Is Building a PC Worth It Anymore?

Posted August 19, 2008 8:32 pm by with 14 comments

This site really took off when I wrote my tutorial on building a PC. That tutorial, today, is ranked #1 in Google for building a PC. But, that tutorial was written some time ago. In this day and age, the question should be asked: is building a PC worth it anymore?

PCinside I have written several times in the last few weeks about the changing nature of technology. Emphasis is shifting to the world of mobile computing and the Internet. Social media, blogging and other similar activities are now part of the mainstream. Our computing activities are happening more on the Internet than locally on our hard drives.

When I recently ran our reader survey here on PCMech, one thing stood out very clear: you guys aren’t much interested in these things. You guys care, primarily, about your PC and making it work well. My tutorial on building a PC and the popularity of it has, no doubt, played a very large role in building up the audience that we have here at PCMech.

The personal computer is now no longer a novelty. It is a commodity. It is an appliance. The price of the PC has gone down considerably. You can take a trip to your local Best Buy or Circuit city and pick up a fully stocked, ready-to-go PC for around $500 or less. If you go higher than that, you’ll get more power and better quality. But, the point is: they’re cheap.

That affordability leads to the commodity nature of the computer. You can buy one, use it until it breaks, then go buy a new one.

Prices for individual hardware components have decreased as well, but in many cases you will actually pay more to build your own box than you would to simply buy it. Plus, you have the hassle and the time taken to assemble it, research which parts to buy, etc.

The market for PC self-assembly isn’t going anywhere, but it is getting smaller. There are plenty of people out there who prefer to build their own. They like being able to choose the exact hardware which goes into the box. Gamers, for instance, are pretty picky about their hardware. Gamers will probably be primarily system builders for some time. For everybody else, the choice is more murky.

In my case, I have stopped building PCs. Of course, I also switched to the Mac and when you go Mac you don’t build your own. You can’t. But, even before I switched to the Mac platform, I stopped building my own PCs. I am a business owner. I need a computer that just works and allows me to make money. My computer has to be dependable. Every dime I make for my family involves my computer in one way, shape or form.

My computer requirements are usually stiffer than the standard, retail system. The last PC I actually bought was a Gateway. I ended up installing a second hard drive to it as well as adding a second video card (for my multiple screens). But, this is a lot less time consuming that building the entire system. And regardless of the fact that Gateways really aren’t the best machines in the world, it served my purposes and you wouldn’t be able to tell a real-world difference between it and any self-built PC I would have built.

When I went with my Mac Pro, I again had to install a second video card as well as an additional hard drive. It was incredibly easy.

So, in all instances, I used a retail computer and simply added additional storage and another video card. This could easily be done with most retail systems on the market. The only issue might be making sure it does not void whatever warranty might come with the machine.

In this changing world of technology, then, I am really no longer the kind of geek who professes the benefits of building a computer. It is really only worth it for gamers or those people who just love the “fuzzy feeling” that comes with having done it yourself and knowing your hardware intimately. For everybody else, just buy the thing.

This is my opinion, of course.

14 responses to Is Building a PC Worth It Anymore?

  1. Alex August 19th, 2008 at 8:55 pm

    There a few reasons I still thinking building yourself is worth it.

    1) Better warranty – Many components like RAM and video card manufacturers carry lifetime warranties. With a company such as HP, you’re stuck with their measly warranty.

    2) More customization – Sure you can buy a Dell and add a screaming video card down the road. But then you have to consider if you need a beefier power supply. And what about cooling? Does your PC have space for case fans? With removing the stock heatsink void the warranty? Will the power supply even fit into the case, and does the motherboard have the right connector? How many drive bays are there for HDD’s? These are all things you would have to consider when upgrading.

    3) It’s cheaper in the long run – I do agree with what you say that the computer has become a commodity, people buy a cheap one and then run into the ground until it’s dead for all intents and purposes. When you build it yourself, you are using higher quality components and can plan for future upgrades. For gamers, this generally includes a video card within the lifespan of the PC. You can also plan better for changes in the hardware landscape, such as buying a motherboard which supports both DDR2 and DDR3. Even if Intel/AMD comes out with a new socket, you can always upgrade the motherboard, CPU, and RAM, and keep everything else that is still in good shape. Of course, it’s impossible to “future proof” a PC and these are just some examples.

    4) A completely clean OS install. – New PC’s come loaded with so much crap it’s ridiculous. When you install the OS yourself, you only get what comes with Windows. Not only this, it’s easier to download the latest drivers from your motherboard and video card manufacturer than it is to comb HP’s website, and, god forbid, call their customer service. I’d rather deal with a reputable manufacturers message boards and get real, excellent help, than ever be on the phone with someone in a foreign country reading off of a script.

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  2. Pat August 19th, 2008 at 9:09 pm

    For the most part I agree with this. I do have some comments though. A family member of mine recently bought an HP computer with Vista. It came installed with a lot of “crap ware” and it didn’t come with a windows disc. It only came with 10GB of the hard drive partitioned where you can restore to factory settings. It’s very slow (only has 1GB of RAM) and pictures seem to be getting corrupted by the OS. So I guess that’s why I would shy away from store bought computers right now.

    Thinking out loud, do you think there is a way I can build a slipstreamed Vista Disc with vLite? I have a Vista Business disc and they have a Vista license for Home Premium (where can I find that without a disc?). Is that possible?

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  3. Force August 19th, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    If you need a machine just for email and surfing, yes, a cheap pre-built machine is the right fit for you.

    If you’re a gamer or multimedia engineer, a custom build will probably be more fitting.

    Case in point…I speced out a gaming build recently. With Dell or alienware (note: same company), the price tag was around $2,500 – $3,200. Getting the parts from newegg and zipzoomfly: about $900-$1,200 (this is for the tower only. Add about $250-$325 for a good LCD monitor).

    IMHO, the savings alone are worth it if you’re not swayed by warranties and customizations.

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  4. Perkster August 20th, 2008 at 4:05 am

    obviously if you just want to surf the web and check email and word process then building isn’t economical anymore, you just cannot price up a system cheaper than HP and Dell can offer it due to their processes and mass buying power. However if you want to overclock or do something a bit more powerful with your computer, or as stated above want to ensure a viable upgrade path to keep it top of the line as much as possible then building your own is still good way to go. The last system I built would have cost £1000 more for the same specs from retail, and with better quality parts. So as always the answer is “it depends” what do you want from your system? if its a basic PC they are cheap as chips so buy one throw it away and buy another 1 year later, why not?

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  5. Greg Wicks August 20th, 2008 at 11:10 am

    Just wondering, when was the last time you updated your Build your own pc guide?

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  6. Bob Plumer August 20th, 2008 at 11:34 am

    I personally feel it’s worth it to build your own. Then again I like building stuff. For someone who’s looking to make a business out of building PC’s that’s a different story. It’s tough to compete with the big boys(HP, Dell, Sony etc..)on price(well except for Apple but they are a different breed). What you can do (like others have said) is to use the higher quality parts. Less bloatware from the manufacturer. A higher degree of customization is possible if you build it your self.

    You could compare it to buying a classic car/hot rod. Do you buy one that someone else done all the work already and turn the key? Or do you buy something you’ll need to restore and rebuild the way you want it?To me if you’ve got the time, space, money and desire to build a PC, go for it. It’s a great feeling to get it all together and it fires up.

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  7. Choppers Mag August 20th, 2008 at 3:13 pm

    I prefer building my own PC.

    I can do things exactly the way I want. Buy stuff I want, decide on how and what I have to do, where does stuff go and what’s the outcome ;)

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  8. capricornus August 23rd, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Facts:
    1/ the cheapest build pc without mouse or keyboard costs – in these low countries – around EUR 360.
    2/ with a leaking capacitor, the motherboard with an older Sempron2800 isn’t worth a dime and the cheapest way to have a working pc again is not going to eBay, but investing EUR 160 (MB: EUR 40, cpu 2C EUR 55, VC EUR 22, 2GB mem EU 38, extra handling EUR 4), and gosh, it works like heaven.

    So yes: it’s worth being handy. It pays.

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  9. Coin Tricks August 23rd, 2008 at 3:44 pm

    I’ll go with building my own PC please :)
    I prefer that, at any time, over ready made ones.

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  10. David M August 23rd, 2008 at 5:00 pm

    It really boils down to three factors.

    Knowledge, time and use.

    Knowledge, the more knowledge you have, then the more likely you are to build your own.

    Time, the less time you have then the more likely you are to buy a brand name computer.

    Use, the less sophisticated your applications or power requirements, then the more likely you are to buy a brand name computer.

    Being a gamer, I cant see spending $7000 for a Voodoo or an Alien when I can build my own for 60% of price of their computers.

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    • Force Flow August 26th, 2008 at 8:32 am

      Not necessarily time…if you order a PC/laptop from Dell, it usually takes 2-4 weeks before it’s actually shipped.

      Ordering from online retailers usually gets you the parts in 2-7 days, unpacking and assembly usually takes a few hours, formatting and installing the O/S takes a few hours, so total, you’re looking at a full build in 4-9 days, depending on when the parts arrive

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      • Force Flow August 26th, 2008 at 8:32 am

        Then again…I suppose there are some people who would rather not spend the time doing that…

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  11. Rui Augusto October 27th, 2008 at 5:09 pm

    Nice article. I don’t have the time to build my own.

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  12. rasmasyean November 30th, 2008 at 7:15 pm

    I thought what you wrote too! But then when I looked at what was available in the market of pre-built PC’s, I was kind of disappointed. The “cheap” ones would have to be “upgraded” to suit my tastes (and you know the premium they charge for this!). And the “power” PC’s were too expensive and contained many unneeded things that I decided ultimately to catch up to date with the modern components and build my own!

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