computer: build or buy?

OK, so the other day I saw the link to Tech report suggestions for various systems. I liked the Utility Player. Buying from New Egg it comes to $841.
But then I went to Costco and saw an HP with the same processor. So I go online and I find that I can configure it to almost duplicate the utility player and the cost is damn near identical.
So the Utility player has the following specs:
Processor Intel Core i5-750
Motherboard Gigabyte GA-P55A-UD3
Memory Kingston 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3-1333
Graphics XFX Radeon HD 5770 $159.99
Storage Western Digital Caviar Black 1TB (6Gbps)
Samsung SH-S223L
Audio Integrated $0
Enclosure Antec Sonata III w/500W PSU

TheHP has:
Processor: Same
Motherboard: ? Who knows.
Memory 6 Gigs
Graphics: 512 Radeon 4350
Storage: 640 gig HDD 3GB/second Yeah it is smaller, but I haven’t fill a HDD in years)
Optical drive: Lightscribe 16X multi drive
The kicker is the cost is $32 less and includes the following
Windows 7 64 bit Home Premium
multicard 15 in 1 reader
MS Works
Keyboard and mouse
Norton (which would get uninstalled as soon as the machine boots up)
Gigabit Ethernet card.

I am guessing that these items would cost an additional $250 bucks or so. that makes the utility player almost $300 more than the HP.

So my question is, is the difference in MB, the transfer rate of the HDD, the difference in the video card worth that kind of $$.

I’m planning a build later this year so I’ve been doing some research.

Video card-the 4350 is a much lower “power” card than the 5770. If you don’t game, not a problem.

Who made the HDD?- Cheap brand of the week.
Ditto on the motherboard, maybe it lacks features or support for certain input ports.
Memory-same deal, cheap brand of the week.
The HP will be loaded with crap/bloatware.

The advantage of DIY is buying quality parts and getting parts that match your needs.

You do have a point about the bloatware, I had not thought about that.
On the other hand, I have only had one HDD failure in all the computers I have owned, and never a RAM failure.

That particular HP computer isn’t a very good deal. I had to double check that you didn’t list one in USD and the HP in CAD because it seemed so out of whack.

If those are your choices, I’d do the build easily. I’d shop around a bit more on the buy-side and then re-examine things.

Look at this thread at Tom’s Hardware.

**drachillix **pointed out in a recent thread that the big manufacturers do no quaility control, the machines are not turned on or tested before shipping.
A mismatch between the cheap of the week motherboard and memory won’t be found until you start the system. It will probably start but you get sub optimal performance.

There is always the advantage of warranty length. If you build a computer yourself all the individual pieces will have their own multiyear manufacturer’s warranty. Buying retail will force you to have to trade the whole computer in and probably only within the first year of ownership.

Another thing is that the HP probably comes with a 350w power supply instead of the 500w power supply. The smaller power supply is a pain when you want to upgrade the video card.

Also the compact computer cases are a pain to work on when you want to upgrade. It is a pain in the butt when you have to remove half the components to add more memory or it is a 1/4 of an inch too short for the video card you want.

Given that, I still don’t suggest building your own computer. I haven’t bothered for years. Most of the time it isn’t worth it. You should shop around on line to get a computer to this closer to what you want, instead of what they sell in the store.

Rick, you haven’t really given any indication of what you want this computer to do.

Are you a gamer?
Will you be doing stuff like video editing?
Do you multitask a lot, using multiple applications?

As runner pat noted, if you’re not a gamer, then it really doesn’t matter how powerful your video card is. I replaced my video card recently, but the main reason i didn’t stick with on-board video is that my motherboard only supports a single monitor, and i like to run two monitors. If you don’t game, and you only have one monitor, you might not need a separate video card at all.

if you do game, then JoelUpchurch’s advice about the power supply is sound. My HP has a 350W power supply, and this effectively ruled out a whole bunch of more powerful video cards, because they suck a whole lot of power, especially under load. I went for a GT 240, which is far from a top-of-the-line card, but is powerful enough to allow me to play some games, which i’m gong to start doing soon (i’ve never really been a gamer before). Even better, it is a very low-power-draw card, using less than 75W even under full load.

One thing that strikes me is how powerful your processor is. Most people, and i include myself in this group, have far more processor power than they need for 99 percent of their computer tasks.

My processor is a Core 2 Quad Q8300, and the only time is gets even close to maxing out is when its doing some pretty intensive video transcoding work. Your i5 is considerably more powerful (4,206 on Passmark, versus 3,567 for mine), so you might want to think about whether you need such a high-powered processor. Obviously, more powerful means that you have better future-protection in case you need more power down the road, but most modern home computer processors have much more power than most users will ever need.

Some tasks also require more power in some areas that others. Video encoding, for example, tends to tax the CPU the most, but really doesn’t require that much RAM. On the other hand, extensive multitasking, especially with programs like Photoshop, will benefit from more memory.

If you are doing video editing, or other work that requires moving large amounts of information during certain processes, you might also think about a second hard drive. I have two HDDs in my computer, and i find that video encoding tends to be faster when i encode from one to the other, because the computer doesn’t have to read from, and write to, the same drive.

I’ve been pretty happy with my HP so far (knock wood). The case isn’t too difficult to work in, if you need to change something. Swapping out my video card was a piece of cake. I haven’t needed to touch my RAM sticks, but they don’t look especially difficult to reach. One exception is the hard drive area. Adding a second hard drive was a bit of a chore, involving pressing an almost-impossible-to-see lever with a long screwdriver, removing the HP media bay, and then slotting in the new hard drive. It was not especially difficult, and once i worked out what needed to be done it only took about ten minutes, but it shouldn’t require so many steps for something as straightforward as adding a hard drive.

HPs do have a bot of bloatware, but i found it easy to uninstall. I used Revo uninstaller to get rid of the stuff i don’t need. It uninstalls the programs, and also cleans out any leftover folders, files, shortcuts, startup entries, and registry entries. It’s a very handy program.

Don’t forget to add in the price of the OS for a home built system. Windows 7 Home OEM is going about 100 bucks.

You could just as easily say “Don’t forget to subtract the price of the OS for a home-built system”. The vast majority of pre-built systems come with some flavour of Microsoft Windows, which you will be paying for whether or not it’s itemized on the bill. Depending on your hardware manufacturer, it can be difficult or impossible to get a refund for it. With a home-built system, you can install a free operating system such as GNU/Linux.

Which brands of motherboard are considered well designed these days?

I’m familiar with Asus and Tyan. I’ve built several pc’s with them.

There’s quite a few new names out these days. Zotac, MSI, Gigabyte etc. I’ve heard Intel makes a solid MB. What’s popular these days? I prefer Intel processors over AMD.

I built and sold pc’s for awhile in 1997-1999. Gave it up because Walmart is impossible to compete against. I lost quite a bit of money.

I work in this area, and this is 100% wrong.

I can point you to a paper from Dell about how they do system test (but you need to have an IEEE Electronic Library license to get to it.) If you compute the number of possible configurations they support, given combinations of hardware and software, it runs into the millions. They clearly can’t pretest all of these, so they confirm it before shipment by turning the computer on and running through simple tests of some of the software preloaded. How do you think that bloatware (and non-Windows apps) get on the disk and installed? I’m fairly sure the other computer makers do the same thing. I assure you, the out of box fail rates would be a lot higher if they didn’t.

Building is great as a kind of a hobby, or if you have such odd requirements that you truly can’t find a PC to match. But you need to add the cost of your time and the probability that you will have integration problems into the mix.

I don’t work for a PC maker, but I do worker for a company that makes other kinds of computer systems, and I know a lot about quality. I’m not sure what is meant, but I do know that we closely monitor the quality levels of our suppliers, and pound the hell out of them if they don’t make them. Even Intel is held to very stringent quality levels (100 parts per million fails) though microprocessors are not the most common source of failure, by far. Now, you might get parts from the same lots they send to HP and Dell, or you might be buying parts from suppliers who got blackballed by them for low quality. If anyone thinks a supplier is going to pay more attention to the parts shipped to Frys or to a distributor that sells lot size one than they do to parts shipped to HP, I’d love a whiff of what you’re smoking.

Bottom line - **drachillix ** doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I vaguely remember the thread, and I might have corrected him in it.

Buy. I can build systems, and have assembled systems from cast-off parts from older systems. But it’s not worth the trouble. Right now, I’m using a Powerspec (Microcenter’s in-store brand) Q8300 based computer. It cost me $449. It had a single 500 gig HD, 4 gigs of RAM and a decent enough case. I stuck a better video card and a terabyte hard drive in it and I’m editing video. I can run 3 1080i video streams at a time to live-switch edit them in Edius (a feature that makes FCP users very envious).

There is nothing about this computer that would be hard to assemble, except that I have to place some value on my time. In this case, I went to the store, bought the machine, installed my software and was editing the next day. If I lived next door to the store, or had no problem with sending stuff back and forth until I had a nice system, I could see building my own.

In short, build your own if you are a FPS-crazed gamer, or are a hobbyist and simply enjoy building a computer. Otherwise, if you make more than minimum wage, you are going to spend more.

In Dell’s case, there are a very large number of prepackaged disk images which reflect all the orderable combinations of software and the one that matches the order is selected and copied to the disk of the system being built. Even if you’re a Dell Large Business customer that orders systems with your own software pre-installed, Dell uses images. There’s a fairly large price penalty if your software needs to be individually installed on each system built. The current Dell image system is apparently “Nobulation”. Years ago, Dell systems had a hidden command called “ZZTOP” that would restore the disk to the factory-ship state by re-copying the factory-ship data from unallocated space at the far end of the drive.

Dell does intend to do functional testing of each system before it ships. But they miss some here and there - almost every Dell system manual tells you what steps to take if your system powers on in Manufacturing Setup Mode. And I once received a shipment of several hundred identical Dell systems where 2 of the cartons contained only a chassis - no motherboard or other contents. That’s unlikely today as Dell’s suppliers generally provide a case / power supply / motherboard / cables package to Dell for further configuration. But it is still possible to get a system that didn’t go through all of the expected procedures.

It is hard for an end user to get a real picture of how huge the companies like Dell are. I’ve ordered products both from the card manufacturer and in the distribution channel, and had them come in with “DPN” (Dell Part Number) stickers on them. As an example, I think every Turtle Beach Montego II card was built with a Dell part number sticker.

the os and apps are loaded by creating one master build then imaging the drives en masse. I do the same thing when I get orders for multiple systems because it’s just silly not to. Difference is we don’t use volume preinstall setups so the machines are already set to go.

Well I am a computer builder and I am quite familiar with the methodologies, of the 600 or so machines I have built and sold I have had less than 1% warranty hits and half of those were due to what turned out to be glitchy firmware on a seagate drive series that was throwing raids out of sync.

Also when we build a machine, the oem part warranties are still intact. If only 1 in 100 million failures were happening in reality I would not have much of a repair business. I personally love it when businesses buy mass produced machines, I have one customer who I have gone out 3 times to reinstall the same Dell laser printer each time they get another warranty replacement.

I see my stuff outlasting mass produced stuff of similar age all the time now. I just had a customer come back for his third machine in 4 years from me, the other two are still in service. Also, you will never see an oem match our service after the fact, we will preserve customer data, we don’t charge extra for different os installs, and in most cases you can get exactly what you want. You want a specific CPU, chipset, ram brand, you can have it.

Me paying my rent and feeding myself depends on me knowing how to build a box that puts the big names look bad, it’s how I stay in business.

Come back and talk smack when you are putting your name on machines for sale to the public and succeed at it.

the key is not to play price point games with the mass retailers, they will kick your ass at it every time. Build a good machine at a fair price, using quality parts, follow up on their questions, and you can make a living at it.

I used to build all of my own systems and those for my company. These have ranged from one-offs to systems in volumes that suppliers were making completely custom cases for me, etc. (There are some funny stories there, like a vendor asking me for a color sample for “black”.)

Back when the 486 was new, hardware (even expensive stuff) was of much lower quality. I couldn’t interest Symphony in fixing their VLB chipset, because Windows would crash long before the problems with the chipset would lock up the system. Of course, I wasn’t running Windows and I got to see all of those problems on BSD/OS. Oddly, the previous (non-VLB) Symphony chipset was fine. And don’t get me started on $3 Diamond Flower boards (of any type), or “fake” 16550’s that were just 8250 silicon jury-rigged to report non-existant FIFOs.

I don’t do this any more because it simply isn’t practical for the class of system I’d be building, for the vast majority of the systems I’m involved with. In recent years I’ve been ordering Dell Optiplex systems. They’re reasonably upgradable if your needs aren’t in the enthusiast / gamer range, but if those were your needs you wouldn’t be looking at a Dell anyway. I have systems nearly 3 years old that get a Windows Experience Index of 7+ (except for the hard drive - even with a Velociraptor you won’t get past 5.9 with a single drive).

On the other hand, I still assemble our custom high-end servers from scratch. In fact, I just finalized the chassis design for the latest series, which will be a 32TB NAS server.

All of this is really irrelevant to someone who is looking for a single system and doesn’t do this for a living - any price premium for a name-brand system will be overshadowed by the time taken to assemble / burn in a custom box and troubleshoot any problems. Those users would be better served by purchasing a packaged system from either one of the big brands or from a local integrator (such as yourself) that does this for a living. The potential savings just don’t justify the headaches for a 1-off system.

As an example (well past its sell-by date, but a useful example nonetheless), under Windows 95, installing Backup Exec would cause the system to lock up when you tried to use the help function in Microsoft Word. A somewhat more recent example would be installing Windows XP on a system with AHCI RAID enabled - the install will go fine, but on the first boot Windows will blue-screen. Or (even more recently), Windows 7 will mysteriously fail to partition a blank hard disk if a USB memory stick is installed in the system during installation.

Not a gamer. surf the net a lot, and when I do use it for work, some intensive multitasking/ multiple windows moving data back and forth.
No video editing yet, but who knows what the future might bring.

What I did the last time was buy a low-range computer and upgrade the only part it had that needed upgrading for my own use. Since the brand was a locally-assembled relative of Happy Duck Inc, opening it to upgrade that part didn’t void the warranty. OTOH my netbook was bought (evidently) and fixing it when one part turned out to be bad took over two months: three weeks simply waiting for the manufacturer’s couriers to find my house. If I’d had only the netbook, I would have needed to buy another computer, whereas fixing anything in the desktop is a matter of “the first saturday morning”.

If you use the computer for work, does MSWorks do anything for you? I imagine not. If you buy, buy something which has the software you need (or none), not something with a list of 20 things you’ll never use, including The Worst Antivirus Out There.

I agree with those above who said:

  1. The only reason to build your own is for the fun of it, or if you have a lot of stuff to re-use from an old system (and even then it’s a close call).
  2. Even the cheapest, lowest-end single-core processor being sold today will be twice as much as you’ll ever need for any kind of office work/net surfing. Unless you’re intensively editing video, running protein-folding simulations as part of your job, or want to get in on that conspicuous consumption thing and impress other gamers, save the money you’d spend on fancy processors.