And people say that Dell is cheap ...

And people say that Dell is cheap ...

Summary: When I tell people that I prefer to build my own PC rather than buy from OEMs, people wonder why. They they go on to mumble something about OEM PC makers being cheaper. They're not, you know!


When I tell people that I prefer to build my own PC rather than buy from OEMs, people wonder why. They they go on to mumble something about OEM PC makers being cheaper. They're not, you know!

Here's an example. My ZDNet blogging colleague ED Bott, writing on his personal blog, details why he added a 500GB hard drive to his Dell himself rather than pay Dell to do it:

A few months ago, I replaced my Media Center machine with a new Dell E521. It came with a 160GB hard drive (not enough given that this system has two TV tuners and is constantly recording). I briefly considered paying Dell for an upgraded drive. But then I looked at the upgrade prices and said no:

Dell hard drive

Yeah, it didn’t make sense to pay $220 for a 500GB drive when bare drives that size are going for $129.

Ed's right. Dell want $220 for a drive that you can pick up for almost half that from online retailers. What's worse than that is the drive costs more than $220 because the price already includes the cost of the 160GB drive. I know that Dell need to fit the drive and provide support for it and all that, but that price is just crazy. If I was being robbed like that I'd expect the culprit to be wearing a mask and carrying a large sack with a dollar sign on it.

Ed then goes on to discuss the benefits of tool-free chassis design:

Dell’s BTX cases make the upgrade really easy as well. The side of the case pops off with no tools, the plastic drive holder snaps on and off with no tools ...

This is where Ed and I have differing opinions. I used to be a fan of the tool-free design but I'm no longer so sure. I've yet to see any tool-free system be as efficient using screws. They're great to begin with, but pretty soon you're left chasing rattles or wondering how to repair some broken piece of plastic.

Topic: Dell

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  • The major OEMs will rip you off

    The smaller ones are a bit more competitive when it comes to add-ons.

    My rule of thumb is that if I can save $150 or more doing it myself I do it myself, if not I'm better off spending a bit more to save myself the hassle. Lately I've been finding myself spending a bit more and saving myself the hassle, and I'm sure that's in large part because I'm not afraid to go to a smaller OEM. I've also found I have less troubles with hardware down the line with smaller OEMs than with Dell or HP.

    That's for desktops though. I'm liking Toshiba for laptops these days. I won't say they're perfect, but they're better than most and the price is reasonable.
    Michael Kelly
  • stick to one subject please

    if you are going to tell us you can build cheaper than Dell, please provide supporting facts. The only conclusion I can reach from what you provided is that a Dell box can be upgraded with a larger hard drive more cheaply at home than as a factory add on. How about a comparison of your equivalent of a barebones box, a mid range workhorse, and a game player build with similar specs as some of the larger OEM's provide?
    • Building cheaper than an OEM


      Yes, you can usually build a machine for less money than it costs to purchase an equvalent machine from an OEM. George Ou showed how back on December 25, 2006 with this blog article:

      (Thanks again, George!)

      Following his price lists (mixing here and there, with some substitutions), I built a performance/gaming rig, complete with 20" widescreen monitor, keyboard, and trackball, for just over US$1700 (shipping included.) An equivalent system from Gateway (Gateway FX520G) would have cost over US$2500.

      This was back in January. I just finished pricing an FX530XG system. Keeping the components as close to the ones as I have in the rig I built, it optioned out at US$2152.96 (before shipping.) Add approximately US$100 for that, bringing the price to US$2253. That's roughly a US$500 difference in favor of the home-built system.

      A similarly-equipped Dell XPS 710 would cost even more.

      If you require further proof, do your own research into it.
      M.R. Kennedy
      • RE: And people say that Dell is cheap ...

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  • What is your time worth?

    By the time you buy and install the drive you have a fair bit invested already. After you've spent a day or so reinstalling MSWindows plus all of your applications, you're not getting much per hour.

    Now, don't get me wrong: I build my own, too. However, it's quite a different story when you're dealing with continuous upgrades and can upgrade (or move) a system with a couple of commands.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • Go read the story

      Yagotta, I didn't need to reinstall Windows. I used TrueImage, which cloned the drive for me while I was out having dinner. My total investment of time for the installation was less than 10 minutes.
      Ed Bott
    • To Add and Extend to Your Argument...

      My time is extremely valuable to me-- to the tune of $100/hr - $150/hr depending on the day and the client. That said, I look at a [whole] PC purchase in two ways, build or buy? Who doesn't, right? Well...

      To build, I gotta go shopping for each individual part, locating the best possible price on each one... the HDD, motherboard, processor, fans, power supply, case, graphics, NIC, modem, cables, optical drives, etc. Then, I have to evaluate all of the individual warranties to maximize my protection. Then I get to spend an hour putting it together ... very carefully.

      Or I can go online to, take 20 mins to spec what I need, pay the extra $200 for four years of warranty (peace of mind?) and have it show in my office 2 weeks later. If between the time I buy and 4 years later there's a problem, I do the same as the guy who built it... I call in for warranty replacement and swap out the part myself.

      In my world, buy makes a lot more sense than build, but since I'm in product development, my time comes at a higher premium. For guys doing every day support in a datacenter, build *might* be easier [and cheaper, depending on hourly cost), but will always take longer.
      • Exactly ... *BUILD*

        My time is valuable too ... more than $150 an hour.

        I build it. I know how it works, have a good idea what 's wrong when it doesn't ... and can fix it pretty quick ... a lot quicker than sitting on hold for eons waiting to speak to someone about my warranty who happens to live half way around the world and barely understands English, much less computers.
      • Time = $

        So if your time is that valuable, don't shop for each part individually. Pick one good vendor (I like NewEgg, but you find you like someone else better) and just buy everything from them. You may not get rock-bottom prices on everything, but the prices on-average will be low and you will save on shipping, and most importantly, time.

        The other alternative: the Ma and Pa clone shop. Very good, very cost effective, and generally more "a-la-carte" than the big boys. Typically only a $100 - $200 premium over building it yourself, if your time is that valuable.

        As a scientist, my salary works out to about $50/hr, so less than 1 hour to select and order all the parts and less than 1 hour to assemble and test is worth it for me to home build. Plus, don't forget the 2 hours saved deleting all the crapware you would get preinstalled on major brand computer.
  • I once made the same question here.

    And it seems to me that in the US as in EU the scenario is the same.
    At least for top PC's, if they are made at home they became cheaper them buying from a brand name.
    The only ones from branded PC's I see in EU being cheaper from the custom build PC's are the promotional machines, usually a bit out-dated and low spec.
    Of course there is always the price of the time spent buying and assembling the machine. And maybe even future support if something goes wrong ...
    About the time to assemble I can think about family weekends teaching the kids assembling a PC as a very good exercise and a great way to lower the "time expense" on a PC.

  • MacPro Case

    The MacPro case is the only tool free design I have seen that is rugged. Everything about the case is simple yet strong. I have yet to see a Dell case that made me go "wow, this is a very durable case". While the MacPro is made of 3/16" thick aluminum and has very tight tolerances for a mass produced case.

    But at the same time, they also rip you off for ram and HD's. It really is annoying to buy the upgrades separately. but you can save a LOT of money (when buying from any OEM).
    • Agree 100%

      You really have to work with the Mac Pro case to appreciate how great the design is. I just got a Mac Pro a week ago, and I'd have to say the inside is a complete work of art. I installed 4 new dimms, installed 2 new hard drives, and moved the hard drive that came with it from slot 1 to slot 3 all in under 5 minutes. I've built a lot of my own machines from scratch and I've upgraded a lot of machines for friends/family. That includes both cases that I selected (usually Antec), and OEM cases from companies like Dell and HP. And none of them hold a candle to the Mac Pro case.

      That being said I bought both my RAM and my hard drive upgrades from a 3rd party because Apple completely rips you off on both RAM and hard drive upgrades.

      Also, I would say that the only weakness to the Mac Pro case seems to be the lack of accessibility to the processors. I probably won't care about that for a couple of years, but the processors are not easy to get to.
  • OEMS can be cheaper

    OEMs are cheaper assuming what they offer is exactly what you're looking for. If a $399 box you can buy off the shelf and plug in works for you it's much cheaper than building your own. Problem is the $399 box most often is not what you need and you need to upgrade it. Once you start doing that the price just up an up. At that point building become cheaper and in some cases much cheaper. Buying a Gaming PC for example will cost you ton more to buy from OEM vs building it yourself. Also buying cheap can give you base to upgrade on your own for less than paying to upgrade when you purchase it. One problem is the cases often are not very upgradable for cheap boxes. You are limited in that most case you can only replace ram and harddrives due to limited slots and forget about adding a better sound or video card unless you can find low form factor cards.
  • building is cheaper - software is not

    That is if you decide to use Windows. My last build I decided to go all Linux (Kubuntu) and spent less than an OEM. But I built and XP box, with Office, for my sister and my price easily exceeded an OEM. I still prefer building since I know the parts are quality, etc., etc.,....but the finished product is not always cheaper.
    • OEM SOftware

      Did you buy an OEM version of windows, or did you get full box version? There is a substantial price difference between the two.

      I built a Core2Duo system last month and came out far below an OEM with similar specs.
  • Definitely true to my experience

    The great thing about building your own system is that YOU know how it was put together. And YOU will know how to fix it if something goes wrong, or just want to upgrade at will. Adrian's experience mirrors my own, as I've been building my own PCs since my first Pentium-60. (My previous 286 and 486 machines were bought from a custom builder, not a retailer like Gateway, Dell, etc.) I recently built a machine with dual SATA 750G industrial HDs (meant to run around the clock), 24" monitor included on a Core 2 Duo E6700 2.93GHz and it cost just under $3800. The good thing is, it's built for years of upgrades.
  • The main reason I see to

    The main reason I see to go with a vendor for a base machine is the OS. The last time I upgraded (several years ago), the killer item was XP. I ended up getting a better deal from Medion (composed of off the shelf components and XP Home) then I did from building my own. In reality, the the hardware is cheaper, but spending $130 out of $600 for an OS is tough.

    My two cents.
  • cheap and to be thrown away

    I build computers for friends and relatives and I have seen these machines that HP,E-Machine and others put on the market and they are there to sell and get the customer to take them home. When it comes to upgrading or repair, they can't be upgraded or repaired very easy. They are designed to sell and get rid of and buy another. What I build can be upgraded any or part of and will last for years and years. That is what these companies should do but they won't.
  • I don't know where you people shop But build your own is usualy cost more..

    Recently I have been looking to replace my PC with a new one.
    I have build lots of computers in my time and have no problem doing it BUT faced with the facts it is cheaper to buy an off the shelf Pc them build it your self.
    I have bought an HP e7790n system for $956.00 + 22" viewsonic monitor for 256.00 after rebate. that's %1212 total

    I have AMD athlon X2 2.6GHz
    with 2GB ram, 400GB HD
    nvidia card with 256MB dedicated ram VGA/DVI outputs
    7 card reader
    DVD recorder with LightScribe DL technology

    NOW :
    the cheapest CPU like this I have found only for
    $181.89 at

    Mb - around 200$
    HD = 89.00$
    Video Card A descent one would run you at least 150
    Case = 50-60$
    RAM 2GB = 100+
    Internal Card Reader = 40
    DVD Recorder = 40+
    Network + modem = 30-40
    WinTv Card 1600 = 100$
    total : 985.89 at least

    So I do not see where is it cheaper. And I was looking on components that are as close to the cheapest as I can find.
    sure you can compromise on MB and memory.
    but why would you?
    infact the final total might even be higher if you opt for good MB (they are at least 250$ and up)
    good RAM thats starting from 100 per 1GB
    nice Case 100+ may not even include Power supply (anouther 50 or so)

    SO where is the savings?

    I do agree that you can build a better system where you know each component and what it can do. but it is definetly not cheaper and the time you spend on hunting all the deals and putting it all together might not be worth it at the end.
    I also belive that among all the OEM out there HP proboly have bets quality when it comes to cases. if you get an HP desctop you can upgraded much more easily then any other OEM out there.
    • PriceWatch

      Pricewatch is your friend. But also, your comparison is not apples to apples. Take the video card, you can get a 256MB video card for 50 bucks (actualy I just got a 512MB ATI x1300 for 68 off, but you did not specify the model of the one that you have int he above machine, so its hard to compare. As for a motherboard, you can easily get one for around 100-125 bucks, and it will have built in LAN, so no need for a network card add-on. As for a modem, do people still use those?! And you can get an SATA Pioneer DVD burner for 35 bucks.