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New desktop computer - buy or build?


TUG Member
Jun 6, 2005
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I'm starting a new 'new computer' thread, as the most recent one seemed to be basically laptops (and diverged into a Windows vs Mac discussion).

I might need to replace my several year old 2.3 GHz celeron system. I'm not sure what I want to do:

Build advantages:
- I have an activatable copy of XP Pro I can install on it
- I have an ATI dual port video card (with HDMI out) I'd want to reuse
- I have a relatively new 640GB SATA drive in my current system (upgrade from the stock 160GB drive) I can move over
- I've build from scratch systems before

Buy advantages :
- my last two systems (eMachines) were 'bought', they definitely a lot less headaches than build from scratch

- Do I want to move to Windows 7? EVERY other system my self, parents, brothers & sister (all which I provide support on) are XP Home or Pro. A lot to be said for standardization. I do realize EOL of XP is listed as Apr 2013.

- Do I want to move to 64 bit? I still run some older software, sometimes old hardware, and I'm not sure how well they'll work, even if they'll be supported.

There used to be a Vista compatibility checker, I don't know if there's an W7 one, that would look at my current system, and tell what may not work. I guess I can also check each (webcam, video board) to see what they say about W7 support on their website. My thought was, if I'm lucky enough to get W7 support, I'm really pushing it to have it be under W7-64.

Some features I'd like to have:
- eSATA - so could use that for external storage, and/or
- USB 3.0 - faster access to compatible devices
- 1394 firewire - I use a PCI board on another XP system to acquire content from a camcorder and DVR. It would be nice to do that from my primary system, but I'm not sure if the software I use to acquire from a DVR even works under W7.

I'm basically looking for a system that's fast enough to watch HD video's on my HD tv (attached with the dual port ATI video). My current system just can't seem to keep up. Also being able to convert video formats faster would be nice. Definitely no gaming required.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions or advice.



Jun 6, 2005
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Windows 7 - go for it. I liked XP fine and have gotten used to 7 altho I also wasn't sure I wanted to go there yet (I skipped Vista for home use after seeing how it was a (*#&% on the job). It's been stable for me, and stability is really the biggest thing I need from an OS.

Sunset doesn't matter much to me since I've not ever called MS support on an os issue, or any issue at home, ever. If something happens, it's likely happened to others and the answer is out there without knocking on Microsoft's door.

64 bit - check on the software you want to run first. If it's compatible, I'd go 64 bit.

I don't build, partially because I'm a software person and don't want to monkey with making hw talk if it doesn't want to. Plus, it's just so freaking simple to buy a ready made pc, or, hire the local geeks to deal with reusing my old components in a new box.


TUG Review Crew
TUG Member
Apr 22, 2011
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Oakdale, MN
Resorts Owned
HVC: The Point at Poipu, 3 deeded weeks, 1 of which is in The Club.
I've built many systems from scratch, and still have the built/buy debate. Last one was a buy because my mother board died, and I wanted a new one in a hurry. If I'm not in a rush, I'll build the next one so I can pick the components I really want. Do you read Maximum PC? I like their reviews of both low and high end components.

Windows 7 is highly recommended. After the Vista fiasco, Microsoft made sure they got it right. I'm running Windows 7 64 bit, but I don't think there's much performance difference. However, if you want more than 4 GB RAM, you'll have to run 64 bit. Windows 7 memory limits.


TUG Review Crew: Expert
TUG Member
Jun 1, 2006
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Mesquite, Nevada
Resorts Owned
Free Agent
Why not buy a desktop system you like, add the SATA drive as a second hard drive, and then swap out the video card for the dual card you like? You'd get the best of the latest, and also have a system warranty (of sorts) in case something blows up.

As an aside, you'd be hard pressed to build a PC for what you can buy them for these days. The greater value may be in a storebought system over one you assemble from accumulated parts.



TUG Member
Jun 6, 2005
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Redmond, WA
Jeff - I have built many, many desktop machines and never bought a brand-name box. However, just now I completed the very same analysis you are starting. Long story short, I bought a complete box.

When you identify all the "best" components and price those out, the machine will be very costly....but great!! Especially when you include the price of a FAST processor and Windows 7.

Start with the BEST 64-bit CPU which would be Intel i7 (or AMD equivalent). Add in 5-7 GB of RAM and a big hard drive. All the rest is fluff where you can live with reasonable quality (as installed) and upgrade each component when you desire. Just buy the box without a monitor (assuming you have a good monitor). Also think about separately buying a solid state drive (SSD-120GB) if you want to get instant drive access.

I just received (from NewEgg) the following machine:
* AMD Phenom II X6 CPU (6 core, 6MB L3 Cache, very comparable to Intel i7)
* 6GB DDR3 1333MHz RAM
* 1.5 TB SATA drive
* Reasonable Radeon graphics
* 802 b/g/n Wireless
* 16X DVD Drive
* keyboard
* mouse
* Windows 7 home 64-bit

All this for $399, free delivery.

I also bought a 120GB SSD for $110.

Now I can replace any component I want (including the box and motherboard), whenever I want. Price out those supplied components and I'm way ahead of the game.

BTW, have no fear about tossing XP. I did it last year but still have XP on my server and no backward learning (forget) curve at all. The key is 64-bit! That speed is fantastic!!!


TUG Member
Jun 6, 2005
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Something to consider in the analysis is that you can re-use the case and power supply for the next build. Also, sometimes pre-builts don't have an adequate power supply to drive discrete video cards. These two things alone led me to build vs buy last fall.

But I would agree that the cost comparison usually comes out very close.


TUG Review Crew: Veteran
TUG Member
Jun 7, 2005
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Los Angeles
Resorts Owned
Westin Kierland
Sheraton Desert Oasis
You probably also don't need a new optical drive, so that can move over to a new build system. With Windows 7 Pro (I'm not sure if the Home version includes it) you can run virtualpc and put XP on it if needed. I suspect you wont need it.

I built my last Windows box I use intermittently. It's a great box, and I just went to Fry's and bought whatever the current deal was on a proc and logic board. I'd probably buy from Newegg these days instead, especially if I had more time to prepare. I also saved my hard drives, optical, etc. The cost may be similar to a prebuilt system, but the component parts are better (or, could be better based on your selections) when choosing them yourself.

I'm sure some of you are amazed I'm advocating building the system yourself. In certain circumstances, and I think this is one of them, building yourself may be the best way to go. The fact that the OP has done this before is, in large part, the main reason I'd suggest he do so again.


Jun 6, 2005
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If you are building one just for watching HD TV or video streaming, you will not need much performance and probably will not save much if you decide to go with W7. You may have to deal with trouble shooting if something goes wrong.

Over the summer my son built a game PC for ~$450 getting different parts on sale and rebate. Said he saved maybe $300-$400 over a purchased PC with similar performance. He had problem with the motherboard and had to run back to Micro Center for exchange. No a big deal.

He also built two more, one for me and one for someone else, mainly for video streaming, from a kit for <$250 from Tiger Direct. More of a hassle here. After he put it together, it could only run a few seconds before shuts down. After some diagnostic and researching the components ratings on the internet, we suspect the motherboard and the processor were not compatible. Spent over an hour on the phone with TigerDirect technical service. They had no clue but agreed with us. Since it was an unknown problem to them, we had to buy a more expensive motherboard that has higher power rating. Wasting time to package and return the ones from the kit for credit. A few days later they emailed to inform us of the incompatibility (probably learned from us) and send us two replacement motherboards for free. Now we have 2 spares.

The point I am try to make is how much saving is worth to you if some goes wrong.

A big part of the saving for us was my sons got w7 for cheap from school. See if you find someone in school that special agreement with Microsoft and can buy it for you.
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