Review: CompTIA Workbench Labs vs. PC Builder Simulator

I know a lot of you have been waiting for me to do a review of PC Builder Simulator. I also know that some of you have had the opportunity to fiddle around with the game, either the scaled-down freeware version or the full version. And I also know that there is a new version of PCBS on its way, but I wanted to get this in front of you, just in case you were curious.

PC Builder Simulator

Like so many sim style games, PCBS has some great features. It's funny, because this is, in all things, a game. But, it is a game that revolves around work, so I guess that's the great paradox here.

Like any simulator, the player has the option to be able to pull a computer in, do a 360° view of the machine, tearing it all down, putting all together, swapping out parts, that sort of thing. The only thing I did not see

The one thing I absolutely like about PCBS that we don't see in the training simulators (generally because it's out of scope with the exam), is the economy feature. With PCBS, the player has to be cognizant of their cash reserves, and their present inventory on the shelf. When an e-mail comes in requesting, for example, an upgrade to a graphics card, the player can't just swap in any new card that they will; they have to buy one that is within budget. So if they only have $200 for an upgrade, they're not going to be able to get a $400 graphics card.

As the player runs a shop within the game, there are external costs involved. A player can't just run their own CompuHut without paying the light bill or rent on the building, so if they don't have the appropriate cash reserves, they may find themselves not able to work because the power is turned off or paying a fine for late payment.

In order for the player to advance in the game, the shop have to be upgraded with additional benches, as well as upgrades to support software. The player has the option to build up a bench stock, but that's a gamble, because parts may end up getting bought that are needed, which can be sold back but significantly less than what were paid for them.

Another feature of the game is reputation. The player has to read the various e-mails and dissect within the request things that may be within the power of the player to do. E-mails come in from users that have a minimal reputation and if the player hasn't built up that reputation, they can't respond to the e-mail. If the reputation gets too low, the player may be consigned to malware scans and case cleanings until they can build up the brownie points to take on more trustworthy jobs.

There is also a small ethics component within the game. When a player sees the computer, there are little things on the desktop that may attract the interest of the player, within the game. If the player starts rummaging around a user's computer, that may end up costing the player reputation points for an ethics violation. Now, I haven't actually experienced this, because I am trying to grind the game up to where I can get the big jobs, so I'm kind of scared to take the risk. LOL. But then, isn't that the way real life is?

Finally, the last feature that I was able to experience in the game was what was called the IT Expansion, which basically takes the features of the game and put them into a semi professional corporate environment. The player will answer requests in a ticket format. Additionally, there is a copier in the office that will also require service.

CompTIA A+ Workbench Labs

Workbench Labs provide a guided tour and step-by-step process through hardware support. The software will provide a virtualized environment where the student is able to get a 360° look at a computer. There are step-by-step processes and procedures for doing certain things, such as installing a motherboard, graphics card, processor or RAM. These processes and procedures are designed so the student gets guided instructions on doing things step-by-step.

True to form with respect to the A+, part of the procedure always is safety. In other words, before you open up the case, you need to connect your antistatic wrist strap, and then remove it before powering the workstation. This is something that is not addressed in PCBS at all.

Additionally, where PCBS makes you hold down the mouse button in order to loosen or tighten every single screw that you may encounter, Workbench Labs at least cuts you a break, so all you have to do is click on the pilot screws and they will all magically find your way into their proper holes. This was apparent when installing a motherboard and having to install the motherboard riser screws (standoffs), as well as the other screws for mounting the motherboard onto the case.

At the very end of each Workbench Lab are about 3 to 4 questions that come out of the Lab just performed. Obviously, these are designed to reinforce the key skills that the lesson attempts to bring forth.

Final Thoughts

So when comparing these two packages, it's a lot like comparing a lemon with a lime; they are very similar, but have different characteristics that are germane to the style of play. Both I think are useful in an educational environment. CompTIA Workbench Labs are going to prepare the student with the necessary skills to pass the exam. PCBS provides a bit of realism in the form of entertainment. I do not think PCBS is a complete enough solution for a student to successfully be able to pass the A+ exam, but there are characteristics that are valid for real-life.

Have you had a chance to use either one or both of these packages? If so, put a comment below and tell me what your experiences might've been.

I am going through the Core 1 workbench labs and at this point I am more than half way through. I found the workbench labs impressive. I also went through the networking labs as well. One thing I found interesting is the use of Ubuntu VMs instead of Windows. This will give students a good exposure to Linux, which I feel is becoming an essential skill for any IT professional. These labs do a great job of leveraging cloud technology with integrating GNS3, Wireshark and other network tools. I was able to go “off script” and play around a little bit. I am excited to see if they use this same technology to teach some of the more advanced certifications.