Advice on building your own PC on the cheap

Lifehacker published a guide yesterday on saving money on DIY PCs. I agree with most of it, and violently disagree with one very important part of it.

The bad advice?

Maybe you don’t care what brand of RAM you buy.

I care. There was a time when memory was memory, for the most part, but that was 20 years ago. When you’re talking any computer with a CPU whose name is a trademark rather than a 5-digit number, memory timing is sensitive, and subpar memory causes problems, meaning that bargain isn’t the bargain it first appears to be. I’ve bought literally thousands of memory modules over the years, and I’ve seen two defective Kingston or Crucial modules. Two. The failure rate on everything else I’ve seen is far higher than that.

I mentioned this to a coworker I hold in extremely high regard, and he said, “That sounds like good advice.” That’s not my usual reaction from him. He said he bought a different brand of memory, and his computer isn’t as stable as he thinks it ought to be. That’s fairly typical for memory.

So whenever I do a system build, I buy Kingston or Crucial memory, whichever is cheaper. The last time I bought memory, I paid about $40 for 8 GB worth. Had I gone strictly by price, I might have been able to save $5. I remember paying $50 a megabyte for memory, so skimping on reliability to save five bucks seems foolish.

As for the rest of the advice, I agree with it. Buy midrange components with an eye toward upgrading them later if necessary. Sometimes it proves to be necessary and sometimes it doesn’t. And mixing in used components can be a great way to save some money. I’ve been doing that for 20 years.

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