Home  >>  Write  >>  Technology  >>  Computers  >>  Build or Buy


Build or Buy?  Dell, Gateway, Compaq, IBM

So you want a new computer!  Congratulations.  The question is: are you going to build it yourself or buy it complete from a distributor?  There are many considerations to take into account before proceeding with a computer purchase.  Let’s consider some of them!


When time is of the essence, a pre-built computer is probably your best choice.  Unless you are particularly skilled at running from store to store to get your parts, and can assemble things with lightning-fast fingers, a store-built or distributor-built PC is the way to go.  Major distributors like Dell could conceivably deliver your PC within a matter of days to two weeks.  It really just depends on the availability of the parts and the speed of the courier network in your neighborhood.  The good thing about a pre-built computer is that there is a minimal amount of setup.  They usually come with software pre-installed.  Unfortunately, this also means that you have little choice about what goes into the computer and where it goes on your hard drive.  If you’re a control freak when it comes to computers, you should really build it yourself.


Some say that time is money, but I think this is an entirely separate consideration to make when approaching a computer purchase.  If you want to go cheap, you should build it yourself.  By purchasing OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts you can save on the order of 10% to 50% of the component costs!  OEM parts are the exact same components that you can buy in the full retail package, except minus a lot of the extras that come with it.  These are usually sold to distributors at discount prices so that they can build systems.  Creative Labs, for instance, might sell an OEM sound card to Dell for use in a Dell-branded system.  These parts always filter down to local computer stores where they can be purchased at lower prices.  Unfortunately, the warranties and cables usually don’t come with the component.  If you know what you’re doing, OEM parts can save you a lot of money.  If you’re building a high-end system, you’ll also want to purchase the parts yourself.  The only time you should buy a distributor’s system is due to other considerations.

Reliability and Service

In this department, the distributors win.  The reason why prices are usually jacked up for a Dell or Gateway computer is because they extensively test their systems and components and only use the best.  Furthermore, each distributor’s customer support is usually available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.  Both Dell and Gateway are known for excellent customer service.  They’ll send you replacement parts, computers, or even a repair technician if you’re ever in need of help.  When you build things yourself you aren’t protected by a general system warranty.  Instead, you’ll have to rely on different warranties for each part.  However, if you know what you’re doing you won’t need customer service support anyway.


If you want full control over the performance of your computer, you should build it yourself.  Many distributed PCs come with distributor-specific add-ons and a whole whack of useless programs that will sap your PC’s performance or restrict it in some way.  For instance, most distributor computers can’t be opened without voiding the warranty.  You can’t even open it up to clear out dust or add upgrades!


While not the most important of categories, it’s still something you should consider.  Distributor-made PCs often have a uniform look to their color and finish.  Hand-built PCs are often a hodge-podge of different parts and colors.  High-end hard-core PC builders sometimes add extra touches like see-through cases, neon lights, and all sorts of useless bells and whistles.  In the end, I’d say who cares about this sort of stuff?  But if it matters to you, consider it.

Who’s the best PC maker?

I’ve never owned a PC built by someone else.  Let’s just get that piece of information right out there.  However, I have used and helped to fix many computers built by local and national PC builders.  In my experience, I’ve liked the PCs built by Dell and Gateway the best.  IBM is pretty good, but their prices are a bit suspicious to me and I personally don’t like IBM components like their hard drives.  I’m not sure why anyone would bother with a Compaq or HP computer.  I’ve found them to be the poorest of the bunch.

From my understanding, distributed PCs are best for commercial enterprises that need lots of the same PCs at once.  They’re also a good choice for small businesses or home businesses because of the customer support and one convenient billing location.

A home-built PC is the ultimate in performance and price if you know how to do it right.  If you’re not skilled in computer building, I would not recommend that you ever try it.  You could waste a lot of money by doing it wrong and damaging the hardware.  Or, you could waste your time trying to set up the operating system and software.  I’ll briefly go over hardware and hardware installation in another article, so you may want to grab a few pointers from there.  For software information, please jump across to the software categories.