October 31, 2013

Building a Cheap Computer Won't Save You Money

A while back I wrote an article discussing when it makes sense to build a computer.   My general conclusion that it makes sense for middle or higher end systems but not the cheaper ones.    Its now been over 4.5 years since I wrote that article so its a bit out of date.    I recently built my own computer and found that building my own made sense because I wanted a specific part (SSD drive) that are only used in the most expensive systems.   That however is kind of a rare situation.

I decided to go back and take another look to compare the cost of building your own cheap computer versus buying one off the shelf.    When I wrote that first article on the topic for low end systems I compared a Dell Inspiron 530S at $279 + $35 s/h or $314 total versus building a system from parts on Newegg totalling $333.50 s/h included.  

Again I'll compare buying a Dell versus buying decent quality parts off Newegg.   This isn't a strict apples to apples comparison though so I didn't get all the exact same parts.   I instead compared a cheap DIY entry level solution to a cheap Dell entry level solution.

DIY computer from Newegg parts

For my Newegg shopping list I looked for cheap basic parts but then filtered it to only consider the parts that had at least a 3.5 star average review.

Here is the parts list that I came up with :
Sentey Classic Series CS1-1399 Mid Tower Case w/ Power Supply SECC 0.5mm 2x USB/ Card Reader SD-MMC / ATX-MATX
LITE-ON DVD Burner - Bulk Black SATA Model iHAS124-04 - OEM
Seagate Barracuda ST250DM000 250GB 7200 RPM 16MB Cache SATA 6.0Gb/s 3.5" Internal Hard Drive Bare Drive 
Mushkin Enhanced 2GB 240-Pin DDR3 SDRAM DDR3 1066 (PC3 8500) Desktop Memory Model 991573 
ECS H61H2-I3 (v1.0) LGA 1155 Intel H61 HDMI Mini ITX Intel Motherboard 
Intel Celeron G540 Sandy Bridge 2.5GHz LGA 1155 65W Dual-Core Desktop Processor Intel HD Graphics BX80623G540 
Microsoft Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 32-bit - OEM 

 Total cost = $339.35

Off the Shelf from Dell

The cheapest desktop Dell I found is an Inspiron 660s for $349.99 with free shipping.
Winner = Off the Shelf system

If all you want is a basic entry level computer then I think you should simply buy a basic cheap desktop from Dell.  (or another decent name brand)

Technically the DIY computer is about $10 cheaper than the Dell.    However the Dell does have better specs. in several items like 4GB memory instead of 2GB on the DIY and a 500GB drive instead of just 250.    I also think that the labor and work involved in building the DIY system is not worth a mere $10 difference.

There are always exceptions

There are some situations where you can do better with the DIY system.    For example if you're like me and you have a particular desire to have an SSD drive in the system then you can absolutely build a cheaper basic computer with an SSD than you can find prebuilt.  

The operating system cost is a huge factor as well.   If you go DIY then you're spending about $100 just for a copy of Windows.    If you already have a copy of Windows or if you chose to use a free OS like a Linux build then that can make all the difference in the decision.   When I used to build computers more frequently I would simply reuse my XP disc on the new computer.   I don't believe that is allowed with Microsoft's current licensing rules however.

Another way you might make DIY more worth while is to bargain hunt for deals.   Newegg frequently has sales and discounts.    If you have some patience and wait for sales you should be able to cut $10-30 off the price of the Newegg items.   They have some deals like 10% off  your purchase up to $200 or something like that.   Newegg isn't always the cheapest either and you can shop around and find some better prices elsewhere.   You can also cash in a 1% rebate if you use Ebates for your Newegg purchases.   If you add all this up then your DIY total cost might be closer to $300 and saving $50 may be worth it.  


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