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Generic PCs For Corporate Use? 606

porkThreeWays writes "I work for a government agency supporting about 1000 PCs. The economy has hit us just like everyone else and we are looking at ways to save money. We currently buy Dell computers and even with our government discounts end up spending about $1,000 for a pretty mediocre computer. I had the idea of building our own PCs for considerably less. We'd spec out a standard configuration that we'd use for 18 months. CPU speeds and RAM sizes may change during that time, but socket types, memory standards, hard drive interfaces standards, etc, etc would be required to stay the same. We have Dell warranties right now, but I could see just keeping spare parts on the shelf and building that into the cost of the PC. We'd also be able to transfer Windows licenses because the Dell installs are non-transferable. However, I couldn't find anyone on the large scale doing this. Is anyone on Slashdot using PCs they built themselves on the large scale?"
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Generic PCs For Corporate Use?

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  • $1000 a PC? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by FlyHelicopters ( 1540845 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @07:56PM (#33927360)
    What is on them, a Core i7 with 12GB of RAM and an SSD?

    Me thinks you're overpaying... Dell isn't that expensive, really it isn't...
    • software? dell wants like $150-$300 for office + over priced ram (Dell warranties may not like you having 3rd part ram)

      • by alc6379 ( 832389 ) on Monday October 18, 2010 @01:58AM (#33929502)

        (Dell warranties may not like you having 3rd part ram)

        Not true. If you put in 3rd party RAM, they just expect you to take it out or put in the OEM RAM before they troubleshoot it. And it makes sense-- you go and buy some "high density" crap RAM from PriceWatch that isn't guaranteed to work with the chipset on the machine, it's just standard practice to make sure that it isn't causing the problem.

    • Re:$1000 a PC? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by MoonBuggy ( 611105 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:03PM (#33927444) Journal

      Dell has better volume discounts than you ever will, both with Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers. They further offset this by bundling in a whole load of crapware on the default OS install.

      Even after accounting for their profit margin and your time spent re-imaging the machines with a clean version of Windows, the cost from Dell compared to DIY for standard beige-box business machines should be somewhere between slightly cheaper and slightly more expensive; if it's the latter, a single point of contact for warranty issues is still perhaps worth the money. If it's the former, you win on all counts.

      • Re:$1000 a PC? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:16PM (#33927556)

        I did this recently. Not with 1000 machines, mind you, but five. Dell wanted an exorbitant amount for the machines, insisted that since we were getting hex-core processors that we must get discrete graphics, and a bunch of other technologies* that we just didn't need.

        By going with Newegg and building it myself over a weekend, the price was cut in a little more than half.

        *We do scientific number crunching, but don't have any GPGPU code right now. Our codes fit in an average amount of memory, are CPU intensive, and take up very little hard-drive space. Dell couldn't understand selling us a hex-core CPU with a 80GB hard drive. Further, we couldn't specify the number of PCIE slots (in case we do GPGPU later on), but they did insist on discrete graphics, which we absolutely didn't need. This quote came from their SOHO line. On the true "server" side of things, their prices are astronomical.

        • Re:$1000 a PC? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by MichaelSmith ( 789609 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:38PM (#33927736) Homepage Journal

          By going with Newegg and building it myself over a weekend, the price was cut in a little more than half.

          Whats your chargeout rate for weekend work?

          • Re:$1000 a PC? (Score:5, Insightful)

            by Smallpond ( 221300 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:42PM (#33928180) Homepage Journal

            By going with Newegg and building it myself over a weekend, the price was cut in a little more than half.

            Whats your chargeout rate for weekend work?

            Also factor in returning and replacing parts that don't work, test and burn-in, loading software, and managing licenses.

            • Re:$1000 a PC? (Score:5, Interesting)

              by Lord Byron II ( 671689 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @11:18PM (#33928714)

              Well in our case (and I know it doesn't apply to the original poster), we use Linux, so that saved us even more, because getting Dell to drop Windows on a non-server build is like pulling teeth.

              As for the time and pay, I got some overtime pay and got to play with some neat machines. It takes only 30 mins or so to actually build each box and I have our Linux as an image on a USB stick, so it takes another half an hour to copy the image over. All said and done, I probably only spent four hours putting the whole thing together.

              I got lucky in that there were no defective parts, although one hard drive went bad about six months later. Other than that though, it's been 18 months since I did this and we haven't had any problems.

              Of course, I wouldn't want to scale this process to 1000 machines, but with a little planning and foresight, it's definitely do-able in the tens of machines range.

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by Barny ( 103770 )

                Rule of thumb where I work is about 1PC in 50 will have an issue of some kind, odds are pretty good that the dude with 1k of them to build is going to learn how much of a pain RMA can be :)

                As for building them, yeah its reasonably fast to build if you have all the tools, faster if you get someone to go through and unwrap/unbox all the bits first (work experience kids and temp workers are great for this, if your boss asks just say that for every hour he spends unwrapping crap you don't have to). Your imaging

              • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

                by rtb61 ( 674572 )

                It is vastly trickier for government tenders especially for 1000 units. They already detailed their failure to seek competitive tenders with just buying from easier choice rather than making valid purchasing choices.

                So for a proper government tender you have to come up with a way of defining hardware specs in a generic way that will not prohibit competition. Added to that you must define warranty and maintenance issues in a similar fashion.

                In today's tech environment with the dominance of ODM in manufa

        • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

          "we were getting hex-core processors"

          How is it that "hex-core processors" is nowadays "Generic PCs For Corporate Use" as it was asked?

          "By going with Newegg and building it myself over a weekend, the price was cut in a little more than half."

          Hey! That's a good idea for Dell guys! They should build their PCs on weekends without paying people to do the work; this way they'll be able to cut costs almost by half!

          Now: did you took into account what will happen with spare parts? With maintenance down the road?


          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by iamhassi ( 659463 )
            "How is it that "hex-core processors" is nowadays "Generic PCs For Corporate Use" as it was asked?"

            When they're less than $200. []

            Besides, I think he was offering his recent experience with building Generic vs Dell which is what the author is trying to do, not necessarily saying he must use 6 core processors.
      • by vought ( 160908 )

        You'll never be able to build and support hardware while maintaining your current net profits.

        Penny wise, pound foolish.

        • Yeah, but it's a government agency, so profit doesn't mean anything.

        • Yes - there's a reason why every corporate buyer of workstations buys or leases them. It's not that nobody ever thought of this, either.
      • Re:$1000 a PC? (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Local ID10T ( 790134 ) <> on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:36PM (#33928136) Homepage

        Dell has better volume discounts than you ever will, both with Microsoft and the hardware manufacturers. They further offset this by bundling in a whole load of crapware on the default OS install.

        Even after accounting for their profit margin and your time spent re-imaging the machines with a clean version of Windows, the cost from Dell compared to DIY for standard beige-box business machines should be somewhere between slightly cheaper and slightly more expensive; if it's the latter, a single point of contact for warranty issues is still perhaps worth the money. If it's the former, you win on all counts.

        If you are a large customer, Dell sends you a machine, you do a clean install, create a standard image with just the software you want on your machines, send the image to Dell, and they put it on all the machines you order from them. No bloat, no time wasted customizing each machine, and no extra charge for the service. Its especially nice if you have multiple locations and want to have a standard configuration used across the board.

    • by hodet ( 620484 )
      Came here to say this. Seriously, reading about building your own, I felt like I was blasted back to the 90's there for a second. Plus putting all those things together and keeping stock on hand. How does this not cost your employer a fortune?
    • Maybe, but last I looked at purchasing prices for medium businesses and I was appalled how expensive a new PC really was. Never mind the option of the SSD, here in Europe you'll have to make special arrangements for that it seems. Maybe it is because so many laptops are sold, but the PC's you can currently buy suck, and the screens suck even more. Try to get a cheap non-reflective screen with a good angle - it's almost impossible at any fair price.

    • by jsnipy ( 913480 )
      this and in building, are you counting your labor?
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Datamonstar ( 845886 )
      It's easily that much buying from a manufacturer. These are equivalent to 3ghz. Core 2 duos with 4 gigs of DDR 2. Not at all your powerhouse system. Factoring in that these machines cost about $700 before discount as well as the amount of time and investment that goes into making the purchasing decisions I'd say that a grand per machine is a conservative estimate.

      I raised this proposition to my managers as well, and got laughed at. Well, not really, but it wasn't taken with very much consideration at a
      • No way those specs cost 700 before discount unless intel is even worse in price/performance vs AMD than I had ever thought.

      • Re:$1000 a PC? (Score:5, Insightful)

        by CAIMLAS ( 41445 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:32PM (#33928108) Homepage

        They are loathe to cut out a middle man unless it means a substantial guaranteed return on investment.

        That's part of the picture. Consider:

        * I buy 100 Dell systems, then leave. My stupid manager barely knows how to plug in a keyboard, but she can rely upon Dell for support.
        * I build 100 PCs and save 20-30%. My time is a sunk cost, and I'd have spent the same/similar time rolling out the Dells, if a bit more. I leave. My clueless manager has to find someone with the skillset to directly support these PCs; she is now reliant upon others down the food chain, instead of someone external. Why would she put herself in this bind?

        Since most managers seem to see their subordinates as cogs, this is never a sane option for them.

      • Re:$1000 a PC? (Score:4, Interesting)

        by SQLGuru ( 980662 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:58PM (#33928268) Journal

        Something else you have to consider when putting a computer together is that he's talking about the government.....they have rules and stipulations about pretty much everything. Are the parts you selected approved? Are there labor types of contracts (i.e. unions) that would get you in trouble for building or moving or plugging in the systems? Could you even get approval for the purchase?

        Even if it's an option for a small business, it's a complication for the government.

  • by andolyne ( 1342935 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @07:58PM (#33927370)

    be careful transferring windows licenses... they're all OEM licenses and the T&Cs don't allow you to transfer them to another machine (ever). Of course this is based upon my knowledge from a few years ago when i worked in the licensing field, so things might have changed (IANAL)

    • Licensing aside, it can be a pain just making the transition to new hardware. It ain't Linux. If you try to directly migrate your current installation of Windows to a computer and replace enough of the right (wrong?) components, Windows 7 will literally break itself and stop working.
      • by hairyfeet ( 841228 ) <> on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:33PM (#33927698) Journal

        Volume licenses for large corporates are about the same as OEM, so no problem there. As for hardware? stick with bog standard and Windows 7 (or any other Windows for that matter) won't say a peep. I did a 30 box rollout for an SMB that way, and last I heard they are happy as clams. I'd suggest AMD as Intel has been socket hopping too much lately, whereas AMD is backwards compatible. But you get a bog standard business class AMD motherboard (I've had good luck with ECS Business) and the ONLY thing that ever changes on those things is the GPU. The sound is all Realtek high def, the NICs are all Realtek too, the north and south bridge AMD. The worst you might have is windows asking to re-run WGA, which takes seconds on any real network, but I've frankly not seen it on the ones where I used bog standard business class. That is one of the nice thing about AMD Business class motherboards, I can carry the latest drivers for just about every board they current sell on a little thumbstick with space left over. There simply isn't much variation.

        As for TFA? Go 5-10% over for spares and you'll be fine. If it is 1000 seats I'd want 50 spares just to cover Murphy's Law and to allow for expansion. Go with bog standard AMD dual core kits and you can pick up the hardware for less than $300 at someplace like Tigerdirect (hell last week they were selling AMD quads with 2Gb of RAM for $269) and your MSFT volume license will take care of the OS. Just make a disc image with the standard apps your place uses and you're good to go. I'm sure you have volume licenses for it so no worries, and by DIY you KNOW what is going into the PC. I've had bad luck with the lower model Dells really skimping on parts like caps. Better to get a board with good solid state caps that will really last. The ones I built cost $575 with 17 inch monitors and can be upgraded to a quad with 16Gb of RAM if someone has higher needs than the average office Joe. For a dual core with quality parts and 2Gb of RAM apiece it was really quite reasonable IMHO.

        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by dabblah ( 18703 )

          This bit of the thread is the only reply that makes sense to me. I did this myself 12 years ago personally supporting 150 users, about half were homebrew by me and half were OEM of some sort (dell, gw2k back when they were a real company, apple - yes in that day..., other stuff). I had no problems with the stuff I built because I knew exactly what was in it. There is no telling what component Dell will change out from day to day even if meeting your standard spec. The only place I would pick an OEM and not

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Kunnis ( 756642 )
          AFAIK, if you get with MS and get with their licensing program, you have to buy an MS OS for every computer you install, and the OS agreement with MS says you can upgrade (or downgrade) it whenever you want. You still have to buy the OS from your PC manufacturer. That way when MS come out with Win7, you don't have to buy new licenses for everyone, all you have to do is buy a MS OS. I've recently researched this for my company, and if you're buying individual MS Office licenses (or windows cals + exchang
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      Most large companies are required to negotiate a Volume Licensing agreement with MS which results in a specific amount of licensing costs based on the FTE (Full-Time Employment/Equivalent positions) of the company, which are adjusted periodically, usually quarterly or annually. These type of licensing deals typically allow any number of workstation licenses to be used, and often end up with a similar cost to a typical OEM license.
      • Required by whom? Companies negotiate volume licenses because they cost less and are usually quite flexible. The downside is that you agree to be audited by Microsoft.

        • by oracleofbargth ( 16602 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @10:10PM (#33928324) Homepage
          Required by Microsoft.
          While I was working at a medium sized university, we used to buy single licenses for each computer, and charge the cost of the license to the department the computer was destined for. One year, while we were in the process of buying a bulk lot of licenses to upgrade our systems (from NT4 to 2000, if I remember correctly), our MS rep told us that we would not be able to proceed with the purchase unless we went with a volume license agreement. (This became inconvenient for us, since we didn't have a specific key to attach to the charge back, and some departments didn't want to change, but that's another story.)
    • The large scale operations that I have known have all had enterprise licenses with Microsoft, so they can just install Windows and Office without having to deal with individual product licenses for each one. I don't know the number of systems where this becomes cost effective.

  • Don't do it (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tftp ( 111690 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:00PM (#33927400) Homepage

    I had the idea of building our own PCs for considerably less.

    This is an awful idea. I had some experience with such an experiment; it didn't work. The computers were failing left and right, and the vendor distanced itself from the situaton. You will first be forced to maintain all that herd, and eventually you will become a scapegoat.

    Business is all about using money to make other money. It is a legitimate expense to buy a computer; it's tax-deductible on corporate level, so you don't need to squint too hard at the prices. Buy good computers with a warranty and on-site support and be happy.

    • Re:Don't do it (Score:5, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:08PM (#33927500)

      I had the idea of building our own PCs for considerably less.

      This is an awful idea. I had some experience with such an experiment; it didn't work. The computers were failing left and right, and the vendor distanced itself from the situaton. You will first be forced to maintain all that herd, and eventually you will become a scapegoat.

      Business is all about using money to make other money. It is a legitimate expense to buy a computer; it's tax-deductible on corporate level, so you don't need to squint too hard at the prices. Buy good computers with a warranty and on-site support and be happy.

      ^^this, I to have tried it, it just doesn't work, despite what people think dell are working on low margins but making it up with high volume. There are so many hidden costs to building and maintaining your own fleet. I worked at place that had the same idea and by coincidence it was dells we were thinking were over priced, we built and supported our own only to find out after 3 years that the average price ended up being almost 20% higher than dell even though initial costs were cheaper.

      • by Fallon ( 33975 )
        I agree completely both from the corporate end of things & build your own home PC. I still build my own home desktop because I can get EXACTLY what I want, but it's more expensive even before I start figuring in my time.

        It may (doubtful, but possible) be possible to build an equivalent PC to a Dell for cheaper, but only if you don't factor in your time, which will add up very quick. Don't forget your time isn't just your salary. It's double to triple your salary to count for benefits facilities and stuf
    • by NFN_NLN ( 633283 )

      I had the idea of building our own PCs for considerably less.

      This is an awful idea. I had some experience with such an experiment; it didn't work. The computers were failing left and right, and the vendor distanced itself from the situaton. You will first be forced to maintain all that herd, and eventually you will become a scapegoat.

      Did you happen to look at a thinclient option. This would negate the HW design, assembly and maintenance issues. With a PCoIP solution you can put all the effort into the server side. The licenses are bulk and transferable since they're all part of a VM. With the right thin provisioning and redundancy it could be very efficient and resilient.

    • by mrmeval ( 662166 )

      We're buying HP PC's for under 400 that have enough power for me to run our bloatware (150meg ram) all in one company management software, VMWare running 98 with legacy tools, dosbox running even more decrepit legacy tools. Several spreadsheets, a remote desktop to the hideously decrepit 98 machine running legacy software that requires access to a custom 16 bit card and another program that needs access to a custom PCI card. Various in circuit programming tools from Lattice, Phillips, Microchip, Altera, Atm

    • Re:Don't do it (Score:5, Informative)

      by Albanach ( 527650 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:35PM (#33927718) Homepage

      This is an awful idea. I had some experience with such an experiment; it didn't work. The computers were failing left and right, and the vendor distanced itself from the situaton. You will first be forced to maintain all that herd, and eventually you will become a scapegoat.

      This is the correct answer. Seriously, don't even consider 1,000 hand built computers.

      Buying 1,000 desktops should give you a lot of leverage. First thing you should be doing is getting bids from HP and IBM as well as Dell. But I'd have thought three quotes would already be a bare minimum in your corporate requirements. Remember and add a service deal. At $1,000 per PC, I'd be expect a four year maintenance deal with next day or even same day on site service.

      Your thought was to have a standard configuration that would last 18 months. Well desktops should be able to run for four years, plenty of businesses are doing that already, and those Dell computers now have a lifespan 2.66 times that of your computers with Dell supporting the hardware for the duration.

      If you have onsite tech staff, you should also be able to bypass technical support and simply declare parts as failed and have replacements shipped out. If you don't have staff that can support that, you should at least get priority business support that gets you a knowledgeable tech and a guaranteed fast answer time.

    • Yeah the only time it made sense was at my previous Government job where we were absolutely forbidden from buying new computers. No exceptions.

      But we could fix existing computers. Sometimes some pretty major parts failed, too.

    • Re:Don't do it (Score:5, Informative)

      by Distan ( 122159 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:04PM (#33927910)

      I agree with everyone saying "don't do it".

      I used to work as an engineer for one of the top US computer makers. Most people have no idea how much testing the big computer makes put into integrating their systems.

      Say we wanted to support shipping 3 different sizes memory sticks from 2 different vendors. We would test every possible permutation of size and vendor in loading the memory slots. The test systems were run in an environmental chamber where we ramped the temperature from the minimum to the maximum operating ranges. We also ramped the power supply from -10% to +10% of specification.

      Say one of the disk drive vendors wanted us to qualify a new capacity disk drive. That too took a similar amount of testing; racks full of computers reading and writing to the disks while in the environmental chamber.

      This testing *did* uncover problems frequently. We would discover that (for example) we couldn't use a certain Hitachi memory stick with a certain Samsung memory stick if the temperature rose past a certain point. We would find that a specific Western Digital drive had errors under certain conditions with a LSI controller but no problems with an Adaptec controller.

      The point of all this is that there is just no way that a small shop is going to have the resources that a major computer maker does to test their integration. There is more to successful system integration then just grabbing a bunch of off-the-shelf components.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by CodeBuster ( 516420 )
        I completely agree. The only people who hand build their own computers these days are hobbyists and gamers who typically want specific brands and higher end component parts (i.e. dual processors with quad cores, higher FSB speed and more cache memory, super fast video card, dual channel memory, RAID, etc) for better performance and more customization and/or tinkering options. They spend more money on average for every part in the finished computer. They generally end up with a high performance (and sometime
    • by sjbe ( 173966 )

      It is a legitimate expense to buy a computer; it's tax-deductible on corporate level

      Disclosure: I'm a certified accountant. It is not true that buying a computer is tax deductible. A computer is normally a capital expense []. It is purchased and then depreciated over the useful life of the asset to emulate "using up" the asset over time. While this does reduce profits to the corporation and thus normally reduces their tax bill, saying that a computer is tax deductible is not true for businesses of any size under normal circumstances.

      Aside from that nit, I agree. Building your own machin

  • Virtual Machines (Score:5, Interesting)

    by guibaby ( 192136 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:01PM (#33927402)

    Use server based VMs or terminal servers. Then use winterms for the desktops. You can get those for a couple a hundred dollars and they last forever.

    • Re:Virtual Machines (Score:5, Informative)

      by ducomputergeek ( 595742 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:12PM (#33927526)

      I know a local fortune 500 company that tried this at one of their two buildings here at their corporate campus a couple years ago. Well, they are back to a desktop at every cubical now because they found if something happened, like a switch went down, suddenly all 100 - 200 terminals on that floor was down and no one could do anything until it was back up. With desktops, they may not be able answer emails, but they could at least still use office and get something accomplished if the network went down. You take 100 employs making 20/hr sitting and doing nothing for 2 - 3 hours and you've bought yourself the cost of the PC's.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by guibaby ( 192136 )

        Load balance your virtual hosts or terminal servers across two physical switches with two connections to the core router. If they are terminal servers you can put them in separate locations and load balance the connections. If you have so many router/switch problems that the cost of lost productivity out ways the savings of minimizing your hardware/overhead, fire your network staff and start over.

        • by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @10:20PM (#33928390)

          Little more complicated than you make it out to be. To be truly redundant that a switch going down won't take out a bunch of systems you have to have the systems themselves plugged in to two switches, and then every switch down the line. That can work but not only takes a lot more switches, but more complex clients. Most thin clients aren't going to do that. You need not only 2 NICs but the understanding of how to handle failover. Also if the failover is to be fast and reliable you need expensive switches. Maybe not a problem, maybe you use those anyhow, but something that has to be considered. At every level the switches need to be high end such as Cisco to be able to quickly, reliably, handle rebuilding the span. No Linksys stuff that may freak out and create a switching loop (which they do with RSTP sometimes, as I've seen).

          Bandwidth needs will also go up substantially. If you go a little heavy on the oversubscription in a normal office setup, no big deal all it means is file transfers to the servers are slow. Do it in a thin client environment, and you are talking interface lag which is really bothersome. So you'll need to have plenty of bandwidth to the switches, probably 10gb instead of gig, and maybe more to the distribution switches.

          Then you also have to do redundant power for the switches. If both switches on a floor are on the same breaker it doesn't help much, you need separate circuits, all the way out to the grid/generator if you want real independence.

          Of course there's the servers also. If one server runs 50 machines, well then its failure is a major outage. So you'll need backup servers. How many depends on how much depth you think you need, but you need to have servers ready to take over if one goes down. Probably fairly beefy servers too. While you can stack low-impact servers (like DNS or license servers) pretty heavy on a VM, you have to be more careful with interactive systems. Get too many, they'll get sluggish. You'll want lots of CPU, lots of RAM, and still won't want to load clients on them too heavy. You'd have to test your specific setup to find what works but I'd bet no more than 2 clients per server core and probably less.

          That also means everything has to be on a separate, high speed, disk system. You can't use local storage or they can't be migrated to new servers. So something like a NetApp. Disks need to be high performance too, since they are going to have a lot of random access put on them. IO is also the biggest problem for multiple VMs. No large cheap SATA arrays, you'll need 15k SAS most likely and SSDs would be a good idea, except real expensive.

          Well that needs to be backed up too. If everything is riding on one NetApp, reliable though it is, that's a massive failure point. So you need two of them, running in sync, so that if there's a failure there's no problem.

          Ok this is all doable, no question about it. I could design an implement such a system... However I'd have real questions as to if it would save any money. You weigh all that high end gear with service contracts against the cost of a bunch of reasonable desktops. Is it really worth it? My guess is not.

          Also remember you aren't saving any money on other server costs. You still need all your other server infrastructure. Maybe you could get rid of your central storage and just use the storage the VMs are on, but I would have to see that in action to be convinced the performance would be ok.

          The thin client idea isn't a money saver I don't think, unless low performance/reliability is ok. Maybe a school lab situation or the like. I think it is more the sort of thing you'd do when you need portability (like no matter where someone physically is in the building, they can get to "their" computer) or for security (for whatever reason you want all systems physically in a secure room).

      • The should have a redundant network, regardless of whether they use PCs or windows terminals. Switched networks are extremely reliable if you buy the right ones and put them into the right architecture. For example, as the windows terminals are more reliant on the network than PCs (somewhat debatable though because of all the web based apps these days), then a better architecture would have been to multiple 24 or 48 port switches uplinked to two separate aggregation switches, such as Cisco 6500s. If one of

    • by jamesh ( 87723 )

      We just rolled one of these out last week - a HP thin client of some sort. The installation went like this:
      1. Unit arrived. It crashes (screen goes black, mouse goes dark, etc) anywhere from during post to 2 hours later
      2. Replacement unit arrived. Completely different model with 1/4 the RAM and 1/2 the flash, and different case.
      3. 2nd replacement unit arrived. Doesn't even turn on.
      4. 3rd replacement unit arrived. Seems to work okay. Installed on site
      5. Call this morning - user reports that it completes POST

      • Re:Virtual Machines (Score:4, Informative)

        by sarhjinian ( 94086 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:01PM (#33927878)

        We had a pretty awful failure rate with HP's t5135 and t5145 units: they'd fail reasonably regularly and/or lose their config. Not impressive machines by a longshot, not when you add the poor performance they'd exhibit (can't handle bitmap caching, slow response).

        Replaced with Wyse C10LEs, which aren't high-power machines either, but they're reviewing much better and, thusfar, aren't erasing themselves periodically.

  • So long as you have an competent IT staff, you should be good. It's so much better to have internal people swapping out bad hardware and dealing directly with the RAM vendors, etc when possible. Not only do the vendors of specific hardware normally have longer warranties, they're normally faster than the end vendor at swapping out hardware. Think of it this way, if you keep paying Dell to do support and replacing bad hardware, then what is keeping another, less competent person from taking your job? So
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by rikkards ( 98006 )

      Works great until some pointy haired management type gets whored up at some conference (probably a MS sponsored one) about either outsourcing their IT dept (I mean having competent IT folks have to cost right?) or that if they replace said competent IT folks with a drone they could get a vendor who takes care of all of this and it would probably be cheaper. Remember two things:
      1. No one is irreplacable
      2. It's always about the bottom line.

  • I got our last computer at Best Buy for like 369$, dual core, 2gb ram, 320gb HD, more then adequate for running outlook and looking at craigslist.
  • They will set you up for considerably less than $1000/machine, as will Dell. When you add a service contract they aren't much cheaper though, but your equipment can get replaced with just a phone call.

    If you want to build 1000 machines, go ahead, but it would probably take 1 person about 6-12 months to assemble them all. If you're spending a million bucks on PCs, hiring someone to assemble them full-time might be worthwhile. figure $700/pc for DIY, and $50k for the tech's salary. That's $750k for a lot less

  • Hardware vs Total (Score:3, Informative)

    by klwood911 ( 731463 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:04PM (#33927460)
    One thing you are not taking into account is labor. By buying a Dell (I don't like Dell, but this applies to any manufacturer), the time and expense in building is included in the cost. When you look at parts, it looks less, but add your time in building, time to diagnose an issue when the machine doesn't boot, and time to RMA parts and repair said machine when it breaks. This adds up quick. I work for a company that built its own machines for sale and we found a company that could build and warranty them for $10 more. That $10 extra was very well spent. So remember, you are getting more than just parts, you are getting the time to assemble, repair and replace.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by adamstew ( 909658 )

      At the company I work at, we get a lot of Grants & Contracts. Those grants and contracts will pay for all sorts of labor with no problem, but any equipment we have to pay for out of our own profit margin. Therefor, we tend to focus on the reverse: Put people to work and pay as little as we can for equipment. This means that if we can save any money in expenses, even at a cost of labor... as long as that extra labor cost isn't extreme, then we pay for the labor getting the equipment for cheap.

      We get s

  • Software Assurance contract with Microsoft might actually be cheaper than paying for all those OEM Windows and Office licenses in the long run.
  • We provide a software product which we recommend the use of HP rp series Point of Sale terminals. Why? We aren't in the hardware business and when purchased as a bundle for an extra $250 per terminal they can buy a 5-5-5 warranty package on ALL the equipment and all the peripherals. Touchscreen goes bad in year 4, HP overnights a replacement. Receipt printer goes bad, they overnight a replacement. Barcode scanner goes bad, over night a replacement.

    We have another company that sells a rebranded version

  • I believe Microsofts EULA states you cannot transfer off that machine. And while with a good tech team, you can upgrade disk, GPUs, CPUs and memory quite easily. But a change in the motherboard or the case will often be cheaper to buy a computer from a supplier since they purchase in bulk and TEST alot better than you can.

    Now, on the other side of the spectrum, open source has licenses that transfer to all systems, can interface with all Microsoft and Mac products (if the IT team on the other side knows
    • by tftp ( 111690 )

      Need to interface with Ofice, use OpenOffice (still there are issues with the latest versions of Microsoft Office docs such as DOCX and XLSX).

      You probably never had to answer to hysterical calls for help from some middle manager who just had his carefully laid out MS Word document all chewed up by OpenOffice.

      This can happen within the MS Office universe too. But it's better controlled there, and the integrity of your body is in no danger.

      Businesses are not interested in taking risks. They are more th

  • by SpaghettiPattern ( 609814 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:12PM (#33927524)
    It sounds like you could compete with Dell and that you should start a company. Maybe then you realise that 1kUS$ isn't that much for a system.

    Don't make the mistake of not calculating the effort it costs you to assemble the systems yourself. Say you cost a modest 100US$ per hour to your employer and redo the maths.

    You seem to know about hardware. Now consider how you will train co-workers to attain your level of expertise. Will you now be teaching as well? Think of what will happen when you'll leave the company. Don't worry, you eventually will move on to other challenges.

    I myself build the systems for my own small business. It's costs me significant amounts of effort which I could put towards paying customers. I only do it because I like it and because I take the liberty to do so. But really, I probably shouldn't.
    • by kiwimate ( 458274 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:05PM (#33927914) Journal

      You've made all the points I would make except for one. There's the economic concept of comparative advantage. good are you at other tasks? What are you not doing while you're building these PCs? Not building a new file server cluster? Not updating the firmware on your SAN?

      Now, who does get to do those tasks? Are they as good at it as you?

      The point is - yes, you can build computers. But is it the best use of your time? Forget if it's fun (like for the parent) - what would your employer say is the best use of your time? When figuring this out, don't forget that your hourly rate is only a part of what your employer pays. If you're making $40 an hour, the true cost to your employer is closer to $70 or $80 for an hour of your time.

    • by kenh ( 9056 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @10:22PM (#33928408) Homepage Journal

      Building machines to sAve money ceased making sense about 4 years ago, like SpaghettiPattern, I build systems by choice, and fully understanding it likely cost more than a comprable Dell box. People that attempt to rationalize building PCs these days don't talk about savings, they talk about choosing the co potent to get a certain benefit (better PS, upgraded video card, better chassis). For basic office work, a business class PC should last five or more years without any failures. They would likely last longer, but there comes a point where a failure is almost certain to happen, and in most cases you want to avoid the unscheduled down-time, loss of the system.

      PCs are a cutthroat business, and if you think you can do a better job than Dell's robots, fine, but I doubt you're right.

  • by brunes69 ( 86786 ) <slashdot.keirstead@org> on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:13PM (#33927528) Homepage

    Unless you are some intern making $5 / hour or something, the amount of time you will spend assembling these things will far outstrip the cost savings.

    IE - say you save $200 / machine. How many hours will it take you to build that? Three? Four? Now figure in how much you make per hour. Your "savings" are out the window.

    • You are right, but I also spend a great deal of my time monitoring, waiting for an incident to occur. We have a very low incident rate, leaving me with a lot of free time on the clock (hence the /. browsing that brought me to this article int he first place). It can be done. We're expected to repair enterprise-grade servers, so there should be no problems with our entire staff learning how to build a simple workstation within a few hours of time that would otherwise be spent surfing the net.
  • by uglyduckling ( 103926 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:18PM (#33927586) Homepage
    You're crazy if you think it's worthwhile building the PCs yourself. You can easily find an off-the-shelf PC for considerably less than $1000, probably less than $500, and unless you have a team of at least 6 people sitting around with nothing better to do then you won't save money building them yourself, and you'll just cause yourself a massive headache. Simply commissioning 100 pre-built PCs (presuming you're planning to replace 10% of them at a time) is plenty of work for a support dept., even if you're not making massive software changes.
  • Good fucking luck. If your self-built computers fail, it's your butt on the line. You may say "but $COMPONENT has a 3-year warranty!", but vendors are great at pointing fingers at other vendors unless you test enough to prove it's their component's fault. So there's some time wastage.

    Then you have to learn to deal with support departments from n different vendors, rather than just the one OEM's.

    But before you even get there, you have the enormous time outlay of building each computer by hand and (presuma

  • I would recommend trying to get into the Western States Contracting Alliance, WSCA, ( and get reasonable HP workstations for ~$600 and LCD's to go with them for ~$200. You get a major name brand and save $200 off what you're currently buying from DELL.

    Even if you don't buy from DELL, see how fast they lower your pricing when you have a quote from HP.

    Additionally, WSCA is pre-bid, which means most government agencies don't actually have to re-bid, they can just o

  • What? (Score:5, Informative)

    by parlancex ( 1322105 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:24PM (#33927640)
    I think the answer might just be to try renegotiating your price or specs. I also work for a government institution with about 1000 computers and we pay about $450 with Dell for what I would consider a very decent desktop computer (4GB of RAM, Intel Core 2, etc.).
  • Are the gov't discounts really that great? Last time I compared(summer of 2008) the gov't(state level) & education discounts available to me they were higher priced than what was currently available on Dell's website.

    This situation arise because the prices & configurations are negotiated only every few years.

    I'd suggest comparing the pricing of the same machine with & without the "gov't discounts". It would also be useful to know what kind of specs you are looking.

    The Dell Vostro series for yo

  • by Nefarious Wheel ( 628136 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:27PM (#33927668) Journal
    FoxConn make most of the world's computers. Seriously. Approach them for what you need and say you need x1000. They'll build what you want without the 3rd party markup.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Dadoo ( 899435 )

      We've actually had some pretty good experiences with their Netboxes. They're small enough to mount on the back of a monitor and, at $450, fully equipped, they're cheap. My only complaint is that, when you actually do mount them on a monitor, the power switch is difficult to reach. If only there was some way to have the machine turn on, automatically, when you turn on the monitor...

  • Couple of things (Score:5, Informative)

    by jayhawk88 ( 160512 ) <> on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:34PM (#33927706)

    - You need to have some very frank discussions with either your Dell rep, or whomever is speccing out your quotes. $1k for corporate-level desktop PC in this day and age is ridiculous; you should be expecting to pay more like $600-700. To give you an idea, I work for a state university, and we're currently giving about $550 for a Core2 E8400/4Gig Ram/160gig HD HP. Integrated video and no monitor of course, but a 3 year warranty. Sure you're not going to be decoding the human genome with that machine but it's more than enough for your average office worker. Don't be afraid to use HP as a club against your Dell rep; they're currently getting hammered by HP in the corporate world, and won't want to lose your account, assuming you're of any kind of size. I wouldn't recommend going to HP unless you absolutely have to though; service is horrible.

    - Take some time to consider whether the time spent building custom machines is really worth the time of whomever would be doing it. Chances are, it is not. Either you're going to have someone making peanuts doing the work, or a skilled IT person who really isn't all that interested in doing what essentially is grunt work. In either case, you're going to see problems.

    - If you haven't already, you should discuss this with your purchasing department before moving forward. Depending on the level of beauracracy that is entrenched in your level of government, building your own computers may not even be permissable.

    You mentioned that you couldn't find anyone doing this on a large scale, this should be a warning flag. Lot of potential problems and pitfalls here, not the least of which is your cunning "transfer the OEM licenses" plan. There are a lot of better ways to save money on computer purchases.

    • I know you meant it tongue-in-cheek, but I wanted to point out that the specs you point out are more than sufficient to perform analyses of the human genome (I used to do quite a lot of such analyses on my laptop, which is an older Core2), and are significantly more powerful than the cluster that was initially used to piece the genome sequence together.


  • by painandgreed ( 692585 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:35PM (#33927722)
    I'd advise against it. We tried it where I worked. It sounds good to build your own boxes on the cheap, but it rarely works out like that. You build your own computers. The cards (ethernet, video, etc.) you used a few months might not be on sale this month, so you now have multiple versions of cards. If buying them in bulk, the line probably gets refreshed so it's hard to buy the same model of hardware twice. Then, when you have to rebuild an older computer a year or two later, you have to remember where you put those drivers for that particular card that this computer uses. Since it was bought on the cheap, it probably isn't marked very well and unless you had the luxury of looking at the computer before it went down, what model it is might not even be known. Even then, since the hardware was bought cheap, the drivers might not be as easy to get online as one would think, especially if the company isn't around anymore. There is also all sorts of tiny details dealing with this or that hardware that has to be remembered. Then you need storage for all the bits, parts, and driver software. Trying to call in hardware warrantees for the products you buy will usually be much more time consuming than just calling your vendor and having them do everything based on the serial number of the broken computer. In the end, building and maintaining our own computers was way more trouble and man hours than just going with a name brand such as HP or Dell and using their warrantees. Whatever got saved in material costs in building our own computers got more than spent in extra man hours maintaining them.
  • by pharaohmd ( 895747 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @08:46PM (#33927780)
    There are two main concerns with moving into a self-created solution - standardization and support. Standardization Dell may load a lot of bloat-ware on their consumer level machines but for corporations or the Government the Dell X-Image process can be used to standardize the base level install. This process allows for an IT department to build a base OS standard environment applications on a single platform of hardware regardless of the equipment in use. After baselining the system the image is uploaded via a standard web interface on which you also select the hardware platforms being used in the environment - laptop, workstation, desktop, thin client, etc. Dell then takes your baseline and codes it back using their X-Image process encorporating in all necessary drivers for the models you have selected then sends it back to you. It's basically an outsourced slipstream of the OS made extremely easy by Dell. The nicest part if you are a corporation or Government entity? It's free. Contact your Dell sales rep and ask about the process. This allows for standardization not only for hardware via the same manufacturer but also for the OS and applicaitons in use on those platforms. Support Dell may be a P.I.T.A. for consumer level services but for corporate or Government they are right there with HP and other high-end channels. Next day replacement part shipment - or within 4 hours based on purchased support for servers - means sites do not need to keep on-hand stock of components except for maybe a few key resources for critical systems. There is also no need to train your support team on how to replace these parts as Dell will send a technician to your site with the part to perform the replacement, test the system following replacement, and take the bad part with them for return to Dell. Considering the cost of the support of the systems is built into the purchase price of the system the overhead support cost is lowered and the staff is allowed to focus on the more "fun" issues related to using Microsoft products in a large scale environment. IF you wish to have in-house parts and repair capabilities, Dell will supply on-site sparing of parts and offer training to your IT staff to perform the actual replacement of parts. The best part here? If your staff is trained and completes the warranty work in house, Dell sends you back a credit of x number of dollars per "call" - I put x as the last time I was involved in contract negotiation was 5 years ago and while it was $40 per incident at that time I would expect there has been some change in amoount. I work for the Government as well and Dell while in my opinion as an IT professional is annoying and bothersome to say the least, and while I know I could build a better, more powerful, and more robust hardware platform for the same cost, in an environment where standardization, quick support, compatibility, and operational state of my users are all at a premium desire of the customer, I say leave the headache of those messes to upper management and Dell. It may cost up to $250 more per system to have them supplied by Dell but considering standard rate of a technician and taking into account the amount of time needing to be spent on building and deploying, then training and support, combined in with overhead costs for maintaining parts and stock, the cost difference is a loss not a gain.
  • I had the idea of building our own PCs for considerably less.


    You may very well be able to source the parts for less... But then you're going to have to build and support them.

    Dell has an army of minimum-wage employees. If you're a government agency, you probably don't have anybody who makes that little. So the cost for you to build one of these computers will be more than what it costs Dell. And it won't be as simple a build as reloading some Dell box because you'll have to grab drivers for each individual component.

    There'll still be a warranty on most

  • So you have some free monkeys, a large static free build room and lockable large supply room?

    You must have a _lot_ of free time. Have you catered for your staffing costs? Security costs? Insurance? Do finance want to bring all those costs back onto the books that the Dell single number approach removes?

  • use AMD chips (Score:2, Interesting)

    by cfriedt ( 1189527 )
    use amd chips. they're a fraction of the price of intel chips, and there's really no difference in performance.
  • Here there are a wide variety of white box PC vendors that beat Dell on quality and price for desktop PCs, and the only reason people used to buy Dell is that Dell used to offer support. Now that they offer less support than a dodgy dealer selling from the back of a truck there is no reason to buy their overpriced gear.
    Assembling your own would work on a medium scale with the large number of decent single board solutions that even give dual monitor support (1/2 hour each for hardware setup) but you'd have
  • Check out Based in Fargo ND, this place has a 7 year warranty on their computers. $640 - []

  • by westlake ( 615356 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:17PM (#33927996)

    I had the idea of building our own PCs for considerably less.

    Dell in its prime was absorbing the entire annual output of its Asian OEMs. When there was a dock strike in L.A. it hired fleets of air cargo planes to maintain just-in-time production lines.

    Parts are cheap when you purchase them in the millions.

    If you assemble and maintain your PCs in-house, you will have to pay US wages and benefits. You will need to maintain parts in inventory. You will need to hire someone to keep your home-brewed systems in repair. All of this costs money.

  • by EmagGeek ( 574360 ) <(gterich) (at) (> on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:18PM (#33928000) Journal

    Listen to the advice in this thread. You cannot do better building the PCs yourself unless you have a pretty massive support infrastructure, space, time, and staff.

  • Yeah, I'm doing it (Score:5, Interesting)

    by holophrastic ( 221104 ) on Sunday October 17, 2010 @09:51PM (#33928238)

    Our product is, technically, little more than a computer in a fancy box. We started off wanting to buy a small computer and shove it in, but found that we needed way more power than anything available at the correct form-factor.

    Being computer guys, we figured we'd just build it ourselves.

    Truth is, around here (Toronto), OEM computer suppliers are everywhere. Good ones (Infonec) with reasonable inventory and reasonable access, Poor ones (Tiger direct) with huge inventory and no access, and remote ones with infinite access and no inventory. So we're covered from every angle be it some rare component or an immediate same-day requirement.

    Do components break? Sure. Some hardware is defective out of the box. That goes onto the reject shelf. Some break when we drop it. That goes into the garbage. Some break after they are installed when it's just not stable and it takes many hours to figure which part is at fault. Those are annoying, but they go onto the reject shelf just the same.

    The reject shelf gets turned over by mail with a few RMA phone calls every few months. The nice part is that if you wait long enough, you tend to get newer models from the manufacturer, so it's winds up almost being worth-while.

    The garbage is, honestly, an easy thing to avoid. Wear cotton, ground yourself, and never put a motherboard onto a chair unless you atcually want someone to sit on it.

    The nice thing about 1'000 is that while you can't get much of a discount on the components themselves, you do get more than priority service from the suppliers. And that can really be valuable when it means that your deployment schedule is uninterupted.

    Yes you can save money. You should wind up saving about 40% over a dell machine. Of course, you'll lose the warranty service. And that's where the trick comes in. You get to balance something that you've never balanced before.

    You get to say: "cheaper = more servicing = more expensive" while also saying "higher quality = less servicing = still expensive"

    Here's the trick: "higher quality = longer life-span = re-use"

    The real savings aren't on those 40%, because you have to service them instead of dell servicing them. dell's more efficient (money wise) than you are. But because of that, dell's cost-optimizing the quality, because they don't get to keep it. They'd rather take the risk that the parts won't break, and fix the 20% that do.

    That doesn't work for you.

    You want to spend more, only saving 20%, then you want to do minor upgrades at the right now, so really only wind up saving 10%, then you want the machines to last twice as long, and be able to salvage the parts for future machines -- repeatedly. This also has service replacements of broken parts and diagnostic repair fed for free.

    In the end, you wind up spending the same 100% out of the gate, you spend only 80% the second generation, and then you spend closer to 40% by the third generation.

    In the end, you have high-quality machines, top-quality parts, and very few break. Service calls are not only at a minimum, but you're just swapping out the possibly bad parts with known-good parts, then checking the possible bad parts at a later, more convenient date.

    You're also providing the new guy with a better computer to get him started on the right foot, you're giving the guy with a lot of work to do this week that extra gig of ram to make it easier.

    But yes, this presumes that you are comfortable running such a service. It's definitely easy to do, but it's complicated as hell to keep it organized.

  • by multipartmixed ( 163409 ) on Monday October 18, 2010 @08:48AM (#33931308) Homepage

    ..but I wouldn't want to.

    Years ago, I worked as the service manager in a high-volume white-box PC shop. I was in charge of the guys who built boxes, the guys who troubleshot them, the guys who supplied inventory, and the guys who had to ship the parts back to the wholesaler for RMA.

    Building 1000 boxes is six man-months worth of work, minimum. You need to figure in a 2% failure rate on finished machines, so you need to order parts for at least 1020 finished machines; you should also figure in a 3% failure rate during the build, so order enough parts for 1051 boxes. When the builds are done, RMA the bad parts and keep everything around for in-house spares.

    Don't buy white-box based on warranty, because the warranty is useless after 90 days or so. You'll probably have to send the part back, it will get swapped with one that's been "fixed" and sent back to you. Half the time, that means you'll get one that somebody else returned and wholesaler's tech can't replicate the problem with, so he sends it to you, hoping you'll be okay.

    As for building 1000 boxes at once, the way to do it is in partnership with a wholesaler. You'll need to rent some real estate, about 3000 square feet. Nothing dusty, and no carpets. You can probably get it cheap for 30-45 days, look for stuff that's been for sale/lease for a while. Hire 8 guys for a month who "like computers". Have the wholesaler ship you a tractor-trailer full of parts. Get a bunch of locked cabinets, lock all the RAM, CPUs, harddrives up. Stack the motherboards in a locked room. Stack the cases in a corner. Your 8 guys can unload a 40' trailer, count the parts, and put them away in ~12-14 hours.

    Every morning, each guy who shows up gets his parts for the day. A low-output worker can build five boxes. A high-output worker can build 10. No drills allowed unless they have clutches. At the end of the day, they can demonstrate a working machine running windows, and start your burn-in suite. The next morning, for every box that passes burn-in, you give them $25. Then they pack the machine back up in the box the case came in, stack it in the room slated for deliveries.

    Parts can be swapped 1:1, don't allow floating parts on the floor or they will never get put in a machine. Also, only allow clear garbage bags on the floor. No food or drink, either.

    Oh - the reason for so much real estate? The most productive way to build machines is to use about 4 feet of table each, and to do them all at once. So, if you're building eight boxes that day, you need 32 feet of table. And 8 mice, 8 keyboards, and 8 monitors. Don't unbox mice/monitors/keyboards for your build, it will cost you time and not increase your reliability.

    Make sure you provision these 1000 identical machines with removable HDD trays. That way, when one fails, you rip the drive out, stick it in a spare, and send that machine to be either fixed or pitched. Fixing might be expensive, though. Remember your assembly crew? They're long gone, and probably not very good technicians.

We all like praise, but a hike in our pay is the best kind of ways.