A friend of mine is in need of a new home PC for her family. APPROXIMATE PURCHASE DATE: Within a month BUDGET RANGE: $300-400 before rebates (looking to keep the cost down) SYSTEM USAGE FROM MOST TO LEAST IMPORTANT: Home use, internet, very lite-gaming PARTS NOT REQUIRED: PREFERRED WEBSITE(S) FOR PARTS: newegg.com COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: US PARTS PREFERENCES: None OVERCLOCKING: No SLI OR CROSSFIRE: No MONITOR RESOLUTION: Unknown, needs monitor ADDITIONAL COMMENTS: If it keeps the price down, on-board video is OK. A good LCD monitor for $100 or less available in store at somewhere like Best Buy, Staples, Office Depot, or Office Max would be awesome. Also, looking to include a wifi card.
Yeah, build-your-own is not the cheapest route. Manufacturers buy their parts in bulk and get better prices, like buying CPU's by the 1000 lot.
However, the nice thing about building your own machine is upgrading. Dell and Gateway make nice little machines for mom and pop, or Joe Plumber, but they are a nightmare to try and upgrade. That's becasue Gateway wants you to buy a new machine every 3 years, they make it almost impossible to upgrade the budget machines. I know, because I have tried to upgrade dozens for people, only to tell them that it isn't possible.
That doesn't sound like an issue for your friend, it sounds like they will be happy with a budget machine for the next couple of years. Plus the monitor and peripherals will be cheaper that way. Hell, they may even throw in a printer!
The cheapest home build computer that I am able to throw together that includes good quality, name brand parts and an OEM windows license is about $550
That includes a good Antec case, a good Corsair or other tier I/tier II power supply, good name brand DDR3 memory, a dual or tripe core AMD processor, and onboard video. It's decent but about $150 above budget assuming you would need to buy the operating system as well.