Shopping around

Building your own workstation from scratch might be a hassle, but it could save you money. We recreated the build of a high-performance all-in PC to see if we could beat it for price.

 border=0 />Conventional wisdom once stated that building your own PC was more than just a way to create your perfect computer – it was also a lot cheaper than buying a finished system. In recent years, though, economies of scale have overturned this truism, making it nearly impossible for the average individual PC builder to beat a big vendor’s price when it comes to a basic desktop system. 
</p>
<p>
Just try building yourself a Pentium-4 based system for less than you’d pay for any basic Dell Dimension PC. Every day Dell buys a gazillion hard drives, optical drives, motherboards, and so on, so it gets a better unit price for these components than you do for your single purchase. The fact is, without cannibalizing half of your current PC’s parts, you can’t touch Dell when it comes to building a cheap PC.
</p>
<p>
However, the high-end market offers the chance to save a few quid by building your machine yourself. This is because PC-builders don’t tend to operate so close to the margins for more powerful computers.
</p>
<p>
<b>Super-powered Shuttle</b>
</p>
<p>
To test this theory, we tested a high-end desktop PC, and then tried to match its performance and components on a PC we built ourselves. Small form factor manufacturer Shuttle recently announced its first dual-graphics-board system – the XPC P 2600. The new unit promised blazing desktop performance, and provided a perfect pace-setter to test our home made PC against. 
</p>
<p>
The XPC P 2600 is impressive. Using NVidia’s NForce 4 chip set and SLI technology, the P 2600’s design is great. The company fits two full-sized EVGA 7800GTX cards side by side in the 12.6-x-8.3-x-8.7-inch case. An AMD X2 4800+ CPU, 2GB of memory, two 400GB hard drives, and a DVD burner are also built-in.
</p>
<p>
In our tests the P 2600 put all that cutting-edge hardware to good use and performed incredibly well. It scored well in our graphics tests, and was remarkably quiet despite its seven internal fans.
</p>
<p>
If the P 2600 has any weakness, it’s a lack of expandability. There is no room to add a part to this machine – no open PCI or PCI Express slots, no bays to add hard drives, and no empty memory sockets. That means, for example, that you’ll never be able to upgrade from the integrated audio.
</p>
<p>
And then there’s the spare-no-expense price tag. The system we tested – which included a 17-inch LCD, complete with carrying handle – sells for $4,635 (around £2,610)
</p>
<p>
Can this price be bettered by building the computer yourself? We clicked on NewEgg.com to find out. Since this home-made PC was built in the US, and involves US-specific products, we haven’t converted the prices to Sterling. 
</p>
<p>
<b>Shopping list</b>
</p>
<p>
Shuttle started off engineering and selling bare-bones systems exclusively; it only started selling fully configured desktops a few years ago. If you look hard enough you can find the exact same chassis and motherboard combination as that of the P 2600 – it’s the $559 XPC SN26. 
</p>
<p>
Most of the P 2600’s components are standard-issue, so we just picked them out and put them together.
</p>
<p>
<i>One AMD Athlon 64 X2 4800+: $884 <BR>
Two 400GB Seagate Barracuda 7200.8 SATA drives: $471 <BR>
Two EVGA GeForce 7800 GTX boards: $918 <BR>
One Shuttle XP17 monitor: $390 <BR>
One copy of Windows XP Pro (OEM version): $149</i>
</p>
<p>
For parts that couldn’t be matched precisely, top-quality alternates were picked. These weren’t always the most expensive, but weren’t the cheapest either.
</p>
<p>
<i>One Lite-On DVD Burner: $43 <BR>
Two sticks of Corsair XMS DDR 400 memory (2GB total): $221 <BR>
One Logitech mouse, keyboard, and headset: $110</i>
</p>
<p>
By the end, we’d pretty much re-created the Shuttle’s $4,635 XPC P 2600 system. Grand total: $3,745.
</p>
<p>
<b>Doing the math</b>
</p>
<p>
A saving of $890 (around £500) isn’t bad. True, the P 2600 comes with some additional software, a system warranty, and a QuickStart guide and disc-based manual.
</p>
<p>
In the end, the question for anybody who wants a system like this is simple. Do you want to spend the time and effort to build it yourself and save some cash, or would you rather have it delivered to you ready to go?
</p>
<p>
For our money – or lack thereof – we’d build every time.
</p>
</div>
</section>
</div>
<footer>
<style>
.shareLinks div div a {
display: inline-block;
width: 83px;
height: 27px;
overflow: hidden;
text-indent: -1000px;
}
</style>
<div class="shareLinks">
<div class="socialIcon facebook">
<div data-gd-plugin="facebook-share" data-gd-use-network-button="false" data-gd-started="true"><a class="ihq-share-facebook" data-type="facebook" data-url="https%3A%2F%2Fwww%2Edigitalartsonline%2Eco%2Euk%2Ffeatures%2Fcreative%2Dlifestyle%2Fshopping%2Daround%2F" href="#" onclick="var sTop = window.screen.height/2-(218); var sLeft = window.screen.width/2-(313);window.open(Share

Note: We may earn a commission when you buy through links on our site, at no extra cost to you. This doesn't affect our editorial independence. Learn more.

Read Next...