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To Build or Buy

A Computer Purchase Saga

By Steven Dela

My Pentium 233 computer was showing itís age. With only 64MB of memory, an 8GB hard drive, an outdated 6x CD-RW and no USB ports, it was unbearably slow compared to the other computers I have access to. Besides, you reach a point where putting more memory or larger drives just does not yield a corresponding performance increase. It was time to decide on a new computer. For many years Iíve assembled my own computers from parts that I gathered at several sources based upon the best technology available. A computer case from here, a hard drive from there and finally I have the components to build an entire system. Well, if youíve ever assembled a computer, then you know that all those features sometimes donít mesh together well. Now throw in the new Windows XP operating system, and you might be inviting disaster. Most of my frustration has been with features built into motherboards. Getting all those features to work with the power supply, drives, and video just doesnít happen. Getting the power management features to work properly has been the most difficult feature to enable.

Knowing this, I went about doing my research on the newest products available. I added up the costs one by one and looked at the total. Hmmm? Just for fun, I decided to take a look at fully assembled systems from local and national companies. Besides, I had the list of features and components I wanted in my system, so I began to shop in some stores and online. With many of the local Built-to-Order (BTO) systems I found, there was a limited number of choices and the component manufacturers were not always disclosed. Since I favor certain manufacturers, mostly based on past experiences, I found that option somewhat limiting. They could not guarantee me the components I wanted in a system due to several factors. I patiently listened to the excuses.

I turned to the national companies, in this case Dell and Gateway. I found systems offered with various components, feature, and price ranges. Knowing that the computer market was very competitive, I figured it might be good to look at configuring a system or taking one of the may specials they offered and see how closely it matched my wish list. I waded through the checklists and selected what I wanted. Going to the checkout cart, I encountered another shock. Both wanted a shipping fee that added up to over $100. Pretty hefty charge I thought. I decided to wait a few days and come back to see if system configurations or pricing changed. To my surprise, they did. I guess itís like pricing airline tickets. Consumers donít understand how itís done, but you should be prepared to make a choice when the times, terms and prices are right. I happened to catch Gateway during a transition from the old putty colored cases to the newer silver/black cases and components. The old color systems were on closeout.

I found a new Pentium 4 2.0GHz system with 128MB of DDR 2100 memory, 40GB hard drive, 24x12x40 CD-RW, 32MB nVidia video card, optical mouse, keyboard, 6 USB 2.0 ports, a 15Ē LCD flat-panel monitor, Windows XP Home, plus an assortment of other installed software. All this for $999 after a $100 rebate. I called and talked to a sales representative when I placed my order and got them to cut the freight rate in half. The system came with a one-year onsite repair warranty too. My system arrived five days after I ordered it.

When I spoke with the sales representative, he gave a list of the manufacturers they use for their components. I was satisfied with the choices and examined the system when it arrived. Just as he said, they used top-notch components from the sources I wanted. When I fired up my system, it went through initial configuration, needed some personal information, found the installed hardware and booted to the Windows XP desktop. As I mentioned before, one of features I wanted most was the power saving features of the hardware and operating system meshing together to put the system into Standby or Hibernate mode. When I tested these features, I found they worked perfectly.

Having been a firm believer of self-assembled systems in the past, this experience has changed my mind about ordering a complete system from an established computer retailer. In my final comparison, I found that I saved myself over $150, got a one-year on-site warranty, and the power savings features that I always wanted in a fully configured computer system.

Keep this in mind when youíre looking for your next computer. Good hunting!

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