I started out on CP/M systems with the S-100 bus.
I bought an IBM XT clone with two floppy drives, no hard drive, and I have built my own since then. I still have the original machine, however, it is on its 10th box and 15th monitor. < g > Oh, well, at least the power cord is original.
Whether to build or to buy is a tough choice. It depends on so many factors.
Brand name systems often have limitations. For example, recent HP systems use the Asus motherboard (MoBo) and these are generally excellent, other than having a BIOS with limited options. Most of the standard ASUS options are just not there.
Brand name systems may use a non-standard MoBo. Gateway use an ATX-B MoBo, which may become as standard but it is not there yet. HP often has a standard ATX MoBo. Dell is its own thing. Does this really matter? Probably not, since the MoBo does not usually fail.
Brand name systems may use non-standard accessories. HP puts their CDs behind a cover. Most standard drives will fit there. Some Gateway systems uses a sculpted drive that is only available from them. Dell drives are often, but not always, standard.
Pizza box systems look cool but they don't hold standard sized cards and they may have a power supply with a small fan that gets right toasty.
A manufactured unit gives has a team of engineers designing it, not just one computer guru. It also comes with the operating system (OS) configured for you.
There are some down sides to manufactured units. The power supply for that pizza box unit can be mighty expensive since it is only available one place. The OS may be copied to a special partition of the hard drive; it will be up to you to make rescue CDs. All you get is a license sticker on the box and instructions for burning a set of rescue disks.
Many manufactured systems come with a "home" version of Windows. For many users that is OK. For many it is not as it restricts networking and some other activities.
Building a system is not as simple as it used to be. There are so many options and styles to contend with.
The proliferation of memory types, CPU types, etc. can make for a real challenge when you are putting together a system. There is no longer a "Pentium" chip. Instead there is Core Duo, Core 2 Duo, Dual Core, etc. Then there is the matter of die type. Just try and find the right CPU and fan for your MoBO. It can be difficult.
Newer MoBos may have all the features but they also have all the bugs, at least until they are not the newest MoBo on the block. Check out the list of acceptable memory for your MoBo. Some MoBos do not like certain brands of memory. An integrator or a name brand builder will take care of these details. They can be problematic for the individual builder.
There are a number of technical considerations. For example, memory comes in different voltages and now there is DDR3 memory. Windows XP will not use more than about 3.25 or 3.5 gig of memory. Vista pushes this closer to 8 gig. An individual builder may discover some of these issues the hard way. An integrate or name brand building has already taken care of them.
So, if you are willing to shop around for the best parts at the best price, and if you are willing to deal with driver issues, compatibility concerns, and the like, building may be for you. At least you will know what is inside the box. You won't discover some day that updated drivers are no longer available for that OEM video board that inside your unit, or that your memory is an odd type or that is uses n odd voltage.
I have an HP Pavillion I inherited (long story) that is my primary machine. I love it, other than the limited BIOS. I moved it to a bigger box with more space for disk drives and more fans and I added a super video board, but otherwise it is the same HP Pavillion you can buy at the local retail store. I also ditched the Vista Home and installed XP Professional.
So, which will I do? I will likely keep on building them. That way I have control over what is inside.
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