Buy or Build a Gaming PC? The Debate for PC Gaming Enthusiasts (2020 Edition)

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If you have the budget all sorted out, you’re probably wondering if you should build a PC yourself or buy one that is prebuilt for you.

Building a PC is not as stressful as you might think. In fact, it’s as easy as following along a Youtube video, opening some screws and removing/replacing parts – more on that later.

The flexibility and scalability you get when you build your own PC can never match what you get when you purchase a prebuilt one. That is our opinion of course, so we thought we would explore if it is better to build your own PC or buy a prebuilt PC.

Like most things in life, your personal preferences for a gaming PC comes down to a few main factors;

Value, Warranty, Time/Customization, Performance, & Parts.

Is it Better to Buy or Build a Gaming PC? 

Our Short Answer

Overall, building a PC can be better for value and customization but requires time, effort, and research. Building also allows you to focus your budget on what is important to you. Building a PC also needs confidence in oneself to put the components together.

Buying a PC can be better for you if speed (if you don't have the time), customer service, and someone else building your PC is a priority. Buying a PC will almost always cost more than building your own.

Value

Is Building a PC Cheaper?

This question is much more complicated than it would have been just a few years ago. Pricing for PC components has changed drastically in the past several years so the question this question requires some exploration.

Both building and buying have different kinds of value. Taking a look at the higher end of things ($1,500 price range), buying a build from a boutique company is nearly $500 more than the same system built yourself.

Take a look at the Origin PC and their Neuron prebuilt machine:

Their total is around $1,500, which is around $500 more than taking the same components and building your own.

What About a Cheaper Price Point?

Looking at a lower price point to get an idea of what is out there, we chose a $500 price point.

This Cyberpower PC on Amazon is in the $500 price range.

This computer doesn’t come even close to our $400 computer build.

The differences are staggering between the two.

In our suggested build, we used much better components where it counts; a better CPU, graphics card, power supply, and likely the motherboard (the Cyberpower doesn’t list which motherboard they use).

For some reason, given the parts that this particular PC uses, If we took the same parts in the Cyberpower and built our own, we would actually be better off buying this particular prebuilt PC building it would actually cost more.

Shopping around really does help. Looking at other computer builds, like on our website, should help you figure out what is worthwhile.

This knowledge will help you figure out what computer parts are worth it and which aren't.

Just like most things, economies of scale play a large factor when dealing with lower priced items.

How Often Are PC Parts DOA?

Warranty and Parts Delivery

Lastly, on this topic, one big advantage pre-assembled PCs have over building your own, is that they have a more robust warranty and guarantee attentive customer service should anything go wrong.

One concern some people may have is having parts delivered that are dead on arrival (DOA).

The likelihood of PC parts being DOA is very rare (we have never had it happen), but very annoying when it does.

Again Reddit and Tom’s Hardware forum I didn’t see any comments as to faulty parts being sent at all.

It’s kind of like winning the lottery – some people do win, but the chances of winning are unlikely, only in this case it is not something you want to happen.

Amazon, for instance, notes that: “If your item is damaged or defective, you can return your product through our Online Return Center during the return period (most items can be returned within 30 days of receipt of shipment.)”

Given that the company you purchase from will test the PC before shipping to ensure it works and performs to their standards, you do not have to worry about faulty components and then dealing with the manufacturer of the faulty part.

Spend Your Money on What’s Important

Gamers know that the most important part of a PC is the graphics card. If you’re focused solely on gaming, you can build a PC for just that, getting just enough of a CPU to power your awesome graphics card.

Time and Custom Looks

The most noticeable difference between building or buying a PC is in the time you should expect to invest. Prebuilt systems ship to you ready to go and require minimal setup.

Custom-built systems take more time to put together than a ready-made system.

This starts with waiting for parts. Depending on where you buy parts from or whether you wait for certain components to go on sale, each piece of the system may arrive at different times.

After all the components arrive, the build process can begin. For a basic system without water cooling, even an inexperienced builder can comfortably finish within a weekend. However, entirely customized systems can even take experts weeks to complete.

The amount of time spent on the project is up to you. Certain companies do offer a prebuilt system with custom designs, so if the overall look is important but time is hard to come by, buying could be the way to go.

However, if you want a PC that really stands out with custom water cooling and/or lighting, doing it yourself ensures the system looks exactly the way you want.

Is Building a PC Easy?

Yes, building a PC is easy, with a few proper tools and patience, anyone can build a PC. For beginners, expect the process to take anywhere between 1-5 hours. For experts, a PC can be built in less than 30 minutes. Being able to follow instructions and videos easily will be the difference between a fast build and one that takes quite a bit longer.

But that’s just our opinion. Let’s look at other forums where the question is asked and see what people have to say:

On the most recent Reddit post, two people responded to the question and said that a total beginner will take between 2-3 hours to put a PC together.

Another response confirmed our timeline of 1-5 hours.

An older Reddit post (with stronger language) seems to have 2-3 hours and 4-5 hours averages for beginners.

Lastly, on Tom’s hardware forum, people who have built a computer before have put a PC together in less than 30 minutes.

That should give you a pretty good sample.

If you want to access a good resource on how to build a PC, the Youtube video below is a great way to follow along. Here’s the actual Youtube link if you want to save it for later.

Understanding Your PC on a Deeper Level

Building your own PC is not just a project, it is an educational experience that lets you in on the intricate details and how each part affects your gaming experience.

This means, the next time you feel the PC isn’t performing as well, you’ll have a better idea of what to replace and how. You won’t have the same convenience with prebuilt PCs, as they are often sealed off and replacements aren’t easy.

This ability to upgrade comes in handy when playing newer games. Upgrading every so often will allow you to play the latest installment of your favorite games without much hassle.

Cryptocurrency And Market Changes-The X-Factor in Building a PC

Graphics Card Prices

Back in late 2017, when Bitcoin prices were reaching highs of $25,000, everybody was snapping up graphics cards to get in on the digital gold rush.

Since a graphics card is an integral part of a gaming build, many mid to high-end cards were selling for 2-3 times their MSRP prices. At that time, it was actually less expensive to buy a prebuilt PC than making one yourself.

Tomsguide actually wrote an article in early 2018 speaking to this fact. As far as we know,, this was the first time that has ever occurred. Buying parts and building things yourself should always save you money.

OMG

No wonder it was better to buy a prebuilt PC. Manufacturers were obligated to sell at a predetermined price which is why their prices didn’t go up.

RAM & SSD Prices

Computer RAM prices have taken the same type of crazy market prices over time as the graphics card trend has.

SSD prices have fallen recently too.

Obviously, the point we’re trying to make is that there are some times where market conditions (supply/demand etc) make things unreasonable.

Right now seems like a great time to capitalize on cheaper hardware costs and build your own.

Should You Trust the Experts?

One of the most complex practices in PC gaming is the art of overclocking. Experienced builders can milk extra performance out of each component, making lower-cost parts perform closer to higher-end options.

If you have personal experience overclocking and are looking for a system to do just that – then building a custom gaming PC is by far the best option.

However, for certain companies, overclocking can void warranties on prebuilt systems. What’s more important is that many prebuilt systems are not made with overclocking in mind. Even if you have no experience and still want to overclock, there are certain prebuilt systems that include optional overclocks from experts.

This can be a good way to squeeze extra performance out of a prebuilt system without forking over the cash needed to upgrade a graphics card or processor. Again, the question “is it better to build or buy a gaming PC?” comes down to your own level of expertise and how much time you want to commit.

Should You Trust All PC Building Companies?

As with most absolutes in life, the answer is no. While buying requires less research, both building and buying a gaming PC are significant investments that require general knowledge of each component and the brands behind those parts.

Some more well-known brands (like Wal-Mart) have recently started offering value gaming systems at value prices. While these offerings may seem tempting, it’s important to look at customer reviews of prebuilt systems, as well as reviews for the individual components the company has selected to put into their systems.

Often a prebuilt PC will have inferior products as part of their overall construction.  More than likely, the motherboard is quite inferior to what someone would consider putting in their own built PC.

More value-oriented companies will source the most affordable components possible while sometimes turning a blind eye to overall performance or customer reviews.  

Another good example is with power supplies.  It is almost always less expensive for a company to source unbranded power supplies in bulk, however, these are not always as stable or efficient as those which are backed by well-established brands.

Often if you have more time than money – it makes the most sense to learn how to build a PC yourself. Not only can you save hundreds, but you will learn a valuable skill and have a more intimate knowledge of your gaming PC.

How to Build a Gaming PC

The first and most important part of building your own system is research. Learn everything you can about every part you plan to purchase, we have an article explaining this in detail, but there are tons of different resources for every part of the build process.

One favorite is Pcpartpicker, which is a gigantic database of almost every PC component imaginable. They even have a rudimentary compatibility checker to make sure your parts will work together. There are countless videos which demonstrate how to build a gaming PC, and the components themselves will often include very helpful instruction manuals that walk you through step-by-step.

Setting out to build your own system is an incredibly rewarding experience. It's like playing with grown-up Legos.

There’s An Entire Community

There’s an entire global community of people who prefer building their own PCs instead of buying prebuilt.

When you start off your first project, the research involved connects you with like-minded individuals, who serve as a source to identify the best practices, the best parts, and much more.

In addition, if you encounter a problem during the process, you can reach out to the community and share it. You will have immediate access to a wide variety of solutions. The feeling of being a part of something bigger and more important is priceless.

Reddit is a familiar community place for sure, here are some suggested Reddit spots:

https://www.reddit.com/r/techsupport/
https://www.reddit.com/r/buildapc


How to Buy a Gaming PC

Not everyone remembers Legos fondly, so for many, buying a gaming PC makes more sense. Just as with building a PC, research is the single most important part.

Tomsguide has an excellent article discussing what you should consider when buying a PC.

Most companies are very transparent about which parts they use, so be sure to check the technical specifications of the system you are looking at to make sure you aren’t overcharged.

The next step is to get in contact with the company directly. Even if you do not have a specific question, it’s always a good idea to get a feel for their customer service and attention to detail.

Companies often make customer service a priority, making it incredibly easy and giving 24/7 online customer service to answer questions through chat.

Calling works just as well, if not better, and will establish a personal connection, so you’re guaranteed the best service.

Buying Used-Proceed With Caution

Unfortunately, the market for used gaming PCs is rife with prices that are far too high and sellers which are not as open as they ought to be. This is where research really comes in. Knowing the current price of older components can give you a huge advantage when it comes to negotiating prices on secondhand sites.

The riskiest part of buying a gaming PC second hand is whether it functions in the first place. When possible, you should always examine the system for damage.

Next, you should also make sure the seller is willing to power the system on for you and demonstrate that it runs properly. Think of this as a test drive before buying a used car.

Buying used also carries with it the risk of unseen damage. I briefly mentioned overclocking earlier, if done incorrectly this can place the CPU and GPU of the gaming PC under immense stress and significantly decrease the longevity of the system. There is no way to test for this damage other than asking the seller how the system was used and then trusting that answer. The same goes for purchasing individual parts secondhand.

So, Which is Better, Buying or Building a Gaming PC?

The bottom line is that there is no clear answer for everyone, but there are a few clear points.

Should You Buy a Gaming PC?

Pros

  • Stronger warranties
  • Less research and time
  • Responsive customer service
  • Unique looks from experts
  • Possible overclocking

Cons

  • Increased costs
  • Less value for components
  • Less room for DIY (including overclocking)
  • DIY repairs and adjustments risk voiding warranties
  • Less overall customization options

Should You Build a Gaming PC?

Pros

  • Unlimited customization
  • Overclocking and other DIY repairs and options become available
  • Ability to source parts individually for the best savings
  • Avoid paying extra cost for the labor needed to assemble the system
  • Learn a valuable and rewarding skill

Cons

  • Much more time intensive for both the building and research phase
  • Requires the proper amount of time and effort to learn about each part
  • Risk of parts arriving dead or broken
  • Some kinds of customization are incredibly complex
  • Far less warranty and no customer service for overall problems (only for problems with individual components)

Conclusion

In some ways, it’s fantastic that now, this question is more difficult than ever to answer. Both building and buying a gaming PC are perfectly viable options that each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

So depending on who you are, how much time you have, what you want your system to look like, and what your budget is, you’re almost guaranteed to find a prebuilt system or the parts needed to build your own system to closely matches your exact needs.

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