When to Build and when to Buy

Keeping up in the world of computers can be confusing and quite expensive, and if you’re looking to get a new PC, there’s a wide range of options available to you. Some retailers boast the lowest prices for the hottest technology, but offer little or no help to those uninitiated in building their own machine. Other retailers like Dell or Gateway have easy to follow web sites that let you build your computer online and offer comprehensive assistance for a slightly higher price. But how do you know when to build or when to buy?

Building your own PC is undoubtedly the cheapest option. Companies like Tiger Direct or mwave.com offer all the components you’ll need for a top-of-the-line system at bargain basement prices. However, unless you’re somewhat knowledgeable in building a machine from the ground up, this can be a daunting task. The prime components include the case, motherboard, processor, cooling fans, hard drive, memory, keyboard, mouse, video and sound cards (if needed). Some motherboards come with integrated video and sound, others don’t. And if you do need to buy these cards, make sure your motherboard has enough expansion slots available to do it. Also, you have to order components that are compatible with each other. If you order a socket 478 processor, you need a socket 478 motherboard. And if you order an ATX motherboard, you need an ATX case. You need to know what kind of memory your motherboard supports, and how many memory slots you have to put it in. And finally, if you’re interested in surfing the internet or gaming, there are a whole host of extra components you may want to consider as well, including but not limited to, Ethernet card, graphics card, CD/DVD drives, gaming ports for joysticks or game controllers.

Once you decide to build your PC, the most tricky process is installing the motherboard and OS system (like Windows, or Linux). This will be your first challenge. First you physically install the components, screwing the motherboard into the case, connecting your processor to the processor socket, putting memory in the memory slots, and the hard drive to the IDE connector, and any necessary audio or video cards. Most OS systems are on CD nowadays, and if especially if you plan to install Windows, you may want to go ahead and connect your CD drive as well. Once it’s all put together, turn it on, and check out the system bios. Most PCs will tell you when you boot up which button to press to get into the bios. However, navigating your system’s bios can be tricky, and each computer is different so there’s no simple answer to exactly what you need to do. But once your settings are correct, then it’s time to install the OS. If you use Windows, usually all you have to do is insert the disc, and follow the commands. Installing Linux is a bit trickier, and I’d advise visiting a Linux installation web page for further instructions. Once your primary components and OS are installed, up, and running, then you should install all your other devices. It can be tempting to put them all in at once, but if you have any conflicts or problems with your hardware the first time you boot up, it’s harder to tell which one is giving you the trouble.
If your head is spinning just reading all this, then you may want to consider buying a ready-made PC.

Buying a pre-assembled PC is by far the easiest option, but you’re going to pay a little bit more for it. There are dozens of companies that specialize in selling PCs and usually have 1-800 numbers to answer any technical questions you may have. But in my experience, you don’t get nearly as much power for the same price if you assemble it yourself. However, for those of you who are computer-phobic, or can barely manage to turn the thing on this is probably the safest bet. So much can go wrong when you’re building your own PC, that many find it more comforting to have someone else do it, so all they have to do is turn it on. Also, if you buy a pre-assembled PC, you usually get a troubleshooting or technical difficulties service package with it. So if something does go wrong you never have to worry about finding yourself standing in front of your PC holding a screwdriver without a clue on how to fix it.

I have bought ready-made PCs and I have also built them myself, and I for one, am a believer in just doing it yourself. I found a ready made PC for the same price I paid for my newest computer, but without half of the features I wanted. I am fairly knowledgeable in how to build one, but not an expert. However, I do have a few close friends who know enough that if I get in too deep, and can always have them bail me out! If you’re fairly comfortable with opening up the case and seeing what’s inside, or if your friends are, then I’d suggest building your own every time. But if the thought of it makes you nervous, play it safe and say, “Dude, I’m getting a Dell!”

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