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Home-Built vs. Store-Bought PCs 1132

Greg Searle asks: "I'm going to be in the market for another PC soon, and have been watching the prices drop and the power go up over the years. There are a lot of 'bargains' out there, but then I heard that the best and least expensive PC's are 'white box' systems that are custom build by small, local companies. This got me thinking, I know how to put together a PC from scratch, why don't I just do it? This should save me quite a few bucks, and I get the exact system I want. My question to you: Where is the best place to order the parts (case, MB, drives, etc.) over the web? I am familiar with sites that sell typical consumer products, but have no idea where to start to get raw parts. I'd prefer one site that sells everything, but wouldn't be surprised if there are some specialty sites that provide the most bang for the buck for a particular piece. What do you think?"
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Home-Built vs. Store-Bought PCs

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  • (Score:5, Informative)

    by BaldingByMicrosoft ( 585534 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:25PM (#3739120)
    • (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I used newegg to get my parts a few months ago for my new athlon machine. They had everything I wanted and most of the prices were around the leading prices posted on I got my parts quickly and they were undamaged. Two thumbs up here :)
    • (Score:4, Informative)

      by Subaiku ( 573889 ) <> on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:41PM (#3739363) Homepage
      Mod this up. Best site ever for such things, its where i got all my parts for my new system and they were prompt and prfessional. Go with newegg.
      • by ranulf ( 182665 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @06:39PM (#3739901)
        Anyone who's in the UK should probably look at []. Everything is very slick, most stuff will be delivered next day even if you order at 6pm, and prices are almost as low as you get. They even do free delivery if the order's over £75 (though it used to be £40 :-( )

        I reckon that between my own orders and those from companies I've worked and ordered for, I've placed about £13,000 of orders, of various sizes. Out of all that, everything has been perfect apart from one dead power supply which was replaced next day without returning the defective one, and they've even been happy to take back stuff that we ordered and then didn't want. I can really recommend them.

        Another good place that's worth a look is [], though the bias is very much on what's en vogue in the gaming market. But they often have good prices on things, although you need quite a large order to offset post and packaging.

        But often, I think you'll find that you'll end up spending more in the long run building a PC yourself, as you won't get a cheap OEM deal on Windows (assuming you don't want Linux), and when you realise how crap most of the components are in a pre-build "cheap" box, you'll want to buy higher quality bits for your own box.

        Good luck!

        • by Anonymous Brave Guy ( 457657 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @07:31PM (#3740263)

          You might also look at CCL [], who I found very good. I bought a monitor through them when my old one died suddenly a few weeks ago. They have a plain but efficient web site, which appears to contain accurate current prices on their whole range. Those prices are pretty good, and they are often listed as the supplier in hardware tests by PC Pro magazine. You can order online (which got a 5% discount at the time I was ordering, but check that), or over the phone. When I did call to check a couple of details, there was no long wait to speak to someone and their staff were helpful and efficient. I value companies that give good service, so I offer this recommendation to others.

          On the other hand, I wouldn't go anywhere near [], who ripped me off completely. They failed to deliver a simple order for toner refills for weeks, completely misinformed me about the progress of the order, told me it was too late to cancel after a couple of days (we're on dubious legal grounds already), but then delivered the goods more than a month later and billed my credit card in spite of my explicit instructions not to do so (very dubious indeed). It then took several weeks of chasing them and Barclaycard to get my money refunded and a measly £5 compensation (which just about covered the interest I'd had on my Barclaycard as a result of not quite clearing it that month as a direct result of the incorrect debit by I do not value this level of service, even from a web site that so carefully says "value - innovation - trust" in the header (ha!), so I pass on a warning to everyone else. May their pathetic service be the end of them.

        • My friends and I use []. They are the cheapest I've found, delivery is fast, and they refund your money with absolutely no quibble if you return it (even if it's not faulty). They also do dozens of special offers every day, at TodayOnly []. No connection to them, just my friends and I are satisfied customers. Recommended.

          Building your own computer is probably cheaper, but the major benefit is that you can make sure you have an ideal fit for your money of the best component parts. I remember one major UK store headlining the cheapest P4 system available, but independent tests showed a cheap motherboard crippled the speed to well below an equivalent P3 system. Computers these days are so much like lego blocks my friend built his in under 1hr on his first attempt.

        • My 2c (Score:5, Informative)

          by TheCrunch ( 179188 ) on Friday June 21, 2002 @04:19AM (#3742197) Homepage
          Well everyone else is suggesting stuff so I figure I will too. I'm looking to buy a PC in the UK sometime soon and for the past couple of months I've kept my eye on the prices. Here's my contribution:

          Tried and trusted. I've bought plenty of stuff from these guys in the past with 100% satisfaction. Their site is a little annoying but they have the widest selection of stock by far. Their prices are very good if not the best. Product information (when available) is not terribly informative so you should know what you're looking for before you arrive.

          Only bought a couple of things from these people and had no problems. Less stock than dabs but their prices are good. Specifically, they've got the best prices on Athlon XPs (1800 - 2100). And their CPU coolers & PSUs are cheap too. Product info on this site is poor and the design isn't much better.

          Bought one thing from here and again no problems. Not a great deal of stock but the stuff they do have is top notch (in most cases). Their prices are slightly off-par, however they've currently got the best price on some CDRWs, HDDs and sound cards. Good product info available. These guys know their stuff. Their site design leaves to be desired.

          Not bought anything from here yet. Their product info is good but have pretty limited stock, mainly geared towards.. well.. you guessed it.. overclocking. Some of their prices are good while others are quite off-par. Their site is navigable but heavily image-laden.

          Not bought anything from here yet. Their prices are reasonable but I've not found anything I wanted cheaper here. A large selection of overclocking stuff available and a pretty poor selection of regular components. Good looking site.

          Bought stuff from here without any problems. Their site is good and prices vary. Mostly reasonable and sometimes better than dabs. They've currently got best prices on sound cards. Product info available is ok.

          Nasty site but they have a selection of stuff you'll have a hard time finding elsewhere. Mainly oriented towards cases and accessories. Bought a couple of things from these guys, again, without any problems.

          OK, this isn't a retail site, but Crucial sell their RAM online at price up to £30 cheaper than elsewhere. If you're looking for ECC Registered 512MB PC2100 DDR chips like me, then you'll appreciate the £119.69 price tag.

          Not bought anything from here yet but I certainly plan to. Simplistic site but very navigable. A good selection of stock and they've got the best prices on some CDRWs, AIW Radeons and the sweet sweet Iiyama Pro 452.

          Not bought anything from here either. Not too keen on their site but they're one of the few who offer Antec PSUs, with a reasonable price too.

          Found this thanks to other posts in this discussion. Have to say I'm very impressed. A tasteful cut-to-the-chase design with decent product information. I was surprised to see just how wide a selection of stock they have. Not as large as dabs but they stock some decent stuff. I was surprised to find the dual Athlon Gigabyte mobo on there. Their selection of hard drives leaves to be desired but the rest is OK. Best prices on Enermax PSUs.

          There are other sites out there too, such as,,,,, and but I've yet to be impressed. In particular, is probably worth avoiding. I've heard some horror stories.

          So to wrap things up I'd have to say that if you can build your own PC it's definately worth doing so. The pre-built systems you can get may be cheaper and may have an amazing "2GHz P4, 60GB HDD DVD, Scanner etc.. etc..", but on the inside the components will be from Happy Shopper or Value Land and you'll get about as much performance out of your system as a frightened donkey.

          However, if you're going to build your own PC you need to know exactly which components you need/want beforehand. These sites will have the stock you want but in most cases won't give you accurate or useful product information. It's a lengthy process but it's worth consulting newsgroups and/or online reviews., for example, has a leaderboard where you can get up to date on the decent and not-so-decent hard drives.

          There are countless hardware review sites out there. It's worth searching for the product comparisons. and are popular sites worth a look.

          Good luck!

    • (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:46PM (#3739431)
      I add a very firm second to this -- you will find a lot of sites with very low prices on one or two components ( see ) to attract buyers. But you will spend 4x the money on shipping if you get each part the cheapest you can find. (Shipping has an initial cost, then a cost per lb/kg.) NewEgg has the lowest range of brand-name products across the entire board. You will save $300-400 on a good mid-high end machine by buying all the parts from newegg.

      I have built about 8 machines recently, all by buying parts from newegg, and I don't believe there's any cheaper way to get a brand-new machine with quality parts.

      The only thing to consider is where to get the monitor from, since it is so heavy, so shipping costs are high. A large local retailer might be better for that. Or use, which has (at least used to have) a limit of $9 on shipping for all items.
      • Monitors (Score:3, Informative)

        by Chasing Amy ( 450778 )
        > The only thing to consider is where to get the monitor from,
        > since it is so heavy, so shipping costs are high.

        Yeah, I was thinking of going with a local vendor myself when I built my PC year before last. But I scoured eBay and found several places who specialize in monitors who list them there, and who have very high feedback ratings in the thousands. I looked around for a good buy and good return terms in case the monitor had defects after shipping, and ended up bidding on a big beautiful used 20-inch Apple ColorSync, an oldie but goodie from the days before candy-colored plastic that I remembered liking a lot back in college when we had one connected to a 7200 in the computer lab. They use those Mac connectors but come with VGA adapters. And of course hey have a Sony Trinitron tube instead of a shadow mask--don't buy cheap shadow mask CRTs, especially used...

        So, I lay in wait and slipped in a bid of $251.55 right at the last minute, which is a good thing because a bid sniper tried to take it but his max bid was $250. Added $40 dollars shipping which was advertised by the vendor, and I got a nice pretty 20-incher for just under $300. Not bad considering how hard it is to find a real 20-incher even today compared to all the 19-inchers out there. And yes, you can see and enjoy the difference...

        When I opened that huge box--those old 20-inch trinitrons have HUGE and heavy tubes--I carefully perched it onto my sturdy desk, hooked it up, and turned it on. There was a little red discoloration in one bottom corner--not good, so I e-mailed them and they said that monitors sometimes need a few days after being shipped to get back into perfect shape, since they've been jostled a bit; but there was a 30-day period in which I could send it back. I waited a week and the reddish area just went away, and for nearly 2 years this monitor has been running perfectly and impressing all my friends with their puny 19-inchers and 17-inchers.

        So, I say at least look on eBay for some monitors you might want because of special features and such. If you can find a good price once the shipping is factored in on a monitor you can't get locally so cheaply, and the vendor has good return policies and a lot of positive feedback, it's worth a try.
    • (Score:3, Informative)

      by clutch110 ( 528473 )
      NewEgg is the best online retailer that I have worked with. They keep you informed of your purchase through five steps, and on the final step, they email you with a link to your tracking number. NewEgg is also very responsive about getting items returned. They will match the method you choose to ship it, IE if you overnight it, they will overnight the return part. The FedEx service has been excellent. I live in Colorado and my order usually arrives two to three business days later. Packaging is another plus for them, I have yet to see anything packed poorly. I have spent many hundreds of dollars through NewEgg and will continue to do so.
    • A couple more ... (Score:5, Informative)

      by nosferatu-man ( 13652 ) <> on Thursday June 20, 2002 @06:18PM (#3739741) Homepage
      Also excellent are

      ... and, for more esoteric case-related parts,

      There's no point in dealing with the hassles that other online retailers will subject you to.

    • Agreed, newegg totally kicks ass. is also quite good. Their inventory is usually good, but when it's small they still have all the best parts-- they just aren't carrying some crappy ones.

      I like monarch computer for two reasons:
      1. They always had the parts that had great reviews on the different hardware sites, and
      2. if you're lazy, you can pay 'em a few bucks to stuff the pieces you bought in a case for ya.

      When I was putting together my girlfriend's computer I wanted it to be good, but not too much work. So I picked some sweet parts and then tacked on 20 bucks to have them put the mb in the case, and install the cpu and HD for me. Saved me the hassle of getting the MB in, worrying about ribbon cables, and things like that. I bought a few parts from other places, tossed 'em in, and it was ready to go. They also put a warranty on some of the stuff they sold me (part of the 20 buck thing), which was nice but I haven't needed it.

      These are my favorite three for most pc parts purchasees. I've bought thousands of dollars worth of stuff from these guys, anough to build about five machines, over the past couple years and all business transactions with them went perfectly. My latest machine, an ASUS P4T-E with 1.6a Northwood P4 OC'ed to 2.13GHz, all the parts I purchased from Googlegear since they had everything I needed all at once in stock and prices virtually identical to Newegg, and I saved on only having one shipping cost. They had the best quality packing job of all three, I mean like the boxes were so well done that they could've easily survived being hurled down a couple flights of stairs.

      For memory modules, I usually like to buy from Mushkin, direct at Their memory is fantastic reliable, fast and quality stuff.
      In the past, someone from Mushkin used to email me a couple days after shipment was expected to arrive just to confirm that I recieved the merchandise OK and that it was working correctly. Now that was the most impressive after-sale customer follow-up like I havn't seen in a long time. I don't think they do that anymore since it must be expensively labor intensive, but they certainly made a repeat customer out of me.
    • MWave (Score:5, Informative)

      by elemental23 ( 322479 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @08:41PM (#3740643) Homepage Journal

      A couple other people here gave good recommendations for MWave. I beg to differ. They're located about 20 minutes from me, in City of Industry, CA (USA), so I pick up my orders in person (or used to, I should say; I don't buy from them anymore).

      They have the absolute worst customer service I have ever experienced, bar none. Even worse than Best Buy, if you can believe that.

      When placing orders to be picked up, they require three steps:

      1. Phone ahead and place the order
      2. Phone again one hour before you plan to pick up the order to let them know you're coming
      3. Actually show up

      The first is reasonable, of course, but the second? I've asked them "I'll be there in an hour, do you really need me to call back?" They responded by telling me to call back in an hour to tell them I'd be there in another hour. In other words, two hours.

      Even after all that, I have always been kept waiting once I arrive there, usually 30+ minutes, once close to 90. Their service people are rude and have very little knowledge of what they're selling. I've got a defective 128 MB stick of RAM sitting around that I haven't returned because I hate dealing with them so much. And yes, returns are treated exactly the same way as orders, including all the phoning ahead and waiting.

      So good prices or not, after my dozen or so bad experiences there I'm not going back.

    • Newegg refurb [] has some great deals. Their general policy is to sell at 25% off the prices from their new catalog and offer free shipping to boot. They give you a 30 day warranty on the hardware but you pay for return shipping and 15% restock fee. The good part is that after purchasing over $2000 worth of parts I've had to return exactly zero. The best part is that you can buy hardware, use it for a year, and resell it on ebay for more than you originally paid for it!.

      The deals can get better than 25% too. Hardware that they no longer carry in their new store can be real cheap. And even when they still carry the item, if they have many available they sometimes mark things down drastically. I recently bought a Epox 8k7a+ board (raid) for $40.

      They tend to post new items at about 10:30AM PST and they can go real quick. For things like DVD drives, I'm talking minutes. I wrote a script to actually buy me stuff I got so frustrated at one point (god bless Perl). A word of caution: If you ever want a lesson in the importance of writing bug free code, write a program that spends your own money! Anybody want to buy a modem? or two? or seventy?

    • by dohnut ( 189348 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @10:02PM (#3741040)

      I was in the market for a GF4 a while back. I tried some other company who shall remain nameless. They said the GF4 was "in stock" on their web site. So, I ordered it and guess what? Not in stock. They said a day or two. Their web site still said "in stock" btw. I complained, they changed their web site to "out of stock" still more days go by.. Site gets changed back to "in stock" I call and ask where mine is at, "oh, that's still out of stock."


      I canceled my order with them and found newegg. They didn't have the particular GF4 I was looking for "in stock", so I started to check out with another brand but before I finalized, I went back to the video card section and the model I was looking for had appeared as "in stock". Seems someone canceled theirs while I was in the process of ordering mine. After I ordered it, it was listed as "out of stock" again.

      Now that's cool. If it says it's in stock, it's in stock. No worries, no excuses.
  • by Pyromage ( 19360 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:25PM (#3739128) Homepage
    I start looking at They are a lister, they list prices of components.

    Keep in mind shipping: its usually cheaper to order a proc & mobo & ram from one place, just to save on shipping.... (otherwise you pay $15 extra per component)...

    I've done business with many companies listed there, and been happy every time.
    • by Rorschach1 ( 174480 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:28PM (#3739172) Homepage
      And with Pricewatch, be aware that a lot of companies manipulate their listings to make sure they're at the top of the list. Check shipping and handling charges and other sale terms carefully.
      • Pricewatch recently started sorting their listings by aggregate price (component price + shipping and handling)
    • I use Pricewatch and CNet [] together for price-checking - they index different resellers. CNet tends to include more of the big, mainstream companies like CDW. Pricewatch gets more of the smaller, less well known companies.

      (And I'll throw in a "me-too" for those recommending Newegg. More often than not, they will have the lowest price, or be within a few percent of the lowest price.)

    • Pricewatch Cautions (Score:5, Informative)

      by Wanker ( 17907 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @06:02PM (#3739617)
      I stopped shopping Pricewatch a while back since under such severe price pressures companies are forced to shave costs however they can. This means they will:

      1) Offer no support
      2) Send you broken items and charge a 25% "restocking" to return them
      3) Not send anything at all and claim loss in shipping
      4) Any number of other sleazy tactics

      I suggest that you filter anyone you choose to buy from through Reseller Ratings []. I rarely have problems when dealing with people high on their list.

      As surprising as it might seem, letting that local shop order components for you and assemble it may actually be cheaper than buying the components yourself. The days of 50% markup over cost on PCs are long gone, now it's more like 2-5%. The shops can buy in volume and get better deals than you can. Come up with a spec on your PC and ask some of the local shops for a quote before buying the components yourself.

  • Tiger Direct (Score:2, Informative)

    by Squareball ( 523165 )
    I shop at Tiger Direct a lot. Just got my Casio PV-400plus second day air. I've never had a problem with them and they have GREAT prices. Another rout is to go buy a barebones system at your local computer shop and then go to Best Buy and get a HD and the other stuff you want.
    • NO NO NO

      Please, avoid Tiger Direct if you want to avoid a headache. Their computers are junk (Think homebrew Packard Bell), and their service/support is virtually non-existant.
    • Re:Tiger Direct (Score:3, Insightful)

      by budgenator ( 254554 )
      My local guy's concern is mostly service. Sales is a customer service, not a profit center so by the time you add shipping and handling to the internet sales, he's within a couple of bucks and you get it right now.

      There are also advantages to having a relationship with a flesh and blood guy if you need help. Who knows you might get laid off and need a job real quick.
  • $450 from dell (Score:5, Insightful)

    by fatboy1234 ( 542091 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:25PM (#3739134)

    This isn't worth your time anymore... you can buy a stripped down PC from dell for $450.

    check out for the latest dell deals...

    start your dell rants.
    • Re:$450 from dell (Score:3, Informative)

      by lactose99 ( 71132 )
      Considering the mix-and-match factor of most big-name PC builders (Dell, Compaq, Gateway) is quite low, and the poster mentioned that he wanted to pick his components, a Dell really isn't the way to go.

      Not that I mind Dell-- they make great PCs for people that don't really have specific components in mind, and their support is terrific IMO.

      This guy is probably best-off going with a local small PC store that will just integrate off-the-shelf hardware. They usually tend to get a better deal (due to volume discounts) on commodity hardware, and he mix and match whatever components he wants.

      Besides, once you've built one PC from scratch, its all the same anyway. He could get just as much of a geek 'fix upgrading the PC later.

    • Re:$450 from dell (Score:4, Insightful)

      by asv108 ( 141455 ) <.asv. .at.> on Thursday June 20, 2002 @06:55PM (#3740010) Homepage Journal
      I recently built a system for a friend, here are the specs:
      • ASUS A7N 266 Motherboard* $90
      • Athlon XP 1800* $90
      • 256 megs DDR-SDRAM PC2100* $60
      • Pioneer DVD Drive $45
      • Sony 32X Write CD burner $80
      • Creative Labs 56k Modem* $30
      • In-win A500 Midtower case* $60
      • IBM 40 GB Hard Drive* $70
      TOTAL: 525 Shipped

      Similar dell system with lower quality components runs just under $1000 [] without shipping.

      • by bellings ( 137948 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @07:21PM (#3740204)
        Yeah, except the dell comes with ethernet, sound card, video card, speakers, keyboard, mouse, monitor, operating system, tech support, and warranty. In the world I live in, those things cost money too. Maybe you're able to download speakers off the internet or something.

        And, of course, if you get the Dell you don't have to dick around for five hours selecting and ordering the parts, finding drivers, putting everything together, and installing the OS. In the world I live in, my time is worth something. Maybe you're able to download time off the internet or something.
        • Re:$450 from dell (Score:4, Insightful)

          by shepd ( 155729 ) <<moc.liamg> <ta> <gro.todhsals>> on Thursday June 20, 2002 @08:15PM (#3740513) Homepage Journal
          >Yeah, except the dell comes with ethernet, sound card, video card, speakers, keyboard, mouse, monitor, operating system, tech support, and warranty.

          $10, $10, $30, $5, $5, $2, $100, $70, $NOTHING, $HAHA.

          Why such low prices? The physical components on cheap brand name computers are total crap.

          Now, why such low tech support? Well, if you ask me, telling me to re-install and/or run scandisk/defrag is worth $NOTHING. If you want anything past that you'll have to buy one freakin' expensive support contract. But that's just my experience.

          Warranty? Oh, now you really must be shitting me!

          Most separate components that are quality (as opposed to the crap put in a cheap brand name system) come with warranties of up to 3 years. Examples: Both my Asus motherboard and Maxtor hard drive are covered by 3 year warranties.

          Parts that aren't covered by warranties are of such low cost (for example, the $2 mouse) that the cost in your time to return them isn't worth it.

          >And, of course, if you get the Dell you don't have to dick around for five hours selecting and ordering the parts, finding drivers, putting everything together, and installing the OS.

          As someone once employed to build computers, here's how long it takes someone with any experience to put one together:

          - Open the case, whip out the bag of screws and standoffs. Put the standoffs in place, ensure the ATX coverplate is the right one. 3 minutes.
          - Put CPU on motherboard, put the fan on, make sure the jumpers / dips are correct, and add memory. 5 minutes.
          - Put the motherboard on the standoffs, screw it in. Connect the PSU cable to the motherboard. 2 minutes.
          - Put the hard drive, floppy drive, CDROM in position and screw them down. 5 minutes.
          - Add expansion cards, set any jumpers on them (virtually none nowadays). 5 minutes.
          - Plug cables from CDROM, etc into the motherboard. 1 minute.
          - Play with the BIOS and get it set nicely. 2-4 minutes.
          - Install operating system (doesn't matter if its WinXP / Linux / Whatever): 10 minutes to get it going. You aren't going to sit there and watch it copy stuff to the hard drive, are you? Boring!
          - Throw on drivers, etc. 5-10 minutes.

          Total time to build a system, if done in the above order: A little over 30 minutes. Well under an hour.

          And those times are accurate -- ask any (truthful) computer repair shop. The administration actually takes most of the time, and its the reason why most repair shops have a 30 minute - 1 hour minimum charge policy.

          Unless you're being paid $500/hr. 24/7 I remain unconvinced that anyone with just a bit of experience can't economically justify the amount of time it takes to build a computer, espcially with today's standardized, keyed, idiot proof hardware!

          Just my 2 cents.
  • Newegg (Score:2, Redundant)

    by drodver ( 410899 ) []

    Good prices, good rep, good shipping!
    • Re:Newegg (Score:3, Informative)

      by curunir ( 98273 )
      I completely agree.

      I just put together a PC with parts entirely from them. I could have saved a buck or two on some of the items, but it's nice to get everything in one shipment and newegg was pretty close to the lowest price I found on everything. Plus their interface is pretty intuitive and easy to use.

      Everything arrived promptly and well-packed via Fedex. I've heard some unpleasant stories about returns on some of their OEM stuff, but I've never had to return any of it, so I can't say first-hand. Also, I didn't see it mentioned any place on the website until the check-out process, but CA residents will have to pay tax on everything they sell.

      Aside from that, I'm one happy customer.
  • by Rorschach1 ( 174480 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:26PM (#3739140) Homepage
    I used to work for one, and they can probably get parts cheaper than you'll be able to through the web. There's always a markup to cover the not-inconsiderable expense of maintaining a storefront, but a competent, reputable local dealer is worth the cost especially if you're not comfortable troubleshooting and fixing problems yourself.
  • Parts (Score:4, Informative)

    by ajakk ( 29927 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:26PM (#3739145) Homepage
    Check out Newegg [] for a pretty good selection of stuff. They don't have the best return policies, but they are a pretty good place. I also suggest looking at Anandtech [] for the motherboard/memory/video roundups which give the best prices for certain components. The places he references are usually higher quality than the lowball offerings given on Pricewatch [].

  • PriceWatch (Score:2, Informative)

    by interiot ( 50685 )
    Generally, [] is an excellent way to compare prices from various online retailers.

    However, they don't necessarily always have all the lowest stores listed. In particular, I often check at least [], but others may have their favorites as well.

  • I buy from (Score:5, Informative)

    by JebusIsLord ( 566856 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:26PM (#3739152)
    If you are in Canada (which i assume you are not) You should order from They are out of Vancouver and have great prices / 2 day shipping. Hard to find good stuff online without paying duty from the US.
  • Home Build! (Score:2, Interesting)

    There is more to building your own PC than just the price.

    Building your own PC gives you a lot more options, and it is fun! (if your a geek :-)

  • You can easily find prices for the components you want from tons of different places: []
  • Once homebrew, always homebrew.

    At least I know whats in side rather than some guy in a pink suit telling me.

    Just avoid VIA and HiPoint.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:27PM (#3739168) will get you the best price. will help you figure out whether you're about to buy from a crooked company or an honest one.
  • is awesome (Score:3, Informative)

    by dcstimm ( 556797 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:28PM (#3739169) Homepage
    I have been using for over 3 years! They have Pricewatch based pricing! they are a great company! They have a nice site that is easy to navigate and use. And they have all the major parts both oem and retail!
  • Home Built (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Snowgen ( 586732 )

    I've always built my own. Typically I find that it actually costs a little more then a mass market PC, but I get exactly the options (video card, PC card, etc) I want, and don't have to pay for any bundled stuff I didn't want.

    I typically price all my parts through Pricewatch []

  • Some ideas... (Score:4, Informative)

    by XBL ( 305578 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:28PM (#3739174)
    I have built 3 computers. All three I have bought parts from different places. It all boils down to finding the best deals. has price comparisons from many places, and that can be useful. COMPONENT PRICES CAN VARY WILDLY FROM DIFFERENT VENDORS!

    You should check out, as they have a components section, and are usually reasonable on prices. If you want to buy everything from the same place without a lot of hassle, they might be your best bet.
  • by jgaynor ( 205453 ) <> on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:29PM (#3739181) Homepage
    There is no sinlge best "place," but a good start is of course, pricewatch [], which compares a large number of online retailers.

    Computer shows in your area are also a good bet, as small outfits will put together a barebones for less than even pricewatch can most of the time.

    Finally, try "hot deals" forums like anandtech [] and fatwallet []. They have decent coupon/rebate deals you can use locally or online to snag some great cheap accesories.

    Hope that helps!
  • (Score:3, Informative)

    by hyperstation ( 185147 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:29PM (#3739184)
    wherever you buy, check them out here [] first.

    ...needless to say, i learned the hard way
  • I shop locally (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tlhIngan ( 30335 ) <slashdot&worf,net> on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:29PM (#3739187)
    I prefer to buy it by visiting the local computer shops here (Vancouver, BC, Canada).

    They tend to be a bit cheaper, you don't have to worry about shipping... then again, there's the tax. For those of you living in large cities, they are often your best bet for the most common parts rather than trying to hunt through 100 different online vendors, dealing with damaged parcels, etc. Plus, with so many of them along the same road, it's easy to visit another shop if the one doesn't have what you want. And most are online so you can compare prices...
  • I use Pricewatch [] in conjuntion with ResellerRatings [] to find the best prices on hardware from reputable companies.
  • by Marx_Mrvelous ( 532372 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:29PM (#3739191) Homepage
    Do *not* find the lowest prices on eahc part and use that to spec your system. The absolute worst thing you can do is "cheap out" on parts like RAM, motherboard, and the case. You'll end up with a potentially buggy system that is hard to maintain.

    Make sure you only buy *retail* packages and keep all receipts in a folder in case you need to RMA a bad part.

    It may cost 10-20% more, but if you do these two simple things, your overall value goes way up for building your own system.
    • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @07:05PM (#3740099) Journal
      I built my first PC last year, having installed drives and cards before, but generally knowing little about one piece of hardware versus another. The Ars Technica System Guides [] were extremely helpful. They have three model systems -- budget, power and obsessive -- and regularly update them with their current recommendations at each performance point. For someone who had no idea what an appropriate sound card was, it was a great starting point.

      Since everyone else is listing favorite vendors, I had good results with The Chip Merchant [] (an Ars favorite) and Sunset Marketing. No connection to either other than satisfaction.

      There was also a Kuro5hin story on this a few weeks ago. Too lazy to link it...

  • by Osty ( 16825 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:30PM (#3739196)

    Building your own PC is not always the least expensive proposition. Most configurable, yes, but not least expensive. For starters, all of the prebuilt PC manufacturers get huge bulk discounts. If you want to go buy that P4, it may cost you well over $400 or even $500. These guys can buy in bulks of 10,000 or more, which means significant price drops. Same for the motherboards, cases, power supplies, RAM, ... You're not going to be able to match the prices these companies can get. On top of that, if you're building your own PC, you're probably going to want to put quality parts in it. Don't expect that from a prebuilt company. They skimp where they can (weaker powersupply, flimsy case, off-brand sound card, etc) so they can pass the savings on to you while still making some sort of profit. Nevermind the software you have to buy (assuming you want to run Windows or some other commercial OS and don't wish to steal it). You can sometimes get the OEM discounts on the software if you buy it in conjunction with a mobo or hard drive, but not always.

    In short, if price is a concern, don't build it yourself. Oh, sure, with a little due dilligence you can keep the price down. It's just been my experience that that doesn't happen. If you're pinching pennies, buy from a respectable name brand. If you want the ultimate in configuration (and don't mind having no computer-wide warranty support), then build it yourself.

  • The same stores that sell those custom built white box pcs also sell parts. Unless you are looking for something hard to find, such as crucial ram (I had alot of trouble finding a store that stocked it, but finally did) then its just easier to get it from a store. If you have a defective product, you can simply bring it back. If you order a defective product, it might take you 6 weeks to get a replacement! By then, the hardware you ordered may have already become obsolete :)
  • The biggest problem with building your own is that you're the only one that can troubleshoot it if the system is DOA when you put it together and power it on. Typically you will find that the various component vendors will blame each other, and it's really hard to troubleshoot when you don't have the ability to swap out components.
  • When you put your system together, remember that chip speed is not everything. I just bought a system with a 400 mhz bus (and two 1.2 ghz chips). Without the quick bus, I wouldn't be able to use the the quick chips. Be warned: the big name companies save there money here.

    Also, the place I got my system from (ordered by my coworker, so I forget where it was) actually built the thing, even though we only ordered the components! Be sure to ask for a similar deal, if you use one company for everything...
  • by Belisarivs ( 526071 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:31PM (#3739215)
    If you want a low-end desktop, it's hard to beat the prices out there. If you want a powerful gaming rig/workstation, build it and you'll save yourself a lot of money. While everyone has already suggested, I'll suggest They make some great desktops for what they're asking.
  • by V. Mole ( 9567 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:31PM (#3739217) Homepage

    Pricewatch is useful, but before you take the lowest price, check them out at Reseller Ratings []. Sometimes it's better to spend the extra $10 and avoid the rip-off artists.

  • by mjlesko ( 152100 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:31PM (#3739218) Homepage

    Advice: Don't unless you enjoy it and can accept a high-level of frustration. That said, two places to go for some good information about parts, prices and how-to.

    1. Anandtech []
    2. Tom's Hardware []
    In my experience the following online vendors are good for parts because of their service and prices:
    1. New Egg [] - parts (e.g. cases, cards, motherboards, etc...)
    2. Crucial [] - memory

    Generally speaking I try to buy the majority, if not all my parts from one or two vendors, because shipping can really make or break a deal.

  • I love rolling my own, but now I limit myself to PCs contained in my house. In the past, I have put together for friends and collegues (with no profit for myself) and had problems. The biggest complaint: "too loud of fans". I've noticed that Dells sometimes make plastic ducts to redirect fans from the transformer to processor heatsink. Interesting if you could do that yourself.
  • Every single time I've constructed a system from scratch, the system was always more expensive than a store system configuration.

    The reason being that when you start shopping for individual components, you start buying stuff that is alot more powerful than the stuff in full system configuration. Start spending a few extra bucks here and there and it quickly adds up.

    In the end you have a high end system that is no where close to the specs of the premade system, and it is evident in the cost as well.
  • What I've noticed.. (Score:3, Informative)

    by WndrBr3d ( 219963 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:33PM (#3739246) Homepage Journal
    I build a lot of custom systems for people because I promise high quality parts at a competitive costs to computer vendors.

    What I basically find is you have two typical users. The Power Users and the Economy Users.

    Your Power Users usually tend to want the latest and greatest parts with the top of the line hardware, all name brand, and want to be able to boast the parts they have in there (ie: VisionTek GeForce4, Asus Motherboard.. things of that nature). Custom machines fit this bill perfectly.

    Economy Users are the people who just see the computer as a tool and plan on using it to prepair their taxes and reports for the next five years. Their main concern ? Warranty, Part Replacement and Technical Support. For people like this, you pretty much have no choice but to turn to companies like Dell, Gateway or even Compaq to have their major brand names behind the systems. I'm a big fan of Dell and their Warranty/Support.

    This is of course if you don't wish to hand out your cell phone number or if you loath nagging for RMA's as much as I do.

    If you're looking for a good site for computer part prices your #1 choice should be PriceWatch []. This site is a database of the lowest hardware prices on the Internet.

    Hope this Helped!
  • If you're in the UK, eBuyer [] are very good. Europeans generally get ripped off for PC components, with prices in pounds being the numeric equivalent in dollars! eBuyer is very cheap though, and the prices approach American levels. You can get all of the components for a respectable 1Ghz box for about £250.

    However, an even better resource is There are some real bargains on there! Everyone deals one to one, and bad traders are ferreted out and shamed in the group. It's pretty safe, and the prices are even lower. You can also get good advice about components there.. or in uk.comp.homebuilt.

    Computer fairs in the UK generally aren't as good value as they used to be, unless you're looking for black goods.

    Buying prebuilt computers from small builders is also very cost effective now. Sure, it's more expensive than building your own, but with the warranties, it can work out better, and you don't have to cut your hands to bits.

    I use OnlyPCs [] who are a local firm, but will supply a brand new 1Ghz machine with CDRW, monitor, etc.. for £450 inc VAT!
  • You might try They have competative pricing on everything you'd need as well as a knowledgable staff.
  • One thing I've always noticed is that building your own box is much cheaper than purchasing one if you want a really high end box. For example, I have a dual 1GHz P3, 1GB RAM, SCSI RAID, and a bunch of other stuff on it. I priced a similar system from Dell, IBM, and a couple of other companies and the cheapest I found it for was $3500. I built it myself and it only cost $1700. BIG difference in price. For entry level machines, though, companies like Gateway and Dell offer much better values. As far as where to purchase components, I recommend buying a very good motherboard. Companies like Abit or Asus are what I would recommend. Other than that, you could use Pricewatch [] to locate the cheapest parts online. I'd go with brand names, but find the best deal you can. (i.e., look for names like Seagate, Western Digital for hard drives, etc. Not just any old name) If you do that, you'll get a great quality box at a great price. SN
  • Clockwork (Score:3, Informative)

    by rice_burners_suck ( 243660 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:35PM (#3739276)

    You're definitely making the right choice. Store-bought PCs aren't all they're cracked up to be. When you build your own box, you get to research all the components and find out, for yourself, what the advantages and disadvantages of each component is. If you're going to run FreeBSD or Linux or whatever, you can select hardware that is supported by your software, so that you don't pay a bunch of money for something prebuilt where half the stuff in the box is unsupported, and is therefore shit produced by shitheads.

    (Because only really stupid people make hardware that isn't supported by Linux or FreeBSD.)

  • We have several small [] shops [] that sell components cheap, usually about the same as pricewatch after you figure in sales tax, shipping, and all the other extras. I like buying from them because there is someone I can talk face-to-face with and return parts to. I can ask questions like "hey, how often do you get people returning brand X hard drives that are DOA".

    Also, by taking my money to those shops I help make sure they stay in business, so as to not help [] those big [] shops that seem to get articles on slashdot a lot for various questionable business practices, as well as making sure the little shops are still around when I need a part "right now" not "in a few days, when we feel like sticking it in the mail".
  • Ok, so everyone so far seems to agree on and I've bought from but was disappointed with how they packaged my memory with my other components (just tossed in...) But enough of that... maybe it would be better for the discussion to change the question to something useful. Like what to look for in a vendor, and what is the best equipment to get.

    Personally, i think it's a good idea to stay away from Western Digital for your HD. Do go with Asus for the mobo and to make sure to buy from a vendor that's out of state so you don't get stuck paying the shipping AS WELL as sales tax.

  • I use for most of my stuff - they don't have bottom basement prices, but they are competitive and have good support (buy you MB & CPU from them, and they'll help you get it all running right if you have trouble)

    Gotta get your memory from, they have Great prices, Great memory, and Free shipping (2nd day air).

    For the remaining bits I either recycle from old PCs, use Pricewatch (with caution), or talk to friends who have parts I need.

    Another thing to get in the habit of doing is buying lots of stuff when you find deals. I once got a bunch of IBM 10/100 Intel chip NICs for $15 a piece - I bought 5 of the suckers, and haven't had to buy a NIC since, even as my LAN has grown.
  • by rochlin ( 248444 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:36PM (#3739292) Homepage
    I've built a few and I have to say, with today's prices and discounts, you're not likely to save a whole lot of money building your own box. But you will be able to choose all your own components. That might be important to you if you want a particular video card or other accessory. You can also choose higher quality components (like bigger, quieter power supplies, faster memory, bigger, better case, overclockable motherboard, etc). I've also found my home builts generally more congeneal to upgrades than Dells and Compaqs. Motherboard makers like Abit, Asus, Tyan, and such generally provide more frequent BIOS updates so you can go to a newer processor or other newfangled thingy sooner than if you wait on an OEM (generally more likely to release a bios upgrade to fix a bug than to enable an upgrade).

    If you're building a server class machine, if you want stuff like redundant powersupplies, dual (or more) processors, built in highend SCSI... you're still going to pay a lot.

    With a pretty good Dell going for $900, you've got to want to futz around inside the box to make building your own (with no real manufacturer support) worth your while.

  • I went earlier this year because they had low prices and most of the parts I wanted.

    This is how they treated my order. [] Two computers, pretty much ripped apart into pieces because they didn't even bother TRYING to pack the parts properly. The photos show how laughable their efforts were. Laughable if it's not your order, that is.

    While they did eventually replace all the parts, they (1) were hoping to get away with calling it UPS's fault, and (2) took a month to "find" the RMA parts so they could replace it.

    It was only the day I threatened a BBB letter that the final RMA'd units were mysteriously "found" and replaced promptly.

  • I love building my own's fun!

    Anyway, my locally-owned non-chain computer store (Little Shop of Hardware in Baltimore) seems to have prices on par with what you can find online (but not quite as big a selection, obviously!). Plus, you don't have to pay for shipping, or deal with RMAs, and you get to support your local economy.
  • First, look for a really quiet case+powersupply.
    Noisecontrol [] here in Germany seems to make reasonable ones. Surely, you can get a supplier in US or elsewhere for their stuff.

    Search ebay and those "opinion-sites" for some weeks to get a feeling of what is good and what is bad.
    Never buy the cheapest.

  • by dvk ( 118711 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:37PM (#3739310) Homepage
    As noted before, always check on price-comparison web site, like Pricewatch.
    Another advice is to try to combine 1-2 parts to be bought from the single retailer.

    Advice 3: watch bargain web sites, especially [] and Anandtech Hot Deals forum. []

    My advice for various retailers:

    • (great source for cases, and various mechanocal necessities and cables)
    • Dell Peripherals, if you manage to catch the needed part (drives/etc...) during a good sale.
    • Someone already mentioned
    • Another site i have found to have great price and service in the past is
    These sites account for most of the insides and peripherals of my self-built Athlon 1.3G box.

    Hope this helps,

  • (Score:3, Informative)

    by Billly Gates ( 198444 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:37PM (#3739312) Journal
    I got burned myself trying to buy athlon based motherboards. Try <AHREF=""> this </A>website. You can at least fing the good from the bad resellers and read other people's comments. The ratings are based off of consumers like yourself rating the company. You may also need to do some research before buying any piece of hardware. I found even good motherboard makers have mediore products. This included even Asus and Abit. My last Abit board was incompatable with standard hardware like geforce video cards, netgear nics, etc. To me this is a defective product but it was brought out to the market anyway. So try and read dejanews to find out which boards and other peripherals have the least and most problems so you know what to buy. Keep in mind for me personally it was cheaper to buy a custom from a vendor due to volume discounts then it was to build my own system. This also included the windows tax.<p>

  • Try the Shuttle SFF (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward
    VIA motherboard and Shuttle all aluminum case....very low cost...very high quality.
  • [] is good, and I also like []

    Between the two of those site, you should be able to make a decision. Both don't have the greatest selection, but they do have good prices and decent service.

  • Before you buy (Score:3, Informative)

    by -dhan-101 ( 227087 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:38PM (#3739327)
    check [] to see other customers opinions about the shop. Pricewatch may find you the cheapest prices, but bad service will cost you more pain and suffering in the long run than a couple of $$.

    I've also had good luck with newegg [] (which many other people also pointed out) which receives a 9.41 rating!
  • by pm ( 11079 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:40PM (#3739341)
    For components, I usually shop or and I buy everything at the same time from either one.

    But for memory I recommend Crucial.Com. Memory is one thing that you definitely do not want to buy the cheapest that you can find. Cheap memory is can be flaky memory which then leads to a flaky system. At Crucial prices are usually competitive, the service is very good, shipping is nearly always free, and they are very good on handling returns. Like others, I recommend getting all of the other components together from one vendor, but I would buy the memory separately from Crucial.Com unless the price difference is substantial.

    As far as whether or not you save money by building your own... about the best aspect of it is that you can leave out the parts that you don't want. If you are running Linux, you don't have to buy a copy of Windows that you will never use. If you have pretty good speakers already, you don't have to buy another pair that will end up on the shelf gathering dust. Dell let's you customize a little, but building it yourself you can customize it completely and save money by not buying what you won't use/don't need.

    (and no, I don't work for Crucial... I just like the place)
  • So sure, you can like the other folks have already mentioned, use pricewatch [], pricegrabber [], even mysimon [] to find good prices on QUALITY components. But don't buy cheapie stuff--the best part of building your own system is that you can use quality parts and get it done for the same price as a system manufacturer might with cheap stuff!

    But then you go to a store with a good reputation, such as Dell [], NewEgg [], [], etc. to buy all the stuff at a higher price. The best part is when you whip out the Amex Gold card to pay for it. Then you call American Express [] up and tell them that you found all these items for cheaper at other websites (referencing your searches above). They kindly cut you a check for the difference.

    This way, you get the best price and the best service. Ahh how wonderful.

    Details on doing Amex pricematching are here [] which is a link on []. XPBargains is a very cool site by the way.
  • by mangu ( 126918 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:46PM (#3739426)
    Let this anecdote stand as a warning: my company was purchasing a big lot of equipment from a Swedish company a few years ago, and I went there to inspect their quality standards.

    They showed me how they bought pre-tested parts from wholesalers, according to certain standards. They said they prefered to let others do the testing because, sometimes, reject rates were up to 40%. It wasn't that the parts didn't work, but they weren't up to the best standards, they were less reliable overall. The parts wholesaler could work perfectly well with those reject rates, I was told, because the parts that didn't pass the Swedish company standards were sold cheap to Chinese manufacturers.

    The bottom line is, unfortunately, that cheap parts are always, by force of the economics involved, less reliable than similar parts bought at higher prices from the better manufacturers.
  • How about? (Score:3, Funny)

    by Peridriga ( 308995 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:48PM (#3739450)
  • pros and cons (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jejones ( 115979 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:49PM (#3739469) Journal
    • You get exactly what you want, e.g. stuff that you can be sure works and plays well with Linux. You can be sure you're not cutting corners with case or cooling.
    • You can be sure that you're not paying the Microsoft Tax.
    • There is a certain amount of satisfaction from doing it yourself, even if all you're doing is hooking together a few major subsystems.
    • If something goes wrong, the buck will be passed--it was the other guy's component, or you screwed up when you put it together. You have to be sure that the components work and play well with one another, and you can't just take it to someone, look pitiful, and say "fix it" when something goes wrong. (If you are the "that's a hardware problem" type, this may well be important to you.)
    • There is at least one anxiety-inducing step in putting together one's own system, namely installing the heat sink and fan on the CPU. I have so far always wimped out and asked someone with more experience to do that...just be sure you know what you're doing and what precautions to take.
  • by wizarddc ( 105860 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @05:58PM (#3739568) Homepage Journal
    Roughly, when I built my home PC, I started here: []

    They regularly update their 3 machine specifications: God Box, Hot Rod Box, and Budget Box, inorder or price and goodies, of course. But what they mostly include is advice on buying what parts, why to buy them, what to look for if you're not buying that exact part, and how to buy the parts you need for the best price. The last part is most important. You can buy the same piece of hardware you need at many places on the net. The key is getting it the cheapest. The price comparison places I've been using are: [] [] [] []

    Some other people said getting your cpu, mem, and mobo from one place. I'd like to say almost that. CPU and mobo, for sure. But I always buy my memory from []

    It's just not worth risking on something so cheap.
  • Rolling Your Own (Score:3, Interesting)

    by lycono ( 173768 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @06:13PM (#3739704)
    I started building my own computers in 1998 after I bought one of those "white box" systems of which you speak.

    The price was great and the specs looked great compared to other similarly priced systems. When I got it, I found that everything inside was junk. Ultra cheap memory, crappy hard drive, no-name shit-bag mobo, ultra crappy video card, etc. Needless to say I was very disappointed. I believe things have improved in the "white box" deparment since then, but you still get what you pay for.

    When you build your own you get a few benefits:

    • You know exactly what's in there. No searching around for obscure drivers for no-name parts that no one has ever heard of.
    • You get top quality in every part you use (up to your budget).
    • Buy the "retail" version of a part and it will almost always come with a one year warranty.
    • Personal satisfaction!
    • No small time vendor to go out of business and not honor your warranty or provide service.
    • A computer with better specs than the "white box" system for roughly the same price that is 2-3 times better in quality.
    So while it may not be the cheapest option outright, I believe you get the most for your money in the long run. I build 5-10 computers a year now for family and friends (and occasionally myself...).

    Some tips when building your own:

    • Beware of online retailers, some are reputable, some are not. When I built my first computer I bought at the lowest price I could find from all over the country. I got more than a few parts that were obviously returns from previous purchases. It cost money to return and some would not take back. Be careful who you buy from. (I found a local dealer who is as cheap or cheaper than what I can find online that I always buy from now.)
    • Do your homework on parts. Visit tech sites like Tom's Hardware, anandtech and others to find out what parts match what you are looking for.
    • Be careful of OEM buys. It usually means they come with no accessories (like cables, drivers, software bundles, connectors, etc). Often the price of the extra stuff will make up for the difference in price between retail and OEM.
    • Also remember that retail boxed items usually come with a warranty. OEM usually does not.
    • Tax often offsets shipping. Nowadays a lot of online retailers will charge tax even if they don't have to and pocket the money. Buying locally you pay tax yes, but it's often the same cost or cheaper than shipping.
    • Make sure you know what you are doing. Building a pc is NOT rocket science, especially with jumperless motherboards, but there are often little details that you may never have heard of or considered that can cause damage or frustrating hours of downtime. (40 vs 80 pin IDE cables. Master vs. slave jumper settings on drive. AGP slot vs. card voltage, proper cooling fans, etc.)
    • Stay the fuck away from Fry's!
    One note here, when you add a monitor into the equation, things get a little trickier. It's often VERY hard to build a system with a monitor for the same price as one you buy "white box". I invested in a nice monitor a while ago and it's lasted me 5 years (still going strong). I figure with the frequency I would have to replace a "white box" system upgrading my monitor as I go, it paid for itself over time.

    For reference, I just put together a DAW with ASUS P4T mobo, 1.8GHz P4, 512MB RDRAM, 2x40GB EIDE 7200RPM hard drives, GeForce 440 MX video, DVD/CD, ethernet, case for under $1000. I don't think I could find something that REALLY compared for anywhere near that price.

  • by mdecerbo ( 9857 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @06:43PM (#3739930)
    For some people, the most daunting thing about building their own system is worrying that they might screw up something up with the fan clips or the heatsink compound, causing the CPU to overheat eventually, or the fan to someday fall off.

    Today's processors smoke themselves pretty fast if you run them without the heatsink/fan attached properly. (I forget how long the Athlon is supposed to take to burn up, but IIRC it's something like 10 or 15 seconds.)

    To cope with that, there are some PC shops who will install the processor in the motherboard, power it up to test it, and them ship the assembled unit, often with some memory. You'll often see this advertised as a "bundle". Perhaps the best-known (though not always cheap) vendor is JNCS [].

    This is the approach one of my moderately-technical classmates took-- she was quite up for installing the OS, PCI cards, and drivers, but didn't trust herself to diagnose a machine that, say, wouldn't power-up initially.

    As I recall, the reseller installed the mobo and CPU in a case, and she took it from there. That way she was able to spec out her own spiffy video-editing system without coping with the nail-biting parts. Not necessarily a bad approach for the first-time PC builder.

  • by Junior J. Junior III ( 192702 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @06:58PM (#3740034) Homepage
    This works pretty well for me:
    1. First get an idea of how much you can afford to spend.
    2. Think a bit about what sort of tasks you want the computer to do. Do you want high end video for gaming? Do you want to build a PVR? Do you want to build a small server to host web/ftp/email services over a broadband connection?
    3. Go online and do some research to see what's out there to fulfill the role you envision for the machine. arstechnica [], tom's hardware [], anandtech [], storage review [], and other sites usually have good information on recent and upcoming technologies. I do a lot of looking to see what's out there and what's around the corner, then go back and revise my budget accordingly.
    4. Decide what you need to buy. I don't generally go for the biggest, fastest, best, because it's generally twice as expensive (or more) as it will be in just a few months. I don't buy the cheapest stuff either, as it's usually of inferior quality, obsolete, or will give inferior performance compared to spending a small amount more on something better. I look at the price/performance curve, and generally buy in the "knee-bend" of the curve. The only exception is if there's something dirt cheap available for a non-critical component that doesn't make much of a difference (like a floppy drive, NIC, or keyboard) or an absolutely critical high-priority component that the system *needs* in order to perform its role adequately (like a GeForce card for a gaming station) or a SCSI controller for a file server.
    5. Shop around. You can try [] to get an idea what stuff is going for these days. But I find that shipping makes finding a real bargain somewhat difficult. That's especially true if you buy from more than one vendor. I try to go through one vendor, for simplicity's sake, and right now my choice is []. They have very good service and their prices are often near the top of the pricewatch search results anyway. You can try local stores, too. Stay away from chains like CompUSA and Best Buy, and support small local businesses run by knowledgable, competant people. Their prices will generally be about twice the lowest you'll find on pricewatch, but you may find the convenience of not paying for shipping, not having to wait for delivery, and having someone to go to for questions and advice useful. If you're more experienced, you probably don't need that, but few people know everything about everything, and everyone you talk to can potentially teach you something.
    6. Put it together. There's plenty of guides out there on the web that will go into detailed instructions on how to put a PC together if you need help. PC Mechanic [] is a good example, and there are many others out there. Read the instructions a few times until you know what you're doing, then do it.
    Good luck.
  • by brink ( 78405 ) <jwarner@cs.EINST ... minus physicist> on Thursday June 20, 2002 @07:04PM (#3740096) Homepage
    This is my two cents
    • Purchase extra sensitive components such as motherboards and RAM from a mom&pop store. I've seen motherboards shipped in tiny cardboard boxes with no padding whatsoever. I've also seen motherboards shipped in gigantic boxes with only one or two of those air pillows for padding.
    • Other things such as hard drives and video cards are typically padded well, so they're pretty safe for shipping.
    • Unless you're buying in bulk or a number of things from one supplier, buy the cheap things like floppy drives and keyboards locally. The shipping charges frequently aren't worth it.
    • Even if you're not going to buy from the local stores, talk with the builders there. Ask them their opinion on various hardware; pros and cons, issues to watch out for, that sort of thing. Get several viewpoints if you can. While they'll try to pump their products, the people who work there are less corporate drones than the Best Buy type people, so they'll be more willing to let you know of caveats, and they'll probably be more knowledgable.
    • Don't skimp on the power supply, no matter how tempting the price difference between, say, a 250W and 350W PS. You'd be amazed the kind of difference in stability you can see between even a 250W and a 300W, in certain situations.
    • Always check out the return policy and RMA procedures. Local shops will often have decent warranties on their stock, even if they don't build your system for you. Also, some manufacturers have excellent return policies. Western Digital typically has a 3yr warranty, All Components [] has a lifetime warranty on their RAM, and it's ridiculously easy to get a defective 3Com card replaced. I've replaced stuff free and clear from each of those three vendors after a poor PS blew a computer. Few questions asked.
    • Last, don't skimp on the case. There are a lot of $7 cases out there, but do you really want to coat the inside of yours with your blood after cutting an artery on a sharp edge? Once you build a machine yourself, you'd be surprised how often you end up going back inside that case... just to look around, or to add stuff.
    • If you're looking to mod your box, you'll probably have to purchase online. I haven't seen a lot of local shops supplying light and window kits. That could just be my area, though.
    • Finally, though it goes without saying I'm going to say it, be very conscientious about whether or not you're really getting a good deal by buying online as opposed to locally. If you can get that pimpin' mobo for $3 online, it's still not worth it if it arrives damaged with no return policy after paying $25 shipping and handling.
    • Speaking of which, you might want to check out various resources like Tom's Hardware Guide to see the reliability of the products you want to purchase. Several years ago I purchased an ABit IT5H motherboard and had to send it back twice. I found out much later that this board in particular had a 50% dead on arrival rate! Had I known that at the outset, I would've selected a different one, or purchased from a local shop so I could get an immediate return.
    That's all I can think of at the moment. Hope this helps.

  • by Nonesuch ( 90847 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @08:17PM (#3740519) Homepage Journal
    I usually build my personal machines from parts.

    I was setting up a machine as a gift for a relative, and I ended up purchasing one via the "Dell@Home" discount program offered by my employer.

    I was able to configure the machine exactly as I chose, including de-selecting the included WinModem, and increasing RAM+HD storage. Final price, after free shipping and a rebate, was less than I would have paid to buy the parts separately.

    Another advantage to buying from a big commercial vendor, when I move out of state, my relative won't have to call me long distance or wait for me to visit in order to get technical support.

  • by newerbob ( 577746 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @09:41PM (#3740942) Homepage
    I know how to put together a PC from scratch

    Really? You'll have a hell of a time designing a 4-layer printed circuit board that won't fail at the memory bus speeds.

    It would take many man-years to design the ASICs for the bus controllers, I/O, sound, and CPU support.

    And all that fancy equipment you need to do wave soldering would take up a good chunk of you garage.

    Back in the Apple ][ days, people still used to build computers from scratch, because they were still 100% off-the-shelf components. I've seen friends from the FSR show me Apple ][ clones they wire-wrapped, part by part, using some chinese clone 6502 chip as the CPU.

    Today, of course, building a computer from scratch means only taking about 10 components and shoving them in a case.

  • by Linuxathome ( 242573 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @09:53PM (#3741006) Homepage Journal
    If you plan on doing lots of gaming, graphics-intensive, and CPU-intensive computing, then by all means, building your own will save you more money because you get to pick and choose the quality parts at a competitive price. However, if you plan to use it for non-resource intensive applications for surfing the web, word-processing, balancing your checkbook, or creating a powerpoint presentation, then save your time and get a system from Dell, Compgeeks [] or even one of those Microtel systems from Walmart [] that slashdot talked about recently.

    Personally, for my uses, I'm use the computer for the latter purpose and have been quite happy running Linux on a cheap Cyrix 300 MHz system. I do lot of surfing, writing, and spreadsheet analysis with StarOffice (actually, I've just upgraded to OpenOffice 1.0). However, I have built a number of systems in the past and have found these links are a must:

    Pricegrabber []

    Pricewatch []

    CNET's price comparison site []

    Techbargains [] (if you are patient enough to wait for that perfect machine to be affordable)

    Your time is really worth the money, and when it comes down to it, those cheap systems from Dell, Compgeeks, or Walmart are actually worth the heartache that you may encounter later when you find out that the motherboard you bought has spotty USB support in Windows 98. And if you add up how much you'd spend to make a comparable system, you'll find out that you're only saving a miniscule amount, if that. But again, if you wanted a high-end machine, then building your own will definitely be worth the time and effort to find the right parts and putting them together.

  • by NeuroManson ( 214835 ) on Thursday June 20, 2002 @10:20PM (#3741122) Homepage
    Recently I bought a prebuilt system, to be precise, a eMachines T4155, for $549 at Office Depot (a floor model discount on a clearance item, so at least I knew it was burned in for a considerable time)...

    The reasons were simple, my car died on me some months back, so I needed to get something from a local retailer as opposed to running all over the Puget Sound looking for decent bargains, didn't feel like waiting a week for miscellaneous components purchased through PriceWatch, and didn't have a check card/credit card to make the purchase with otherwise... Considering the area the Puget Sound covers, I would have wasted a couple of days running about, which, if you prorated the time spent @around $10 an hour (because that is the minimum you would charge if you were building a system for someone else), then you're talking $160... And now the specs:

    FIC VC31 motherboard - Usually around $90 on average...

    Pentium 4, 1.5Ghz - Usually another $80-$100, depending on street prices at the time...

    Maxtor 60 Gb ATA 100 - About $120 average...

    LG CD-R/W, 12x8x32 - Usually about $50-$60...

    Samsung 12 DVD ROM - Approximately $40-$50...

    256 MB PC133 SDRAM - $30-$40...

    Reference Geforce2 MX card - $40...

    Micro ATX case/PS - $30 for a good run of the mill case...

    Since most who buy their hardware also have to go to several different retailers to pinch every penny, lets assume each one, if you pick the cheapest rates, charges you about $8-$12 for UPS ground, leaving you waiting about a week for you to recieve your components... Total would come to about $30-$50

    Total cost (based on average street price): $490, add shipping and you have almost the same price I paid for the prebuilt model, which for all intents and purposes uses the cheapest "passable" hardware...

    Sure, some can build for cheaper, with better components, but you probably would wind up spending more (unless you know where I can get a nice Geforce4 card for under $50, which I doubt)...

    However, for a starting foundation, it's more than adequate... In either case, it's a tossup, between convenient and quick, and marginal savings VS inconvenient waits...

    The bottom line for PC hardware has finally reached bottom, you can't really get it any cheaper, unless the company that made it is going to declare Chapter 13 and vanish off the face of the earth...
    • Prices from New Egg [].

      Biostar PC133 Intel MB (the only FIC on Newegg is DDR): $50

      P4 1.5 GHz (retail, w/ HSF): $129

      Maxtor 60 GB 7200 rpm HD: $89

      Optowrite 32-12-40 CD-RW (this is the cheapest and slowest NewEgg has - the one LG model carried is the same speed for far more money): $49

      Samsung 16x DVD (again, the slowest available - cheapest was also 16x and only $7 less): $42

      256 MB PC133 (Kingston 2x128MB): $38

      Asus GF2 MX 200: $40

      Antec black MicroATX case: $39

      Total: $476

      Shipping to Washington via FedEx Express Saver: $36.14

      Total: $512.14

      Not much of a price difference, but higher speed components in several places. And that extra $40 can upgrade most of the components to higher quality. The first thing I'd do is change out the MB/CPU/RAM -- pairing a P4 with PC133 memory is useless. A Celeron, Athlon, or Duron would perform equally for less money. I'd also spend another $10 to get a better case and power supply.

      Yes, you probably did the best you could in your circumstances. But using bad numbers to justify a decision irks me.

      Oh, and before you ask... overnight shipping would've placed it at $554.15. And you forgot to add sales tax to your figures.

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