wikiHow to Buy an Assembled PC

You can buy a personal computer directly from a manufacturer or from an electronics or department store. These computers, sometimes called branded PCs, bear the insignia of a manufacturer and are often equipped with a generic hardware configuration and a suite of software applications suitable for many first-time computer users. If you're an experienced user who has very specific needs that a branded PC can't adequately meet for you, or you anticipate upgrading your personal computer after buying it, you should consider buying a custom-built PC. Also known as an assembled PC, a custom-built computer requires you to give more thought to what you want in a PC and to do more research into individual computer components than if you choose to buy a branded PC, but the potential savings and satisfaction can be worth it. Here are the things you need to consider if you're interested in buying an assembled PC.


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    Consider whether you want a desktop or laptop computer. If you like to work from a number of locations in your house or outside of it, you'll want a laptop computer. If you prefer to work from a dedicated office inside your home or at a remote location, you'll want a desktop computer. Presently, assembled PCs are more likely to be desktop computers than laptop computers, but the increasing popularity of laptops and wireless Internet connections is causing more assembled laptop PCs to be built than previously.
    • If you divide your time between working in 1 location and working remotely, you may want to consider one of these options: If you spend more of your time at home than working remotely, you may want to have both a desktop computer and a laptop computer, with the desktop being an assembled PC and the laptop a branded PC. If you spend more time working remotely than at home, you may want to have a laptop with a docking station in your home office to plug the laptop into so you can use it with a desktop-style keyboard and monitor.
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    Determine what you're going to use the computer for. You can use either a branded PC or an assembled PC for most all-around needs. If you have specific needs for which you're buying a computer, you may want to buy an assembled PC, as you can have the computer built to your specifications.
    • For playing video games, you'll want the fastest processor and the most random access memory (RAM) you can get, a fast hard drive, and the best graphics card you can afford. You may want to have multiple graphics cards, which will require additional expansion slots and a bigger power supply.
    • For digital editing of photographs and videos, you'll want a high-capacity hard drive, a fast processor, and a good graphics card. If you plan to connect the computer to your TV set to view your digital images, you'll want to have the computer equipped with the same type of connectors (S-video, DVI, or HDMI) that your TV has. For video editing, you'll also need either a USB or Firewire port to connect a video camera to your computer and a quality sound card.
    • For a home recording studio, you'll want a high-quality sound card, a fast processor, and a high-capacity hard drive to handle the sound files you create. You'll also want to have a MIDI connector if you plan to connect the computer to a MIDI keyboard.
    • For running a home business, the ideal configuration depends on the kind of business you run. For a graphic design business, you'll want a quality graphics card and a large monitor. For a business that requires you to run a number of software applications at once, you'll want a fast processor and hard drive. You may also want a large monitor if you keep a number of screens open at once or spend most of your time in front of the display.
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    Decide how much you're willing to spend and on what. Assembled PCs often run cheaper than branded PCs, in part because they don't come loaded with software you won't use. However, depending on how you configure an assembled PC, it can cost as much or more than a branded PC of equal processing power. The main costs come from the speed of the processor, the storage capacity and speed of the hard drive, how many slots the motherboard includes, and how many of them are filled with memory, sound, or graphics cards.
    • The faster the processor you buy, the faster your computer runs the software on it, but also the more cost it adds to your computer system. Faster processors now feature multiple processing cores (dual-core, quad-core, 6-core, and 8-core).
    • The larger the capacity of your hard drive, the more data (documents, images, sound files) you can store on it and the faster its retrieval speed in revolutions per minute, the sooner you can start working with your data. Hard drives are increasingly being made with a speed of 7,200 rpm, with older drives operating at 5,400 rpm. The fastest hard drives are solid-state drives, which have no moving parts, but these cost a good bit more than other hard drives.
    • The motherboard holds the processor, memory boards, and other peripheral cards. It should be compatible with the processor you buy and have enough expansion slots to upgrade the computer as you see fit. It should also have enough connection ports to your peripherals, at least 2 or 3 USB ports, and connectors for a TV, MIDI keyboard, or video camera as needed.
    • Dedicated sound and graphics cards have their own processing chips, allowing them to produce better sounds and image displays than memory chips within the computer's motherboard.
    • Memory comes relatively cheap, but it is important. The more memory you have, the more applications you can run at once, and the better your computer will perform overall. Be sure you get enough memory to run your computer's operating system; in general, the more recent the operating system, the more it can do and the more memory you'll need. You can buy an assembled PC with plenty of available memory card slots with the intent to upgrade later, but it may be better in the long run to buy the additional memory before you need it.
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    Look for reputable manufacturers of computer components. The advantage of buying an assembled PC over a branded PC is that you can choose which components you have installed in your computer when you buy it. The disadvantage is that you have to become knowledgeable about the manufacturers of components instead of looking for a familiar brand name for the computer. You can research component manufacturers on the Internet or by asking around at computer stores or by asking other computer users.
    • The 2 main processor manufacturers are AMD (maker of the Athlon chip) and Intel (makers of the i, T, and G series chips and best known for the Pentium and Celeron chips). Some processors have a reputation for running hotter than others, requiring more and bigger fans to keep the processor from overheating.
    • Reputable hard drive manufacturers include Seagate, Western Digital, and Iomega.
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    Look for a reputable computer assembler. You can build a personal computer yourself by ordering the components from distributors, but most buyers of assembled PCs prefer to have someone else assemble the computer for them. You can either deal with a computer manufacturer who assembles PCs to order and sells them over the Internet, or you can buy from a local computer assembler.
    • Buying direct from a manufacturer may offer you the comfort of a brand name for your personal computer while still having a choice in the components that are used in it. However, your choices can be limited to a narrow range of processors, hard drives, or other components that may be what the manufacturer got a good deal on at the time and may or may not meet your needs. Also, you may have to send the computer back to the manufacturer or to another servicer if the computer needs servicing while under warranty.
    • Buying from a local assembler lets you ask questions directly of the company, choose from a broader range of components, and, in most cases, have local access to service and support if you have problems with your computer. You can also upgrade your computer more easily, usually without worrying about whether a hardware or operating system upgrade will void your warranty.
    • You can vet the quality of a computer assembler by getting a list of that assembler's customers and interviewing them at random, as well as searching Internet websites and forums. You want an assembler with an established track record, decent warranties, and excellent technical support.


  • If you're buying an assembled desktop PC to replace your current desktop, you can keep your current keyboard, monitor, and mouse if they still meet your needs. Although USB ports have largely replaced the older PS/2 connectors for mice and keyboards, you can get adapters if you need them.


  • Look at the warranty offered on the computer and its components and what is and isn't covered. (For an assembled PC, you may have warranties on the individual components as well as what the assembler provides on the assembled PC itself.) Usually, warranties exclude coverage for physical and electric damage, as well as the power supply or laptop battery.
  • Be aware that while both desktop and laptop computers can be upgraded, it usually costs more to upgrade a laptop than a desktop.
  • Regardless of the cost break, an assembled PC is as vulnerable to viruses and power surges as a branded PC. Be sure to have an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) with surge protection and a good antivirus program. (You will have more flexibility in choosing an antivirus program with an assembled PC than with a branded PC, however.)

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