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4/22/05 Should I buy or build a computer?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / April 21, 2005 3:12 AM PDT

Happy Friday everyone!

Thanks to all of you who contributed to this week's topic. Many of you wrote some outstanding answers to Kenny's question. And I hope these opinions, recommendations, and tips from our members will prove to be helpful when it comes time for any of you to decide whether to buy or build a computer. So read them all!

Members, if you have more questions, or additional advice on this topic, by all means feel free to post them in this thread below. It?s all up to you as a community to contribute and learn from one another. So keep on posting.

Thanks everyone and have a great weekend!
-Lee Koo
CNET Community


I have been using the same PC for the last four years. It's time to upgrade. I'm considering just buying an off-the-shelf computer, but I'm also thinking about the challenge of building one myself. Are there any outstanding benefits to building one yourself? Will this save me money? I've done hardware upgrades in the past (adding RAM and a network card), but I'm a bit apprehensive about starting from
scratch. What are your recommendations--build or buy? Any tips or advice are appreciated.

Submitted by: Kenny C. of Olympia, Washington


Kenny, the short answer to your question about whether building your own computer will save money is generally no. Off-the-shelf OEM builders buy trainloads of components directly from suppliers at prices you and I cannot touch.

What you get from building your own system is the satisfaction of owning and operating a machine you built yourself, as well as a greater understanding of your system and the knowledge you gain during assembly, construction, and operating system installation.

If you are a die-hard eBay aficionado, you can scour the web for great deals on components at prices that will begin to approach what you might pay for an off-the-shelf model; however the big caveat here is that you may have little knowledge of the quality of the parts or whether they will all work together in your new system. One of the advantages of buying an off-the-shelf system is that the manufacturer has already assumed the responsibility for ensuring that all the component piece parts are tested and confirmed to all work together, with all the correct drivers either already installed or supplied on a CD that comes with the system. Furthermore, when you buy an off-the-shelf system, the manufacturer also supplies you with a guarantee and warranty in the event you have a component failure within the warranty period. If you build one yourself, you have little or no such protection.

Having said all that, there is tremendous satisfaction from building your own system, and you can mix and match components precisely to what you desire. For example, many OEM systems use motherboards with integrated sound, video and Ethernet. You can even buy one of these motherboards yourself if that is what you choose, but let's say for the sake of argument that you want a Turtle Beach sound card, a 256Mb Radeon graphics card with analog, digital and TV out, a 3-Com Gigabit Ethernet LAN card, a Seagate 300Gb SATA hard drive, and a Plextor CD-RW/DVD-RW Dual-Layer optical drive. Finding all of these components in any single off-the-shelf system is highly unlikely and a DIY custom-build option is about your only recourse.

You might also consider what you intend to use this new computer for, whether you build it yourself or buy one off-the shelf. If your usual computer time is spent word processing, medium internet surfing, email and organizing the family photo album, you probably don't need a "killer" machine. Depending on the components you purchase and install, custom-built machines can sometimes be "twitchy", temperamental, and somewhat less-reliable than a good-quality off-the-shelf system.

Another factor for you to consider is what I call "time to liftoff". If you purchase an off-the-shelf system, you can usually be up and running, surfing the internet in less than an hour from the time you first open the box. On the other hand, should you choose to build a system yourself, you first have to choose, purchase and assemble all the components you want; then comes the fun part: putting it all together and making it work. This can take days or even weeks. Given what you describe as your limited familiarity with getting into the guts of a computer, the risk of error or potentially damaging one or more components is somewhat higher than for someone who does this all the time and has experience.

If you decide to build one yourself, I would highly recommend that you do extensive research on various hardware forums and blogs, both to help choose the right mix of components, and also to familiarize yourself with as many of the pitfalls, tips and pointers you can before you first pick up your screwdriver and plunge in.

Good Luck!


Submitted by: James S.

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by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / April 21, 2005 3:12 AM PDT




Is there a particular reason for the need to update? If you have specific needs that are not being met by your current configuration in spite of your upgrades, then you should take inventory of the features you absolutely need and start shopping around. Once you define your needs (or wants!), you can do some research on CNET to find out the prices of components such as CPUs, motherboards, storage and optical drives, etc. Soon you will have an ballpark estimate of what your dream system might cost, as well as a point of reference for examining pre-configured systems that might suit your needs. In all likelihood, you will also realize that budget constraints will necessitate a reassessment of needs and priorities.

As a general rule, building a computer from scratch will cost you more money, but you have the advantage of getting exactly what you want (or need). Moreover, the challenge of building your own system can be quite rewarding in itself. Having said that, you must realize that this task will be significantly more complex than adding memory or a network card. Trial and error might end up costing you a lot of time and money.

Here's a suggestion: Go to and check out the Build Your Own PC course. It is available for about another week, or you can choose to enroll the next time it is offered. This is an excellent introductory course that should give you a fairly good idea whether or not going solo is the way to go. At the very least, you will learn about the different components you will need. Some of them are not as obvious as you might think!

Even if you feel you are not up to the challenge at this time, or that building a custom PC from scratch would be economically implausible, you still have some choices. Do not think you are restricted to "off-the-shelf, " pre-configured systems readily available at computer and electronics stores, or even local mass-merchants. While it is possible to find models that suit your needs and for the right price, keep in mind that these types of systems often represent compromises. You might be sacrificing some useful options and/or severely limiting the capability for later upgrades. You will be saving money now, but you may "pay" for it later.

Companies like Dell and Gateway allow you to customize a system quite a bit, often times at significant savings. Sales and special offers appear weekly, so take your time to gather information and examine different configurations, then wait for the right offer. (Hint: You already know how to add memory, so skip those costly memory upgrades at the time of purchase. Also, realize that "double your memory" offers tend to be worthless since they take up all your memory slots. To add more memory, you will have to remove one of the chips!)

In some instances, you will have enough choices that you should be able to build as powerful a system as if you had built one yourself from scratch, without the hard work and with the added bonus of knowing everything will be compatible. Check CNET for reviews of the latest systems offered by these and other companies. You might discover many worthy PCs and learn more about the pros and cons of many "off-the-shelf" systems you might be considering.

Hope this helps!

Submitted by: Miguel K. of Columbus, OH



Well Kenny, many customers ask me if they should build or buy their next computer? The price of computers has dropped so much that you can get a low end computer for $500 now. To build a similar one from scratch could run you almost double that price. The biggest advantage to building your own computer, besides the experience and enjoyment, is that you get to configure it exactly the way you want. Another advantage is that you may be able to reuse some items from your old computer. And finally, having built it yourself, you may be more likely to be able to repair or upgrade it in the future. For example, without searching all over the internet for deals or reverting to eBay for components, here is a rough breakdown of a typical entry level computer built from scratch: (If you really search, you can do better)
Computer Case w/ Power Supply $ 90.00
Motherboard Intel $150.00
Processor Intel P4 2.4ghz $169.00
Memory 512meg $ 89.00
Hard drive 120 gig (WD or Maxtor) $ 99.00
DVD Combo CD-RW Drive (Sony) $ 80.00
OS Window XP Home (Full Version) $199.00
TOTAL $876.00
*Note Motherboard contains onboard Video, Audio and Network ports.

On paper, the specs here pretty much look the same as some computers advertised for $500. However, the component quality of this home built version is likely to much better. Usually, the lower end computers will use No-Name components, Lower cost Celeron or AMD processors and generic or proprietary motherboards. In the example above, all the components are name brand and may result in a long lasting, trouble free system. If you wanted you could add or change any part of the system to match your needs, creating the ideal computer. You have probably noticed that I choose the Intel platform, it is not to say that Intel is better, but over the years I have built many computer systems and have found that I get the best results, especially in reliability and compatibility, with all Intel parts. If you don't mind a little tweaking and experimenting, there are a lot of other choices that may result in higher performance. But if you are looking for reliability and compatibility, I suggest Intel for your first build.

If you are not real comfortable with starting from scratch, there are some companies that sell kit computers or something called bare bones systems. These systems may come pre-assembled with a case, power supply and motherboard. All you have to do is add the memory, processor and hard drive, saving you the hardest part of installing the motherboard.

If you decide to build your own, you will need a check list of components. Keep in mind that some of these items may come in combination with some other items. For example: Some computer cases come with a power supply, some don't. Some motherboards, have built-in video, audio and networking, others you would have to purchase additional cards for these functions. Here is an example check list of items you will or may need depending on your requirements:

1. Computer Case - Keep in mind room for future upgrades
2. Power Supply - (Some Cases come with one)
3. Motherboard ? Make sure you check to see what is included on the motherboard so that you don?t purchase duplicate items.
4. Processor ? Processor must be appropriate for the motherboard.
5. Memory ? I would recommend 512meg min
6. Video Card - (Some Motherboards have built-in Video)
7. Audio Card - (Some Motherboards have built-in Audio)
8. Network Card - (if you need it, again some Motherboard have it)
9. Wireless Network adapter - (if you need it?)
10. Special Purpose adapters - Depending on your needs, you may want additional cards such as Firewire, Extra USB ports, TV or Video Capture.
11. Hard Drive - 80 gig min
12. Second Hard drive - Depending on you needs, you may want a second hard drive for backup, Music or video storage.
13. Some form of CD drive to install software. This could be in the form of a CD or DVD burner or combo drive depending on your needs.
14. Operating System - Windows XP Home or Pro
15. Display - CRT, LCD (you may already own one)
16. Floppy Drive - (if you want or need one?)
17. Memory Card slots - If you use a digital camera, you may want to add card slots.
18. Keyboard - Wired or wireless
19. Mouse- regular, optical or wireless
20. Application Software - You will want some form of Antivirus software as well as some programs such as Office.
21. Cables - Printer, scanner or any extensions you may need.
22. Surge Suppressor or UPS to plug everything into.


1. Never work while plugged in - Anytime you are working inside the computer, be sure to disconnect the power cord and all other connections to printers, network and external equipment.
2. Static Electricity - You should wear an ESD wrist strap to prevent static electricity from damaging your components. Avoid working on or in a carpeted environment. Never place components or cards on the rug or other static generating surface.
3. Reusing old Parts - If you plan to reuse some old parts from a previous computer, watch for compatibility issues. Even though an old hard drive may work, it may slow down the entire system. It will be unlikely that you will be able to reuse much more than your keyboard, mouse, display, floppy drive and maybe a CD drive. Avoid trying to reuse internal components such as Memory, processor, power supply and motherboard.
4. Get Help - Often times I find that Motherboard and Case instructions are rather poor. If in doubt about pin locations and orientation, check the manufacturers web site for more detailed instructions or seek help from others. Don't guess...
5. Install one at a time - If you are building a high end computer with lots of upgrades and additional components, get it up and running with the basics first before installing the extras. Once you get the basic system up and running, start adding in the additional components, installing and testing one at a time.
6. Powering up for the First Time - I can not stress enough the importance of double and triple checking all connections and cards before applying the power. I have seen many a motherboard destroyed because a memory card was not seated properly when the power was applied.
7. Take your Time - I know you are anxious to get your computer up and running, but take your time and do it right the first time.
Go ahead, build it yourself, enjoy, have fun and ask lots of questions.
Submitted by:
Dana H. of Wayland Computer, MA



The choice of building your own pc and buying a pre-built one is a tough one. One of the things you should consider before you make the decision is are you a heavy gamer. If you are not, then you are probably better off sticking with the pre-built variety. The reason I say this is because one of the main reasons people build their own pc's is so they can customize them and have the flexibility of changing their configuration later down the road, when the components become outdated and ready for upgrade.

Another consideration when it comes to building a pc is your level of technical knowledge with pc's inner components. If you can't tell the difference between a RAM chip and a motherboard, then you probably shouldn't be building your own pc. On the other hand, if you've done the process before, then I would highly suggest it.

I've gone down both roads before. I bought a Dell system for myself a few years back. This is still a high quality machine and very fast. About a year ago, my mother decided she wanted a machine of her own. Knowing I have had previous experience in building machines, she asked me if I could build her one, because she thought it might save her a few bucks. In the long run, depending on your specifications and brand of parts, you could very easily spend quite more on a machine you build yourself, compared to a comparably equipped pre-built one. My mother's machine that I built for her had the exact same specs, with the exception of DDR RAM instead of RDRAM-- only because that was the latest thing out at the time. Her machine's bill ended up being several hundred dollars more than the one I had purchased through Dell.

There are other advantages of buying pre-built systems as well. For example, most pc manufacturers use top-quality parts in their systems and they stand behind their products with a warranty in case anything goes wrong. They will do their best to see to it your machine gets repaired in a timely manner. They also normally provide some sort of technical support via telephone, internet, and other ways-- granted this may not be the best in quality, at least it's there.

If you decide to build your own machine, be sure and plan, plan, and plan some more. You can never do enough planning. The best place to purchase your parts is through an online auction site. This is where you'll save money on your parts. Don't go to a computer parts store like CompUSA or Best Buy. They will end up ripping you off. You can save a considerable amount of money online.

The basic parts you will need to build the pc will be a motherboard (I recommend Intel), processor (with an Intel motherboard, you will have to get an Intel processor chip-- these are small, 1 1/2" sqare chips-- P4 3 GHz is the norm-- Hyperthreading technology recommended), video card (I recommend GForce or ATI Radeon), sound card (not required), network interface card (NIC for short-- also not required, but highly recommended) or wireless LAN card, case, 56K modem (highly optional), hard-drive (60-80 Gigabytes are the norm these days), RAM chip (512 Meg to 2 Gigs is the norm), CD-ROM drive, floppy drive (highly optional), and your peripherals. Please keep in mind that some motherboards come with some of these components integrated in them like the NIC card, sound or video cards.

Even if you don't build your own machine, it's helpful to be familiar with the components in the above paragraph because when you're discussing with a sales representative your pre-built machine, you'll want to have some kind of idea what you're discussing. As this is out of the scope of this topic, you can write to me at a later time if you'd like me to go into detail regarding any one of these components and I'll be happy to.

In the meantime, good luck and I hope your decision is a good one.

Submitted by: Vince D. of Western Springs, IL



To build or not to build, that is the question.

I think before you do anything, you may want to consider a few things. You stated that you have made some upgrades in the past, (RAM and a NIC card), however building a computer requires more than these (no offence) simple hardware upgrades. One has to consider what kind of computer to build. Will this be for home applications such as a home office and Internet surfing, which you could get by with a more economical processor and a motherboard with onboard video/sound card, or will this be for a high power gaming or home entertainment system, which would require more muscle from a processor, surround sound, and a video card. Then there is the question of the type of case to get, power supply considerations, CD/DVD/RW choice, hard disk size and configuration, vintage hardware, etc, etc, etc. Then you need to consider the software to go with it. Have you ever configured the BIOS or an operating system before? Do you have the expertise to make the whole system work when something goes wrong (and something usually does)? If you can say yes, then you are ready for the challenge of building your own system.
If the answer is no or not yet, then I would stick with the off the shelf system. They may cost a little more (maybe), but they are usually well built. With the major manufacturers, you could also get the latest software bundles, customer support, and a nice warrantee if something goes wrong (think Murphy?s Law here).
Submitted by: - Alex C. of Grafton, WI



Advantage of building own pc:

*You can select exactly what you want. If we buy PC, we will have to compromise somewhere. For example I purchased my pc 3 years ago. It came with free 16 educational CDs & Antivirus software which encouraged me to buy this PC

But it came with only 64 MB Ram & onboard sound & graphics which I beleive not good for playing games

*save money: Building our own PC save some money. But nowadays savings are minimal. Its quite possible that Assembler (computer company) or Computer brand purchase comphonents in bulk and they might get comphonents at a cheap rate compared to we home buyers.( We will buy only one comphonents) Hence savings tend to be minimal.

*Knowledge :Building own PC help us to understand how pc works.

*Satisfaction :A friend of mine treats self built PC as own baby while shop offered PC as an adopted baby

Advantage of buying PC:
*We at India have two options for buying PC (a)Branded PC (b)Assembler. They are authorized dealer for brands like HP, Samsung etc. They also sell branded PC Home users usually prefer Assembled PC as it comes cheap & offer us customization

You may read review of branded PC on internet , computer magazines etc

*Warranty : Most of the company offer us one year onsite warranty on parts & service charge. I mean the technician will visit home & fix pc parts for free onsite. After completion of warranty period they will charge accordingly for fixing the problem.
Most of the well known assemblers have enough hardware knowledge & we don't see any compatibility issues

I believe this is not possible with self built pc.We may see problem due to incompatibility between various hardware components.

*Due to competition most of the assemblers offer educational CDs, internet hours , softwares etc with a PC. Some of them are very helpful.

(A)I'll Go for a self build PC if I have enough hardware knowledge I'll download manual of my motherboard if available online & study it carefully for an explanation of various motherboard settings. I'll go ahead if I understand them:

For example are you aware of the advantage of p4 & Althon XP *Can you set jumpers at back of drive to make it master or slave *Are you aware of possible configuration setup if you go for more than one hard drive, zip drive & CD drive?
*can you set correct FSB for your processor?
*We need to get a motherboard that has same socket as processor A pc case with p4 system should come with p4 compatible psu I believe p4 processor comes with heatsink & fan while AMD or Celeron user should get themselves fan & heatsink. Fans are rated for certain speed of processors

These are few examples of compatibility issue

*Knowledge of BIOS settings are required. If something is wrong it'll warn with series of beeps.

(B)Comapre the price difference between self built PC & branded PC and take decision accordingly

I recently compared price difference between self built PC & shop offered PC. It came to Rs 6000 (I believe 45Rs is equal to 1$) I can get free support for one year plus 12 educational CDs and free internet 25 hours if I buy shop offered PC (i.e by spending more Rs6000) In my case I'd prefer shop offered PC

useful websites
This site offers advice regarding static electricity

You may type -build your own pc in google and may find interesting tips!

With Best Regards

Submitted by: Ashar B. of Maharashtra, India



The question of whether to buy a new computer or build one from scratch is a tough one to answer and depends on several factors. Having done both in the past, I feel I might be able to offer some relevant input.
I'll start by saying that I feel it is better decision to simply buy a new system rather than build it yourself, but both options have their pros and cons.

Building a system from square one does give you the benefit of really learning how the parts of a computer work together, but you will have to do your homework because some components work better together than others.

I am a firm believer that you really can't save any money by building it yourself. Dell and HP have incredible leverage when it comes to buying components at the lowest price. To compete, they keep their mark-up low and count on selling millions of computers each year to make a profit.
In other words, you can get a system already built from a large manufacturer cheaper than you can buy all of the components yourself and put them together. Some will argue that you can find cheaper parts if you look hard enough, but that seems like a lot of work to me.

Software is a big area where you will lose money by building it yourself. A copy of Windows XP costs $200. That is a pretty big expense when you can get a new mid-level system with Windows pre-installed for less than $700. Of course, you could use software such as Linux to lower the total cost of your home-made system.

Another 'pro' for a computer purchase is that it will generally come with a warranty for anywhere from 90 days to 3 or 4 years. If something goes wrong with your home-built system, you will have to figure it out.

In short, the only reasons for you to build your own system instead of simply buying a new one are:

1. You want to learn how a computer is put together or relish the challenge of building one yourself.
2. You already have some free components from an old computer or a friend or family member, or....
3. You already have some high priced components that you want to use, for example, that 180GB hard drive and $400 video card.
4. You want a really high-end system that is not readily available by a large manufacturer.

My advice, if you are wanting to upgrade just a standard computer, is to buy a new one from a large vendor.

Submitted by: Bret M.



Kenny, I believe the greatest benefit to building your own is the knowledge gained about your own system: if you were the one who built it, you are the one who can -- and should -- repair it. The advantage of that becomes obvious when you realize, at some point in the future, that you no longer have to leave your computer (with all of your personal files, etc.) at some shop for repairs. That, in itself, is a big plus in this age of identify theft.

On the other hand, in spite of all the articles on how easy it is to build your own, there are pitfalls and glitches that can only be avoided by knowledge and lots of experience. Finding answers to such problems can be very time consuming and frustrating; humiliating, too, if it should become necessary to cart your computer to a repair shop. It's said that all of a computer's plug-ins and connectors will only work one way -- the correct way. No so. Recently, I disassembled my (non-proprietary) computer and rebuilt it into a new, larger case. Much to my surprise, I learned that the motherboard connector for the floppy drive will plug in the wrong way (plug it in the wrong way, and the drive's indicator light is always on, and the drive won't work).

Money-wise, sure, you can save a few bucks by doing it yourself. For example, if you happen to find a really good buy on, say, a HDD, you'll be confident that you can install it yourself, as a stand-alone or a slave.
But if the drive should prove to be faulty, or just go gunnybag (yeah, that happens), then you are the one stuck with the hassle and expense involved in getting it replaced. When I had to replace the above-mentioned floppy drive, I found one at New Egg (marketed by Sony) that cost a little over $10
+ about 90 cents freight, by FedEx. Out of the box, the drive was
defective, and had to be returned. After going to the hassle of getting an RMA from the web site and packaging the drive, which had to be shipped the same way it was sent (FedEx), I learned that shipping the drive would actually cost over $13! Not worth it.

Thus, one way to go is to have your computer built to your own specifications by a custom builder. In my opinion, that's a far better way to go than buying any proprietary system. It's only a matter of finding a builder who is extremely knowledgeable and honest. Some of the better ones will do a simple repair or install while you wait and watch. Whatever goes wrong with that computer or any of its drives, etc., the builder has to stand behind it, make replacements, etc. But you do have to physically transport your computer back to his shop.

Bottom line, if you believe that you are really capable of doing it (you most likely are), build your own. Best alternative: custom built.

Submitted by: Ray T.


First lets look at a custom built system.
When you tally up the total for the components you can save significant amounts of money and you will have longer warrantees. But not only do you have to assemble these parts yourself you may run into compatibility issues between vendors. Vendor A has a great video card but you may have issues with the Motherboard from Vendor B. Another issue I have run across is if a component goes bad. Many manufacturers are very willing to assist in your replacement but some may prove more challenging. Also there is the issue of time. You may find yourself waiting for weeks for a Hard Drive replacement. Finally there is Tech Support, or lack thereof. When you build systems YOU are the tech so when an issue arrives be prepared to deal with it yourself.
Now lets look at pre-assembled systems.
While it may cost more money up front, when it arrives you will be up and fully functional in 10 minutes. Pre-built systems from major manufacturers are all pre-tested and pass rigorous standards. One issue that always takes a beating is Tech Support. You may experience long waits and people you have difficulty understanding, but at least you HAVE a support structure available. If you hang in there you WILL get support, and depending on your warrantee you may have a Tech arrive on-site the next day.
Now there is a major negative to pre-assembled systems. What I have found on many occasions is if a system comes with a 1 year warrantee that?s what you get. Vendor A may offer a 3 year warrantee on a component that they sell individually, but when you punch in the product code it may look out of the ordinary. Instead of the normal XXX0000 code you may see XXX0000C, where the "C" indicates the system manufacturer that pre-installed the component. You will often find out that Vendor A does not warrantee pre-installed components and refer you to the system manufacturers warrantee.
Final decision.
It all boils down to your comfort level. If you feel comfortable with your skill set then by all means build it yourself and pocket the dough. If you have any doubts then error on the safe side and purchase your system pre-assembled. I hope this information is useful and I wish you well.
Submitted by: Tracy P.



Here's my answer to Kenny C. of Olympia, Washington:


I would highly recommend building your own PC. I've built several myself, but also use pre-built off the shelf computers. To be honest, the cost savings of building it yourself are likely to be small given the aggressive pricing of many pre-built systems, particularly those purchased online.
However, the benefit of learning the nuts and bolts of the entire system, and the satisfaction of seeing your creation boot up for the first time, are worth their weight in gold.

Your best resource at this point is the internet. There are web sites and message boards dedicated to DIY computer building where you can learn what motherboard chipsets work well with what video cards, what hard drives offer the best bang for the buck, etc. Spending a few days searching the internet for information will be worth it in the long run.

The first thing you should do, though, is determine your goals. How will you use the system? Are you building a high performance gaming machine? Will you be doing any video processing, turning your home movies into the next Hollywood blockbuster? Will you be storing lots of digital photos and music?
Or, is this primarily a machine to use email, access the internet, and type an occasional letter? Determining how you'll use the PC will help determine what parts to buy, and in what areas you can save money. For example, if you won't be playing games or doing any video work, you probably don't need that $250 high end video card. But, if you plan to share your home movies with friends and family, you better be sure to get a DVD burner (DVD-R). Also, if you're going to be storing digital photos, music, and home movies, be sure to get a large enough hard drive. (You can always add more storage later, but starting off with a good size will save you the hassle down the road.)

Once you're ready to begin, create a parts list and start shopping. One time and cost savings tip I can offer is to look for a barebones system to use as your starting point. A barebones system usually consists of a case, motherboard, and CPU. The motherboard will already be mounted in the case, saving you the potential headache of doing it yourself. You then supply the RAM, hard drive(s), CD/DVD drives, network card, and possibly video and sound cards. (Some motherboards have video, sound, and even network cards built-in. You don't have to use these, though, if you desire better performance from an add-on card.) Another type of drive you should consider installing is a multi-card reader. You can get an internal 11 in 1 reader for around $40 or less that will read a variety of formats (SD, CF, Memory Stick, etc.) so you'll be set no matter what media your digital camera or PDA uses.

So, figure out your goals then start searching the internet for information.
Here are two resources to get you started, but by all means, search around for more:

Submitted by: -Tony C. of Sacramento, CA



Building your own PC

Dear Kenny C -

>Are there any outstanding benefits to building one yourself?

You can pick the hardware and their features that you really want, with your decision on compromises. For example, you can make decisions about SATA hard disk drives, media readers, quietness of your machine, peripherals such as printers and scanner, and, whether you build normally or RAID.

For me, the biggest benefit is feeling good, especially the first time you fire up your built machine. It is similar to building a hotrod at a smaller scale. Yes, you could buy an economy car, but you do not get a machine that looks special and can feel its fun running down the highway entrance ramp.
As my cable provider installed my high speed connection on my RAID 0+1 machine, he said, ?Wow, this is the fastest computer that I have ever seen.?
That made me smile.

>Will this save me money?

Generally, you cannot beat the cost of the top retailers, but by searching on the Internet, you can compare known component sellers (for safety sake), and not pay retail of most the components. But, of equal consideration is what are your needs and wants. Are the compromises to buy retail worth it?
As a percentage, I believe that components have not gone down as much as retail boxes, but these individual components have also gone down in price.

>What are your recommendations--build or buy? Any tips or advice is

I recommend building your own, if your needs and wants are not met enough with the retail box. You may decide to build a PC once, to see what you can do, but I must warn you that it maybe hard not to build your own in the future, knowing and using the benefits.

A couple of years ago, I was so far behind work, that I went to a big retailer to buy a replacement PC but arriving, I could not find what I thought that I needed, even though the big retailer covered the entire city block. As I exited, I saw a ?David vs. Goliath? small personal computer shop across the street. Because of that visit, I ended up buying and building a small soapbox-sized system during Presidents? Day. The next month, one of the personal computer magazines had a major article that such machines maybe the future of PCs. Cool.


1) Focus on the motherboard and what case will hold it all (RAID takes two identical hard disk drives for RAID 0 and four for RAID 0+1). There are several places on the Internet evaluating components; read several.

2) Next consider the CPU. I had always bought the CPU and the motherboard one lower than the top, to get the biggest bang for your buck.

3) Proper memory chips, compatible with the motherboard (considering its memory slots, its chipset, its bus architecture, and your suggested CPU); I consider 1 GB at least, since I tend to keep, and often can, make the homemade system last longer than retail bought; maybe, because of my average four-year ownership, there is a yearly cost-of-ownership that is less.

4) Save, and when needed, print out, any instructions from the component website (not often is much included in their boxes). I always read through these twice, making sure that I do not miss anything in those instructions.
Using Tom?s Hardware Guide ( to include relevant information, I write down a sequential set of things to do to follow, physically and throughout software installation.

5) Decide what the additional compatible components are, properly add up all the component electrical use ensuring that you have a power supply that can properly meet or exceed the total electrical requirements (exceed - especially - if tend to upgrade components in the future), and only then, place your component orders.

6) After all hardware and software arrival, build your machine and install your operating system. Then, install properly your peripherals, and finally close the case. Next is connectivity to the Internet and your network, then your other purchased software.

7) And, most important of all, use an anti-static device such as a anti-static wrist strip to prevent ruining components, at all times until your machine is closed.

While it does take time, may you find building your own enjoyable!

Submitted by: Alfred Z.



Build-your-own vs. off-the-shelf:

In the "old" days (mid-90's) the argument for building your own was clearly supported by the $$ savings that could be realized, compared to buying an off the shelf unit from a mom & pop store or a large builder (Dell, GW2K (then), or a dozen other biggies (at the time)). FWIW I haven't bought an off the shelf system since 1994.

Today the cost savings argument isn't going to be won by building it yourself. What you will gain by building your own system is two-fold: it will be configured the way you want/need it, and it will built with standard parts that can easily (and cost effectively) be replaced or upgraded.

In the early to mid 90's if you built it yourself, you had to pay a lot of attention to compatibility between parts, such as a sound card and CD-ROM drive. Certain items were very expensive. For example, EDO RAM had just come out. A 16MB stick sold for $625. God forbid you didn't have something of value, RAM-wise, to trade in toward that 16MB stick.

If you build your own today you'll get exactly what you want in it, part by part. You'll also have the satisfaction of knowing you built it. And, when you have an issue with it, the knowledge you gained from the build will make it a lot easier to troubleshoot it. You'll also have a basic OS CD that will give you a lot more flexibility in installing and reinstalling, compared to the plethora of "recovery" installs currently popular with the build builders.

Lastly, you'll have many "communities" that can support you in your build and operation. C|Net, Anandtech, HardOCP, Tom's Hardware Guide and Lockergnome forums are but a few of the resources you have available to you to guide you and offer solutions to problems you might encounter.

Once you build one yourself, you'll never go back.

Go for it,

Submitted by: Jeff H.



In response to either buying a new computer off the shelf or building one. I have done both. The first thing that must be decided is what you want in the computer. Then I would suggest that you do some comparing as to cost. Can you get one either off the shelf or through ordering one through an OEM the way you want it and if so how much will it cost. Then shop around and find out how much the parts you want will cost. Also in this you have to decide if you are going to use any of the parts you already have in the old computer, such as case with power supply, memory, drives and the like. If you are going to reuse any of the old parts, subtract them from the cost of building. The compare the cost, also be sure to add what you think is a fair value for your time if you decide to build. Someone who has done it before can probably build one and have it working in 2 or 3 hours. If it is your first time, it could take longer

If you decide to build, the first and main question is: Do you think you can do it! If you are worried about your skill level, can you find someone to help you. Building a new computer is not hard but you do need at least a basic skill lever in hardware before you try or you will just get frustrated and give up.

If you decide to build then go to the hardware store/stores and get the parts you need. Do not hesitate to ask the people there if you parts you want will work together. Also if you are getting a new systems board with CPU and memory, make sure they test it at the store to make sure it works. Nothing is more frustrating than to buy a board and find out later it is bad (doesn't happen often but does happen). Tell them to leave everything on the board. This will save you having to do it later. Just be careful carrying it home.

When you get the parts and get home, open the new case if you bought one, and then read the manual on the system board to learn where all the connectors go. Put the system board into the case and connect the power supply. If the new board has an on board video connection, connect the monitor and power, turn on the system and see if the monitor comes on. If it does, turn off and disconnect the power cord from the computer.

Next I would install and connect any drives I have bought. Once it or they are installed and connected to the systems board, Reconnect the power cord and then install whatever OS you are going to use. If you are reusing drives you had before, they may or may not boot up. I have had both happen. If they do boot up, you are lucky. If not you will have to format the drive and reload the OS.
Once you have the OS loaded and the computer will boot. Then install any new cards you have selected, one at a time, install any software that came with the card and again test. Do this until you have everything installed and working. Doing it one part at a time takes a little longer but if this is the first time you have done this, it makes it easier to troubleshoot if something doesn't work.

Once all the parts are in and working, you can now set it up for your Internet use and then get any updates your OS and other parts might need or have. Again do them one part at a time and test.

Once everything is working to your satisfaction, then close up the case. Locate the computer where you want it, if you haven't already, then lean back and admire the work you have done.

Building one does give you a sense of accomplishment and you know exactly what parts and software went into the computer. But with the cost of computers being what they are now, you may want to think long and hard about if the satisfaction is worth the cost. The last time I built one for myself, after I bought everything I needed or wanted, I could have bought one already make for about the same cost.

But if you decide to build, do your homework, look for the best deals, take your time and then enjoy.

Submitted by: Richard H.

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build your own pc
by reddragon528 / April 22, 2005 12:19 AM PDT
In reply to: Honorable mentions

i will preface by stating that i install computers in a retail environment and cannot afford any silliness. i build my own using top quality stuff they are expensive so price isn't a plus.

actually there are 4 choices for obtaining a pc
1)proprietary system
2)non-proprietary system

if you're building a system from scratch and you need help, be very careful as mentioned in all the above answers

usually by contacting the makers of a bare bones system they will add the necessary stuff for an additional fee

The HP nightmare

the off the shelf systems of the big manufacturers often have bios/mbr/drivers restrictions that preclude certain types of upgrades. also proprietary hardware. if you don't mind spending $199 for a replacement floppy, go for it. also if your embedded video controller goes south, you may not have the option of bypassing the supplied one and installing another. the only solution is to purchase another motherboard from the manufacturer at a price approaching that of the original system. Oh, did i mention that a generic motherboard won't fit?

for instance:

a friend of mine bought an off the shelf computer against my advice. (since i don't want to cast asparagus at this manufacturer (i want to bash them all) i will refer to them only by the fictitious name HP) after a few weeks the system went wobbly (as xp is wont to do) restore wouldn't work (there were no backup points) the recovery disk option (a set of seven disks) would wipe the programs she had installed, even if she did the registration would be gone. after several calls to the HP customer non-support people (yes the power cable is in, yes it is plugged into the wall, yes the socket is live, yes the computer is turned on, yes there is a light on on the front of the computer etc) (difficult to understand due to the heavy Hindi accent and a poor overseas connection)it was decided to send it back. i cloned the hd, noting the serial # put it in the box they sent and left it on the front porch for UPS, got it back in 10 days (quite supprised actually, i didn't know boats went that fast)they changed the HD

SAME PROBLEM did it again, sent it back again, got it back again changed the HD again

we're 8 months into this thing with a non-functioning computer. my former friend didn't want me to open it (it will void the warranty don't you know) So?

SAME PROBLEM did it a third time, they didn't change the hard drive this time meanwhile my former friend was desperate for a computer and again asked my advice. i told her to go to a computer shop and ask to speak to a tech. look for a person working in a dungeon like room in a t-shirt with with an obscure logo, the more obscure the better maybe "I love xerfblast" or "zycon power inside". ask if they build and service their own systems if the answer is yes, ask if it comes with a real XP disk. the disk should say windows XP (or whatever, home or professional) with a SN she found a shop that matched my specifies and when she asked about the XP disk she (the tech) said sure "I'm making one now, you want NTFS or FAT32?" HAPPY, HAPPY, HAPPY.

to make a long story longer, my former friend bought it took it home, set it up and asked me to take a look at it. JOY,JOY. good bios, standard perephials and EXCELLENT troubleshooting, maintenance and backup utilities built in. security software INCLUDED, they even cautioned my recently re-aquired friend about SP2. while i don't want to mention their initials as it is inappropriate to plug a company in a forum I will only refer to them as TIGER DIRECT.

When the warranty on the HP ran out i took it to the shop, took it apart, and started rebuilding it as if it were new. seemed ok till i got to the hd, it was set for slave. AHAH heres the problem. set it to master and got a hdd error, tried another drive, same thing, looked at the mother board, bent pin on the ide connector. BINGO. reassembled it works fine. so much for HP tech support. they had given her a "wall job" they KNEW there was a problem (they had to change the jumper setting from master to slave to get it to work at all) this indicates a policy by HP to always fake the fix, EVEN IF A REAL FIX IS SIMPLER, kinda like a politician will always lie even if the truth suits his needs better. it continues to gather dust in the closet. she doesn't want to sell it "it would be unfair and unethical to foist this on someone else, you want it?"


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My Experiance is similar.....go with CUSTOM!!!
by DouglasFir7 / April 22, 2005 2:23 PM PDT
In reply to: build your own pc

My experiance with HP is similar to this. First I want to say that for many years we have bought third party machines from local vendors. We had great service with all of the machines and they all performed flawlessly. Then about 3 years ago we decided to go with a HP. The price was just so much better and it would meet our needs. So we had an HP and after about a years is when it started to give us problems.

It crashed in the middle of running a program, rebooted, then came up with what I call the "Windows XP blue screen of death" I tried rebooting and researching the problem online. It would just continue not booting the desktop and just come up with the blue screen. Then after that it was time to call tech support....the first time I have ever had to call tech support for a computer.

So I had to deal with all their no brainer it plugged in properly...make sure no external devices are connect etc. etc.....and in an accent that was often hard to understand... somewhere in India I believe. After about 5-6 phone calls with different people they decided to sent the reformat discs. So I reformated the hard drive and had to start loading programs and files from scratch. (And this made me loose all of my data Sad It worked for about three weeks. Then I reformated again, then again a week later. A couple weeks went by before I got the XP blue screen of death. This time I decieded to call HP tech support and after about 5 more phone calls they had me ship it to a location in California, where they replaced the CPU....started the computer....same blue they didn't even test it to see that it was working. So more phone calls went on and they eventually sent a completely refurbished machine and I sent the messed up one back.

It took about 5 and a half months for all of this to happen and over $20 in phone bills.

Now I am decently satisfied with my current machine, the parts are a little cheap and it will have software conflicts here and there, but generally it all goes well.

But because of my experiance, I will never buy a pre built is better and a lot more fun to build my own.

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GET A DELL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
by johncriley / April 23, 2005 3:16 AM PDT
In reply to: build your own pc

You should get a Dell custom pc. They are GREAT pcs. You can get them fit for your own needs.

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Don't get a Dell.
by Ingeborgdot / April 23, 2005 11:57 PM PDT

DON'T get a Dell. They are mass produced and have terrible service. I should know as I have one.

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I have a DELL too...
by GrantB / April 24, 2005 3:55 AM PDT
In reply to: Don't get a Dell.

From both sides of the coin, I have a Dell and have had it for almost 6 years. It has been a reliable machine and any problem I have had were dealt with to my satisfaction.

If you are not too computer savvy I would recommend getting a system with a company like DELL. Yes, I found the system to be a bit of a problem to upgrade, but as stated, you have to take a good look at the type of user you are and what you intend to use the machine for. One thing a home user will enjoy with DELL is the warranties. I have had no problems getting replacement parts for the one or two problems I had with my system in the 4 years I had a warranty plan with DELL. With a system you build, if you have a hardware problem, you are on your own to get the part replaced. If the Computer store you purchased the part from will not replace it, you have to go to the actual vendor...etc. This will eat up a lot of time and you system will be down for that time. Who needs the headache if you are a casual/recreational user.
If, on the other hand, you are a hard core gamer or use your PC at home for higher end work related apps, I think I would be more inclined to take the extra headaches and buils a PC completely suited to my needs.

In the end, don't take just my word or just someone elses word, look at the track record of a company and check out their customer satisfation record.

Hope this helps.

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DELLs are great PC's
by dvane / April 25, 2005 1:44 PM PDT
In reply to: Don't get a Dell.

I have purchased and supported literally hundreds of DELLs and have found them to be excellent, very competitively priced machines. Any HW problems I've had (not many) have been fixed straight away, no questions asked. I would reccommend a DELL to anyone and no, I don't work for DELL or any of their subsidiaries.

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no experience --> DELL
by RedFox314 / April 25, 2005 6:54 PM PDT
In reply to: DELLs are great PC's

I would have to concur if you're buying your first computer.

If you are already thinking of building it yourself DON'T

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Build or Buy
by hagbard44 / May 17, 2005 7:25 AM PDT
In reply to: build your own pc

Even here in New Zealand we get the same thing - people ask for advise - and then do the opposite. Frustrating aye. Then I charge like a wounded bull to rectify problems that should not come from prebuilt systems. and problems we do have because it seems that they build one system and Ghost the rest. I have had onboard network cards never worked, onboard video cards that cannot do the job, no support from Techs, faulty system specific drivers etc, real nightmares. Built the lad a new system from scratch, no problems.

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Everything said here is good advice but here it is simple
by chuckulz / April 22, 2005 1:18 AM PDT
In reply to: Honorable mentions

I believe I've seen it written enough to confirn this several times that unless you are a real gamer, then off-the-shelf PC's will suit you just fine. If you are a gamer, you probably have local gaming buddies to help you on your first build. I'm a active gamer and asked the same question of my local gaming buddies. Many of them offered to help me on my first build. They had me read && to learn what was out there and even read articles on building a PC. After I bought all my components, I had a buddy come over and we sat down on a Saturday afternoon and started putting it together. I learned alot that I never read by him just being there as we put it together. It flies and is very powerful, actually it cost HALF as much as a similar EXTREME system from Falcon Northwest ( as an example )

My best advice would be NOT TO DO YOUR FIRST PC BUILD ALONE ! ! ! !

Forums like this are great and all that and may help you or give you just enough information to be dangerous. And that could mean frying a motherboard or CPU. ($$$$)

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Build - it saves money
by Baromey / April 22, 2005 5:17 AM PDT
In reply to: Honorable mentions

If you know what you are doing, you are better off building a system yourself. I just finished a system myself and have put together many in the past.

If you don't know what you are doing, buy a shelf model. Then find a friend who can show you how to upgrade and build new ones.

If you know how to swap out parts, building a PC is a snap (assuming all the parts work, and sometimes they don't).

I got my parts at Good prices and fast delivery. Compatability can be an issue, so consider starting with a bare bones kit (all the main parts). Tigerdirect also has customer evals of products which I found to be helpful. I also chose products that had significant rebates. To give you an idea of what I spent after rebate:

Case & Power supply- $40
Motherboard - $50
AMD64 3000+ - $100
1GB PC 3200 400mhz DDR RAM - $50
Fans & Cords - $25

This totals $265 (onboard sound, video & LAN included)

I already had a hard drive and a copy of Windows XP, but if you are building your own system you can get a copy of XP home for $90 at Tigerdirect or around $75 elsewhere. Most Hard drives that come with the shelf models are small (40Gb), and thus a waste in my mind. It will cost about the same to get a new one as to upgrade on Dell or Gateway.

I also happened onto a openbox 128Mb DDR ATI video card at CompUSA for $30 and got an OEM Hauppauge PVR-500MCE card that allows me to record two separate TV channels at the same time at for $130 on sale.

I am currently out a little more than $400, but couldn't come close to that by going with a shelf model for the components I have. While I continue to use my former 200Gb hard drive and DVD burner (new and better dual layer one costs $50) I can always update this (to SATA)later when prices are better and so that I don't have to come up with so much at one time.

The low end shelf computers are good for internet and basic processes, but if you want higher functions, they will cost you. If I were buying for computer illiterate relatives I would suggest a shelf model because they come with a warranty and tech support. But if you are willing to spend the time to learn how to do it yourself, you will get a much better machine for the same $$$ and you will be able to upgrade on an ongoing basis so the cost aren't felt as sharply.

Best of luck in your endeavors

P.S. To save money, don't get sucked into buying the latest and greatest internal components. Go for those that are about 6 months old and you will get nearly as good of preformance for a lot less $$$.

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If Built Correctly -- It Will NOT Save Money
by thomasott99 / April 23, 2005 3:45 AM PDT
In reply to: Build - it saves money

I have been custom-building computer systems for many years. My first self-built system used an Intel 80286 processor ? and I have been modifying or repairing systems since the Intel 8088 processors. So that should tell you that I am older than dirt. I stop counting builds after 100 or so custom systems. I?ve been retired since January of this year, but perhaps I can impart some of my experience on this subject.

With all respect to the writer who said ?Build ? it saves money? ? I say: That is absolutely incorrect. Looking at the quality of the writer?s parts list, yes, it is most definitely ?low cost.? However, unless you are building a computer system just for the experience or bragging rights, using cheap or cheaply made components is a bad waste of valuable time, and is a perpetual headache waiting to happen.

In fact, warranty wise ? you would be MUCH better off purchasing an off-the-shelf system, because even the ?cheapest? off-the-shelf system will come with a 1-year warranty. Self-built systems have only the individual warranty of the individual parts, and that will range anywhere from zero to 90 days.

The reason I say ?zero? days is as follows: Let?s say to save money you purchase a cheap $10.00 component such as a NIC or PCI sound card that is made by a ?no-name? technology company. Then during your build (or shortly after your build) you discover the part is ?bad.? Are you really going to the added expense of shipping a bad $10.00 component back to the manufacturer, and wait several weeks for the replacement component to arrive? No ? your time is worth more than that ? you will most likely toss the bad component and purchased another ? that in effect, is what I call a ?zero? warranty component.

Now about the writers ?$40.00? case and power supply: I can?t tell you the number of times in my career that I have made a service calls or repairs to someone who owned a self-built or ?professionally-built? custom system that involved a power supply that was poorly made, or more importantly, was ?under-powered.? Oh yes, the writer?s $40.00 power supply will mostly likely work initially with the components he listed. However, just add a power-hungry internal component like a DVD burner, or an extra CD-R drive, and all of a sudden you start having system ?crashes.? If that problem occurs (and it will), you may think the added component is defective, but the real culprit will be the inadequate power supply.

I can go on and on with the horror stories of ?built-on-the-cheap? computer systems, but instead I will close with the following experienced comments:

? Building your own system is rewarding.
? Custom build you system not to save money, but to have the experience and knowledge.
? Choose your components wisely.
? Computer store clerks are the worst source computer knowledge.
? Cheap is always expensive in the long run.
? Expensive components do not guarantee a successful custom build
? Talk to experience builders prior to purchasing components.
? Read all manufacturers? instructions completely.
? Be patient during the build.
? Most importantly ? enjoy and learn.

Good luck.

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I disagree
by billcipp / April 23, 2005 2:21 PM PDT

Buying cheap components will cause you grief, but buying good components that are yesterdays news, but much faster than a four year old antique computer system will save you money and still be a decent system.

Intel pentium 4 2.8 chips at $125.00 bargain prices are a good deal, and 3.0 at $175.00 is not bad. Bring on a decent PM800 mother board with SATA hard drive connections (some deals at $50.00), a 256MB Nvideo graphics card for $50.00 or less, Sanyo CD and DVD for $35.00, 400 watts of power for $30.00, and a 160GB hard drive for $85.00 and you have a much better system for the same cost as an off the shelf who uses similar or cheaper components to keep their cost down.

If you wait for the deals and due the research on the components you buy, you can't lose and yes, you get the satisfaction of watching what you built light up for the first time. Plus, today's computers are like building a model car, (well an elaborate one) you just have to make sure that the parts are compatable and that you don't break anything when installing them!

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Have to disagree
by BobLap / April 25, 2005 11:18 PM PDT

If you plan on building a system with cutting edge technology then it may be cheaper to buy an off the shelf system then to build your own. But if you don't mind being one generation behind in your computer technology then you can save money by building your own.

The best way to build a system is to do your research, decide on the type of sytem you want to end up with then surf the net for quality components at rock bottom prices.

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Additional advice from our members (Section 1)
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / April 21, 2005 3:15 AM PDT

***Additional advice from our members (section 1)***


First off, I recommend that you take the free course offered by Cnet on how to "Build Your Own PC". I just finished taking it and it is an excellent course for the beginner and the advanced. It has all the step-by-step information along with all the pro's and con's of building your own PC. From my own experience (I have built several computers from scratch with no formal training), I have discovered that building your own is the way to go. for the most part I found that I was able to by the parts cheaper on-line than go to a store and buy a pre-built or even the parts from the store for that matter. I am from Canada and use for all of my needs and they also quote for the people from the US as well.

It is relatively simple to build a computer; the hard part for the average person is knowing what parts are compatible with other parts, so you make sure that you purchase the correct items. The main benefit from doing it yourself is that if you are on a budget, you can buy the parts as you can afford them and then install them at once or add them in later. Also, you will have some parts from your old computer, if you wish to do so, that you can use in your new one such as the floppy A drive or your CD drive (so you can have a player & a burner) or your ram (if compatible). The main thing to remember is that after you build your own, you will need to install all of your software so you need to have all of your installation discs for all of your programs. If you don't have software discs, then it might be a better idea to buy one pre-built with all of the software installed (remember though, that when you buy a computer with software installed, you do not usually get the installation discs and that you have only bought the license to use the programs). You will also have to make a list of what you plan to use your computer for and what components you will need right now and if you want to upgrade in the future. I know it sounds like a lot to figure and know but if you don't have the knowledge yourself, you have the entire Cnet community at your fingertips to help you , all of whom are more than willing to help and share their knowledge and experiences with you so that you make the right decision for yourself. That is what it basically boils down to; your decision of what you are comfortable with, in both doing the work yourself and how much you want to spend yourself. Myself and all the other people who have built their own systems, can only offer advice from our own preferences of what we wanted for ourselves and what we want to do in the future.

Again, know what you want first (post a message for help on what you need for componets, etc.), take the course from Cnet and ask the Cnet community for help when you have decided what you want to do. Happy building.

Submitted by: Lloyd S. of Medicine Hat, Alberta, Canada.




I answer to your first question, of course there are. I recommend taking one of the helpful free courses CNet has to offer on building PCs. They take you through what you need to do if you are a beginner at this stuff. Building a PC is comparable to legos, just with more expensive and more fragile pieces. Happy Everything tends to self explanatory when you start to physically build the system. By building your own PC you can customize it to the way you want it and have the satisfaction of using something you created with your own hands. Plus it gives you the flexibility of adding on in the future. I say this because I have seen some computers where it has been hard to add hardware to them, namely Compaqs.

For your second question, It all depends. Without a monitor it cost me little over a $1000 to build my computer. The reason I say without monitor is because I had a monitor laying around that I could use until I could afford a new one. I also do gaming so I built something with that in mind as well. Going with the absolute best can right now set you back at least $2,000 USD. However, that is if you are big into games like Unreal Tournament and Doom 3 that require a very good graphics card and very fast processor speeds. If you want something that you can surf the net, word process, play the occasional game and handle the normal everyday stuff that people do that don't require a fast processor or good graphics card, then it is relatively cheap, cheaper than what you can probably get a Dell or Gateway for.

If you want the comfort of having a system you can get repaired easily without cost to you while it is under warranty then get something from Dell, HP, Gateway, or any number of computer manufacturers out there.

If you do decide to build your computer and you want to have some of the more recent technology, go with a slower 64 bit processor. Even the slowest of these processors tend to be faster than an athlon. Plus it allows you to easily upgrade to faster, more powerful processors at a later date.

As far as were you can find parts, for one stop shopping, try However if you are looking for the best price, I suggest

Submitted by: Jake



Hi Kenny,

This is a good question because I have found myself in the same situation. Twenty years ago I baught my first computer and associated hardware/software (80 character dot-matrix printer, accounting software...etc. etc) for just over $6,000. All of a sudden ignorance wasn't as blissful as it was reported to be. Since then I have probably built 30 PCs and baught 3. My wife accuses me of building a new one every six months!! But I digress...

Today you can buy a very powerful PC w/monitor for under $500!! The primary benefit of building your own PC is that you get to put in it what you want.. i.e. bigger, faster hard drives; better, faster graphics; flat panel instead of flat screen; memory up the yingyang....I think you get the picture. Another benefit of building your own is that you don't have to transfer you hard drive's data over. You may have to re-activate your XP ( I did) but hey, just think about all the great new STUFF you have now!!!

You didn't state what your current configuration is so I will assume it to be a P3, which in computer terms is a dinasour. I say "TOSS IT!, DEEP SIX IT!, FILE THIRTEEN!".

Oh, did I mention??? Building your own will DEFINITELY cost you more!! This could be a very objective decision (budget driven) or a subjective decision (adventure driven). If you are budget driven then buy one for $500 - $1,000. It will do almost everything you want it to. If you are adventure driven then build one and get one of the most satisfying feelings you'll ever experience when you power that puppy up for the first time and it BOOTS!!

GOOD LUCK in whichever way you choose!!

Submitted by: Jack in Tucson



If you want to learn more about how a PC works and inter-reacts with the software, plus, have a good amount of time on your hands (two or three days for research) then my answer is, YES. The more you know about any device the better you'll understand how to work with it and what not to do.

There are massive sites, books, self help stores and clubs that will help you get informed of the different types of memory, processors, mother boards, power supplies, etc., etc.... I've found that looking at the major PC builders line-up of off the shelf, options and incentives will give you a great level to start your review/research. Finding out who manufactures items (mother boards, video cards, audio cards, software, etc.) and reviewing their websites "news releases" will give you one of the best base lines of what's up and coming. Picking the componets that work best for you has pretty much become a matter of preferance. Some do better here while others do better there. Your usage/applications will help drive you in the correct direction.

First choose your atmosphere, (windows, unix, mac, etc.). Then design the system with a minimum of five years of usage without any upgrades.

Determining your usage speed; do you use high end fast programs, (games, internet, number crunching, accounting, media, etc.)? There isn't anything worse than a slow system but a system that is beyond your needs/requirements will be money wasted. Remember that in four to five years you'll be upgrading the boards or replacing the whole thing. So, throw all those bells and whistles out the window. Besides they'll get really cheap in a few years.

Take a look at your current system. What are it's short comings? Why did you upgrade and now are looking at replacing it, since it's less than five years old? Will you be keeping it as a second doing specific tasks? What level of a PC was it when you bought it, (high end, fastest, something that got you going)?

A good rule of thumb, I've found, is to take the highest end item and down grade a knotch or two. Reasonable pricing, will last four or five years (until technoligy drives upgrading), easy to upgrade but mostly an established track record.
Building your own will cost you more than an off the shelf or custom built unit, (once you count your time in research and assembly), but it will be "YOUR" system. Parts will run you about the same. It's an experience that will be like none other. If you so choose - Have fun.

Submitted by: mudhawaii



There really is nothing to building a computer, it's fun, will help you know more about what's happening inside that box and save you money.

The major reason for building is that you can choose exactly what you want & not get trapped in the "optional extras" to your store/internet bought machine. Manufacturers tend to offer "lowest level" machines in their adds, small hard drive, 128 mb memory, bad sound card on motherboard, etc. They then proceed to stiff you for each upgrade you make.

Want a bigger drive than that 120 gig? Just buy one - usually much cheaper than upgrading from the manufacturer. Remember also, if you're building your own computer you're not violating your warranty when you open it up & replace a part!

Modern motherboard manuals are very easy to read, the pictures are explanatory & the text is now (mostly) in understandable english.
Motherboards are also stenciled with what each jumper, socket, etc. is for - the only caviat is connections for the case itself. The black wire jumpers are now also marked positive & negative, however it can be a trial and error process to find our which fit which contact on the motherboard.

Shorting out boards/processors is another over-hyped fear. I've been building computers for over 15 years & never fried a product, as long as you ground yourself you'll have no problems.

The only thing to remember is, now you've built your computer does NOT mean you're ready to re-wire your house!

Submitted by: Cyderman



There is no financial benefit to building your own. In fact, whitebox manufacturers will usually be cheaper since they buy parts in bulk, and can thus pass on some of the savings to you while still taking a profit. I like You can still specify your choice of components with their online configurator, but they'll ensure compatibility, build it for you, and slap on a warranty. Well-known brands like Dell, HP, and Gateway may also offer this configurability, but their extensive advertising campaigns drive up their prices. Steer clear of a well-known brand, and go with a lesser-known brand which is highly acclaimed by its customers. You can also go to the likes of and buy a refurbished 1-3 yo computer which is still much more powerful than your current system, and you'll get it for pennies on the dollar. You can also try name brand sites like Dell for refurbished systems, but expect to pay more. The only time building yourself is worthwhile is when you want specific components which you cannot find in pre-built systems, whether its specific chipsets, processors, ram, video cards, etc., and when you specifically don't want particular components. This is usually the case when you're building a specialized system such as a video workstation, a file server, a media center, a music studio, etc. Or, of course, there could be a personal benefit to building yourself as a hobby. If you do want to build yourself, you could start out with a barebones system from the likes of A barebones system will come with a set of components prepackaged and often preassembled. This might be a case, a power supply, a motherboard, and a processor, and you'll add the video and sound cards, harddrives, and other components. It might be a less ominous task to build one of these. Otherwise, the best advice is to shop around for the best deals and do plenty of research about compatibility and stability. And never go top-of-the-line unless you're willing to pay top-dollar. Get components that are 6 months to a year on the market rather than something just released. They'll be more stable too. If you're building yourself, it's probably for the challenge, so don't forget to have fun!


Submitted by: Tom A. of Lyndhurst, NJ



Hi Kenny,

I have found building a system yourself is generally more expensive - you pay full retail price for the parts. That's the downside.

The upsides are several.

First, you get to choose what parts you put into your computer. So, for instance, if you want to build something that is truly high performance, you can do research on motherboards, memory, video cards, etc. (CNET is a good source for information, but there are others; Google "hardware reviews" or something similar) and decide which components you want to buy, get them, and build your "dream system". On the other hand, you can also go really cheap, regardless of quality (although I wouldn't recommend that for the first system you build, especially if it is going to be your main system), shop for low prices, and put those components together.

Second, you will learn a useful new skill - computer assembly. This will make it easier for you to do future upgrades and internal maintenance of your system. And who knows, there may also be employment to be had this way (at least all your friends and neighbours will come to you with their computer problems).

Third, you will get an "up close and personal" understanding of what makes your computer tick. This may not interest you much, but, if you're even slightly inquisitive, it can be rewarding to learn.

One caveat, though - you should prepare yourself by having a guide to building a computer handy somewhere; again, there are good ones online. Be very careful around connecting power supplies before you're fully ready to go (you might fry one or more components) and be wary of static electricity (same reason). Most stores won't refund your money or replace the part if they determine you made a mistake during assembly.

Good luck and, if you go the do-it-yourself route, have fun!

Submitted by: David P.

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Cheaper, easier way to go...
by cromagnon / April 21, 2005 9:35 PM PDT

Have you considered simply using your current system and upgrading in place? It can be fairly easy to start with a motherboard/processor replacement, and add upgraded components as you wish. Typically this would only set you back a couple of hundred dollars to start with and spread the cost out over time.

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thats what i did bro
by joseleon201 / April 23, 2005 5:34 AM PDT

I bought my computer like three years ago with a MSI motherboard and a AMD athlon xp 1.4 GHz and a itty bitty hard drive of 40 i recently bought a Intel motherboard (latest model) intel pentium 4 3.20 GHz and a 200 gb hard drive all for 400 dollars. so basically i got a new computer because its not what the PC looks like on the outside but what it has in the inside Motherboard/Processor.

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3rd option
by jmobrien / April 22, 2005 3:35 AM PDT

Regarding the decision to build your own computer or a pre-built from companies like Dell or HP, let me give you another option. Visit a local computer shop that builds custom or build to order computers. I am a system builder here in El Paso, TX and among the services that I offer to my customers are expert advice regarding compatibility issues, the reuse of components from their original computer and a real person to talk to if you have problems. I give a 3 year warranty on all parts & labor on new systems and the manufacturer warranty on components. Most system builders don't make their living off the sale of computers, but from the additional services that they can provide you, such as setting up your home network, virus & spyware removal from your computer and repairs on your Dell or HP computer when you finally get tired of waiting on hold, etc. or when the warranty is up and you still need your computer to work. Prices on new systems are competitive with the big box makers and we will make sure the system does what you need it to do out of the box. Example, I sell a complete system, monitor, printer CPU, speakers, keyboard, mouse, O/S and application programs for $875.00

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More build-your-own info
by greyhound63 / April 25, 2005 1:05 PM PDT

One of the sites I have used to build a couple of computers is and they also have documents that you can read to get familiar with what you should know (for example, what kind of power supply to buy). Some details on CPUs need to be updated, but on the whole very informative.

I first built a computer in 1995 which was scary because it was Windows 3.1! Recent builds have been much better and easier now that Windows is more sophisticated. I recommend looking very carefully at motherboards because some manufacturers offer cheap ones but are not made very well. I would check forums or user groups to get the best input (like here at Cnet for example). Gigabyte and Asus are well-known, and there are others. Check it out.

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Additional advice from our members (Section 2)
by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / April 21, 2005 3:16 AM PDT

*** Additional advice from our members (section 2)***


Buy, definitely.

Unless of course this is strictly a work PC and you can find a great deal. I was able to build mine with $500 (minus monitor and OS) that is capable of running Half-Life 2, World of Warcraft, and pretty much everything. Don't be too concerned with it. I do recommend doing a bunch of research. I picked up a book, called "Building PCs for Dummies" which is dated, but still a solid resource. Also, search the web as there are plenty of step by step guides.

Now for getting the parts themselves. I highly recommend as that's where i got all of my parts. You can also find customer reviews and ratings, and go from there. I highly recommend that you also start by choosing a CPU and then the appropriate motherboard, as those decisions basically effect your decisions on everything else.

Basically, you are just trading some time spent researching for some extra cash in your pocket. You should definitely build, especially if this is a gaming/hybrid PC. It is cheaper and you get less bundled software that you don't want. The only downside is having to configure the majority of things yourself, but there are plenty of easy ways to do this. I highly recommend build over buy.

Submitted by: Steve R.



Well it depends, are you going for the supersystem, or just a budget machine for basic web browsing. If you are just browsing, it will save you time and money to buy an of the shelf for less than $600. If you want a super graphics or gaming machine, you can usually save your self a couple hundred by doing the work yourself, but be careful. For your first I recommend finding someone who has built a few machines and ask them to be available incase you have any hardware issues. You will also want to buy from a more reputable dealer your first time, and by all means avoid places like Fry's for your initial build, it gets frustrating waiting in those lines to return any faulty parts you may have.

Submitted by: Andrew O.



Hi Kenny,

One thing that is important to know is what you are going to be using the computer for, gaming, video editing or just e-mail and web browsing, answers to these questions will determine what kind of system you will have to build and how much it will cost. I believe most people do a little gaming a little video editing and a lot of e-mail and web browsing so a mid priced system will serve most peoples needs. I purchased my first computer in 1995 from a mail order company and since have had probably a half dozen computers and built them all. I don?t really think you are going to save a lot of money on building your own system especially if you use quality components but the benefits for me are that my choices are endless. I am not restricted to only certain hardware that the vendor offers and vendors will always try to skimp on something weather it be the PSU (power supply unit) or the motherboard, type of memory ect. Unless you buy form vendors like Falcon Northwest who I feel strive to use quality components in their systems although you are still limited to only so many choices. Another benefit to me is when I buy the hardware retail I receive that manufacturers warranty, I register my product on their web site and if I have a question or problem with a specific piece of hardware I can talk directly to that products tech support who is generally much more informed and helpful than a large vendors tech support who purchases OEM (other equipment manufacturers) products, but generally I do my own troubleshooting building your own system allows you to get to know your computer and also I have a full blown version of the operating system and not some recovery disk that most vendors will give you. For me it?s a no brainer when it comes to buy or build. When I?m planning a new system I love reading about the new technologies, searching for the best hardware by reading reviews and hardware forums, scouring the web for the best prices and when it all comes to my door I?m like a kid at Christmas. If you do decide to build your own I have listed several sites that can provide help PC Mechanic PC World Toms Hardware Hardware Central so good luck with the new computer what ever you may decide. I hope this information helps.

Submitted by: Joe S.



Hi Kenny C.,

C/NET just ran a course on how to build your own PC and it does give a very good idea about doing so.
I suppose that if you look at : you might find that you can still download the .pdf file.
Print it out and you will be able to decide for yourself if you want to build it yourself or get one of the shelf.
The benefit of building is that it will be the way you want it and you can select the components for it.
Most important before anything is to make a ?wish list? as to ?what you want to do with the computer? and than select the components based on this.
It is a lot easier than people think and you have already the experience from upgrading as you wrote.
Good luck and enjoy the building.

There are not many things that can not be improved!

Submitted by: NOD32.



Hi Kenny,
My advice to you, is, if you have the enthusiasm, and you sound as if you have, then go for it.
I did, and the feeling on completion is something else.
I start by making a list of my requirements.
You can shop around for the bits, but I found that if you go to a computer fair, and talk to the stall holders, the will talk to you and advise, and it can be cheaper.
I started with the Pentium 4, this was not the cheapest mother board, but I was told it was the easiest and the safest for starting with. I bought the mother board, the memory and the heat sink, all together to make certain that they were compatible with each other. As I bought the parts I found that the instructions, ( after reading a couple of times ), helped me all of the way,
The saving may not be that great, but you get everything that you won't with your set, it also helps towards any upgrading that you may consider later on.
I have completed my second PC, and still feel great about it.
All the best, and enjoy.

Submitted by: John B.



Building your own computer is a lot of fun and it allows you to do some cool stuff like choose unique cases to fit in odd areas (e.g. slim and small if you want to put it in your visual/audio rack as a Windows Media Server). Of course, depending on which case you choose you may limit yourself on hardware you can include. Building your own box is also an fantastic way to increase you future troubleshooting skills and save money of support contracts etc. even when you move on to commercial boxes again. However, I would have to say that you should not really expect to save money by doing this. I have priced out individual components for the same type of project in the past and could not match the prices I would find on the leading competitors web sites (or even the white-box market).
It's kind of like building your own car ? you do it more as a fun hobby than as a way to save money, IMHO.
Good luck!
Submitted by: Geoff M.



In my opinion the real question is : What is more important to you, To learn as much as possible about what is inside your computer beacuse you built it and chose every component and investigated compatibilities or to save some money or time or both ?
I have been building computers since 1978 and enjoy every minute of it plus the most important thing to me is that I keep myself up to date.

Submitted by: Eduardo V.



I have never gotten a computer "off the shelves". I have always HAD them built for me. That way I know exactly what is in it and brands of parts. But you must make sure the person building it is honest. My last one was not completely honest with me. So he ended up having to replace parts in it. Our son built his own and had fun doing it. Now I am not saying it went smoothly but he had fun. He can say it is his computer. If he would help me I would build my own next time.

"Joy" depends on your own attitude. Happiness comes and goes, but Joy is yours forever, should you choose to own it.
Others can make your life unhappy, but no one can steal your joy, unless you let them." Happy

Submitted by: Shari S.



There are many rewards to be derived from building your own PC.
The satisfaction in accomplishing this task and the knowledge
you gain from purchasing and assembling your pieces and parts
are just a couple.It can also be a frustrating chore. You must consider
the compatability of all the components. For Example,not all ram is compatable
with all motherboards.You need to research and find out what ram
has been tested with your motherboard. Intel boards for example
are usually tested with certain ram and the ram part numbers are on file on
their site.The ram that is tested may save having to reorder when you buy
ram that hasn't been tested and does not work. It may be difficult to find
a vendor that handles the tested ram by part number. You can also take your
time purchasing components so you don't have a large cash outlay at
one time.
On the other hand you can go out and buy a PC that has all the
components together. An operating system installed, a monitor,
a printer and speakers, plus tons of games and utilities that will all work
well together.

Submitted by: Duane M of Lexington, OH



When I first developed an interest in PC's, I built my own. I did not end up with a superior PC, but I learned enough to dive in to the project for the last 3-4 years. I was able to up grade my beginner gradually as my knowledge grew and I now have a PC that is the envy of a lot of my friends. I do not do any gaming so I just stayed away from that part. I now have the knowledge to help others with their store bought packages when they have problems. One of the most important things I realized as I would help others is that by building and upgrading my PC.....I have ALL my software.

I have used AT&T for my ISP from the start. I boot up and go online to a blank screen. Using SlimBrowser, there is nothing on my screen that shows up unless I put it there.
Submitted by: Rodger S



I used to build my own computers but now buy them already built, online, so I can configure them. There are several key reasons for my switch.
Assuming that Windows XP will be the OS, it is much more expensive to purchase this retail than the computer manufacturer pays, and that creates an initial $80 price disadvantage when building a computer.
Unless you want one of the cool gaming cases available today, I find that cases for business oriented computers are much more attractive and available in more form factors in premanufactured computers. There are mini desktop cases as thick as a large book simply unavailable to home builders, and the cooling engineering is done for you.
The warranty is always an issue with home built computers. I like three year warranties because it comes with three years of technical support also. With a homebuilt computer I have to keep all the supporting paperwork in the motherboard box to have all the peripheral information at hand, and it's coo confusing. One time I built four identical computers, and chose what I thought was the best hard drive, the ibm Deskstar, only to find out it was nicknamed the DeathStar and 3 of the 4 died.
There were hardware issues. One of the fine wires from the power supply to the motherboard had a three prong female plug, but it had to go to two adjacent pins on the motherboard, so I had to cut away the center section of the plug to get it to fit. Also, the colors of different peripherals don't usually match, so your choice of the perfect CDROM may only come in beige while your case is black.
So unless you want ultimate control of the choice of every little piece of hardware in the box, I would recommend buying a computer. Building one is a great learning experience, though, and it will give you more confidence for future upgrades.
Submitted by: Jon S.


There are many rewards to building your own computer.
first off it is cheaper to do it yourself second you control what you put in. Dell likes to say " get a computer for $399.00" What they don't tell you is that it will be $899.00 By the time you add decent ram and all the other things the base model will have.

Buy Parts on line no tax and they are always cheaper.
and you get to choose what case you want, a clear case stuns friends.

No proprietary software running in the background of your computer eating up ram. what you put on it is all that is there.

I got the Idea if starting my own company because I built my first computer and realized that I could get paid to do so. I have a thriving company today.

Do yourself a favor and go to boarders and get some books nothing confusing just what speaks o you simple

because it is all a simple puzzle that has instructions to make. simple.
don't be afraid.
Check out
or ,

good prices good variety of stuff.

Hope I helped

Submitted by: Jason R.

There are indeed some benefits of 'self'build'. But before you start, ask yourself 1 question, and that is..'what do I want it to do?'. It's no use building an all singing-all dancing system if you just want to do a bit of photo printing. So build one to suit you, and not what a serious gamer tells you to build. The cheapest way to build one is to visit computer fairs/markets, there are some really good bargains to be had by the way of motherboards, cpu's, memory and cases. Some solid advice can also be found at these places. Here's what I build as a standard 'all-rounder'..
120 gig hard drive, 512 ddr memory, 2.4 gig AMD (or similar) cpu
drives can be added to suit your needs (i.e. cd-rom, cd or dvd burner etc.).
One thing that should be mentioned is cooling, get a cooling fan a size up from your cpu (if cpu is 2.4 then get a 2.8 cooler) this will give a little breathing space, just in case. I wish you luck on your build and hope all goes well for you.
Submitted by: Pete S.


I was in a similar situation 6 mo. ago. I decided to build one myself. I did quite a bit of reading looking for the right case, motherboard, compatible CPU and other components. My advice to you is go ahead and build one but read, read and read some more. It really wasn?t that difficult and I now have a far better system than I could have bought pre-made and saved some money at the same time. You also will have a sense of accomplishment knowing that you made it yourself. On a scale of 1-10 for difficulty I would rate it a 5and that was on my first one. I?m helping a friend build one now and it?s about a 3. it definitely get easier as you go.
Best of luck,
Submitted by: Sean W of Niagara Falls, NY


I've built my own last 2 PC's and the hardest things are
- installing the processor and heatsink correctly on your motherboard
- Making the correct settings of your BIOS the first time you boot.

Advantages of putting together your own PC are:

- you don't get hardware you don't need. For example, with some "off the shelf" models you get a 7 in one memory card reader or Firewire and/or Bluetooth interfaces which you might never need at all. When you design your own system you have the freedom of chossing exactly the video card and extra PCI devices you need, and the case which you feel comfortable working in.

- Lower cost. I generally spend about $400 on my parts while an "off the shelf" PC would cost me at least 699.


- No Helpdesk support. For some people it's not a problem, but when your computer starts rebooting spontaneously and you can't figure out why, you have no-one to go to. A workaround for this is that you buy all your parts seperately in one store and pay the personnel to put it together, if they provide that service, of course (the place where I go does it for 30$). If they do , they'll probably give you 1 year guaranee on the parts and also one year on the assembly. If anything goes wrong within the first year (which is a very likely period for errors to show) you just call them or bring them the PC, and you don't have to worry about it. (Just make sure you keep the purchase-receipt in a safe place Wink )

- No Recovery CD. Most big brand PC's come with a Recovery CD with which you can reformat and reinstall your operating system just the way it was when you took it out of the box the first time. This can come in VERY handy when your PC has avirus or if some operating system files got corrupted.

I hope I was of some help,
Best regards,

Submitted by: Georges B of Ghent, Belgium.



Building your own computer takes planning. Make a list of what you want to do with you computer( ie. gaming, video, music, Internet surfing) and build accordingly. I am sure you want to build this computer to last you at least for the next four years. The big computer manufactures( Dell, HP, Compac) have packages all ready put together. I use these packages to figure what computer setup will work for what I want to build. Like the manufactures, the more bells & whistles you add, the more it will cost. Most of the motherboards that are out there have all the basic connetions you need. The CPU speed, buss speed and adding what size of hard drive,CD-players, floppy drive and amount of RAM memory is up to your choosing. I've found the best thing to do is to build one on the big manufactures sites, print out the specs, then go to the sites where you can by parts and try to build the same unit for the same price or less. These sites will have very attractive cases and accessories, so you can make this computer look any way you want. Remember the computer you are building is limited to the equipments manufactured warranty, these may vary and getting replacement equipment maybe a hassle. Building a computer and see it work is very rewarding. One point of interest, if you build a computer system for someone else and there is a problem, they will come to you to have it corrected for as long as they have the computer system or until your move away or die.

Submitted by:
Walt Z.



This is a very difficult question to answer. You have some experience with hardware but it appears to be limited. But first some background.
People who purchase PCs purchase them based upon CPU, amount of memory, Hard drive size, video board, and what the case looks like. People who build PCs make their purchase based upon chipset. For example, Intel
915 and Intel 925. The chipset determines the performance, the features and the upgradeability of a computer. If you can answer the following questions, then you may consider building your own computer. If you can't you may want to go to a site like and learn.
First, do you know what a version 2 ( 20 V 24 pin) powersupply is? Do you know the difference between a Front Side Bus of 533Mhz V 800Mhz. If you do, do you know which type of Ram is appropriate for each speed? Do you know the difference between DDR and DDR2 memory?
Do you know the difference between PCI, Express PCI and AGP slots. Have you ever heard of Asus, Abit, or Gigabyte? Have you ever upgraded a BIOS?
I have building my own computers for the last 12 years or so. Each time I build one, I have to spend about 2 weeks refreshing my knowledge on the latest hardware. There is a lot to know before you spend a lot of money. You won't save a lot of money building your own computer, you will be able to build a better computer for the same money. You will not be buying into a vendor's proprietary hardware. Nor will you be buying a vendor's hardware they have tweaked. I suggest building your own, but only after you have learned all you need to know, or with someone who has the knowledge.
Good Luck.

Submitted by: Henry S.



To be perfectly honest, by the time you locate all the necessary working parts (and I hyphenate working parts) and build a new computer, It'll wind up costing you more than if you just went into a store and requested exactly what you want, Provided you also purchase the three year warranty (such as the one offered by Best Buy for the GEEK Squad). They are very good and you can have exactly what you want up and running sooner than if you built it. Keep the old one to mess around with and for spare parts. You never know. You may just be able to built that PC after all. Do NOT listen to what many say about building a PC. By the time you get organized, Whatever you've built you can be sure it's extinct. Unless you have a close trusted friend who is technically inclined, has time, and an IQ of at least 145-160, Don't bother. Also, learn up on PC's, it's not all the complicated and never, never, never, let anyone take your PC to upgrade or check out. I mean it. the GEEK Squad, they come to your home and you can sit on top of them, ask questions, take notes, film them, etc. and they do not mind at all. They're pretty good and guaranteed. I have a HP Pavilion 98SE that I've worked on myself, and upgraded, and it works like a charm. I love it. I also have a Compaq Presario with XP and Gateway Laptop XP and (in my opinion) neither is as good as my 98SE. So it's a matter of choice and knowing your computer. I Hope this helps.

Submitted by: Erma F.



Dear Kenny C.,
The cost of electronics parts and assemblies is so competitive, these days, there really is very little to no cost advantage to build your own PC.
Now that being said, I would still recommend that building your own has advantage. Most PCs companies, in order to contain cost, integrate various functions onto the main "mother" board. Good for cost and sometimes speed. Bad for future upgrades and recovering from catastrophic failures .... Like having to completely reload windows. The integrated functions typically require unconventional drivers that don't load in a conventional way. So if your looking for cost, buy "off the shelf". If your looking for ease of upgrade and general future "maintenance", build your own. This is a modular solutions, with ease of modular upgrade.
Good luck and best wishes.

Submitted by: Cliff



Kenny, back when you bought your last computer, building your own was definately a noble thing to do as well as economically beneficial. However, now you can buy a powerhouse machine at a fraction of the cost. To build your own, which would definately be an adventure, simply would save you money. By the time you've researched all the drivers to operate the different components of your new machine, as well as price shopping (your time is money theory) you would probably spend much more money and still end up with a machine not specifically designed to operate within itself.
However, if your new computer should be a monster media center for gaming, movies, and enteratainment, then perhaps you should consider building your own. Be aware, though that changing or upgrading memory is a bit different than spending two hours installing your board into the new case, new processor with heat sink and fans, supporting cards, cables, and before closing the case, realizing you forgot to hook up the power cable to the board...
It really isn't that difficult to build your own system, with a little common sense and some sound research, you should do just fine. However, if you also want to save money, then perhaps a purchase from good ole Dell would be the best route.
Good luck
Submitted by: Peter P.


Kenny C. :
Building your own box is a huge amount better than buying off-the-shelf.
For a start you get exactly what you want; with a pc you buy you may get more power or more storage than you require, when this is un-necessary you can end up paying quite a premium for it. Obviously you are also paying the company for its time to put the components together for you, while this may be worth it for complete computer novices, anyone with some hardware changing knowledge would be able to put a pc together with relative ease.
The third and possibly biggest advantage is the cost... You can shop around and only buy what you need/want meaning you get the cheapest prices for exactly what you want. You can even go to auction/2nd hand sites if you really want to skimp on the price.
The only real problem you will have from the sounds of it is putting the processor into the motherboard, all you need to do is take a little more care when doing this as the pins on the chip are easily bendable. Once you have done this all you need to do is fit the motherboard to the case, plug in the power and away you go. After this you should have experience with all the progressive steps afterwards, all you need to do is plug in the hard drives and pci cards etc. The only thing you need to check is that the hard drive you are using as the primary master is F-disked and formatted, often out-of-the-box hard drives dont come with this so just whack it into a current pc and do that. Finally, just use a boot disk (use windows help to find how to make one for your version) to start up your new computer and install windows or your chosen OS from there.
There you have a brand new pc which is exactly what you want for a fraction of the shop cost!

Submitted by: Kyle C.

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if to buy a computer complete or build a computer
by casper66 / April 21, 2005 6:15 PM PDT

hello there,

i know how you are thinking if to buy a new computer that is already complete or to build a computer yourself well untill i got my new computer i had my old computer for bloody years anyway instead of myself going to buy a computer complete i went out & bought all the parts myself & built my new computer myself theres nothing to it & i have found out it worked out heaps cheaper by buying the parts myself & putting the computer togethere myself.

if i was you i would do the same thing go out & buy all the parts yourself & build it yourself becuase the thing is if you know how to build a computer yourself you will find out that you have saved heaps of money by doing it yourself.

the thing is that alot of people mite say its cheaper to buy a computer that is already complete well the thing is work it out yourself i say you have a brain in your head well use it.


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Gettng a new PC - Make or Buy
by briesmith / April 21, 2005 8:25 PM PDT

If you want a reliable PC for use by your family then get one from DELL or, in the UK, companies like Evesham. They normally offer at least one current specification machine at a reasonable price and, crucially, these come with at least one year's, often on-site, warranty.

You take these out of the box, plug them into your xDSL router, printer/scanner etc and you're up and running. If you get a problem DELL's and Evesham's Help Lines are excellent and they do actually honour their promises; if it fails within the warranty period or is dead on arrival (DOA) they will fix it.

If, on the other hand, the propsective PC is for you and you alone and it doesn't matter if it lies around for days at a time while you diagnose problems, play with different component configurations etc, then build one.

You will unlikely save any money but you will enjoy the feeling of having built something rather than just gone shopping.

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by Philip Clift / April 21, 2005 8:18 PM PDT

Sadly, I have to say I agree with James - he covers all the points. I say "sadly," because a few years ago, you could self-build AND save money, but not any more.

Computers have become increasingly complex - rather like cars. Gone are the days when you could take the air cleaner off and tweak the carburettor settings - emission regulations have put a stop to that, and the sheer complexity puts much of the work beyond the scope of the amateur.

However, with PCs it is still the case that it is actually quite difficult to get it hopelessly wrong, insofar as the cables and connectors really only have one way they'll fit. Memory will still only slot in the right way, and so on. So, disaster is unlikely. You can always look at the way your existing machine is put together if you're really stuck, but bear in mind that newer boards and components may not be the same as older ones.

A small point - if you don't need to keep your old system, you'll be able to recycle plenty of bits, such as modem and/or network card, floppy drive, even the case, perhaps. That can be quite a cost saving, but it does mean you scrap the rest - it may be better to sell your old machine as a "runner" but quite often selling the bits individually (on eBay, for example) generates more cash than a complete system! Legacy parts, notably memory, fetch good prices.

Finally, go to a good retailer, preferably not on a busy Saturday, and ask them to check compatibility of parts before they sell you them, especially the memory/CPU/motherboard combination, and whether the power supply is adequate. Those are where most people come unstuck! James is quite right - if you want total control over components, it's the way to do it. Remember that the "trainloads" of bits that the big suppliers buy in may not necessarily be top quality...

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no to saving money?
by PatrynXX / April 21, 2005 8:20 PM PDT

That's like the inside joke answer. Basically according to out CompTIA teacher yes one can save tons of money. But of course the standard buisness answer is no because someone perhaps at CNET wants us to buy a off the shelf computer. I built mine, I built my brothers. saved a couple hundred dollars, built it on a large chasis and is built to last. I suspect I'm done buying off the shelf disposible computers (as HP's tech support calls them). Too expensive that way. With the horror stories I've heard from people trying to upgrade HP. HP's response being.... they expect their computers to last 2 years then the consumer must throw it out and buy a new one. $700 every 2 years? Um, I don't think so. And the warranty's bite. Sad Whereas if I built it on my own and if component goes screwy, I just have to deal with that component. (which tends to have 1-3 year warranty on it)

But an OEM computer I have to send the whole thing in to get repaired (emachines had a sticker on the back that one would void the warranty if we opened the case. Well at 128mb for Windows XP thats kinda silly so we got upgraded that. Frankly under HP's notion... I guess in 4 1/2 years I've saved over 1000 dollars now. $700 every 2 years... That'd about $1700 I'd of spent by now.. In November I upgraded my computer's guts to pretty much whats out there now for a lil over $200. Hmmm $700 every 2 years or $220 every 4. Which is cheaper. Common sense... build your own computer. That way you know how it runs and whats in it.

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Hard to save money nowadays
by iluv60s / April 21, 2005 11:02 PM PDT
In reply to: no to saving money?

I pretty much agree with the article, its hard to save money (on quality components) versus buying off the shelf. Dont forget, it costs more to ship components seperately, than to ship a whole computer. I do think that you should check out prices at ABS computers or IBUYPOWER computers as opposed to Dell or HP. Dell and HP use some proprietary parts, such as cases and motherboards. When the motherboard fails, you have to buy from them (at double the cost of a generic motherboard), as generic motherboard won't fit into their cases (of course, unless you fork out for a 3 year or more warranty which isnt cheap). Also, at places like ABS and IBUYPOWER, you can customize the various systems they have to suit your needs and are able to pick from a variety of brand name parts for your new machine and the prices are generally the same or less than Dell or HP (with equivelant quality parts).

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Power Supply
by dweave / April 23, 2005 4:22 AM PDT

Good point Ron, I Did'nt even think about the mobo on Dells and HP's. I did know that you can't opt'out for an off the self power supply. You have to buy thier supplys.


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Buy or Build
by dayman / April 21, 2005 8:23 PM PDT

If you want a machine to your own specification!
Building your own is the only way, really.
Look at the majority of 'off the peg' machines:
Do they tell you the motherboard make and model,
Or anything about the harddrive, other than it's size?
No they don't, and since these are the most important
bits in the box, get your own. For what it's worth, and no doubt this will cause 'flames' of protest and disagreement! Here are my top hardware picks, from pure experience of building hundreds of bespoke Client machines, over the years:

Motherboards - Asus, Abit, Aopen
Video Cards - ATI based
Hard drives - Maxtor, Seagate
CRT Monitors - Iiyama, NEC, Eizo
TFT monitors - Sharp, Samsung
Memory - Generic
DVD writers - NEC
Sound cards - onboard, generic, Creative
Speakers - Input to a Hi-Fi system, generic
ADSL Modems - Conexant Access runner based
Analog modem - Generic
Cases - Generic, but check build quality.
Keyboard - wireless generic
Mouse - Wireless optical generic

Please note this is for 'client' machines, if
you are building a server, the criteria are different
so the choice of componentry will differ.

Hopes this helps you less experienced 'guys'

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Buy or Build???
by gymnast / April 21, 2005 8:34 PM PDT

I used to build my own, and mostly got what I expected. With the prices worldwide always going down, with the specifications alway going up, and with so many companies building great systems for very little money, I can no longer see the point of building. If you go to someone like you can specify what you want, and it will arrive a few days later in perfect working order, and with a warranty. If, after a year, it does go wrong, buy another one. It's getting the same with PC's as it is with printers. That company for instance now do a basic system for under

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building your own PC
by SolskjaeR / April 21, 2005 8:38 PM PDT

Sorry James S, but im going to have to completely disagree with you. It IS cheaper to build your own computer, the system im running atm XP-home, 512mb ram, 128mb graphics, amd athelon xp 2800+, with all caseing, keyboard, mouse, speakers, 80 GB HDD and a 15" crt monitor cost me roughly

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Build it !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
by berndogh / April 21, 2005 8:41 PM PDT

---James is Cool---James Rules---

I built mine 2 yrs ago and I love it. I studied up and put it together. I got RAID, ATI TV, Terabytes, 400W speakers, stylish see through case, lights and more lights. But I warn you, don't overlook anything. The case I bought came with a power supply cool, (NOT). I smoked it baddd. Didn't have the power to run 5 drives and two Sony dvd burners and lights too. I had to replace the power supply and luck was on my side, it only destroyed the on board sound. Diabled sound in the bios and installed a new sound card too. Build it and have fun

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