recommendations was addressed by me above, but your commentary doesn't really engage with what I wrote. I would be interested to hear why I might be wrong, but not so much in hearing a reiteration of what I already understand is the present thought process about recommendations. You guys have explained all that before, both to me personally and in general. – Adam Wykes Jul 27 '16 at 23:52
  • Sometimes the solution to a specific problem (in the case of the answer we have been discussing as an example, the specific problem was "over the time my claims and usage ot the server changed. At the beginning it was a little data and webserver for developing purposes. Now I want to use it for developing, compiling and as a game server. So more power would be great^^". This is not perfect - I wish he would have kept the goal to just one of those uses (he might have done the research beforehand to determine which task was likely to be the most difficult to accomplish and focused on that one). – Adam Wykes Jul 27 '16 at 23:55
  • However, it is a fairly detailed description of what he wants when you take into account his description of the machine he wants to replace, the posited hypothetical configuration, and the budget restraint offered. Because of my personal experience in that space I can warrant there are in fact very few optimal answers which would vary significantly from my proposal. The rest could be either downvoted or amalgamated into a single answer under the "substantial equivalence" rule described above. Let's chat about it if you have more to say. – Adam Wykes Jul 27 '16 at 23:58
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    While the OP responded favorably to your answer, notice the follow up questions. "What is better, but slightly more expensive?", "Can I upgrade in the future?", "Can I not upgrade in the future?", "Is the SSD that important?", "Is boot performance noticeable?", "Are these German parts the same?". This user doesn't understand your answer. You've provided them with a list and prose, but they don't know what it says. There are so many parts here for them to look at that it is overwhelming. They know they need parts, they kind of know what parts, but don't know how to compare them to other parts. – Andy Jul 28 '16 at 0:55
  • I would submit that this was not actually how the case proceeded; you can tell by his replies that he understands just how this system would perform when he discusses how he compares it to his current build and how he would use the SSD. He is simply someone who asks a lot of questions. Many of his questions are things he could find out easily; an assumption we must rely on for any answer that doesn't attempt to explain 100% of the reasoning behind anything. – Adam Wykes Jul 28 '16 at 1:24
  • One further thing to note; it is not like any of that uncertainty about comparisons and suchlike goes away if you simply recommend a Z400 from HP or whatever; heck, my answer in and of itself, without any additional commentary, is about 5x more useful than the copy you get looking at a turnkey's product page. – Adam Wykes Jul 28 '16 at 1:30

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