Is it even practical/possible to build a PC these days?

About a million years ago I remember you could go to the computer store and grab a motherboard, a CPU, maybe a coprocessor some RAM, etc and put together the computer of your (realistic) dreams for not a ton of money.

Is that still the case today? Or are you better served by just telling The Computer Guy what you want to do and let them recommend a pre-made system? Are CPUs and motherboards still reasonably interchangable or are things so finely tuned now that you have to pick an operating system and then find a board and CPU combination that will run it? And if you do throw something together, what are the odds of you being able to do it better than something already on the shelf at Best Buy for $250 less?

sure, I’ve built pc’s for 15 years. sells combos with a motherboard and processor. add memory and drives.

It’s easier these days because most mb’s have decent video, audio, and networking on the mb. I build a lot of pc’s without any expansion cards.

I rather doubt it.

I was going to upgrade an old system of mine, and found that buying a new hard drive and motherboard was more expensive than buying a brand-new system with better specs. Maybe I just didn’t look hard enough. I don’t know.

I build all my desktop computers. I built one last month. You will not be able to build it for less than what you can get from dell or best buy. But you will be able to put in exactly what you want.

You have to match the mother board to the processor. The mother board dictates the type of RAM you can use. All of them will work with windows or they won’t sell. Most will work with Linux

I still build about half of my PCs. I have 5 right now… 3 are HPs two are self-built. (1 is a laptop and I don’t consider them buildable)

There are local shops that sell decently priced parts where I live and there’s always Newegg. You can’t do it from Best Buy part prices.

The nice looking off the shelf systems are usually underpowered in power supply and always need a video card upgrade. The rest of those inside components, even in the best brands, are usually not up to the same quality as a retail sold individual part.

the premade computers are tested for total functionality. even at small local chains if they offer premade models they are likely tested.

you may no longer be able to make a computer from parts cheaper than a premade model, though the premades will be low end. you can get a computer to suit you from parts possibly cheaper, like to get a certain component to your desire you may have to settle for a higher total premade nonoptioned package. computer stores might have a model with options which tend to be a good method.

I’ve been pricing parts recently, because my computer might need replacing soon and i’ve been thinking about building my own.

It seems to me that you can get all the hardware you need for about the same as a big-box computer would cost. And the hardware is probably better quality than the stuff used by Dell. But, unless you plan to go with only a Linux OS, you have to fork out for Windows on top of the hardware price, and even OEM copies of Windows add well over $100 to the price of the build.

True, but you don’t get a dozen crapware applications either.

Building your PC from parts is easy. And it CAN save you money, but only if you’re building either a gaming PC, or some other high end purpose station (or a specialized system such a home theater PC).

If you’re building something to get you on the internet and don’t care about upgradeability and versatility then it will be very hard to impossible to build your own rig and beat the big box companies in price. The type of deals they get on cheap hardware and software is something you don’t have access to.

On the other hand, building a more serious system yourself allows you to tailor the hardware to your purpose, allows for easy future upgrades, and allows you to take advantage of savings in places where the big box companies don’t do much better, or even overcharge you.

My personal rule of thumb:

< $500, buy off-the-shelf.
> $500, build the sucker.

Basically when you’re down to the economy-line products (price != quality), you don’t get a whole lot of savings. If you want something with fancy graphics cards, large drives, raid arrays, or huge amounts of memory, you’ll find that Dell and its competitors tend to up-charge for the new item without significantly discounting what the upgrade is replacing.

Earlier this year I built an awesome PC for $1500. I spec’d it out on Dell and came up with a $3500 price tag. I tried to do the same on a budget system and the time it was taking me to slap the package together was worth more than any savings I’d gain.

[sneaking in]
I have a pretty sizable build coming up and I’d like to get as many Dopers’ input as possible – which forum? IMHO? MPSIMS? Game? Given the vehemence that can come out, the Pit?

It all depends on what kind of performance you’re looking for and consequently what your approximate budget is. If you just want something low-powered and inexpensive, you may as well get it from a retailer, where the little bonuses like included monitor and operating system license make the self-build option less cost-effective.

But if you want a PC that’s powerful enough for gaming, there’s still no better choice than to assemble it yourself. I spent about $1500 building my current machine; to get something similar from Dell at the time would have cost me at least twice that. Even if they throw in a copy of Windows and a free monitor, the hour or two I spend putting together parts is well worth the $1000+ I save.

So, if you want a high-end machine and your time is worth less than five hundred bucks an hour, DIY is the way to go.

(Actually, though, even for low-end machines, in particular special-purpose ones like a home server or an HTPC setup, you can still save money by building yourself. I recently tried finding the cheapest complete PC assembly I could on Newegg; it came out to around $170. Good luck finding something that cheap at a big box retailer!)

My husband has built our last two computers from scratch. He buys from Asus, I believe.

Depends on the exact question of course but I think GQ (“which video card will my mobo support”) and GD (“should I buy an ATI or an nVidia card”).

I would also highly recommend going to They have plenty of component reviews and they do regular system builds at various price points (e.g. $600, $1200, $2000) and discuss what they think are good choices and why.

I’d suggest heading over to Ars Technica for some initial ideas. There are also forums for specific questions, and the users are very knowledgeable.

sure it is. and if you’ve got software and a case, it’s probably cheaper than buying from Hell computers. as an example this is a computer i built last february:

160gb hd, 2.7ghz athlon 64X2 processor, 2gb ram

$259.54 with shipping (no case, no OS)
i see the cheapest dell offering right now is 229, 10 months later.

i mean my machine wont win any speed competitions, but neither will an Inspiron Zino HD.

There are a couple of things here:

  • It is hard to beat the people at Dell and HP in getting cheap parts. This is especially true for the processor and chipsets which Intel sells to manufacturers en mass for cheap, but makes you pay through the nose. You can go to a PC Expo show and usually find the parts, but you’re not going to save a whole lot if you save anything.

  • And once you build your PC, what operating system are you going to run on it? Windows OS can now cost you more than the parts itself. Sure, you could get a bootlegged version of Windows OS, but if you want to stay strictly legal, expect to pay about another $100 to $150. Or, you can run Linux.

The main reason to build your own PC now-a-days is not to build a cheap low end PC, but a high end customized version. You can put in a decent power supply, for example, do a better job with cooling, select a quieter fan, or overclock the heck out of it and cool it with liquid sodium if you so desire. (Okay, not liquid sodium, but this is popular:

I’m just starting to look into a new computer and the option of building it myself or going through one of the customizable systems online.

My current machine is 6 1/2 years and trying to upgrade would involve replacing everything but the case.

Looking through Newegg, I came up with about 1500 for a system that can do some gaming and can be upgraded in the future.

Buying a (similar) customized rig through Cyberpower came out to about the same with the advantage of someone who’s not fumblefingered putting it together.

I do have until next summer(money) and I still need to really research the various parts. I just put together a speculative system to compare the two options.

Or a low-end customized version.

Last February I spent $330 on parts for a great machine. I built it with exactly what I need. I didnt need the humongous hard drive that they’re selling now, because I don’t download hundreds of movies. But I did need a fax card, for example.

And I did not need an OS, because three years earlier I got my previous pc used, and had bought XP Home off-the-shelf for it. The fact that I am not using that pc any more meant I could reinstall it on this new pc totally legally.

You can spend far less than that and still have a nice gaming machine. Here’s Tom’s Hardware’s September article on their $650 gaming rig as an example.