Once you’ve made the choice to get a new gaming PC, the first step is deciding between a laptop or a desktop. Assuming you’ve chosen to go with a desktop, the next step is finding the right one. It won’t be long before you’re weighing a pre-built PC vs custom PC.
But let’s back up. There are a lot of options out there, and though this system diversity is one of the biggest advantages of PC gaming, it can also be somewhat daunting if you’re not sure where to start.
There are two options when considering a new PC: Building it yourself, or having someone else build it for you. That said, there’s a spectrum of options available in those two categories, and we’re going to explore three of them. The first are pre-built gaming PCs, which are complete systems put together by well-known manufacturers using balanced and reliable hardware configurations. These are usually available in local stores and are designed to be ready to go right out of the box.
Another option is designing and ordering a build from a custom PC building company. This usually entails choosing from an extensive menu of compatible hardware and relying on a team of qualified experts to build a PC to your specifications and ship it to you.
Lastly, you can obtain the individual components yourself, and build your own gaming PC.
Though the three options within this spectrum aren’t strictly defined, and there is some crossover between the three, they’re all worth considering.
Hardware and Customization Considerations
Let’s start with one of the most important factors to think about when buying a new PC: The hardware inside. One of the advantages of PCs is that you can get the performance you want with the hardware you choose. But you can also let someone else make those choices for you, if you prefer.
If you’re less concerned with the minute details of every component in your build (like the manufacturer, or detailed specifications like RAM speed), a pre-built system is an attractive option. These systems are produced in quantity by some of the most trusted names in the PC space. Knowing some specifics about what you want (for example, your preferred CPU and GPU) will help you choose the right PC, but you can trust these manufacturers to choose the additional hardware for you. If that convenience outweighs picking and choosing every piece of hardware in your new build, a pre-built system could be ideal.
If you’re looking for customization and the ability to upgrade your hardware down the road, but don’t necessarily want to build your own computer, consider ordering a custom-built machine from a PC building company like ORIGIN PC* or MAINGEAR*.1 This option provides some of the advantages of building your own, in that you can choose the parts you want, as well as visual customization options. The difference is that a qualified expert will do the actual building, and the company will usually provide support and a warranty.
Building your own PC provides the most thorough customization options. You’ll have full control over every piece of your build, from the CPU to the fans and lighting. This means you’ll always have the exact hardware you need, and that your build will look the way you want it to.
And because you built it, you’ll know exactly how to upgrade and customize it.
Maximizing Your Budget
Getting the most for your dollar is often a priority for people buying a new PC. Between pre-built, custom-built, and DIY, there isn’t a clear “cheapest” choice, as the same hardware configuration across all three categories can vary depending on a variety of factors, like volume discounts and demand. The old adage that building your own PC is the cheapest isn’t always true anymore.
If you’re considering a pre-built system, keep an eye out for online and retail store discounts, especially around time-sensitive sales like Black Friday. This will vary by retailer, but remaining vigilant when these discounts do appear can be a great way to make sure you get a system you want at the price you want. Flexibility is helpful here; you might not find the exact system you’re looking for on sale, but keeping your options open can result in some serious savings.
Custom-built PCs have scalable costs depending on the hardware you select, as well as additional features like liquid cooling systems or customized aesthetics. Falcon Northwest*, for example, is a system integrator well known for custom paint jobs that add a unique flair to their PCs.2 This feature-based pricing contrasts to pre-built systems that have a simpler cost structure. That said, paying attention to discounts on individual components, site-wide deals, and additional included hardware or upgrades when shopping for a custom build can still result in significant discounts.
Also, keep in mind that suggested hardware configurations might not always align with your personal needs. This is where having a rough idea of the specs you want in your finished system will be useful, as it will allow you to adjust your build parameters to make sure they reflect what you’re looking for.
When you put together a PC yourself, you’ll have the most opportunity to be selective about the hardware you choose, and you can strategize based on your needs. By going into the process with a sense of what you’re looking for and the flexibility to build around that strategy, you’ll be in a solid position to maximize your budget.
Also, keep in mind that if you’re upgrading from an older PC, there might be components you can re-use, assuming they’re compatible with your newer hardware and are still functioning properly.
Another important question to consider is how quickly you need your new PC.
If you’re looking to pick up a system today, a pre-built machine from your local brick-and-mortar store could be the way to go. They usually include almost everything you need to get up and running, including a keyboard, mouse, and operating system, as well as on-site experts that can answer any questions you might have.
Custom-built PCs, on the other hand, have to be built and shipped. The time this takes depends on the company, with some excelling at fast-turnaround work. It also depends on the complexity of your build.
When building your own PC, how long the process takes will depend mostly on you. It’s certainly possible to get all the parts and put a PC together in one day, especially if you use a wide variety of educational resources. But if you’re ordering each piece separately, particularly while watching for deals, the process could take significantly longer.
You’ll also want to think about what happens after you purchase your PC. If you run into issues, are you confident you’re going to be able to do it yourself, or are you going to want assistance?
When selecting a pre-built system, there’s often a manufacturer warranty or store protection plan available. These details will vary, so you’ll always want to double-check what is being offered if support after purchasing is a priority.
Custom PC companies like Digital Storm*3 or CyberPowerPC*4 usually provide robust support options, like phone assistance and extensive warranties. Again, this varies from vendor to vendor, so always confirm that they offer what you think you’ll need when shopping for your new build.
If you’re putting together your own PC, you probably won’t have access to system-wide support, but be aware of component-level warranties, as these can be useful if your PC does need work. Though you may need to work on your computer yourself, there are plenty of helpful PC building guides out there you can use for reference and support.
Lastly, you’ll want to consider what software you’re going to use with your new PC. Pre-built machines and custom builds usually come with an operating system pre-installed, often alongside manufacturer-recommended programs.
When you buy storage separately for your own build, you’ll be looking at a clean slate. Keep in mind the operating system you want to use as well as any other programs you might need.
Three Excellent Options
Whether you’re interested in the convenience of a pre-built computer, the specialized expertise of a custom-built PC, or the flexibility of DIY, there’s a gaming PC option out there that will fit your unique needs.