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Does it still make sense to build your own computer?

In the old days, there was often an economic advantage. Today it's the dominion of a few passionate hobbyists. Has the DIY PC era come to an end?

These days, mostly it's just hobbyists who build PCs from scratch.
These days, mostly it's just hobbyists who build PCs from scratch.

Last summer I asked readers if it still made sense to buy a desktop. After all, laptops now offer more than ample power for most users, plus that whole portability thing. And with tablets starting to take the place of laptops, a desktop seems even farther down the computing food chain.

Then, a couple weeks back, I featured a nicely loaded desktop on my Cheapskate blog -- the first one in a while -- figuring most readers would respond with a yawn.

Quite the opposite. Turns out a lot of computer users still love desktops, and definitely want more deals on them. And I've complied with several since then, many of them selling out in the span of an afternoon.

This makes me ask: Does it still make sense to build your own computer? (Snark version: Did it ever?)

Once upon a time, this was a huge hobby. Cost-conscious buyers would peruse the pages of Computer Shopper (which in its heyday topped 1,000 pages) in search of the best deals on cases, motherboards, RAM, hard drives, and other components, the idea being that you could build your own for less than having a company build it for you.

As the PC industry grew more commoditized, however, offering fewer custom-build options and more off-the-shelf configurations, shoppers took the DIY route so they could get specific components not otherwise available: big and roomy cases, powerful power supplies, state-of-the-art graphics cards, and so on.

Today, I can't help wondering if it's worth the hassle. Just the other day, Woot had a refurbished HP desktop that was packed to the rafters with high-end hardware -- all for $469.99. There's simply no way you could piece together a similarly equipped machine for less money; rather, it would likely cost you hundreds more -- and you wouldn't have the benefits of a whole-system warranty or tech support. Heck, the Windows 8 license alone would run you at least $100. (PC makers like HP are able to purchase licenses for significantly less.)

And I suspect only the most hard-core gamers could want more horsepower than that system offered. Which to me suggests that only the most hard-core hobbyists would bother building a PC from scratch.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Although I've never built one myself, I've replaced enough hard drives and motherboards and power supplies to know that it can be fun to tinker around inside a tower chassis (especially if it's large enough that you're not constantly cutting your fingers on sharp metal edges).

But is there any practical value these days? I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts.