Understanding the importance of reliability is the first step in overcoming socially accepted misguided conceptions. Let me start off by saying that in the computer world there are no perfect components or perfect manufacturers. What there is, are manufacturers who are significantly better then others. People incorrectly associate perfection with reliability.
You get what you pay for holds true to this day. There are no wonder deals whether on EBay or PriceWatch. The industry sets a standard price for a component based on supply vs. demand economics. Simply put if a lot of people want something in short supply it will cost more, if a lot people do not want something and it is in great supply it will cost less. Pricing will vary from place to place on specific components but rarely by large amounts. A warning sign that something may be stolen, remarked or have high additional hidden fees, such as shipping, are when a certain component is significantly cheaper in one or a few places. Yes companies go under and liquidators can sell components way below market value and yes some companies may choose to sell something at or below cost to bring in customers for other products or services. Just be wary, when something looks to good to be true it usually is.
The Internet merely allows the new ability for the customer to comparison shop on a worldwide scale. Sites such as PriceWatch, Froogle and many others are continually making this easier. With these great resources people tend to focus in only on the price of a component. They look at specifications only, say for 512MB of DDR PC3200 RAM, then compare pricing. What filters to the top are junk brand OEM and Generic modules, made by third party, low cost, memory manufactures, usually using substandard equipment, with no QA/QC procedures. What you end up with is application crashes, lockups, BSODs and random reboots but hey you saved $10 right?
Buying reliable here means filtering only known reliable manufacturers of memory modules such as Crucial, Corsair, Kingston and Mushkin in addition to the specifications. But as an end user how are you to know who is more reliable? You don’t. You need to rely on advice from reputable sources. No this does not mean the online hardware website you frequent. These sites review at most only a handful of components, which are usually handpicked samples from the individual manufacturers. They do not have the ability to do a volume analysis where they can assess failures based on thousands of components. Only OEMs and Medium to large dealers are capable of providing this data. A company that moves thousands of units of a component can provide a much better long-term outlook of a component manufacturers reliability based on RMAs. However keep in mind that these numbers can vary depending on if the company deals more with professional sources or end users. A company dealing heavily with end users will have a much higher number of RMAs due to more user induced failures.
What happens online is Joe Forum Member who maybe assembled a handful of computers posts a lot at forum X and becomes the head "Guru". His recommendations become gospel and people get misinformed. You will rarely find anyone in forums who does heavy volume. If you did companies such as ECS and Abit would rarely be recommended anywhere. Instead you get people commenting that they never had any problems with component X but fail to tell you they have owned only one of component X. This happens constantly online, especially in forums. You will find reliability advice to vary greatly with reputable Dealers and OEMs from online banter.
Perfection Doesn't Exist:
Always beware of anyone claiming anything is perfect. You can get a bad component from any manufacturer. What you need to focus on is how likely it is you will get one. Buying reliable components means you are less likely to have problems. It does not mean you are guaranteed not to have any. Reliable components have around or below a 3% failure rate depending on the component type. People constantly over look this and once they get a bad component declare the company crap. When in reality it may have been from their own mishandling of the component that caused it to fail to begin with. I've had a defective hard drive from every manufacturer and a different customer declaring never to use each one again. Does this mean they are all bad companies? Obviously not, what this does mean is that they can all fail.
More reliable components will have better warranties. Boxed CPUs for instance come with a 3-year warranty as opposed to a 30-90 day one on OEM CPUs. You also get a manufacturer approved heatsink and fan that is engineered for the life of the CPU. The price difference is very small and always worth the money. Unless you are an OEM with special case requirements there is never a need to use an alternative HSF. This is an online Myth perpetuated by overclockers who have much different cooling requirements. The stock HSF will operate the CPU well below the maximum operating temperature of the CPU. Needless to say only buy boxed CPUs.
"You get what you pay for"
Who to Buy?
The following is a quick list of manufacturers who have proven over the years to be reliable
-Onboard (for above manufacturers)
-PC Power and Cooling