Building a low-end PC: Just say no

It sounds like a good idea until you realize the level of effort isn't actually worth it.

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes is one of my favorite writers on ZDNet. I love how he researches all the latest PC components that have the best value and performance per dollar and then figures out how to save computer hobbyists money.


For the last several years, he's been writing seasonal posts that contains his best picks for matched components so that you can build a good performance low-cost PC yourself, instead of going to the Tier-1 OEMs, like HP, Dell, Acer and Lenovo.

If you're putting together a PC whose components cost you $300 to source, you are not shrewd. You are a schmuck.

I enjoy his posts immensely. I really do. I love PC components. I used to build PCs, usually once a year or so, sometimes more, for family and friends. I've built from scratch at least a hundred systems over the course of my professional involvement in the computer industry since the late 1980s. Perhaps even more, now that I think about it.

But now, unless you're an edge case, it doesn't make sense. I stopped building PCs a long time ago. 

If you want a "cheap and cheerful PC to handle some simple tasks" you shouldn't be surfing the web for parts and then blowing an entire Sunday afternoon putting it together thinking you've saved a hundred dollars and gotten oh-so-much-better-components for your hard-earned money.

Look, I'm going to be blunt. If you're putting together a PC whose components cost you $300 to source, you are not shrewd. You are a schmuck.

I didn't have to look very long to find very similar, fully-built PCs manufactured by Tier 1 vendors that cost approximately $300. A simple search of the usual suspects yielded these results:

Best Buy:



Microsoft Store:

Image: Microsoft Store

This is just a representative sample and I haven't scrounged the web for better deals, of which I am absolutely positive there are if you are willing to invest more time than the whole 10 minutes I put into it. And by the way, that ASUS VivoBook deal at the Microsoft Store? ZDNet's Ed Bott told me about it, and I'd jump on it quick if you need a new and inexpensive notebook system.

You could argue that Adrian's bill of materials is about 20 or 30 dollars cheaper than the systems above, and his components may be slightly higher speced, but I will add the following:

  • Every single one of these PCs comes with a Windows 8 license. Unless you're using Linux, or are re-using a valid retail, non-OEM Windows 7 license that isn't currently running on another computer, you'll need a copy of Windows for this PC.
  • Software piracy isn't cool. If you need a new Windows 8 license, you will need to buy the System Builder DVD, which I found on Amazon for $95.
  • Every single one of these PCs comes with a keyboard and mouse. That's worth about 20-30 bucks right there.
  • Every single one of these computers has 1-year warranty, and is sold by a online vendor with good customer service and return policies. This in and of itself is not insubstantial especially if you think you can cut corners with OEM bulk "Grey-box" system builder parts which do not have the same warranties of their retail boxed counterparts.

I've said a number of times in the past that PC building no longer makes sense for most people. I have gone into the reasons at length on various occasions, but the bottom line is that cost should not be a determining factor in being your own system builder.

Adrian is by and large addressing the hobbyist that actually enjoys putting computers together. The average end-user should not even consider going this route, no matter how much easier it has gotten to assemble a PC since 25 years ago when I first started doing this. 

I can understand to some extent, but am less than fully convinced that it may still make sense to build an extremely high-end system for an ever-shrinking demographic of extreme PC gaming folks and for engineering and graphical workstations, but for the average end-user that needs a basic system for the reasons Adrian has specified? Heck no.

When was the last time you actually built a PC? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

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