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Computer Central

Does it pay to build your own computer?
Scripps Howard News Service


May 31, 2005

Thousands of letters and only room for a couple but let's get right to it.

Q. I have been watching PC prices for a long time and usually build my own computers to save money. But given what is going on now, I don't see that happening from now on. I know you build yours, how is that measuring up in your opinion?

A. You've about got it. We're at a unique situation in the computing world where the sum of the parts exceed the cost of the product thanks to intense price competition and volume pricing. In my MBA class we called this a "perfect storm" of retailing. Consider an ad I saw last week from Dell. (This is not an endorsement, but a discussion.) The company was offering a Windows XP desktop system for $299. If we consider that for a moment in the spirit of making your own PC: in round numbers including tax: a copy of Windows will run you $100. The computer case and power supply: $50. CD/DVD drive: $40. RAM module: $70. 80 gig hard drive: $70. Keyboard and mouse: $40. Various other software: $50. Monitor: $75.

(The fun thing is you used to have to factor in the value of the warranty; on the above ad the brand new computer came with no warranty coverage whatsoever.)

Of course, Dell and other retailers are not paying retail but you are. So you need to factor that in when you consider building your own. Also remember the above machine will run Windows and basic software fine but will choke to death on the latest version of Halo.

So it becomes a matter of specs again; pay close attention to the details of the system, not just the price.

Q. I keep getting all of these emails about my email account being suspended but they keep coming. My Internet company does not respond when I ask about them.

A. You have to think for a moment. If your email account had been suspended, would your ISP send you an email? Secondly, would you keep getting them? Thirdly, would your account still work? There's a new virus going around that spoofs (fakes) the "from" field of the sender so it looks like it comes from someplace official.

Delete the emails unread and unopened.

If you already have opened and (shudder) executed the attachment, you want to run (not walk) to your anti-virus product and run a full scan. If you do not have an anti-virus product, go to and download AVG.

Then repeat after me, never open any attachments.

Q. What kind of protection do I need to turn on for my wireless router?

A. The first step is to change the default password. The second is to turn on encryption assuming you don't want to share your connection. (Some people some communities the goal is to leave everyone's connection open so people can roam around a community and have access.) But assuming you want to keep people off your connection I find the easiest way is to turn on WEP encryption. You set up the router with a key and every one who connects need a key too. You also can go to and download the home edition for free to protect your router.

WEEKLY WEB WONDER: I am becoming more and more fond of the search engine Teoma. Although I use Google a lot, I find Teoma offers me a different set of returns which is very valuable. See it at


James Derk is co-owner of CyberDads, a computer repair company,
and a computer columnist for Scripps Howard News Service.
His e-mail address is jim(at)

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