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Build vs. Buy - what's a cheapskate to do?


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#1 of 21 OFFLINE   Jack Ferry

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Posted February 19 2006 - 03:35 PM

Well, I guess it's soon time to replace my Dell Dimension 4100. It seems to do most of what I want, but I think I've had enough of monkeying around with Windows ME. If I'm going to make the jump to XP, I might as well just get a new computer.

My question: should I buy or build? I'm sick of paying $1000 or more for computers that are obsolete in a few years, and don't have everything that I want. I'm moderately computer savy (able to swap hard drives, video and audio cards etc), but I've never tackled starting from scratch. And if I'm going to build, I only want to do it if there's a good reason. (In other words, I want to be able to save a good bit of money and/or get a better machine for the money.)

I'm tempted to just buy a cheap machine for $300 or $400, then add more drives and memory as needed. Bad approach?

Guess I should also mention use. I'm not much of a gamer, but I'd like to be able to do a little simple video editing. I will not be using this machine as a HTPC. Will do basic PC stuff like home office applications, mp3 file management, internet, etc.

I'd appreciate a few opinions to help get me started.

Sorry for the long post!

#2 of 21 OFFLINE   Patrick Sun

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Posted February 19 2006 - 03:49 PM

Nowadays, you don't save much by building, so in your case, buy the most horsepower/RAM/HD you can get for your budget.

I build my own PCs (I still have one that runs 24/7/365 for the past 4 years with nary a hiccup, and my current one is going strong 2 years now, also 24/7/365), but it's more of a quality control issue for me, I like knowing what was spec'd out in a PC, and doing the research gives me an idea of the compromises I had to make to reach my goals within a budget. Nowadays, there's no telling what's inside a pre-built PC (i.e. what was compromised), but for the most part, they work well enough for everyday stuff, but if you did serious video gaming, then I would recommending building it so you could control the choices for all the components to produce a really screaming machine.
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#3 of 21 OFFLINE   Scott L

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Posted February 19 2006 - 03:52 PM

Check out hp.com and configure a system for around $400.

Only reason to build is for better quality, customization, and rock-solid stability. It's nice to know you have a name-brand motherboard, ram, and power supply when editing an hour-long project in Premiere.

If it's just light editing as you say, a pre-built one will do you just fine.

#4 of 21 OFFLINE   Vivek_IVB

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Posted February 19 2006 - 05:22 PM

The only reason I can think of to build vs buy is if you're going to want to ever swap out cases and put many HDs in your system.

I have 2.5TB of storage in 2 primary systems. Each system has 1-1.5TB. That's 5-7 HDs. No cheap Dell case can come close.

Your needs seem dramatically simpler - just buy it.

#5 of 21 OFFLINE   Christ Reynolds

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Posted February 19 2006 - 05:33 PM

Quote:
And if I'm going to build, I only want to do it if there's a good reason. (In other words, I want to be able to save a good bit of money and/or get a better machine for the money.)
you'll never beat a large company on price. only build if you want components you can't get by buying prebuilt. go to best buy or circuit city, the cheapest $350 model will be plenty fast for you, will probably only need to add some ram.

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#6 of 21 OFFLINE   MikeM

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Posted February 19 2006 - 08:37 PM

Check out the Dell Outlet on dell.com.
Especially when they have coupons, you can get some excellent deals on Dell Refurbished CPUs. Since Dells are mostly just sold online, many people actually put their hands on them for the very first time when it arrives. So they may not like the style, size, color, "feel" of the machine and they return it. Thus, for Dell at least, their refurbs often feel brand new, and they still have a warranty. You can also return them with 14 days but you pay the return shipping. It's still a great way to by a PC if ya ask me.

#7 of 21 OFFLINE   Steve Berger

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Posted February 20 2006 - 12:42 AM

If you build it, you will probably be able to upgrade it later. Generally $300-$500 machines will not upgrade well, if at all. Significant upgrades often require purchasing a new full version of the Operating System since the OEM versions can be locked to the original hardware.

Once you start the build/upgrade cycle you will find that old hardware can often be repurposed as file servers, video recorders, firewalls/routers, etc.

#8 of 21 OFFLINE   Kimmo Jaskari

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Posted February 20 2006 - 12:46 AM

Best reason to build (or rather, assemble... not much building involved) yourself is to get exactly the components you want. This is mostly important for enthusiasts who want that level of control.

For everyday average computing one may just as well buy prebuilt.
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#9 of 21 OFFLINE   SethH

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Posted February 20 2006 - 01:32 AM

If you already have a good monitor and the newest version of Windows I would say build. If you need a monitor and Windows it will almost always be cheaper to buy.

#10 of 21 OFFLINE   DaveF

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Posted February 20 2006 - 01:49 AM

Quote:
I'm sick of paying $1000 or more for computers that are obsolete in a few years, and don't have everything that I want

Quote:
I'm tempted to just buy a cheap machine for $300 or $400, then add more drives and memory as needed.


What's your current computer? Why not upgrade to WinXP, and maybe add a new hard-drive?

#11 of 21 OFFLINE   Tom.K

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Posted February 20 2006 - 02:51 AM

Jack,I too have an old Dell. An XPS T500 with Windows 98SE. I have researched the dyi and store bought approach. There are books that can show you step by step how to assemble a PC. It's not that difficult. But from what I have seen you won't save a lot of money. But you will know every inch of your PC and how to upgrade and trouble shoot problems if you build it yourself. I have a system all picked out using an AMD Athlon 64 CPU. Since I am retired and have the time I will make my own PC. But if you don't want to invest the time and effort then I agree with some of the other guys and say just wait for a good sale and get another Dell, eMachine or HP.

Good Luck
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#12 of 21 OFFLINE   Tom.K

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Posted February 20 2006 - 02:52 AM

Check out www.PCMech.com, www.mysuperpc.com and www.computerforums.org for possible ideas.

also "Building A PC in easy steps" by Stuart Yarnold (Barnes And Knoble book store) is a good book for help in assembly.

Tom

#13 of 21 OFFLINE   Jack Ferry

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Posted February 20 2006 - 03:51 AM

Wow - thanks for the responses! Definitely gives me more to think about.

#14 of 21 OFFLINE   Wayde_R

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Posted February 23 2006 - 12:59 AM

I just built an HTPC on the cheap. It's not a 'true' htpc though because I went so cheap on 'htpc' specific parts. I basically installed WinMC '05 on a home made system designed with PC gaming in mind. I have an Xbox360 and I wanted to see how much media stuff I could get away with on it.

It's working great! I'm glad to not have to keep the HTPC anywhere near my A/V system. I'm able to backup the odd DVD movie on the 'puter and stream it to the 360, this is paticularly handy for some of the high rotation DVDs I have, particularly music and cartoons my son likes to watch. I don't PVR through it but all I need is a card and I can start doing that too.
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#15 of 21 OFFLINE   Mike Fassler

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Posted February 23 2006 - 12:57 PM

It really depends on what you use your pc for, since you not a gamer, buying a pre built system isnt really much of an issue,
it also depends alot on your budget, you can get really awesome systems for well under 1k nowadays. BTW all pc's are obsolete in a few years even a few months sometimes regardless of what they cost you initially. which is one of the better reasons too build yourself as you can upgrade alot easier and more cheaply as time passes.

#16 of 21 OFFLINE   Christ Reynolds

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Posted February 23 2006 - 02:00 PM

Quote:
BTW all pc's are obsolete in a few years even a few months sometimes regardless of what they cost you initially
bull. i built an athlon xp system 5 years ago, and would still be using it for another 3 years at least, if i didn't get an outrageously good deal on the tech tour server over the summer. if i didn't want the latest and greatest games to run on the thing, i could probably use the thing for a decade.

all PCs are not obsolete within a few years.

CJ
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#17 of 21 OFFLINE   DeathStar1

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Posted February 24 2006 - 02:51 AM

I built my first PC last year. mostly just to see if I could do it, but also to upgrade it specifically for 3D work.

Once I got all the parts, I assembled it in about 25 minutes, powered it on, and thankfully worked perfectly right on the first try. I was a little nervous about if I applied the gel on the processor properly, and everytime I returned home from work, first thing I did was check the computer to see if it was still running, but thankfully, 5 months later, it still works like a charm...

I definetly didn't save any money building one though. A motherboard cost me about 150, the processor 240, the speakers about 240.... The operator system about 200...etc. About 1400 total for the entire system. Heh, what really ticks me off, is that in order to get HD to run, I may have to upgrade it again in the near future Posted Image

#18 of 21 OFFLINE   Chris Bardon

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Posted February 24 2006 - 06:24 AM

I'd say build, but that's just because that's what I've always done. I just like knowing exactly what's in there, and not having to deal with proprietary cases/boards and systems that won't upgrade.

If you still haven't updated to XP though, I'd hold off until the fall. Vista is supposed to be out in October, which means that there's no point in buying a windows license that you're just going to want to upgrade that soon. You'll also be able to get things like cheaper dual core processors and DirectX 10 graphics cards that should significantly prolong the life of your computer. I'm holding out and making my 2 1/2 year old P4 1.6 last until at least Christmas because of Vista.
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#19 of 21 OFFLINE   Keith Paynter

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Posted February 25 2006 - 04:47 AM

I have built new and rebuilt second hand package machines. If you want the horsepower without the doing it yourself, go to a reputable independent who can build to your needs.
You'll get the system hardware you want and need, with proper potential for expansion. Plus, you won't get all these superfluous demos and pre-subscription trial programs.

The thing that cheeses me about pre-built Compaqs, Dells, etc., are the little extra programs they toss in (30 day demo's, etc.) that I never have use for, but potentally tie up system resources.

It's also easier if you ever want to eventually make your PC a vanity project, with fancy cases and cables, etc. Big box brand PCs have very little room to expand (especially second hand commercial ones)
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#20 of 21 OFFLINE   Scott Smolder

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Posted February 27 2006 - 03:05 PM

My input is definitely to build. I build my own machines and have always been happy. I know exactly what I'm getting. I've been looking at getting a new dual core machine for video editing myself and I was seriosuly considering the Pentium D in the Dell machines, but after reading some reviews, I've decided to go with an Athlon 64-bit processor. They handle video/graphical information way better. The machine I want to put together will likely run $1000+, but if you're serious about it, the extra money you put in now totally makes up for it in rendering time over the years you use it.


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