Saving Money

Which Is Cheaper: Buy a Computer or Build Your Own?

desktop, buy a computer, build a computer
My son and I shared a fun experience over the weekend building a computer together. He had saved up money from his part-time job and wanted to upgrade his gaming rig. His primary motivation in building his own system was that he could pick the exact parts he wanted for his computer. But as we were working on our project, I wondered to myself if building your own computer was actually cheaper than buying a fully manufactured product.

I argued with myself, finding reasons to support both perspectives. On one hand, manufacturers can buy their parts at wholesale in bulk which one would think would result in much lower prices for the components. On the other hand, they have to ship them to stores, and they have to make a profit as does the retailer.

I decided to do an experiment to answer the question. I went to Best Buy’s website and just picked an average, middle of the road computer. Here are the details of the one I picked:

Asus Desktop from Best Buy:

Total Price: $600

Next, I went to the Newegg website, a popular online electronics retailer. I searched for at least comparable parts and added up the cost:

Brock’s Custom Desktop

  • Intel I5-4460 processor : $318 for processor/memory/motherboard bundle
  • 8GB memory : $0 (included in bundle)
  • Asus Motherboard with Integrated graphics and sound : $0 (included in bundle)
  • 2TB hard drive : $80
  • Wireless LAN adapter : $13
  • CD/DVD reader/writer : $20
  • Keyboard : $15 for keyboard and mouse bundle
  • Mouse : $0 (included in bundle)
  • Case : $30
  • Power Supply: $40

Total Price: $516

As I built my order through Newegg, I qualified for free shipping so no additional cost to get the products to my home.

Buying the parts individually and assembling them myself would result in an almost identical system but with a savings of $84. That is a decent amount of savings, but there is some skill and time involved in assembling your own computer. But if you’re willing and able to do it (some of us tech nerds find this sort of activity fun!), you might be able to save yourself a little cash!

Have you ever built your own computer?  What was your motivation to do so?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

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About the author

Brock Kernin

10 Comments

  • My moment to shine here as someone who worked in a small computer store in high school and someone who has built and bought many computers over the years.

    Building your own can be cheaper and is cheaper in many cases, but the biggest advantage is upgradeability and customization. Mass produced computers typically use proprietary and sometimes lower quality components to keep the costs down. Sometimes components may be fused directly onto the motherboard to make the components fit in the custom case they are using. Building your own means that you avoid any potential issues like this and if a single component needs to be changed, you can do it yourself for less later on.

    I had one gaming computer that lasted for almost 7 years and the only changes I made to it are video card upgrades (2 major generations) and an extra hard drive. Check out Reddit’s /buildapc

  • Just curious, did you factor in the cost of the OS as well? I’ve found that most pre-built computers come with the latest Windows OS. Buying it separately for your home build usually tips the scale in favor of the pre-built system, but I haven’t priced things out recently so maybe its changed. If you’re going to go with an open source OS however, its not an issue.

  • I’ve never built one. We are in the market right now but for a laptop, which I think are a little tougher to build from scratch. Sounds like the experience itself made the answer easy for you!

  • @young Millennial – I agree….having the freedom to pick out the exact parts you want (and not just the cheapest) is definitely the biggest advantage. That’s exactly why my son wanted to do it – he spent time researching every single component in his system. It’s quite a rig!

  • @Sarah – ooooooh, I completely forgot about that! Yeah, and we had to buy Windows 8.1 too because by moving the hard drive to the new system….well…Windows doesn’t like that too much. It says it can’t find the driver for the storage device – which is absolute crap because it starts to show the windows boot screen. If it can get far enough to do that, it’s already talking to the drive….Great comment!

  • @MoneyBeagle – You know I’ve never see cases to build your own laptop…but maybe it’s just because I’ve never looked for one. Building the computer with my son was so much fun…..I hope to do it again someday!

  • The above points (@young Millennial) are my among my usual reasons… standard components of your own choosing (not proprietary junk) and often easier to upgrade.

    Windows… yeah, that’s an expense. Though if you had the actual install disks you might have been able to just reinstall on the new computer.

    As I type, I’m using my rapidly nearing 8 year old desktop. It’s been heavily ‘upgraded’ over the years. It had it’s RAM doubled after a year. When the 10k Raptor boot drive died I jumped to an SSD. Which died after a year and was replaced by another SSD. The video card died earlier this year and was replaced by something reasonably high-end. In between I’ve added 7.5TB of storage hard drives.

    Honestly, I could have built a new one, but not have the drive space :p

  • I’ve never done it, but I’ve always heard it was cheaper to build. Especially as you get higher specs, the savings goes way up.

    I hear building your own computer isn’t as hard as it sounds, but I’m happy to leave it to the professionals. Plus I prefer a laptop.

    PS. Savings could’ve been even bigger if you went through a cash back site 😉

  • @Eddie – unfortunately I didn’t have the install discs….the computer came pre-installed. I really like how you’ve made your desktop last 8 years by upgrading pieces as needed.That’s a whole lot easier to swallow financially than buying/building a new computer all at once!

  • @Abigail – it really wasn’t that hard at all…just another skill to know how to do. I’m sure I could have brought the price down by searching for deals, using cash back rewards on credit cards, etc, etc. But I wanted just an ‘average, go find the parts’ comparison. Thanks for reading!

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