When it comes to buying a new desktop PC, any hardware buff will tell you there's nothing better than building your own machine. If not for the enjoyment of putting all the components together, then simply for the comfort that comes with knowing you are getting high quality parts.

However, going the homebrewed route isn't everyone's cup of tea. You have to research and purchase every item, assemble it all, and troubleshoot any issues along the way. The time and expertise required to build a new computer drive some to purchase pre-built systems from companies like HP, Lenovo or Dell – but just how much would you be overpaying? Is it really worth the effort to build your own rig?

Although this has been a long debated topic – think 1992 – there's no absolute answer to those questions. While many of you reply and keep up with the latest hardware releases via our PC Buying Guide, others expressed utmost enthusiasm when we reviewed the Gateway FX 6831-03 gaming desktop a few weeks ago, as it seemed to offer a good blend of components at an attractive price.

With that in mind, we've chosen three popular desktop series, configuring them as closely as possible to our own Enthusiast's PC. After the table below, we'll briefly dissect each offering to determine how it fares against our home-built machine.

Enthusiast's PC

HP Pavilion Elite HPE-150t

Dell Alienware

Maingear F131


Intel Core i5-750

Intel Core i5-750

Intel Core i5-750

Intel Core i5-750


4GB Corsair DDR3 1333MHz

6GB DDR3 1333MHz (free upgrade)

4GB DDR3 1333MHz

4GB Kingston DDR3 1333MHz


ATI Radeon HD 5850

ATI Radeon HD 5770

ATI Radeon HD 5870

ATI Radeon HD 5850


HT Omega Striker 7.1

Creative SB X-Fi Titanium

Creative SB X-Fi Titanium

Asus Xonar DX


Intel X25-M 80GB + WD Caviar Black 750GB

1TB 7200RPM (free upgrade)

1TB 7200RPM

Intel X25-M 80GB + WD Caviar Black 750GB


LG DVD burner + Lite-On Blu-ray reader

DVD Burner + Blu-ray reader

DVD Burner + Blu-ray reader

DVD burner + Lite-On Blu-ray reader


Corsair 650W


Unnamed 525W

"Maingear Certified" 650W


Antec Nine Hundred




Operating System

Not Included

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit

Warranty Depending on the part, one-year to lifetime warranty Two-year parts and labor One-year in-home service Lifetime labor and phone support, one-year hardware






At first glance, it may seem like HP takes the cake, costing almost $250 less than our Enthusiast's PC, but if you examine both a bit more closely, that's not entirely true. The Radeon HD 5770 is around $150 cheaper than our recommended HD 5850 and it's actually a hair slower than last-generation's HD 4870 in most instances.

While our build includes a $220 Intel SSD, HP throws in an extra two gigs of RAM, 250GB more storage, a Windows 7 license, and a basic keyboard and mouse. Both arguably cancel each other out in that respect, but you can't dismiss Corsair's superior power supply or the fact that you could opt for a less expensive chassis than the Nine Hundred. HP's Elite line isn't exactly praised for its quality around here either.

The Alienware Aurora is in a similar, albeit different situation as the HPE-150t. The Radeon HD 5850 wasn't available as an option, so we opted for the HD 5870 which offers around 10-15% more performance for a 30% increase in price. In other words, our recommended HD 5850 is a better value. Likewise, neither an SSD nor a 750GB HDD were options.

If you were to configure the Enthusiast's PC with an HD 5870, a 1TB storage drive, drop the SSD, and throw a Windows 7 Home Premium OEM license into the mix, it would run about $1,460. Disregarding the more robust PSU and better chassis, you're paying nearly $300 more for the Aurora – a fee we can't justify when a local PC shop or neighborhood geek would happily assemble your PC for $100.

As much as we appreciate what Maingear and other boutique computer builders do, it's never been so apparent how much more they charge. We managed to configure the F131 almost exactly like our Enthusiast's PC, but it came out $1,000 more expensive. Before you send them hate mail, consider the service that is provided.

Their machines are far more customizable than any mainstream OEM's and they offer many things you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere: bloatware-free systems, extras like laser engraving, overclocking, and customized drive partitioning, as well as lifetime labor and phone support. Those luxuries don't come free. To put it simply, Maingear's employees aren't working for charity.


If you're an enthusiast looking to take the "lazy" way out or are inexperienced with system building, know you will be paying invariably more if you are looking for a performance-oriented system. High performance desktops offered by large OEMs like HP and Dell have a limited hardware selection. Meanwhile, companies like Maingear keep a wide variety of quality components on-hand, but ultimately charge a hefty premium.

Based on this brief look at the market, it really seems as though home-built systems offer the best bang for your buck. By using free resources such as our buying guide, you can cut the research time down to nil and if you don't want to get your hands dirty, drop your parts off at a nearby mom and pop computer store. They'll appreciate the business and you'll save some money.

Did you buy or build your desktop system? What are your plans for the future in this regard? Post your comments here.