Not long ago there used to be a clear line in the sand between those that purchased a pre-built system and those who built theirs from a box of parts. This used to be the dividing line between a “true” gamer and a Dell desktop user. Over the last few years these lines have begun to blur and out right disappear at times. Even now depending on what you are planning to do, and how much you want to be responsible for maintaining, is playing a bigger role in choosing which solution is right for you. At least as much as the nerd clout you get for building a monster.
There are a few key factors which influence whether you should buy a machine or build it from scratch, and some are not as obvious as you may think. We are going to kick this off with the one that everyone knows before diving into this endeavor; the current market price of each solution. There are many things that influence the cost of key components of your new build and make the pre-built solution the best dollar/performance. An easy way to do this is head to a pre-build manufacture like https://www.ibuypower.com and choose a build that meets your budget. Take that machines build and transfer it over to https://pcpartpicker.com/ and see how close the prices are to each other, there will be some substitutions you have to make, just choose something at close the the same specs. This will give you a clear idea of which solution is likely to be the better value.
For reference sake we took a random PC at IBuyPower and compared it. Here are the results:
Above: PC Part Picker price after rebates: ~$950
Below: I Buy Power price: ~$1179
Every system combo will be different, so you may see more or less than the $200 difference here. The big thing you get for your $200 is not having to build it yourself. If you enjoy building a PC that may not be worth it, but if you don't, that's potentially several hours of your time and a major headache out of the way. Additionally in this case you get the 3 year labor warranty from IBP (also 1 year parts warranty, but you'd get a parts warranty on your parts regardless).
Now assuming there is no huge price gap and Cryptocurrency isn't inflating the GPU market, you may need a bit more to help inform your decision. This will mean starting to evaluate what you really need vs what you have been told you need. One of the biggest pitfalls is forgetting your peripherals, more specifically the monitor you will be using. If you are keeping your current monitor and plan not to upgrade it in the near future, you may save some cash by matching your GPU to your monitor’s performance. If you are rocking a 1920x1080 60hz monitor, there is little point in dropping $800 on the new RTX 2080 when a GTX 1060 (or R570 for your AMD lovers) will perform just as well. Sure there is an argument to the more frames the better, but in reality you will be creating a giant bottle neck right in front of your nose. So if you are good with what you have and don't see a need for that 4k 120hz monitor any time soon, keep that in mind when choosing your GPU, as your GPU price will greatly affect your overall build price. You may find that all you need is at 1070ti and a builder is basically handing them out for free, so be realistic here look at your budget and evaluate your needs now and down the road.
And allow us a moment of shilling, think outside the motherboard too with your budget. Good headphones and a ModMic are a major improvement that will last years and can radically change how you appreciate your games, music, and movies. Don’t forget to budget in keyboards, mice, monitor arms, and other extras, and conversely don’t value things you don’t really need to upgrade yet, even if they’re included for “free.”
This brings us to the next point, what is your ideal upgrade schedule? That sounds a bit confusing but in reality we are creatures of habit and you should look at yours. Are you that person that will buy a build and say its for the next 5 years, then buy the new GPU coming out in October (I’m guilty of this). Maybe you are the person that will hold on to that old monitor and want a machine that will go the long haul as well. If you are like me and cant keep yourself from having the next hot thing, you will probably find yourself in the build camp. There is little point to investing into a lifetime warranty that builders like Xidax give you if you plan to void it as soon a the new shiny toy launches. If you are in for the long haul, do not discount this feature in making your decision, there is a lot of added value to not having to fuss with tracking down and fixing that hardware problem 3 years down the road when you can just send it back and have it fixed for you at no added cost.
Buying a new machine is always a big investment, make sure you do your homework look at what you really need, and never forget your habits. There is little merit to the argument of Buy vs Build anymore, making the right purchase for you is always the right choice. Shop around, compare your builds and don't fall for the marketing hype. Follow these rules and there is no way you can go wrong. If someone gives you grief for buying that pre-built machine, they are probably less informed than you or just have different needs, so bask in your good decisions and GLHF!