New Computer (Build or Buy)?

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Many customers ask me if they should build or buy their next computer? Well, the price of computers has dropped so much that you can get a low end computer for $500 now.  To build a similar one from scratch could run you almost double that price.  The biggest advantage to building your own computer, besides the experience and enjoyment, is that you get to configure it exactly the way you want.  An other advantage is that you may be able to reuse some items from your old computer.  And finally, having built it yourself, you may be more likely to be able to repair or upgrade it in the future.  For example, without searching all over the internet for deals or reverting to eBay for components, here is a rough breakdown of a typical entry level computer built from scratch:

  • Computer Case w/ Power Supply                                                                  $ 90.00
  • Motherboard  Intel                                                                                          $ 150.00
  • Processor Intel P4 2.4ghz                                                                             $ 169.00
  • Memory 512mb                                                                                                $ 89.00
  • Hard drive 120 gig  (WD or Maxtor)                                                                 $ 99.00
  • DVD Combo CD-RW Drive  (Sony)                                                                $ 80.00
  • OS Window XP Home (Full Version)                                                             $ 199.00

                                                                                                         TOTAL             $876.00

*Note Motherboard contains on-board Video, Audio and Network ports.

On paper, the specs here pretty much look the same as some computers advertised for $500.  However, the component quality of this home built version is likely to be much better.  Usually, the lower end computers will use No-Name, components, like low cost Celeron or AMD processors and generic motherboards.  In the example above, all the components are name brand and will usually result in a long lasting, trouble free system.  If you wanted, you could add or change any part of the system to match your needs, creating the ideal computer.  You have probably noticed that I choose the Intel platform, it is not to say that Intel is better, but over the years I have built many computer systems and have found that I get the best results, especially in reliability and compatibility, with all Intel parts.  If you don’t mind a little tweaking and experimenting, there are a lot of other choices that may result in higher performance.  But if you are looking for reliability and compatibility, I suggest Intel for your first build.

If you are not real comfortable with starting from scratch, there are some companies that sell kit computers or something called bare bones systems.  These systems may come preassembled with a case, power supply and motherboard.  All you have to do is add the memory, processor and hard drive, saving you the hardest part of installing the motherboard.


If you decide to build your own, you will need a check list of components.  Please keep in mind that some of these items may come in combination with some other items.  For example: Some computer cases come with a power supply, some don’t.  Some motherboards, have built-in video, audio and networking, while for others you would have to purchase additional cards for these functions.  Here is an example check list of items you will or may need:

  1. Computer Case – Keeping in mind the room you may need for future upgrades
  2. Power Supply – (Some Cases come with one)
  3. Motherboard
  4. Processor
  5. Memory- 512mb (min.)
  6. Video Card – (Some Motherboards have built-in Video)
  7. Audio Card – (Some Motherboards have built-in Audio)
  8. Network Card – (if you need it, again most Motherboards have it)
  9. Wireless Network adapter (if you need it?)
  10. Special Purpose adapters – Depending on your needs, you may want additional cards such as Firewire, Extra USB ports, TV or Video Capture.
  11. Hard Drive – 250 gig min
  12. Second Hard drive – Depending on you needs, you may want a second hard drive for backup, Music or video storage.
  13. Some form of CD drive to install software.  This could be in the form of a CD or DVD burner or combo drive depending on your needs.
  14. Operating System – Windows 8
  15. Display Monitor – CRT, LCD (you may already own one)
  16. Floppy Drive (if you want or need one?)
  17. Memory Card slots – If you use a digital camera, you may want to add card slots.
  18. Keyboard – Wired or wireless
  19. Mouse- regular, optical or wireless
  20. Software – You will want some form of Antivirus software as well as some programs such as Microsoft’s Office.
  21. Cables – Printer, scanner or any extensions you may need.
  22. Surge Suppressor or UPS to plug everything into.


  1. Never work while plugged in – Anytime you are working inside the computer, be sure to disconnect the power cord and all other connections to printers, network and external equipment.
  2. Static Electricity – You should wear an ESD (electrostatic discharge) wrist strap to prevent static electricity from damaging your components.  Avoid working on or in a carpeted environment.  Never place components or cards on the rug or other static generating surface.
  3. Reusing old Parts – If you plan to reuse some old parts from a previous computer, watch for compatibility issues.  Even though an old hard drive may work, it may slow down the entire system.  It will be unlikely that you will be able to reuse much more than your keyboard, mouse, display, floppy drive and maybe a CD drive.  Avoid trying to reuse internal components such as Memory, processor, power supply and motherboard.
  4. Get Help – Often times I find that Motherboard and Case instructions are rather poor.  If in doubt about pin locations and orientation, check the manufacturers web site for more detailed instructions or seek help from others.  Don’t guess…
  5. Install one at a time – If you are building a high end computer with lots of upgrades and additional components, get it up and running with the basics first before installing the extras.  Once you get the basic system up and running, start adding in the additional components, installing and testing one at a time.
  6. Powering up for the First Time – I can not stress enough the importance of double and triple checking all connections and cards before applying the power.  I have seen many a motherboard destroyed because a memory card was not seated properly when the power was applied.
  7. Take your Time –  I know you are anxious to get your computer up and running, but take your time and do it right the first time.

Go ahead, build it yourself, enjoy, have fun and ask lots of questions.

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