Custom Built Computers vs. Major Manufacturer Produced

Your friend offers to build a computer for you, in which you can pay over time to build the perfect system. A boon to anyone who can’t afford two grand for a computer until they figure out that their tech friend is offering a system for a lower price that isn’t competitive with those offered from a major manufacturer like Dell. Or perhaps you would prefer to abandon all risk and go with an E-Machine because it is cheaper than the aforementioned solutions, and sells at Wal-Mart for $399.

On the one hand Dell offers some of the most competitively priced systems around and does indeed offer you the most for your money. You do have to pay shipping and handling of course but they often throw in a monitor or some peripheral for free and will offer to upgrade your system for $99 to include a digital camera, or a DVD-writer, as opposed to a 24 speed CD-writer. Then again E-Machine offers an even better deal than Dell, or so it seems, albeit there is no shipping but your tech friend tells you that E-Machines contain “cheap, refurbished parts”, which technically could be true of anything you buy from a discounter. Yet they used to say the same thing about Gateway 2000 products.

Having your friend build a computer is going to be akin to having someone in a body shop customize your car. You’ll get a lot of bells and whistles that are great for individuals who are looking to tweak the performance of their system, like 2 MB of video ram, that may or may not be the best for your own needs. Even if you have a shop that sells used computers build you a machine you have to take into consideration that they are not buying the prices in bulk, and are not getting the unusual discounts one may acquire by buying thousands of components at a time. They may charge you $300 for a monitor you would pay $150 for in the store. On the other hand, they won’t waste your time with an Intel processor if they know that AMD processors are faster and cheaper to implement.

You need to figure out what type of computer user you are and from that determine what your needs are.

  • Are you a “power” user, that is going to run three or more programs at a time?
  • Are you someone that likes to get online and use applications over the net, if at all?
  • Are you someone that simply needs a basic word processor and whatever applications come with Microsoft Office?
  • Do you play video games more often than not?
  • Do you burn cds and download movies more often than you purchase them?

The power user is someone who doesn’t really know exactly what they’ll get into, and will more or less take the computer as far as it will allow them to go. It isn’t rare for them to use up 98% of the system resources and wait a few minutes for one process to end for another to begin. Their systems crash often because they started one process while another was running. Their needs are simple, memory, speed, and the applications needed to keep the registry in working shape. They can’t allow spyware and adware to slow them down. This person’s ideal system would be rather expensive, so unless they have the cash to delve out to a shop to build them the perfect computer, their best bet is to buy what they can afford from a major manufacturer, yet at the same time be realistic about what the computer can and cannot do.

The person who needs to get online and perform his work over the net using applications like email, internet relay chat, or instant messaging may not need a computer at all. MSN TV Service updates regularly and connects online to MSN services like Hotmail or the MSN home page. Once a novelty to computing offered by Phillips, MSN hardware now offers advanced multimedia capabilities that once taxed personal computers by slowing down their hard drive. Not to mention the pressures of staying up to date with changes in software like Media Player. The cost is cheaper than a traditional computer, yet without the hassles of maintaining the latest computing hardware.

If you are content with whatever comes with Office, your only real concern should be whether or not the computer has a storage device that is suitable for your needs. Keep in mind that older computers, while they will most likely have a copy of Office or Works preinstalled, may only have a floppy disk drive instead of a cd or dvd burner. Also keep in mind that neither compact discs or digital video discs are suggested for long term storage of data, although both are certainly cheaper solutions than using expensive IOMEGA zip disks. Basically, a compact disc stores 486 times more than a floppy disc, yet roughly one-fifth of what you can store on a digital video disc. Both are interesting ways to back up your files in case the latest update to Windows didn’t work and you can’t restore the system to it’s original state.

As far as specifications the Office user should consider which version of Office he uses at work, or at school or perhaps the local library, and try to find a system that can handle such at home. For example, the Office 2000 users needs a Pentium processor running at 75 Mhz minimum, 166 maximum. All this means is a P1 running with 16 Mb of ram. If you look at Microsoft’s Office requirement page, or the back of whatever Office software you’re purchasing , you’ll notice they mention running the software on different platforms. For example, XP users are required to have 8 times as much memory as 95 users. This is partly due to the fact that XP’s resources require as much simply to run anything on that platform, as compared to Windows 95. While XP requires 128 MB to run efficiently, office requires the same 8 MB to run each component of the suite successfully. Which only means that if you are running everything Office offers at once it will consume 40 MB or more of ram, easily.

A gamer might want a shop to build a computer for them only because those pre-built by manufacturers like Dell often contain other components that aren’t entirely necessary, yet are fun to have, to get the low price. Alienware often has computers that are built around the gaming experience, rather than systems that attempt to bridge the gap between computers and game consoles. While consoles like Playstation remain the cheapest option for gamers individuals may still want to run software and complete other tasks. Besides PCs still have larger hard drives and easier storage capabilities.

Multimedia enthusiasts can typically go the same route that gamers take when it comes to personal computers but should keep in mind that it is easier to use the computer for temporary storage, than it is as an audio/video component. While you can find powerful speakers and large monitors for personal computers navigating through the latest version of Windows Media Player is nothing like having your MP3s play back in your MP3 compatible cd/dvd player, or dumping them to a portable device. Besides, who wants to compute on an 16:9 monitor that is 25 inches diagonally? What you do want is a machine with as much memory that you can afford, and again, you will find much better deals with Dell or a any other manufacturer than you will from a private builder.

In terms of quality, Dell tends to get the highest consumer ratings but again HP and Compaq have proven well and reliable over the years as well. You’re going to hear a lot about Dell, in part because their customer service representatives and technicians offered service that was superior to that of Gateway. Plus Gateway had a reputation for refurbishing computer hardware, an accusation often made about E-Machines. Personally I wouldn’t buy a new computer from anyone without any type of warranty or guarantee of customer satisfaction from them, particularly via online or mail order. As far as older machines or computers you have built for you, you will inevitably pay more for the technology simply because of the perceived worth by the seller or the cost of the seller to manufacture the machine via buying parts at retail. A $50 computer from the library may contain a 300 MHz processor, of which you will be hard pressed to find in a retail store, particularly when 3 GHz is the norm these days. That is a ten-fold increase in processing power. Likewise, your friend may offer to build you a 1.8 GHz machine for the price of a 3 GHz one, from a major retailer. The trade off may be a faster video card.

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