Super UserIs it still cheaper to build your own PC?
[+58] [24] Jeff Yates
[2009-07-15 13:36:04]
[ computer-building economics ]

With many companies offering build-to-order PCs, where they can source components at bulk purchase prices, is there any value in building your own PC. Is it still a good option for everyone or is it only cost-effective for those building fringe equipment like high spec gaming platforms? Don't forget to factor in the time and effort you spend building and configuring the machine.

I know that it is often worthwhile as it builds understanding of your machine, gets you exactly what you want, etc., but is it still good for your wallet or would you be better off paying someone else to do it and spend more time doing something else?

How much do you pay yourself for your time and effort? My billing rate is probably much higher than yours, but I'm willing to cut myself a better deal for the business. - kmarsh
[+49] [2009-07-15 13:39:40] Roalt [ACCEPTED]

It strongly depends what your wishes are: if you just want a generic PC and do not care about the specs as long as they are good enough: buy a pre-built PC.

If you like to read about the latest motherboards, best CPUs, compare price/performance, I've noticed that building your own PC will make you enjoy the whole process. Probably will it not be much cheaper (as you will buy higher-grade components), but you will have more fun and get the system you wanted.

(8) +1: Particularly relevant since the OP said "don't forget to factor in the time and effort you spend..." If you consider the process a drain, then don't do it. - Nikhil Chelliah
[+16] [2009-07-15 13:47:11] Vinko Vrsalovic

If it's for me, development, gaming and related, I'll build it and carefully choose components. It most likely won't be cheap, but it'll still be cheaper than buying an equivalent DELL or HP even if most likely there won't be an exact equivalent from DELL or HP.

If it's for grandma, I'd buy the cheapest you can get with a good warranty that will send a technician home to replace parts.

So it depends on use and expectations. I personally have fun building a cool machine and I know I can easily replace parts one should die and upgrade others should the need arise and to do it quickly and cheaply.

I feel this is worth it only in the upper end of quality. On the lower end you'll get probably better quality and less headaches from established vendors.

I'm pretty much of the same mind for the next machine. I have the same tasks and needs, but going this way also affords opportunity for selecting components that will play nice with a Hackintosh/OSX86 install. Definitely worthwhile. - mindless.panda
[+11] [2009-07-15 13:39:17] TheTXI

Depends on what type of pc you are wanting.

If you are looking for more high-end gaming rig style PCs, then yes, building yourself is still cheaper because you can shop for the best deals on the different hardware.

If you are looking for low-end PCs for simple tasks such as word processing and internet, you can probably get them cheaper when on sale at big box stores (I was able to get some pretty sweet PCs and lap tops during last year's Day After Thanksgiving sales for only a couple hundred dollars and dual core laptops for less than $500).

Besides you can shop for best prices, you can also get things vendors do not sell, like big towers, big power supplies, and certain specific components. - Vinko Vrsalovic
What about middle level PCs? I'm not that into gaming, but I would like a decent computer. - Zifre
[+11] [2009-08-18 19:01:34] Vdex

Yes it is cheaper, even with OS included. Last time I built my PC I compared the raw components to the DELL I would want, and it was at least a few hundred £'s cheaper.

To convince myself it is still the case. Compare the entry level gaming DELL XPS 625 [1], which in the UK is £779 to the raw components (I have upped the spec for any component I couldn't find, plus chose the Antec 902 gaming case, which should be as good as a dell case, if not way better) alt text

And that comes to £660, including shipping which is about £120 cheaper!


Oops I added RAM twice! So it is actually another £49 cheaper i.e. about £168


(6) Excellent answer! :) Which website did you use for the components? - Thomas Bratt
(3) yeah, what site? - harschware
Looks like OCUK - Zabba
Yes, the screenshot was from overclockers - Vdex
[+6] [2009-07-15 13:42:50] Nikhil Chelliah

Yes, but only if you manage to cut out the stuff you don't want. A few examples:

  • Don't get locked into Windows if you don't need it. If you're a Mac, Linux, or any other UNIX user this is a big plus.
  • Buy components that last, and upgrade the rest. Prebuilt computers come with throwaway cases, unergonomic keyboards and mice, new optical drives, new (and perhaps unreliable) power supplies, new hard disk drives, etc. You may not need all that, and if you don't, you'll save at least half the cost.
  • Keep an eye out for sales. If you do this continually but conservatively, you can nab some cheap hardware.

[+3] [2009-07-15 14:33:58] Joel Coehoorn

What I've found is that you can now buy a pre-built PC for less than you can build one.

But when you start considering upgrades, once you get up into the same price point that a home-built PC would cost, the home built PC will also perform a lot better.

Also, if you consider the entire life of the machine your home built pc will allow you to carry over some parts from one generation to the next, making it cheaper as a long term investment even if the initial outlay might be a little higher.

[+3] [2009-07-15 13:54:30] David Mackintosh

Depends what you mean by "cheaper".

  • Initial outlay of money? Possibly, if you hunt down every component for the best possible price.
  • Time spent building? Probably not -- go to Best Buy and pick one off the shelf.
  • Time spent supporting hardware problems? Probably not -- order from Dell or HP and select the "next business day on-site support".

For me, time is worth more than money, so for all but the most specific of custom jobs, I'd just go to Dell or HP.

(2) I used to think that, but service and support is so crappy at the big retailers, that you're probably going to be doing it yourself anyway (or paying the Geek Squad). Also, the warranty tends to be better on name-brand components, so instead of a 1 year replacement deal from Dell, you can get a 5 year deal from Asus or Antec or whoever. - Satanicpuppy
[+2] [2009-07-15 14:54:05] Jim C

You cannot build a system for less the budget system most place offer today. You can build a cheaper high end system then you can buy, but I don't expect this to be the case for much longer.

I also see a trend to laptop instead of towers or desktop boxes. You really can't build a laptop on your own.

[+1] [2009-07-15 16:56:01] user1596

I really think its still cheaper, for the majority of components.

I just completed a new computer for about $1200 which was substantially less than a name brand would have charged.

You won't save much, if any, building a lower end system, but you definitely will if you're looking at higher end parts. For example, my local computer store was selling a 12 GB ram kit for $~200, whereas a 12 GB ram upgrade on a Dell XPS 730x is $2100. No thanks Dell.

Or another example, Dell charges $470 for an upgrade from a Core i7 920 to a Core i7 950. This is interesting because the Core i7 950 is only around $560. So does that mean my Core i7 920 is only $90, nope, just price gouging.

I don't think this really qualifies as the "fringe equipment like high spec gaming platforms" you mentioned, since under $2000 is what most places charge for a decent computer that will last a few years.

You mentioned factoring in the time and effort that it will take but this is very subjective. I think a lot of people could assemble a computer over a weekend in around ~10 hours, give or take a few. And if you want to build a computer, this wouldn't even seem like work, at least for me, it's fun!

If you have the ability and desire to make your own computer, I'd recommend doing that. If you don't really know your way around the parts nor want to learn, I'd recommend just biting the bullet and having someone else do it. It all boils down to what you want to do.

[+1] [2009-07-15 17:39:02] NighTerrorX

Yes you can...but the "gotcha" for me has always been a Monitor and the OS. I have been pricing/putting together a PC recently for under $500 with 4 gigs of ram 500 GB HDD, nice videocard, etc...but the deal breaker seems to come when I start pricing GOOD monitors and then when you add Windows (assuming that is your direction) you add $299+. I'm back to around $1100 and at that point Dell has better deals for the type of PC I'm trying to build.

Building your own PC can still be cheaper, but like any decent sized purchase, just put in a little leg work first to make sure your getting the most for your money.

Yup, monitor & OS are the biggies that meant I recently purchased two Dells after nearly 20 years of building/upgrading my own. This was for my business and every penny counts, so the luxury of having customisable motherboards etc. was not worth the extra outlay; they just need to work. - Lunatik
[+1] [2009-08-18 19:51:55] dbr

Computers built from bulk-purchased components will always be cheaper than buying the parts your self. Also, the reason for all the crap that comes pre-installed on (say) a Dell machine is there for a reason - companies give Dell money to put it there, further reducing the cost.

..but, you are paying someone else to put the machine together for you.

It's more flexible to build your own computer, so you can pay for the exact specifications you want, and spend more money in areas important to you (say, more memory instead of a better graphics card).. You can also reuse parts of computers you have around, instead of buying an entirely new computer

I don't think "money" is the reason to build your own computer (or not) - you buy a pre-built computer for simplicity, and build your own for flexibility and, more importantly, because you enjoy building it.

[+1] [2010-06-02 18:07:59] John

You can build any machine you want on the site. Why is building it physically or building it online any different?

Because Dell offers only a very limited selection of components to choose from and the "upgrade price" from a default component is very high sometimes.

[0] [2009-07-15 13:43:04] Marc Reside

I believe that unless you need something specific, like a high-end graphics card, it's usually fine to pick up a pre-built machine. One advantage is that these machines not only come pre-configured, but usually there is some support from the place you bought the PC as well, meaning if you don't have time to troubleshoot an issue yourself, you can have the seller do so.

The disadvantage, of course, is that you are limited in what is offered. For instance, I still find it rare for pre-built PCs other than netbooks to be offered with Linux as an option (though I know there are a few places that do so).

[0] [2009-08-19 03:41:17] community_owned

There's three considerations that can drastically affect the cost of a home-build computer:

  1. CPU - Intel or AMD?
  2. Size - ATX or microATX?
  3. OS - Windows or Linux?

    • Intel beats AMD in terms of bleeding-edge tech, but if you're just looking for a dual core or year-old CPU, AMD has great value relative to Intel equivalents.
    • ATX is standard size motherboard, usually with 7 PCI slots. microATX has only 4, which means it can fit in smaller cases, great for HTPCs or those only using one slot (mainly for graphics card). Smaller size, smaller parts, reduces costs.
    • Windows isn't free like Linux (duh). If you're making a computer, the license can run over $100. One way to get it cheap is if your college subsidizes it for students.

Hope this helps!

[0] [2009-08-19 05:12:35] Yofre

It's only cheaper depending on what you want. If you want the best you should build it yourself but if what you want it's a common pc then buy it somewhere.

Getting what you want takes time, building it takes even more time. Put a prince on your time and decide.

[0] [2009-08-25 02:25:19] zillion

No matter if it's prebuilt or handmade, the more important is to pay less, buy when windows offer free update for their new os (near the lauch of another windows), idealy intel and nvidia (amd is a good second choice but don't buy an ati cause they tend to work badly on linux/mac) change your parts as needed for no more than 100$/part (with a website like and change a little faster by buying a computer with integrated components that will help you wait during the resell of old parts and change of parts ... make a budget for your pc hardware each time needed ...

even a high level gaming computer buyed at cost price don't outperform this way of building a pc even if you build at regular prices ...

I used this trick for years, I used 2500$ in 5 years (regular price) and my friend buyed a high-end gaming computer for 3500$ (cost price) ... He outperformed me for 3 years but I was still able to play all the new games but after the 3rd year he was needing new hardware for latest games while I was still running pretty well ...

macs are decent but not good for players and not upgradables (or it's way harder) ...

for linux you need some knowledge but it pay off for the timeline that your hardware can be used ...

[0] [2009-07-15 17:45:06] community_owned

I much prefer to build my own PC - but checking out,2817,2350179,00.asp?kc=PCRSS02129TX1K0000530 $900 for a quad core, 8GB ram and 23" monitor is pretty hard to beat.

The answer to the posters question is definitely "it depends". If you have any sort of special needs, crave a lot of control, or care more about support. If you want things to just work, and be easy (including support) then buying a computer is the way to go.

If you want to tweak the settings to be a computer you really enjoy the building is the best bet. At the high end of performance building is cheaper.

The closest analogy I can make is that building/upgrading your own computer is like spiral development. My current system has weak specs and would probably be worth no more than $100 or $200 on the market. But looking off Newegg right now, it would take $540 in upgrades† to match the system you mentioned – and with better RAM, case, heatsink, PSU, peripherals, etc. - Nikhil Chelliah
† Corsair XMS2 PC2-6400, Intel Q9400, Western Digital WD7501AALS (OEM), Acer X233Hbid (on sale) - Nikhil Chelliah
[0] [2009-07-16 11:11:04] Lennart Regebro

I would say that it's not cheaper, unless you already have spent so much time learning about it that you can plan, buy and build and install the OS in less than a day. And that still assumes you have a pretty low salary. For a clever, knowleadgable computer engineer (which is likely what you are of you can plan, build and buy a PC in less than a day) you probably have enough salary for it to still not be worth the money.

Build a PC only if you have requirements that you can't easily find with off the shelf PC's, or if you enjoy the process.

[0] [2009-08-18 17:54:59] community_owned

I don't like waiting for a technician to show up the next day and I enjoy making sure that all of my components have decent warranties. I also like being able to decide where to go cheap on a box and cannibalize an old box or where to spend a few extra dollars.

I also find it relaxing to build a computer from components. In this case, to me the time is free as I would otherwise spend it doing something else I enjoy. And, because my time is worth something from Monday-Friday, I always pick higher grade components for things that have a higher likelihood of failing so that I don't lose time in the future. This list of better components includes cases (needs to be easy to open and clean), power supplies, CPU fans, HDD, and other moving parts so that I won't lose time to fixing the machine later. I don't get this luxury with pre-built since someone else makes the choices.

[0] [2009-07-15 13:55:06] jamuraa

For my money (and time) building yourself only makes sense if you are willing to lose the machine at any point. I've had enough troubles with home-built machines for one reason or another over the years that I have come to appreciate the security that comes from buying the service plans from a major seller like Dell or HP. Knowledge that if something breaks, you can call a support number, bitch at them for a while, and have someone at your house the next day free of charge to fix what's broken is a big plus when you're talking about days of waiting for parts from an online site to fix a custom built rig.

Most of the games can be played by even the pre-built (or web-customized) machines, so unless you want the latest and greatest in graphics cards (in which case you are paying a premium anyway) you should be okay.

The other reason that I would build my own system is that the prebuilt ones usually have limited expandability these days. They will usually have room for a new graphics card (possibly replacing the one shipped), but you may not be able to add too many hard drives or run a high-end card because you won't have a beefy enough power supply, and some of those cases are built for really no power supply replacement. There are also less room for expansion with memory, which you can justify pretty easily nowadays because memory is cheap as heck.

[0] [2009-07-15 13:58:33] rmontagud

I don't think it's worth the effort to build your own pc for standard uses, read: common multimedia, internet, mail and so on. But, always in my opinion, this changes when you're building a PC for games. Even those brands for gaming platforms are expensive even if you had the money to afford it. 200€ can make a difference between a prebuilt PC that will be obsolete in one year and a custom that will in two.

For everything else.. Acer sells nice an cheap PCs that make it for everyone. I have one running on my mother's office and i don't have any complaints about it aside from the foxpro-based professional program she uses which stinks.

[0] [2009-07-15 13:39:14] Stefan Thyberg

If you're considering paying around 100$ for letting someone put it together for you, rather than you yourself putting it together, you may have forgotten to count the value of knowing exactly how your computer was put together and how this makes the computer oh so much easier to maintain.

[0] [2009-07-15 13:40:20] Joseph

If the parts used to build the PC are standard and not custom, this leaves the door open to upgrade components at a later date without having to start from scratch. I can't remember a Dell or IBM desktop that didn't use a custom sized case, motherboard, and power supply that couldn't be used in another system.

[-3] [2009-07-15 13:46:03] Geoffrey Chetwood

Yes, you can build it yourself for cheaper:

Just make sure you call them up for the best prices.

(9) -1: This is ridiculous. - Nikhil Chelliah
@Nikhil: ORLY? What is ridiculous about it? - Geoffrey Chetwood
@Rich B: You mean, besides the fact that it's completely tongue-in-cheek? Ordering from Dell does not qualify as building your own PC, even if some people prefer it. Now, skipping the obvious (like an undervolting or overclocking options, watercooling, a portable case for LAN gaming, a custom OS like Linux/*BSD/Solaris/OSX)... - Nikhil Chelliah
(1) @Rich B: Ask for a quality, easy-to-open case that you can re-use next time and that doesn't have any burrs. Ask for an efficient motherboard with a good chipset, and which will accept a standard PSU after theirs hits the fan. (Or, for that matter, ask for a reliable, quality PSU.) Ask for a real heatsink. Ask for real GPU options (e.g if you care for Linux drivers, SLI vs. Crossfire, power consumption, etc.). Ask for fast, reliable, fault-tolerant RAM. Ask to skip the junky keyboards, mice, and speakers, because you may prefer ergonomic, long-term solutions. - Nikhil Chelliah
@Rich B: Basically, ask for a quiet (30 dB at idle), cool (40°C at load), reliable, upgradeable system. They'll probably just hang up. - Nikhil Chelliah
(4) -1. Getting a custom PC via Dell is not the same as building. - Arnold Zokas
(1) Dell will sell the parts of a PC now? I don't remember seeing that option on their site. - JB King
(1) @JB King: You can build any machine you want on the site. Why is building it physically or building it online any different? - Geoffrey Chetwood