Technology > Resources

Summary. In the early days of desktop computers, it was possible to save a considerable amount of money by building your own computer. You’d typically spend less money and get better quality components than if you purchased retail.

As world-wide sales of computers increased, companies like Dell, HP, and Gateway, were able to buy components at huge discounts in large quantities. As a result, the cost of a retail computer fell way below the cost of what a hobbyist could buy the components for individually – and that doesn’t even account for the time to build it.

Benefits of Custom Building. There are still a few benefits to building a computer from scratch with components purchased from companies like like J&RNew Egg, or Tiger Direct.

  • Better Quality Components. There is a limited demand for high-end computers. However, if you have the budget to spend more on a computer, then custom building is a good way to get the highest quality components.
  • Designed for Your Needs. You can hand pick high-quality components, and you can choose to build a computer to specifications that meet your needs.
  • Education. If you’re interested in learning more about how a computer works, then building one can give you understanding and confidence about what’s inside a computer that makes it work.
  • Entertainment. Some people simply enjoy the process of building things, and there aren’t many DIY projects more satisfying or practically useful that building your own computer.
  • Essentials Only. Most retail computers come with additional unnecessary software such as games, utilities, and sometimes there is installed software you’ll need to pay for if you want to use it. When building a custom computer, you can install only the software you need. This keeps the computer running clean, fast, secure, and generally more reliable.
    • Note: It’s possible to remove unnecessary software from a retail computer. It just takes additional time.
  • Project Specific Hardware. You can choose components and specifications, such as with video cards, that are specified by the software you plan to use (such as gaming or CAD software).
  • Operating System Compatibility. You can select hardware known to be compatible with a non-Windows operating system such as Ubuntu Linux, if you’re planning to have a non-Windows computer.
  • Warranty Extension. Individual components often have their own warranties that exceed a typical manufacturer’s warranty. Name brand hard drives and other components often have a 3 or 5-year warranty.

Drawbacks to Custom Building Versus Buying Retail. For most people, the drawbacks of custom building a computer outweigh the advantages. Here is a list of some of those drawbacks.

  • Compatibility Not Guaranteed. Simply purchasing high quality name-brand components doesn’t guarantee that they will all be compatible working together.
    • Retail computer manufacturers spend a considerable amount of time testing components to ensure they work well together. Even so, the big manufacturers sometimes make mistakes. Unless you’re planning to hire a development team, it’s unlikely you’ll get lucky on your first try.
  • Expensive. Most people building custom computers are doing so for gaming or other highly demanding computational processes. It’s not unusual to spend $150 to $250 for an empty case, and then another few hundred dollars for the mother board, processor, and memory. If you want a dedicated video card, you’ll pay $150 to $600 more. A full copy of Windows 7 can cost about $200. Then there’s the cost of a display ($150 or more). By the time you’re done, the components alone could easily cost $700. Unless you’re building the computer yourself, you’ll still need to pay someone for their time, which could cost another few hundred dollars.
    • For much less money, you could have a nicer computer with better support if you buy a computer directly from a manufacturer or retail store.
  • Limited Design Options. When custom building a computer, you’re limited to the basic case designs available. These are usually big and bulky.
    • If you’re willing to buy retail, then you have many more options to choose from such as tablet computers, netbooks, small form factor computers, notebooks, and laptops.
  • Limited Support. With a custom built computer, whoever custom builds your computer will become the entire support team that you need to rely on.
    • With a retail computer, there is an abundance of online support, documentation, drivers,  24-hour support, and even an online user community.
  • Limited Warranty. With a custom built computer, you generally get a limited warranty.
    • Retail computers have options for comprehensive warranties that will even cover damage such as spills or drops.
  • Power Requirements. When people talk about building their own computer, they are usually talking about building a desktop computer. While in use, desktop computers typically consume a significant amount of electricity – much more than notebook computers. Stores that claim to build their own notebook computers, and offer their own brand of system, are usually buying white box computers and reselling them under their own brand.
    • Notebook computers are just as competent at performing the tasks that most people need a computer for. Yet, they use considerably less energy than a desktop to do so. They also have a built-in uninterruptible power source, which makes it less likely you’ll lose your work if there’s a power outage.
  • Space Requirements. Most custom made computers use larger cases because those cases allow for the greatest flexibility and also they are easy to work on. The resulting computer will require much more space than a small form factor computer or notebook computer.
    • If you’re willing to buy retail, then you have smaller options to choose from such as tablet computers, Netbooks, small form factor computers, notebooks, and laptops.
  • Time Intensive. It takes a lot of time to custom build a computer. The entire process for component selection and ordering all the way through to installing the last Windows download can take days. If you’re not doing this yourself, then you’ll need to pay someone to do it.
    • If you’re paying a consultant to help you with buying a retail computer, much less of their time will be needed and they might not even charge at all for the time to configure and purchase a computer.

Conclusion. For most people, simply buying a Dell computer with an Intel Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 processor will offer an excellent value, minimal unnecessary software, and exceptional service. Dell has special direct buy purchasing on their website at