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Poll: When it comes to purchasing a new desktop computer:

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / March 21, 2008 5:56 AM PDT

When it comes to purchasing a new desktop computer:

I buy it preconfigured, directly off the retail shelf. (Why?)
I buy it customized through my local mom-and-pop shop. (Why?)
I buy it customized through online retailers. (Why?)
I buy it customized through online giant retailers. (Why?)
I buy all the components and build it myself. (Why?)
I buy all the components and have someone else build it. (Why?)
Other (Please explain.)

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reply to: Poll
by caktus / March 21, 2008 6:12 AM PDT

preconfigured, directly off the retail shelf.

I am rather utilitarian; surf news, a few forums, shopping, banking, pay bills, email. Programs; mostly use QuickBooks, Home Pub, Word (all still 2000.)

The most demanding games I use are Solitair and Yahtzee.

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I build it myself from the ground up
by Droid / March 22, 2008 5:47 PM PDT
In reply to: reply to: Poll

Unless it's for someone else..! I have given up building computers for other people as they can be a support nightmare (i built it so it "must" be my fault!) - much easier to recommend a Dell model with a warranty and let them get on with it.
I find that the majority of pre-built computers tend to be under-specified for the price (ie. poor value).
For my own pc I want the best parts for the money and that usually means specific manufacturers which I'm comfortable with - right down to the make and model of case and fans. I choose parts by first selecting the manufacturer, then features & so on, and finally by price - avoiding the very cheap and the very over-priced. This plan usually gets me a pc which is better value and more up to date than a pre-built model.

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Me too. Savings can be dramatic
by neil20009 / March 23, 2008 10:41 AM PDT

I just built a high performance PC for about $1700 with the latest Intel CPU (E8400) and 4 GB of RAM and a 2.25TB RAID5 storage array. Even without the RAID storage a comparable machine with only a TeraByte of storage was a thousand dollars more. Yes, it took more time and Yes, I am skilled in PCs but doing this does not require an engineering degree. This machine is at the high end performance wise even before I start overclocking the CPU.

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Because it's fun!
by Brock Tungsten / March 21, 2008 12:07 PM PDT

What can I say? I'm a computer "gear head." I know I could get a great deal buying an off-the-shelf system, but I would not have the chance to learn as much about the technology of the components and the software.

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Hands On!
by maldelus / March 21, 2008 12:19 PM PDT

I feel more comfortable if I obtain the separate components, know their capabilites and how they would interact with the other components I obtain. I then know the full capabilities of my toy and don't need to worry about a variety of support programs and offers.

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used to build, now buy
by sharee100 / March 21, 2008 12:27 PM PDT

last one I custom built was standard off the shelf within 6 months at half the price. so I buy and regularly upgrade components.

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I would buy it preconfigured right off the retail shelf
by Bob_Meyer / March 21, 2008 12:29 PM PDT

Today, I feel like I get a better price on a preconfigured package on sale from my favorite big box retailer, especially at Christmas sales. I usually extend the useful life of the packaged system with upgrades over time. I bought four laptops that way last year.

The desktop I'm currently using is about six years old. I bought it customized by the manufacturer, and have since replaced/upgraded sound card, two hard drives, one DVD R/W drive, one DVD R drive, memory, processor and power supply.

I have built mt own, and it's fun. In fact the first one I built was from used parts with no manuals. I learned a lot from that experience.

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Build it yourself
by danrulz98 / March 21, 2008 12:32 PM PDT

The last computer I got was pre-configured. It was an IBM T30 laptop that I bought used on Ebay. I still have it and I have been replacing things as they break. I built the computer I'm on now. My friend gave me a mother board he thought was toast so I decided to try it. I dug the processor and other little parts form an HP that was toast and I tested the mother board from my friend. I was pleasantly surprised when it clocked at 2.93 GHz. I bought a 128 MB video card online for $30 and a slightly used 250 GB SATA hard drive for $20. All in all, for $50, it's the best computer I've ever had.

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Not Applicable
by robertmro / March 21, 2008 12:42 PM PDT

Mac Fanboy

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Hey, Macs are customizable, too.
by back_water_tech / March 21, 2008 1:01 PM PDT
In reply to: Not Applicable

Did you buy your mac off the shelf or get it customized? Grin

Of course it isn't exactly easy to build a mac yourself since the parts are not readily available (well, the cases and motherboards anyway.) WinkSilly

I bought a Mac through my sister. It was completely customized, down to the drives and addon cards. (only reason to buy a Mac: video editing) Oh, and yeah, my sister is a teacher in OK and she moves quite a few Mac's so Apple gets her really good deals on the machines.

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Unless its a laptop, i buy all the parts.
by back_water_tech / March 21, 2008 1:05 PM PDT

I usually buy all the parts.

That way I know it will work. and doing the research is fun. Grin

When I buy laptops, they are usually seccond hand or fully customized from the manufacturer. Occasionally, like with my wife's laptop, I'll spot a great (so it seems) deal in a mega store and bite. Wasn't that great a deal, but she likes it. and I don't have to futz with it. GrinWink

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Build it yourself and get EXACTLY what you need & paid for!
by sbill / March 21, 2008 1:09 PM PDT

When it comes to desktops, I always buy the parts and build it myself. Why put up with an OEM box made with the cheapest parts (price-wise and quality-wise), loads of "crapware", no Windows disk, and worthless tech support that's built in to the price?

When you build it yourself, you get to choose from an array of high-quality and high-performance components that simply aren't available in an OEM computer. Instead of the cheap Bestec power supply, "off brand" RAM, de-featured motherboard, inferior optical drives, etc, you get to choose a quality power supply, high-end motherboard, brand-name drives and memory, and so on. And of course even the cheapest graphics cards you can buy will run circles around the integrated graphics or "cost effective" graphics card in a ready-made PC.

But by far the biggest advantage of building your own computer is actually getting all the software you paid for. Instead of a "restore partition" or BIOS-locked "recovery disk", you get an actual OEM Windows disk and actual OEM disks for whatever other software you choose to buy. So when the day comes that your hard disk crashes, or the motherboard dies, you can keep using your software after the defective component(s) are changed. Not so with a brand name computer that comes with a "restore partition" or "recovery disk" that WILL NOT install on a non-original motherboard.

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Home built equals better performance
by ihfwt / March 21, 2008 1:18 PM PDT

I built my current desktop from parts that I purchased back in March 2005. Originally it had an AMD Athlon 64 3200+ processor with 1 gig of dual channel ram, 2 optical drives, 1 Sata hard drive, an ATI Radeon video card, all stuffed into an Antec case. I've added an additional Sata hard drive, 1 gig of ram and changed the processor to an AMD X2 3800+ dual core. I find that custom built pc's have much better performance than if I went to BestBuy and picked up an Acer,Compaq,Dell, e-Machine, Gateway or HP desktop. Recently I benchmarked my pc against two brand new pc's.One was an Acer the other an HP both with AMD processors. I ran the tests at and my 3 year old pc outscored the new Acer and HP on PCPitstops in the "Full Test".
I find a common deficiency in brand name clones is Disk I/O. The Acer and HP scored really low in "uncached" disk performance. Aside from being fun to build, you really get better performance when you build your own pc.

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by john3347 / March 21, 2008 1:18 PM PDT

Some people will dispute this, but it is usually cheaper to buy a mass marketed computer model than build your own equivalent computer. If I can find just what I want, I usually buy from a big box or online retailer. If I have a hankering for something special, I build my own.

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Build my own
by ESUNintel / March 21, 2008 1:20 PM PDT

I prefer to build my own computer, since that way I know exactly what's in it. There are many companies I respect out there, like Sony and HP, I will; however, never go with a Dell ever again, not for personal use, not for business. I guess I can buy a PC from Alienware (who happens to be using cheap parts now), or Voodoo PC; however, I rather save a bit and build my own. The easy thing to do, just buy a Mac Pro and you don't have to worry about manufacturers using cheap parts, and if you do want to run XP or Vista, the Mac Pro will have no issues doing so, I am slowly shifting to Mac's with VMware Fusion, and it outperforms any PC in the market right now. ...but than again, I find myself using OS X a lot more often just cause it looks nice, and its fun, plus I need to learn more about it.

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Build from scratch
by ctubbs / March 21, 2008 2:18 PM PDT

I buy quality parts, place then in an existing box and have what I want using parts known good. I am my own tech support most of the time. I work for FREE for my self. I even can understand what is being said when I talk to my tech support and i am supporting an American. HA! HA! Seriously, my box last years with minor tweaking and upgrades. The current box is six years old with a few upgrades and still humming. Of course it does cost more to buy and build yourself, but you have what you want, not what some bean counter found for lowest bid.

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I roll my own
by Backup Bob / March 21, 2008 3:03 PM PDT

I started out on CP/M systems with the S-100 bus.

I bought an IBM XT clone with two floppy drives, no hard drive, and I have built my own since then. I still have the original machine, however, it is on its 10th box and 15th monitor. < g > Oh, well, at least the power cord is original.

Whether to build or to buy is a tough choice. It depends on so many factors.

Brand name systems often have limitations. For example, recent HP systems use the Asus motherboard (MoBo) and these are generally excellent, other than having a BIOS with limited options. Most of the standard ASUS options are just not there.

Brand name systems may use a non-standard MoBo. Gateway use an ATX-B MoBo, which may become as standard but it is not there yet. HP often has a standard ATX MoBo. Dell is its own thing. Does this really matter? Probably not, since the MoBo does not usually fail.

Brand name systems may use non-standard accessories. HP puts their CDs behind a cover. Most standard drives will fit there. Some Gateway systems uses a sculpted drive that is only available from them. Dell drives are often, but not always, standard.

Pizza box systems look cool but they don't hold standard sized cards and they may have a power supply with a small fan that gets right toasty.

A manufactured unit gives has a team of engineers designing it, not just one computer guru. It also comes with the operating system (OS) configured for you.

There are some down sides to manufactured units. The power supply for that pizza box unit can be mighty expensive since it is only available one place. The OS may be copied to a special partition of the hard drive; it will be up to you to make rescue CDs. All you get is a license sticker on the box and instructions for burning a set of rescue disks.

Many manufactured systems come with a "home" version of Windows. For many users that is OK. For many it is not as it restricts networking and some other activities.

Building a system is not as simple as it used to be. There are so many options and styles to contend with.

The proliferation of memory types, CPU types, etc. can make for a real challenge when you are putting together a system. There is no longer a "Pentium" chip. Instead there is Core Duo, Core 2 Duo, Dual Core, etc. Then there is the matter of die type. Just try and find the right CPU and fan for your MoBO. It can be difficult.

Newer MoBos may have all the features but they also have all the bugs, at least until they are not the newest MoBo on the block. Check out the list of acceptable memory for your MoBo. Some MoBos do not like certain brands of memory. An integrator or a name brand builder will take care of these details. They can be problematic for the individual builder.

There are a number of technical considerations. For example, memory comes in different voltages and now there is DDR3 memory. Windows XP will not use more than about 3.25 or 3.5 gig of memory. Vista pushes this closer to 8 gig. An individual builder may discover some of these issues the hard way. An integrate or name brand building has already taken care of them.

So, if you are willing to shop around for the best parts at the best price, and if you are willing to deal with driver issues, compatibility concerns, and the like, building may be for you. At least you will know what is inside the box. You won't discover some day that updated drivers are no longer available for that OEM video board that inside your unit, or that your memory is an odd type or that is uses n odd voltage.

I have an HP Pavillion I inherited (long story) that is my primary machine. I love it, other than the limited BIOS. I moved it to a bigger box with more space for disk drives and more fans and I added a super video board, but otherwise it is the same HP Pavillion you can buy at the local retail store. I also ditched the Vista Home and installed XP Professional.

So, which will I do? I will likely keep on building them. That way I have control over what is inside.

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Buy them off the shelf
by ruby2zdy / March 21, 2008 3:04 PM PDT

But first I review them.

I used to make my own, but once you start adding programs, and they start interfering with each other, well, it's just better to have a manufacturer you can b*tch to than to throw your wrench through the window, y'know?

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Setup According Our Own Requirements!
by flr3148 / March 21, 2008 3:27 PM PDT

I have two preferences, one is that I have to buy the preconfigured because it is easy for customers to go and buy the pc and get back to home it just take not much time. In preconfigured I also depend on the manufacturing company. Accroding to my point of view if you want to buy a preconfigured DELL and IBM are the best.

Second preference is that I have to buy all the components according to my requiremet than I have to fix them either by my slf or from the other person. Reason for buying components self is that we buy those components which we need, suppose I need a pc 3 GHz, with XX MB/GB RAM, XXXX MB/GB VGA card etc, here first I have to see in preconfigured if it is not avilable then I have to purchse all the components by myself. Some time our requirements will not matched with the preconfigured.

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DIY, roll your own
by mjd420nova / March 21, 2008 3:36 PM PDT

I always build my own machines and have always planned new units at least six months ahead of time and shop persistantly for the best parts at the best prices. This always yields a good, fast machine at or near the cutting edge for the best price. Some users maynot have the skills to do this, but they can search out a knowledgeable person to help them build and possibly even teach them how to build their own units.

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buy parts and build my own
by killav / March 21, 2008 3:50 PM PDT

I have friends that bought off the shelf with a warrenty and it was the biggest hassle for them when something simple happened like the power supply died. This is the third one I've built since the Apple 2c/e days and life is alot easier on the wallet and mind. Easier to upgrade when you know what your needs are, and easier to fix, (especially when it comes time to hunt up drivers to update). The only thing I buy off the shelf are laptops. Just got a killer deal on a duel core, 250g hard drive with 3gig ram preinstalled for $700!

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I buy it pre-configured right off the shelf
by Chigal48 / March 21, 2008 7:12 PM PDT

I used to have it built to specifications, but I find that it's just as cheap to buy a computer "on sale" than have someone build it for me. However, I am concerned about the next operating system and the ability to have WinXP vs. Vista on the next computer I purchase. I'm afraid that Microsoft will discontinue totally the manufacturing of XP; we know they will stop supporting it.

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I dont want to F%^# it up
by Magicmushroom98 / March 21, 2008 8:43 PM PDT

i buy it myself and have others build it, just because, although I know enough to do basic repairs, and change stuff around, i dont know how to build it proprly, adn i wont pretend i do. I would rather have the assurance it will be put together properly

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Direct from the manufacturer
by dfarber10 / March 21, 2008 8:53 PM PDT

I never could roll my own, so I always had friends do it for me. Amazing what can happen when you buy the components.

In the overal scheme of things, I have found that ordering from a manufacturer like Dell has given me the best compromise between prepackaged and my own componenets. It also appears to offer the best bang for the dollar. Addionally, Dell gives me 30 days in which to try it out and to return if I am not satisfied. I like that little bit of extra insurance.

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The right combination of cost, performance and Perspiration
by fschoonbaert / March 21, 2008 9:45 PM PDT

Even though 10 years ago I felt comfortable taking a PC apart or building my own, I don't really feel that comfortable anymore to build a reliable PC myself out of individual components. I have owned quite a few desktops and have run a company network as well and my opinion is:

1. To build your own PC you need to be very comfortable skills. However in most cases The cost however is prohibitive, particularly since you will need to buy the software as 'retail'
ALSO a) Not all components can work well together. I ahve in my desktop a top-end NVIDIA graphics card and a top-end multi monitor ATI. They both work reasonably well (but do cause an occasional crash), but I am unable to upgrade the drivers, because they refuse to install. A reputable custom builder will have tested most of his configurations.

2. The giant online retailers like Dell only offer a good price on Basic models. As soon as you start upgrading the basic spec with extra memory, better graphics card etc the cost goes out of control. Also the number of options they offer to you are just too limited. E.g. At best you get a choice of 4 graphic cards and in some cases the only difference is the speed. Most of tehse seem to also heavily focus on specific component suppliers.

3. The local retailer usually is just a lot more expensive and the choice of components is relatively limited.

4. I find it best to find a reputable online retailer that can provide the components you are looking for. The UK has many of those. You get a good price and a wide range of components to choose from. The system will arrive fully configured and you have somewhere to go in case there is a problem.

Frank Schoonbaert

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Depend On What my needs are?
by terrierterrorNH / March 21, 2008 9:55 PM PDT

The last desk I purchased I built my self from parts ordered/purchased from various online and local retail outlets. Why? I want to configure it my way to certain standards I have that would of cost big $$$ too order on line. As well I could install and set up the OS and all the programs the way I wanted too, so I knew what I had, where the files were, and what the settings were. I didn't think of looking at a local because I felt that they would be too expensive, but might try them the next time I want a desktop, but I think I've gone laptops for the foreseeable future.

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Other, I have used all of the methods in this poll
by bus / March 21, 2008 11:52 PM PDT

Out of all the computers I own, I find that the ones I have built from buying all the components and building it myself to be the most functional and satisfying. The problems that hold me back now are;

1.Vista's retail price is so high that buying "preconfigured, directly off the retail shelf" is a more frugal approach.
2.The current flex of the SP3 for XP and SP1 for Vista and the flex of "is Vista going to be accepted or turn out like ME", which leaves me indecisive as to what is the best approach to do a build at this time.
3.I have two rebuilds coming up that take precedence over a new build.

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build to needs:
by Dana Hansen / March 22, 2008 12:29 AM PDT

I would go to dell business line. Their computers can accommodate more internally. more drives of a better, faster type. SAS type 15,000 RPM. They can retrive data faster which will help efficency. Wider line of CPUs.Cost ratio is better another wordes you get more for your money. They don't load your computer up will a lot promotional B.S. One drawback no tuners avalable.

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build it!
by Riskman / March 22, 2008 12:56 AM PDT

I build it myself, not because its any cheaper but because I know exactly what is going into the machine, what video card, who's memory, whos MB, whos dvd burner. No Vista! You wont know that in a preconfigured machine and you dont know the quality of the parts. sure there is a warranty, for the inhome warranties have you ever tried to actually get them out for a repair? forget about it and isnt it fun dealing with a call center in India? exactly! for about the same money you get a much better quality machine if you do it yoursef (if its a desktop) if its a laptop you want then buy it preconfigered

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Buy Retail
by mwooge / March 22, 2008 1:07 AM PDT

The sort of person who posts here will like to roll their own, but the general public should buy off-the-shelf.

Making your own sounds neat, but for Joe Public it just means spending half-again for parts and features he won't need. And if he has to upgrade or have it repaired, which is more likeyl for a scratch-built machine, he'll have more trouble when asked what's in it or what brand and make.

I like mongrel dogs, but mongrel computers are a pain.

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