After many years of building my own workstations, or paying a local chop-shop to assemble my hardware, I came to the conclusion that any money saved was offset by any problems I encountered with the new machine. If it's just a gaming PC that's one thing, but mission critical servers or your primary workstation should be reliable.
That's when I discovered the Dell Outlet Store, the best of both worlds:http://www.dell.com/...s&l=en&s=dfo
Here, online, you can find the machine of your dreams for CHEAP, built with Dell quality, and backed up with a full factory warranty! For a few bucks extra, you can even get a 3-year on-site service agreement where some poor slob who isn't you has to fix your computer. If you're getting a PC for your mom or dad, this option is a must.
Why does the Dell Outlet Store exist? Why is their stuff cheaper? Why is it not total crap?
According to American trade laws, if a "new" computer leaves the Dell factory for any reason, but is returned, it cannot be sold as new any more. That means that if somebody built a fire-breathing dual SLI gaming rig, had it shipped COD, but didn't have a check ready -- the machine is returned to Dell. And rather than write it off as a loss, they resell it through the Outlet almost for cost.
I know this, because that happened to me. Last year I wanted to buy my wife a gaming rig for christmas. Her specifications: "It has to be red." Armed with these detailed specs, I went shopping at all my usual cheap hardware places. On a whim, I tried the Dell Outlet, and ended up buying her an XPS tower, 3GHz machine (overclocked) with 2 SLI geForce cards and 1GB of RAM. In Red. This machine sells for close to $3000 in the catalog, but the Outlet had one listed for $995.
To be fair, it was listed as "refurbished return" so I had no idea what cosmetic shape it would be in. But shoot, $995 for that machine? If it came to me dented & scratched I'd keep it for my own workstation.
When it arrived, it was breathtaking. Absolutely pristine and perfect, booted up the first time and has been running 24/7 ever since Christmas morning 2006. The cardboard box, however, had multiple COD stickers and lots of handwritten notes -- clearly, somebody had bought the machine but failed to pay for it.
Not every machine there is a COD return. Many are legitimate warranty failures, fixed by Dell and ready to be sold. Others are "scratch and dent" babies, having been abused in the factory before ever seeing a customer. Still others may be demo models, used by Dell salespeople. But all are clearly marked with their story so you can steer your selection accordingly, if you so choose.
The only thing to remember about the Dell Outlet is that every machine there is unique, and while they can be customized/upgraded you'll rapidly approach the price of a "new" computer if you let Dell do it. Some computers will have no CD or DVD drive, some will have two DVD's and one CD writer, some will have 2GB RAM, others 256M. It pays to read the specifications for each one. Some configurations are so ludicrous you have to wonder what the customer was thinking.
Also, for some reason the laptop section of the Outlet store is disappointing. The prices there are almost the same as for a new laptop... perhaps because the laptop market is so competitive and there's little margin? Whatever; I just am not impressed.
Yes, there are many cheap places to buy hardware online, but rarely can you find a combination of quality and support for such a low price. The Dell Outlet Store is worth a look.
DISCLAIMER: I am not a Dell employee, do not know any Dell employees, do not have any relationship with Dell aside from my having bought shootloads of stuff from them over the years. Yes, their phone support sucks sometimes (I've written about it) and their printers were designed by Satan to confound even the smartest of us. My wife did meet Michael Dell one time and reports that he's a "nice man" with warm hands, a sweet smile, and dreamy eyes that swallow your soul. Should I be worried?