What I like about Dell is that you can order online and customize your PC with your choice of parts, apps and more.

So you want to give a desktop computer to a kid? [In a past article], I wondered whether to go used, new from a major manufacturer, or new (and relatively easy to assemble) from parts.
Before I go any further, it’s worth pointing out that the price of laptop computers has fallen so low that you really don’t save much money — as used to be the case — by opting for a desktop system.

If you’re buying new, by the time you add a flat-screen monitor to your desktop PC box, you’re taking about $450 minimum from Dell, Compaq, Hewlett-Packard or Acer.

There are plenty of laptops in the $500 range, and those little netbooks like the Asus Eee PC 900 ($350), Acer Aspire One ($400-$450) and HP 2133 Mini-Note ($300-$500) can put a smaller and tougher-than-usual laptop in the hands of children whose fingers are actually small enough to use the downsized keyboards of this new breed of notebook PC.

Full-size laptops are also coming down in price. During any given week there are more than a few to choose from for $450-$500 (after the inevitable rebates) from retailers such as Office Depot, Staples and Best Buy.

This time, I’m not thinking laptop. Even a rugged netbook is no match for a desktop PC when it comes to durability and repairability.

In contrast, laptop repairs are almost always difficult and expensive.

As far as desktops go, I’ve been looking hard at Dell’s Inspiron 530 line (starting at $425-$450 with monitor), but I really like the new and ultra-compact Dell Studio Hybrid. Unfortunately, the Studio starts out at $749 with monitor.

What I like about Dell is that you can order online and customize your PC with your choice of parts, applications and more. Of course, the more you add, the more it costs.

However a PC from a major manufacturer like Dell or HP is often stuffed with proprietary components, especially motherboards and power supplies, that can’t be easily replaced.

If one of these items fails out of warranty, you’d have to get a replacement from the manufacturer.

But if you know your way around a PC and aren’t afraid to put together one from standard-sized parts, companies such as TigerDirect.com and

Newegg.com can sell you everything you need, from the case to the motherboard to the RAM.

Then you’ve got to put it together. It’s not terribly hard, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you know you’re familiar with the inside of a PC.

And the major manufacturers have such economies of scale that you won’t save a lot — if any — money.

But when you build your own, swapping in a newer, better motherboard, DVD drive or power supply will be easy — and you could continue upgrading the same PC for quite a few years.