Dear Lifehacker, My current desktop is on its last legs and I'm looking at upgrading. I bought it in 2008, so it's definitely time to move on! The problem is I'm on a very tight budget. I was wondering if you had any advice on whether I should upgrade my components in increments, or try to save up and buy the whole thing in one go? Thanks, Poor Gamer
PC picture by Shutterstock
Firstly, let's nip the 'build-your-own vs. pre-built' debate in the bud. If money is in short supply, you should definitely buy the components separately as opposed to ordering a pre-built model. While component prices have mostly gone down, pre-made package prices continue to rise. With a little wheeling and dealing, you can potentially save hundreds of dollars by going down the DIY route.
Lifehacker contributor Junglist recently upgraded his gaming rig and decided to compare his costs to a pre-built machine with similar components. According to his calculations, he walked away with over $400 in his pocket: not too shabby for what only equates to a bit of extra effort. These days, PCs snap together like Lego — it's so easy your grandma could probably do it.
The next question is whether to build your PC incrementally or save up and get all the components at the same time. The answer depends on a range of factors, including the condition of your current machine, what you chiefly use it for and whether you want to stick with your existing chipset or move onto something new.
Obviously, taking a Frankenstein's monster approach will result in smaller performance gains. If you're still using an old graphics card or ageing RAM it's not going to feel like a completely new machine — especially when it comes to stuff like 3D gaming. You also run the risk of damaging your new parts if an old component like the PSU goes kaput.
With that said, there are also advantages to upgrading in piecemeal intervals. You'll get results faster and can buy at your own pace depending on when things go on sale. If you go down this path, work out the exact configuration that you want to end up with. Start by choosing the motherboard and CPU (which will be the final things you purchase) and ensure all the other parts are actually compatible.
At the end of the day, while it costs more to buy everything upfront, you will likely save money in the long run. An all-new PC that's firing on all cylinders should last you for many years. Plus, you'll still have your old PC with all its parts intact — you can sell it, donate it to a friend or repurpose it somewhere else in the house. Good luck!
We also want to hear from readers: do you think it's better to build an entirely new system every few years or to upgrade components as you need them? Share your opinions in the comments section below.
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