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Standardized and Proprietary Designs
One of the greatest things about the general design of PC systems is that they are modular. While they may seem to be mysterious "black boxes" in some ways, they are in fact made of mostly standardized components that are connected in standardized ways. This is called an open design and is generally considered to be responsible for the success of the PC platform over the last two decades.
Standardization enables the relatively easy interoperability of different components within the PC world. It is key to the wide breadth and depth of different hardware and software choices that make the PC so flexible and accommodating. It is what makes it possible for the average person to make his or her own custom machine, or to repair one that uses standard components. It's not always perfect, but it beats the alternative: a closed design, where one company or group of companies controls what hardware you can use in your system.
In order to get the real benefits of standardization, however, one must make use of standard components and designs. Unfortunately, some PC designs forsake the open nature of standard PC designs by incorporating proprietary designs. These are systems where the PC maker has decided to use components that are not standardized, or has implemented standard components in a non-standard manner.
The designers of such systems usually have good intentions. They typically decide to make use of proprietary designs because they feel they can deliver a better product to the customer at a lower cost if they do this. And sometimes this is in fact the case: some people like the special features of certain proprietary designs. After all, a generalized modular design cannot be as readily tailored to a specific need as a special one.
Unfortunately, you know the old adage about road paving and good intentions. :^) The problem with proprietary designs is, well, the fact that they aren't standard. (How's that for a nice circular definition?) By moving away from standardization, proprietary designs give up the advantages of standard components. Here are some of the more important issues with such systems:
It's not the case that a system is either "standardized" or "proprietary"--there is a spectrum of designs. Some PCs are made entirely of standardized components, but proprietary machines still use at least some standardized parts. You have to find out, however, what is standard and what is not in such a machine. The most proprietary designs are the "all-in-one" systems that include everything in one physical case, which are sold like appliances. Be very careful of such designs, because if anything goes wrong, everything is affected. If your PC has the logic components and the monitor in the same case, what happens if the monitor fails, or you decide you want a bigger one?
Note: Pretty much all notebook
PCs should be considered proprietary. This is one of the reasons why you should only
consider a notebook if the portability these units offer justifies their weaknesses.