Building My Next Workstation–Part 6 (The End)

Let’s start with a quick review of the pieces and what I paid:

Item Cost
Antec P280 Case $90 (may be higher now)
ASUS P8Z77-V LK Motherboard $120
Corsair 500W Power Supply $50 (400w would have been plenty)
Intel I7 3770-K $320 (have seen as low at $299)
Samsung 840 250G SSD $190
WD 1TB 7200 HD $80
32G Kingston DDR3-1600 $200
Bluetooth v4 Dongle $15
DVD Drive $0 (had an extra, figure $30 new)
Total $1065

All of those are not including sales tax and no attempt to buy anything on sale.

Looking at the list and the prices I paid it’s easy to figure out where to adjust your spend to fit your budget. I think that helps a lot if you’re debating buy vs build.  So where could you cut corners?

  • Case. You can get cases as low as $30, decent ones start at $50. That’s assuming you can’t re-use the one you have. If noise matters, spend more like I did. The cases with the fans in the side are noisier no matter quiet the fan.
  • Power Supply. You could go down to 400w easily and I’ve seen good quality ones as low as $32 on sale. It’s worth buying a good quality one, not the place to save dollars by going ultra cheap.
  • Motherboard. Can’t go much cheaper other than the occasional rebate offer. Don’t get anything other than a Z77 board.
  • CPU. If it’s for content consumption only you can get an I3 and save $200. The I5 is the lowest you can go if you want to run VM’s and it’s $100 less than the I7. (I7=$320, I5-$220, I3-$120.  I’d say do the I5 if you need to cut corners. get the Ivy Bridge, not the Sandy Bridge chip for the power savings.
  • Memory. Start with 8G in a single stick. Don’t buy smaller sticks that will be throw aways. You can save $150 by just doing 8G and that is plenty to run a main session and a couple smaller VM’s, and you can always add more later one stick at a time.
  • Drives. Consider if you can’t just re-use one you have first. If not, I’d do either the SSD or the 1TB drive. I use a 256G SSD in my laptop and it runs OSX, Windows  in a VM, plus another couple small/disposable VM’s. It’s not a ton of room but its enough. Save at least $80 by only buying one drive now.
  • Bluetooth. Optional
  • DVD. Optional? Easy to add later.

If you went with a $60 case (save $30),a $40 power supply (save $10),the I5 (save $100, 8G (save $150), and an $80 1TB drive (save $190 with out the SSD) you’d save quite a bit: $480. That’s not as low as you go for a working PC (think Raspbery PI!), but it’s realistic pricing for a modern PC with up to date components.

Was it worth the effort? It was maybe 30 hours total, lots of reading. If you went to Amazon (or NewEgg, or TigerDirect) and ordered it all in one batch you’d spend an hour, then probably 2 hours to unbox and assemble – less if you’ve done it before. That’s not a lot of labor. The direct learning (re-learning/updating) was useful by itself, finding good knowledge sites is a win, and then there are the unexpected lessons – how much I appreciate quiet for example, and the lessons not yet explored – digging into Intel vPro for remote access to the machine. There is also the intangible part…I built this, it’s mine, and I think I’ll be more likely to do upgrades instead of buying again in a few years.

How is this machine different than you would get from Dell or Lenovo or HP? No support line, you have to deal with the vendor on any warranty issues. No crapware installed. You get to pick the OS. You have to invest three hours to order the pieces and assemble it, plus another half an hour to install whatever OS you prefer. The components will be at least as good as and in most cases better than what you get order it as a package. The cabling will not be as neat, but it will still work.

Should you build? For a machine for you, absolutely. If you shop smart you may find something close on sale or outlet sale that will save you effort, but it still won’t be as good in my view. For your parents/family/others? I’d vote no on that, because it makes you the support line – send them to whatever online retailer you like best and let it go.

That wraps up what has been a fun if moderately expensive project. I think my next project will be building or buying a NAS, something I’ve put off too long.

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