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Why Now Is A Great Time To Buy Custom Shop PCs

In most PC enthusiast circles, recommending a custom shop gaming PC over a DIY build would usually elicit ire from the likes of those who traverse the Tom's Hardware forums. However, the component market’s suddenly volatile pricing on memory and graphics cards has pushed the value needle of high-end gaming PCs towards custom shop configurators over DIY builds, and now is a great time to go boutique. Here’s why.

Outrageous Component Pricing

Cryptocurrency mining has been affecting consumer graphics card pricing for quite some time now, pushing costs well above the recommended MSRP for just about anything more powerful than an AMD RX 560 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 1050. High-end graphics cards suffer the most from this, with in-stock GeForce GTX 1080 Ti GPUs currently (as of this writing) priced at over $1,200 and Radeon RX Vega 64 GPUs going for about the same at online retailers. Now is not a great time to buy a premium graphics card for the purpose of a new gaming PC.

The cost of memory has been steadily rising as well, with prices nearly doubling in the last few months alone. IC production is the primary cause of this, and 16GB kits (the gold standard for enthusiasts) are now reaching up to $200 or more (for faster or flashier RAM). Again, this makes it difficult for price-conscious DIY builders to get the same value for their dollar that they could just a few short months ago. At the risk of repeating ourselves: Now is not a great time to buy memory for the purpose of a new gaming PC.

Custom Shop Price Comparison

With the value proposition of the DIY component market seemingly tossed out the window, we took a quick look at a few configurators from some of the leading custom shop PC builders (including Maingear, Digital Storm, AVADirect, and CyberpowerPC) to see where they stand against current DIY component pricing. We made a random build in the custom shop configurator and then matched (as best that was possible, if not exactly) a Newegg shopping cart to the components selected in each of the high-end custom builds to see which source was a better deal for the buck.

We included the tax (NJ - 7%) and shipping charges of the Newegg carts (rounding up to the nearest dollar) in the final comparison because most custom shops don’t charge tax (or they include it in the price) on the total cost. We also included each custom shop’s respective overclocking services (CPU or CPU/GPU) in the final pricing, which adds between $20 and $50 to the boutique builds. Shipping for most custom shops is calculated after the listed pricing, but in most cases, it does not exceed $80. All pricing stated below is as of this writing.

Custom ShopMaingearAVADirectDigital StormCyberpowerPC
ProcessorIntel Core i7-8700KIntel Core i7-7800XAMD Ryzen 7 1700XIntel Core i7-8700K
MotherboardAsus ROG Maximus X Hero (WiFi)Asus ROG Strix X299-EAsus Prime X370 ProAsus TUF Z370 Plus Gaming
Memory16GB (2 x 8GB) HyperX DDR4-266616GB (4 x 4GB) G.Skill Ripjaws V DDR4-266616GB (2 x 8GB) DDR4-300016GB (2 x 8GB) ADATA DDR4-3000
GraphicsNvidia GeForce GTX 1080 Ti 11GB GDDR5XEVGA GeForce GTX 1080 Ti SC2 11GB GDDR5XNvidia GeForce GTX 1080 8GB GDDR5XNvidia GeForce GTX 1080 8GB GDDR5X
Storage- 512GB Samsung 960 Pro M.2 NVMe SSD-2TB Seagate 7,200RPM HDD- 500GB Samsung 960 EVO M.2 NVMe SSD-2TB Seagate 7,200RPM HDD- 250GB Samsung 960 EVO M.2 NVMe SSD-2TB Seagate 7,200RPM HDD- 250GB Samsung 960 EVO M.2 NVMe SSD-2TB WD Black 7,200RPM HDD
Power Supply750W EVGA Supernova B3750W EVGA Supernova B3750W EVGA Supernova G3650W Corsair CX650M
CaseNZXT S340 Tempered GlassCorsair 750D Full TowerCorsair 600Q Full TowerInWin 101 Tempered Glass
Cooling240mm AIO CPU Liquid CoolerCorsair H100i v2 240mm CPU Liquid CoolerCorsair H100i v2 240mm CPU Liquid CoolerCorsair H60 120mm CPU Liquid Cooler
Operating SystemWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 HomeWindows 10 Home
Newegg Component Price (W/ Tax + Shipping)$3,213$3,108$2,306$2,176
Custom Shop Price (No Shipping)$3,212$2,746$2,471$2,036
Savings With Custom Shops$1$362-$165$140

Analysis

Digital Storm appears to be the only custom shop we inspected that currently offers systems (or at least some of them) at a higher cost than DIY component pricing. Boutique shops such as AVADirect, CyberpowerPC, and Maingear currently offer more value with pricing that meets or beats the cost of building it yourself. This has traditionally never been the case, and enthusiasts have always been quick to point out (in nearly every one of our desktop PC reviews) that custom shop PCs usually cost hundreds of dollars more, on average, than a DIY build with the same or similar components. However, right now, that's not the case.

It should be noted that the GPU pricing in our shopping carts is based on what is available (and in stock) from Newegg. For the GTX 1080 examples in our chart, we were able to find a Gigabyte GTX 1080 graphics card in stock for $799 direct from Newegg. However, the GTX 1080 Ti examples were estimated with third party seller prices (Newegg itself was out of stock), which have been heavily inflated by the GPU shortage (the 1080 Tis were priced at a ridiculous $1,399).

We also avoided using GPU configurations with the most egregiously price-gouged components to make the comparison more fair. For example, if you were to swap out the GTX 1080 graphics card in the Digital Storm sample for a GTX 1070 Ti, the value winner would actually flip back to the custom shop PC. This is because the lowest-priced GTX 1070 Ti available on Newegg (from a third party seller) is around $1,049 ($250 more than our GTX 1080 direct from Newegg), and it costs less than a GTX 1080 in Digital Storm's configurator. In other words, in our table above we presented scenarios with the greatest parity between DIY builds and custom shop PCs, but it only gets worse (for component pricing) from there.

We should note, though, that it is entirely possible to somewhat bring down the cost of our DIY estimates with smarter shopping from multiple sources (or a better taxation rate), but in any case, our little experiment sheds light on a suffering DIY component market and a potential value play for custom shop builders.

The tables appear to have temporarily turned in favor of the custom boutique builders, but pricing for these custom shop PCs could change to reflect current component costs at any time (or, hopefully, component pricing goes back to acceptable levels). The window of opportunity is probably quickly closing, but many custom shop gaming PCs currently appear to hold better value than DIY builds thanks to the significant price increases in the memory and GPU component market.

  • bit_user
    Maybe I'm a bit of a control freak, but I *like* being able to choose each component. I read the reviews, weigh the pros and cons, think about upgrade paths, etc.

    Nothing against what the custom guys do, but unless I'm going to be spending so much as to get something that would be infeasible for me to do on my own (like some of the Digital Storm builds I've seen), I'd rather DIY. It makes me happier to use, even if it's not the newest or the very best spec, because I know why I made each and every choice.
    Reply
  • HDB
    Most of the times you already have a fair pc to start with. It is more economical to use older not yet obsolete parts in the new build. We ll know that.

    What is it that you want? I made a Ryzen 6 core and used the same case, storage and r9 290. Later I can add new things, and that always beats the price. Always.
    Reply
  • USAFRet
    As in the article, the main drawback of building your own right now is the outrageous prices for the GPU, and to a lesser extent, the RAM.

    Having to spend 1/2 of a $2,000 budget on just the GPU is painful.
    Reply
  • uglyduckling81
    What happens when USA starts paying Australian prices for goods? Everyone loses their minds.
    Our prices haven't moved much because we were already paying the GPU shortage gouge price.
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    While some of the custom shop pricing might not be higher at the moment, that's likely because the prices of graphics cards only skyrocketed within the last month, and their current pricing may be based on what they paid for the components when they ordered them in bulk while the prices were still reasonable. The 1080s and 1080 Tis you configured in these builds were not affected much by last year's shortages, but they are now, and I would expect the prices from these builders to climb substantially in the coming weeks to reflect this. So, While it might not be less cost effective to have the system built by one of these shops now, that won't likely hold true for long.

    Also, where are the more mainstream builds? All these builds range from $2000 to over $3000, but the vast majority of people building gaming systems are not looking to spend that much on enthusiast-level hardware. How about include some builds at lower price points, and see how the prices compare then? I suspect the premise of this article might not hold true when comparing systems in the $1000 range.
    Reply
  • DavidC1
    HDB has it right. I think its ill-informed buying completely new desktop every time you need an upgrade.

    Case-Usable for decades
    Power Supply-Good for many years
    Keyboard/Mouse-Replace them when broken
    Operating Systems? If you had a legitimate version of Windows XP, then you could have upgraded to Windows 7 for $15. Then, you can use the same key for Windows 10

    Storage? If you have an SSD, you don't need an upgrade.

    There, that's hundreds of $ cheaper than prebuilt. Not to mention you could have reused DDR4 memory if you are just changing CPU/Mobo/GPU. You could save further by selling the CPU/Mobo/GPU on Craigslist/eBay. You'd get 50% or more if they are less than a year old.

    If you really have the money to completely change everytime, then you don't need to read such an article. You have enough money.

    In fact, I specced the system as TH article stated, and I got $3200 in total, assuming NJ location. That's on par with TH prices.

    Take out:
    -SSD and HDD
    -Case
    -Cooler
    -PSU
    -Windows

    You end up at $2300, which is $1000 cheaper than a custom system. If you have a 7700K system running on 980 Ti, you can reuse DDR4 memory(bringing it down to $1980, or $1220 cheaper), and sell the rest for say, $900.

    Total cost of custom system: $1080
    Total cost of prebuilt system: $3200
    Savings by doing custom properly: $2120
    Reply
  • bit_user
    20638830 said:
    the main drawback of building your own right now is the outrageous prices for the GPU, and to a lesser extent, the RAM.
    The main benefit of building your own (as others have pointed out) is reusing old components and being able to shop sales over time (both before and after - to replace those old components).

    If I know about an upcoming build, I'll keep my eyes peeled for good deals, esp. on black friday. This is how I bought most of my SSDs.
    Reply
  • bit_user
    20639886 said:
    HDB has it right. I think its ill-informed buying completely new desktop every time you need an upgrade.
    Replacing my 2005 workstation in 2012, I actually did (except for keyboard, mouse, and monitor).

    20639886 said:
    Case-Usable for decades
    I hated my old case. Was heavy, not pretty, and not so easy to work in. I will keep my current case, however. Switching to Lian Li was like a breath of fresh air and showed me just how well a case could be done.

    20639886 said:
    Power Supply-Good for many years
    Old PSU had insufficient PCIe Graphics Power, and I think was missing a supplemental motherboard connection. It was non-modular and I'm not sure if it was even 80-Plus.

    A good PSU should last 5-10 years (some premium models have 10 year warranties).

    20639886 said:
    Storage? If you have an SSD, you don't need an upgrade.
    Early SSDs were a bit slow, by modern standards, and also quite small. SSDs haven't always had the greatest endurance, but this seems to be improving again. Chances are that someone building a PC, today, might want a new one.

    20639886 said:
    Not to mention you could have reused DDR4 memory if you are just changing CPU/Mobo/GPU.
    I've sometimes reused RAM, but it's usually not an option for a machine that's a direct replacement. And with DDR3, I ran into issues where one build wanted a different voltage than what I had.

    20639886 said:
    You could save further by selling the CPU/Mobo/GPU on Craigslist/eBay. You'd get 50% or more if they are less than a year old.
    About a year ago, I was pretty amazed at how much Phenom II CPUs are still getting, on ebay. Close to what I paid for it! Not sure if that's still true, but it underscores the point.

    All of that being said, I've done more builds and component upgrades, in the meantime. So, I've now got half a PC worth of spare parts just laying around. And when I replace the 2012 workstation, it'll be just: mobo, CPU + heatsink, and RAM. SSD and GPU might get upgraded at the same time, but more likely sometime thereafter.
    Reply
  • cryoburner
    I decided to come back to this and check whether this premise would hold up for a lower-end system. I used AVADirect, since they had the highest savings over the enthusiast DIY build compared in this article. I then looked to their "Budget Gaming Desktops" section, and picked the "AMD B350 Budget Gaming Desktop" configuration to base my comparison off of, which cost $729 (without an OS), and came to $761 shipped. The components for that base build are as follows...

    CPU: Ryzen 1400
    GPU: GTX 1050 (EVGA)
    RAM: 8GB (2x4GB) DDR4 2133 (Kingston HyperX)
    Mobo: Prime B350-PLUS (Asus)
    HDD: 1TB 7200 RPM (Seagate BarraCuda)
    PSU: 400 Watt (EVGA)
    Case: Corsair Carbide 100R w/ Window

    Like the article, I limited my pricing to Newegg and to be as fair as possible, I picked the exact same brand and model of components when available, which I was able to do for everything except the PSU and RAM, in which cases I picked the lowest-priced name-brand components with similar specs. So how did it compare?

    I was able to find the same components on Newegg for just $597 shipped, which is $164 less than the custom shop build. Their version of the system cost over 27% more than if you assembled the hardware on your own. That's not necessarily a bad price for someone who doesn't want to mess with putting the system together themselves, but what could $164 more get you?

    CPU: Ryzen 1600 (+$52)
    Not only does the 1600 get you 2 more cores and double the cache, but also a more substantial cooler to help you get more out of overclocking.

    GPU: ZOTAC GTX 1050 Ti (+$47)
    The price of the 1050 Ti might be inflated more than that of the regular 1050, but it does offer faster performance and double the VRAM, and unlike any higher-end cards, some are still available that aren't nearly double their launch price.

    RAM: Team T-Force Vulcan 8GB (2 x 4GB) DDR4 3000 (+$0)
    Ryzen's performance can benefit from higher speed memory, and DDR4 2133 isn't even up to the standard 2666 speed for the platform. This DDR4 3000 kit is on sale for the exact same price as the lowest-priced 2133 kit at Newegg, so nothing is added to the cost. Otherwise, it might have added around $10 more.

    Mobo: ASRock AB350 Pro4 (+$0)
    More positive user reviews and more connectivity options, including a USB Type C port and a second M2 slot, potentially useful for future upgrades, at the same price after rebate.

    HDD: 2TB 7200 RPM Seagate BarraCuda (+$15)
    For just 33% more than the 1TB model, you get double the storage space at the same speed, making it a cost-effective upgrade.

    PSU: Seasonic S12II 520 watt (+$7 -$15 rebate = -$8)
    A higher capacity PSU from a quality brand for a lower price after rebate.

    +SSD: ADATA Ultimate SU650 120GB (+$45)
    It's a small SSD, but should improve OS performance and also have enough room for a small number of regularly played games.

    Case: Phanteks Eclipse P400 Temperered Glass (+$10)
    I put the remainder of the difference into the case. The existing case was a decent enough budget option, but it wasn't much to look at. The P400 is arguably a lot nicer looking with its tempered glass side panel, open layout, PSU shield and RGB lighting, and it also comes in a variety of color options. It does lack external drive bays which could be a downgrade for those who need them, but overall it seems to be a better design than the Carbide.

    So, for the same price as AVADirect's "Budget Gaming Desktop", we were able to move up to a CPU with 50% more cores and a better cooler, a faster GPU with more VRAM, faster memory, a slightly better motherboard, double the HDD space, a better and higher capacity PSU, a much fancier looking case, plus we added an SSD. And we technically had about $3 to spare that we can put toward the trouble of having to fill in a few rebates. Now how much would a system like this cost at that site? I made some changes to their base build, selecting the lowest-priced similar components, but was still limited to slower DDR4 2400 RAM since they didn't offer anything faster for this build. Still, the updated build ended up costing $943, and $976 with shipping added, which works out to $215 more, a similar 28% increase over building the system yourself.

    I should note that unlike the article, I did not include tax, since Newegg only collects tax in 5 states, so that won't apply to most people in the US. If you're going to include tax on the Newegg order, it would only be fair to include it for the custom shops as well, since just like Newegg, they charge tax in certain states where they have a physical presence. So, how would the prices compare for those builds from the article with the difference in tax taken out of the equation to keep everything on a level playing field? Based on the article's pricing, the Maingear one would now cost over $200 more than DIY, the Digital Storm would cost over $300 more, CyberPowerPC would be priced about even and AVADirect would show a savings of only around $150. And again, that's dependant on the volatile pricing of these graphics cards, where pricing and availability can change significantly from one day to the next.

    The premise of the article isn't necessarily wrong for a high-end system built by these companies, and even in cases where it costs more, it might be worth it for someone who wants an all-new build, but doesn't want to spend the time ordering parts, assembling the system and potentially troubleshooting things. In the low to mid-range though, those on a budget can still likely make their money go a lot further with a self-built system.
    Reply
  • Mr5oh
    Or just sit tight and wait for things to balance back out? This happened before with bitcoin and we reached a point where it no longer made sense for people to use GPUs and everyone moved on to other low power setups. Maybe the bitcoin value doesn't get that low again to do this, but I still think this will balance back out. If demand stays this high they will start producing more.
    Reply