The Recipe File

Let's look at some sample components, keeping the guidelines we've developed in mind. All prices are from the December 1996 "Computer Shopper" or their website at (check this site out -- its search facilities are pretty good). Prices and vendors have been selected to represent what's generally available out there.

Now let's put these together into sample system configurations.

First, the deluxe system (A+E+F+G+H+I+K+M+N+O+P+Q): $2824. That's pretty far off our $2000 target, but now let's strip away as much as we can.

If we drop the 1.2MB floppy (you'll never use it!), the secondary disk, and then downgrade to a 15" monitor with 1024x768 resolution, and drop back to a Pentium 75 (D+E+F+H+I+J+L+N+O+P+Q), suddenly the price is just $1892.50.

Now, when you reflect that vendors of desktop systems buy in volume and get the parts up to 40% cheaper than you can even at mail-order, you can see that coming in under $1500 with a Pentium-75 system shouldn't really be very difficult at all.

Even without a system vendor's volume discount, moving back up to a Pentium 100 (C+E+F+H+I+J+L+N+O+P+Q) makes our price $1932.50, still below our $2000 target. But the parts list above is just intended as an example -- it wouldn't actually be a good idea to build your box by separately assembling pieces like that. It's better (and usually cheaper) to go through a system vendor.

There are several things you buy by doing this. One is the vendor's ability to buy in volume and carve its margins mainly out of the volume discount it gets from parts suppliers (this is especially important for big-ticket items like the motherboard and disks). Another is expert assembly. A third is the pre-shipment burn-in. And then, of course, there's the warranty -- a very reassuring thing to have in case your brand-new machine succumbs to infant mortality in spite of that burn-in.

Once you've designed your configuration, you should get quotes from two or three different system vendors. Any vendor who can't generate quotes for a custom configuration, or resists giving a quote without a buy commitment, is not worth your time -- find another.