Dell or Custom build?

By AshenMan · 21 replies
Apr 12, 2007
  1. Hello all.

    I'm a newbie and like many here it seems my first question will be about buying or building a new PC. I'm not sure this is the right forum but this is where I saw the last thread on the subject.

    I'm currently running a very old custom build (I didn't make it): Pentium III, 256MB RAM, 8MB+40MB HD, XP Pro. It was running fine but I had to wipe everything because of viruses and accidentally reinstalled XP on the ancient 8MB HD so now it is tortuously slow.

    I know it is time for a new one anyway. I would like to keep the old one as a spare around the house. Maybe I will use it to try out Ubuntu.

    I want to keep price as low as possible. I have no interest in gaming. Main uses are office stuff, internet, DVD playback, music storage & playback. That said, I like multitasking, I am impatient and I like things snappy. I might also be interested in running Ubuntu as a second OS.

    I'd like to try building my own just for the learning experience but there are some great offers from Dell and it's hard to believe I'd get a price like this by building it myself.

    For example:

    DELL Dimension C521
    AMD Athlon™ 64 X2 Dual-Core 3600+
    Windows XP Home
    1GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz- 2DIMMs
    160GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache™
    16x DVD+/-RW Drive
    19 inch E197FP Analog Flat Panel
    NVIDIA GeForce 6150 LE Integrated Graphics GPU
    Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio

    This is $599. I just missed an offer yesterday where it was $489.
    This includes 19" LCD!

    I'm not sure exactly what I do and don't need for my purposes. Could I really do any better with a custom build? BTW, I don't need to buy XP, I already have the CD.

    Thanks in advance for any advice!

  2. kitty500cat

    kitty500cat TS Evangelist Posts: 2,154   +6

    Hello and welcome to TechSpot.

    I know what nearly everybody on TechSpot will tell you: build your own!

    You can look at the Dell and say, "Why, it's $200 cheaper than my own build." You have to consider longer-term costs, however.

    Sure, Dell is able to buy the parts and assemble the computer for cheaper than you can buy the parts. Dell is able to do this, however, by using inferior-quality parts. If you buy from Newegg, you have much better-quality parts, and better upgradability, as some parts from Dell are not compatible with other parts, the kind you buy from Newegg. Often computers bought from big companies like that don't have many expansion slots, or not the right kind, so you can't put in a good video card if you decide to game.

    Also, if you build your own, you don't have all the junky preinstalled software (like Norton AntiVirus).

    Hope this helps a little.

    Regards :)
    1 person likes this.
  3. Indiglo5997

    Indiglo5997 TS Rookie

    Well i was going to chime in but kitty took the words right out of my mouth build your own you cant go wrong!
  4. AshenMan

    AshenMan TS Rookie Topic Starter

    Thanks for the quick and unequivocal advice!

    OK then, can you give me some idea of the specs I need for my purposes?

    -I have no idea how to choose a motherboard
    -Will a cheapy CPU like a Celeron work for me?
    -Integrated Graphics card?
    -The only large files I see myself storing are mp3s - how much HD do I need?
    etc etc.

    Thanks again.
  5. kitty500cat

    kitty500cat TS Evangelist Posts: 2,154   +6

    I made up a wish list on for a computer similar to the Dell, but I probably won't be able to post a link until tomorrow.

    Without a power supply or case, it came to $558.93. That's also excluding tax or shipping, which I'm sure is the case with the Dell as well. This is very similar specifications; for the power supply and case I'd figure in maybe $70. That would come out to about $630, $30 more than the Dell; but I think you'd still be on top for the reasons I mentioned earlier. Anyway, you know what Indiglo5997 and I think; anybody else care to share?
  6. antonwalker

    antonwalker TS Rookie Posts: 24

    I dont think you should get a celeron. Get a pentuim D or cheap core 2 duo. Also, how much music do you have. And if you don't game, either get a cheap GPU or integrated graphics. If you dont plan on upgrading a lot or care about overclocking, get a cheap motherboard.
  7. LinkedKube

    LinkedKube TechSpot Project Baby Posts: 3,485   +45

    I thought this thread was a trick questions but mehh idunno
  8. SNGX1275

    SNGX1275 TS Forces Special Posts: 10,742   +421

    It is going to be nearly impossible to beat Dell in a price fight.

    One thing you might consider is something like this:
    FSP Power Supply
    Some $30 case
    Cheap Keyboard/Optical Mouse
    ASRock 775Dual VSTA motherboard (or another similarly priced one)
    Pentium D
    1 Gig of RAM
    Windows XP Home or Windows XP Media Center
    Cheap PCI or AGP graphics card

    My reasoning behind this decision is that motherboard is a cheap but solid board. You also then have the ability to upgrade it with a faster CPU in the future if you want. You can always add more RAM, and it allows you your choice of graphics card upgrade in the future.

    If you go Dell, component upgrades/replacements are extremely limited.

    Welcome to Techspot. I came here with a similar question over 8 years ago.
  9. KingCody

    KingCody TS Evangelist Posts: 992   +8

    Hi Paul,

    your current system is fine for those uses. none of those are very strenuous tasks.

    for heavy multi-tasking, a dual-core CPU would be noticeably "snappier".

    you can't really put a price on the learning experience and satisfaction you get from building your own system. on the other hand that isn't a bad price for what you get out of that Dell C521 ;) You also have a third option, which is to simply upgrade your current system. There are ups and downs to each side...

    1. Dell
      • fully assembled, ready to use right out of the box
      • your "as configured" C521 gives you alot for that price
      • limited upgradability/expandability
      • may use low[er]-quality parts
      • lots of "junk" comes pre-installed
    2. "Build-Your-Own"
      • fun to do
      • you decide the quality
      • infinitely upgradeable/expandable
      • as customizable as it gets
      • may be time consuming for a first-time builder
      • potential problems may be hard to diagnose for first-time builder
      • may cost significantly more than a low-mid range pre-made PC (like Dell)
    3. Upgrade your current machine
      • cheapest option
      • only requires upgrading the mobo, CPU, and RAM
      • basically a new machine, without the cost of a total system build
      • you still have to look at your old case and monitor ;)

    only you can decide which road to take. me personally, I would go the upgrade route. in your case you may be best off just buying the Dell (as long as you're satisfied with the system as it is, because your upgrade options would be very limited).

    hope this helps. Cheers :wave:
  10. beef_jerky4104

    beef_jerky4104 Banned Posts: 822

    I vote for a custom build.
  11. AshenMan

    AshenMan TS Rookie Topic Starter

    So no built-in PSUs?

    CPU: Do those retail boxes include a fan?

    I don't need to buy XP, so that reduces my cost.

    And thanks for the welcome.

    Not much fun, though, is it? I would really like to know my system inside out - not have junk parts and software I don't know about. Comforting to know it would all work smoothly from the start though. On the other hand, I've seen 2-year old Dells at my office go 'pfft' - and that's it - off to the big Dell warehouse in the sky. Which is not comforting at all.

    That sounds more like it. Who knows what strange hobbies I'll adopt in the future? Yes, it will take some time - but I do have a functioning PC now so I can take my time. And I'm sure I'll have support here if I need it. As for cost -well, I've been convinced it will be worth it in the long run, and I can save by not buying an OS and postponing the new monitor purchase.

    Only the mobo, CPU and RAM, eh? Well, the case doesn't really fit together anymore, I want a 16x DVD burner, and I wouldn't trust my CompUSA PSU with any nice new tech. The 15" LCD will do for now. So.. that's a whole new build, really. Anyway, I think it would be handy for us to have a second machine in the house.

    It certainly does. Cheers to you too.
  12. kitty500cat

    kitty500cat TS Evangelist Posts: 2,154   +6

    If you hold on a moment, I'll give you a link to that wish list. It's just that it didn't appear on Newegg's public wish lists yet.

    That had come out to about $560 with XP Home, so without that, that subtracts $90, which could be used for a good case and PSU, so for $550 you could probably build your own.

    Anyway, it's up to you.

    Regards :)
  13. HPCE_Larry

    HPCE_Larry TS Rookie Posts: 132

    In my expirience, gaming level machines can be built for less than they can be bought. I'm about to build a pc that will cost ~$1600 that would cost from dell ~$2200 and I'm not cheaping out on low quality parts.

    Building your own will get you a higher quality product, but on the lower end dell may still beat you in price.
  14. Rage_3K_Moiz

    Rage_3K_Moiz Sith Lord Posts: 5,443   +38

    Seeing as AMD has dropped prices a lot on all its processors, a possible new build would involve an Athlon 64 X2 3600+/3800+ and an inexpensive AM2 mobo with onboard video & sound, along with a cheap Seagate/WD 160GB HDD, at least 1GB of RAM, an LG/NEC DVD burner, an Antec or Thermaltake case w/ PSU, any good LCD from Acer/Hanns-G/BenQ/ViewSonic and any cheap mouse & keyboard combo. That'd give you enough power for all your needs.
  15. kitty500cat

    kitty500cat TS Evangelist Posts: 2,154   +6

  16. Rage_3K_Moiz

    Rage_3K_Moiz Sith Lord Posts: 5,443   +38

    Yeah any good-quality 300W+ PSU would be enough, since he doesn't need a powerful video card and he's not going to be stressing the CPU to it's max as well.
  17. kitty500cat

    kitty500cat TS Evangelist Posts: 2,154   +6

  18. mailpup

    mailpup TS Special Forces Posts: 7,186   +469

    Yes, it will be handy to have an extra PC in the house, IMHO. To answer a couple of your earlier questions, a retail box CPU will come with a heatsink and fan. I use them myself and as long as you aren't planning to overclock your CPU, it should be fine. I wouldn't trust most power supplies that come with cases, however. Most power supplies that come with inexpensive cases are marginal in quality and power, regardless of how many watts of power are claimed. Watts aren't everything too. Consider amps, especially on the +12V rail or rails.

    I put together a list of components for a friend for a potential future build. I'll list it here as an example of what you could get. It's just an example since I know any particular component can be argued about and changed.

    RAIDMAX Elite ATX-208 Beige 0.7mm SECC ATX Mid Tower Computer Case - Retail - $19.99
    This case is inexpensive and the metal is a bit thin, however, after everything is installed, it stiffens up. Since it doesn't come with a power supply, you don't waste any money on that. I've used this in a couple of builds.
    GIGABYTE GA-M61P-S3 Socket AM2 NVIDIA GeForce 6100 ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail - $76.99
    It has integrated video and audio but should the need arise, it has a PCI-E x16 slot for a better graphics card.
    FSP Group (Fortron Source) AX400-PN, 400W Power Supply - Retail - $43.99
    Probably a little more than you need now but a good solid PSU that can handle reasonable future graphics upgrades.
    AMD Athlon 64 X2 3600+ Windsor 2.0GHz 2 x 256KB L2 Cache Socket AM2 Processor - Retail - $73.99
    A dual processor CPU for faster multitasking as you mentioned earlier.
    CORSAIR ValueSelect 1GB (2 x 512MB) 240-Pin DDR2 SDRAM DDR2 667 (PC2 5300) Desktop Memory - Retail - $58.99
    Top quality brand. ValueSelect might sound low quality but it isn't.
    Western Digital Caviar SE WD1600AAJS 160GB 7200 RPM 8MB Cache SATA 3.0Gb/s Hard Drive - OEM - $53.99
    The one for my friend was smaller but your first post mentioned a 160GB hard drive.
    SONY Beige 1.44MB 3.5" Internal Floppy Drive Model MPF920 Beige - OEM - $6.25
    A legacy item, I know, but will be useful for installing SATA/RAID drivers.
    BenQ i100-White Beige 104 Normal Keys PS/2 Standard Keyboard - Retail - $3.99
    A good standard keyboard despite the low price. Out of stock at the moment.
    LITE-ON LH-18A1P-184 White 18X Burner - OEM - $27.99
    You said you wanted a 16X burner. This is 18X.
    Antec 75001 80mm Case Fan - Retail - $5.99
    The case comes with one side fan. You should have a least one rear exhaust fan. The case has room for two 80mm fans at the rear and two up front.

    Total price = $372.16. Tax or shipping is extra.

    This is a beige PC. Perhaps you would prefer black. That's okay. My list is just an example so feel free to substitute. Anyway, you get the general idea.

    Edit: I forgot a mouse but you can select one that you like.
    2 people like this.
  19. Rage_3K_Moiz

    Rage_3K_Moiz Sith Lord Posts: 5,443   +38

    Yeah now that's the same list I was thinking about mailpup. That's one hell of a good system, and cheap too! Great list mailpup.
  20. Indiglo5997

    Indiglo5997 TS Rookie

    I was thinking about making a little cheap system before i make my new gaming machine and that mailpup setup really got me thinking and wanting too but know the other day my old beloved stinker that ive had for 6 years fouled but and isnt working and i figured i would make a new cheapie instead of making the stinker work and posiably(sp) kill anything one it ie the hard drive ( lot of important stuff i need to get off...any suggestions on going about this???) And i figured i have my laptop to do all the light and heavy work for now.
  21. foozy

    foozy TS Rookie Posts: 139

    Mailpup listed a great budget build. That's pretty much what I put in my budget computers myself, although the case and psu vary.

    However, i'd really hate to see you cheap out on the keyboard/mouse. I/O devices are what make a computer pleasant to use.

    But i'm spoiled on a Logi VX Revolution, what do I know :)
  22. mailpup

    mailpup TS Special Forces Posts: 7,186   +469

    Part of the fun of building a PC (at least for me) is putting together a list of components and checking for some deals. Newegg's wishlist system makes that so easy. Depending on what you want or need, there are so many combinations to choose from. When you build your first PC, there is nothing quite like the satisfaction of assembling the PC, pressing the "on" button and seeing the PC come to life for the first time.

    Indiglo, you may be able to recover the data on your hard drive by installing it as a second drive on your nice new self-built PC. :) Complete your build first, install Windows, drivers, updates, etc., then hook up the old hard drive and see if you can recover the data. Others who know more than I can give you specific steps.
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