Build Or Buy? The Great PC Dilemma

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Whether you're after a new gaming rig or something a little simpler, when it's time to get a new PC the toughest decision is not which bells to include and which whistles to exclude but whether you should build it yourself or just buy a pre-built computer.

Building your own computer is easy enough. Slotting the pieces together is about as difficult as following the instructions for IKEA furniture. You can find guides on Reddit and Whirlpool to walk you through the process and help you find the right components for your price range.

That means the question isn't whether you can build your own PC but whether you should. Here are some things to consider when making that decision.

Getting The Best Price

It's a widespread belief that building your own computer is cheaper than buying a pre-built one. That's not always the case.

The more specific your needs are, the more you save by putting the pieces together yourself. High-end gaming rigs often come with a lot of bells and whistles that retailers will charge a premium amount for. Building a similar machine yourself means you can shop around for the best prices on the pieces you need. Down at the mid-range and lower end there are computers that are much better value thanks to retailers ability to move a lot of units and include peripherals or Windows licenses that would otherwise add to the cost.

Finding the right balance is a matter of doing the research. If you find a pre-built computer that suits your needs you should look up the components individually to see what's the better deal.

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Is It Worth Your Time?

Any DIY solution has you investing some - or a lot - of your own time instead of simply paying a professional. You should consider the value of your labour against the satisfaction of doing something yourself.

A first time PC build can take up anything from a few hours to a whole weekend depending on your proficiency, how well you can troubleshoot the mistakes and the complexity of the rig. Even someone that knows what they're doing can get caught up on a tricky bit of troubleshooting.

Whereas buying a pre-built computer only takes as long as the trip to the store or waiting for the delivery, something you'd also be doing when you buy the components separately.

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PCs come in all shapes and sizes. there's the bog standard beige tower, a unit that fits inside the palm of your hand, a rig that looks just like a console, and then mecha-inspired creations like the one above.

Building a PC doesn't have to be daunting, though. And while there are tons of reasons to build a PC, ranging from better graphics to cheaper games to greater versatility, there's also some things you should know before you start.

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Flexibility

The greatest benefit of building your own computer is deciding exactly what goes into it. When you have exact needs for gaming or streaming, the only way to make sure things are done right is to do it yourself. You can take downgrades on components you don't care about to save on the overall cost.

Throwing in a copy of Windows or a monitor can be great value if you need them but they're an extra cost that you don't need if you're upgrading from an existing computer that already has them. You can even use your new build as an excuse to pick up a mechanical keyboard.

Don't Forget About Proper Cable Management When Building A PC

I'm in the process of upgrading my antique PC from six years ago. Progress is slow but I've started to dismantle parts for replacement. It's at this time that I'm forced to reassess the way I've approached cable management — something that is easily neglected — inside my PC. Armed with more insight than my inexperienced past self, here are some tips you may find useful in keeping your PC cables neat and tidy.

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Warranties

Practically everyone that has built their own computer has horror stories about dealing with stores that don't honour warranties on parts. Sometimes you just want the piece of mind of knowing that when things go haywire, its someone else's problem.


Comments

    One question you didn't ask and is super important is "how competent are you when doing stuff"?

    I agree that it's generally not too hard to assemble a PC for even a moderately competent person. However, if you're the sort of person who struggles with anything remotely manual (can't hammer in a nail without hitting your thumb for example) then I'd suggest getting someone else to do it. Same goes for the intellectual side of things too, if you struggle with working out basic logic, then get someone else to do the work (see below about research and preparation).

    It's also worth adding that cheap cases are often poorly finished. I probably cut my hands a dozen times over the years building cheap PCs for people. So if you're clumsy (or just value your skin) buy quality cases or get someone else to do it.

    I'd also suggest that if you plan to build it yourself research and preparation are king. Start with the basic, like what do you want to do with the computer (gaming, general all purpose, work, video editing and so on) then drill down into specifics (which CPU do I need, what video card and so on).

    The are often little "gotchas" that even get experienced system builders. A recent example: The Asus ROG Crosshair VII motherboard has two M.2 slots (used for new M.2 and nVME drives). But if you use one of them if means you don't get the maximum PCIe lanes when you're using multiple graphics cards. That won't mean much to a layman but it can be a pain in the ass if you're trying to squeeze out maximum gaming performance.

    An even more simple example; a friend bought a video card to replace their old one and it wouldn't fit in their case because it was a full length card and they had a small case.

    If you've got a tech savvy friend get them to run their eyes over your final parts list before you buy. Failing that, there are tons of got discussion forums where you could post your planned PC build and ask for feedback.

      I would challenge whether even a moderately competent person can build their own PC.
      I would say they need to be VERY competent as too many variables. As well as being very competent you also need all of what is discussed above and an understanding of what each component does.
      If you want to do it on a budget then you need to be even more knowledgeable so you can understand the forums you are looking on.
      This article is written from the perspective of someone who is PC tech knowledgeable, so you take a lot of very basic things for granted that the average competent person, even if technical, will not understand.
      Having built and worked on electronics and then PC's when they came out (ZX81) I can say the ave person is less pc "tech savy" than 10 years ago as most tech is now done for them.

      I think money is better spent paying $50 or so to someone VERY knowledgeable to tell you what to buy from Dell, Lenovo etc that will best suit your needs so you dont over spec or under spec. Did this for a few years as a service to neighbours 10 years ago saving them a few $100 each time

        To be honest, it's not that hard, especially now. Typically you no longer need an add-on sound card or network card. If you're building a genuinely budget PC you could probably skip the video card too. And of course most PCs no longer need a floppy drive and/or a CD/DVD drive. So there are literally a lot less components to put together.

        We've also been pretty stable in terms of interface for a long time now. It's not like you're going to buy a video card and discover "oh no it's AGP not PCI". And the sata interface is far easier when it comes to adding hard drives than the old IDE one. No jumpers to mess with for one thing.

        Sure there are some gotchas (I mentioned that in my previous post) but it's actually not as daunting a task to assemble a PC as you're making out. About the only part I still find as annoying as it was 20 years ago is hooking up the little mobo connectors for power, reset, HDD LEDs etc. Even that's not difficult, it's just fiddly.

        The hardest part of the build is actually the prep where you work out what bits you should buy, the assembly is relatively straight forward. If you have a PC shop with decent staff you can talk to it's not hard to get them to put together a simple list of parts for a PC that you can then build yourself. Failing that there are plenty of discussion sites where you can ask "what parts should I buy" or just google, there are thousands of discussions already on the internet.

        eg:
        https://www.google.com/search?client=firefox-b-ab&ei=-1mHW5LZIpenoAS5u6HYBA&q=best+parts+for+low+budget+PC+2018&oq=best+parts+for+low+budget+PC+2018&gs_l=psy-ab.3...1895.3375.0.3879.5.5.0.0.0.0.360.567.2-1j1.2.0....0...1c.1.64.psy-ab..3.1.206...33i22i29i30k1.0.fcfoScH3GVc

        And one of the first page links;

        https://www.wepc.com/builds/best-gaming-pc-under-300-2018/

        That said, if you do have a tech savvy friend and you're not super confident there's no reason not to get help. Or heck, what is your time worth? If it's only $50 for someone to build for you then how many minutes/hours of your time equals $50? Even a simple build will take a couple hours by the time you assemble everything and install windows.

    I've built my last 5 pc's. And a few friends. I think next time I'm just going to buy.The fact that places like PCCG do pretty close pre builds + pick your own parts now is where I'll be looking next cycle. My problem is I usually just fully upgrade my PC and sell the old parts. I need to be more $ savvy.

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