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.
|Part||CyberPower PC at Best Buy||Price||Custom Build||Price|
|CPU||Core i9-13900KF||Included||Core i9-13900KF||$535|
|GPU||RTX 4070||Included||Asus Dual RTX 4070 OC Edition||$599|
|SSD||2TB||Included||Solidigm P41 Plus||$79|
|RAM||32GB DDR5||Included||Corsair Vengeance DDR5 32GB (16 x 2) 5600 MHz||$95|
|Motherboard||Includes Wireless AC Wi-Fi||Included||MSI Pro Z790-P WiFI LGA||$199|
|PSU||800 watts||Included||EVGA 800 GE, 80 Plus Gold 800W||$89|
|Cooling||AIO||Included||DeepCool LT720 360mm AIO||$139|
|Case||CyberPower's Case||Included||Phanteks Eclipse G360A||$99|
|Total||Row 8 - Cell 1||$2,099||Row 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.
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.