Critter's Cave

Tag: hardware

Build-it-Yourself Systems vs. pre-built systems

by on Oct.14, 2004, under Uncategorized

It has kind of always been a given that you can save money on a computer by building it yourself versus purchasing a pre-built system from one of the “big guys”. At least, I’ve always been convinced of that, so I decided to run a little test. I picked the lowest-end “value” or “entry-level” system from 3 major manufacturers (two, actually, since Gateway now owns eMachines) and then two home-built systems – one with the same specs as the pre-built systems, and one that runs in the same price range as pre-builts. Frankly, the results were surprising.
Click here for a table comparing all the systems, which I’ll reference during this article.
First some notes: All include a dial-up modem, as the initial impetus for this comparison came when I was asked to spec out a system for a friend that is still on dial-up. Also note that the “same price” home-built system does not include a mouse or keyboard, so expect to add ~$25 total for it, so call its real total $466.
As can be seen, there is only a savings of about $29 between building it yourself and the lowest-cost pre-built system, with the same specs on both. One might argue that since there is a bundle of software included with the Gateway, the price difference is almost eliminated. However, I disregarded that factor as there is good freeware equivalent to most of the software included (most notably OpenOffice as the Microsoft Office replacement). What is interesting is what can be gotten by setting the price bar to the high end of the pre-builts range ($469). I was able to double the RAM (using PC3200 vs PC2700 to boot), and include an nForce IGP motherboard (includes a built-in GeForce 4 MX video card – not great by today’s standards, but MUCH BETTER than the integrated graphics in any of the other offerings on this page) that can use more video memory (doubling from 64MB shared to 128MB shared).
Just for giggles, I went and configured a high end(“Gamers”) system from Gateway and specced a home-brew one out at It would actually be about $150 MORE to build it myself than to pick Gateway’s.
One other con to building it yourself is the warranty factor (although it must be said that Gateway’s default warranty is the weakest at 90 days part/labor – pathetic) – on the homebrew, instead of calling one company (Gateway, Dell, etc) for support and warranty repair, you have to deal with the manufacturer of each component. This can get tricky if you’re purchasing OEM versions of hardware (if there even is a warranty on the OEM parts. Often there’s not), but most “retail” or “boxed” pieces of hardware will have decent support. If you want to save a few bucks, or want the really rewarding experience of building your own system, then go for it. Just don’t expect to save $$$. Not anymore.

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