Jayant wrote:But it was very noisy, came with no CDs (eg no Windows or Office disks from which I could reinstall software), and crashed very frequently (none of my other computers -- all of which are "known brands" -- have done that, and I use them all pretty much in the same way). No warranty, either. Was that just my bad luck to pick a dodgy store, or are a lot of them like that?
If you buy a branded PC from a general retailer (who also sells TVs, fridges, hifi, electrical appliances) you have a brand name manufacturer's warranty that you are used to, just like Sony, Panasonic or Ford Holden. There is a formal "service counter" - i.e. you stand on that side of the line, the repairmen and company policy stand on the other. You are not expected to know much/any geek detail in depth - they are supposed to hand you a working box.
If you buy a PC, assembled from parts you choose, you
take the following responsibilities:
* that the parts chosen work together as a whole i.e. not that they are good parts but that there are no mismatches.
* that you have chosen a shop who has on staff, experienced technicians who have a documented, standard procedure in assembly and that the technicians adhere to it.
* that in receiving the completed PC, you have the knowledge to examine the PC to ensure that the parts inside are as you requested and not accidentally or otherwise substituted.
* that you know how to inspect that Windows is set up, that you can verify all the system software has been properly configured for that hardware.
* that you insist that all purchased software - Windows, Microsoft Office is given to you in the form of original CDs/DVDs and that all relevant manuals are supplied. It is quite common for some OEM hardware e.g. mice, CD/DVD drives etc... may not come with a manual for each piece - they may be sold to the shop as for example, a dozen in pack, with no manuals (hence they are cheaper)
Anyone of us or your friends can say that the whole will work, but we don't "own" that responsibility. It may be that there is some incompatibility between parts, or parts and OS or the version / batch of the parts may have changed since "we" recommended it or the assembler may have not been very competent or comprehensively trained or that they have an ISO 9000 approved assembly process.
A good parts shop should offer you parts and labour warranty for a year but that's for the part breaking down or poor workmanship, not for the part being chosen well or the whole working well together.
That "ownership" or responsibility would account for the $$$ disparity between a brand name PC and a no name PC. That, and a brand name PC would have a helpcenter website and call centre. The $$$ disparity would have been quite big those days of 1990s but the brand names have learnt how to package PCS which are lower cost (although not the same value).
People who buy custom built PCs or build them themselves, do it for a sense of excitement and fun at:
* choosing / shopping for the parts they want - the ability to mix and match.
* the excitement at opening the box themselves and getting their hands dirty to tweak this and that.
* paying less for the goods because they "own" part / all of the process of building the PC
* that there is more upgradeability in the long run because they are aware of what parts they bought - in contrast to the "ready made" PCs where you buy the black box, you don't have control of what's inside.
On the other topic, Windows XP retail copy only works with one machine. However, if your machine has died, then you can put it or arrange it put it on another machine. There are different prices for Windows XP - an academic version for use by students and academic staff is heavily discounted. Corporate copies of Windows XP can be installed on many machines - as long as the Microsoft knows how many.