The Dell of DIY Systems - A Business Proposition

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Bill Loguidice's picture

Amazon's Gold Box Deal of the Day, which is a "Build Your Own Gaming PC with the ASUS Gamer Bundle" for $279.99, got me thinking a bit about the concept of "build your own", which we've been discussing a bit lately after I had to quickly order a replacement system for my dead laptop. I love the idea of these "gamer bundles", which give you properly matched CPU, motherboard and video card for a discounted total price. Ultimately though, this goes against the DIY spirit of picking your own components, which leads me to the thought of the day. Wouldn't it be cool if - like you can do at places like Dell, HP, etc., with systems - you could configure your own DIY parts list to have a properly matched set of parts delivered to you, which you can then assemble yourself? Say, pick motherboard A, graphics card C, power supply A, case G, etc., and the built-in configurator would be able to flag any mismatched parts, e.g., power supply A is too underpowered to drive graphics card C, or case G wouldn't fit motherboard A.

Now who's going to build that type of online retail system and make lots of money? If you are, I want in, because you can't tell me something like that (assuming it doesn't already exist), wouldn't be a boon to the DIY crowd. Of course there's also always the danger of people using the configurator to verify a setup's viability and then buy the parts for cheaper elsewhere (a la Crucial and their excellent memory matching retail Website), but if prices were at Amazon or other similar discounter levels, then that would certainly be a rare occurrence...

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Calibrator
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a) Several online shops in Germany offer to sell parts only, a customer-configured system via configurator or a bunch of completely pre-configured, ready-made systems to choose from. All customers can be served that way - as per their "DIY-level".

b) Why should I assemble the parts if I select them via a configurator in an online-shop?
If the customer configures a complete system ("built-to-order") it should come ready for use. This is also better for most people in regard to guarantee...

c) Some big name manufacturers often use customized mainboards (build by Asus or the other regular mainboard companies) in their sets - with a custom BIOS so you can't use regular BIOS updates from the mainboard manufacturers. I'd use rather "normal" retail components instead.

d) I'm not too sure that this would make a lot of money if component prices are competitive.

e) The Amazon bundle you linked to isn't too hot...

take care,
Calibrator

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Bill Loguidice
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Further clarification
Calibrator wrote:

b) Why should I assemble the parts if I select them via a configurator in an online-shop?
If the customer configures a complete system ("built-to-order") it should come ready for use. This is also better for most people in regard to guarantee...

This is strictly for those who wish to build their own systems and would gather the parts themselves anyway. In short, this would be a parts retailer (there are already several, big box and specialty alike) with an intelligent configurator that would help the person putting together all the pieces know if there's a conflict in advance. Even the savviest DIY'er gets caught here and there with incompatible pieces.

This could also be a way to tell the configurator the pieces you already have and as you assemble new pieces - say a new motherboard and CPU - if they'll be compatible with what you've already got, offering to fill in the incompatible pieces with new parts along the way. Again, for the DIY crowd, not those who are satisfied with off-the-shelf computers or custom configuring something from a retailer (even those have very real limits on what you can and can't put in a particular system).

In theory you would save a few hundreds bucks over a similarly equipped system by doing the labor yourself, but even if it's a wash in terms of price, there are still advantages. That's what this is about, really, not having someone else assemble your system for you, like a Dell or HP or Lenovo or whomever. This also allows you to avoid bloatware, which is often used to subsidize the prices of these systems. Personally I gave up building my own system after I did it with a Pentium II 266 (partially due to time and partially due to cost effectiveness), so you know it's been quite a while, but I certainly can understand the appeal and would consider going that route if I wanted to build a pure, cheap gaming rig just dedicated to that purpose. With that said, there are gaming PC makers with some killer rig offerings for around $600 complete (sans monitor), so that's a hard case to argue against, but still, I see great potential in the truly-customize-and-then-build-it-yourself-idea.

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Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[About Me]

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Matt Barton
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From what I've gathered,

From what I've gathered, it's still more cost effective to go with a pre-built system because the big guys (Dell, Gateway, etc.) get some huge discounts on the parts by buying in bulk that the money you save assembling it yourself is negligible to non-extant. However, this sounds like a way to share the discounts from the bulk purchases...Or is it?

In any case, I'm not impressed with the cases, power supplies, and such people like Dell or Gateway tend to ship with their systems. They're obviously the lowest of the low in terms of quality.

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Greg (not verified)
Why DIY?

I built my last system from the ground up but I'm much happier with it than with the pre-built or partially pre-built systems I have bought in the past. Sure, I probably didn't save much money but I got to pick out each component and I like that. (And I didn't really lose any money -- thanks NewEgg :) )

The primary reason I opted for picking out each component is because I wanted a QUIET desktop system that was still somewhat "normal". I just didn't trust pre-built systems to actually be quiet and I didn't want to pay over "over the top" cooling systems that I felt were a waste of money.

If you want a pre-built system to be exactly like you want it you have to research every component/piece of hardware in the thing anyway so why not got the next step an put it together as well.

Another advantage I see is coming up to speed on the latest technology being thrown around a PC. For me, the gap of time between major upgrades just keeps getting longer. This means that when I do upgrade there are a host of new IO technologies being used in the system, among other things.

Sure, if you don't care about "the guts" it might be a waste of time, but if you want to have a better idea how things are working together in your system the educational aspect of assembling your own is certainly of value.

(A "component integration checker" on NewEgg would be pretty neato. Perhaps driven by users. I digress... Back to work :( )

Ahh, the more things change, the more they stay the same...

Matt Barton
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Well, I enjoy tinkering with

Well, I enjoy tinkering with stuff and putting things together, but there is the unfortunate problem I mentioned earlier. At least for me, it doesn't seem to matter how carefully I do everything, something ends up not working. When I did a MOBO replacement several years ago I ended up with a system that wouldn't power up at all. A friend with more skill was able to fix the problem by disassembling a plug, separating its connectors, and basically fitting them one-by-one into the connectors. I still don't know how in the world he came by that knowledge. But that's just one of many examples of how things just don't work as advertised and require special, insider knowledge to get working. In short, it all looks so easy when somebody else does it (or when you read instructions or guides), but when you're actually in there doing it, you discover you don't know enough to really make it happen (unless you just get lucky).

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Rowdy Rob
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Mobo replacements and the pits of Hell.
Matt Barton wrote:

Well, I enjoy tinkering with stuff and putting things together, but there is the unfortunate problem I mentioned earlier. At least for me, it doesn't seem to matter how carefully I do everything, something ends up not working. When I did a MOBO replacement several years ago I ended up with a system that wouldn't power up at all. A friend with more skill was able to fix the problem by disassembling a plug, separating its connectors, and basically fitting them one-by-one into the connectors.

My failure at replacing my motherboard, as well as getting my old motherboard working again, has given me new insight on these things. I approached the problem as "I'm Rowdy Rob, king of the universe. How hard could it be? No mere mortal challenge is too hard for me to figure out" as I approached the motherboard/cpu swap-out. A day later, tail between my legs, I was crushed into acceptance that I was less than a mere mortal... :-)

I don't like to lose, however. I did more research, and it appears that I did most everything right. However, the SERIOUS crux of the problem for me, as well as (I suspect) most beginning motherboard tinkerers, are all the little "two-prong" connectors that go from the computer case to the motherboard. These little connectors attach to the case's power switch, LED's (hard drive and power LEDs), and case fans. Most documentation appears to give little information as to how these connectors are to attach to the motherboard. Apparently, most motherboards have little "texts" on the circuit board that tell you where, specifically, these connectors attach to on their "grid" of connector prongs, but they are generally misaligned or don't make it REALLY clear how these connectors go. If you don't properly connect your case's "power switch" to the motherboard, your computer won't power up!!!! That's what happened to me, and it scared the life out of me when my newly-configured PC wouldn't power up!

The "case-to-motherboard" two-prong connectors seem to be the key. After failing to reconnect my old motherboard correctly, I went to the bookstore and read some info out of some of the books there. I came back home, reconnected these connectors, and my machine powered up again!

It gave me more confidence to try again with the new motherboard this weekend(?).

By the way, both my PC's (not counting my laptop) are kit-bashed, but not by me. My good friend, who is an uber-geek professionally, custom-built these machines specifically for me. On the one hand, they have been great, great machines, but on the other, it made me reluctant to go out and "upgrade" to a Dell or Alienware or something, simply because I felt that it would insult my friend. Well, he's the one who recommended my upgrades now; I wish he would have installed them for me. But I wouldn't have learned anything, or have DEFEATED anything, if he did.

qoj hpmoj o+ 6uo73q 3Jv 3svq jnoh 77V

Mark Vergeer
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I used to build my own computers all the time

The first PC I got was a Philips XT PC with 768Kb of ram and a 8088 CPU, EGA/VGA & paperwhite monitor
The second PC I got was an ESCOM 486SX-25, 4Mb RAM, 210Mb HD, CD-ROM Panasonic on Soundblaster 16 ASP, VGA Trident VLB
I started to tinker with that, upped the CPU to a 486-DX2, later a DX4-100.

After that I built my own PCs, but after I had a lot of compatibility issues with my dying Pentium IV 2.8 system I decided to go retail again and got myself a measly 3810 Acer Desktop - but ended up totally reconfiguring the insides (RAM, Drive, Videocard). It was not good for gaming so I built myself a gaming rig - Pentium Duo Core 2.8Ghz, 9800GTS Nvidia, 4Gb RAM. Sadly the gaming rig is a little noisy.

Always had Apple systems on the side and use my MacBook as my main system next to the Acer Desktop.

PS3: MarkVergeer | Xbox 360: Lactobacillus P | Wii: 8151 3435 8469 3138
Armchair arcade Editor | Pixellator | www.markvergeer.nl

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Chris Kennedy
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With apologies

Bill - I hope we aren't hijacking your main topic. I wanted to comment on building one's own PC -

I have always loved being able to customize a PC, and building one from scratch is very exciting. My first time to start diving into things was about 1991. Things were a bit tougher to do back then, but they were still a bit easier than things had been (i.e. moving from SIPS to SIMMS for example). Nowadays, the computer is certainly a bit more personal. It isn't the family computer, it truly is the PC. Building a system is easier than it has been in the past, and I think this decade has seen a steady rise in those that decide to build their own PC. Of course, you can certainly still have your share of troubles.

I know you guys have mentioned some troubles you have experienced when building a system, but I encourage you to stick with it. It isn't far fetched that one owns multiple PCs nowadays. This is extremely helpful since the other computers can serve as a diagnostic tool whenever something goes wrong with the system you are building.

I agree with the points that Greg made. I will say that in addition to getting enjoyment from building the system, I appreciate the fact you can really tailor it to your needs. You want a quiet system? You are in full control. Upgrading is certainly fun, and sometimes devices carry on from one computer to another until you finally retire them. I just retired a slot-loading DVD-ROM drive from Pioneer. I ran it in my system for 8 years! I think I only retired a 5 1/4 drive when I upgraded from a Pentium III to a Pentium IV. These components are not a big deal, but this sort of thing gives your system a bit of personality.

Always remember to make sure you have been grounded before starting. Static electricity is great for shocking friends, but not for building computers.

For those diving into building, I recommend keeping these things in mind for your components:

1: Case - Get a case that looks the way you want it to look, but also consider a few other things. How about cooling? What sized fans does it use? How many fans come with the case? Are they loud? Do you need to buy replacement fans or additional fans? Also consider that you are going to want something that makes you feel comfortable. You need to have maneuvering room inside that thing, and it is going to be different based on your size and dexterity. Ha! How many components are going inside, and do you need to consider extra space for future expansion?

2: Power supply - Don't skip out on this. If you get a cheap one and it dies, it is most likely going to take other components with it. Make sure you get a power supply that will handle all of your components. Remember - a higher wattage power supply doesn't pull ALL of that wattage all the time - it only pulls what your computer needs. Don't worry about that electric bill. Better to have too much wattage than too little. I have personally experienced overloading a power supply. The results were brown, smelly, and expensive.

3: Motherboard - Make sure you get a nice motherboard. This thing is so key - check the reviews when you buy it. Read up on it and the chipset it uses if you have to do so. If you buy off of newegg, you will typically have a decent forum of reviews to read for your research. I personally switched to Gigabyte motherboards around 2004, and now I don't buy anything else. I think I have built about four or five systems with them.

Mobo assembly - You guys pointed out a few things. There are several main issues to know going into this -
A: Make sure you properly secure the motherboard mounts to the case. Don't put mounts in that don't have a corresponding hole on the motherboard.
B: Use the proper screws to secure the motherboard. Do not over-tighten.
C: Make sure you plug in those switches properly. You only need to hook up ONE to test (The power switch). If you reverse its polarity, the system will probably boot as soon as you plug in the power supply and flip the kill switch on it. It may also not boot at all. Note that if you plug in the reset switch backwards, the computer will probably turn on but nothing will happen - you will probably only have fans turning and that is it! Best to leave extra switches unplugged when in doubt.
D: If all of the power cables are hooked up properly (outside and inside) and the power switch is connected properly but the computer won't fire up, you may have a short. Double-check your mounting job on the motherboard. Make sure the mounts and screws have been done properly. Make sure the motherboard isn't touching the side of the case and causing a bad ground.

4: CPU - Obviously make sure you get the right CPU type for the motherboard/chipset architecture. Don't want to try to put a square peg in a round hole.

CPU install -
A: These things drop easily into the socket nowadays. Regardless of if you have pins or "pads," make sure you orient the CPU correctly. Look at the bottom of it as well as the socket you are inserting it into. The pin/pad/hole patterns have to match (mobo socket vs. CPU)
B: When it comes time to put on the fan/heatsink, be deliberate as you check your surroundings. Make sure you have the correct fan and heatsink for your CPU! (assuming you didn't use one that came with the CPU). After installing, make sure it is properly secured to the motherboard/case/cpu.

Most of the other components should be straightforward. Remember to hook up an auxiliary power lead to your video card if it needs it. Get those hard drive(s), optical drives, RAM, and other expansion cards hooked up. Make sure your fans are all plugged in. Make sure you don't have any cables sitting on (or IN!) the fan blades. Fire it up. Good luck. Haha.

Ahh...and this concludes my first armchair arcade entry after having experienced a smooth install of Windows 7. The long road of pulling files off the other partitions and removing the old OS (Windows 7 RC1) begins...but not tonight.

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Bill Loguidice
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I feel your pain
Chris Kennedy wrote:

Ahh...and this concludes my first armchair arcade entry after having experienced a smooth install of Windows 7. The long road of pulling files off the other partitions and removing the old OS (Windows 7 RC1) begins...but not tonight.

Hijack away. As my latest blog post indicated, I certainly don't mind when conversations organically morph into something else. It's a very human thing, so why fight it?

To continue the hijacking, the upgrade of my new HP TouchSmart (arrived Tuesday) to Windows 7 Ultimate 64-bit from Windows Vista Ultimate 64-bit seems to have gone perfectly (I followed the instructions for replacing and updating certain files to the letter), so tonight I can finally begin putting my apps on and setting up Firefox with all my extension and add-ons. After three days I'm finally close to having a proper system again. We'll see what crap MS gives me though about activating my versions of Office. The serial numbers usually get fussy after a few installs and you need to call an Indian support rep to get it put through.

Next up is to get my wife's computer on a clean Windows 7 install. The upgrades from Amazon arrived yesterday. I may end up selling the third one, though I'm still hopeful of getting my laptop fixed. I also may qualify for a free Windows 7 upgrade from HP, so I may take them up on that and end up selling that one. Who knows?

Books!
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.
[About Me]

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