Should you buy a gaming PC or build one?

If you want to build an awesome computer lab in your home, you’ll need to start with a great PC. But with so many ways to get good PCs these days, you’ll have to make a decision:

Do you buy a preconfigured PC? Or do you buy your own parts and build the PC with your bare hands?

I’ve made both choices over the past 10 years, so I’m in a prime position to guide you through this process. Let’s talk about what you’ll need to build your own PC, what it’s like to order a custom pre-built PC online, and what I recommend.

What do you need to build your own gaming PC?

Building a PC is hard work, but it can be extremely rewarding. It gives you complete control over the process and truly makes your PC feel like your creation. It also makes it easy to upgrade your PC, because you know exactly how each piece and part fit together.

Speaking of parts, let’s start with everything you need to build a complete computer and be able to test it yourself:

  • A case
  • One processor (CPU)
  • A processor cooler
  • A motherboard
  • Multiple memory sticks (RAM)
  • A hard drive
  • A graphics card (GPU)
  • One power supply (PSU)
  • Thermal paste
  • A flashlight
  • A screwdriver
  • An antistatic wrist strap (optional, but recommended)
  • A copy of Windows (or another operating system)
  • A monitor
  • A mouse
  • A keyboard

For parts acquisition, I recommend PCPartPicker. It’s a great resource for beginners and will allow you to compare different parts so you can get exactly what you want (and even tell you if any of your parts are incompatible with each other). You can also take our checklist above and purchase the individual parts from an online retailer like Amazon or pick them up at a local store like Micro Center.

Going into this process, you need to know that PCs are complex and fickle. One wrong move could cause problems when trying to boot your PC for a test. And if you’re not careful about static buildup, you could accidentally end up frying one of your expensive components.

This process takes hours of concentration and precision. If this is your first time, I recommend that you bring a trusted friend with you, especially if he has already built a PC.

As for the building process, we recommend a flat surface and an iPad, laptop, or phone so you can watch a tutorial. The best way to build a PC is with an accompanying video that shows you exactly what to do and your order of operations.

The ECPU video above is a fantastic tool for beginners. They begin by detailing the parts and why they are important before moving on to the actual construction. There are also timestamps in the video which make it easy to skip. I also like this PC Centric tutorial.

It’s worth noting that all PC builds are slightly different depending on which parts you select. If you’re struggling with a part that the person in your tutorial video doesn’t have, try reading the instructions or, even better, looking for a build video featuring your particular case, motherboard, or processor.

How do you get a custom pre-built PC?

In addition to making your own PC, you can buy a pre-built one that comes out of a box at a store like Best Buy, or you can customize one at an online store like iBuyPower. The former may be fine, but I recommend buying custom.

All you have to do is go to the iBuyPower website (there are many websites like this one, like CyberPowerPC) and open their PC customization program. You can select your parts from a long list and even test how your hypothetical build will perform popular modern games like Ring of the Elden.

As long as all of your parts fit together – it’ll warn you if the graphics card you want is too big for your case, for example – you can take a look. Then, an expert will collect your parts for you, build the PC, and ship it to your home. All you have to do when it arrives is to remove the weird and gigantic packing peanuts inside the case and plug it in.

It’s all very affordable and it also made it much easier for me to swallow the huge financial burden of a brand new PC. I was able to purchase my iBuyPower PC using the Affirm partnership built into the site. Affirm handled my credit and gave me an affordable rate and 12 month payment plan. Overall, I paid $ 189 more for my $ 2,324 PC, but it was worth it for the ability to upgrade my old desktop a year earlier.

If you have cash on hand – or a really good credit card – you can of course buy the whole thing up front. But if the cost of the PC is the biggest hurdle for you, getting a habit could make things easier if you go the route I took with monthly payments.

What advice?

A new iBuyPower sits on a wooden floor

Photo: Ryan Gilliam / Polygon

In 10 years of machine building, I have never encountered major problems during any of my builds. I’ve never fried anything and my PC always booted up on the first or second try. Many other talented PC builders I know haven’t been so lucky, but I’ve had great experiences. I also really enjoyed the process and initially figured it would be something I would do every several years for the rest of my life.

However, after multiple builds and updates, as well as a pandemic, I wanted to try something simple and easy. I wanted a build that was perfect for both work and play, and that’s exactly what I got from the custom PC I received in 2021. I picked all my parts anyway, but I didn’t have to struggle. Most importantly, I was able to pay for the computer over the course of a year rather than upfront, which was really helpful for my family during the pandemic.

When I have a new PC in many years, I will buy a custom one again, no doubt. It’s simply simpler in almost every sense, and I’ve had an excellent experience with iBuyPower. However, I still really appreciate the experience I had building my previous PCs. I know how they work and will eventually be able to upgrade my current PC because I know how to install computer parts carefully.

If this is your first PC and you enjoy learning, you will truly enjoy the experience of doing it yourself. That said, if you really just want to play with your friends or take advantage of Steam sales, purchasing a custom build is the easiest way to get into PC games. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s easy, and it works.

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