March 4, 2009

When it makes sense to build your own computer.

I work in the high tech industry for my job so I know a bit about computers. I've built my own home computers in the past. I found that I could make the system I want with all the specific options that I wanted for cheaper than buying a computer from a major manufacturer. As time has gone by though, the new fully built systems get cheaper and cheaper. Does it still make sense to build your own computer or should you just buy one prebuilt?

Below I'll do comparisons of the costs to build your own system versus buying a system from Dell. I'm going to compare only buying parts at Newegg and buying from Dell. You could shop around for other bargains with other vendors but I want to keep things simple. Pus I know that both Newegg and Dell offer a good selection at reasonable prices. When shopping for parts at Newegg I will look for good brands with good reviews. You might save a few bucks going with other brands or items with lower reviews but cheaping out on computer parts is not a good idea.
Note that my choice of parts is being guided by what Dell offers for options. I'm building a system to compare apples to apples to the one you can buy at Dell.

Comparing a low end system

First lets look at a low end system. This is a cheap basic desktop system with all the basics but nothing special.

Buy a system at Dell

Inspiron 530S = $279
S/h = $35

Total = $314

Buy the parts at Newegg

At Newegg the parts to build a system comparable to the low end Dell would cost:

Chassis $32: Linkworld 3131G-C8815U
Motherboard $48: ASUS P5GC-MX
Processor $40 :Intel Celeron 430
OS $90 : Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic
Memory $23 : Crucial 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR2 800
Harddrive $55 : Seagate Barracuda ST3320613AS 320GB

$309 + $24.5 s/h = $333.50

As you can see for this low end configuration comparison it actually costs MORE to buy the parts and build the computer on your own than it would to just buy a full system from Dell.

Midrange system

Now lets look at a midrange system with a couple extra features. First we'll beef up the processor and memory. Rather than the basic CPU we'll go for a good midrange that has a nice pricepoint. We'll also double the memory. Second we'll go for a basic addin video card. The addin card is going to give you better performance then the onboard video but its not a high end card.

Building your own at Newegg

CPU $120 : Intel Core 2 Duo E7400
Video $37 :SAPPHIRE 100234HDMI Radeon HD 3450
Chassis $32: Linkworld 3131G-C8815U
Motherboard $48: ASUS P5GC-MX
OS $90 : Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic
Memory $46 : 2x Crucial 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR2 800
Harddrive $55 : Seagate Barracuda ST3320613AS 320GB

Total $449 + s/h $27 = $476

Buy a system at Dell

I took the Inspiron 530 and upgraded the processor, memory and video card.

Total $554 + s/h $35 = $589

For the mid range system you're saving $113 by buying the parts and building it on your own.

High end system

With the high end system we'll go with even better video and processor plus we'll update to the high end version of Windows.

Video $100 : HIS Hightech H260XTP512DDN-R Radeon HD 2600XT
OS $180 : Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate
CPU $230 :Intel Core2 Quad Q9400

Total = $712 + 28 s/h = $740

Dell system
Again I simply took the Inspiron 530 and upgraded the parts. I added the Q9400 cpu, HD 2600XT video and went with Vista Ultimate edition.

Total $964 + s/h $35 = $999

For the high end system your savings would be around $260 to build it yourself.

In summary here is a chart comparing the prices if you build your own versus buying a system from Dell:

Dell DIY Savings
Low $314 $333 ($19)
Mid $589 $476 $113
High $999 $740 $259

If you're just making low end system then its not going to save you money to build your own system. If you're making a mid or high end system then you can still save money by building your own.

Images from Dell and Newegg.


  1. I have to say I'm surprised by this, I didn't think it would be worth building our own under any circumstances!

    That said, to be fair, you should probably factor in the warranty that you get buying from Dell and consider the expected total cost of ownership over the life of the computer. Nonetheless, an interesting post, thanks.

  2. Tony, thanks for the comment and you make a good point. There are a number of factors you should consider if you are thinking of building your own system. First and foremost is the time and skill level/ knowledge involved in building a system. I may edit the post to add further detail on the pros/cons of building a system.

  3. Wonderful post! Right up my alley!

    I think price is a great place to start, but there are also the intangibles that you have to take into consideration.

    If you build your own computer, that means you probably know a few things about computers (if not, don't build your own system!) and therefore you probaly value a high level of customization. Building your own system offers this. You also have the option of installing a free Linux OS which will cut out the OS cost. You also have the added value of knowing EVERYTHING that has gone into your system, where it came from, the drivers it should have, etc., which makes upgrading or swapping parts much easier.

    I'd say, for technically saavy people who value customization and control over their system, building your ownis a no brainer. Especially now that it's so affordable!

  4. You're forgetting about the cost of adding a Vista or XP license to your machine. I've found that buying Dell, which comes with the OS preinstalled, actually comes out cheaper nowadays than building it yourself.

  5. I actually did include the cost of the OS. I had an OS item in the system part lists.

    For the low & medium priced systems I had Microsoft Windows Vista Home Basic at $90 and the high end system I had Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate for $180.

    Of course the choice of OS could differ since some folks use XP and others use Linux for free. But I was making a general example so I picked Vista.



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