Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Step 8: Choose Your Vendor

How To Build A PC: From Component Selection To Installation
By

Online merchants leverage lower operating expenses to price products far below those needed to keep the doors open at brick and mortar shops. But shipping costs can still kill your hopes for big savings, particularly if you shop across multiple storefronts. Per-item shipping often gets better as more items are added to the order, so the savings attributed to buying online are maximized by purchasing from the fewest possible sources.

A difficult cascade of questions may consume you if you consider many sellers, various components at different prices, and a range of shipping rates. The easy path is picking one vendor able to give you the best deal on your complete list. Keep in mind that single-item shipping rates quoted through shopping engines should drop significantly as order size increases, and if this doesn't happen it's time to check the next vendor on your list!

Local stores must increase prices to cover their higher operating expenses, but many receive items in large enough quantities to save you some of the money you'd otherwise pay on shipping. Consider the example of a single stack of DVD-R media: online pricing might be $6 plus $8 shipping, totaling $14. If a local store bought 100 stacks at a 10% discount, squandered that 10% savings on bulk shipping, and added a huge 50% mark-up, it'd still be able to sell them for $12...saving you $2 and several days of waiting.

"Loss leaders" are another way for buyers to save when purchasing locally. These are items that larger stores like Best Buy or Fry's Electronics sell at a loss in order to lure you in, hoping sales staff or glamorous displays will get you to pick up a few more things on the way out. Relying on one-time deals often requires substituting a lesser part to get a better value, however.

Level Of Service

It's often said that you get what you pay for, and service is one area where local stores have the ability to outperform their online rivals (though not all of them do). Because small shops are constantly trying to build their reputations, and because they deal in lower volume, they're usually willing to go the extra mile to answer questions and earn your business. Larger electronics chains focus on volume instead, and would rather sell you another part than figure out why the one you have isn't working. Online merchants expect you to have enough knowledge to figure things out on your own.

Consider the situation of dealing with a compatibility issue:

  • Smaller, locally-owned shops will usually offer advice, inspect the item for free if you believe it's defective, or diagnose it in your system for a reasonable fee (again, that's not to say all of them will). On the other hand, they may not be willing to provide a refund if you try to return a new component in used condition.
  • Most online merchants don't provide adequate tech support, instead going directly to the return process while charging a 15% "restocking fee" for any returned item. You'll have paid shipping both on the delivery and the return, and your 15% fee will go towards someone else's "open box" price reduction.
  • Favoring irresponsible buyers, "big box" retailers might give you all your money back if you come up with a good enough reason (or plausible excuse) for the return.

Seller Integrity

Local stores live and die by word of mouth, and will normally try to settle disputes amicably. Larger chain stores will generally try to dodge the bullet, though it might take a while for you to reach a satisfactory outcome.

Online merchants need to keep the majority of customers happy, but a minority can fall through the cracks. Many price comparison engines—such as Google Shopping and Amazon—have rating systems linked to viewable buyer comments.

Auction sites are a great place to find discontinued hardware, but final selling prices on newer parts often exceed those of larger discount sites. Manufacturer warranties may not apply (especially to gray-market parts) and seller warranties are only as good as the seller's word. Be careful, though, and learn from my personal experience. I found a seller who had spent more than three years building his reputation as a power seller, and had a favorable rating of over 99%. His "retirement" plan, apparently, was to advertise items he didn't own during his final month of sales, and he was able to abscond with a six-figure salary of ill-gotten gains, a few hundred dollars of which were mine. It has become more difficult to succeed at these scams in recent times, as payment companies with buyer protection will now track down criminals who've cost them insurance money. Yet, we still hear of sellers sending a box full of rocks or paper to prove shipment. Unless the seller has a history of doing this, it's your word against his concerning what actually arrived. Auction sites become a reasonable option whenever the benefits substantially outweigh the risks. Just be sure that you take all necessary precautions, and are prepared for any hardships that might come in spite of your caution.

Purchasing Summary

Online merchants offer the lowest price, but shipping policies favor large purchases. If you can get most items from one site, your savings could be significant. Inexpensive orders are often best-sourced locally due to shipping fees.

Human interface components like keyboards, mice, and game controllers are so dependent on individual ergonomics that it's always best to try a few before making a purchase. Large retail chains may provide an adequate selection of parts to try out, but some buyers use these stores to "window shop" before placing an online order.

Display all 34 comments.
  • 6 Hide
    gofasterstripes , June 23, 2014 2:11 AM
    Can I once-again say a big "Thanks" to the Tom's team for writing a great article which will save me lots of time and hassle in explaining PC building and component selection to n00bs who ask me for help.

    Cheers!
  • -1 Hide
    JOSHSKORN , June 23, 2014 2:57 AM
    What about NUCs and cases alike? Yes, I realize those are too small for discrete GPU cards, but depending on your usage and space, it just might be what one needs.
  • 4 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2014 3:06 AM
    Quote:
    What about NUCs and cases alike? Yes, I realize those are too small for discrete GPU cards, but depending on your usage and space, it just might be what one needs.
    It's addressed in the last two sentences of page 1:
    Quote:
    Intel even jumped on the tiny bandwagon with its similar-appearing NUC (Next Unit [of] Computing) form factor. Most of these machines are available either as a barebones system (no drives or memory) or a complete PC, and all of them use external, notebook-style power adapters.
    There's really nothing more to say. You don't build these from separate components, you just finish them with a drive and memory as you would any of the other systems covered in this article.
    Quote:
    Can I once-again say a big "Thanks" to the Tom's team for writing a great article which will save me lots of time and hassle in explaining PC building and component selection to n00bs who ask me for help.

    Cheers!
    You're welcome!
  • -1 Hide
    revanchrist , June 23, 2014 3:25 AM
    Should put in a Cooler Master Elite 110 to showcase a mini-ITX instead of that huge Lian-Li.
  • 1 Hide
    illuminatuz , June 23, 2014 3:47 AM
    Guess most of the issues in the forums will be ironed out by this one simple post..
    Wonderful as usual toms.. Appreciate it..
    :D 
  • 1 Hide
    rolli59 , June 23, 2014 5:46 AM
    Most if not all issues brought up on the forums have answers in some or the other article on Tomshardware. This article compiles answers to build questions.
  • 1 Hide
    AMD Radeon , June 23, 2014 6:37 AM
    This article is very good reference newbies asking how to build PC in toms forum.
  • 0 Hide
    DookieDraws , June 23, 2014 6:54 AM
    Long time reader of Tom's Hardware, even before I finally became a member. This has been a very helpful site to me and my friends over the years. In fact, this IS our go-to site for when we need to figure something out. I am always learning something new.

    Great article! No doubt this is going to help a lot of folks.

    Thanks, guys!
  • 1 Hide
    Yuka , June 23, 2014 7:25 AM
    Very good write up guys.

    I think you missed a section for "SLI - XFire", but it's great overall. Since its a guide for folks with little to no knowledge, I think it would help them to dispel myths and get some facts over XFire and SLI.

    Cheers!
  • 2 Hide
    Xeres Forteen , June 23, 2014 7:53 AM
    Good article with excellent info. I'm going to just add my 2 cents on how I like to do the actual assembly of the PC after receiving the parts.

    First I put the motherboard into the PC (not fastened) to see where the standoffs are going to be placed onto the case. Also I note what routes I'm going use for my cabling. Then I take the motherboard out and insert the standoffs and port plate into the case. Also I take my case cables (power sw, reset sw, USB, front audio and mic cables and put a twist tie around them all and place them near where they are to be plugged into the motherboard. These cables are easy to lose track of.

    Next I place the power supply, and "bay devices" (optical drives, non-removable storage, etc) into the case and have those cables attached and either hanging over the outside of the case or routed behind the motherboard tray. This obviously depends on how you determined the cables will be routed earlier.

    Then I take my motherboard, put the CPU, RAM, and cooling system on as much as I can. Then I place the whole thing into the case - usually at an angle at first, leading with the side with the RAM (which is normally going behind the case bays in smaller cases) in first.

    At this point it's just a matter of aligning the motherboard with the standoffs and port plate. Plug it all in (including the case plugs which are conveniently out of the way and together).

    Power it all on and volia!
  • 1 Hide
    Onus , June 23, 2014 8:03 AM
    I would like to have seen the article begin well before case selection, with questions as to purpose for the build. Define the purpose, then you know what sort of parts you'll need for it. The case is often the last component I choose, and only once was the first, when the purpose was to build the smallest system possible that would meet my needs.
    Otherwise, it was a good article. People who are uncertain of building their own PCs can learn a lot from it.
  • 0 Hide
    zelgar , June 23, 2014 9:10 AM
    I'm a little confused with the section dealing with Choosing your Power Supply. If the power requirements of the components is 647 W as shown in the example, how could you use any power supply that isn't designed to higher wattage? Is it expected that only 85% of the design load will ever be used (i.e., that you wouln't be using the max energy requirements of all of your components at the same time)? Wouldn't it be better to have your power supply based upon the max usage of the components since this may occur (e.g., running a modern game at max settings that your computer can run)? Aren't Power supplies rated Bronze/Silver/Gold/Platnium at 80% of the Power Supplies capacity, so you'd want a PS that is would be running at 80%+ at max load (e.g., 647/.80 = 809 W or 647/.85 = 761W)?
  • 1 Hide
    Damn_Rookie , June 23, 2014 11:35 AM
    Quote:
    I'm a little confused with the section dealing with Choosing your Power Supply. If the power requirements of the components is 647 W as shown in the example, how could you use any power supply that isn't designed to higher wattage? Is it expected that only 85% of the design load will ever be used (i.e., that you wouln't be using the max energy requirements of all of your components at the same time)? Wouldn't it be better to have your power supply based upon the max usage of the components since this may occur (e.g., running a modern game at max settings that your computer can run)? Aren't Power supplies rated Bronze/Silver/Gold/Platnium at 80% of the Power Supplies capacity, so you'd want a PS that is would be running at 80%+ at max load (e.g., 647/.80 = 809 W or 647/.85 = 761W)?

    The 647W is measured at the wall socket, as the article mentions input power. After taking into account the 85% efficiency of their power supply in this example, the PSU is only outputting 549.95W to the PC components at max load. Adding some headroom they come to the 600W PSU recommendation.

    Personally I'd like a little more headroom, but the calculations in the article are correct.
  • -1 Hide
    zelgar , June 23, 2014 12:00 PM
    I think the article will confuse noobs of talking about the power measurement at the wall socket versus the power rating of the power supply. If the sum of the power requirements of the computer components is X, they need a power supply the provides more than X. Making them aware that the power supply will be using more energy than X at the wall is useful to know so that people don't buy a PSU that is too wasteful. Since undersizing a PSU is more catestropic than oversizing one (e.g., crashes/boot faiolures vs electricity costs) getting one that meets the needs of the components is the starting point of evaluating PSU.
  • -1 Hide
    n3cw4rr10r , June 23, 2014 12:37 PM
    I usually buy my pc components from Amazon. #1 customer service. They dont give you any bs. Hell they even send you a pre-paid shipping label to ship the item back. I have never had they charge me a "re-stocking" fee on any item, even when I returned item because I did not like it.
  • 0 Hide
    PapaCrazy , June 23, 2014 1:16 PM
    After all this time, why do I still get the most excited about the cases? Maybe cuz the components are logical forgone conclusions, but the case is the artistic, subjective bit? I don't know, years at this stuff and a sexy case still turns my head. The mobos are starting to look really sexy nowadays too.
  • -1 Hide
    Jim Maher , June 23, 2014 3:03 PM
    Great article! This is a wonderful overview, and should prompt most readers to research their more detailed questions on the forums.

    Building your own is great fun, and most serious users should probably give it a try at least once in their lives. Given that, I'd recommend an annual "refresh" of this article, with updated info and re-validated links to corresponding reference articles and resource forums.

    A great service to your readers!
  • -1 Hide
    chaz_music , June 23, 2014 5:24 PM
    Excellent article with lots of interesting information.

    I wanted to comment on the power supply part of the article. One is the efficiency and the total cost to use versus the front end purchase cost. A less efficient system will obviously create more total heat as wasted energy. But aside from possibly making someones room rather uncomfortable, it also increases your airconditioning energy use. A good rule of thumb is that an AC system will use 50% of the heat energy. To add the total annual cost, multiply that times the percentage of the year that the AC is on. So your example of a 647W system with 85% PSU would give (550W used):

    647W - 550W = 93W at plug

    93W * 50% = 47W AC energy

    Total Energy (summertime) = 93W + 47W = 140W

    If the AC were on the while year and the PC were on continuously, this is about $140 annually, or almost $12 per month added electricity in the summer. If you did the same thing with a cheap 70% efficient system, you get $248 annual cost which is $20.63 per month summertime cost. At a difference of $8, it does not take many months (of continuous on!) to make the more efficient PSU make much more sense.

    The other topic I wanted to comment on is ESD. I am an engineer and work with ESD issues everyday. It is a very real an poorly understood issue by many because of the often hidden or delayed failures that it causes. ESD many time causes walking wounded damage without an immediate failure, which finally fails several months later. And if you look at websites sell PC parts, many people complain of DOAs. Many, many DOAs are caused by ESD. Memory, CPUs, motherboards, HDDs, and other sensitive systems are often returned as DOA, driving up the cost of the PC enthusiast market and adding frustration. In research texts, they estimate the global electronic failures due to ESD to be 40-60% of the total failures over product life.

    So that little $5 ESD wrist strap is money well spent. Buy one and reduce your heartburn.

    Charles
  • 1 Hide
    Crashman , June 23, 2014 5:49 PM
    Quote:
    The other topic I wanted to comment on is ESD. I am an engineer and work with ESD issues everyday. It is a very real an poorly understood issue by many because of the often hidden or delayed failures that it causes. ESD many time causes walking wounded damage without an immediate failure, which finally fails several months later. And if you look at websites sell PC parts, many people complain of DOAs. Many, many DOAs are caused by ESD. Memory, CPUs, motherboards, HDDs, and other sensitive systems are often returned as DOA, driving up the cost of the PC enthusiast market and adding frustration. In research texts, they estimate the global electronic failures due to ESD to be 40-60% of the total failures over product life.

    So that little $5 ESD wrist strap is money well spent. Buy one and reduce your heartburn.

    Charles
    The vast majority of "DOA" returns are for undamaged products (simple things like having a standoff or cable in the wrong place that caused power fault/no boot/no damage are number 1, followed by fraudulent returns at Number 2). And the majority of damaged products have physical damage from the amateur technician cramming things together. I used to be in that business.

    The only problem with wrist straps is that most people don't want to be "tied" to anything. They're a great idea that's really rarely needed. Feel free to say otherwise if you live in the desert.

  • -1 Hide
    cutiemech , June 24, 2014 12:31 AM
    Skimmed through it but didn't saw anything about tools required for assembly like what screwdriver etc
Display more comments
React To This Article