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A Guide to Computer Hardware

Written on July 31, 2006 by Richard Millard

Final Thoughts

Why should I care about all this?

It's certainly easy to just throw up your hands and buy the first thing that sounds good. After all, this conclusion is preceded by 11 pages of information that barely scratches the surface. A lot of companies understand that people don't have the time or inclination to learn all this stuff about computers, and will just sell them a pre-designed system. The advantage to the consumer is that they don't have to bother learning the details about all this computer hardware.

Unfortunately, the odds that you get the 'right system' off-the-shelf are pretty low. There's a pretty good chance that you're paying for something you don't need, or you're not paying for something that you do need. Without a little research, it's hard to know if you're buying quality components, or getting suckered into buying a lemon with low-quality parts. With the information in this article, you should be able to work with a custom computer company and design the system that will give you all the features you want, without paying for some that you don't need.

There's a lot you stand to gain by choosing a reputable custom system builder, and knowing the basics of computer hardware. Some upfront knowledge is the first line of defense against a sneaky salesman. After reading this, hopefully you'll know better if that salesman is assuring you a system will be 100% quiet, but it's got a stock CPU cooler and eight 80mm fans.

Well, why use a system builder at all? Can't I build my own?

Sure can! If you have the knowledge and ability to build your own system, this is certainly the way to save some dough. There are some drawbacks to building your own system though. Jon Bach, owner of Puget Custom Computers, wrote an article called: "The pitfalls of building your own computer". He describes the common roadblocks people hit when trying to build your own system: delays, unforeseen problems, bargain shopping, defective parts, compatibility problems, support issues, and more. If you're looking at building your own, that article is worth a read. If you're comfortable handling those issues, then go for it! Hands down, it's the best way to build a system cheaply and maintain control over each step.

If buying a off-the-shelf system isn't for you, and neither is building your own, then what's left?

The benefits of a custom system builder.

A custom system builder might just be the ticket, but first you have to find a good company.

A reputable company can offer you quality pre-purchase consulting, and will be happy to work with you to design your system. They should be open and honest with you about the benefits and drawbacks of each piece of hardware, and willing to be flexible to make sure you have the "right" system. They should have a transparent building process, where they'll communicate frequently with you, giving you a progress report on how your custom system is coming along. Most importantly, they ought to be there if you have any problems, with first-class support and repair policies.

Other companies emphasize bottom line price, giving sub-par service, and using low quality parts. These companies might take days to reach via phone for service, and deliver you a lower quality product than you expect. It's important to check around, and find the right kind of system builder for you.

A great place to research the history and feedback on system builders is the website, Reseller Ratings, which is all consumer driven reviews and feedback. Don't be afraid to check with your local Better Business Bureau either. Barring anything else, I recommend you give the store a call, and see how they treat you on the phone. If you feel like they're an honest and trustworthy company that goes a long way in making your shopping experience a comfortable one, then they may be the right company for you.

Final Thoughts

When you boil it all down, very few people have the time and knowledge to build their own computer, but off-the-shelf systems aren't always a great fit. Shopping with a custom system builder can be a very rewarding experience, and a little background knowledge can help you make the right custom selections for your needs.

The goal of this article was to help equip you in making these sort of decisions, and demystify some of the more confusing decisions when you're computer shopping.

In this article, I've purposefully tried to avoid listing specific model numbers of particular hardware. Were I to have done so, this whole thing would be obsolete within two months. Instead, I've tried to generalize about each piece of hardware, to help you have a basic understanding of how it interacts with your system. This article isn't a replacement for the help of a professional sales rep, but it will give you a better understanding of whatever he or she is trying to sell you.

You should be all set! Make a list of your computer needs, find a company with a good reputation, and give them a call.

Good luck!

Questions or Comments?

I'd love to hear them. Drop me a line: richard@pugetsystems.com
Richard A. Millard
Sales Manager
Puget Custom Computers

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