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BYOPC: Build Your Own PC

Visalia Direct: Virtual Valley
May 6, 2013 Deadline
June 2013 Issue

BYOPC: Build Your Own PC

Building your own computer lets you decide what matters most: processor speed, graphics, storage, sound or something else. Multiplayer gamers dominate the BYOPC movement, with a willingness to spend serious money for every potential advantage over opponents. Vendors recognize this, so many of the parts available target the gaming market.

I enjoy assembling computer systems and encourage my students to try it. If you do join the BYOPC ranks, plan to build a powerful, high-end system. First, you will save more if you build a top-notch system. Second, such systems are easier to upgrade and maintain for several years. My experience is that if you plan to spend at least $1000, BYOPC is worth it. If you plan to spend even more, the benefits of BYOPC increase dramatically.

Don’t build a cheap computer, unless it is only a learning exercise. I compare building a cheap system to assembling an FM radio kit from Radio Shack. You can buy a better radio for less, but you won’t learn much. The process of selecting components, assembling a computer and then optimizing the system leads to a better understanding of technology.

Only ten years ago, you could assemble a system for much less than buying a similar computer. However, today’s commodity PC vendors can build a system for less money than you would spend on the parts. Comparing the specifications of vendor systems to the equivalent parts on Newegg, Micro Center, and TigerDirect, reveals the following, as of Spring 2013:

Basic system. Intel Core i3, 4GB of RAM, 500GB hard drive, integrated graphics. This low-end system averages $400 from a variety of vendors, often including a monitor. The BYOPC version averages $350, and doesn’t include an operating system or monitor. If you already have a screen, you might save $50.

Mid-range system. Intel Core i5, 8GB of RAM, 1TB hard drive, 1GB video card. The pre-built systems with these specifications average $700. I can build a similar system, with a bit more speed and hard drive storage, for the same price. For these systems, monitors were not included by the vendors, so the pricing is roughly equal.

As the comparisons reveal, assembling a custom system seldom saves as much money as people expect. For the low-end and mid-range systems, I discourage assembling your own. You won’t save much money, and if there are any problems with parts it can be frustrating.

If you’re going to do something, do it right. For BYOPC projects, that means build the best system you can afford. Averaging the ideal configurations suggested by popular online magazines, spending $2000 to $2500 results in an excellent business or gaming system. MaximumPC offers BYOPC guides with complete parts lists. Their ideal systems start at $3500 for components, and that’s shopping carefully for the best prices for good parts.

Few people want or need to spend more than $2000 on a computer. Because prices change quickly, I’m providing a basic guide for a “good” system. Ideally, you could assemble a similar system for less than $1500.

Your first choice, since it determines everything else, is the CPU. For the majority of users, an Intel Core i7 is ideal, at $300. After you select a CPU, you need to buy a motherboard with a socket that accepts the chip. I like ASUS and Gigabyte motherboards. Buy a $250 motherboard and you can upgrade almost every other component over time. The $550 invested in the CPU and motherboard are the biggest BYOPC expenses.

Hard drives, memory and other components are relatively affordable. You can buy a good terabyte hard drive for $150, 16GB of RAM for $100, and a decent video card for $200. Our total for parts is now $1000. A good case to hold these parts, with a power supply and cooling fans, finishes our computer for $200.

For $1200, you can assemble a good BYOPC kit. This assumes you already own a monitor, keyboard and mouse. Most people will also add an optical drive, for $50 to $100. Most BYOPC projects end up costing a little more than planned because people add components and upgrade the essentials.

If you try to save too much money, you might end up upgrading parts within a few months. The most common upgrade is a replacement video card. Do not try to save money on video cards, you will regret it.

Other than gamers, BYOPC projects appeal to photographers and filmmakers. The hardware required for video editing is expensive, but you can save thousands of dollars assembling your own system.

One of my former college roommates is a professional film editor. He suggests that anyone interested in video editing, animation or other power-hungry computing tasks spend at least $5000 on components. Since a 1TB solid-state drive (SSD) costs $1000 or more, the cost of speed quickly adds up. An Intel Xeon E5 CPU, which is much better for encoding media than the i7 CPU series, is $2000 from Newegg. That’s just a chip, not a complete system. The estimated cost of assembling a “Dream PC” for video editing using MaximumPC’s “Editors’ Choice” parts is $14,482.

If you are interested in BYOPC project, do your homework first. Read the popular hardware guides carefully. Remember that a gamer and a videographer have different needs, so they will invest more on different components. The hardware sites often focus on gaming, ignoring the computing needs of computer-aided design (CAD), animation and media encoding.

The best part of building a PC is that it is yours. You designed it, you assembled it and you can upgrade the components in the future.


Best Reviews of BYOPC Components:
Tom’s Hardware (http://www.tomshardware.com)
MaximumPC (http://www.maximumpc.com)
AnandTech (http://www.anandtech.com)
TechRadar (http://www.techradar.com/us)
PCWorld (http://www.pcworld.com)
Hot Hardware (http://hothardware.com)
Computer Shopper (http://www.computershopper.com)

Component Suppliers:
Newegg (http://www.newegg.com)
Tiger Direct (http://www.tigerdirect.com)
Micro Center (http://www.microcenter.com)
Fry’s Electronics (http://frys.com)
CDW (http://www.cdw.com)
PC Connection (http://www.pcconnection.com)

High-end PC Vendors:
Alienware (http://www.alienware.com)
Digital Storm (http://www.digitalstormonline.com)
Origin (http://www.originpc.com)
XoticPC (http://www.xoticpc.com)



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