Help in building my own PC
August 18, 2004 4:12 AM   Subscribe

I want to build my next PC instead of buying one off the shelf. Your assistance is requested. (mi)

I am looking for the best source for cheap parts whether that be through a magazine or a website.

What would you suggest / avoid?

I am starting from scratch. And this will be my first time building a scratch system.
posted by chiababe to Computers & Internet (34 answers total)
I have used new egg with much success... including an RMA.

Also, whoever you choose you can check with reseller ratings for insight on the reseller you are considering.
posted by pissfactory at 4:27 AM on August 18, 2004

Which country are you located in?
posted by ajbattrick at 4:33 AM on August 18, 2004

You'll find it more expensive to make one than to buy one, but it's good fun. I don't know if this info is relevant anymore, but I was once told that it didn't matter if you plugged the wrong plugs into the wrong holes (i.e. You wouldn't break the PC), with the exception being the two fat white power connectors which plug into the motherboard. These absolutely have to be connected the right way round.
posted by seanyboy at 4:40 AM on August 18, 2004

Avoid TigerDirect, though the prices will seem very tempting. I've heard entirely too many stories of people having their personal information sold by TD to various shady characters.

For pure comparison purposes, PriceGrabber is great. Go pick up a copy of Computer Shopper just to get a feel for what's out there. But the combination of price, quality of service, and ease of ordering makes NewEgg the best place (in the U.S. at least) to order most components, IMHO.
posted by arco at 4:42 AM on August 18, 2004

Well, it might not be cheaper but you'll be using quality parts - not the junk you get in most off-the-shelf systems.

I don't know what your requirements are, but in the last couple of years I've become a barebones-system convert - I like the ones from shuttle, but there are plenty of others around. The advantage is that they're small and quiet - two things that home-built systems traditionally aren't. They may not have space for loads of internal drives, but the availability of firewire and USB2 peripherals means that's really not a problem anymore.
posted by cell at 4:47 AM on August 18, 2004

You'll find it more expensive to make one than to buy one, but it's good fun.

That's not necessarily true. Sure, you can get a cheap P4 through Dell or something, but that's damned near comparing apples and oranges, because the quality of the parts are pretty subjective, depending on what manufacturer is dealing with the OEM this week. So, you can get one for a few hundred cheaper, maybe, but if you bought the same crap that they use, I doubt that there would be much difference.

In my experience, building one on your own results in a very stable system that you know inside and out. It's not that difficult to do once you start getting into it.

Read Maximum PC magazine. This month's issue has a dream machine for 12k! Seriously, it's a great resource for parts, etc. Sure, they tend to go a bit overboard with what they think a person needs, but they know their target audience (gamers, mostly).
posted by adampsyche at 4:52 AM on August 18, 2004

> You'll find it more expensive to make one than to buy one, but it's good fun.

I dunno. I acquired two new PCs over the summer, A Dell P4 for my teenage daughter who won't touch anything that doesn't have a brand name, and an Athlon for me. I built Ars Technica's budget box, nothing carried over from my old system except the hard drives and the video card. Cost about $700 and outperforms the Dell, which cost $1200. Got most of the parts at new egg, recommended above.
posted by jfuller at 5:16 AM on August 18, 2004

Just to make this a more useful reference to more people in future.. in the UK I'd recommend eBuyer. They also supply the US, but their US store seems to have far less stock, although could be worth a go. They're very good in the UK though, usually the best prices on the market, and a very easy site to use and browse (I often browse just for the fun of it!). I'd personally advise steering clear of DABS. Insight UK are also pretty good, but pricier than eBuyer.

I'd second NewEgg for the US. I haven't used them myself, but I have friends who do, and only hear good things.

In terms of building a computer, I have one crucial tip: Do NOT buy generic memory! Always make sure you get a proper brand name like Crucial, Kingston, or Corsair. Crucial are my favourite, as they tend to be low price but very reliable.
posted by wackybrit at 5:34 AM on August 18, 2004

When I built my Athlon box, I went to Tom's Hardware for product reviews and buying advice (mainly motherboards). Ordered most of the bits from New Egg, as mentioned multiple times above.

I ended up paying more to build than I might have getting something off the rack, but the key is you get to allocate where the bucks go. I bought a cheapo case and a small drive (I've got storage on other machines), but spent well on the MB, video card, CPU fan, power supply, and RAM.

My two cents:

a. Double check that everything you buy plays well together, matching the correct type and speed of RAM to the MB, HD serial connections, etc.

b. Have a large, open work space, all your parts and tools handy, an anti-static wrist strap, and most importantly, work slowly and methodically.
posted by jalexei at 6:06 AM on August 18, 2004

As to the cost question raised above:

If you buy the stock systems that companies like Dell offer, you're likely to get a slightly cheaper deal than if you build the same stock system. The problem is that the stock systems suck. How can you buy a top of the line system but only have 256mb ram or a tiny harddrive or a crap graphics card? So then you have to start changing the settings at Dell to the upgraded parts that you need and the upgrades absolutely kill the savings. In the end, after shipping and handling costs are accounted for, building a system will save you money - I saved about $150 on a $1000 system myself.
posted by crazy finger at 6:28 AM on August 18, 2004

don't forget pricewatch!

You'll find it more expensive to make one than to buy one,

11 times out of 10, I've found that this isn't true. and when it is true, it's generally because the manufacturer has off-set the costs by skimping on the specs that most folks don't really pay attention to, like low wattage power supplues or low rpm hard drives, or by taking a kick-back from other companies by loading lots of great special software offers that most in-the-know folks trip overthemselves to uninstall.

I've consistently saved hundreds of dollars on every system I've ever built for myself and friends. and plus, it's just a great learning experience.
posted by mcsweetie at 7:45 AM on August 18, 2004

I've built a few PCs, yeah, I end up spending more than for a Dell box but it's usually because I'm after stuff that the Dell box doesn't offer. For instance I spend a few extra bucks on a fast Seagate drive rather than whatever's cheapest because I've had excellent longevity from Seagate drives and abysmal longevity from Maxtor and others. The low end Dell boxes are usually somewhat limited in memory expansion, so I spend more for a motherboard without those limitations.

Last time I ended up spending a couple hundred more for my system than a similar Dell box but had significant upgrades in the areas that were important to me.
posted by substrate at 7:53 AM on August 18, 2004

Dell wins on price, I think, because they get their operating systems cheaper than you can (legally) do on your own; also because they make TONS of money selling extra memory. NEVER buy memory from Dell.

By building yourself and picking a good, name brand motherboard, you stand a much better chance of keeping your computer modern through upgrades later.

Pricewatch has a pretty good search engine for components of all types.

Spend the money on a good case. Lian Li, for example. People actually review cases. I've built Shuttles, too, and I think they're great.

Don't buy any components until you know what all of your components will be: case, power supply, motherboard, processor, graphics card, memory, hard drive, optical drive(s), peripherals. (If you're getting something like a shuttle then a lot of these things fall out).

Choose a processor type (AMD, Intel) first, and don't worry too much about which you get. Both will play games, run spreadsheets, prepare resum├ęs and surf the web just fine.

My research started with "roundup" type reviews of popular components -- motherboards, for example. After that I went to specific reviews of the roundup winners. Then I went to the newsgroups to learn about problems with those components. Then I went to the manufacturers' support forums to learn about solutions to the problems. Don't forget that a lot of the Internet chatter about components is written by, and for, twelve-year-old boys. If there's some specific thing about a component that worries you (the BIOS makes it difficult to overclock!), ask yourself whether it will really apply to you.

Watch your shipping fees. They can really add up. Consider consolidating small purchases through one vendor.

Have fun! Building your own computer can be incredibly edifying.
posted by coelecanth at 7:55 AM on August 18, 2004

I love newegg, they are incredibly good at having relatively low prices and being straightforward about their RMA system. Tom's Hardware is not the best place to check things for because they are often biased. I recommened Anandtech.
posted by riffola at 8:11 AM on August 18, 2004

Lots of good advice upthread. Large manufacturers buy RAM, hard drives, etc., in bulk at a discount. They can specify the quality level acceptible. They tend to specify generic parts and pretty good quality, because support is very expensive. Following the advice above and using Ars and Toms for advice, you should be able to get good quality at good prices. The cheapest part may be from a lot with a poor quality level.

You're likely to save by providing your own support and on software. Dell, Gateway, etc., pay a discounted price to Microsoft for the OS, and usually some version of an office suite, Office, Works, Corel, whatever. You may choose OpenOffice, and you may migrate Windows from your retired pc. So you may see some savings.

It's well worth doing, as you will learn a lot.
posted by theora55 at 8:33 AM on August 18, 2004

newegg is indeed good, and pricewatch is a good spot to start looking for low price deals, but i wouldn't buy from anywhere that i hadn't heard of - check return policy, restock fees, etc. just in case something doesn't work. newegg might charge you a few bucks more for a part, but they'll make it easy for you to return it, and that's worth the extra.

also - don't go cheap. buy retail. unboxed stuff isn't always worth the discount. retail parts have the manuals, the boxes, etc. so you know they'll have all the required parts. it's much easier to install a CPU knowing the correct voltage settings, etc. than it is to try and look it up online, 'specially if you don't currently have a working computer to look it up with!

i've built a few, and talked people through a build over the phone even. it always, always has been easier with retail parts.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:53 AM on August 18, 2004

Newegg and Pricewatch. When I built my brothers computer, I first scoured pricewatch, but ended buying everything from newegg to avoid multiple shipping fees. Buy a nice power supply, and a nice processor fan. Also, some of the stuff I bought OEM and had no problems - sound card, RAM, etc.
posted by cohappy at 9:14 AM on August 18, 2004

I've always found Sharky Extreme's weekly CPU and RAM price guides to be really helpful because they identify both current trends and good deals.
posted by mmcg at 9:22 AM on August 18, 2004

I've built my last three machines and have upgraded all my computers myself. It may or may not save you money but you can choose exactly the parts you want and you'll learn quite a bit about how the hardware works and how to configure the operating system.

One word of advice: get a good case. You don't have to get a really expensive one, but a well designed case will significantly reduce your frustration. Read reviews to find what people think, or just go with a name brand like Antec.

And let me add my voice to jalexei's in saying be careful about static. While seanyboy is right about the plugs these days you can still fry stuff with a zap you might not even feel. I'm pretty sure I killed a motherboard this way. Buy and use an antistatic wristband. It's cheap insurance.
posted by Songdog at 9:25 AM on August 18, 2004

I would suggest a local computer shop. If you find a good one, prices will be almost as good as what you can find on the web, but sales and tech support will be better by an order of magnitude or three.

One not-very-accurate method of identifying a good shop: ask for an ethernet crossover cable. If they say "sure, I'll make one up. That'll be $5" it's a good one. If they say "sure, here you go. That'll be $35" it's not so good. If they say "huh? what's Cross over mean?" you've wandered in to the wrong place.
posted by sfenders at 9:26 AM on August 18, 2004

My strategy: get on Dell's specials mailing list. Wait for a good sale. Buy an absolutely minimal system with the CPU you want and an acceptable motherboard (you can get it without OS if you're buying what they call a server.) Replace all components -- memory, hard drive, video card -- with ones you've shopped for yourself. Read TechBargains, SlickDeals, DealNews for specials and rebates (and check your local Craigslist and Ebay, too.)

My Dell's case sucks, but I have no complaints with the CPU, motherboard, power supply, which are the only original parts left.
posted by Zed_Lopez at 10:00 AM on August 18, 2004

Just want to throw another hand up for NewEgg, their prices are generally excellent, their service great, including RMAs which I've also had to use because of a cable which was DOA. If you absolutely must have that extra $5 cheaper buy, then PriceWatch is great, BUT BUT BUT as has only been touched on here, USE RESELLERRATINGS.COM!!

They will allow you to see just how reputable a no-name seller is; there's just too much of a chance of getting poor parts, poor service, or even (rarely) totally ripped off by a small online shop which is claiming to have a superb price nobody else can match.

To weigh in on the price factor and to reiterate what others have said, the comparison to a similarly-specced Dell depends on what quality parts you put in. You can outprice Dell by aggressively using Pricewatch+ResellerRatings and getting the absolute cheapest OEM version of everything, but such a system will have a higher chance of something busting sooner than a more expensive version.

Doesn't necessarily mean that a computer constructed that way will fall apart in a week, just that it will likely crap out sooner than if you went with NewEgg and got the stuff that costs $10-20 more or whatnot.

I'm in the market for building a new gaming rig sometime in the next 6-12 months, and I am definitely going to buy everything from NewEgg both for prices and for the knowledge that if anything is DOA or I have other issues, I have a known reputable retailer to work with, and only one :)
posted by cyrusdogstar at 10:23 AM on August 18, 2004

Screw Pricewatch. Too many scammers polluting the pool.

The solution (really, it's the only one, the best one, the one above all others, the one God invented for you, etc.) is to get your ass over to The reasons:
  • They have specials going on all the time, but their regular pricing is just about as low as you can possibly get
  • The reviews are particularly helpful
  • Their shipping/handling fees are awesome.
I only buy from NewEgg. If I am looking for something that isn't exactly computer-related, but it's electronic, I'll try NewEgg first (they have lots of categories).

NewEgg, NewEgg, NewEgg. They are the best.

Case in point: I recently purchased a 512Mb CompactFlash card (the crazy-fast, notoriously hard-to-get SanDisk Ultra II). I purchased it for $67, while it sells for more than a hundred everywhere else. The s/h was $0.99. It got here in two days.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:24 AM on August 18, 2004

I had a pretty good experience with MWave. They seem to stock good cross-section of just about every component that goes into a typical PC. Plus, they'll even get you started with a minimal hardware bundle.
posted by speedo at 10:42 AM on August 18, 2004

Have a large, open work space, all your parts and tools handy, an anti-static wrist strap, and most importantly, work slowly and methodically.

Maximumpc has an article in its latest issue where it basically debunks the whole "anti static wrist strap".

Sure, it it makes you feel better, do it. But its really just one of those pieces of advice given constantly because no one bothered to question it, and once questioned, proves to be pretty useless.
posted by justgary at 10:43 AM on August 18, 2004

What pretty much everybody else says. Check the price tracking sites all you want, then go buy it at Newegg anyway. ZipZoomFly and MWave are good too if they're cheaper, but they rarely are.
posted by boaz at 10:50 AM on August 18, 2004

Newegg is good, so is mwave. When we built a computer for my friend Jeremy we ended up splitting the order between mwave and newegg and even with shipping it was cheaper than it would have been buying all the parts from either one (the reason we did this is we worked it all out using mwave, but one of the main parts went out of stock when we went to order it).
posted by dagnyscott at 10:50 AM on August 18, 2004

Maximumpc has an article in its latest issue where it basically debunks the whole "anti static wrist strap".

Hmm. Will need to look that up. I guess I figure it can't hurt...
posted by jalexei at 11:38 AM on August 18, 2004

Maximumpc has an article in its latest issue where it basically debunks the whole "anti static wrist strap".

justgary, since you've apparently read the article and I'm interested: are they saying the strap doesn't help with the static problem or that the static problem is not a threat to computer hardware?
posted by Songdog at 12:08 PM on August 18, 2004

I really dislike these questions where the subject does not tell us where he lives. All these recommendations are just great if he lives in the USA. They're a waste of time if it turns out he lives in Slobovia. Grrr.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:27 PM on August 18, 2004

I think I really love Ask Metafilter. It answers the questions I didn't even think to ask.
posted by stoneegg21 at 4:29 PM on August 18, 2004

FFF, chiababe's profile says South Carolina.
posted by viama at 1:11 AM on August 19, 2004

I've been assembling boxes for myself and friends since the 386 days. I used to keep up on all the latest hardware news but don't much bother lately.

If you enjoy cutting-edge computer games, even a little, then you want a gaming rig. It will handle your other needs no problem (unless you are looking for a mission-critical server or somesuch).

Nowadays I pretty much rely on the SharkyExtreme Buyer's Guides Start with the Value Gaming PC as a baseline, and compare to the High-End and Extreme systems to see where you might want to add a little bang for the buck. Also take into account how recent the guide is, if its a month or so old, the prices might have dropped on a slight upgrade.

For purchases I use Pricewatch and NewEgg. Tread carefully with pricewatch, watch the shipping charges and find out if you will be paying sales tax. Go with more established companies even if they cost a bit more. Keep records and go back to vendors that treat you well. If the after tax/shipping price is fairly comparable, go with Newegg for the reliability, service and speed. Keep an eye on SlickDeals and Fatwallet for scoring deals and rebates on components. Some items like cd burners and hard drives come up repeatedly for insanely cheap prices.

Don't pay for more performance than you need right now. Its invariably cheaper to buy what you need now, and upgrade later when you need more. I eyeball pricewatch for each component, and try to spot the point where price/performance ratio jumps considerably. Buy just under that mark, and next year that $400 video card will be on sale for $150. Build with overclocking in mind, but wait to fool around with clock speeds until you've been using it a while and will be able to detect instability caused by overclocking. Using this strategy you will be able to keep yourself on fairly high-end performance for far cheaper that it would cost you buying pre-made boxes from established vendors.
posted by Manjusri at 1:26 AM on August 19, 2004 [2 favorites]

A couple more tips:

You don't need a wrist strap. Use a grounded wall outlet and grab the case before touching components. If at all possible find someone else who needs a PC and build the exact same system at the same time. Having another system to swap parts with dramatically simplifies isolating defective hardware, and makes it easy to cut through the bullshit on the vendor support lines.

Build your system incrementally, starting with the minimum components necessary to function. Test it, and then continue adding components and testing. Or, if you're lazy, throw it all together and cross your fingers. Then if you have trouble, remove or swap components one at a time to isolate the problem.
posted by Manjusri at 1:46 AM on August 19, 2004

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