Why Building Your Own PC Is Still a Smart Move in 2023

PC Build
(Image credit: Tom's Hardware)

The PC ecosystem is as diverse as the billions of people who use computers for work and play. For some folks, a sub-$500 laptop that sits in a corner most of the time fits their lifestyle. Others need a top-notch rig that takes up a ton of desk space so they can play the latest AAA games, while still others need a mix of portability and performance. 

Thankfully, not only is there a PC for every need, but we have the amazing ability to build our own desktops from the ground up, with just the right components to suit our personalities and budgets. Some users need laptops, which aren’t available to build from scratch (excepting Frameworks’ kit), and for them we maintain a list of the best gaming laptops and best ultraportable laptops. Still others prefer the convenience and manufacturer support that comes with one of the best prebuilt desktops. However, if you can build your own PC, you should.

On, Sunday, our sister site Tom’s Guide (which is a different publication targeted at less-tech-savvy readers), published an op-ed from writer Dave Meikleham claiming that building PCs is "a mistake" and that everyone should just buy gaming laptops instead. The author claims to have been building PCs for 20 years. But now that he has run into a technical problem on a recent build, he thinks that putting together your own system is a waste of time. Well, that’s one way to relate to your technology.

In too many areas of our 21st century lives, the power is being taken out of our hands. Whether it’s an AI that wants to do all of our writing, research and artwork for us (while plagiarizing from actual humans) or a sealed smartphone you can’t open to repair, we’re becoming a world of passive tech consumers, who are dependent on technology that we can’t control or even understand. 

There’s no practical way to build most of the gadgets in your day-to-day tech life, at least not at the quality level you would expect (Raspberry Pi can be excellent for DIY smart home stuff though). Try slapping together your own OLED TV or ultra-slim Android handset. PCs are one of the few areas where you can choose all the parts and build an end product that’s better than anything you’d find on the shelves at Best Buy or Walmart.

You can take the tack that your computer, like your TV, is a sealed box that should just turn on, or you can take control by building it yourself. Depending on your build, you can save hundreds of dollars by building your own PC. You’ll get it made exactly the way you want, and you’ll be better able to fix and upgrade it in the future. And there’s no doubt that you’ll feel the pride that comes from being a creator, not just a consumer of technology.

By the way, it’s not difficult to put together your first PC (we have a tutorial on how to build a PC). There’s no soldering or heavy machinery involved, just plugging in some wires, mounting the motherboard, and installing and tightening some screws. You can usually be done within two hours, barring any problems.

Saving Money by Building Your Own PC

Let’s price out what it costs to build a gaming desktop versus buying a similarly-configured prebuilt PC or gaming laptop. We could do this around any price point, but we’ll go with a $2,099 PC at Best Buy, America’s largest and most well-known big-box electronics store. For this price, you get a desktop from CyberPowerPC with a mid-range, RTX 4070 graphics card, a high-end Core i9-13900KF CPU, 32GB of DDR5 RAM, a 2TB SSD, and an 800-watt power supply.

Swipe to scroll horizontally
PartCyberPower PC at Best BuyPriceCustom BuildPrice
CPUCore i9-13900KFIncludedCore i9-13900KF$535
GPU RTX 4070IncludedAsus Dual RTX 4070 OC Edition$599
SSD2TBIncludedSolidigm P41 Plus$79
RAM32GB DDR5IncludedCorsair Vengeance DDR5 32GB (16 x 2) 5600 MHz$95
MotherboardIncludes Wireless AC Wi-FiIncludedMSI Pro Z790-P WiFI LGA$199
PSU800 wattsIncludedEVGA 800 GE, 80 Plus Gold 800W$89
CoolingAIOIncludedDeepCool LT720 360mm AIO$139
CaseCyberPower's CaseIncludedPhanteks Eclipse G360A $99
TotalRow 8 - Cell 1 $2,099Row 8 - Cell 3 $1,834

By pricing out the parts, we can create an identically-configured DIY PC for just $1,834 (yes, with no OS, but we’ll touch on that soon), perhaps less. Best Buy doesn’t list out the makes and models of most of its parts, including the PSU, RAM, SSD, case, cooler and motherboard.

For our build, we went with a rather cheap SSD and an inexpensive but still Gold-rated power supply. However, our DeepCool LT720 AIO is one of the best CPU coolers you can buy. More importantly, since we control the build, we can make more specific choices. Instead of any old 2TB SSD, we could pay more for a blazing fast one like the $159 Samsung 990 Pro.

Perhaps more importantly, we could rebalance our budget to focus more on the graphics card and less on the CPU. If gaming is our priority, we’d sooner save a few dollars on the CPU and put that cash into the graphics card, going for an RTX 4070 Ti GPU ($799) and a Core i5-13600KF ($290).

Like all of our best PC builds, this one has a couple of caveats: First, our cost doesn’t include the price of a Windows license, though you can get Windows 11 for free or cheap (usually less than $30). And we assume you’re going to buy your own keyboard and mouse, rather than using the cheap ones that come in the box with most prebuilt PCs.

By the way, Best Buy’s CyberPowerPC for $2,099 is an amazing deal compared to what a similarly-configured PC from a bigger-name brand might cost. Alienware charges $2399 for an RTX 4070 desktop that has a slower Core i7-13700F CPU, just 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. You do get the company’s stylish alien-themed chassis, sleek software and strong build quality, but it comes at a very high premium.

If you want a laptop with RTX 4070 inside, Best Buy has that too, like this MSI Raider GE68 for $2,699. Granted, with the gaming laptop, you are getting portability and a built-in screen. However, its mobile RTX 4070 will be much slower than its desktop counterpart, just as its mobile Core i9 CPU won’t match the desktop one. With the money you save by building your own desktop, you could easily buy one of the best gaming monitors. Our top choice, the Dell S3222DGM goes for just $349 these days.

A Sense of Ownership and Control

So we’ve shown that building a PC is, almost always, cheaper than buying a prebuilt one. But it’s not just about the price. With a DIY PC, you are the boss, which means that you decide exactly what parts you use. When you’re buying a prebuilt you usually don’t get a choice of the following parts.

  • Graphics card: If you go the prebuilt route, you will know what the GPU is (ex: RTX 4070) but often not which make and model of card it is. When you build it yourself, you can choose an overclocked, third-party card.
  • Storage: Most vendors will tell you the size and type of SSD and, if you’re lucky, they will let you know if it uses PCIe 3.0, PCIe 4.0 or PCIe 5.0. Best Buy’s listing for the CyberPowerPC doesn’t say. But can you pick your favorite drive from among the best SSDs
  • Case: There are hundreds of cases on the market. And if you build your own PC, you can choose one that suits your situation, whether it’s a tiny mini-ITX case, an E-ATX behemoth, or a chassis with wood slats like the Fractal Design North.
  • RAM: You’ll know the amount of RAM and the interface (DDR4 or DDR5) with a prebuilt that’s sitting on the shelf, but you may not even know the speed and, if you do, you won’t know the timings or whether it includes RGB.
  • CPU Cooling: You can choose a 240mm, 280mm, or 360mm AIO cooler to get the most out of a high-performance CPU, or stick with a low-profile air cooler for lower-wattage processors. A better cooler would allow you to push your processor to higher speeds.
  • Case fans: You can decide how to configure the airflow in your PC and what types of fans you want to get you there. You can get fans that are austere and quiet or ones with built-in screens.
  • Motherboard: If you plan to overclock, you need a motherboard that supports fine voltage control and, if you want to back up to fast external storage, you can choose one with Thunderbolt 4 or USB 4. You can even get a Sonic-themed motherboard.
  • Power Supply: The least glamorous part of your PC is one of its most important. Many PC vendors give you a cheap, underpowered PSU. However, when you make the choices, you can give yourself more future flexibility by getting a higher capacity than you need today. For example, if you need 650 watts today, you might go for an 850-watt unit in case you decide to upgrade your graphics card in the future.

Some smaller companies like iBuyPower and CyberPowerPC will give you some options, but there's not an unlimited number of choices of components when you pay for a build-to-order PC. However, you’ll pay a bit extra and build-to-order systems can take a while to ship.

Your PC can be a simple, utilitarian affair with messy wires and no window, an RGB bling showpiece, or a refined piece of furniture that matches your surroundings. You don’t need to be a professional case modder to add touches of flair such as RGB power cables or a screen that sits on top of your RAM.

Should You Build a PC or Buy One?

We’ve covered this topic in detail before, but the answer depends a lot on the person. To summarize:

Buy a laptop If:

  • You need portability, even within the home.
  • Desk space is very limited.
  • You can afford the premium
  • You don’t need the highest possible levels of performance.

 Buy a prebuilt gaming desktop if: 

  • You don’t want to spend the time building a PC.
  • The prebuilt has some special features or branding (ex: Alienware’s Aurora case)
  • You want one source of warranty and tech support.
  • You’re not confident in your PC-building ability.

Build a desktop if:

  • You want full control over the end product.
  • You want to save money, and usually get better parts.
  • You need top-notch performance and value.

Bottom Line

No matter what direction you choose for your PC build, you’ll have the responsibility of putting it together and fixing it if there’s a problem. However, the individual parts will have their own warranties and, if you know that one piece in particular broke, you can send it in for service or buy a new one. Once the warranty is over on your prebuilt PC, you may not be able to fix it, particularly if the case or motherboard is built in a proprietary way.

Also, when you build a PC, it’s easier to upgrade the computer as your needs change. If you need to add a second SSD, double your RAM, or replace your graphics card, the power is in your hands. With a prebuilt PC, you may or may not get parts that leave room for future expansion.

Our colleague at Tom’s Guide said that “putting together your own PC can end in disaster” based on the fact that he attempted to install a Core i9-13900K into a motherboard that didn’t support it without a BIOS update. But that's the kind of problem one can avoid or solve for with research, such as checking the CPU compatibility and BIOS update notes on the motherboard vendor's website. 

And every failure is a learning opportunity, with workarounds that are usually free (like putting the old CPU back in and running a BIOS update) or cheap. I won’t get into the time that I learned an important lesson about not building a PC on a carpet while wearing socks.

Anything worth having is worth working for. Building a PC is not for everyone, but it’s easy and rewarding enough that more people should do it, not fewer. The savings, customization, and fun more than make up for any issues you are likely to encounter along the way.

Avram Piltch
Avram Piltch is Tom's Hardware's editor-in-chief. When he's not playing with the latest gadgets at work or putting on VR helmets at trade shows, you'll find him rooting his phone, taking apart his PC or coding plugins. With his technical knowledge and passion for testing, Avram developed many real-world benchmarks, including our laptop battery test.
  • hotaru.hino
    The saving money aspect starts to get a little less so the cheaper you get. For instance, once you get down to the <$800 range or you just need some computer to do basic stuff with, it starts becoming harder for me to feel that building my own computer becomes worth it unless I take advantage of some fire sale like Black Friday.

    For instance, the cost of a Windows license is at the minimum around $100. When your OS is approaching >15% of the total BOM cost, that starts to become less appealing. Of course you could just use Windows without activating it, since it's basically like WinRAR at this point. And no, I won't count buying keys from resellers like Kinguin or whatnot because there's no real way to prove they're completely legitimate.

    EDIT: I may have missed it, but some websites do offer to build a computer for you, you just send them the shopping list of parts you want.
  • bit_user
    hotaru.hino said:
    it starts becoming harder for me to feel that building my own computer becomes worth it unless I take advantage of some fire sale like Black Friday.
    Once you have a PC, upgrades get cheaper. Often, you can reuse the same case and PSU. Sometimes, storage as well.

    You can also opt to replace the GPU on a different cycle than your CPU/motherboard/RAM upgrades, which can help you stretch a limited upgrade budget further.

    I also like the idea that you could build a budget PC today, with an upgrade path towards a powerhouse. For instance, maybe you start with a Pentium Gold G7400, but sometime later you drop in a i5-13500. Then, after that, you upgrade the PSU. Finally, you add a dGPU. So, your entry-point is as low as just about any prebuilt, but you have an upgrade path towards a much more capable machine, where the size of any one step is much smaller than a wholesale upgrade.

    For me, the appeal isn't about money-savings, but more that I'm somewhat of a control-freak and like to make all the decisions about different components. Typically, the point is that I can pick better quality, better performing, or more reliable components than you typically get in a prebuilt.

    I recently had a friend looking to upgrade the CPU in his Dell prebuilt, from Gen12 to Gen 13. He inserted the new CPU and the system refused to boot, saying Gen 13 CPUs aren't supported. It turns out that even though the socket and chipset are compatible between the two, Dell's BIOS only supports booting Gen 13 CPUs on certain motherboard models. So, you really can't take anything for granted, if you opt for the prebuilt route.

    More common examples are people being limited in their dGPU upgrade options, due to the size of the power supply, the size of the chassis, or the number of auxiliary power cables. And it's common for prebuilts to use proprietary power supplies & motherboard connectors, which makes it hard to upgrade to a bigger PSU (at least, without overpaying for it).
  • cknobman
    "You do get the company’s stylish alien-themed chassis, sleek software and strong build quality, but it’s at a premium."

    I see the author has a sense of humor :D
  • Dave Haynie
    I always build my own PCs, but my knowledge of computer systems is overkill for a relatively simply system integration. I look at it as a means of getting the exact PC I want, rather than saving money. I'd also wager that, if you don't understand just why you'd want to integrate your own system, specifically in terms of the hardware you want, there's not much point.

    The last system I integrated was a PC for my beach house, and it was particularly challenging because it was going into the "Checkmate 1500" PC case, a pretty clever modular case designed to look like an Amiga 3000. This case requires a microATX or other small board, half-height cards (if any), special attention to cooling if you're putting anything reasonable in it. I also wanted a card "drive" for my SD cards and a BD/BDXL drive... a slot drive was possible. And this was for electronics CAD, above any hobby stuff, because I had every intention of doing my professional work down at the beach!

    The Tom's Guide article demonstrates that this isn't for everyone. Maybe Dave Meikleham just got lucky for 20 years, but it's a complete rookie move to attempt to upgrade a CPU without checking your BIOS and motherboard compatibility before you buy that CPU.
  • hotaru.hino
    Dave Haynie said:
    I look at it as a means of getting the exact PC I want, rather than saving money.
    I feel like this is more why a lot of us build our own PCs. You get the PC you wanted.

    Most people are fine with their PCs being an appliance.
  • JarredWaltonGPU
    hotaru.hino said:
    The saving money aspect starts to get a little less so the cheaper you get. For instance, once you get down to the <$800 range or you just need some computer to do basic stuff with, it starts becoming harder for me to feel that building my own computer becomes worth it unless I take advantage of some fire sale like Black Friday.
    I will say this: If you only need basic computer functionality with reasonable performance, and you're not interested in gaming, getting a basic laptop from Costco is usually the way to go. You can usually find Core i7 / Ryzen 7 (maybe i5 / Ryzen 5), 16GB RAM, and a 1TB SSD for around $500, sometimes less.

    Granted, you will get a garbage QLC SSD, I can pretty much guarantee that part. And no, no matter how companies may like to market things, QLC SSDs are not even close to being as responsive as TLC SSDs right now. I have two laptops with QLC drives, and every time I need to install new drivers or update Windows, it takes two or three times longer than a laptop with a better quality SSD (even a Gen3 Samsung 970 Evo would beat most of the QLC drives).

    You also won't get any graphics muscle. You'll get Intel's anemic Xe Graphics at best, with 32 EUs. Or maybe you get an AMD chip with two compute units, which is actually worse in many cases than Xe Graphics! But still, some very viable options if you're not planning on gaming. Examples:

    https://www.costco.com/hp-15.6"-touchscreen-laptop---amd-ryzen-5-7520u---windows-11.product.4000157083.html — $449 on sale right now, pretty killer deal!

    https://www.costco.com/acer-swift-3-14"-intel-evo-platform-laptop---12th-gen-intel-i5-1240p----1080p---windows-11.product.100973090.html — 14-inch with Intel i5-1240p, dropped to a 512GB SSD, but otherwise still a great option. (Upgrade the SSD to 1TB or 2TB on your own if you want more storage!)

    In fact, if you are interested in gaming but also need a laptop, and space isn't a primary concern, building a modest desktop with an RTX 4070 for about $1500, then buying a $500 laptop, will get you the best of both worlds and still cost a lot less than a dedicated gaming laptop of even remotely similar performance. My take: gaming laptops are really only the way to go if you travel a lot and want to play games on the road. In which case, you might seriously consider just buying a Switch. No, it's not PC gaming, but it's a way better portable option for gaming. Or you could do the Steam Deck or Asus Ally as well.
  • RichardtST
    I build for my company... I love the "I built that. It's gorgeous to look at. It's a screamer. And it didn't cost an arm and a leg." feeling. The complexity is getting pretty ridiculous though. Last build I forgot to match up the front panel connectors to the motherboard and ended up with a dead front panel USB-C because there wasn't a connector on the stupid mobo. Doh. I also love shopping for bang-for-the-buck. It's just a great feeling to slap it all together and see it boot. Pacing around the office as I type.... UPS delivery this afternoon!
  • elforeign
    If you can put together a set of Lego's, you can put together a PC. Plus, with Youtube nowadays, there's no excuse for not "knowing" how to putone together.

    Granted, it can be a hassle, the OS installation isn't always straightforward, the initial boot up isn't always straightforward, etc. I would even say that for most people who know what they want, and they build their PC, it's not because of cost savings, it's because of the quality of the components and the overall goal for the PC.

    However, that writer on Tom's guide, boy, might need another job. To just tell people to buy whatever off the shelf is downright terrible and negligent advice. He needs a good talking to by his superiors, because that one was a doozy.
  • ezst036
    Admin said:
    By pricing out the parts, we can create an identically-configured DIY PC for just $1,834 (yes, with no OS, but we’ll touch on that soon),

    Installing an open source OS keeps those costs from rising any further. Just saying. Also the support lifecycle is longer as well. When buying components often times users choose slightly higher end components since they're still saving money during the process anyways. On the other side, those components can easily last much longer than Microsoft would like them to last. After going through all that effort to do a custom build, being forced to arbitrarily upgrade to a new computer at some point in the future just because they said so is deeply distasteful.

    The article also has a sub heading: "Putting together your own desktop should save you money and help you take control of your tech life."

    You lose some of that control with commercial options, and you're paying to lose that control.
  • The only prebuilt I would ever buy (and plan to do so soon for travel) would be a laptop... and that's only because I can't take the desktop with me.

    I'll never buy a pre-built desktop again. Speaking of that... are companies like Gateway and Dell still in business?