H3XED

Computers: Build your own vs. buying a Dell

Jul 11, 2010   Computer Hardware   Nick Vogt   Comments
Please note that this post is over a year old and may contain outdated information.
Please note that products and prices reflect what was available in early 2011 and may not be up to date with current offerings.

This is a price and feature comparison to determine the value of building your own PC versus purchasing a Dell. Dell's generally offer a good value in the low to mid range and represent the most common OEM-bought PCs.

Some things to note: The Dell prices include the tax and flat-rate shipping fee Dell charges. The custom-built prices include shipping, which could vary by $5-10 based on your location. Also, the custom-built PC prices include the full retail cost of Windows 7 Home ($99). If you have an operating system already, or can get an inexpensive copy through school, it will increase the value proposition of the custom-built PC considerably.


Home or Home Office PC

The first comparison is an identically-configured home or home office PC. It comes with a 2.8ghz dual-core Intel Pentium (E5500) and Intel on-board graphics. Both PC's include a 320 GB hard drive, keyboard, mouse, and DVD burner.

ModelKey componentsTotal
Dell Inspiron 560Intel E5500 2.8ghz, Intel G41 chipset, 2x1gb memory$381
Custom-Built from NeweggIntel E5500 2.8ghz, Intel G41 chipset, 2x1gb memory$435

The Dell comes in over $50 less than the custom-built PC, and is a great choice if you're wanting an Intel system. The strength of the custom-built PC comes with its available choices, and in this case the Intel Pentium may not be the best choice. The AMD Athlon II offers similar or better performance at a lower price, and the AMD 785 chipset is a better chipset. So let's look at this comparison again:

ModelKey componentsTotal
Dell Inspiron 560Intel E5500 2.8ghz, Intel G41 chipset, 2x1gb memory$381
Custom-Built from NeweggAMD Athlon II X2 2.9GHz, AMD 785G chipset, 2x1gb memory$390

The lower price of the Athlon II and 785G chipset from Newegg brings the price of the system right in line with the Dell. Furthermore, the 785G chipset has an optical S/PDIF audio output, which the Dell lacks. You can also select a larger hard drive in the custom-built PC easier and for less than in the Dell. For example, a 500 GB drive is only $7 more than the 320 GB drive. With the Dell, you have to select a more expensive base model to get a larger drive, putting the price well above $400.

The strength of the custom-built PC is its customizability and options. As you can see above, selecting the right parts to go into your custom-built PC can make it a better value versus a Dell. Next let's compare a gaming PC.


High-End Gaming PC

For this comparison we will be looking at Dell's popular Alienware Area 51 gaming PC. I have configured it to come with an Intel i7 processor, ATI HD 5870 graphics card, 3x2gb of memory (6gb total), and a 1TB hard drive. The Newegg custom-built PC will have identical components, with the main differences being a Lian-Li PC-7B plus II case, SeaSonic 850W power supply, Logitech keyboard, and Logitech MX 518 mouse. These components will meet or exceed the quality and performance of what comes with the Alienware.

ModelKey componentsTotal
Dell Alienware Area 51Intel Core i7 2.8ghz, X58 chipset, ATI HD 5870, 3x2gb$2,585
Custom-Built from NeweggIntel Core i7 2.8ghz, X58 chipset, ATI HD 5870, 3x2gb$1,500

This doesn't even appear to be a fair comparison! But aside from the Dell warranty and Alienware-specific case, the custom-built PC is equivalent in every aspect and comes in at over $1,000 less. Let's try this out with an AMD setup. This will include a 3.2ghz AMD Phenom II X4 955 (black edition), 890FX chipset, and 2x4gb (8gb) of memory.

ModelKey componentsTotal
Dell Alienware Area 51Intel Core i7 2.8ghz, ATI HD 5870, 3x2gb$2,585
Custom-Built from NeweggAMD Phenom II X4 3.2ghz, ATI HD 5870, 2x4gb$1,400

The AMD setup is $100 less than the Intel setup, now over $1,100 less than the Alienware, and with more memory (though the i7 is a faster processor).

The Area 51 must have a hefty markup on the price, or an exuberantly expensive case. Let's look at the less expensive Alienware Aurora, and configure it similarly to the Area 51:

ModelKey componentsTotal
Dell Alienware AuroraIntel Core i7 2.8ghz, ATI HD 5870, 3x2gb$1,920
Custom-Built from NeweggAMD Phenom II X4 3.2ghz, ATI HD 5870, 2x4gb$1,400

The high-end Aurora is more reasonable than the Area 51, but is still quite a bit more expensive than either the Intel or AMD custom-builds. Is the $400-500 extra worth the Dell warranty and service or Alienware case?


Mid-Range Gaming PC

Since a custom-built high-end gaming PC soundly beats the high-end Alienwares in pricing, let's compare a mid-range gaming PC to the less expensive Alienware Aurora without the high-end configuration.

The Aurora in this comparison will be configured with the Intel i3 2.93ghz dual-core processor, ATI HD 5770 graphics card, 3gb of memory, and a 500gb hard drive. This is essentially the base setup, except I chose a higher level graphics card. It should be good for any mid-level gamer's needs and will be able to play any new game with only a few needing to have the graphics settings lowered.

Like before, the custom-built PC will be identical to the Alienware with the exception of the case (same as before), power supply (SeaSonic S12II 520W), and the keyboard and mouse (same as before).

ModelKey componentsTotal
Dell Alienware AuroraIntel Core i3 2.93ghz, ATI HD 5770, 3x1gb$1,220
Custom-Built from NeweggIntel Core i3 2.93ghz, ATI HD 5770, 3x1gb$940

Again the custom PC, even with the price of the operating system, clearly beats out the Dell. Now let's take a look at what AMD has to offer for comparison. The AMD setup will include AMD's top of the line dual-core, the Phenom II X2 555 (black edition), the 890GX chipset, and 2x2gb of memory.

ModelKey componentsTotal
Dell Alienware AuroraIntel Core i3 2.93ghz, ATI HD 5770, 3x1gb$1,220
Custom-Built from NeweggAMD Phenom II X2 3.2ghz, ATI HD 5770, 2x2gb$850

The AMD system is cheaper yet and will provide similar performance to the Core i3. It also increases the price gap between the custom-built PC and the Alienware.

For those who do not know how to or are not willing to build their own PC, the Dells offer good deals on the lower end PCs. For gaming PCs you're going to be paying a good bit more for a Dell Alienware. If you can build your own PC I highly recommend it. Beyond the value, savings, and great options, building your own PC is fun and a great learning experience.
Share This Post
Twitter

Comments (0)

Share This Post
Twitter
H3XED © Nick Vogt   RSS   Policies   Twitter