Why You Should Stop Buying Your Computers Fully Loaded

Illustration for article titled Why You Should Stop Buying Your Computers Fully Loaded

Hard economic times require that we think more closely about how our money is spent. When it comes to computers, Prof. Dealzmodo has a philosophy: build it and values will come.


In other words, it makes more financial sense to buy the most basic model at a bargain-basement price and turn it into the top-notch computer of your dreams. It can save you hundreds and maybe even thousands of dollars overall.

Laptops: I visited Dell.com and selected a mid-range laptop—in this case, the Studio 17. A model with 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive will run you $799— but what happens when you want to beef it up with some extra RAM and an even bigger hard drive? Just like that, the price shoots up to $1049 for the following configuration (if you stick with Dell hardware upgrades):

Dell Studio 17

• 2.0GHz Intel Pentium Dual Core T3200
• 640GB (2x320) SATA Hard Drive (5400 RPM)
• Integrated graphics

However, a quick trip to Newegg to pick up RAM and an additional 320GB drive brings the total down to $918 for the same computer. Basically, I just shaved $131 off the price by doing these simple upgrades myself.

Note: On any system, to make use of all 4GB of RAM, you need 64-bit Windows. You should get it at no extra charge when configuring a system, so be sure to ask up front. Buying an extra copy separately for will cost you a punitive $100.

Before you settle on a laptop, make sure that you check to see what can be upgraded and whether or not you can find easily exchangeable parts at a discount. And keep in mind that savings could be increased even further if you start with a refurbished model or a model that is not loaded with an OS.


Desktops: We all know that desktops, much less custom-built desktops, are not highly sought after these days. Still, the tremendous values here are hard to ignore. PC Gamers are well acquainted with the practice, but I see no reason (outside of the need for portability) why budget shoppers can't take advantage of the savings as well. Once again, I chose a mid-range product from Dell as the control—the Studio desktop.

Example #1 (A Studio configuration straight from the Dell website):

•2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7300
• 24" Widescreen HD LCD
• 4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM
• 1TB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)
• ATI Radeon HD 3650 256MB GPU
• 16X DVD+/-RW Drive
• Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio
• Vista Home Premium

Total Cost: $1464

Example #2 (A Studio configuration with custom-installed parts):

Base model
• 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7300
• No monitor
• 2GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM
• 500GB Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM)
• Integrated graphics
• 16X DVD+/-RW Drive
• Integrated Audio
• Windows Vista Premium

Add custom parts:
4GB DDR2 SDRAM for $40
24" Asus Widescreen HD LCD for $300
1TB Seagate Serial ATA Hard Drive (7200RPM) for $110
Radeon HD 3650 256MB GPU for $55
Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio for $50

Total Cost of Base Model: $749
Upgrades: $555
Total Cost Overall: $1304

As with the laptop, by simply upgrading components myself I managed to save cash—in this case, $160—and I have an extra 500GB drive to boot.


Example #3 (Total custom build):

Cooler Master Case with 460W Power Supply for $90
• 24" Asus Widescreen HD LCD for $300
• 1TB Seagate Serial ATA Hard Drive for $110
Lite-On 20x DVD+/-RW Drive for $21
• Radeon HD 3650 256MB GPU for $55
• Sound Blaster X-Fi Xtreme Audio for $50
Basic keyboard for $5
Basic mouse for $5
4GB DDR2 SDRAM for $42
Motherboard for $45
2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo E7300 for $120
• Windows Vista Home Premium 64-bit for $100

Total Cost of Build: $943

By building from scratch, I was able put together the same computer (in terms of performance) as the Dell Studio in the first example for $521 less—and the majority of the components are better. I also saved an extra $361 over the upgrade to the base Studio model in example #2.


It is also important to note that making upgrades on laptops and factory desktops can void your warranty. This may be something you want to check on before proceeding. You may also want to investigate local businesses that specialize in custom builds if you lack the skills necessary to make the upgrades yourself. Even though these services are an added expense, you are still likely to come out on top.

Conclusion: The bottom line is that saving money on a computer is more than just finding the best deal online. In this case, it's kind of like buying a fixer-upper. When you walk into the property the realtor tries to help you focus on what the home could be as opposed to what it currently is. Again, before you buy, make sure to check and see if doing some of the upgrades yourself can help you save some extra money. In order to maintain continuity and keep things simple, I stuck with Dell and Newegg here—but, obviously, branching out could lead to greater savings. You could also save a lot more if you are willing to make a sacrifice or two here and there—like going with AMD over Intel (although I doubt many Intel fans would be willing to make that jump no matter what the cost).


Prof. Dealzmodo is a regular section dedicated to helping budget-minded consumers learn how to shop smarter and get the best deals on their favorite gadgets. If you have any topics you would like to see covered, send your idea to tips@gizmodo.com, with "Professor Dealzmodo" in the subject line.



I've only built custom desktops from individual parts since 1998. In fact, I have a new motherboard for my main machine waiting on my doorstep for me at this very moment. (I wish work would end.)

But yeah, building machines from scratch is definitely the way to go.