There is a large debate going back and forth about which is better, “Custom-Built” computers and “Pre-Built” computers. I hope to clear up the confusion and help you decide which is better for you.
A custom-built computer is just that: A computer that has been custom-built. Not necessarily a designer case with etched glass, lights, and such but rather the parts that make up the computer. A computer case is just a protective coating for your computer. You can build a computer in anything, or just leaving it all laying on the table. It has no protection from falling, liquids, static electricity, or anything else that might come it’s way, but the computer would work just fine. I’ve built a computer inside of a fortified pizza box, inside of an old xbox case, and many other weird places. Custom-built means that the parts are gathered from where-ever and connected together, i.e. Motherboard; processor; ram; hard drive; etc… This means the owner of the computer picks and chooses what goes into the computer. If a gaming machine is desired, then the pieces chosen would be focused around video quality, physical multi-core processing, and the fastest memory clock speed. This also means that the parts are swappable for those times they break down or need to be upgraded. The parts aren’t proprietary (unless that is what was chosen) and usually the parts can be gained from many locations.
A pre-built computer are usually those from larger companies such as Dell, HP, Sony, Toshiba, etc… They offer many different choices to try and match the customer’s situation at the lowest price possible. Pre-builds are good for people who are not familiar with computer components and/or not comfortable in building the computer themselves. And if they have to pay some one/company to build the computer anyway, they might as well get one that is already built. The pre-built genre of computers widely range in power, speed, customizability, abilities from a $300 system off of Wal-mart’s shelf to the $2000 gaming Alienware centered around gaming. Basic computers that will just get you on the web, emails, videos, and light gaming to the power-house of massive graphically intense gaming, and CAD work for designing buildings and such.
Quick Breakdown of Differences:
Custom-built = pick the components, get what you want for what you want it for, full swappability, easily repaired, must have knowledge of components and troubleshooting
Pre-built = no knowledge needed, sells team readily available to answer questions and give tips, many companies to compare while shopping, parts are usually proprietary
One of the main focuses of these debates (“Custom-Built” vs “Pre-Built”) is price. Let’s face it, price determines the majority of people’s actions, it all comes down to money. When the average person looks for a new computer and starts shopping around, they see a full array of options to choose from. I’ll describe a few, but there are far to many for the scope of this article.
- $300 Wal-mart computer right off the shelf. That’s right, a $300 full computer system just ready to use right out of the box. A bit hard to believe that these once massively expensive machines at the low price of $300. For most users this is enough to start out with, giving access to the internet, emails, videos and online services like Netflix and Hulu. But everything needs to be balanced, and to get the price this low the manufacturer had to give up some thing(s). Usually in this situation the machine was built with the cheapest parts that could be built at that time which shortens the life of these machines. They tend to break down sooner than any other computers. They sometimes leave parts off of the components losing the ability to upgrade certain things. As a computer repair technician I have had computers brought to me that needed to be upgraded for the user to play games but to our dismay, the computer had no upgrade options. Not even a place for a video card! But for $300 you shouldn’t expect much. These computers are situational, and the situations are someone just needing a computer now to do basic stuff and will upgrade to something better later on.
- $2000 Alienware computer from the manufacturer. Alienware is one of the biggest names in computers, with their snazy name, awesome logo of a black alien head, and their computers being built around powerhouse gaming. They are also some of the most expensive computers you can find, with their parts being that powerful, and being so well known. People have to pay extra for that “Name”, to say, “I have an Alienware”, even though Alienware was bought by Dell several years back and Dell are known for the cheap machines that break down in two years or less. Although that is what Dell is known for, it does not mean Dell makes inferior computers. They XPS systems are quite nice for the price, and the Alienware are of very high quality. These machines are built for gaming, so they are fast, can multitask like a multitasking monster, and can usually do anything you would expect a computer to do with ease. But of course, there are balancing issues as well, most notably the proprietary parts. If you want to upgrade anything, or if something breaks, overheats, or just stops working then you have to get the parts from Alienware, or have them send one of their techs out to fix it. If it’s not covered under warranty or the warranty has run out, then your looking at a huge chunk of change, but for most people that get an Alienware, paying a that much for repairs is usually not a big deal.
- $500 Custom-built. This is where it gets confusing for most people. Custom-builds are usually more expensive than ‘Off-The-Shelf-Pre-Built’ computers because the custom-builds do not use the same “cheaper” parts that sometimes have components left off. Custom-built computers ranges so much from ‘lower-end’ to ‘high-end’ that I can’t describe anything in to much detail. Basically you decide what will be the primary focus for this computer, either internet, games, other and shop around for boards and decide on the ones for you based on stats, price, and warranty. Some parts manufacturers give life-time warranties for their parts such as Gigabyte (as of writing this article), while others only give one or two years. The majority of people who custom-build their computers will get parts that are interchangeable with other parts and so repairing a system or upgrading is as simple as swapping out said part. In general terms when it comes to price comparison, the custom-builds scale with the amount of money spent. Basically, the more money you spend on a custom-build the more power you get out of it compared to pre-build machines. I’m going to use some numbers such as price for comparison, but these are the roughest of rough numbers for comparing, and basically just used because round whole numbers are easier to understand and compare. Let’s say you spend $500 on a computer and the power of that you get is 100. If you were to spend $500 on the the parts for a custom-built the power you get is 100. Now if you were to spend $1000 on each, you would get 200 power for the pre-built and 240 power for the custom-built. Spending $2000 on both would get you 400 power for the pre-built and 520 power for the custom-built.
This is a problem most people have when comparing computers, is just how much power they get out of a computer for the price. For most people this is not an issue. Comparing a $500 computer to a $300 computer that will do nothing but browse websites, check e-mail, and watch videos is a no-brainer. $200 is a lot of money that can go towards something else, getting the consumer two or more items for the price of one item.
For those that are familiar with computer parts, and the differences in power or just want to do more than the basics such as playing graphically intense games like Call of Duty, Crysis, Everquest II, or even World of Warcraft must look at price compared to the power instead of just power.
When I speak of “power” in this article I’m referring to the benchmarking numbers. Benchmarking is a series of tests that your computer goes through to determine what it’s capable of, such as how many dynamic lights can it display in games, or how fast can it browse the web, and such things like that. Windows comes with software pre-installed that is a very basic benchmarking called Windows Experience Index which attaches a number on how well it thinks your computer is doing. Measuring things like hard drive speed, memory speed, etc… To find out more of benchmarking and where your computer stacks up, just google Benchmarking.
Deciding which route to take is entirely on the consumer and their situation. Unfortunately this means that there is no winner in the Custom-Built vs Pre-Built debate. It comes down to what is right for you at that time.
Off-the-shelf pre-builds are nice as temporary computers for school work and basic usage. They are great for situations where something could go wrong and they get damaged and stop working such as for kids to young adults.
Pre-builds from the manufacturers are usually higher quality compared to the off-the-shelf versions but are usually a couple hundred bucks or more in price. They are great for those who do not want to go through the trouble of custom-building their own computer but wants more than just the basic, or something that will last longer. Based on how much the consumer is looking to spend, these machines can range from $300 to the sky. This category includes the Alienware systems that are more expensive and focused around gaming and power users.
Custom-builds are great for everyone that just wants to get involved in the creation of their system or just wants a system to do exactly what they want when they want it. One does not need to know about computer parts, numbers, benchmarking or anything to get a custom-built computer, they just have to know what they want their computer to primarily do (which the user should know this no matter what computer they are getting). There are many techs or just people who know enough to get the job done that anyone can get the custom-built experience without doing the actual custom-building.
Back to the subject of price: I’ve always believed and tried to spread where I could that “You get what you paid for”. Spending $500 on a computer is going to get you better speeds/power, and longer life than if you spend $300. That’s a basic fact known (or at least ‘should’ be known) by everyone with the ability to comprehend the concept of money. Not the use of money, which is trade it for stuff, but the concept of money: It’s a measure of how much work has been done and therefore grants you the ability to gain merchandise and services based on said work. It would be nice if that is the way the system works, but we all know the current system is as far from that as it possibly could be. As a computer tech and just in general with non-computer items, when people buy the knock-off brand of an item they expect it to do everything (and usually more) than the original does, even though they spend less than half the money. There is always a chance the $100 monitor is not going to be as crisp or have the color depth as that $200 monitor. But there are pit falls, such as paying for a brand-name rather than a product. The brand-name Sony is more expensive than the brand-name Gateway regardless on specifications of the item being sold, because Sony is more well known and more popular. Or like a pair of Tommy Hilfiger pants are more expensive than those pants you found on a rack at that clothing depot down the street.
When spending large amounts of money, such as on a computer, it’s generally a good idea to get opinions from those around you, or stop by a specialty store (in this situation, a computer repair shop) and ask questions. Especially with electronics that change so frequently and companies always ‘leap-frogging’ over one another, going to a specialty store and asking people who are paid to keep up with this stuff could save you some serious money, or just get something that keeps you happy much longer than it could have.
I hope this article has helped you in some way, and gets you closer to getting what you want. Good Luck!