Microsoft

Building vs. buying your own computer, revisited


A couple of months ago, I posted an article discussing the merits of buying a prebuilt computer versus building my own. At the time, I wavered from my usual preference of building my own, and instead purchased a couple of off-the-shelf boxes. Now that things have settled down around here (since my Vista upgrade is complete and well behind me), and I'm faced with adding another client workstation, the question is again at the forefront.

The first thing I did was to come up with a new computer specification. We plan to add and/or upgrade quite a few workstations in the upcoming months, and I like consistency in my computers. So regardless of if I build or buy these future machines, they'll all have to meet or exceed these specifications. Having to support people in a graphics-extensive environment, and considering the fact that our application software is extremely demanding (and getting more demanding with every new release), I can't waver too much from these specifications. We'll simply need the computing power.

Here are my new computer specifications (or approved equals):

  • Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 3.0GHz processor, 1333 MHz FSB, 4 MB L2 Cache
  • Motherboard: ASUS P5N32-E SLI
  • RAM: 8GB - 4ea. 2GB DDR2 PC2 6400
  • Hard Drive: 500GB Seagate SATA with 16MB Cache
  • Graphics: PCI Express Nvidia GeForce 8500 GT with 512MB DDR2
  • CD/DVD: Pioneer DVR-2810 Internal 18x18 DVD/CD Read/Write
  • Floppy Drive: Internal 3-1/2" Floppy Disk Drive
  • Case: Antec Sonata II Quiet PC Case
  • Operating System: Vista Ultimate (see note)
  • Monitor: Viewsonic 19" VP930b digital LCD flat panel
  • Keyboard: Microsoft Media Pro keyboard
  • Mouse: Microsoft optical mouse
Note: I'm on the cusp of transiting from a 32-bit to the 64-bit system, as all of my applications and peripherals aren't fully 64-bit compatible at this time (particularly one peripheral, but I'm anticipating updated drivers). For this reason, I'll spend an extra $100 and buy the boxed Vista operating system instead of the cheaper OEM version; that way I'll have both the 32-bit and 64-bit DVDs, leaving open the option to install either one.

I've usually preferred an ATI graphics card, but the comparable ATI model with 512MB DDR2 is about $100 more than the Nvidia. I'm not sure brand-name preference is worth the extra dollars. Moreover, this particular ASUS motherboard has the Nvidia chip-set, so there might be some merit in using the Nvidia graphics card. I'm not certain about that, but the two together just might work more efficiently.

And speaking of the motherboard, I'll probably try to substitute what's on my list with a different ASUS model that has more RAM capability (for future upgrade considerations). This particular board has a maximum capacity of 8GB, and I'd hate to make a motherboard obsolete too fast simply because the maximum amount of RAM is already installed; and we can't always count on future BIOS upgrades to increase RAM capacity.

The Verdict:

Total cost to build my own: $1,850

Cost of a custom-built Dell: $4,480

When I received that quote from Dell, I just about fell out of my chair. I was expecting a price higher than building it myself, but not that much higher! Not only that, but I would have had to do a customer install of 4GB additional RAM and the 512MB graphics card (although Dell would have provided that additional hardware). Why they couldn't install it themselves, especially for that kind of price, is beyond me.

Well, I could shop around, I suppose, to try and find a better price than the Dell, but considering the huge difference in price, and considering the fact I want to keep as much control as possible in my own hands, I'm going back to building my own.

Two days later... now that I have this computer built and operational, I can certainly say that this is, without a doubt, the best computer in the office — it's a real screamer!

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