Stop the Noiz

Compact Gaming PC Costs More than Quad-Core iMac

Frank Fox - 2011.05.11 - Tip Jar

In How to Build a Powerful Portable Gaming Desktop PC, Matthew Murray unintentionally showed the basic problem with building your own PC to compete with Apple. His goal was to build a powerful but compact PC for new gaming titles that are coming out this summer.

His collection of parts cost $1,344.92. Here's his list of what it bought.

Cost of building a compact gaming PC

The big-ticket items are the processor for $224.99 and the video card for $499.99. Nearly half the computer price comes from these two items. The rest you can economize a few dollars here and there, but you start to sacrifice quality and reliability.

If we compare this to a newly released iMac with that same Sandy Bridge i5-25000K processor, you can see that Apple is competitively priced.

New iMac sells for $1,199

From Apple you are getting a comparable processor, a compact case (it also is the frame for the monitor), similar memory, a reliable power supply, and DVD burner.

The main advantage of the PC is the $500 video card. I'm sure Apple's AMD Radeon HS6750M is nice but maybe not worth $500. I couldn't find a price for the video card used in the iMac, but NewEgg sells a Radeon HD 6790 for $155. That is a big price drop and probably shows that a new iMac isn't a gamer's dream computer.

The advantage for Apple is a lower price.

The advantage for Apple is a lower price. You also get a 21.5" monitor, a wireless keyboard, and a mouse.

Murray could have saved $345 and dropped his overall price to $1,000 while still buying a reasonable video card. But he would still have to buy a monitor, keyboard, and mouse for less than $200 to beat Apple on price. This is possible, but the victory over Apple is slim - and you have to do the work of assembling it yourself.

The one final detail is the cost of an operating system. Murray could save a lot by installing a free copy of Linux, but that won't give him a computer that can play Crysis 2 or Portal 2. He's going to need a full copy of Windows, since he's building the PC himself. Windows 7 Home, full version, is $179.99.

There go all of Matt's possible savings - and then some.

Is 'Build Your Own' a Failure?

Despite the failure of building a gaming PC and beating the price of an iMac, I am still thinking about making a Hackintosh. Why? Because in some ways you cheat when you build your own, so it is never a fair comparison.

Like Murray, I won't have to include the cost of a keyboard, mouse, or monitor, because I already have them. I even have an old CD and RAM, but because I've waited too long, they are obsolete, so I have to buy new. If I was used to building a PC, I'd already have an old case and power supply. It becomes a game of what I want to soup up versus what to skimp on.

I won't even have to buy a new copy of Mac OS X, because I bought the family version. I've got at least two more computers I can install it on before I exceed the license.

The down side is where Apple really gets you. Macs are about buying a product that just works, and when it doesn't, there are the geniuses at the Mac store. With a build your own, you are your own support staff, so any problems you have to solve on your own.

It is a tough problem for a sensible person. Given the small savings and lack of tech support, why are you building your own computer?

Macs are priced to be competitive, and they have great support. You can only beat them by cheating - using existing parts, lower quality parts, or buying everything on sale. And usually you have to pretend the operating system was free. Then you have to be comfortable enough with a computer to give up outside tech support.

The PC Advantage: Freedom

There is one small gap in the fence that is causing me to consider building a PC over buying a new Mac, and that is freedom. Freedom to choose the $500 video card if I want it. Freedom to buy a cheap case and power supply in order to save an extra $50. Freedom to buy dual 19" monitors instead of having one built-in 21.5" monitor.

That is what has me ignoring my sensible side and planning how to build the way I want it. LEM

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