Home-Build Computer Cost?

It’s time for a new PC. A desktop.

Just for fun, I was thinking of assembling my own. Any thoughts on what the cost would be, compared to, say, a Dell with similar specs? Or, if I really wanted to go nuts, an Alienware gaming PC?

You could probably save significant money over the prices charged by an outfit like Alienware (and possibly get better results, if you’re going for top-of-the-line performance and really know what you’re doing). If you’re just trying for a midline system, the main advantage of building it yourself over getting it from Dell or another mass-market seller is better quality via selecting good components rather than good-enough components (again, presuming that you really know what you’re doing).

You can’t really beat the low to med-range Dells in the cost game unless you already own most of the parts you will use. They have bulk buying power whereas you have to buy each part at retail. Newegg.com is cheap but you can’t expect to piece together a system and beat mass market prices.

You can save money on a really high end system, say anything over $1500 and you will get exactly what you want.

But there are shops and companies that build custom systems using your choice of components, and their markup is pretty small compared to buying components and building it yourself. Especially if you consider the risks and hassles involved in building your own. (Building is easy when everything works, which they usually do. But when they don’t, it can be a nightmare to pinpoint which component is responsible, and getting it replaced.)

I’ve built many systems myself (starting with 80486 systems) but my current desktop is a custom PC built by AVADirect.

I’m sure you could beat Dell at any price point if you tried. They need to make money and that always gives you room to do it.

Actually, I take it back. At the very very low end, the home builder gets smoked by the Windows license.

I put this system together 3 years ago for under $200 mostly with parts from Tiger Direct. It was more midline than state of the art, an AMD Athlon 3500+, PCChips board with Nvida Gforce chip, 1 gig RAM, 80 gig HDD. On the right day, you can pick up an already assembled bare bones system for what I paid. I reused my case and CD drive.

Important note, Most bare bones systems come without a harddrive. No HDD, no OS. If you can’t download and install a Linux OS that will be free, It will run more.

Another vote for, at the low end, the economies of scale that the big boys have will smoke the prices of any small shop… High end where they actually have to put one together and don’t have 2000 of them sitting around waiting to ship, a small shop can compete. You really wont save much if anything DIY or with a small shop until you cross $700 or so. If you really go nuts a small shop can do a very nice rig and most likely beat Dells high end XPS/Alienware lines.

Even when you discount the OS cost, in the mainstream price points, Dell has the volume, and the supply chain, to enable them to squeeze more margin out of every part.

For instance, if I go to Foxconn, and buy a motherboard with an X58 chipset, I’ll usually get a standard form factor, in a standard size, with 6 SATA ports, some front panel headers for USB, eSATA, Firewire, etc., a bunch of USB ports on the back, possibly a serial port, an HDMI, DVI and VGA port, a couple SATA cables, a manual, a CD, a backplate, and a few other tchotchkes that I don’t need.

When Dell has Foxconn build an equivalent motherboard, they are saving by a) buying in huge volumes, b) having Foxconn build to spec, which allows them to eliminate several “extraneous” connectors and headers, and reduce the PCB size (since Dell typically uses non-standard form factors), and c) eliminating all the packaging overhead. Multiply this by all the components in the system, and Dell can shave a lot of the cost of the system.

Granted, there are some components you can buy OEM, but you’re saving maybe 10-20% of retail, and you’re not getting the volume discount. And typically the key parts that involve a lot of overhead - motherboard, CPU, and case - are not available to the consumer in “whitebox” or OEM packaging.

That’s not to say building your own system isn’t worth it - I haven’t bought a retail PC in several years, and I quite enjoy the satisfaction of buying exactly what I want without compromise, and would highly recommend it to anyone who knows what they’re getting into. But if I wanted a system that just worked, and I wasn’t the anal brand-freak that I am (only Gigabyte motherboards, G.Skill RAM, LG drives, WD hard drives, etc.), I know I could get an equally capable system from Dell for less than the combined cost of my average build, even without incuding the OS in the build price.

Now, once you get into middle performance pc’s (quad core, 64-bit, 4+GB RAM) then Dell screws you on the upgrade price. So if you’re into gaming, or have a high-workload scenario (heavy video/audio encoding, image processing, multitasking, etc.), it would definitely make sense to build your own system.

The nice thing about building your own is that you don’t end up with stuff you don’t need. You shouldn’t price it out based 1:1 on what some random Dell has. Instead, go through NewEgg or TigerDirect and put together what you think you want and see if it fits your budget.

You might find a Dell or other pre-made for cheaper. You might not. You might also be disappointed in one or two of the components in a pre-made. You might not.

Just because Dell put certain components together doesn’t mean that you have to put those same components together. Some of those components might have made it into the machine because Intel/ATI/ASUS offloaded a truckfull of them on to Dell for a price they couldn’t refuse.

I’ve built some good systems using used parts from Ebay. You have to be very careful. Make sure they have a very good rating and offer at least a 30 day return (some offer 60).

Often you’ll find someone offering the motherboard, cpu and memory. Usually, it’s a system someone built a couple years ago. They want the latest greatest crap out there and want to upgrade a perfectly good system.

add your own case and power supply. you got a nice pc.

here’s a nice combo, brand new mb, processor & memory
http://cgi.ebay.com/AMD-ATHLON-64-5200-MOTHERBOARD-CPU-MEMORY-COMBO-KIT-/280324195278?pt=Motherboards&hash=item41449fc3ce

One more thought - a huge benefit of the DIY approach is having a “modular” upgrade path. Once you roll your own PC, you can carry components forward as you upgrade, and the savings will add up at any price point. You can keep your case, optical drives, hard drives, and other components the next time you want to upgrade your processor and motherboard to the next-gen.

That can shave quite a bit off the cost of your next “new” system. But it’s more of a longer term benefit than immediate. And then you often wind up with the surplus parts problem I’m currently having.

Putting together a computer is rather trivial, an afternoon’s occupation. Picking out the parts, however, can be a source of major time suckage. I was amazed at the number (and price range) of both processors and motherboards. You also have make sure everything is compatible (and that your power supply fits inside your case). Newegg doesn’t even guarantee that items it bundles are compatible. It was fun (for the most part), but it took a lot of time. You will learn a lot more than you care to know (wtf is a “south bridge”? and what about SATA III?), and none of it will be useful the next time you do this.

Building your own computer might seem like a cool idea in the beginning. But, if you started doing it, you would probably realize in the end that you would spend more money than if you bought a good ready one.

No offense, but for $200 on Newegg, you could get an AM3 quad-core, 4GB DDR3 ram, and a mobo with a more current chipset.

Asrock 880GM: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16813157199
$60

AMD Athlon II X4 Propus 640: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16819103871
$100 (awesome processor - this is one I just got)

G.Skill Budget RAM: http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16820231396
$40

None of this stuff is on sale - I’m sure you could find a combo deal that would shave the cost down a bit if you didn’t mind budget parts.

And on preview, ethelbert is spot on - researching the parts will take much longer than putting it all together. But I live for that stuff, since I’m a huge geek.

If you look at the prices for parts, this is the one that soaks the home builder, and puts them over the edge price wise, compared to the Dell systems, et al. Maybe if you have a copy of Windows that you and install, and register, or you really want Linux, or you can find a cheap OEM copy of the Windows flavor you want. But I’m pretty sure from Windows 7, or Vista, or even Windows XP – if you’ve installed on your other system, you can’t register it on your new one. I used Windows 2000 for a long time, just for that reason, I could install it on my new computer after new computer without caring. No more exploit patches 'tho.

In my experience this is not the case - I’ve done at least one rebuild each with XP, Vista, and Win7 OEM versions, that involved a total platform swap (CPU and motherboard) and a complete reformat, and I’ve always been able to re-register the prior license just fine. I’ve always seen dire warnings on hardware forums about this, but I’ve never had an issue (knocks on wood).

ETA: a caveat here is that you cannot use your old PC once you re-register the new license. Well, technically speaking you can, because I’ve done it before when I had to transfer files from an old system, but you’ll be out of compliance with Windows’ EULA if you keep using the same registered copy on two systems.

Last April I built my own mid-range computer for $700. I later plugged the components – close as I could – into one of those “build your own system” sites (iBuyPower?) and was quoted a little over $825. So I saved $125 and spent a chunk of time putting it together and having to RMA my non-working power supply.

This doesn’t figure the cost of Windows (in neither my real cost or what I plugged in) since I have a relative who works for MS and got it very cheap. I have no idea what the gulf would have been if I had to buy a copy retail.

It was “worth it” the once for the experience of knowing how to assemble and install everything but I think next time I’ll run the numbers first and decide if it’s worth the upcharge just to have someone do it for me.

You posted that while I was working on:

Unfortunately, I am afraid Linux still isn’t ready for prime time. Installing it and using it would be beyond many.

Yep, same in my experience. Eventually after a number of installs you run out of “activations”, which means Windows won’t re-register automatically over the internet. So when you try to activate you get a message saying you’ve activated it many times before. But that message also gives you a phone number at Microsoft where you can call and ask nicely for them to activate your latest install. I’ve done it a few times with a retail copy of XP that bounced between homebrew computers I built and rebuilt. As long as you don’t say “I am installing this copy of windows on lots of computers” the call center person will give you more activations.