Purpose: Prove you that you can save money vs. buying a cookie cutter machine from one of the big guys, even on a budget machine. I have given myself the parameters that all parts should come from one site and be available in-stock at the time of this writing (since if you buy an out of the box machine, you can do that) and the price must come in under $500. I also did not include any rebate deals either from the manufacturers or the parts that I selected, since there's no telling when those will end or change. I can tell you that in the end, rebates from parts manufacturers could have resulted in a better budget machine for the same or less money as what we spent here and could have been roughly equivalent to those available from the manufacturers.
The Parts List
The Case: Broadway Com Corp 204-4H w/450W PSU
Important Features: Built-in Power Supply, Low Price
Notes: Is this the best computer case ever? No. Is it even a really good one? No. But if you want a basic computer, and you don't want to spend a bunch of money, and you don't care about looks, and are not going to move your computer around every week, it will do just fine, thank you very much. This is a case for those who don't care about cases.
Price: $25 + $15.99 Shipping
Motherboard: BIOSTAR GEFORCE 6100-M7 Micro ATX AMD Motherboard - Retail
Important Features: Onboard GeForce 6100 video; available PCI-Express x16 slot
Notes: The onboard video card is not going to impress your gaming geek buddies. But if you are building a computer for your grandma to get online with, or as a machine for the kids, it will do fine.
Price: $59.99 + $4.99 Shipping
CPU: AMD Sempron 64 2500+
Important Features: It's a processor. It processes.
Notes: This is the least expensive Sempron processor available currently. But it is fully capable of handling normal, non-hardcore gaming needs.
Price: $60 + Free Shipping
CPU Cooler: Included with CPU
Notes: Can't beat the price on this
Video Card: Included with motherboard
Notes: Or this one.
RAM: Rosewill 512MB DDR SDRAM
Notes: Value priced RAM from a company that specializes in value priced products. Like most parts suggested for this machine, it isn't the best at what it does, but ti will suffice.
Price: $34.49 + 3.83 Shipping
Hard Drive: Maxtor DiamondMax Plus 8 40GB 7200 RPM Ultra ATA 133 HDD
Notes: This has the 2MB cache instead of 8, which is why it is so inexpensive. If you do a little bit of bargain shopping, you can probably find a good 80GB hard drive with 8MB of onboard cache in this same price range (potentially inclusive of a rebate of some sort). However, since this machines focus is on simple, get the job done computing, this one is quite good.
Price: $46 + 3.49 Shipping
CD Burner / DVD Combo Drive: GIGABYTE White 16X DVD-ROM 52X CD-R 32X CD-RW 52X CD-ROM IDE Combo Drive
Important Features: CD R-RW plus DVD ROM capabilities all in one drive, and inexpensive, too. For a value solution, it doesn't get any better than that.
Price: $28.99 + $4 Shipping
Floppy Drive: SAMSUNG White 1.44MB 3.5" Internal Floppy Drive
Notes: It's a floppy drive. Rapidly becoming unecessary, but not quite there, yet.
Price: $7.99 + 2.50 Shipping
Power Supply: Included with case
Mouse: Logitech Value Optical Mouse
Price: $6 + $0.99 Shipping
Keyboard: Logitech White Wired Keyboard
Price: $7.99 + $5.99 Shipping
Speakers: Logitech S-100 2.0 Speakers
Price: $7 + $5.99 Shipping
Total cost: $283.45 + $47.77 Shipping = $331.22
And if you don't have a copy of Windows lying around, you can purchase WIndows XP Home Edition with SP 2 for another $91.95 + $0.99 Shipping for a grand total cost of $424.16
How much would a comparable machine from one of the major manufacturers cost you? Let's take a look:
Comparisons to The Big Guys
Gateway.com: Similarly configured Gateway DX100S: $488.99 + $89 Shipping = $577.99.
Notes: With Gateway (as with all manufacturers') you get a standard warranty. Gateway's standard warranty is 90 days, parts and labor with technical support available via a toll phone call. When you build your own machine, you are tech support (even for the first 3 months!).
Dell.com: Similarly configured Dell Dimension 3000 Celeron: $419 + $99 Shipping = $518
Notes: No 512MB RAM option is available on this machine. This would likely add another $20 to the cost of the computer. There is also no DVD ROM option available for this computer. You could add one yourself for $34. With Dell (as with all manufacturers), you get a standard warranty. Dell's standard warranty is 90 days, parts and labor, though on this machine, it looks like they give you 1yr version of the same plan unless I am reading it wrong.
hp.com: Similarly configured HP Pavilion a1100e : $384 + $99 Shipping = $484
Notes: HP uses a slightly faster processor (3000+) which would cost an extra $28 as an upgrade on our machine. With HP (as with all manufacturers), you get a standard warranty. HP's standard warranty is 1 year parts and labor.
eMachines: Similarly configured eMachines T3104: $389 +$16 Shipping from Best Buy. Alternatively, you can go to your local Best Buy and pick one up and save that $16.
Savings: None. The eMachine is actually about $35 less expensive ($20 if you have it shipped to you).
Notes: eMachines includes a 100GB Hard Drive, but includes only 256MB of RAM. Upgrading our machine to a 120GB Hard drive would cost about $21. Adding another 256MB of RAM to the eMachine would cost about the same. The eMachine adds an AMD Sempron 3100+, an upgrade which would cost $42 for our machine.
Conclusions: It is possible to beat out most of the big guys on price, even when comparing their bargain basement machine to what you could build inexpensively. Gateway, Dell, and HP can't touch the price of our budget built machine, and in all three of those cases, I think you'd have a better computer if you built our budget machine.
The eMachine throws a bit of a monkey wrench in, by being $35 cheaper, and including a few extra features that we do not have, in the 100GB hard drive and a (slightly) faster processor. For our stated purpose, the faster processor is probably unimportant, since the user of this machine will not generally be performing greatly processor intensive activities. The bigger hard drive would increase the differential by $21. Other differences that might be of interest, the eMachines does not have a PCI-Express slot for an upgraded video card, so it's upgrade path is severely limited. But again, against our stated goal of a basic, non-enthusiast machine, that's probably an unimportant consideration. If I had done a bit more bargain shopping, I could have got the price down another $35 or more, but I wanted to keep this comparison simple so that a person going to one site could purchase everything they needed and build themselves a competitive computer.
Originally when I started to do the research for this post, I really didn't think I could come close to the obscenely cheap prices that appeared on the big guys' sites. I found in looking closer at those deals though, that the machines offered were not ones that most people would purchase (even the big guys' own sites recommend many, many upgrades). I was pleasantly surprised to find that I was wrong and that you can, in fact, compete on price.
All individual component prices are as found at www.newegg.com on Oct. 30th, 2005. All complete system prices are correct as of the same date and were found on each manufacturer's web site.