Tech Tip of the Week: Buying a Budget PC: DIY vs. OEM

By on July 8, 2010, 4:04 AM
In a previous article, we compared the value of pre-assembled, performance-grade desktops from popular vendors to the DIY Enthusiast's PC recommended in our buying guide. That research left us with the same conclusion hardware buffs have harped on for years: getting your hands dirty results in cash savings as well as some higher quality components.

We are taking another look at the market, but this time focusing on sub-$500 desktops as we compare our Budget Box with two similarly outfitted machines from Dell and HP.


Before getting started, we have to admit that going into this we thought our Budget Box would have a hard time competing with the subsidized bloatware-infested desktops peddled by massive system builders. As it turns out, that's not the case at all.

Continue reading our Tech Tip of the Week.




User Comments: 38

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Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Man do you get a better proccessor on the DIY box, and power supply that is actually decent. overall very nice techspot! although I would change the motherboard for one with a better IGP or with the money left over to even reach the cheapest OEM equivilent you could stick a half decent graphics card in!

Guest said:

Not to be rude......

Your DIY box did "NOT" include the operating system, 1-200 USD.

That would put it more expensive than prebuilt box's....

Just saying.....

MarkHughes said:

Guest said:

Not to be rude......

Your DIY box did "NOT" include the operating system, 1-200 USD.

That would put it more expensive than prebuilt box's....

Just saying.....

Theres allways Linux

grumpiman said:

Made me laugh... no O/S and keyboard or mouse (minor details). Another "objective" comparison between pre-built and buld your own. You guys ought to be selling used cars :-)

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Guest said:

Not to be rude......

Your DIY box did "NOT" include the operating system, 1-200 USD.

That would put it more expensive than prebuilt box's....

Just saying.....

And if you do buy Windows 7 Home (which is under $200), you get the actual full version of Windows, not the crappy OEM system restore software that doesn't even have an actual Windows disc (if it even has any system discs at all). So, if down the road, you upgrade your motherboard, you aren't completely hosed like you are with the OEM pre-built units (which have licenses hard-locked to your OEM hardware). And if you'd like to do something like, say, slipstream your installation to include the latest service packs and such for easy re-installation, you can do that with your full version (but not the OEM disc version). I'd say the end benefits warrant a little higher price in the case of the OS here.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

grumpiman said:

Made me laugh... no O/S and keyboard or mouse (minor details). Another "objective" comparison between pre-built and buld your own. You guys ought to be selling used cars :-)

Did you actually read the article, or just glance at the comparison table at the top?

With input devices and Windows 7 included, if we swap out the Budget Box's better processor for one of the ~$60 chips, it's about the same cost as the OEM systems. All the while, it has a superior power supply, motherboard, warranty, and it ships bloatware-free. It's also more expandable in that you can plan for future upgrades at the time of building (a PSU with proper wattage for a GPU you're planning to buy, a case with ample space and cooling, and so on).

foreverzero89 said:

i have a sub 500 oem box that is better than all of those.

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Guest said:

Not to be rude......

Your DIY box did "NOT" include the operating system, 1-200 USD.

That would put it more expensive than prebuilt box's....

Just saying.....

They did say in the article that actually it would bring it to the same if not more than the OEM box, but if you lower the proccessor down to the same level as the ones in the OEM boxes it would be the same price but with 2 years extra warrenty and superior parts plus long term upgradabilty for the furture. Basically, unless you like throwing away your computers to get something slightly better than your last BUT is pre-made then the OEM's are for you, If you prefer something that will last longer and is upgradeable for the furture plus in making the PC would have better knowledge and understanding of computer hardware, then Making is the better way.

Also on a side note you could easily upgrade the DIY computer with a new graphics card and do some decent gaming!

Burty117 Burty117, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

foreverzero89 said:

i have a sub 500 oem box that is better than all of those.

I'm guessing its made by acer?

Kidding, what are the specs?

jackmei2 said:

to me, a budget box is something you are building to use just as a word processor or to surf the internet and email. I don't really care about upgradeability.... I just want it to run and run for a very long time. budget boxes are what I get for people that are doing just that, internet and email. they will probably use it for a long time and then by the time it becomes too slow (hopefully 5+ years), it will be way too obsolete to upgrade and you basically have to buy a new box.

I mean really, how often would you realistically upgrade components on a budget box? if you are upgrading components every year on a budget box, then you know what? imho you should be building a box that has better components on it that will last longer, ie mid-range systems.

Guest said:

just going on newegg i was able to put together:

Sempron 2.7

Biostar a785GE

3 Gb memory

350W PSU

Asus cd/dvde burner

500Gb 7200 HD

Saphire Radeon HD 4670 512Mb

Windows 7 premium

-and keyboard and mouse

for a grand total of

418.88!!

this may not be an amazing system but it certianly out does any walmart special they sell down the road, and for less

TomSEA TomSEA, TechSpot Chancellor, said:

Up to about 3 years ago, I routinely hand-built budget boxes for friends and family who wanted nothing more than to surf the net, do a little word processing and maybe play a flash game or two. The pricing on individual components made the difference.

Now these OEM boxes are coming with decent enough hardware plus an OS and a warranty to go that route. There are still some drawbacks - it's a 3-hour drill getting rid of all the crapware they come with and to tweak settings for optimization. But if you search the net (TechSpot's Pricewatch listings are a good place to look), you can find some decent deals under $500 for the basic user.

Guest said:

For OS you could always transfer your exiting OS to the new hardware, which essentially means no OS upgrade. Many dont tend to save costs by transferring OS to the new hardware, and the EULA says you need to wipe out clean the OS from the original machine.

If you want an fair comparison of the OEM HW and Custom build HW, you need to minus the bundled OS costs which could be 10-20$ max ( OEM OS costs damn cheap and are rarely refunded )

tipstir tipstir, TS Ambassador, said:

The system featured is ACER (emachine) Those go for $298 bucks at Walmart without the Monitor. OS is included, 2GB of RAM, Single Core AMD, Keyboard and mouse plus stereo speakers. But you can buy a factory scratch and dent Gateway (2009) model year 64-bit Quad-core with 4GB of RAM / upgrade to 8GB of RAM, 640GB SATA II, 10/100/1000 nic, HDMI ATI 3200 HD, 7.1 Dolby Digital HD sound, for only $235 bucks plus s/h. If you like to increase the HDD you have 7 SATA II ports and more. OS is Vista 64-bit with a free upgrade to Windows 7 Home Prem 64-bit. This unit doesn't come with the montior, keyboard, mouse and speakers are included.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Guest said:

For OS you could always transfer your exiting OS to the new hardware, which essentially means no OS upgrade. Many dont tend to save costs by transferring OS to the new hardware, and the EULA says you need to wipe out clean the OS from the original machine.

If you want an fair comparison of the OEM HW and Custom build HW, you need to minus the bundled OS costs which could be 10-20$ max ( OEM OS costs damn cheap and are rarely refunded )

That only works if you bought a full license with your previous PC (in the case of Windows). If you bought an OEM (Dell, Acer, HP, etc.) and didn't pay extra for a full license option, then the license you have is non-transferable, period. There is a reason that OS is a tiny blip on the cost curve of the OEM units - they are given mass licensing deals to include OEM versions of Windows on their products, which are permanently locked to the OEM hardware.

That's why most don't tend to transfer their OS - they can't. And Microsoft likes this deal, they make decent money on quantity sales of OEM licensing, then when you move to a different computer, you have to buy more from them. I'm not entirely sure how this all works with "upgrade" OS purchases, though... I know in the past, if you upgraded an OEM license of Windows, it was just an upgraded OEM license, and still subject to the same limitations as the original version. Has that changed? Anyone know?

matrix86 matrix86 said:

Not only do you still need to buy an OS and a keyboard/mouse (which you can get for really cheap), but you also have to remember that you have to buy the computer case (which you can also get for cheap).

So don't forget to factor in those prices when looking at this.

foreverzero89 said:

burty117 said:

foreverzero89 said:

i have a sub 500 oem box that is better than all of those.

I'm guessing its made by acer?

Kidding, what are the specs?

Base processor: Core 2 Quad Q8200 (Y) 2.33 GHz (95W), 1333 MHz front side bus, Socket 775

Chipset: Intel G33 Express

Motherboard: Manufacturer: Asus, Motherboard Name: IPIBL-LB,

Power supply: 300W

Memory Installed: 8 GB

Memory Speed supported: PC2-6400 MB/sec

Hard drive: 640 GB SATA 3G (3.0 Gb/sec) 7200 rpm

Wireless: 802.11 a/b/g/n PCI Express x1 wireless card

Network (LAN): Integrated 10/100/1000 Base-T networking interface

Sound/Audio: Integrated High Definition audio, Realtek ALC 888S chipset, Supports up to 8 audio channels

DVD +/- R/RW 16X 12X +/- DL LS 12X RAM SuperMulti SATA drive

free upgrade to win 7.

Guest said:

Dells come with fully functional operating system discs.

Vrmithrax Vrmithrax, TechSpot Paladin, said:

Guest said:

Dells come with fully functional operating system discs.

I've had 3 Dell desktops and 4 Dell laptops over the years... None of them have come with OS discs, just their system restore and driver discs.

Is this something they started recently? And, even if it is an OS disc, is it still an OEM license key that locks it to the hardware? Just curious.

Guest said:

where the hell did you get that for under $500?...IS that with a monitor, etc. too?

foreverzero89 said:

Guest said:

where the hell did you get that for under $500?...IS that with a monitor, etc. too?

no monitor, just tower and basic keyboard/mouse.

woot.com FTMFW!

Guest said:

ohhhh. very nice!

Badfinger said:

I'm sorry but the time for on-board video is gone, it's going to get mixed with the CPU soon enough, stick any $30 video card in there instead of that GARBAGE for a huge boost, that's how pathetic that on-board junk is...

Guest said:

the article brings up good points, but i think the article is still flawed. consider your average oem box buyer. if he were too lazy to bother with a diy setup, he's probably too lazy to do any serious upgrading. chances are, he plans to just dump the computer after 2 years or less and buy a new one. i'm one of those guys. the most i'll do is a ram upgrade and a video card upgrade. all oem boxes i've bought could handle that.

also consider that most oem boxes are thrown in with other accessories (like printers should they be needed). i bought a gateway intel i5 750 with 8gb ram, 1tb drive, 300w psu, radeon 5570 1gb, dvd burner, wifi for around 900 bucks canadian. and they threw in a samsung 23" led monitor for an extra 70 bucks. that was a 350-dollar monitor they sold for 1/5 the price. i tried all the computer shops in my area and none could provide a similar diy system (as of may 2010). they'd be close, but not quite there (short 2 gigs of ram and 250gb of drive space and no vid card plus no os).

and the most time i spent on it so far is changed the psu to a 500w so i'll be ready for a bigger vid card and added in the hd from my old system. in the future, all i'll do is maybe put in that new card and maybe upgrade the ram. maybe i'll throw in a bluray drive. that's it. 2 years down the road, i buy a new one.

foreverzero89 said:

yes, if you look for good deals, you can easily get an oen box that costs less than a diy build.

Staff
Matthew Matthew, TechSpot Staff, said:

You can find large sales, combo deals, rebates, open box discounts etc. by going the DIY route as well. In fact, it's probably easier to save a few bucks on your total build by going DIY since there's a greater chance of one or two items being discounted, as opposed to waiting for the price to drop on an entire machine.

captaincranky captaincranky, TechSpot Addict, said:

I've had 3 Dell desktops and 4 Dell laptops over the years... None of them have come with OS discs, just their system restore and driver discs.

Is this something they started recently? And, even if it is an OS disc, is it still an OEM license key that locks it to the hardware? Just curious.

In a frivolous waste of time, I actually read the "builder's license" that comes with an OEM copy of Windows. It is actually stated that you're supposed to image the drive with some preinstall kit after making the initial installation. Which means giving out "restore discs" and not the OEM Windows discs. Anyway, I don't think the big boys buy Windows discs, just Windows licenses.

I don't know what any of this means or what are the ramifications , I'm just letting you know I'm working on my reading skills to the best of my abilities.

And now on to DIY:

My personal approach is to create a bookmark folder such as "My New Computer", where I list the likely hardware purchases for a machine. Then I go through it periodically, checking for sales pricing, and comparing prices with the Email specials. "Free shipping, "Shell Shocker" and "Promo Codes" get my undivided attention. Generally I find that anything necessary / wanted, will cycle through in a 1 or 2 month period. I'm lucky enough to be near a "Microcenter", and sometimes they're actually cheaper than Newegg on a given item. IE, I bought a Cooler Master "Hyper 212" HSF for $19.95. While Newegg had it for $30.00. Likewise a Core i3-530 for $99.95 when it's usually $110.00 + at "The Egg". (This ignores the 6% sales tax in PA, which pretty much evens the price, but you walk out with the thing in your hand, how cool is that)?

Anyway shop wisely, and don't forget, since you'll be using your credit card for mail order, you have to get that extra few bucks off everything, since you'll wind up paying interest on your stuff, and the savings will help to offset that.

mailpup mailpup said:

the most i'll do is a ram upgrade and a video card upgrade.
Well, fine. No problem. No offense but you contradict yourself a bit later. To wit:
and the most time i spent on it so far is changed the psu to a 500w so i'll be ready for a bigger vid card and added in the hd from my old system. in the future, all i'll do is maybe put in that new card and maybe upgrade the ram. maybe i'll throw in a bluray drive. that's it.
So you have changed or are planning to change RAM, video card, PSU, hard drive and optical drive. I thought you said you were too lazy to do all that.

Night Hacker Night Hacker said:

To those that keep saying you have to buy an OS, no, you do not. You can get Ubuntu for free, it's a 64 bit operating system that will run quite a few Windows programs via WINE as well as a large number of software titles available for free (this could be worth it alone if you're on a budget). As for keyboard and mouse, come on, you can get them both for under $20, although a person building a new system probably already have a keyboard, mouse and probably a monitor.

Even if it costs more, I still highly recommend buying your own parts as you can choose better quality parts that better suit your needs (or lower quality depending on your needs) and that will not only teach you more about how your system is built, but better prepare you for upgrading it in the future. It's EASY to go cheap, and save lots of money now.... but LONG TERM is key here. You won't be saving money if you buy cheap parts now and then have to replace some of them more often. I used to have to upgrade my computer every 2 years because I went cheap. After I decided to buy better quality parts, it cost me more now, but they lasted a few years longer which in the long term cost me much less, and saved the hassle of rebuilding/installing etc, plus you'll get the improved performance, something you'll never know with cheap parts.

TheQuestian said:

The point for and against OEMs is well-taken, I think. IMO, it's really not a worthwhile struggle trying to price-match a monitor-included-OS-included-value-box deal from Dell or Best Buy under $500. But I still wouldn't recommend it to my mother. I take into consideration the QUALITY of the components that the average user thinks "won't matter," like the power supply, motherboard, and chassis.

Thinking carefully about it; what is the typical reason for replacing an OEM system? Catastrophic failure beyond reasonable repair. I take into consideration the likelihood of disaster (failed PSU, failed motherboard) and how much that is worth to me. Really, when it comes down to brass tacks, how important is your data, and how necessary is your machine? If the response is "not very," to both of those, then by all means, grab a great deal with the kitchen sink thrown in. But I hope you won't expect reliability (term papers, family photos, etc.), and won't depend too heavily on it a year or two down the line. Remember, these are the things that you once found overpriced.

Surely, there are more reliable OEMs out there, but every wire and screw will be double-checked and double-tested before anyone in my family powers on a system, and I will sleep better nights. At least until someone needs tech support.

Just my $.02.

Guest said:

"So you have changed or are planning to change RAM, video card, PSU, hard drive and optical drive. I thought you said you were too lazy to do all that."

i changed the psu for the possibility of adding a vid card in the future. that took less than a half hour and requires no intimate knowledge of computer hardware. (take the old psu out, put new one in, match the connectors to the components; it's so incredibly simple.) adding ram or changing the vid card is even quicker. blu-ray only if the future mandates it. those things are minor compared to building an entire system from the ground up after buying all the individual components after doing the necessary research to know that they'll all work together. that's the stuff i'm too lazy for.

my point is i don't have the time to **** around to do all the computer research, build a system from the ground up, and install an os on it. i want to just buy a box, take it home, and have it running in 10 mins of it entering the house. that's pretty hard to do with a diy.

Guest said:

"The point for and against OEMs is well-taken, I think. IMO, it's really not a worthwhile struggle trying to price-match a monitor-included-OS-included-value-box deal from Dell or Best Buy under $500. But I still wouldn't recommend it to my mother. I take into consideration the QUALITY of the components that the average user thinks "won't matter," like the power supply, motherboard, and chassis.

Thinking carefully about it; what is the typical reason for replacing an OEM system? Catastrophic failure beyond reasonable repair. I take into consideration the likelihood of disaster (failed PSU, failed motherboard) and how much that is worth to me. Really, when it comes down to brass tacks, how important is your data, and how necessary is your machine? If the response is "not very," to both of those, then by all means, grab a great deal with the kitchen sink thrown in. But I hope you won't expect reliability (term papers, family photos, etc.), and won't depend too heavily on it a year or two down the line. Remember, these are the things that you once found overpriced.

Surely, there are more reliable OEMs out there, but every wire and screw will be double-checked and double-tested before anyone in my family powers on a system, and I will sleep better nights.

At least until someone needs tech support. ;)"

this is a ridiculous assertion. you're implying that oems are automatically inferior by measure of reliability because you think that the manufacturer has cut costs in quality in assembly. this is an assumption with very little imperical data to support it.

most machines, be it oem or diy, break down because of improper use. this happens more to oems though because there are more people out there that buy oems that lack basic computer knowledge. the diy guys know how to maintain the machine that they put together. they're more computer-savvy. the average guy that bought that cheap dell doesn't. and chances are, that guy will be more likely to get a virus in his computer or do something worse on it. i don't like building my own computers. but like my the cars, i maintain my computers. my oem computers worked perfectly until the day i replaced them due to obsolescence. after all, in the end, the components in your diy are still mass-produced components that came out of china or something. and like oem boxes, those components were subject to the same quality control as oem boxes on the assembly line and thus are subject to the same tolerances as most other mass-produced electronics goods.

also, if your psu or motherboard fails, your data is still there, safe on the hard drive (assuming, of course, you save often if you value your data to begin with). now unless your diy hard drive was hand built by gods or something, i don't see how you can guarantee that your drive is more reliable than my oem's. there's even a good chance they were built by the same company. in the end, if your data is so valuable, then back them up as you have always been reminded to do. that's the ultimate fail-safe.

the overpriced factor is not due to the over-engineered-for-reliability's-sake aspect that you mentioned. it's for features that the average oem buyer will most likely never need nor notice. does the average oem buyer really need that ridiculously fast ram? does he really need a 10,000rpm drive? does he really need a huge heatsink and a noctua fan? does he need that radeon 5850? if the computer user is just using his computer for term papers, picture viewing, and the occassional mp3/movie use (things that even a $500 acer laptop can do), does he really need top-notch performance and a motherboard that supports overclocking?

it's like a dslr vs point-and-shoot camera debate...

TheQuestian said:

Guest said:

this is a ridiculous assertion. you're implying that oems are automatically inferior by measure of reliability because you think that the manufacturer has cut costs in quality in assembly. this is an assumption with very little imperical data to support it.

most machines, be it oem or diy, break down because of improper use. this happens more to oems though because there are more people out there that buy oems that lack basic computer knowledge.

While I'm afraid I don't share your passion in this debate, I don't mind addressing a few of your points.

You suggested in your response that individual components are equally likely to fail or function, whether they be hand-picked, quality name brands (GIGABYTE, Seasonic, Corsair) or less-reputable budget brands (Foxconn, BIOSTAR, etc.). You claimed that name brand DIY parts are overpriced due to their advanced features that no average user would care about, and not their reliability, stability, or known reputation for quality. If this is your position, I believe this disagreement will a brief one. I simply think that is false. What exorbitant features would a $100 baseline GIGABYTE motherboard possess that a $50-$60 Foxconn board would not? A $50 Corsair power supply vs. a $20 no-name? $50 G.SKILL RAM vs. ValueRAM? I find it difficult to agree with you on this.

These parts are not glitzy or glamorous. Games and advanced applications couldn't care less about which components are installed, performance-wise. They are built for long-term stability under extreme conditions. Reviews, word-of-mouth from long-time builders, and my limited personal experience have convinced me that I would rather build a system of reputable parts than opt for an OEM. I don't see what is ridiculous about that, but you are welcome to your opinions. After testing a rig for a week or so with reputable parts (during which time they are all covered under warranty), I feel 95% certainty that any failures are very unlikely for the next 4+ years. With lesser quality parts (built for short-term stability), I simply don't. That is all I have to say about it. Happy computing.

raybay said:

Dell will send you the OS disk if you call them, and identify yourself as the original owner. If you are not, register as new owner first.

Guest said:

Building your own system is a great and maybe essential learning experience but not practical for saving money.

The savings of $70 is a total wash because of the time spent putting it together, the possibility of something going wrong, and no OS.

Check out refurb OEM systems if you want to save money like the ones fro Dell outlet. I buy scratch and dent Optiplex models for work all the time. Sometimes you will have to order more RAM or a video card but the consistency is good in my experience.

Leeky Leeky said:

I thought it was a very good review, and offered something for everyone.

While I have indeed previously built many systems for myself, friends and family, my latest computer was in fact a Dell purchased item.

Simply because at £350 (inc VAT (taxes) and delivery) it was an absolute steal. I've not had a single issue with it whatsoever. I've upgraded it as I've owned it, like I do all my systems, but I can honestly say in the last 4-5 Dell purchases I've made, not one has played up or required any warranty repairs.

It is indeed nice to purchase your own hardware and build your own system, its not for everyone. It's also not a case of just because you didn't purchase those items individually you've got a PC comprising of inferior quality parts either.

Overall, I think this review achieved its aim - It fairly compared the choices, budgets and end results that can be achieved with the different builds. OS choice can be somewhat hard to quantify in all honesty - Just because a PC ships with W7 doesn't mean a new DIY build should include it. There are plenty of choices. I purchased my Dell with Vista, and immediately formated and then installed XP Pro on it. I then purchased several W7 licenses once it had been released and updated all of my computers from XP to W7. I never even used my new PC with Vista.

pmshah said:

On my recent visit to US I found something very strange. The prices of ram in India are practically half that of what is available on line in US. This too with brand names like Kingston and Transcend with genuine life time warranty honored by across the counter exchange. The motherboards and CPUs and hard disk drives come with similar warranty for 5 years. Even power supplies are sold with 5 year warranty.

Most of the major brands have collection/exchange centers spread across the country. Companies like Intel and Seagate have their own courier service which collects from and delivers to your home!

To top it all each critical item is independently warranted and one need not worry about handling the entire CPU.

So if this price structure and warranty were to be reflected in your study the home brew PC would come out even better.

Guest said:

What these comparisons lack are benchmark results to compare performance.

Windows 7 and Vista have the built-in Windows Experience Index, and it is meant to compare performance. The budget box's graphics will probably score less than 3.0 and may have trouble running the aero interface - whereas the brand name boxes should run aero easily.

I have not tested - but I believe that you need less RAM with 32 bit Windows than 64 bit. So you maybe able to get the same memory benchmark from 2GB 32 bit and 4GB 64 bit. I have also noticed that lower speed RAM will often achieve the same benchmark - and I think it is related to the processor speed.

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