Here's our Hardware Tip for.. January 8, 1999
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PC's - Buy or Build? Part 1
Welcome to the first in what we hope to become a very long series of tips relating to PC hardware, everything from hardware definitions, to where to buy and how to install.

For most people buying a computer can be a difficult decision, especially first-time buyers. For the sake of this topic we're going to assume you're looking to buy either a desktop PC or a laptop. (If you're looking for a server we assume you know what you're doing. ). Laptops are best purchased at either your local supplier of via mail-order. Where desktop machines are concerned, you basically have three choices - you can go out and buy a pre-built unit at a local retailer, you can venture into the world of custom mail order, or you can build your own dream machine. Obviously the latter is only for the technically adept, and not something that should be attempted by a first-time user. There are advantages and disadvantages in all of these methods, let's start with the local retailer.

Buying Local: This is by far what most first time buyers opt for, buying from the guy down the street. They feel safer since they can first see the product in action, usually on the sales floor, and they can see up front what they're getting. And who wouldn't feel safer? If you ever have a problem, help is just around the corner, right? Not necessarily. Sure there are advantages, but it is this writer's opinion that buying locally isn't always going to get you the best hardware or the best deal. There are several reasons for this. Most machines purchased "off the rack" are mass-produced, with little or no option for customization, what you see it what you get. It won't take even the first-time buyer long to realize that not everyone's needs are the same. Also, these mass-produced machines aren't always easy to upgrade. Some models come with many built-in (or "integrated") options that are part of the system motherboard, like video, for example. This makes it easy for the manufacturer to keep costs down since they don't have to include separate adapter cards for all of the systems functions. Also, integrated options make upgrades difficult, sometimes even impossible. What do you do if one of these integrated parts go bad? You may find yourself replacing the entire motherboard.

Another disadvantage of buying locally is that service may not be as speedy or as accurate as you may like. Think about it, would you really buy a computer from Sears? What was that salesman selling yesterday, washing machines? Is this the guy you're going to run to when your printer doesn't work? Chances are once the sale is made, you're going to be on your own. More often than not, you'll hear that you'll need to contact the manufacturer for tech support. Same thing applies if you get your system home and unpack it only to find the monitor is DOA. The other alternative will probably be something like you'll have to drop off the defective unit while someone "looks at it". If it can't be fixed on the spot, it will likely be sent out to the store's "service facility" which can result in a long wait before you ever see it again. This isn't to say that buying locally is not a good idea, in fact many of these mass-produced machines make excellent first-time home machines, and they usually come packed with lots of home oriented software, plus they're always "turnkey" systems - you unpack them, plug everything together and you're computing in minutes.