Hidden costs of purchasing a computer

Most of us when we buy a computer, we only look at that sticker price. We see the price tag and think, “I can afford that.” Then we just shop for our computer just looking for the cheapest computer that can do what we want it do. We don’t even consider that there might be hidden costs that we are not addressing. By revealing discussing the costs of upgrades, repairs, and electricity, I hope you can understand just a little bit more when you purchase your next computer.

As you look at a computer purchase, you may evaluate Ghz, RAM, and HDD size. We rarely evaluate what it will cost to upgrade the computer, maintain, or run the computer. Perhaps you are buying the computer for a corporation and you will replace the computer in a few years. In this scenario, as long as the computer meets the minimum requirements, then there is probably no need to worry about upgrades and an extended warranty might cover the cost of parts and service. For the rest of us, it might be wise to know the more of the full cost of our purchase before you pay out our hard earned money.


There is no reason to panic. Even in a couple years the following should still be true, as it has held true for many years: the cheapest way to update your computer is often to upgrade the computer instead of replacing it. You can buy upgrades upfront or years down the road.

Purchasing upgrades upfront can be a great way to get more out of your computer purchase, and you will usually be pleased with a computer that can do more. Computer manufacturers and system builders know this. Even at Burke Computers, we build our computers with some potential for upgrade and will gladly sell you what upgrades we have access to.

This is the first place I want advise you to be wary. That cheap computer could easily end up costing significantly more. Sometimes buying the more expensive model upfront could give you all the same features and have a smaller price tag. To test this, I visited a manufacturer’s website and started with their $299 computer (as a system builder, I cannot even purchase the parts I trust for that cheap). At each step of the process, the manufacturer usually marked a recommended upgrade. This wasn’t always the top available upgrade. By only clicking the manufacturer’s recommended upgrades, not only did the price quickly jump into the ballpark of the computer builds I sell, I also noted that they had another model computer with almost of these features for a cheaper price. Of course selecting the better computer unlocked a whole new set of recommended upgrades, repeating the cycle.

There are also advantages for purchasing upgrades later. Take going from Windows XP to Windows 7 as an example. Four years ago I custom built my personal computer. I had that one last copy of Windows XP Professional that I kept around for personal use. When I later chose to test that computer with Windows 7, by adding an updated video card I was able to access some of the new graphics features and everything worked fine. Even though it is not as fast as some modern computers, the simple upgrade to Windows 7 could give that computer several more years of life. So while I cannot predict what the hardware requirements will be for the next Microsoft Windows will be, we do our best at Burke Computers to build computers that you will use for many years.


Most computers will need service at some time. It could be simple maintenance replacing a broken part. Many computers come with a one year limited warranty with the option to purchase additional coverage. This is fairly standard.

How many of us are aware that many companies make good money providing service and parts? This is can be so lucrative that some companies actually focus more on making money here than they do on the equipment itself. They will sell their product cheap knowing that once the warranty is over that you will keep coming back to them for parts. It is not as prevalent in the computer industry because many things like hard drives and RAM can be purchased openly on the internet.

Having worked in a corporate setting, I am all too aware that some of these computers start failing shortly after the warranties expire, so I checked out the prices of some of the parts through a major computer manufacturer. The sweetest irony as I was looking up their parts prices that I found the hard drive recommended for the computer model I was investigating was listed right next to an identical hard drive for half the price. It is possible that their help desk will sell you the cheaper, identical hard drive when the computer is past its warranty, but that was not the part marked as recommended for the computer. To illustrate, the $299 computer I looked at before would cost $300 to replace just three parts outside of the warranty, and that is just for the parts without including any labor cost. Chances are good that you could go to local computer repair service and pay a competitive price that would include both parts and labor in that price tag.


Electricity is perhaps the least known cost in computing. Just as we may not consider the long term repair and upgrade costs of our computers when we purchase, we often don’t even think about the energy costs of the computers we purchase.

There is a balance between saving electricity and computing power. If you are looking for the ultimate in gaming experience, not only will the computer cost thousands of dollars, the electricity may be a couple hundred per year or more. Over five years, that would be another thousand dollars. Now it is common for a computer gamer to replace their computer sooner than five years but they will usually still have a computer that uses at least as much electricity as the last.

So what of the rest of us that use computers? Let me illustrate. Before starting Burke Computers, I custom built both a computer for myself and another for my wife a couple years after that. Both of our computers actually were built with the idea of using less electricity in a custom built computer. My wife’s computer is an Intel Atom dual-core that uses 20 to 40 Watts, depending on task. My computer may be older but it is still faster, and the cost for this is that it 60 to 100 Watts depending on whether you are really using the capabilities of the graphics card. When I had the chance more recently while working on a customer’s computer, I put it on a Wattage meter while diagnosing and testing the repair(s). Their name brand computer used as much electricity as both of our personal computers combined.

If you anticipate that my wife will have her computer at least five years, that computer will cost us an additional $120 based on current electric rates. Why so high? Well, she does typically leave it on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. My computer will cost us $260 during that same time, and I do shut my computer off frequently. It is those MMORPG games that push my video card that do me in. So that customer’s computer would cost them an extra $120 over what my own computer costs in electricity assuming their usage is somewhere between that of my wife and myself. If they game more than I do or leave their computer on all the time, the cost will be higher for them.


When you next purchase a computer, just remember that the price tag you see on the shelf may be only a part of the total price of that computer. As I tried to illustrate in this article, upgrades, parts, and electricity can all be a part of the total cost of the computer you purchase.

As you make your next computer purchase, what I recommend most is having an idea of what you plan to be using your computer for over the next several years. If browsing the internet is all you are looking for, then perhaps all you need is an inexpensive computer. If you are going to play computer games, perhaps you want to save a little in your budget for all the electricity that computer is going to use. Or if you are like me, you look for a solid computer that will last a long time while offering some possibility to upgrade it if you so choose later. It is this understanding that shapes both the computers we build as well as the pricing at Burke Computers. Our mission is to use quality, name brand parts to build home theater computer solutions with enthusiasm and respect for the customer. This also applies to any other computer we will build.

Source: Daniel P Burke
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