Handmade and Cheaper
By Jiri Karnos
When you open any technology, IT, or PC games related magazines, you are bound to stumble upon one of those scented ads that make your eyes water and your heart ache with want. Yes, I’m talking about the ads that companies like Digital Storm put up to lure your under their spell and confuse you to buy a computer from them. They are nice ads. They typically use strong colors, like dark red and black and they typically tell you how amazing that particular PC is for only $2,999. But have you ever stopped and asked yourself how much you could save if you cut out the middle man and actually built the PC yourself?
Overcoming Your Fear
Probably one of the most fearsome problems you will face is the worry that you will screw up and ruin very expensive components, but think about it this way, if you break something while assembling your computer, you can always go and buy the piece again and still end up saving more money than if you bought an assembled computer from companies like Digital Storm.
Another problem is that you may have never assembled a computer before. That can be a bit frightening but if you can read either English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Hungarian, Czech, Slovenian or Traditional Chinese, you are fine. Each component is accompanied by a manual with step by step instructions on what to do with it. The most helpful of the manuals is the one that comes with the motherboard and tells you exactly, with illustrations, when, where, and how to put the pieces together.
If you own an older PC, you save money on tower and display and that’s at least $200 savings right there.
Deciding On Purpose
The key decision when buying, or building a new computer is what it’s for? Know ahead of time if you’re building a machine to play games on Ultra details and high resolution, or if it’s a build for 3D design, or print design, or sound engineering, or software development. The purpose of the machine will decide what you need and want in terms of hardware.
The purpose of your computer will determine whether you will spend more money on processing power, or if you’ll want to get more RAM, or if you decide on SLI bridged graphics cards or if you just buy one.
When you came to terms with your worries and you’ve established what type of a machine you are going to build, it’s time to buy the components. It is generally helpful to have a friend, doesn’t even need to be a close one, who has some knowledge of computer hardware and who can give you a second opinion. Someone who might see a fluke you overlooked, or have a suggestion on how to improve your machine. It can even be someone you met playing your favorite online video game. Just make sure you know he knows especially if it’s an internet buddy.
Best way to figure out what you want to buy in terms of components, is to look at what other people have done. Although Digital Storm and other companies charge you much more, they are good at assembling the machines and matching the right parts. If you don’t have a clue at all on what you want to buy, go look up some of their machines, see what you like, keep it, trash the rest and put in something else. Often, if you decided to build the exact same machine as they sell, you could total a $1000 difference in savings.
Assembling your own computer gives you complete freedom and unlimited customization options. You won’t hear any “This option is not supported for this model” errors.
When you fine tune the components with your buddies, it is time to scour the internet for retailers. Amazon is one of the best places to go to. Most of the items are sold with Amazon Prime Eligibility, which grants you no shipping costs on 2 day shipping, provided you are a member of Amazon Prime. There are other trustworthy retailers, such as TigerDirect.com Try to avoid places like BestBuy.
A good thing to keep in mind is holidays as prices go down on various things during Black Friday, the Friday after Thanksgiving, Christmas sales, after Christmas sales, you can occasionally get a good deal during Easter, Memorial Day or the 4th of July. Often it’s a matter of chance if you happen to find a sale event, but if you aren’t in a hurry and don’t need your new machine tomorrow, waiting around and searching for the best deals helps you cut the price down even more.
Putting It Together
Once it all arrives, you can start assembling. If you’ve never done anything like this before, reserve an entire day for this. Or better yet, a weekend. Don’t start unpacking things when they arrive. Wait until you have all you need, than lay it out in front of you, unseal the boxes and check that you have everything they promised. Then you can start putting it together. One of the tricky things is the proper mounting of heat sink onto your processor. You need to clean up the processor and the heat sink surfaces with the proper cleaning supplies (visit www.arcticsilver.com), apply the paste, fit the processor into your motherboard and then strap on the heat sink. If you’re using the default sink that comes with your Intel processor, you have it easy as those are snap on and are very easy to attach to your motherboard. If you bought a turbo heat sink, like those Cooler Master sells, beware.
Turbo heat sinks are not easy to attach and can be quite the pain in your backside. Make sure you attached the anchoring points in the right direction. Before you mount the actual heat sink, make sure the fans are facing the right way. The giveaway is that if you can’t make the fans face the right way, your anchor is wrong. And if your anchor is put in place correctly, you won’t be able to attach the heat sink wrong.
Before you place your motherboard inside the tower, put in your power supply. Then the motherboard, then you can start putting in all your other gadgets like RAM memory and graphic cards, network adapters, audio cards.
Last step is a two for one deal. You need to hook everything to your power supply. That is quite easy because the sockets only fit so many things. The tricky part is to know what needs to be attached. A good way to find that out is to examine each piece prior to putting it inside the machine and finding the connectors.
Next up are the “data” wires. You need to connect your USBs, your SATA cables, your fans and all the little single pin power to led lights and reset buttons. Those can be confusing but for the entire process of putting your computer together, you can consult your user manual, or you can find a step by step guide on Youtube or elsewhere on the internet.
10 out of 10 IT nerds recommend building your own machine.
When you’re done with assembling the machine, the time has come to run a test burn. Turn the PC on, if it runs, the victory is yours.
Time has come for BIOS set up, installation of the operating system of your choosing, and the installation of all necessary drivers.
This used to be difficult but yet again, manuals accompanying your motherboard have a chapter on BIOS setup and some even one on overclocking. The manufacturer of your graphics card has the latest drivers available for download on his website, and all the gadgets come with utility CDs that have drivers on them, along with some useful tools.
Who Am I?
By now, you’ve probably figured out that building your computer is much cheaper than buying one from one of the retailers. Yes, it involves much more work and can be a bit stressful, but it is also fun. Once you do it you won’t want to buy a pre-made again. You also get the pleasure of “I built this myself” feeling and you will be attached to your machine.
One question remains. Just who am I to tell you how to build a computer and why you shouldn’t buy one pre-made by someone who knows what they are doing. Well, there are two parts to the answer. Part one, I have been around computers since I was 5 years old. I assembled my first machine when I was 8. I keep myself updated on the latest releases. But most importantly of all, I just finished building a machine that cost me $1500. If I had bought the machine at a store like Digital Storm, I would have paid at least $3500. You don’t have to listen to me, I’m just the guy who’s trying to save you money.