Building Your Own PC Now Saves You More Money Than Ever

Building Your Own PC Now Saves You More Money Than Ever

Many years ago, before we had an explosion in hardware power and affordability, you could save some decent money by putting together your own machine. But as prices have dropped and retailers have become more competitive, the savings for those who want to plug & play their own equipment has gone up and up.

Making a PC picture by Shutterstock

My PC recently died. Proper, buy-a-new-PC died. It gave me a good five years, it played every newly released game at max graphics for pretty much that whole time, and I feel like I did quite well with it. Only the new games coming out now are giving it trouble. It wouldn’t do a great job with the Witcher 3, and Dirty Bomb wasn’t agreeing with it very well. So it was time to hit the hardware stores.

I’m only one to dip into hardware pricing when I need to, and it had been a while. Using PC Part Picker, a friend of mine quickly assembled what would be a decent machine for what I wanted: gaming recording with Shadowplay, video editing, transcoding, and streaming to a TV.

The result was this:

Part Price
Intel Core i7-4790K 4.0GHz Quad-Core Processor $462
Noctua NH-D15 82.5 CFM CPU Cooler $115
Asus Z97-PRO ATX LGA1150 Motherboard $229
Corsair Vengeance Pro Series 16GB (2 x 8GB) DDR3-2666 $349
Samsung 850 Pro Series 128GB 2.5″ SSD $137
Gigabyte GeForce GTX 980 4GB WINDFORCE $699
Silverstone RV04B-W ATX Full Tower Case $154
SeaSonic S12G 650W 80+ Gold Certified ATX Power Supply $139
Total $2284

Then I decided to check what the prices were for pre-built machines. In the past, a pre-built machine would only be a few hundred dollars more. My last machine was pre-built, and I had only payed an extra $200 for it, which made me think, “Why not?”

The comparable systems on a few different sites were more expensive than they would have been the last time I bought a PC, and in a lot of cases, had worse hardware. D&D had cheaper systems, but they didn’t meet what I’d need from a PC:

The same went for MSY. PC Case Gear had some better systems, and they were who I was looking at getting most of my parts from anyway. One of their more powerful systems came close in price, but not quality — the Frost 980, priced at $2299:

The equivalent in quality was $400 more — the Glacial 980, priced at $2699, seen below. That’s the best deal I could find anywhere for the high-end gaming machine I wanted, capable of recording, editing and streaming, and sufficiently future-proofed. And that’s without actually spending much effort tweaking & searching for the best prices on my own parts.

So we’re saving $400 minimum.

Of course, it’s not a new story that putting together your own PC saves you money. The thing that shocked me was the degree to which that’s the case these days. The market has changed. Props to PC Case Gear for having the best deals I could find, but at most of these retailers, adding in the parts I wanted would inflate the cost to way above what it should be.

It looks like as the parts prices have gone down, the pre-made package prices have gone up. Perhaps it’s more fitting, as those who are savvy enough to build their own PCs are certainly savvy enough to look for the best individual parts prices. On the other side of the coin, those who just don’t want to bother with that stuff are probably willing to pay a little more. Not to mention all the luxuries like pre-installed Windows and testing.

But the thing is, it’s easier than ever to put your own PC together. Parts have become more plug & play over the years. For those who wouldn’t usually bother, it pays to put some time and thought into it, or at least get a friend in on the effort. Hell, maybe even throw them some money. Even a substantial amount would be better than paying the $800 or so extra that you might pay for the package.


    • I was about to say the same thing about the SSD, also i7’s are supposed to become better for gaming with DX12 games properly able to use hyper-threading.

      That’s what I’ve heard at least…

    • Yep, 128GB goes very quickly, so you’ll probably want a HDD or two.
      I’d also want a blu-ray writer.

    • “…gaming recording with Shadowplay, video editing, transcoding…” All of those benefit quite a bit with an i7 vs an i5.

    • I agree, some optimisation of the hardware to better suit needs would have produced savings that could be put towards other areas such as a bigger SSD. Given he’s doing video editing and transcoding and i7 could be warranted, particularly if these activites will be generating income.

  • The “AMD FX 9590 8-Core Gaming” prebuilt one has an Intel Inside label on the picture. About sums it up really.

    Also your DDR3-2666 RAM seems excessively expensive, consider stepping down to DDR3-2400 for like $100 savings. It’d make zero difference in games, and probably not much difference in video editing also.

  • I recently built a new PC but looking at prebuilts I probably only saved about $200.

    Still I prefer to do it myself because I can customise everything.

  • That header image must be a stock image from 2002 or so. I can’t think when the last time was that I needed to use old PATA ribbon cables to hook up my hard drives.

    • The board in the image was released in late 2007 early 2008 so I think they just decided to put really old hard drives in it.

  • As one who has been building PCs for years the bottom line is you get what you pay for as each PC is the sum of all of its parts. When comparing you need to consider each individual part because not all parts are equal. Some are good quality and some are average and some are just rubbish at best. Manufacturers of name brand PCs are a compromise to price and function. One PC may have a faster CPU and more RAM but cut down on the video card, another may have a cheaper motherboard and CPU and RAM but with a better video card. Therefore depending on your function for the PC you can customise the parts to a combined price point if required. Unless you have unlimited funds most PCs will involve some form of compromise.

  • The good thing about build it yourself is – when you can recycle parts. Since you’re streaming to a TV you are alerady effectively recycling your monitor.
    What else?
    Chances are: case, power supply, keyboard, mouse, cable extenders, card readers, and even hard drives (as secondary backup) can all be re-used, making the new system cheaper, or more powerful, or both.

      • Your right, it certainly looks like a Win OS and with all that new hardware it will need to be new.
        However the cost of the OS is not mentioned or included, that was the point.

        • There’s a lot of components not mentioned. I assume he’s reusing what he can from his old PC. If he already has a Windows license, there’s no point in buying another. Especially with upgrades to Win10 being free.

  • I built two new PC’s on the weekend: A new NAS and a new gaming rig

    The NAS is really my pride and joy:
    * Silverstone DS380 case with 8 hot-swap 3.5″ bays and 4 fixed 2.5″ bays (Looks good in my entertainment unit too)
    * i3 processor
    * 8GB RAM
    * A 120GB Samsung SSD for the OS
    * 2x WD Red 2TB NAS drives in RAID
    * Gigabyte Z97N-WIFI mini-ITX board (Six SATA ports on-board. So I’ll need a RAID controller to get past 5x 3.5″ drives, but plenty of space for the next few years)
    * Ubuntu Server 14.04 OS run headless with samba, Plex, Calibre and Transmission.

    Total cost = Just over $1000 over the counter at PC Case Gear.

    You simply can’t buy this sort of thing off-the-shelf. The consumer NAS enclosures available are all woefully underpowered, and often have ARM architecture. I have five users for samba (with up to 3 devices each) and three devices that need Plex on-the-fly transcoding. This system is the bare minimum to meet the demands that will be placed on it.

  • Build V Buy, the last 2 bought off the shelf, the 5 before built myself.
    Built has one problem, in two systems I had a miss match, for some reason the rig played up, MB and CPU good match MB and GPU good match, GPU and CPU good match, others had same combo. When the 3 put together had problems. Swapped out CPU worked better, swapped out GPU worked better, only problem was swapped out with lower spec units?
    Some days $200 V trouble shooting issue not worth it, build for the joy! Worth it every time!
    I’m about to replace my old rig, thinking of self built in old case, it’s XPS 720 still looks cool today.

  • “Not to mention all the luxuries like pre-installed Windows and testing.”

    This comment makes me wonder whether it’s a fair comparison, ‘coz the prices for the pre-built machines will include OS. Granted the difference may only be slightly less large rather than reduced to nothing, but unless you want to run Linux by choice then you need to factor software into the price.

  • I would agree with comments above though – to be a realistic comparison, a larger HDD and Windows OS.

    The $400 “extra” may include the labour (and it’s warranty) and is also for those that can’t build their own – it’s a ‘premium’ service that businesses can charge.

    Have to admit, PCCG build (and photograph) some good looking systems! If I wasn’t able to build my own, I’d probably buy from them!

  • Would be good to see a comparison between off the shelf Apple computer and DIY job. I believe the savings are much greater. I built a rig with similar specs to this one and installed OS X. One of the Mac Pros would be the equivalent starting at $4399.

  • What I notice is that the custom build used good manufacturers and quality components.

    That’s a huge reason to design your own rig imo.
    Computer stores design using the crap they get the best deal on, not the best value for the customer.

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