Need advice: Build or buy? (Low-end system)

My dad wants a new computer for his private law practice. He knows nothing about computers so I advise him. I kind of want to build him a computer because I’ve never done it before and think it would be fun. On the other hand, I’m thinking it might be a lot easier and more cost effective to just buy a low-end Dell system and customize it a little. What do you think is a better idea and why? If you do think I should build, where’s a good place to start? I’ve done a lot of stuff with computers but never built from scratch.

My dad wants a new computer for his private law practice.

Yeah right! a likely story, have you thought about calling the FBI?

j/k :slight_smile:

Haha. :a

Computer for law practice == e-mail, web, word processor == yea, go with the cheapest whatever you can find and don’t even bother to customize because even the lowest of the low nowadays is overpowered for basic office tasks.

Well, if you want the most bang for the buck I suggest that you go for parts since it’ll will give you the most bang for the buck. As for guides I guess Tweak3D’s is pretty good despite its age.

Here’s an example of a cheap PC from Newegg around 400 bucks (excluding a monitor (additionally ~120 bucks))

Mainboard: EPoX EP-8K9A7I

CPU: AMD Sempron 2600+

Video: ATI RADEON 9000

Memory: Mushkin 184 Pin 512MB DDR PC-3200

HDD: Hitachi 80GB 7200RPM IDE Hard Drive


DVD: NEC 16X Double Layer DVD±RW Drive, Beige, Model ND-3500A BG, OEM

Floppy: SONY Beige 1.44MB 3.5Inch Floppy Disk Drive

If it’s too expensive you can shave off a few things, like the DVD-RW.
You can roughly save 40 bucks by getting a CD-RW instead.

SONY Beige 52x32x52 IDE Internal CD-RW Drive, Model CRX230ED, OEM

If you want it even more cheaper (although video (3D) performance will suffer severly) but that’s not important for an office PC you can get a mainboard with integrated graphics which saves you additionally ~30 bucks.

ASRock K7S41

You can also get 256Mb RAM but that’s really a bad idea if you’re going to run Windows XP (Windows 2000 will do fine though).

Keep in mind that branded PCs such as Dell are often hard to upgrade or even reusing parts while PCs using generic hardware have a lot more potential.

It’ll be a bit more expensive than the cheapest Dell computer you can get but I think it’ll be worth it in the long run and it’ll be a good experience for you too. :slight_smile:

My advice in this case is to buy him a computer from Dell, and I’ll tell you why, since this is coming from someone who builds their own machines, thinks everyone should learn to do it, etc.

Your dad is a businessman. He’s going to need a computer based on its dependability and level of support, as well as to some extent, its features. While I’m not saying this can’t be done with a built system, if this is your first build, you’re going to be going through a learning experience of your own, which is best done with your own system that probably doesn’t need to be a “When I need it, I need it now, I can’t afford downtime” kind of system. Also, if you build a system, you are now the hardware and software support for that system. While I do a fair amount of support for my parents, those are personal systems. If it were me, I’d much rather that my dad had another option for tech. support to turn to, if I wasn’t available for one reason or another (though I’d certainly be happy to help him). You can get a three-year warranty from Dell that will mean that if something goes bad, they send him the part and you put it in, or they send out a tech and it gets fixed, usually next-day. In business, this is important. Having built systems as well as ordered them and consulted for businesses, in your shoes I’d just go to Dell’s website, customize a system to the way you think it should be, then take the printout and call a Dell small business rep, who will probably give you a better price than the website quoted for the same thing.

I’d recommend building your dad’s home system…his work system, I’d leave to Dell.

P.S. If you build him a system, remember to buy licensed copies of Windows and other software he needs, and factor that in…Penalties are pretty harsh for not complying with software license when you’re using it for business purposes.

I’d suggest setting him up with a RAID-1 array for redundancy and security. He will have lots of critical info on there, contacts and contracts, etc. RAID-1 is the easiest and most secure way to protect everything. And it’s fairly cheap to implement, you just need 2 HD’s and a controller. You won’t get a decent motherboard from Dell, so you’d need to add a controller. If you build, you can get a cheap MB with a SATA-RAID built in.

So, I assume the controller is just a card? Would I need any software to implement this? How do I set up the redundancy?

Most retail MB’s now include a RAID controller, either SATA or PATA. A PCI card will work well too. Either will come with a setup manual. You can download manuals from the various controller makers, ie: Promise or Highpoint.

Hey, can anyone tell me what to look for in a motherboard? I’m usually not a top of the line type of guy. I’m more interested in good value and functionality. I just want to know what the key features are and what are the major factors that contribute to price differences. If you can refer me to a good article or reference, that would be helpful too. Thanks!

Hey, I really appreciate your advice. I’m pretty confident in my abilities though and if my dad is willing to pay for the parts, I’d like to use this opp to build a computer since I just bought one from dell for myself and prob won’t be in the market for another one for a while.

On the subject of software… If I WERE to load my own copy of XP and Office on my dad’s computer, and he’s the only one using it, how would I get caught?

Through activation it gives you 30 days to activate with microsofts server. Plus read the EULA unless your copy of Xp allow multiple PC but i likely doubt it does. If you try that you could be running the risk of haveing your copy blacklisted

Dude, thanks a lot for this post btw. It was very helpful in getting a basic idea of what I need. One question though… How do I know that the LPT port and mouse and keyboard plugs, etc, will line up properly with the holes on the back of the case?

Case just has a big hole in which fits the customized little plate, which comes with the MB.

I didn’t even read all of your post, I got to the part where it mentioned support for the system and…“Ding, Ding, Ding, we have a winner.”

Even if this wasn’t your first build and you knew the workings of PC’s inside and out, I’d still probably buy him a prebuilt system for the same reason. Every time he has a problem he will call you. Every time he has a question, he will call you. Etc., etc., etc.

This is also coming from a person who has built PC’s since 1991, worked in MIS, onsite technician, current RMA manager for a system builder and current and always will be family computer bitch/slave. I am the only one in my family who can fix a PC yet everybody in my family seems to own a PC. Maybe it’s time they learned how to fix the damn things themselves instead of calling and emailing me whenever they have problems.

Oh, I forgot to mention one small thing. When people who aren’t familiar with PC’s use them, over 2/3 of their “problems” are operator error, not system caused/related.

Well, you can make easy for yourself and make a “rescue cd” if everything starts to crash and burn but since he’ll use it for Word etc I wonder why you think it would go boo boo in the first place. Also, RAID 1 is kinda overkill in this case. A simple script that burns the document folder to a RW-disc or so would be suffcient and for that matter he’ll surely have paper copies anyways. As for support I beg to differ, if you set it up properly and have a walkthrough you wont be bothered at least if its an office computer.

There’s no such thing as “overkill” when it comes to safety and backups. RAID-1 is by far the most painless way to restore a dead drive. It takes only minutes to restore. Hard drives do fail, and it’s usually the fairly new ones that do so. RAID-1 is also idiot-proof, and requires no user interaction. RW discs could certainly be called “underkill” as far as data security goes. :wink: Take it from a business person who’s income depends on secure data.

Well, integrated RAID controllers are software controllers (unless you go hi-end) and are quite a pain so you may as well go for Windows own RAID solution which is basicly the same thing. IMO, either you do it properly (i.e true hardware controller) or find another backup device. An UDF mounted will be sufficient (including verifying that is) but if you want a secure backup you want DAT/DLT tapes in a safe (at another location). Rebuilding an array takes more than a few minutes and unless you have hotswap casing it’s a pain…
Either way this is overkill, daily backup to a floppy/cd is more than enough or a simple transfer over VPN.

My $0.02 on backup…

what ever method, or combination of methods you choose, be sure to have more than one backup. Preferable be able to store at least one backup off-site.

The level of backup should fit the importance of the data being backed up. Only someone who has never lost something important can believe their backup strategy is adequate.

Windows Product Activation, for one…if you don’t have a corporate copy that doesn’t use WPA, those registration numbers can track you no problem. Windows XP, Office XP, and major MS products since them carry this. If your dad were to be audited and caught, the lawsuit involved could be a big issue, and put his professional reputation at stake. Trust me, with anyone who works in a business and uses this software to profit (i.e., a computer running pirated software to bill their clients, write briefs, etc.) could be in really hot water. Happened to a hospital around here some years back; they were lucky, and settled with Microsoft and Lotus for a $25,000 fine. Larger scale, but same issue.

Secondly, this has nothing to do with my confidence in your abilities…it is coming from someone, who, like Cereal, has been in the computer biz for ten plus years. I’ve built systems for a mom-n-pop. I’ve done consulting. I’ve been a systems engineer, and a systems admin. And when my workday is done, I do some freelance. Even if you build a great system out of 100% solid parts and nothing goes wrong with the hardware, you’re still now the one tasked with support of the system. Sounds okay now perhaps, but in a few years, this may not be what you want.

My family is quite understanding about the help I provide; so are the people I freelance for. However, those are their home systems mostly, not businesses that need a computer working. I don’t do too much side business work because I can’t leave my job at 10:30AM or 2PM to fix a system that “has got to be fixed now”, which is often the case with business. People who aren’t as well versed in computers also may (unintentionally) put you in the hot-seat for issues that might be their problem, such as data loss due to a hard disk failure when they didn’t back up any of their data, or spyware/virus infections due to improper updating of their virus signatures…mainly because a lot of people don’t understand their responsibility of how to keep their computer and data secure, and that that responsibility ultimately rests with them. Consider these things before you build in this situation.