Building Your Own PC

In these days of commodity parts and component pricing, building your own system from scratch is no longer the daunting process it once was. Every component necessary to build a PC system is available off the shelf at competitive pricing. In many cases, the system you build can use the same or even better components than the top name-brand systems.

There are, however, some cautions to heed. The main thing to note is that you rarely save money when building your own system; purchasing a complete system from a mail-order vendor or mass merchandiser is almost always less expensive.

The reason for this is simple: Most system vendors who build systems to order use many, if not all, of the same components you can use when building your own system. The difference is that they buy these components in quantity and receive a much larger discount than you can by purchasing only one of a particular item.

In addition, you pay only one shipping and handling charge when you purchase a complete system instead of the multiple shipping charges you pay when you purchase separate components. In fact, the shipping, handling, and phone charges from ordering all the separate parts needed to build a PC through the mail often add up to $100 or more.

This cost rises if you encounter problems with any of the components and have to make additional calls or send improper or malfunctioning parts back for replacement. Many companies charge restocking fees if you purchase something and then determine you don't need it or can't use it.

If you purchase parts locally, you typically must pay the additional state sales tax, as well as the higher prices usually associated with retail store sales. Then there is the included software. Although I can sometimes come close in price to a commercial system when building my own from scratch, the bundled software really adds value to the commercial system.

An upgrade copy of Windows XP costs $100 or more, and most commercial systems also include Microsoft Office or other applications as well. Many commercial systems come with $250–$500 or more worth of software, depending on what they include. It is clear that the reasons for building a system from scratch often have less to do with saving money and more to do with the experience you gain and the results you achieve.

In the end, you have a custom system that contains the exact components and features you have selected. Most of the time when you buy a preconfigured system, you have to compromise in some way. For example, you might get the video adapter you want, but you would prefer a different make or model of motherboard.

By building your own system, you can select the exact components you want and build the ultimate system for your needs. The experience is also very rewarding. You know exactly how your system is constructed and configured because you have done it yourself. This makes future support and installation of additional accessories much easier.

Another benefit of building your own system is that you are guaranteed a nonproprietary system that will be easily upgradeable in the future. Of course, if you have been reading the book up to this point, you already know everything you need to ensure any preassembled systems you purchase would be nonproprietary and, therefore, upgradeable and repairable in the future.

You might be able to save some money using components from your current system when building your new system. You might have recently upgraded your hard drive and optical drive in an attempt to extend the life of your current computer. In most cases, you can take those components with you to the new system. For example, if you bought a 120GB hard drive and a DVD+RW drive for your old system, you can move them to a newer system.

The good news is that your monitor, keyboard, mouse, and storage devices—as well as most AGP video cards and all PCI-based add-on cards—from your old system will work in your new system. The bad news is that most newer systems require a memory type different from an older system and some AGP cards might not work in newer motherboards.

So, if you are interested in a rewarding experience, want a customized and fully upgradeable system that is not exactly the same as that offered by any vendor, are able to take on all system repair and troubleshooting tasks, want to save some money by reusing some of the components from your current system, and are not in a hurry, building your own PC might be the way to go.

On the other hand, if you are interested in getting a PC with the most value for the best price, want one-stop support for in-warranty repairs and technical problems, and need an operational system quickly, building your own system should be avoided. In that case, you should consider purchasing a system from a name-brand vendor.

Also, if you are unable to provide self-support or will not be upgrading the system, you might consider an extended warranty. An extended warranty essentially prevents you from doing any upgrades to the system because an upgrade is not covered and, in some cases, can even invalidate the warranty on the rest of the system.

If you do plan to upgrade your system after a year or so of use, you should avoid purchasing any extended warranties. This chapter details the components necessary to assemble your own system, explains the assembly procedures, and lists some recommendations for components and their sources. The components used in building a typical PC are as follows:

  • Case and power supply

  • Motherboard

  • Processor with heatsink and fan

  • Memory

  • Floppy drive

  • Hard disk drive

  • Optical drives (CD and/or DVD)

  • Keyboard and pointing device (mouse)

  • Video card and display

  • Sound card and speakers

  • Modem or LAN card (Internet/email access)

  • Cooling fans and heatsinks

  • Cables

  • Hardware (nuts, bolts, screws, and brackets)

  • Operating system software (on CD-ROM)