This is an experiment I am conducting to see how viable building a computer strictly for the purpose of reselling it will be. My objective is to build a complete computer system from scratch and then sell it at cost using a classified ad. The only profit I will receive will be the enjoyment of the entire computer building process. I will catalog the experience in this article.
Statement of Purpose
As mentioned above, I glean a certain amount of enjoyment from building computers. Unfortunately, I do not have the means to buy a new computer every 6 months, and I already have plenty of computers, so I cannot build computers on a consistent basis. When brainstorming for ways to overcome this hurdle, I came up with the idea to work on a single system at a time, sell it, and repeat the cycle again, and thus this experiment was born. If I have a hard time selling the computer upon its completion, then I will have to come up with some new ideas. Either way, this experiment gives me an excuse to build (yet) another computer.
Another reason for conducting this experiment is just plain old competition. Now, I know that I will not become the next Dell, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t try to build a better computer than they can. For once, someone will know exactly what they are getting in their computer. I will specify each and every piece of hardware and software in the upcoming pages. I will also describe the process I went through to build the computer. I believe honesty is the best policy and in my experience, computer vendors do not adhere to the same policy. It is my intention to show these vendors how it’s supposed to be done.
A computer is made up of many subsystems. In the next few pages I will describe the parts used in the system, the rationale for using each part, and the pricing for each part.
The CPU – Socket 939 Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2GHz) OEM – $161.32 from Fry’s Electronics
The main criterion for picking this processor was price (its superb performance doesn’t hurt, either). When I bought it on October 16th, it was $161.32. Four months later, the lowest price online (Pricegrabber.com) from a reputable vendor for the retail version of the CPU is still over $200.00. Granted, this is an OEM processor, which means it only has a 1-year warranty from Fry’s (as opposed to a 3-year warranty from AMD) and doesn’t include a heatsink/fan unit. Still, in my experience, unless a CPU is manhandled, they simply do not break down. Overall, this was an excellent CPU deal.
Heatsink/Fan Unit – Asus CRUX K8 MH7S CPU Cooler – $12.87 from ZipZoomFly.com
Because the above CPU is an OEM version, it does not come with a heatsink/fan (HSF) unit. I chose the Asus CRUX K8 MH7S CPU Cooler because it was cheap and because Asus has a reputation for quality. The MH7S also features a copper core and temperature controlled fan, which is an added plus.
The Motherboard – ECS nForce4-A939 Retail – $76.81 from Fry’s Electronics
The caveat of the CPU deal from the previous page was that it had to be purchased as part of a bundle with this motherboard. Most of the special deals at Fry’s work this way. The tradeoff for the low price is that you cannot pick your own motherboard. Nonetheless, I still chose this bundle because the motherboard that came with it features the nForce4 chipset, which is probably the best chipset for the Athlon 64 right now. The board features PCI-Express (the newest interface for graphics cards), gigabit ethernet, and built-in 6 channel sound. The ECS brand is known as a budget brand, but in this case the performance of the board matches that of more expensive boards, and for the price, it is hard to argue against using it.
Memory – 2x512MB Corsair Value Select DDR400 Retail – $96.31 from ZipZoomFly.com
Corsair is one of the top memory manufacturers in the industry. They are known as a company that makes ultra-fast memory for enthusiasts, but they also make their “Value Select” series, which is memory aimed more towards mainstream users who do not need the fastest of the fast in their computer. This was not the cheapest memory available, but I picked it for its reliability as well as its lifetime warranty. I also picked two DIMMs instead of one to take advantage of the Athlon 64’s dual channel memory controller.
The Video Card
Video Card – PCI-Express BFG GeForce 6600 128MB OEM – $74.99 from Woot.com
Again, price was the deciding factor in purchasing this video card. The NVIDIA GeForce 6600 is not the fastest GPU out there, but it can certainly and acceptably handle most of today’s games. This was the part that began my experiment. I could not pass up buying this card for this price. It is a PCI-Express based card, which means that it can be replaced by a newer and faster card if necessary. It also features a giant heatsink that does not require a fan, which means that it does not contribute to system noise. This was an excellent deal for a video card of this caliber.
Hard Drive – Maxtor ATA133 200GB Hard Drive Retail – $75.76 from Fry’s Electronics
The primary storage of this computer is the 200 gigabyte version of the popular Maxtor DiamondMax 10 series. Currently, there is very little differentiation between brands in the performance of desktop computer hard drives. They mostly have 8 megabytes of cache, an ATA100 or ATA133 interface, and a rotational speed of 7200 revolutions per minute (RPMs). Having said that, this Maxtor hard drive fits the bill nicely. And, at a total cost of 38 cents per gigabyte (without a rebate), it is still one of the better hard drive bargains out there.
Optical Drive – NEC 3540A 16X DVD±RW Dual-Layer DVD Burner OEM – $49.95 from NewEgg.com
DVD Burners used to cost hundreds of dollars, which meant that you had better do some research before you buy. Nowadays, DVD burners are both cheap and fast, and it does not really matter what brand you get (to a certain extent). NEC is one of the biggest electronic companies in the world, and it just so happens that they produce DVD burners as well. The NEC 3540A is a member of the critically acclaimed 3500 family and burns to every popular format. Because of these reasons (and the price), I picked this burner as the optical drive for this system.
Other Removable Storage – Mitsumi FA404M 7-in-1 USB 2.0 Media Drive – $26.80 from ZipZoomFly.com
A lot of new computers no longer come with floppy drives. With the advent of CD burners and flash drives, floppy disks have fallen by the wayside. Still, there have been times for me when a floppy disk would have been the quick and easy solution to a problem, which is why I decided to add a floppy drive to this system. You just never know when a floppy disk will come in handy. This Mitsumi 7-in-1 media drive, however, is not just any old floppy drive. In addition to the floppy drive, it features slots for Compact Flash, MicroDrive, Secure Digital, Multi Media Card, Memory Stick, and Smart Media. I have found card readers to be extremely convenient. Instead of plugging your digital camera into your computer, simply remove the memory card and plug it into the reader. Granted, you pay about two dollars more than buying a floppy drive and card reader separately. But, you have to admit, it looks pretty cool!
Fax Modem – Hummingbird 56K/V.92 Fax Modem – $7.05 from Fry’s Electronics
As with DVD burners, modems have come a long way since they were introduced. For $7.05, you add fax and dialup Internet capabilities to your computer. There is really no reason why you should not have one.
FireWire – Syba Firewire IEEE 1394A Card – $10.85 from Fry’s Electronics
FireWire (a.k.a. iLink or IEEE 1394) is useful for connecting digital camcorders and external drives to your computer. I would not consider it a necessity for your computer due to FireWire’s relatively lack of popularity; most people prefer USB2.0. Still, I have found FireWire to be useful when connecting two computers together for file transfer. At 400Mbps, it is four times faster than 100Base-T Ethernet. The reason I added FireWire to this computer was that the case I picked (see the next page) has a FireWire port in the front, while the motherboard does not have a FireWire header.
FireWire Adapter Cable – 6 Pin Male to 2×5 Pin Female – $7.20 from FrontX.com
As mentioned above, the case I chose has a FireWire port in the front. It uses a cable with a standard plug to plug into the motherboard. Unfortunately, the internal header of the FireWire card is of a standard 6 pin variety. Thus, I needed a converter cable to plug the case’s plug into the card’s header.
My apologies for the lack of modem and FireWire card pictures. In my excitement to put everything together, I neglected to take pictures of them.
Case/Chassis – CoolerMaster Centurion 5 – $63.01 from ZipZoomFly.com
I picked the silver Coolermaster Centurion case from ZipZoomFly.com for $63.01. It looks cool (read: nice and simple) and isn’t overly expensive, and it comes without a power supply, which was one of my main criteria for picking a case. It comes with two case fans: an 80mm in the front, and a 120mm in the back, and it is also tool-free. As mentioned previously, there is a FireWire port in the front, as well as USB and audio ports. After working with the case, I have to say that it is an excellent bargain for the price.
Power Supply – Rosewill RP500 500W ATX – $52.10 from NewEgg.com
I prefer not to use the generic power supplies that come with cases. That’s why I picked a case that did not include a power supply. Instead, I chose this Rosewill 500W unit. I’ve worked with Rosewill PSUs before, and their higher wattage models tend to be identical to their brand name counterparts. They’re heavy and solidly built. As for reliability, I have had a Rosewill 450W running in my personal file server (with 6 hard drives) 24/7 for over half a year now with absolutely no problems. Lastly, I chose a 500W so that this system would have plenty of power for any future upgrades.
Monitor – LG 715Z 17-inch LCD, Retail – $222.63 from NewEgg.com
All LCD monitors are made by a select few manufacturers (LG is one of them) and rebranded when sold. Therefore, a “cheap” no-name LCD could physically be identical to a name brand LCD. With this in mind I chose the cheapest, yet aesthetically pleasing, 17-inch LCD that I could find. The monitor was listed as LG on the NewEgg site, but if you look closely, it features the “Z” logo that is a trademark of Zenith. Apparently, this is an LG panel that has been rebranded as a Zenith. The model number is L1715SN, which does not appear on the LG site. Upon further research, I have discovered that this monitor is identical to the LG L1715SL monitor (linked above), with the difference being color and logo. Either way, the display looked beautiful when I tested it – this was a true bargain.
Keyboard – Lite-On SK- 1688U Black Natural USB, Retail – $14.89 from NewEgg.com
Lite-On is a major keyboard manufacturer (they even make keyboards for Dell), and I have used their keyboards for many years. I picked this keyboard because it connects via USB and matches the overall aesthetics of the system. For under $15 after tax and shipping, I don’t think you can go wrong with this keyboard.
Mouse – Black Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical, Retail – $26.36 from NewEgg.com
Again, I chose this mouse based on personal experience. Microsoft makes some pretty solid hardware. I have been using the same Microsoft mouse for four years and counting. This black optical mouse fits in with the black color theme of the system, and its optical tracking ensures a smooth and easy mousing experience. This is a great mouse for under $30!
Speakers – Logitech X-230 Black 2.1 Speakers, OEM – $40.30 from NewEgg.com
I have experience with these speakers and they are amazing for only $40. Granted, they are only 2.1, but I believe that for this system, a 5.1 setup would be overkill. These speakers deliver chest-thumping bass and clean, crisp sound. In addition, they match the aesthetics of this system perfectly. Another excellent bargain.
Operating System – Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2 – $160.38 from NewEgg.com
Microsoft Windows XP is probably the company’s most successful operating system to date. It’s stable, easy to use, and ubiquitous. If all you do is email, web-surf, word processing, homework, and other basic computing tasks, XP is perfectly fine for you. If you play games, then XP is a requirement for you, since pretty much all games support Windows and Windows only. There are some slight differences between the Home and Professional versions, but I feel that the Professional version is worth the slight premium in price, which is why I chose (and use) it.
Office Suite – OpenOffice.org – $Free from OpenOffice.org
Rather than pay several hundred dollars for Microsoft Office, I decided to go with OpenOffice.org, which is perfectly acceptable for someone who wants to do word processing, spreadsheet calculations, presentations, graphics editing, or database work. It will open any existing Microsoft office documents the user might have so he can get started with using his new computer immediately. And, of course, if he really needs MS Office in the future, he can purchase it himself.
Here is a list of other software that I installed onto this computer:
- Windows XP Powertoys – a collection of useful utilities for Windows XP
- Mozilla Firefox – an alternate browser to Internet Explorer
- Java Runtime Environment – for running Java programs
- Adobe Acrobat Reader – required to read PDF files
- Google Toolbar – adds Google search functionality to Internet Explorer
- Winzip – a program for compressing and decompressing archives
- Nero Express – for burning CDs and DVDs
- nvDVD – DVD player
- Game Demos – various game demos from NVIDIA’s nZone, including Age of Empires III, Serious Sam II, and Need for Speed: Underground 2
- Diagnostic Tools – 3DMark, Prime95, NVIDIA demos
All of the above software, with the exception of Nero Express and nvDVD, can be downloaded from the linked sites and used freely. Nero Express and nvDVD were bundled with their respective hardware parts.
Putting It All Together…
Assembling the Hardware
Once I had acquired all the hardware, I proceeded to put everything together. I will not go into the details here, since in the near future I will be writing a guide on how to build your own computer. I will, however, highlight some of the issues I encountered during the build process:
- ASUS Heatsink – I had some difficulty installing this heatsink because it works with both Socket 754 and 939. The clip appeared to be too short to reach the retention mechanism, but upon closer inspection the clip on the heatsink is actually movable. Once I slid the clip down, I was able to install the heatsink without any problems.
- Firewire – As mentioned in previous pages, the case has a Firewire port in the front, and I did not want to leave it unused. Therefore, I installed a Firewire card into the computer.
Other than the two issues above, the computer build was a smooth process.
Burning in is the process of testing the hardware after assembly to make sure everything is in good working order. The computer is put under continuous heavy stress for 48 hours to see if any malfunctions occur. If none occur, then you’ll know that your hardware has no problems and will probably last you for a long time.
The first test I like to use is Memtest86. It is a free program that stress tests your memory and reports any errors. Here is the result of my test:
As you can see, the memory passed its test with flying colors.
The next step was to install Windows XP and then run some tests from within Windows. After installing Windows and all necessary drivers, I installed Prime95 and 3DMark2001. Prime95 stresses the CPU and memory, while 3DMark2001 stresses the video card. I ran them both simultaneously for over 48 hours and the computer again passed. Unfortunately, I reformatted without saving my screenshots, but considering the Memtest86 result above, I think you can take my word for it.
After making sure the hardware was okay, I reformatted the hard drive, installed and activated Windows XP, and proceeded to install the various software applications listed on the previous page. The only issues I had with the software had to do with nvDVD and AMD’s Cool’n’Quiet. nvDVD kept crashing until I installed the latest patch from NVIDIA’s website, which apparently fixed the problem. Cool’n’Quiet didn’t seem to be working, as the computer kept remaining at 2.2GHz even when idle. After uninstalling and reinstalling, the computer idled at 1.0GHz, which meant that Cool’n’Quiet was working. I don’t know how to explain it, but apparently a reinstall fixed it. Those were the only software issues I encountered.
Now that we’ve taken a look at the hardware, software, and process of assembling the system, let’s take a look at the complete system specs:
|Socket 939 Athlon 64 3500+ (2.2GHz) OEM CPU||$161.32|
|Asus CRUX K8 MH7S CPU Cooler||$12.87|
|ECS nForce4-A939 Retail Motherboard||$76.81|
|2x512MB Corsair Value Select DDR400 System Memory||$96.31|
|PCI-Express BFG GeForce 6600 128MB OEM Video Card||$74.99|
|Maxtor ATA133 200GB Hard Drive Retail||$75.76|
|NEC 3540A 16X DVD±RW Dual-Layer DVD Burner OEM||$49.95|
|Mitsumi FA404M 7-in-1 USB 2.0 Media Drive||$26.80|
|Hummingbird 56K/V.92 Fax Modem||$7.05|
|Syba Firewire IEEE 1394A Card||$10.85|
|6 Pin Male to 2×5 Pin Female Firewire Cable||$7.20|
|CoolerMaster Centurion 5 Case||$63.01|
|Rosewill RP500 500W ATX Power Supply||$52.10|
|LG 715Z 17-inch LCD Monitor, Retail||$222.63|
|Lite-On SK-1688U Black Natural USB Keyboard, Retail||$14.89|
|Black Microsoft Wheel Mouse Optical, Retail||$26.36|
|Logitech X-230 Black 2.1 Speakers, OEM||$40.30|
|Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 2||$160.38|
|Total (including taxes and shipping costs)||$1,179.58|
And here is a list of what you will get in the box (pictured), in addition to the hardware listed above:
- CDs for Nero, NVIDIA Drivers and Software, Motherboard Drivers, and Ulead VideoStudio (not installed on computer)
- Manuals and product inserts for the various hardware components and Windows XP
- TV-Out cable with composite, s-video, and component video outputs
- DVI to VGA adapter
- 24 to 20-pin adapter cable (if you ever need to use the PSU with an older motherboard)
- Extra serial ATA cable, with power cable
- Power and phone cords
- Bracket covers in case you ever take out any expansion cards
- I/O shield that came with the case
- OEM CPU box for storing the CPU in case of upgrade
- Drive covers in case you ever remove the drives
Based on the specifications, this system is priced very competitively against retail systems. The only thing missing is a warranty and technical support, but I am hoping that the person who buys this computer will be savvy enough to provide his or her own support. Having said that, I will now provide a list of pros and cons for buying my system:
Fast – This system is fast. The Athlon 64 CPU performs more work per clock cycle than any other CPU in the market, and at 2.2GHz beats out even 3.0GHz CPUs from Intel. In addition, it features a built-in memory controller for ultra fast system memory access. The 1 gigabyte of dual channel memory is more than what most computers have today and further contributes to overall system speed. Software-wise, I install only what is necessary and nothing else, unlike all the major computer vendors who like to bog down their systems with “bloatware.”
Well built – I don’t like to toot my own horn, but this machine is very well built. I pay attention to details like tying up loose cables, tucking cables away to improve airflow, securing drives and cards with extra screws (in addition to the case’s tool-less fasteners), and wearing gloves while working on the computer. I build my own computers and I built this computer with the mindset that I would be proud to own this computer myself, and I think it shows in the final product.
Aesthetically pleasing – This computer looks good. I picked the parts so that they would match nicely with each other, and I believe this computer would look good in any bedroom, living room, or office. Unlike a lot of other enthusiast-built computers with over-the-top cases, this computer has a basic, sleek look to it. I am especially proud of this particular pro, since I usually don’t color-coordinate my personal systems.
Connectivity/Upgradability – With Firewire, USB2.0, a flash reader, a DVD burner, gigabit Ethernet, a 56k modem, socket 939, PCI- Express, and Serial ATA, this computer is ready to connect with any peripheral you want to throw at it. If you need more processing power, you can install a new dual-core CPU. If you want to make it a true gaming computer, you can install a faster video card. Need more space? Install another hard drive. With the Ethernet or modem ports, you’re ready to hop on to the Internet. There are quite a few possibilities!
No support – This computer will not officially have any technical or warranty support from me. Granted, if the buyer has some basic questions for me, I would be glad to help via email. But I am the technical support person for my friends, family, and employer, and I simply do not have the time or desire to provide extra support on the side. Thus, I am making it clear here that whoever buys my computer should have some knowledge of how Windows and PC hardware works, or know someone who does. Maybe you are like me, an enthusiast, but you don’t have time to build your own system. You then, would be the perfect buyer for this system. If, on the other hand, you know nothing about computers and don’t have a source for technical support, then perhaps you should buy from elsewhere (unless you are willing to learn on your own). This point is probably the most important point to consider for a potential buyer.
Well, there you have it. My first build and sell computer project. In my many years of experience dealing with computer sellers, I have found that many of them are unscrupulous and dishonest. They prey on consumers’ lack of knowledge and try to sell them more than they need. Having been a victim of their schemes, I now want to “show them how it’s done,” so to speak. Now, I realize that I probably will never be able to compete with them, or even be able to sell this computer in a timely manner, but I also realize that I have to at least try. Like I said, this is a computer that I would be proud to own even if I cannot sell it. But hopefully, a potential buyer will read this article and see the time and effort that I have put into this project and decide that it would be worthwhile to buy this computer from me. Thank you for reading about my project. I hope you had as much fun reading about it as I did working on it. I will end this article with some random pictures of the build process. Enjoy!