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To build or not to build?

by JCS007 / April 11, 2006 1:09 PM PDT

Is it better to build a computer or simply buy one?

I know CNet has stuff on whether to build a computer or not, but I am still not convinced as to whether I should do so. SO, I was wondering if anyone has any advice.

First of all, let me say that I have never built a computer before. I cannot say if it will be hard or not. Anyone have any advice?

Second, money is an issue. Is it cheaper to buy a computer or build a pretty basic one and upgrade it as technology evolves and my budget increases?

Third, is it worth the time and effort that I put into it. Now keep in mind, I have never built one before, so I do not know how long it will take.

So there you have it: the question of whether to build or not to build. Thanks for any future input.

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IMHO you cannot build one for lower
by Ray Harinec / April 11, 2006 1:35 PM PDT

cost than you can buy one, simply because you must buy the software legit. [assuming one wants Windows and MS stuff].

Second, regarding buying a low price proprietary and later upgrading is somewhat of a myth. They put the things in such small packages, that any upgrading causes additional cooling problems. Most use onboard video, and most of those do NOT provide a slot for a video card, which is the first thing a kid will want if he starts playing games. The video cards run hot as hades, require a higher wattage power supply, which with some proprietarties is virtually impossible. The mid-price proprietaries can be good buys, but then they get close to the price that you can build one for.

Watch out for HP etc at Best Buy, Wal-Mart, Circuit City. They are usually a combination of equipment that is only put together for that store. Something similar being sold directly from HP seems to be the same thus making the Circuit City etc models look like good deals. Look closer and you will find that they play smoke and mirrors with those models.

I have been going through these searches for about two months now and have finally found the inner game playing and why you actually cannot compare a proprietary from a Best Buy to what is supposedly the same one at Wal-Mart. They simply are NOT the same in all respects.

Some of the proprietaries go out of their way to not allow you to learn the innermost details, their BIOSes do not take full advantage of the mobo and hardware capabilities.

If you study things before you build, you will know everything about everything in your computer. You will have the full CD's for anything that you install. I will only build my own, but have never claimed to save money building it. However, I'm far happier with one built than I ever could be with a Dell, HP, Gateway et al.

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No clear answer...
by John.Wilkinson / April 11, 2006 2:10 PM PDT

The opinions on this will vary based on skill level and preference, so there is no clear answer to this one. If you don't have any experience with computer hardware, it would obviously be easier to buy one. A recent experiment by Cnet showed that building your own and buying one is usually close, cost-wise, with the pre-built units on sale often winning the matchup. However, that's not always the case...depends on the deals you find.

Now, as far as putting it all in now or adding part by part, I'd walk a line there. Make sure that you include what you need for now, but also make sure that the system is upgradable down the road without too much difficulty. For instance, if you go the AMD route, look for Socket 939 as opposed to Socket 754. If you go the latter you'll be unable to upgrade to the latest processor later on without replacing your motherboard as well. You may never replace your processor, but that's a classic example and something to consider. Also, for things like a PSU (power supply unit), make sure you have a little leeway so that if you add an extra stick of RAM you don't have to run out and replace the PSU while you're at it.

For other key points, check out some of the other discussions on this hot topic by clicking here and here.

Hope this helps,

P.S. If you do decide to build, head on over to the Hardware forum for sure to include a price range, what the intended uses are, and what, if any, experience you have.

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several Factors to think about
by Cybderdosh / April 12, 2006 5:53 AM PDT

If you already have (legally) the software you need than you may be able to save money by purchasing a pre-built system. However often times you will be able to get very good deals out of the manufactorers.

putting together components need to make an operational pc is really not the dificult. With a little time anyone could learn to do it. however on my last pc I went with a pre-built model, and am happy with it.

Unless you purchase a really cheap computer (E-machine) you will not have a problem installing a video into your system. You should make sure the system you are buying has an AGP or PCIE-16x slot, of the two I would choose the PCIe-16 as this is where video cards are headed.

One word of warning with prebuilt machines sometimes they can be very stressfull if you know what you are doing. Make sure you have the right restore disk when you purchase the computer. A company with the initials of GATEWAY requires you to use their restore cd instead of a full (legal) copy of windows.

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Emachines and Gateway
by trkcoach22 / April 12, 2006 10:23 PM PDT

Just a little side note...Gateway merged or bought out now the two are now the same. I don't know if that means that their hardware is the same but their customer service and consumer affairs may be.
Just thought you would like to know.

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good or not?
by TJRatfink / April 26, 2006 2:00 PM PDT
In reply to: Emachines and Gateway

The merger/buyout-is that a good or bad thing? I've heard that you can't beat EMachines for the money.

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Re: good or not?
by brian1951 / April 26, 2006 3:05 PM PDT
In reply to: good or not?

eMachines may be a economical. But as has been pointed out, if you have plans to expand or upgrade forget it. They are for the newbie who doesn't want to pop the hood. The user who's idea of upgrade means buying a brand new box.

One of the reasons I build is that I don't like restore disks. They muck up more than they fix especially if in the interum you've downloaded and installed patches and upgrades to your applacations. I liked it better when the manufacturers included licenced install disks of the OS and software bundles. I don't think anybody does that anymore.


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Sounds like build one, buy the other, to me
by ggaebel / April 12, 2006 6:49 AM PDT

It looks to me that you may be able to fill one of your pc needs with an inexpensive over-the-counter model. For the other, I think you should go to your local reliable source and price out a custom-built pc. If your needs are extremely specific, and probably expensive (video cards for gaming), you're kind of stuck with going custom, or so I've found.

I recently did a BUNCH of research to find out about adding, or upgrading if possible, RAM for my four-year-old Dell pc because it's always freezing, and I'm going to add the necessaries to edit and burn video. Well, I found, as have others here on CNET, that the new technology will almost NEVER work with the old hardware, and finding a nice, ethical tech who will explain it all instead of selling you some hardware and running, is crucial.

So, after my online research, I spent an hour and a half at PC Club with a tech who patiently explained the technology/hardware I needed to get the pc that would fit my needs (upgrading my old one is impossible). I took copious notes - which helps to intimidate an over-zealous salesperson. He, of course, wanted to make a sale (of a custom-built), but I made him slow down and explain ALL of my options, and why, why, why he thought I needed the technology and brands that he recommended. At that point, he started to really work with me, as money is an issue, and he very honestly put together a system on paper for me, with current prices, and actually told me that if I waited even a couple of months, prices may come down (I really need a dual-core processor).

I was also surprised and happy to find out that I could get an extended warranty for a custom-built pc, which is very important to me.

Bottom line - Reeeeaaaaly do your homework, and you can get your money's worth. The huge amount of competition out there works in our favor.

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nothing wasted
by linkit / April 13, 2006 2:22 AM PDT

Many find that they once they build, they never want to purchase a pre-built system again. When you build, you pay for the hardware and software you want and don't pay for anything you don't want. Nothing wasted.

I view pre-built systems as great for most general office tasks and Internet activities. Their problem is that if you wish to do anything more intensive, it usually involves upgrading components (memory, video card, power supply, sound card, etc.).

When you build it yourself, there is no initial upgrade because you get precisely what you want...within your budget, of course.

If you plan to play the latest and greatest games, I'd definitely built it.

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i would recomend bulding it will hellp you with upgrading
by mr. tux / April 15, 2006 9:14 AM PDT

defentitly buld get better componants for less mony and oc

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What do you want out of the exercise?
by Zouch / April 21, 2006 9:14 AM PDT

This is really the question you need to answer first. Is your primary concern economics or knowledge?

If it is an economic decision, then seriously consider buying. Here in the UK, I can buy a well built, reasonably specified machine for less than I can buy the components and it will have at least a 12 month SYSTEM guarantee. Even going to the big retail store and keeping an eye on the deals, especially on "just replaced" models, will produce a low price. And they'll come with a basic software load installed and working.

But if you want to expand your knowledge, or have very specific configuration requirements, go ahead and build one. Follow along with the CNET Clinic, or buy (or borrow) a book on the subject. Exercise due care and you'll find it isn't difficult. You'll have a much better idea of how these things work and ow to upgrade as your needs develop and as a bonus, if anything does go wrong, no call out charges, you'll be able to fix it yourself. And if you run into problems, there are always the CNET fora to help. From experience, one issue that really helps the build is to have plenty of space in the case - I had one that scraped my knuckles every time I went into it. Big is Beautiful!

A couple of cautions. If you build, the components will be guaranteed (assuming you buy from a reputable source) but at the COMPONENT level - compatibility issues are the system builder's problem - i.e. you. And once family and friends know you've built that awesome PC, guess where they'll all turn for help with their problems!

Good luck.

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To build or not to build?
by wadesenseney / April 22, 2006 4:05 AM PDT

Personaly, I would always build. Why? because its the only way I can ensure the quality of the parts thus ensuring a stable platform. Of course this means you have to read; research;and talk to knowledgable people about what's good and what's not. Then make a list of the desirable components and check out pricing, maybe deside to opt for alessor quality component thinking maybe to upgrade later. Plus by building, ypu gain experience through mistakes or through good choices. Personally, a $500.00 machine is garbage but if thats all you can afford right now then either wait or ... I would ballpark my machine at around $1500.00 and that will sufice my needs. Of course I'm not running a warer cooled monster either. Go to some computer shows and talk about components, get to know a few good good vendors that won't screw you if you have to return something and hopefully they wil be located close by. Also I've discovered that young guys that work for these vendors and who are into this stuff usually are gratified to part with there knowledge to others who they see as similar to themselves albeit newer. Build,build,build it yourself, its fun,it will make you feel good about yourself and it will have in what you want not what some big company wants to give as economical for them. They build what will suit the largest amount of consumers and quanity for the cheepest price, not necessarily the quality parts.They want you to rebuy a year or two from now once you discover that what you bought was not suitable for very long. research, research, research. Have fun...

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First, state what you want it for
by IndustryVet / April 25, 2006 1:49 AM PDT

You always "begin with the end in mind" to quote Stephen Covey's 7 habits....

Without knowing what you'll use a computer for, there's no way to give a recommendation.

In a nutshell, if all you want is a "computer" -- ie to do simple tasks like word processing, surfing the net, looking at or light editing of photos, email, etc., then buy the cheapest thing you can find. You'll find no shortage of $299 PCs that have at least:
- 2 Ghz processor at least which is plenty for your needs
- plenty of hard disk for your needs and easy to expand later if necessary
- Windows XP

NOW, if you have special needs such as:
- heavy graphics editing
- video editing
- PC gaming (other than very basic)
or others, then you need to learn more about what the particular needs are for these before deciding, however, in these realms you will likely end up with a better machine for less money buy building it yourself. This will mean you can chose the specific critical components for the particular application in mind.

For example, PC gamers want a superior to state of the art graphics card and plenty of memory and likely around 160MB hard disk. They also want the fastest processor they can afford, likely a P4.

For video editing, it's all about the processor and memory and the video card is not that important since it won't factor into the performance much.

So, determine your end result desired. If you fit into any of these special categories seek out the web sites that cater to those interests and read their reviews of products to see which actually work the best for those environments.

Building the actual PC is not much harder than assembling a bicycle these days and there are numerous guides on the 'net for doing so. Just read and think through the steps your first time before doing them and you should be fine. Learning how to actually do something always pays dividends, if not in being able to use that information later, then in building your general self confidence...

Good luck.

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I used to build for friends -- now I make them buy...
by ChazzMatt / April 25, 2006 8:29 PM PDT

Here's the deal. I used to build computers for friends. Back in the late 90's, I could go to the local screwdriver shop and/or order parts over the internet and put together a good little computer, load it with software and hand it over for a lot less than HP and Dell were selling for. But it was a lot of work and time for me.

As prices dropped, I found the local screwdriver shop could build the system with warranty for the same as I could build it -- and then I would just load the software. That lasted for a few years.

NOW, however, like in the past year, prices of retail at major stores has dropped so dramatically that you can't beat their deals. Check out this link:

This is all the deals the major stores have for this week. The secret is to get a bundled deal of computer, CRT, and printer -- even if you don't need a CRT or printer. For some reason, they are selling the bundles for cheaper than a computer by itself. Even if you want a 17" flat panel, it's cheaper to buy the bundled deal with CRT and printer, throw the CRT away, then go buy a flat panel separately. I priced it out.

In January, my girlfriend got an Compaq AMD 3400 Sempron with 160 GB hard drive, 512 GB RAM, dual layer DVD burner, 17" CRT, and a Canon photo printer for less than $400. That's with licensed copy of Windows, too. She got all her rebates back. Now, they are selling the same deal -- but with Athlon 64 3500 CPU -- still for less than $400.

You cannot build a cmputer for cheaper than that -- with monitor, printer, and licensed Windows.

OK, what's the catch? Well, I had to spend a couple of hours UNinstalling the marketware and trialware, then installing what she really needed.

Also, came with ATI Radeon Xpress 200 graphics -- which means integrated video. But, I was pleasantly surprised. Those integrated vidoe chipsets have rellay improved. I never thought I would say that.

I fully expected to have to add a video card and was wondering if there would even be a slot. YES, it had a PCIe slot for future upgrades -- but I'm holding off on using it. But, I found it runs fast even with integrated video. Or, it runs fast enough for her needs -- word processing, e-mail, web surfing. At some point I might add more RAM and a video card, but if she's happy I'm not going to spend money I don't have to. Happy

So, for most people a bundled deal like this is all they need. $400. Want a 17" flat panel? Go buy one for $200 -- you are still only spending $600.

flat panels on sale:

So, even though I used to build computers, I don't any more. I don't even send people to buy the custom built computers. Now I send them to the retail stores to get the bundled deals (even if they don't need everything in the bundle). I then tweak and configure the computer for them as if I built it -- but it's for at least $200 - $300 less than I could do.

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make one
by sudhakr651 / April 26, 2006 8:24 AM PDT

you can get a pretty good computer if you make one yourself. just look for sells on the components you want.

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Build, build, build!
by forkboy1965 / July 5, 2006 12:36 PM PDT

2.5 years ago, when my wife and I were looking to replace our then 5-year old computer, we leaned towards a new HP with the Media Ed. O.S. My brother-in-law, hearing about our pending purchase, suggested we build. He's been doing it for years. I was not comfortable with the idea even though he's quite brilliant at, well, everything he does. I eventually let him walk me through the process of learning the terminology, the things one would need to build a machine and how to look for compatibility issues. We built and I've never been more pleased with a computer. It's never crashed. It only has software on it that I want and placed upon it. It's upgradable (easily as there is both space and sufficient power). And while I didn't save a dime I know I built a machine with better components, double the RAM and just as much processor speed with over-clocking 10%.

I can make one major recommendation: I purchased all my components from Newegg. I could have saved a few dollars here and there by shopping around, but it was simpler to order everything from one firm even if I spent an extra $25-$50 out of $1300. One nice thing in Newegg is they have lots of customer reviews of components and many of those reviewers will list the components of their own personal system. This is handy because you know that the components they use work together and must work together well enough that the reviewer is recommending the setup. I think there are very few real compatability issues out there between motherboards, RAM chips, processors etc. (other than the obvious compat. issues), but if you're in doubt take a look at other folks systems to find one that meets your needs.

And, if nothing else, building will make you smarter about computers and that is always handy considering you're going to be living with them for the rest of your life.

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