Every geek knows that the answer to life, the universe and everything is 42. But, for PC gamers and enthusiasts, there's an even more important question: build a rig or buy one pre-built? For many of our readers, the answer seems obvious: purchase your own components and build a desktop PC to meet your own exacting specifications. But there are also some very legitimate reasons to save your time (and often money) by buying a prebuilt desktop.
To help you make this important choice, let's look at the pros and cons and then price out what it costs, as of today, to buy or build your own budget, mid-range and high-end gaming rig.
Reasons to Build Your Own PC
- Have it your way: You get to pick every component you use, from the make and model of RAM to the PSU, and even the fans and cables inside. You can opt for higher-quality parts that make it easier to overclock. Most importantly, you can control the aesthetics by choosing an attractive chassis and components to match.
- Re-use existing parts: If you already have a PC, you can probably carry some components over to your new build, like the case, power supply and storage.
- Pride of ownership: It just feels good to use something that you designed and built.
Of course, it helps to have experience, but if you read our tutorial on how to build a PC, you should be able to do this on your own.
Reasons to Buy a Prebuilt PC
- You want a laptop. There's no such thing as building your own laptop, because not all the parts are standardized.
- Time is money: Putting together your own PC takes several hours in a best case scenario (including researching and ordering the parts, unpacking and cleanup, etc.), and that's assuming that every part you bought works correctly.
- Lower blood pressure: There's always a chance that you'll run into problems building a computer where you can't get something working. You may figure out the problem or you may need to buy additional parts before you can continue.
- One warranty to rule them all: If you buy a prebuilt PC, the entire PC has a single warranty on it and a single company that must stand behind it. If you build your own and it starts blue screening, you have to figure out why and deal with RMA-ing an individual component.
So, putting aside the laptop argument (if you want a laptop, you have no choice), let's look at what costs to buy or build three different gaming PCs. You might think that building your own is always a lot cheaper, but keep in mind that OEMs and boutique PC builders often get components at lower prices than you do. Also, even if the prebuilt PC costs just a little more, the savings in time and hassle could be well worth the money.
The Budget Gaming Build
Let's start with a low-end gaming PC. I'm going to use the parts from the "Budget Battle Box" we featured in our recent $500 Budget Build Off feature. At the time of the original article, these parts cost $496, but as of today, they go for $478.92 as reflected below.
|Component Type||Component||Current Price|
|CPU||Intel Core i3-9100F||$85.19|
|GPU||XFX RS XXX Edition Radeon RX 570 (4GB)||$119.99|
|RAM||8GB Patriot Viper Elite (2 x 4GB) 2,666 MHz||$32.99|
|SSD||Intel 660p SSD (512GB)||$64.99|
|Cooler||DeepCool Gammaxx 400||$19.79|
|Power Supply||450W Seasonic S12III 450 SSR-450GB3||$42.99|
You're unlikely to find an OEM system with exactly these components, but the closest we found at press time were:
- CyberPowerPC Gaming PC ($599) with Ryzen 3 2300X, AMD Radeon RX 570, 8GB DDR4-2666 RAM and a 1TB HDD + 240GB SSD storage. This gives you more storage than our build, but less solid-state storage. The Core i3-9100F in our build should be a little faster for gaming than the Ryzen 3 2300X, but not by much.
- HP Pavilion Desktop TG01-0160xt ($549) with Core i5-9400 CPU, an Nvidia GTX 1650 card, 8GB of DDR-2666 RAM and a 1TB hard drive. Here, the CPU is clearly better than our build, but the graphics card isn't quite as fast as an RX 570. The 1TB hard drive is pretty lame and HP charges a gob-smacking $160 extra dollars to get a 512GB SSD, which would bring this price up to $709
- CyberPowerPC Custom Build: If you buy directly from CyberPower PC rather than getting a prebuilt model from Best Buy or Amazon, you can configure to order with all kinds of components. Configuring something similar to our build costs a pricey $984.
In both of these cases, the price delta from our budget build is only around $70 to $120, but you do get less (or no) solid state storage. We don't know what make or model of motherboard, cooler, PSU or SSD these have from looking at them, so they may not be as high-quality or perform the same as what we put together.
Let's also keep in mind that our custom builds don't include the price of Windows 10, which you can get for under $30 or free (if you run unactivated), but the OEMs clearly are paying that licensing fee. Our price also doesn't include a keyboard mouse like most OEM builds do. However, the pack-in peripherals are usually so crappy that you should plan to buy your own (or carry yours over from a previous build) anyway.
Sub $1,000 Gaming Build
You'll pay quite a bit more to find a similarly-specced prebuilt gaming desktop.
- Alienware Aurora Desktop ($1,604): We recently reviewed and liked the Aurora, though the model we tested had higher-end specs like a Ryzen 9 3950X. When we configured the Aurora with similar specs to the build above, it cost $1,604.99, a premium of more than $600.
- SkyTech Legacy Mini ($1,079) This prebuilt system features a previous-gen Ryzen 7 2700 CPU with more cores and threads, but lower clocks and an older architecture than our 3600. And you also get half of our storage -- 500GB instead of 1TB. But it has the RTX 2060 Super card, and 16GB of RAM for only about $100 more than it would cost to build your own
- iBuyPower Custom PC ($1,2230): A boutique company that lets you choose from a nearly endless array of parts, iBuyPower sells a very similar configuration to ours for just $1,223. The default case may not look quite as nice as the NZXT H510 we chose, but otherwise, this system should be very similar to ours and for $225 more.
Finally, let's look at a desktop with a Core i7 CPU and an RTX 2080 graphics card. While you can always go up higher to Core i9 / Ryzen 9 or to RTX 2080 Ti, these components would still make for a very formidable gaming rig.
|Component Type||Component||Current Price|
|CPU||Intel Core i7-9700K||$339.99|
|GPU||Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Super (Reference Card)||$699.99|
|SSD||Samsung 970 EVO Plus (2TB)||$394.95|
|Motherboard||Gigabyte Z390 Gaming X||$144.99|
|RAM||Patriot Viper RGB 16 GB (2 x 8 GB) DDR4-3200||$82.99|
|Power Supply||Corsair RMx 650W||$89.99|
|Cooler||Cooler Master MasterLiquid ML360R||$115.00|
|Case||Corsair iCue 220T RGB Airflow||$89.99|
- Alienware Aurora: Old Design ($2049): This configuration comes with a Core i7-9700K, an Nvidia RTX 2080 Super GPU, Liquid cooling, 16GB of DDR4-2933 RAM and a 2TB SSD. However, if you just want a 1TB SSD, you can grab this for $1,849.
- Computer Upgrade King Stratos ($1,959). Comes with a Core i7-9700KF, a 1TB SSD, 32GB of DDR4-2666 RAM and that RTX 2080 Super card. It also has some neat RGB lights and dual side-panel doors.
- Digital Storm Lynx: This custom build with the Core i7-9700K, Nvidia RTX 2080 Super, 1TB SSD and 16GB of RAM goes for a pricey $2,425.
As we get up into this higher-end bracket, the price deltas between build and buy are smaller. However, part of what costs so much about our build here is the 2TB SSD. If you can live with just 1TB or 1TB plus a hard drive, you can cut about $250 off of our price and get it down to $1,600.
The Bottom Line
The price delta between building your own PC from parts and buying a similarly configured system ranges from as little as $100 to as much as $500. As you move up the price stack, it seems like the deltas get smaller. For example, the Alienware Aurora (old design) was only $181 more than our nearly-identical custom build, including a full copy of Windows that wasn't included in our custom build.
Now, if you already have some components you can re-use from your old PC, the price delta between building and buying becomes much more significant. But, if you're starting from scratch, the main question you need to answer is: "do I want to have complete control over the part selection or do I want to save time and hassle?" The right answer really depends on you.
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