Should You Build Or Buy Your Next Computer?

June 16, 2010

If you expect me to give you an absolute answer to the question of build versus buy, I won’t be giving it to you. The right answer for you could be different than the right answer for someone else. Instead, I’m going to give you some of the pros and cons to each so that you can make an informed decision. This discussion only applies to desktop computers as it is simply too difficult for end users to build a laptop.

In our office, we have some computers that were bought from a major vendor and some that were built. My preference is to build, though it isn’t always the right answer for our office in every situation. Even the computers we buy get customized in some ways so they are truly hybrid computers.

The best part about buying a computer is that it comes fully assembled and typically has the operating system and other software already installed. When you buy from a store, the customization options are pretty limited. The online vendors typically let you make a wide variety of choices on the components in your new computer. But customization will typically slow down the delivery as your computer must be assembled at the factory. Should something go wrong with the computer, you can call the vendor and they can hopefully help you get it up and running in short order. Of course, that only applies during the warranty period. For users who aren’t comfortable working with hardware, this is typically the best option.

Of course there are also downsides to buying from a major vendor. One problem we have is that we have a subscription with Microsoft for Windows. No major vendor will sell a computer without Windows. So if we buy from those vendors, we are paying for a Windows license we don’t need. Often there is other software included that is also not needed. Sometimes that is complete junk that has no cost and other times you could be office software that does have some cost. Again, we have a site license for office software and don’t want to buy another license if we don’t need it. In the situations where I do purchase a computer from a major vendor, I immediately format the hard drive and install only what I want from scratch.

Should you want to upgrade any of the parts in the off-the-shelf computer, you might find it difficult as the vendors use custom parts. This also can be problematic if a part needs to be replaced. The cost of the replacement is higher because it is only available from that specific vendor.

The best part about building a computer is that you can buy exactly what you want. I documented my dream computer in a blog post last fall. It does take a little bit of assembly to build your own computer, but it isn’t terribly difficult if you are willing to use basic tools and read a few instructions. If you aren’t comfortable doing the assembly yourself, maybe you know someone who would do it for you for a reasonable cost. There are also small businesses who specialize in building specialized computers.

When you build your own computer, you already know your way around inside the case. Should something go wrong, it isn’t as difficult to diagnose the problem or replace the bad part. You can also upgrade parts as newer and faster equipment becomes available. Building is not the best answer for a computer newbie, but should be considered by any power user. You can get a lot more bang for your buck if you build it yourself.

What are your thoughts? Do you prefer to build or buy? What do you see as the pros and cons? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with everyone.

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