The Perils of Purchasing a Computer Online

Dennis Faas's picture

So you finally decide you want to purchase your own computer and have it custom built just for you. Reasons for this could be that you don't want all the extra software that comes bundled with major manufacturers such as Dell, or you want to have a nice high-end system built with the specs just the way you like it. Here is a little advice based on some of my experiences. Ask yourself the following questions and think about them:

What kind of computer do I need?

  • Will it be used only for email and Internet access, or as a business computer or both? 
  • Do you have specific applications you want to run that require extra resources or special hardware? Many graphic and video editing programs use a lot of RAM (Random Access Memory).

How much do you want to spend on a new computer?

What are you getting for the money you are paying?

  • Make sure you're getting legal licensed copies of software (the operating system) with it.
  • Check that every part you ordered and paid for is included. 

How reputable is the company?

  • Make sure you do your homework and research the company thoroughly. Check with the Better Business Bureau ( and The Federal Trade Commission ( to see if the company is a member and to see if any complaints have been filed against them. 
  • Ask if this particular model had any major problems after purchase (i.e. has anyone had problems with it after it was purchased). If possible, get recommendations from friends or relatives.

Is it easy to get replacement parts if something gets damaged?

  • Check that documentation is available for all parts of the computer (motherboard, CPU, Hard Disk Drive, etc.)
  • Find out what kind of warranty does it come with.

Are the parts proprietary (you can only use their parts) or is it easily upgradeable?

What safeguards should I take when ordering online?

  • Make sure if you order a product on line that the site is secure (you should see https:// at the beginning of the URL in the address bar, and a little gold icon that looks like a lock in the lower right corner of your browser). 
  • Also check that the company has an address and phone number listed on their site and read their privacy policy. 
  • Pay with a credit card so you're protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act and keep paper copies of all your receipts as well as copies of all correspondence with them. Keep all the documentation in a safe place you'll remember.
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