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81. Proprietary versus Clone

By Andrew D. Wright

When shopping for a new computer one important question is whether to purchase a proprietary computer or a clone?

The answer will depend on your own personal needs.

A proprietary computer is a computer manufactured to a specific unique design by a single company and is generally not compatible with third party hardware. Computers from Apple, HP/Compaq, and Dell would be examples of proprietary computers.

A clone computer is a computer made up of standard interchangeable parts from various manufacturers. Your local computer store might put it together for you or you might do it yourself.

The proprietary computer has the advantage of centralized user support and (ideally) all the hardware has been designed to work well together. There is usually a generous software package included as well.

The clone computer has the advantage of better upgrade options, and more choice of computer components such as the video card and processor.

One disadvantage of the proprietary computer is that it has limited upgrade and repair options. You are usually stuck with sending the computer back to the manufacturer for any hardware problems. Upgrading the hardware is often not possible.

A disadvantage to the clone computer is occasionally hardware from different manufacturers will not work well together and this can cause any number of problems. It's good to do a bit of research when choosing the hardware components and any computer store worth their salt will be able to advise you on this as well.

Repairing a clone computer is usually easy because standard parts can be swapped out with working ones purchased from the local computer store.

Software is another point to consider. While some individual clone components may come with software (such as a couple of games being included with a video card, or fax software with a modem), for the most part you are on your own and software can cost hundreds of dollars.

Proprietary computer manufacturers with their larger purchasing power can get cheaper deals on software so usually include it with the computer. This can be a bad thing sometimes too. Windows users might not get a full CD of the operating system that can be used to set up a different computer but instead get a "recovery disk" designed only for the specific model of computer they have. The recovery disk will erase the hard drive of the computer and put back the factory settings. Bye bye personal information and other installed programs since there are none of the repair options available from the full Windows CD.

With a good choice of case and power supply, a clone computer purchased now can be turned into a new computer in two years time by replacing its motherboard and processor at minimal cost. Odds are pretty good this can be done again two years after that as the basic layout does not change very often.

Many components from the old clone will be able to be used in the new one without having to replace them.

Note about the previous Mousepad. The Knoppix 5 CD and DVD due to be released to the mirrors any day now includes read and write support for the Windows 2000/XP NTFS file system.

The Mousepad runs every two weeks. It's a service of Chebucto Community Net, a community-owned Internet provider. If you have a question about computing, email If we use your question in a column, we'll send you a free mousepad.


The Mousepad Index


Originally published 2 April 2006


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