Skip to main content

Send us a Topic or Tip

Have a suggestion for the blog? Perhaps a topic you'd like us to write about? If so, we'd love to hear from you! Fancy yourself a writer and have a tech tip, handy computer trick, or "how to" to share? Let us know what you'd like to contribute!

Thanks for reaching out!

From DIY to DIFM: Why Every Mac User Should Build a PC

The day that I built my first computer is a day that changed my life.  

(Wow, how is that for an opening line? )

Although it’s quite a statement, the more I reflect on it the more I realize that it is true. As a lifelong Mac user, I had only ever ordered the most powerful computer within my budget, opened the box, powered it on, and started working. That is the benefit of that kind of system, you turn it on, and it works. 

This was not that.  

A transformative experience

Eight years ago, I saved up some money while working at my first real industry job at a VFX studio in Toronto. Several weeks of researching parts and reading PC build guides almost drove me to the point of throwing in the towel. It’s a lot of information to absorb!  

Luckily a good friend of mine named Dave pitched in to help guide me on my hardware decisions. I spent even more time finding deals online, placing orders, receiving orders, and letting a mountain of boxes pile up in my apartment until eventually I had everything I needed. It was time to build a PC.  

I spent the afternoon under Dave’s watchful eye carefully assembling the components in the case. We ended up using bits of plastic packaging to prop up the GPU and used about half of the screws we needed. This thing was far from a perfectly engineered machine, but it was my machine.

My first PC build. It was far from perfect, but it taught me a lot.

The moment I hit the power button for the first time I felt transformed. I had built something. I was a Do-It-Yourself PC builder!

Yes, but…

That computer lasted me 4 years with only a few issues and saw me through some of my first credits as a freelance VFX artist. There really is no greater feeling than building your own tools and then creating more things with that tool. So, when it was time to upgrade, it might come as a shock that I did not go out and build another PC.

In fact, I went and bought myself a brand new 2019 Mac Pro and a 120TB NAS. But, why?  

Even though I had the knowledge to build a DIY solution, I had other important things to consider. I needed to focus on presenting myself as a freelance VFX artist and building my roster of clients. What I did not have time for was to be my own IT department while still completing said clients’ projects.

This might come as a shock to some of you but a DIY computer and storage system that you’ve built out of available parts on a kitchen table has the potential to have some bugs or issues that can cause some serious downtime.

The do-it-yourself approach taught me a lot, but ultimately it was time to seek out a DIFM solution.   

What is DIFM?  

Do-It-For-Me. These are types of products are abundant in the postproduction world. Take for example something like a plugin or a motion graphics template. You could spend hours or even days on YouTube looking for tutorials and experimenting with different methods in After Effects to hack something together.  

Your client then gives you some less than stellar feedback that has you starting all over again. Instead, you could purchase a motion graphics template that is close to what you or your client is looking for and make tweaks to get it more in line with your vision. You’ve spent less time, energy, and money on what is an already a complicated and challenging part of the process. This has freed you up to tackle other creative challenges that pop up during your project.  

But what about DIFM when it comes to things like workstations and network attached storage? It’s usually cheaper up front to build your own computer with off-the-shelf parts. But that is if the hardware you’re looking for is available to build your own computer and storage. Assuming it is available, a step-by-step build guide for those specific parts might not be. It takes time and research to go down a DIY path that might put you back to where you started.  

How DIFM saves you time and money

Solutions like prebuilt workstations and storage are ready to go out of the box with only a little bit of work from the end user. They also come with things like support and hardware warranties that can give you a little more peace of mind. Why does any of that matter? 

Because your time and efforts are valuable. Your clients pay for your time to create content and when there is downtime because of a DIY hardware solution, that can take time and money out of your pocket to fix. 

Is your workstation or NAS not turning on? If your hardware is under warranty or you have a support plan, then call them and they’ll help walk you through troubleshooting. If something is truly busted, they can then get the process of getting a replacement to you. With a DIFM product, you won’t have to suffer alone and end up potentially missing deadlines on your paid projects.  

DIY-ers usually make the transition to DIFM-ers because they have found themselves in that situation. Hardware went down when they needed it most and they had no one to turn to other than a reddit thread and YouTube video from six years ago to help try to solve the problem. In that case, the pain of staying the same has now far outweighed the fear of change. DIFM hardware products can be a cost-effective investment for the long-term success of your business. But if there are plenty of solutions out there, what is the point of even starting off as a DIYer? Should we all just be buying prebuilt systems form the start? I don’t think so.  

So, why start with DIY?  

Being a DIYer is an important step to finding and critically assessing the right DIFM solutions for you. My biggest takeaway from building my own systems wasn’t that I suddenly had all the knowledge in the world, in fact, I found quite opposite to be true. I had gained an understanding of the process and learned to ask the right questions. When I was looking for a brand-new workstation and storage solution, I was able to outline exactly what hardware I needed based on the work I was doing, make a guesstimate of how long that would last me until I needed to upgrade, and determine what upgrades I could do on the machine myself.  

Although it was a higher cost than building from scratch I had an upgrade path, support, warranty, and a little bit of peace of mind. I was able to take on large scale projects where my prebuilt workstation and storage more than paid for themselves as tough work horses. But I would never have gotten there if I hadn’t decided to build a computer on my kitchen table.  

Conner Stirling
the authorConner Stirling
Conner Stirling has worked as VFX Editor, On Set VFX Supervisor, and VFX Production Manager on shows like Vikings, Mrs. America, SEE, and The Expanse.
Be Sociable, Share This Post!

Leave a Reply


  • But is it possible now with the new Apple processors to build a Hackentosh?

    • Jan, yes it is technically still possible to build a Hackintosh, but it’s getting harder and harder every year. However, as long as Apple supports Intel processors it should be possible. Obviously, Apple is headed in a direction where eventually all of its devices will be powered by in-house silicon. But even when we reach that day, Apple will still need to support legacy Intel-powered machines.

      So, the question is how long will Apple do that? How many more versions of macOS will remain Intel compatible once Apple stops using Intel chips? It’s not clear right now, but we can get an idea if we look at the upcoming version of macOS, Ventura. Ventura currently supports Macs as old as 2017 models. So, you could theorize from the day Apple discontinues its use of Intel chips, you’ve probably got about 5 more years of official support until new version of macOS require Apple silicon.

      The other caveat even to that math is that you could just install older, unsupported versions of macOS and still create a Hackintosh. And from there you might be able to expand the feasibility another 7-10 years depending on how useful that setup would be.

      Hope this answers your question!

  • Thanks for this, I could not agree more. The DIY approach to a PC is a fantastic way to understand one’s computing needs across all platforms. Over my career, I’ve always driven the hardware decisions based on the software needs and capabilities, so the pendulum has swung from Windows to macOS to Linux, and mostly all of the above at work simultaneously. Sometimes a macOS version of a professional application will come out. Still, when I conduct side-by-side testing, it’s often the hardware that has supported it the longest that continues to exceed benchmarks. My students and I have often become beta testers for this purpose. As a final note, DIY may always be a bit of a bleeding edge as far as the hardware components (in contrast to the massive single chips coming out) but its the application space that is driving radical innovation. I am fascinated with the possibilities for DIY supercomputer-like clusters using embedded computers e.g. Raspberry Pi and their like. Maker spaces rule!

  • Good article but there is already a name for DIFM, it’s called “turnkey”. We don’t need more acronyms than we already have…