1. Choice of components – you are free to select better quality, larger capacity or faster components and easily remove/add components to create the ideal specification with better future-proofing or upgrade potential.
2. Choice of operating system – if buying Windows (OEM version, same as on a new PC) you have a choice between Windows 7 (e.g. Home Premium 64bit) or Windows 8 – both currently the same price. However, most PC’s off the shelf now offer Windows 8 only.
3. Operating system disc – Windows OEM buyers get an actual Windows disc whereas most off the shelf systems only offer a ‘restore partition’ on the hard drive. If the hard drive fails you lose that restore partition – unless you have created recovery discs you have no way to reinstall Windows on a new drive. There are also times when a full Windows disc may be required e.g. when repairing Windows with System File Checker (SFC).
4. No crapware – most off the shelf systems come loaded with a ton of useless software and trials that manufacturers are paid to pre-install. These slow down a PC and uninstalling them all can take some time – inevitably bits will be left behind after removal too. Installing Windows yourself means you start off with a clean install, free of such rubbish and remnants.
5. Value for money – not the same as price matching… Off the shelf PCs typically suffer from the industry’s race to the bottom – components and specs may be skimped on to achieve the lowest possible price and attract the average (non-tech) buyer.
As an example, yesterday we considered price matching and compared the self-build cost of CyberpowerPC’s $680 Gamer Xtreme 1347 PC – we concluded that it would cost us $18 more to build it ourselves. However, as a ‘Gamer’ PC it suffers a major drawback – the included graphics card is poor (only $54) and isn’t actually much good for games.
Many reviewers had to buy a better graphics card – not good for those who bought off the shelf because they didn’t want to get stuck into a PC’s innards… Self-builders could have saved $54 by buying the right card in the first place – incidentally that saving would have reduced the total build price to less than the off the shelf PC price too.
Another example from the same PC is that the included B75 chipset motherboard has very few overclocking options to make best use of the included i5-3570K CPU. Self-builders could choose a chipset more suited to overclocking – the motherboard isn’t something you can just change afterwards.
A suitable analogy is that of a car artificially limited to 50mph – it’s still perfectly drivable but spending an extra $50 (on a better motherboard) would remove that limit. Town drivers (internet, email, music, Twitter) may not find that worthwhile but those who travel a lot (gamers and power users) would welcome the speed boost.
Failure Of The PC Market?
The flaws in the PC above are not uncommon with mainstream PCs – they are aimed at the mainstream and are built down to the lowest price rather than up to a fulfill a desire or need. Some argue that the mainstream user is the only game in town for the PC industry but look how well that’s going – PC sales are declining and global PC shipments fell over 8% last quarter.
Most of the gamers I know (and an increasing number of power users) build their own PCs precisely because the industry doesn’t provide what they need – whilst the sought after ‘mainstream’ user is rapidly falling out of love with cheap and compromised PCs in favor of smartphones and tablets. Users with advanced requirements or who want a fast non-gaming PC are left having to either buy a top end gaming PC after all (which may be over-specced for their needs) or build their own.
That’s just the situation I found last week – I’ve always built my own PCs in the past but would have been happy to save time and just buy one. So I searched for an Intel i5 based PC that had SATA3 ports, a SATA3 SSD as a fast boot drive and, preferably, overclocking potential.
I don’t think that’s too much to ask but even a simple requirement like a SATA3 SSD was enough to rule out most sub-$1000 boxes – it was either not an option or was restricted by a SATA2 motherboard or else the PC had other issues like a weedy 300W power supply which wouldn’t power extra hard drives etc. If you have to immediately upgrade with new components you lose all the cost advantage of buying an off the shelf system in the first place.
So I again ended up building my own – and did save money because the only off the shelf alternatives that covered all the bases were incredibly expensive gaming PCs with high end graphics cards which I didn’t need.
I have posted the specs of my new sub-$1000 power user PC own build with my comments, rationale behind the choices and alternatives for a cheaper build.
Building your own PC is still the only way to get the choice, components, quality and specification that you want or need. The build process is not as hard as it used to be (remember IRQ assignments?) if you buy components that are well matched – there are lots of videos on the web for each stage but it does require some learning and experience.
As an alternative, a good local tech might charge $50 – $100+ (depending on how much software installation is required) to build a new PC from scratch.