Are cheap computers bare bones computers?
You could buy a low cost PC for under $400 or you could shop around for the parts and
cheap computer for under $300.
The question I have is why buy
low cost / quality parts?
If you buy from a reputable supplier such as newegg.com and a few others they will have a one year guarantee on the parts (unless they are 'recertified or open box') and then the warranty will vary.
But who wants to be replacing parts in six months to a year?
The only scenario I can think of to build a low cost PC is for experimentation, that is a test computer where you are going to use the computer to run hardware/software tests and you really don't care how long it lasts.
I am not a fan of AMD processors, over my career as a Tech I have never replaced a failed Intel processor
(this does not include where the owner/user went into the BIOS and
changed pramiters for the speed/voltage of the processor!) but the number of AMD processors/motherboards that I have replaced or had replaced under warranty numbers in the hundreds.
At one time I was responsible for over 400 servers in a region for a large company, of these around 30 had AMD processors. At least 50% of them had to have either a processor and/or a motherboard changed in the six years I was responsible for them.
My motto is: "Buy cheap, get cheap" and you will be replacing it in the near future.
How to get a cheap computer with out skimping on quality:
You can get away with a very cheap case, cheap video, cheap hard drive, and a cheap DVD drive but don't skimp on the motherboard, memory, or processor.
It is a balancing act, what you need (not want) and the quality you can pay for.
You can get away from doing the actual build if you look for bargains in the 'end of line' or 'bare bones'.
End of line means the make/model has came to the end of the production cycle. When there are some left over that didn't sell and the supplier is trying to clear out the inventory this is where you find high quality (most times) at a relatively cheap price.
That doesn't mean these are cheap computers by any means, just lower cost for
the quality you will get.
A 'bare bones' computer has the minimum of components, minimum features, some are the low end of everything, processor, memory, motherboard, some don't come with keyboard and mouse but it is a start and they are cheap; newegg.com has some for as low as $79 at the time this article was written.
If you are on a budget and want to build your own computer shopping around and comparing prices will save you some money. Finding the end of line components will save you a lot more and will get you higher quality. Sometimes you need to go to the manufactures web site and find out what is end of line and what will be going out of production soon. It may take an email to the Sales department to find out which products are coming up to end of line.
Troubleshoot, repair, maintain, upgrade & secure...
What would you use a low end or cheap computer for?
You could use a bare bones computer as a starter for a child or student that just needs something to do research, write papers, etc. This would not be a gaming or high powered computer you would want to use for everyday work.
You could also use these types of computers where a customer needed to fill out forms, have only the form application/web browser as the only app available and locked to keep someone from hacking the OS.
If you need a low end computer to do something such as a proxy server or just a file server then maybe a low end computer will work but as with anything cheap -
"Buy cheap, Get cheap" ...