FAQ #74 - A New PC - Build vs. Buy

Originally written by markOS X, June 2002


Contents

Introduction

Building
• Overview
• Steps involved
• Areas of concern
• Why you should build a PC

Buying
• Overview
• Steps involved
• Areas of concern
• Why should I buy a PC
• Buying from a retail store
• Buying from a computer shop

Conclusions

Glossary of Terms

Interesting Links



Introduction

This FAQ is intended to discuss the issues of building a computer and of buying a computer. It is slanted toward the option of building a PC because of my personal bias (I find tinkering with strange hardware to be fun and satisfying) however I will attempt to discuss all options fairly.

Throughout this FAQ I use the words PC, computer, system and machine. These all refer to your new computer. This FAQ is aimed at Windows based systems, however the information is also relevant to the several flavours of Unix and Linux that can run on a home computer. This FAQ does not deal with Macs.

As with all things, please keep an open mind. I will try to present the information in as clear a fashion as possible, however if you are confused, please post a query on Press F1.

I will discuss the three options available, namely:

• Building
• Buying from a retail store
• Buying from a computer store

Please note: A computer store is what I call a shop that is able completely customise your PC - if you want it and it is physically possible, then they should be able to do it. I class stores such as the Big Byte and Dick Smith as retail stores as they are usually hesitant in customising your new PC in a way that a computer store is able to.

I will also talk to some extent about the components of the new system and what to look out for. Lastly I will include a glossary of terms, and some interesting links on this topic for further reference.



Building

Overview

Building a computer is easy. Anyone who can follow the instructions to bake a cake or build a Lego model can do it. It really is a very simple task. The hard part is determining what components to use.

When building a computer, it is quite likely that the first time you do your installs, that the operating system will hang for some reason and you will have to uninstall and re-install a device.

Have no fear. Your computer is probably not broken, just take the time to think about what you just did and see if you can trace the problem. If not, you can hit your computer (you’ll be the one coming off second best - computers are metal, your fist is not) or alternatively, ask for assistance in Press F1.


Steps involved

1. Research! You will need to have some basic computer knowledge here - you will be dealing with detailed parts specifications, specifically you will need to look at motherboard/CPU combinations.

2. Go to a shop and ask the staff questions, you need to be very clear on what it is you want and what you will get.

3. Once you have decided on a specific hardware combination, look around for a good quality shop to buy the motherboard/CPU/case/PSU combination - this is so you can get service locally if you need it. Your best bet is to buy the rest of the gear as cheaply as you can. The web is a good place for this, although if you are uncomfortable ordering from a guy in Christchurch when you live in Napier, then you don’t have to.

I suggest that if you can already get good computer service, then you may as well buy the lot off the web. My reasoning is that you may as well get components as cheaply as possible.

4. Allow yourself a week or two to get your new PC up and running.

Also, it is my considered opinion that you’d have to be mad to start building your PC on a Friday as in my experience, the PC will have a fit late in the afternoon or on Saturday that will require you to take it in to the shop, but the computer shop probably doesn’t open weekends so you’ll be stuck all weekend without your new PC.

Put your new PC together. This is a topic in its own right, and I will not cover it in this FAQ.

RTFM!!! Read The Flaming Manual, everyone says to read the manual, but nobody ever does. Often these manuals will be written by someone whose first language is not English, but there is usually enough information in them to get you started.

Once you have read the manuals, it is time to install your hardware. Once again, this is a topic in its own right due to the individual nature of, and I will not cover it here.

5. Get used to your new computer. This will take a while, I have found that it takes about two to three months before a new PC starts working exactly as you want it to - this is more a customisation thing than a fault thing.

6. Get another computer. Computers are an incurable addiction, you will need a fix at least every two years, and you will have one for the rest of your life.


Areas of concern

Before you buy a computer, you need to be confident that what you are buying is right for you. If someone has given you the hard sell, or you are uncertain about something, then reconsider - you may be better off buying a pre made system.

You must be comfortable with who you are purchasing the gear from.

Buy quality, name brand gear. Use products with names that you recognise. No name stuff is ok for network cards, but that’s about it. It may cost more, but a quality system will tend to run better and last longer than a cheap no name system.


Why you should build a PC

There are several reasons that you should build a PC:

• Build a PC if you are interested in building a PC.
• If you are intimately familiar with the guts of computers.
• If you want to become intimately familiar with the guts of computers.
• If you think mucking around inside an expensive piece of electronic hardware is a fun thing to do on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
• If you have a lot of spare time.
• Because you want to save money.

If you think one or more of these reasons suits you, then go ahead and build a computer. However, if you are considering building solely to save money and you aren’t familiar with the workings of hardware devices, then you may want to reconsider.

Building a computer may be straightforward, but it is also quite a lot of work.



Buying

Overview

Buying a computer is just like buying anything else. Do your homework and figure out what your needs are, then go out and buy a PC that fits them. While it is important to buy a PC with room to grow there is no point buying a PC with a lot of stuff that you are never going to need.


Steps involved

1. Do your research. You will not need to be as thorough as you would if you were going to build your computer, but you do need to be careful.

2. Decide if you are going to buy from a retail store or a computer shop.

3. Make the purchase.

4. Get used to the machine. If you buy from a retail store, this will take a while, as they tend to have a lot of what I would call rubbish software on them.

5. Buy another PC? It’s almost inevitable.


Areas of concern

If you are buying from a retail store, ask to talk to the person with the most knowledge of computers in the shop. Don’t worry if this sounds offensive, if you’re spending this much money, you need to be confident that you are talking to someone who knows what they’re on about.

If you are not comfortable with the salesperson or the shop, leave. You need to be able to trust the person you buy your computer from, as you will probably have many dealings with them (I have, and I class myself as competent in most software and hardware).


Why should I buy a PC

Because you don’t have the time or inclination to build one. If you have to ask the question “Should I build or buy?” then you should probably buy.


Buying from a retail store

I personally feel that you should not buy from a retail store, however there are several reasons why you might:

• You are unfamiliar with computers.
• You want a computer right now, and don’t care that much if you are charged a lot and get a lot of stuff you will never use.

Buying from a retail store is a good idea if this is your first computer because it comes with all the basics plus extras such as a printer or a bigger screen, all the software installed and correctly configured (hopefully) and it is basically ready to go straight out of the box.

The drawbacks are many, but mainly stem from the fact that the salespeople will end up confusing you by talking about such thing as front side bus speeds, which is far less important than things like RAM and hard drive size, chip speed and type and what sort of graphics card is included.

Also, most retail stores do not conduct repairs themselves. Your computer will be sent to the service department, which is likely to take a week or more, and it is difficult to assess the skill of the service people when you can’t see or talk to them.

I suggest that if you are going to spend more than $2,200 at a retail store, that you go to a computer store and see what they can offer you.


Buying from a computer shop

This is probably the best option for most people who have at least some computer knowledge. You will generally get helpful, professional people who are good at explaining technical information in an understandable fashion.

They will be able to assist you in making the right choice in computer selection and will usually conduct repairs either on-site or at their own shop.

One thing I have seen posted regularly on Press F1 is the question “Is my warranty void if I remove the ‘warranty void if removed’ stickers from my machine?”. The answer is NO. Under New Zealand Law, you are guaranteed certain rights under the Consumer Guarantees Act and the Fair Trading Act, which cannot be revoked.

If your computer is for business use, then these acts do not necessarily apply, I am unfamiliar with this area of New Zealand Law but I would assume a similar sort of arrangement exists.

As mentioned, If you are going to spend a lot on your computer (more than $2,200 - which will buy a very nice machine) then you should be able to get a PC with the same specs for less or better specs at the same price at a computer shop than at a retail shop.



Conclusions

So, to answer the question “build or buy?” I would suggest that it is better for the majority of users to buy, and in saying that, it is also better for most people to buy from a computer shop. Building a computer is fun, but it is not for the faint of heart.



Glossary of Terms

Building
Building a computer from the case on up, this includes purchasing the hardware and software, assembling the hardware and installing the software.

Buying
Purchasing a computer that has a fully working operating system and some software.

Case
The case of the computer. Designed to house and protect the guts of the computer.

Computer
A computer, if you don’t know what this is then how are you able to read this on-line FAQ?

CPU
Abbreviation of the term Central Processing Unit. This (among other things) is what an operating system is designed to control.

Guts
The insides of the computer - any and all pieces of hardware that reside inside the case of the computer such as the CPU or Motherboard.

Install your hardware
Install and configure the device drivers for your hardware.

Machine
Another word for computer.

Motherboard
The main circuit board inside your computer, all other hardware gets attached to this - hence the term “mother”, also known as a mainboard.

No name
A piece of hardware that does not have a common name and tends to be of poorer quality than name brand hardware - some retail store branded hardware is what I consider to be no-name hardware.

Without naming names, Dick Smith sells what I would consider to be no name hardware.

PC
Abbreviation of the term Personal Computer.

PSU
Abbreviation of the term Power Supply Unit. This is what converts the mains power supply into a form that is usable by the computer.

Put your new PC together
Assemble (build) your new computer.

Rubbish software
Similar to no name hardware in that its made by someone you don’t recognise and it tends to have a rather buggy interface or a faulty uninstaller.

Rubbish software can also be software that you will never use, yet seems to come as standard on computers purchased at retail shops.

System
Another word for computer.



Interesting Links

These links were last checked Sunday September 5 2004. I apologise in advance for any dead links that may occur if I am unable to maintain this section of the FAQ.

Building A Computer
This site discusses the various aspects of building a computer, which is worthwhile reading before you begin your project.

Consumer Guarantees Act, 1993
This page contains links to the complete text of the Consumer Guarantees Act 1993.

Consumer Magazines’ guide to buying a computer
A very interesting guide to purchasing a computer, I do not agree with some of the information presented in this article, however it is still a worthwhile read.

Consumer Magazine’s guide to computers and your rights
A short FAQ in the question and answer style. It contains some short answers on some common questions relating to how New Zealand Law relates to computers.

Fair Trading Act, 1986
This page contains links to the complete text of the Fair Trading Act 1986. There are also several amendments to this act which may be relevant and are also stored at the same website.

Guide to buying a new computer #1
A pretty basic introduction to what information you will need to consider when purchasing a new computer. Bear in mind that it is not a New Zealand site so some information may not be relevant.

Guide to buying a new computer #2
A very comprehensive guide to what information you should consider when purchasing a new computer. Once again, it’s not a New Zealand site, so some information may not be relevant.



This FAQ is the work of markOS X. Any queries or additions are welcome.
Feel free to rip any portion of this FAQ for you own use, but I would appreciate a reference back to this site.


Original FAQ available here