Hard Choices: The Great DIY Vs Pre-built PC Debate, Part 1

To build or to buy. That is the fundamental philosophical, cultural, hell maybe even epistemological, question for we PC lovers. Some of you will already know the cut of your own jib. You’ll either gag at the thought of paying through the nose for an oily work-experience tick to inexpertly cobble your PC together using whatever bits the system seller bought cheap that week. Or you’ll wonder why anyone imagines the marginal savings of self build are worth the risk of bork.

I reckon a lot of us are floating voters on this issue. Is DIY a false economy? Is buying pre-built just paying the man? Let’s pick apart the pros and cons and have a proper powwow in the comments below. For part one, we’ll cover off the theoretical bases, the theories, assumptions and practical pros and cons. In part two, I’ll wheel out some examples from both sides of the equation and get forensic with the cost comparison. Here we go.

First, some the rules of engagement. We’re talking about full-function PCs built either from components or supplied as turn-key systems ready to roll. Re the latter, the assumption is that we’re dealing with systems sold by outfits that at least pretend to understand what enthusiasts and gamers want and need (on that note, suggestions of one or two Stateside purveyors and sensibly priced, intelligently specced prebuilts would be appreciated). Finally, there is no absolute right or wrong here. This is all about making informed decisions, not scoring points.

Inevitably, then, most of the nuance in this debate involves the intricacies of buying and knocking up a home-built rig. Pulling the trigger on something pre-built is rather more straight forward.

Looks pretty. Price is painful.

A DIY build offers two obvious advantages, one somewhat supposed, the other undeniable. Without doubt, self-build gives you greater control over spec. You can be as specific as you want about each component and set the whole thing up however you fancy. Getting the CPU you want will be easy enough whichever way you go. But if, say, there’s a very specific case, motherboard, water cooler or whatever, you’re after, well, the more detailed your demands, the more likely a system builder will fail to absolutely nail them.

The cost comparison is more complicated and we’ll look at that, along with the notion of sourcing used parts for at least some of your components and reusing existing bits in part two. But self build offers at least the potential for big savings.

On the pre-built side of the argument is firstly the confidence and support you get with a fully-built, warranted rig and secondly the fact that you need little to no technical or PC-building nous.

If that much is fairly uncontentious, what I suspect will be a bit of a bone are the risks and challenges involved with self build. I remember building my very first PC. This was a long time ago. A Pentium II flickers faintly in my dessicated mind, but we’re definitely talking about a cartridge CPU for the Slot 1 socket. Just think, both a CPU and a socket that was extremely hard to damage. Good times.

The good old days: Intel’s Slot 1 CPUs

But my overriding memory is being scared shitless of bricking everything and anything via static electricity and the mere laying of hands. Years of rough-housing review samples I haven’t actually paid for has taught me this almost never happens. But it’s awfully easy for me to say that. Accidents will happen and bits do break, sometimes for no godly reason. And sometimes nothing is broken but the bloody thing still won’t work. Thus we come to the big downside of the self-build. What happens next if you complete the physical build, attempt to spool her up and either nothing happens or the wrong thing happens?

This is neither the time nor the place for a dissertation on failure-to-boot diagnosis. But what I will say is that having a cupboard or desk brimming with spare components makes fault isolation far, far easier. If you have more than one of everything, working out what’s causing the problem is usually doable.

Having spares can also help, for instance, if you’ve been sent a motherboard with an old BIOS version that needs flashing before it will wake up with your shiny new CPU. With a spare CPU to hand, that’s easy enough. If all you’ve got is the chip that won’t boot, it’s a nightmare.

Indeed, support is broadly much more problematic with a self-built rig. You’ll have to diagnose problems, isolate the faulty component and then RMA it (return it to the manufacturer or supplier) separately. Again, having spare components that can be used in the meantime is, I reckon, critical.

For the love of God, don’t poke those pins

Not that getting full PCs sorted under warranty is always a painless experience. But you do at least have someone to go to. As for typical problems you might suffer, LGA sockets with bent pins and motherboards or CPUs bricked courtesy of borked memory channels are the hardware faults I encounter most commonly. Intel’s current LGA sockets and their scarily fragile arrays of exposed pins are pretty much the bane of my life. It’s very easy to bend the pins on AMD CPUs, too, though I’m often surprised at just how many you can snap off with seemingly no ill effects.

Intel’s LGA CPUs are themselves pretty robust, ditto pretty much all graphics cards, SSDs and sticks of RAM. Just be sure that the retaining clips at the end of the memory DIMM slots aren’t sticking out when you slap in that GPU. They can catch on the tiny components on the rear of a 3D card and pop them off, which might just be terminal. Don’t ask me how I know.

How are your anti cable-clutter skills?

Admittedly, being part of the product review circus provides plenty of opportunities to generate terminal bork. Boards put through the wringer by multiple publications, photographers poke things with clumsy paws, motherboards routinely go back into boxes without the socket protectors in place, it was even the case for a while that AMD’s UK PR company sent chips out in envelopes protected only by a few laps of bubble wrap. Unbelievable. But even proceeding with care, accidents do happen. And there’s undeniably much more opportunity for self harm with a self build.

If that’s the hardware equation covered, there’s the software side of the argument. For the record, I roll with a boot / operating system SSD and then a few big, dumb magnetic drives. And I nuke my Windows installation from orbit regularly rather than worrying too much about infections and malware.

I use Chrome as my primary browser, back up profiles for things like my FTP client and have all my bulk storage like video and games on the magnetic drive. Moreover, I install the OS from a USB stick and the whole thing just flies onto the SSD. What I’m getting at is that software setup is routine if you do it regularly. But if you’ve never installed or set up a PC before, it will all be a bit daunting.

Don’t forget to price in that pesky Windows OS

The question of how much you should pay for an OS is a tricky one. If you already have a licence for a version of Windows with which you’re happy, you may be able to tick that box for free. Then there’s the legally dubious but perfectly practical option of simply running a non-activated copy of Windows. Likewise, some PC builders will do you a rig with no OS. But we’ll price all that in next time round.

With all that in mind, the allure of a pre-built box is very easy to understand. Especially if it comes from a manufacturer that knows what it’s doing. A beautifully-built factory rig, cables and connectors all professionally managed, can be a beautiful thing. Add in a system-wide warranty for a year or three and I for one would certainly want to the self-build option to be not just marginally cheaper, but substantially cheaper.

As for exactly how much cheaper DIY really is, we’ll find out next time…


  1. Jason Lefkowitz says:

    There was talk a while back of motherboard manufacturers moving away from the “bring your own CPU” model towards motherboards with a CPU and cooler already soldered in place. A lot of DIYers were upset about that, but I’m a DIYer myself and it seemed like it would actually be a Good Thing — installing the CPU and cooler is really the only part of assembling your own rig where you can seriously damage things unless you’re careful, so removing that step would make DIY less scary for people to get into. And of all the components in every rig I’ve ever built, the CPU is the one that I’ve felt the least need to upgrade; usually by the time I want a new CPU, there’s enough improvements to motherboards that I want a new one of those, too. So since I’m always buying the two things together anyway, binding them together wouldn’t put me out particularly. Seemed like a good idea.

    Whatever happened with that?

    • Shieldmaiden says:

      That’s actually a really good idea. I don’t think I’ve ever upgraded a CPU and not the motherboard. To be fair, I generally go a long time between upgrades (my PC contains a small stone circle and the boot procedure involves animal sacrifice) but it is the only bit of system building that I’m not 100% confident with.

    • comnting says:

      You can a get mobo-CPU combo kit, and sometimes they’ll even send it to to you with the CPU and heatsink installed. I’ve done that since, as you said, you almost always need to upgrade both at the same time, since socket tech will probably have advanced since your last build.

    • wisnoskij says:

      This. At the very least CPUs, by default, should come with decent coolers attached.

      Why not? Probably because they can make more money scaring people to pre-built/charging $60 extra for a cpu fan.

    • MrTijger says:

      Nothing, Intel has soldered desktop CPU BGA’s available for OEM’s that want them….except nobody seems to want them or rather, I’ve not seen any of them in boxes that are on sale to the public but I wouldnt rule out the fact that OEM’s do sell them to business customers.

    • DanMan says:

      If you plan on overclocking your stuff, you don’t want them to pick the cooling solution for you.

      • Jason Lefkowitz says:

        That’s definitely true. But how much is overclocking still a thing these days, though? I remember when you could get huge performance gains overclocking a 300MHz Celeron, but with CPU clock speeds having been stalled out for years now it’s been a long time since it seemed like a must-do kind of thing. Especially when heat buildup inside the case is as much of a problem as it is with today’s components; nowadays I spend a lot more time worrying about circulating air properly to avoid flaky problems due to overheating when I build a system than I do about wringing a few extra cycles out of the CPU.

        • MrTijger says:

          Mind you, even if you dont overclock you still might want to choose your own cooling solution. My wife had an X4 965 Black edition and the standard AMD cooler that came with kept it running just fine but at the cost of sounding like a 747 taking off. With an aftermarket cooler its quiet as a mouse.

          • Rorschach617 says:

            Never mind overclocking, sometimes the PC cannot help overheating. I live in southern Europe and I am always aware that my PC runs a little hotter than, say, the machines in a UK PC magazine, simply because the air getting sucked through my machine is already warmer then UK temperatures. I know one bloke who keeps his PC outdoors (on a small covered balcony).
            I would quietly welcome mobo/cpu units, as long as they were clearly marked as such, and there was little or no relative price difference between those and mobos without cpus.

          • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

            I live in italy and, while it’ obviously hotter than the UK, i run BF4 at 65 degrees maximum on summer, @4.6ghz. I mentioned that since no other game eats my CPU as much, so i often manage to stay in the 55 degrees range or lower.

            Get a proper cooler, overheating is not something that should happen regardless of where you live. It’s not only a matter of “overheating” anyway, it’s also about silence and longevity. My CPU is 3 years old, it’s on 24/7 non stop and never ran at stock clock.

        • Unclepauly says:

          My 2500k oc’s from 3.3ghz to 5.0ghz. Over 50% performance increase is vastly more performance.

          • edna says:

            Same here (2500k @ 4.9GHz). And that’s why I build my own. Buy the best of the bunch from a couple of generations ago off ebay, overclock it, and I’m usually close enough to the non-overclocked current generation as makes no difference. I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy the choosing/finding/fiddling stages of course. And it is awful when the thing won’t start. Wasted hours worrying about my motherboard being fried last time, before finding that a boring old reseating of all components was all it took.

        • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

          Overclocking will always be a thing and it’s not a dark art of sorts.

          I would never consider the idea of NOT overclocking either a CPU or a GPU, because it’s painless and rather trivial when you do a little research. It’s free performance and safe provided you don’t go too far.

          My 2600k is clocked at 4.6 ghz since over 3 years and it downclocks when it doesn’t need the turbo frequency ( which is what i modified ), i rarely shut down my computer, maybe around 10 times in a year ( not joking ) and it’s still there.

          Do i need it? maybe i do, maybe i don’t, but i really don’t see why i should have avoided doing such a thing, so the real question is: why not?

          Ultimately if you’re a tinkerer and you like doing your own research you’ll hate the very notion of someone else picking stuff for you, and as others already pointed out you really don’t want to be stuck with any random cooler or even the stock one.

          A decent cooler is something that always help, even if you run at stock clocks. At the very least it’s a major upgrade in noise reduction. Eitherway, rest assured that my OC’d CPU runs a lot cooler than a stock clocked one with the boxed cooler.

        • FriendlyFire says:

          Overclocking is perhaps even more of an integral part of things now that Intel manufactures fairly mainstream unlocked parts (the K parts like the 4770K). The unlocked multiplier allows for fairly trivial and efficient overclocking; even your mobo’s conservative OC can give you near 1GHz up for free. It’s worthwhile.

        • CrankyChipmonk says:

          Speaking of preventing overheat:

          The only system I ever built was overheating with the cooling I have in place. I bought a liquid cooling system that said on the box it should work with my system, but it was obstructed. I cut off a piece of the supporting frame for the cooling system, opened the side of my box, turned the whole thing on it’s side, placed it in place and put a bottle of contact solution on top of it to keep it in place.

          This was all just to confirm that the issue WAS overheating. Everything worked and I had intended to come up with a more permanent solution.

          It’s just set up in the room, open and sideways.

          • Klatu says:

            I just bought a new GPU (GTX 770) and forgot to check whether it fitted in my machine. It didn’t but luckily the bottom half of the drive tray swivels out by 90° to allow easy access to the drives. It’s now a permanent feature.

    • Dale Winton says:

      Scan do motherboard/CPU/ram and cooler pre built if you’re not confident to build that part.
      Personally I’d do it myself. Most annoying part is putting the cooler on the CPU or the pins to attach the power switch in the motherboard

      • Urthman says:

        Heh. I just built a new PC last week and by far the hardest, most annoying part was sorting through the wires for the power switch and associated LEDs and getting them attached to the right pins on the motherboard.

        It wasn’t very hard.

        • Dale Winton says:

          Its quite tricky if you have big fat fingers like I do

        • froz says:

          Some motherboards have a nice solution for that – kind of plastic connecter that you can easily connect all individual cables into and they you connect that thing into the motherboard. I haven’t used it myself yet, but from the descriptions and pictures it sounds very easy to do.

    • Papageno says:

      A place in the States called mwave.com puts together (or used to) motherboard, CPU+heatsink and RAM for you (although with my current system they shipped the CPU+heatsink uninstalled so I had to call and complain and they refunded the ridiculously low “install and test” fee (something like 10 bucks–one wonders how much testing they can actually do charging so little).

      Anyway, I’ve built my last two systems with few problems (the previous one’s RAM became defective, but performed more or less well after that, except for a weird “hardware interrupt storm” problem that would only manifest itself in XP, but not in Windows 7). My current system (almost 3 years old) has had no real problems apart from a very occasional failure of the CPU fan to start spinning on startup.

      I’d have to have a system vendor provide real details about motherboard, RAM etc. before I’d be willing to forgo the control that comes with doing it myself.

    • Steed says:

      This is indeed the only stressful part of a build for me, I have NO idea how much paste I should be putting on (when installing a custom cooler). With the new pinless, almost magnetic(?) CPU’s the slotting of the chip is simple enough. My first ever build, with an old Athlon chip, I had to straighten some of the pins to get it into the socket… not fun!

      • Fiatil says:

        I watched 4 videos on how to install my AMD 955 BE and I still broke the damn thing. All of the videos are:

        “Apply a lot of pressure but not too much! But it really does take a lot of force so it may feel like you’re doing it wrong!”

        *cut to 10 minutes later after 1 minute of unsuccessful fiddling*

        “And it’s done!”

        I’d still build my next PC, but fuck that processor.

        • froz says:

          Really? I had no problems with it (and I had to move it to another motherboard once). It went into the slot without any real pressure.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Lots of companies do barebones PCs. That is a PC with the motherboard, CPU and cooler installed so that you only need to add RAM, HDD/SSDs and a GPU (if its not an iGPU) and an optical drive if one wasn’t sold.

      Shuttle have been doing this for over a decade but Intel and Gigabyte are making a big push with their NUC and Brix models. My next PC will be one of those as they are tiny and make perfect HTPC/Steamboxes. The base units can be had for less than £100!

    • Raoul Duke says:

      If you plan ahead you can usually get at least one CPU upgrade out of a decent motherboard, unless you’re unlucky and they completely change the socket mid-cycle.

      E.g. buy a newish generation motherboard with a mid-range CPU, then towards the end of that CPU family’s life cycle buy whatever the nicest one is for peanuts.

      I would hate it if they took away my ability to do this.

      Also, if you can combine two pieces of lego you can install a modern CPU into a modern motherboard.

    • waltC says:

      I had to chuckle at your post…because in the 1980’s this is what everyone did–soldered everything on the motherboard–ram, cpu, gpu–everything. Want to simply replace the cpu?–sorry, got to replace the entire motherboard. Upgrade the GPU? Same answer. Add more RAM or put in faster ram? Fuggetaboudit…unless you were willing to shell out for an entirely new motherboard. Or, conversely, what if you wanted to keep all of your hardware and just replace the motherboard? Too bad, no could do! Not possible.

      Then came these new developments, new concepts–what about “slots” & “sockets” that were user upgradable? Smashing idea–Intel/IBM came along with ISA/PCI/PCIe, and socketed and even *slotted* CPUs (I had the Intel slotted cpu pictured in this article–maybe even a couple of them.)

      Suddenly, a customer could begin to *pick and choose* his hardware components and wasn’t utterly at the mercy of the OEM from whom he purchased the system (like a Mac or even sometimes, a Dell *cough*.) Man, that was when the sun began to shine…!

      DIY is the only way to do it right and to get your money’s worth, imo. DIY components have warranties far better than most OEMs warranty their entire systems (take Apple’s 90-days to 1-year factory warranties, for example.) I can buy hard-drives with 5-year warranties, cpus with 3-5-year warranties, motherboards with 1-3 year warranties, GPUs with *gasp* “lifetime” warranties (which I am leery of but they exist all the same.) You get the picture.

      Rolling your own box has never been easier, the components less expensive, the warranties any better, and the performance and value per $ spent has never been greater than it is today. The *only* reason I can see to ever purchase an OEM system (my last OEM box, a Micron, I bought in 1995) today is that you want something cheap and you want to get it quick and you don’t really care about 3d-gaming performance, resolution and etc. Otherwise, quite frankly, DIY is the *only way* to go if you want the best of everything–the best performance-to-price ratio, the best warranties, best components, etc.

      DIY is absolutely huge as a global market–just look, for instance, at the dozens and dozens of PC component pages @ Amazon, from PSUs to cpus to hard drives to GPUs to you name it, if it’s a computer component it’s featured and sold by Amazon. If DIY were *not* such a big business, Amazon (among many other retailers) would not have nearly so many manufacturers and product SKUs because the business to support them wouldn’t exist. But it does exist…and it’s booming as a matter of fact.

      Of course, if you don’t know anything about computers you have to go OEM. Until you learn what’s what, if you ever do, and many do not–you couldn’t DIY even if you wanted to. The argument for those people is moot–they cannot go DIY, and I think that’s a large portion of OEM retail customers–people who enjoy what computing they do but will readily confess that topics any more complex than on/off buttons are beyond them.

      If you know how to DIY and you spend hundreds/thousands of dollars buying cheap-by-design OEM boxes then you’re only cheating yourself. Building a Windows box today is about as hard as using Lego blocks, and that’s the truth. But you do have to know what you’re doing, no doubt about it. Basically, it boils down to “Do I buy what I prefer, or do I buy what the OEM prefers to sell me?”

      Knowledge is often power, and it’s no different when considering whether you should DIY, or let someone else do it *to* you….;) Last, the OEM-only customer is in a real pickle when he wants to upgrade a component, because if he is inexperienced enough he may well wind up paying an OEM 3x-5x what a 3rd-party component would cost him, etc. If you want to get taken to the cleaners then be sure and go OEM…;) If you want to really enjoy what you buy then DIY is literally the only game in town.

    • FullMetalMonkey says:

      The problem with Pre-build vs Self Build is a simple one.

      PC World/Curries/Whatever-else store on the high street selling ridiculously overpriced PCs where the cost is mostly in the badge and bloatware and the usually rubbish monitor thrown in.

      I build my PCs for myself and also for friends and family as once I explain to them the above and that they can get a machine twice as powerful for the same price without all of the bloatware nailing it down.

      However, the company’s like Alienware (probably a bad example), Chillblast, DinoPC, Overclockers etc actually give considerably better Price to Performance than all the high street shops but for probably lesser profit margins as they’re using higher quality RAM, Motherboards, Power supply, Case but charging the same price or slightly higher than the high street.

      • TacticalNuclearPenguin says:

        There are some brands that unlike big OEMs give you far more options, like Digital Storm and others, while also using higher quality stuff in general and charging mostly for the handywork and not much else, as in a 1200 euro self built computer equivalent might end up costing 1400-1500 ( with complete warranty ), not 2000.

        Then again the real issue with this debate is a little more indirect. Allow me to throw out a huge generalization and claim that a DIYer is probably more interested in researching, understanding the thing and how stuff interact, something that’s invaluable in the PC space. If everyone really dug deep into PC hardware, software and how it all comes togheter you’d likely have better internet conversations and less “HALP” threads aswell.

        You’d also probably avoid hearing people complain that going from 16gb to 32gb of ram didn’t help their performance with a linear corridor shooter, or those who compare CPUs only by core count and clock or GPUs for the VRAM amount.

    • disperse says:

      One reason why this would be bad for DIY builders is the price of components.

      If they remain separate, you can buy your CPU from one retailer and your MB from another which increases competition and drives the price down. Bundling the CPU and motherboard together will reduce the total number of options, which eliminates choice, and drives the price up.

  2. bhauck says:

    Hard Choices: The Great Eat Your Own Ice Cream vs Pay Someone To Eat It For You Debate, Part 1.

    (Building computers is the best.)

    • MobileAssaultDuck says:

      Not so fun when you spontaneously break into a sweat any time you need to do anything remotely delicate.

      If there’s some possibility of fucking something up, my body temperature rises by several degrees and I begin to pour sweat. I hate installing my own PC parts.

      • goliath1333 says:

        I recently did my first build for someone else recently and man was that nerve wracking.The build ended up taking 5-6 extra hours because i double checked everything, did way better cable management, and had to run a bunch of stress tests.

        • Beard_Arthur says:

          And then you’ll get to your fourth and remember that shit isn’t nearly as delicate as you thought and you just power through it over a lunch break. I built a MiniITX FreeNAS system in two 30-minute lunch break periods. Works perfect, too. Most of that time was cable management, but good cable management is well worth the time.

          • Ravenine says:

            Aye, there’s very little delicate in there. I cut myself building my first PC back when I was 14, left a nasty scar. Never, EVER (in the 8+ builds I’ve done since – I’m 27 now) has anything bricked on me, or even suffer any damage at all. Took me about an hour for my last build, but that’s because I had to cannibalize the old PC for some of the parts. It didn’t want to boot up, but that’s because the PSU couldn’t pull enough weight. Dropped in a slightly stronger one and voila!

            So from my point of view, DIY all the way. I haven’t changed my HDDs or monitor in over six or seven years. AND I get to skimp on stuff I don’t really need to be very powerful so I can fit, say, a better GPU in my budget.

      • bhauck says:

        There’s really very little that’s particularly delicate, but I get it, there’s no reason to do things like this if they make you feel uncomfortable.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      Agreed, I massively enjoy building computers, although doing it as a full time job took away any nervousness I might have had about breaking things.
      You can drop a harddrive from head height onto a wooden floor, bend the pins of a cpu into an ‘s’ shape, break capacitors off motherboards and use sticks of RAM as throwing knives, and they’ll all still work. (Apologies if you ever bought a computer from Evesham Micros though). Or you can buy a brand new component from a reputable manufacturer and it can show up dead. It’s luck of the draw really.

      That said, Scan sell insurance, so that your warranty is still valid even if you break the part whilst trying to install it. I figured that it was worth the £15 when I bought my latest graphics card and immediately removed the cooler and replaced it with a waterblock, just for the piece of mind. (it worked fine btw)

  3. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Used to build my own but now go pre-built. To be fair I had no choice last time as I went for a ‘desktop spec in a laptop so add £700 to the price’ jobby.

    I move a lot for work which means many a hotel stay, so I want to take my proper gaming with me thanks very much…even if it is heavier than the suitcase I put it in.

  4. gadalia says:

    I upgraded my PC this summer, if I wanted to buy a prebuilt one to upgrade it’d cost probably $1000-$1500 (I’m guessing, I’m currently too lazy to look for hard facts).
    Buying individual parts cost me ~$600 for a motherboard, graphics card and processor (some parts were on sale)
    (i5-3570K, R9 270 2GB & GIGABYTE GA-B75M-D3H)

  5. Cockie says:

    Where I live, pre-built was significantly more expensive than DIY so it was not a hard choice.
    That grinding noise when you lock the CPU in it’s place though… *shivers*

  6. comnting says:

    I’ll probably DIY until you pry the thermal gel from my cold dead fingers. But I have to admit, at this point it may be inertia more than anything. When I started building my own computers, there were actually a lot of options, and places where a prebuilt manufacturer could cheap out or get it wrong. Sound cards, for example, or networks cards. Various IO cards like USB cards or modems, etc. Now all that tech is very mature and integrated into even the cheapest motherboards with no problems. There’s a lot less to choose from, or get wrong. If a prebuilt manufacturer gave you a choice of CPU, memory, GPU and HDD, the build would probably be just fine.

    The bit about spare parts is so true. A while back I moved internationally (carried my rig in parts in my suitcase, bought a case when I arrived and reassembled it). But while I was there, I had a problem and it was SUPER frustrating to isolate without any of the spare parts I had left on the other side of the ocean.

    • Jason Lefkowitz says:

      Yeah. I started DIYing because back in the day you actually could not buy a system with a 3D card installed from major vendors like Dell. They just wouldn’t sell you one! Same with decent sound cards, stuff like that was just completely off their radar. So it was build your own or pay USD$5,000 to one of the very few niche vendors who did serve that marketplace back then, like Falcon Northwest.

      Nowadays you can get good components from just about anyone, though, and the cost difference between a DIY rig and a pre-built rig has narrowed from thousands of dollars to a couple hundred, so DIYing feels like it makes less and less sense each time I do it…

      • Jediben says:

        Bah I was building my own PC before 3D cards were even a thing. 20Gb hard drives were a thing of legend and every component needed a serial ribbon cable to plug in somewhere. Kids these days don’t know they’re born…

  7. Enkinan says:

    I did DIY for about 20 years, and just got my first pre-built about a year ago. It’s been the best computer I’ve ever had, and wasn’t horribly expensive. It hasn’t hesitated on a single thing I’ve thrown at it, and I saved so much time and effort. I am having my son do DIY first just for the learning experience, but I’m old and consider the extra money is saved in time.

  8. Premium User Badge

    Lexx87 says:

    Oh and pcspecialist.com have always been good to me, good customer service too.

    • natendi says:

      Totally agree! First and only gaming from them, worked out it would have been about 50-80 quid more if I bought myself (perhaps more experienced DIYers would have found lower cost components).

    • Klatu says:

      I concur. Bought my gaming PC from them years ago and it’s still running well. Although I have changed the MoBo, the GPU, the RAM, the PSU and the processor. And the CPU heatsink.Oh and I had to add a SATA DVD drive.

      Still, not bad for a PC coming up to it’s fifth birthday methinks.

    • maxi0 says:

      +1 for PC Specialist

      And I’ve been self-building for a decade and a half.

  9. Derk_Henderson says:

    I go with pre-built for two reasons:

    1. I *hate* the stress of building PCs myself. Which is weird, because I write code for a living and know computers pretty well, but hardware issues stress me out to a completely irrational level. I can’t deal with it. I hate diagnosing faulty components, and the whole “my computer isn’t working” thing just makes me far too twitchy for my own good. I know a lot of people love it, and more power to them, but it’s one of my least favorite things in the entire world.

    2. I have enough disposable income that I can afford to buy pre-built without worrying about the cost.

    If you enjoy the process of building PCs, or if you need to worry about the budget, DIY is almost certainly still the best option. But it’s not for me.

    I’m pretty happy with my current pre-built – went with one of the Serenity systems from Puget and now I have a computer that is both extremely fast and completely silent, which is a nice change from the jet engine that was my previous system.

    • Berzee says:

      Your relationship with computer parts describes me exactly as well. I think it’s because when software fails, I know it’s probably some person somewhere just did something wrong or I forgot something, but when a wire or component suddenly fails, I feel like the universe itself is betraying me.

  10. dezzybird says:

    Can someone please explain what is meant by “Nuke my OS from orbit”? Does that mean completely remove it and then reinstall it? I know *nothing* about PCs but wouldn’t that mean you have to reinstall all of your programs and stuff, or is it fine since it is on a separate drive? Also what is an FTP client?

    Sorry about all the questions but I feel like, considering the amount of time I spend on them, I should know at least something about computers.

    • Cockie says:

      B. Yes you have to reinstall everything, but chrome has cloud-based settings and Jeremy apparently backs up other settings and keeps his files on a different drive
      C a program to transfer files over a network or the internet (FTP=File Transfer Protocol, like HTTP=HyperText Transfer Protocol (hypertext being a webpage))

      • dezzybird says:

        Thanks for your help! This explains a lot :)

      • prostetnik says:

        In fact you don’t have to reinstall absolutely everything if you can live without start-menu entries.
        I basically run the same setup as Jeremy (OS-SSD, HDD everything else) and I keep most of my programs on the HDD. Most of them will run without causing problems after OS reinstall and you can point your new steam installation to the old folder so you don’t need to download everything again.
        The few things that don’t want to run without some registry entries or similar stuff I can just reinstall when I need them.

        • Cockie says:

          True (I’ve done this zith steam already), although in that case reinstalling the Os doesn’t really help if a virus has hidden among the program on your hdd.

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Reinstalling on a regular basis is good for instilling good housekeeping practices.

      My OneDrive has a folder for software downloads, one for keys, a notepad with all my CD Keys on it and one for drivers. I’ve now started a second notepad for specific Windows Updates (Win8 requires you to install a specific update before Win8.1 shows in the store, by installing it first and going straight to Win8.1 you cut out a lot of time installing the security updates).

      Of course that means if my machine ever broke I’m better prepared and not looking around for install CDs.

    • Windows98 says:

      I don’t understand why people feel the need to do this. I had an install of XP that ran without issue for something like four years, and an install of Win7 that ran for a similar amount of time.

      Don’t install dodgy software. Don’t go to dodgy websites. Let Windows install security patches regularly.

  11. Radiant says:

    The only reason to buy pre build is for warranty.

    It’s really the only question you should be looking to get answers for when buying someone else a computer.

    And yes buy for someone else.

    Because for what other reason in the history of this god shitting universe would anyone on RPS be buying a pre built pc????????

    THIS. IS. RPS.

    • Radiant says:

      For anyone looking to buy a pc follow these steps:
      1) look at your wallet
      2) see how much money is in it
      3) go to link to logicalincrements.com
      4) pick a budget and buy the parts it recommends.
      5) but of course break your budget because of higher numbers

    • DanMan says:

      Agreed on the warranty. And even if you want that, there are shops out there where you can pick every part yourself and they will assemble it for you. Best of both worlds.

    • titreano says:

      but all the individual components come with warranties

    • sinister agent says:

      Because playing games doesn’t mean that you’re interested in memorising a bajillion hardware statistics or farting about with wires and paste and brackets and god even knows what else.

      • P.Funk says:

        Is it really so hard to do a few weeks worth of research every 5 or 6 years? You’re dropping presumably something like $1000. Why wouldn’t you want to be aware of what you’re buying?

        I think our culture is strangely adversity averse.

        • sinister agent says:

          Why should I? I have no interest in studying something that bores me senseless and will be useful precisely once, when I can instead pay an extra few quid for someone else’s expertise and get on with my life. Which I could spend, for example, earning much more money than I would chiselling away marketing toss and comparing 300 permutations of meaningless arbitrary numbers vs other arbitrary model numbers.

          • LionsPhil says:

            This, hard.

          • Jonnyuk77 says:

            Sinister… this may well be the best thing you ever say. For the rest of your life you may look upon this moment and say, “yep, that was it… the zenith of my interweb commenting”. After one self build, two custom-cased water-cooled self builds (both in SFF cases and both passively cooled)…. I’m now pre-built all the way. Don’t have the time or the inclination.

            Lots of love xx

          • sinister agent says:

            It was almost as good as that time I had sex with a girl

          • AXAXAXAS MLO II: MLO HARDER says:

            psht, real sexers build their own girl

          • Baines says:

            The research cost is an interesting point. If you don’t particularly enjoy the research, you could end up ‘paying’ more in time spent researching (and shopping for bargains and the like) for a DIY than you save in money.

          • P.Funk says:

            Except when you don’t know anything about computers you have no sense of value or relative merit within a build and then you end up potentially buying a lemon in a pre-build that they sneak in there when someone who actually cares might say “You know that power supply has reviews that suggest there’s a not so remote chance it might crap out within a year…” or alternatively someone sells you a pre-build with a power supply thats way over spec for whats actually in your machine. When I went to build my last computer the discussion boards at various tech sites were alight with people being admonished for thinking they needed 750W PSUs when their machine will be lucky to push 500W at max load.

            Its not hard to see through the marketing in my experience. NCIX itself has a remarkably good message board where regulars will answer the all too common “So I want a computer” thread. Gaf has one too. After reading a few of those its not hard to start developing a sense of what you want. Then I make a short list of parts, look at the sales, make it into a budget and if I take a few weeks to a month to buy my parts I usually get some luck and a sale brings in a part or two thats cheaper than usual. Combined with not paying for assembly labour thats more than a few quid.

            I dunno, maybe I’m just value obsessed but saving a few hundred quid being on top of sales, comparison shopping, all that, makes more sense. How does one actually decide if they want to get a pre-built with either an i5 or an i7 core for instance if you don’t read up? How do you know if your pre-built will actually be good value? Usually there’s a threshold even with good parts beyond which diminishing returns happen and if you don’t know anything how does one put their finger on it?

          • nrvsNRG says:

            this is what i want to know, if u have no interest in PC components then how do u know what to buy when u go to get a pre-built? surely u must have some interest?

          • Baines says:

            You have less to research with a pre-built.

            First you look for a provider who is trustworthy. Then you look at what that provider offers, which will use a restricted set of parts. Then you decide.

            With a DIY, you effectively have everything available for every part. Hundreds of cases, for example. Or consider graphics cards, where even after you decide a general model, you then have the choice between different manufacturers which themselves probably have multiple builds of a single model. Which then leaks into the area of alternative GPU cooling solutions. And then you have the fun of figuring out (hopefully before you buy your parts) things like whether your choice of motherboard can comfortably fit your choice of CPU cooling system in combination with your choice of RAM, because sometimes bits encroach into each other’s space.

          • P.Funk says:

            You know you’ve done a very elegant job of making choice look like a horrible horrible thing.

            Cases are easy. There are hundreds of them but there are only a few dozen at most that you’ll actually care to look at, then after that those hundreds are just generic. When I was buying one computer it was basically between a CM690 and an Antec 900. Those were the two major options for most value in my price bracket at the time. I had decided to go above dirt cheap but below insane bespoke. I picked the CM690. I now know how much I like this case, the case’s manufacturer and since they still make them I can easily buy another one if I like. Next build I probably will, because my brother bought one too and its great. That saved me any research when advising him on cases. “What case should I get?” “Well I got this one….”

            Here’s the cool thing, once you get a landmark, a pivot point, something that looks good, you go read up on it specifically. A thread or a review of that particular card or case or whatever and you get people giving you all the relative information for free. You get insight into the bracket it exists in and then people mention short lists of the other options. All that happens I might add within a minute or so when gleaning an article or thread where people give input.

            Here’s the other thing. You don’t need to know every part available in a given category. You don’t need to weigh every option, just the most common ones and that rarely ends up being more than a half dozen contenders. Often you’ll find for a given generation in any category 2 or 3 components fight for a given bracket. Do I go i5 or i7? Usually answering that means you get one chip per category. What kind of video card? Easy, two major manufacturers, then its just a matter of reliability and sales for the company that packages it. There are a handful that are well known for good warranty and customer service. EVGA has been good to me for instance. You think pre-builds are going to just give you the best possible video card by manufacturer? No they’ll sell you the crummy version of this generation’s top mid-level AMD card, but you’d never know til you did some reading.

            Beyond that there is no need to talk about alternate cooling options and all that other jazz. Thats the kind of thing where if you want it you’ll already know more than your basic buyer does. Knowing if an afermarket CPU cooler works with your motherboard or case is usually easy. When I bought one a google of the name of my case with the name of the cooler brought up a million people asking the question and getting answers. Another 60 second piece of information. Buying basic parts takes a few hours of reading then looking at the sales fliers for your local shops. Where I come from thats called being a smart consumer.

      • Blackcompany says:

        Agree with Sinister. I even know how to build a PC. Perfectly capable. But i wont. Because:

        1. Its not worth the risk of bricking for me, personally
        2. I cannot be bothered time wise. My time is limited, and I much prefer to spend it gaming than to preparing for gaming.

        I am on my third ibuypower.com PC (I have no affiliation with them and would willingly branch out but they have done right by me thrice now without complaint) and I love the convenience. Its well worth the couple of extra hundred it probably cost me.

        • Dale Winton says:

          If you know how to build a PC then there is no risk of “bricking” and it takes an hour

          • drinniol says:

            Unless something is faulty, and then it may take many hours to determine what it is, and then days to wait for a replacement.

          • Dale Winton says:

            True but that’s highly unlikely

    • Distec says:

      Because we are PC games enthusiasts! I don’t touch myself over motherboards and cooling systems.

      Any way, I appreciate this article since I think I’m right around due for an upgrade over my Vista-era desktop. A few upgrades here and there paid off, but it’s definitely feeling the pinch with some of the more recent releases. I’ve long been contemplating building my own versus just buying something good and not worrying. The income supports it.

    • grundus says:

      RPS is a PC gaming site, not a tech site. I’ve seen many RPSers mention that they don’t give the slightest fuck about their PC as long as it works and plays games, I’ve also seen many mention their ridiculous setups too but we’re not all self-builders. I am, though, and would recommend it every day of the week, but I can accept that some people don’t want to learn, don’t want the hassle and don’t care about the price difference.

    • Premium User Badge

      phuzz says:

      If everyone wanted to build their own PC then I wouldn’t get the fun of doing it for them, so shush you ;)

  12. draglikepull says:

    One reason I prefer to build myself – I rarely build a “new” computer, so much as I upgrade parts piecemeal over time. Even if I buy a new MB/CPU, there’s often no reason that I need to throw out a perfectly good hard drive or RAM. So by building myself I can upgrade exactly what I want, when I want, and spread the full cost of the parts out over a number of years.

    • Ryuthrowsstuff says:

      That’s actually quite similar to why I keep self building. If I had the extra money to spend, and had never built before I probably wouldn’t. But I’ve been doing this long enough that every time I need or want a new PC I’ve got lots of components to repeat. Especially peripherals and cases, but hard rives, even mobos and RAM sticks can outlive my current build. So when I do build a full new I can plan for eventual upgrades or justify, for example, a much nicer case. The cost savings and complexity seem to pile up the longer you stick with it. Any of those reusable parts, their cost is spread across what are effectively multiple distinct pc’s.

  13. MrTijger says:

    I’ve built my own for 2 decades but nowadays I pay my local PC shop to assemble the parts I’ve chosen if I go for an all new PC. I pay 50 euros for the assembling but for me that’s definitely worth it, I’ve built so many PC’s over the years that the fun has really gone out of the actual assembly, the part picking is still fun though.

    Prebuilt, as in Dell, HP etc, always seems to come with concessions that I do not want to make and I’m pretty well versed in PC hardware so I’m well able to put the parts that I want. and that will give me the best bang for my buck, together.

  14. sharkh20 says:

    I just really enjoy putting together my own computer. It’s fun.

    • Raoul Duke says:


      It’s fun both in terms of actually building it, and in terms of carefully planning it and working out what will play nicely with what. And then you end up with a nice PC that you tailored to your own needs.

      On top of that it lets you pick the ‘sweet spot’ in terms of price for each component.

      I honestly can’t imagine ever buying a pre-built machine – I see zero advantage to doing so, and you lose a lot of enjoyment.

    • icarussc says:

      Yes indeedy. I don’t save much by building, and I’m not doing anything too exotic with my part choices, but by jimminy, it’s a great deal of tun to do it myself. Maybe because this is the only ‘handy’-type thing that I’m any good at.

      • Dale Winton says:

        You can become addicted to upgrading though
        Last year I changed my PC monthly and at the end of the year built 3 PCs out of the parts I had spare

  15. Adamustache says:

    My experience with building a PC is that you’ll save a heck of a lot of money if you are

    1. Patient


    2. Good at finding deals

    If you can wait for sales and get every single part at the best possible price, then you can severely cut down on the price compared to a pre-built system. However, if you have the extra hundreds of dollars to spare, then pre-built is probably the way to go. It saves time and effort, and you eliminate the possibility of putting something together that doesn’t work. Warranties are also good for problem-prone individuals.

  16. ResonanceCascade says:

    My laziness tempted me into buying a turnkey gaming PC from iBuyPower years back. By the time I’d paid for shipping TWICE to replace the defective GPUs they kept sending me (after which I gave up and bought a new GPU anyway, since they were incapable of getting a working one to me), replaced the failing PSU, and eventually replaced the MOBO (which had compatibility issues with the CPU they stuck on it), I could have built a top-shelf gaming rig and saved a lot of work and stress.

    I still use that same PC case to remind me of my folly.

  17. Det. Bullock says:

    My first two systems were pre-build, the third was custom built by the shop I bought it from and the third I entirely built it myself.

    The first one was SHIT, supposedly a 486DX, it had truble running anything that required more than a 286, the audio card consistently refused to work and even word processors could make it crash.

    The second one was well built but it had a cheap Matrox G100 in an era where decent 3D acceleration started to be a requirement rather than an option, though it became quite decent once I mustered the courage to open it and install first a Diamond video card that refused to work (and I bough it while I was travelling so it couldn’t be returned) and later an Nvidia TNT2 M64 that workde like a charm plus bumping up the RAM from 64mb to 128mb.

    The third one was actually good but I had to have the case changed almost immediately because the one the shop used was made of tinfoil.
    However, after the initial incident with the case it has served me well with various upgrades (RAM and video card) for ten years, only dying last year after both power supply and video card (and presumably the motherboard) started giving serious trouble and then stopped working altogheter (fortunately its agony was slow enough to let me backup everything on a portable hard drive).

    The last one I assembled myself based on the counsel of some users on the tech section of a videogame forum and it worked and still works flawlessly.
    I was scared out of my wits when putting the CPU and heat sink in place even though I stuck with the one included with the CPU with preapplied thermal paste to avoid overcomplicating things (i don’t OC, I still remember when it was considered too dangerous by even the most hardened techies so I’m still a bit paranoid about it), but everything went smooth after that.

    Essentially buying a pre-built system is a lottery, unless you spend a lot of money you can be sure the manufacturer cut some corners and that those corners almost always aren’t the one you would have cut if you had the ability to build it yourself often forcing you to upgrade shortly after buying it.


    Also, pre-built systems are often difficult to upgrade due to weird choices from the people who design cases for most brands and the mania for using the more obscure case standards instead of plain ATX, I still thank heaven that my second PC used a very standard ATX tower instead of the stuff some manufacturers churn out these days.

    • Raoul Duke says:

      Sweet zombie jesus, you’ve only had four PCs since the days of the 486DX??

    • Reapy says:

      Eh, I just got screwed recently on the cases anyway, I thought I was all set for a bit with my last case but then got an incremental graphics card upgrade and bam, my case was too short and the card didn’t fit. Now I’m in this weird spot where my next PC I’ll build in the new case I had to buy, but to rebuild my old one for other’s in the household I’ll have to buy another case, or leave them the older graphics card.

      I guess I wait so long between upgrades that usually everything has changed in one way or another so going incremental never works out at all. My last pc I was stuck between agp and pci-e graphics card plugs, I tried to upgrade my card and got the latest gen agp card, but then I was still cpu bound, but all the good cpu’s only worked on motherboards that didn’t have an AGP slot, finally found some sort of half frankenstein thing to use and it worked out, but literally there was only one motherboard available that was going to work.

      This article had me looking again at prebuilt, but man, I just can’t handle the price hike and limited options. I’m of the same mind as a lot of people here, but I like to spend my week of research every 4 years, see where the world has come, and pick out just what I want.

  18. nrvsNRG says:

    On the question of cost of a new OS, its weird because I always thought that if I changed too many parts I would always buy a new OS.
    BUT, on my last build, I bought EVERY SINGLE COMPONENT new (M/B, CPU,GPU, PSU, RAM & SSD) , tried my old Win7 key, and it worked. I was very happy.

  19. Chuckaluphagus says:

    I’ve built my own for fifteen years now. Ever time I’ve gone to build a brand new system (~4/5 years or so, I guess, with the last time being just this past August), I look at the pre-built options being offered from various vendors and see nothing that offers the combination of price and customizability that I want.

    I’m not a high-end gamer – the most recent build is an mITX box centered around a Pentium G3258, a Geforce 750 Ti and a Crucial M100 SSD. It’s small(ish), runs nearly silent and plays everything I throw at it brilliantly. I couldn’t find anything remotely like it available as a pre-built system.

    Edit: Oh yeah, and it’s fun. Mustn’t forget that part.

  20. Premium User Badge

    Outremer says:

    I always go self built – but then it has been a hobby for me for about 17 years or so. I actually enjoy the whole process, from researching and picking parts to putting it all together. I can totally understand people going pre built though – if you don’t enjoy any of the above things, it doesn’t make sense to suffer through it unless you really need to save the money.

  21. Zenicetus says:

    I’m probably in the minority here with a pre-built bias. I’ve built my own rigs in the past, but right now the priority when doing a full computer upgrade is to minimize the aggravation. Between an audio recording hobby and some commercial graphics and video work, the process of finding and re-authorizing software licenses is painful enough that I want the hardware side to “just work” when it’s time for a new computer.

    The main difficulty in buying pre-built these days, is sorting through the financial health and prospects of the surviving companies who do that, whether it’s the majors like Dell or small-shop specialists. I’ve been bitten a couple of times by specialist suppliers of pro audio-oriented computers that were no longer around when I needed warranty or parts. So the last (and current) desktop I bought was a higher-end HP. It’s been working very well for 4 years, but HP isn’t looking so healthy these days, so it probably won’t be a HP next time around.

  22. subedii says:

    I’ve had bad experiences with pre-built. Time before last I went for pre-built from an outfit that did custom PC’s. I could choose the major components (CPU, Graphics etc.), but the more minor components (case, cooling, drive etc.) didn’t have many options and I had to make do with what they offered.

    End result was the PC was noisy and had annoying blue LED’s on the case. When a critical component failed let’s just say I shipped it off to them when they said to, and then they were less than forthcoming with replacements. And the internal cabling was a mess.

    Times before that I’ve bought pre-built PC’s from stores. Frankly even their supposed “gamer” oriented systems will typically short-change you when it comes to a good motherboard, or PSU (VERY important) or even enough fans in the case (preferably ones that aren’t tiny, cheap and noisy like small beehive). And they typically come loaded with bloatware. Oh, and it’s rare that they’ll ever provide the original OS disc, they almost always give you a “recovery” disc instead. Bleagh.

    This time I ordered all the components (and OS) and put it together myself. Being ridiculously paranoid about it, I put it together after work across 2 days (50% of that time looking stuff up on the internet to make sure I’m doing it absolutely right, 30% hemming and hawing that I might not be doing it right, 20% actually putting the thing together).

    But you know what? That effort was really worth it. I’ve got a system that matches what I wanted, no unwanted compromises on components, and a greater feeling that the overall performance is something that hasn’t been hamstrung or potentially damaged by someone else’s doing. I’m not constantly second guessing that odd noises or weird performance issues will happen, of if they do, I’m more confident that I can get to the root cause instead of hoping that the original builder didn’t do something weird.

    For me the debate for next PC isn’t build or not build. It’s thermal paste: best method to apply? That debate seems to rage on still.

  23. syllopsium says:

    This is not even a question. Gaming? Go pre built.

    I’ve been building systens since 95 and unless you have very specific requirements go for prebuilt. Crunching noise locking in the CPU? It was far worse in the days of the 486/pentium!

    The major weakness you’ll get from Dell/HP is inadequate, quite possibly custom, power supplies. If you think you’ll need to swap out your PSU, go for Novatech or Scan instead. I had a hard look at suppliers and they were the two that seemed to quickly resolve any issues that arose.

    For my next system I’ll probably build it myself, but I have extremely specific requirements for virtualisation – large case, cool, supports VTd properly (this is the killer problem), ECC memory, quiet, supports multiple CPUs.Working out precisely which motherboard etc works in that case really matters because VTd is broken on many motherboards.

    Gaming? Pre built systen with a 4970, fast GPU, SSD, 4-6GB memory. Job done. (edit : I know a lot of sites/people stress over components but generally if you get more than a few fps difference you’re doing well. Faster RAM? Who cares for 1-2fps?. Go for reliability, ease of maintenance and low noise levels. Less time faffing, more time gaming)

    I’ve wasted a lot of time and money farting around with cases, fans, heatsinks, not to mention CPU choice, BIOSes etc. If I’d just paid for it I would have undoubtedly saved time.

    • Severian says:

      Thanks for these recommendations. I commented below looking for suggested vendors but didn’t see this at the time.

    • Det. Bullock says:

      The problem is that they often cost more than when you build them yourself, especially if you want to use them for gaming, most pre-built with a decent videocard (I’m talking something like a Radeon HD 7770 when it first came out, not SLI or stuff like that) are often way overpriced, they got weird looking cases that are a pain to open in case you want to upgrade instead of buying an entirely new one and are sometimes full of silly gimmicks like extra LED lights that while they may be good to look at are mostly an excuse to make you pay a thousand Euros for hardware that would cost something like 800 at most by buying choice components and using a solid but less flashy case and putting a tenner for a more reliable motherboard.

      • syllopsium says:

        I would suggest running the figures. I’ve just spent 10 minutes comparing the Novatech Black NTI130 with individual components (bit of googling, bit of Scan).

        Cost from Novatech – 870 quid inc VAT.

        Quick component roundup :

        175 – i5 4690K
        120 – 16GB DDR3 memory
        60 – 2tb sata
        60 – 120gb ssd
        750 Ti 2GB 104
        600W corsair builder 55
        60 Z97 motherboard (gigabyte)
        fans x3 = 45 (noctua)
        12 – dvd writer
        20 – cpu fan
        kb/mouse 10
        windows 8.1 70
        tower mid 25

        =816 quid, and I’m not pushing the boat out with components.

        50 quid extra for a build and a one year warranty, extendable to 2? bargain.

        This tallies up with my previous builds. I got precisely what I wanted. I did not save a lot of money.

        If you’re willing to ebay and buy second hand, you may be more fortunate, but that’s not comparing like with like.

        • Sakkura says:

          You’re wasting money on 16GB RAM though, and getting a shitty motherboard and mediocre power supply. Fixing those mistakes in a DIY build means you get a better system at a lower price.

        • Det. Bullock says:

          Unless you want speed at all cost an SSD is optional, 8gb of RAM are more than sufficient and if need be can be upgraded cheaply if in the coming years you need to upgrade them (and by that time the same DDR3 bought today will cost muche less) and have a motherboard with enough expansion slots and that’s 60 less (estimated of course, and of course unless you want to oerclock the additional CPU fan is useless and you can use the one included with the CPU (which lately comes with thermal paste pre-applied whic is a nice plus) and that’s 20 less, and sincerely my i5 has only a fan on the side which was included with the case, why buy three of them if you aren’t going to overclock anything?
          And I live in a place that gets rather stuffy during summer (understatement) and I never had overheating problems so as long as you put the cables out of the way you’ll be fine.

          And that would be 631 quids.

          Now, if you have an old PC you aren’t going to use anymore you can use the case as long it’s standard ATX (tower or midtower are good, mine is ten years old) and that’s 25 less, same with mouse and keyboard (unless they are very old PS/2 in which case there is a chance you have to buy them new), same with the DVD writer if it’s not old enough to still use the old IDE interface (which unfortunately was my case).

          And that would be 584 more or less.

          That’s what I meant before with “cutting the right corners”, now you can get a better motherboard and PSU spending even less than the pre-made system.

          • syllopsium says:

            Missing The Point. It’s possible to make a minor saving through re-using existing components, but that’s offset by time and effort to maintain your own system. The point is that system builders are not ripping you off.

            Compare to the cheaper AMD system then which doesn’t have an SSD or 16GB RAM. Stick a couple of cheaper fans on. Now you’re saving a maximum of 90 quid or so. For a one year warranty and not having the hassle of researching components or building it yourself. Then optionally a further 30 quid for collect and deliver system repair for 3 years. Tenner a year? bargain.

            If I didn’t want something very specific I’d definitely go pre built. Still might, if I can find a workstation builder that matches precisely what I want.

            I’ve just ordered a cheap Windows 8 tablet. Partly because it’s shiny, and also because it will Just Work. In the same way this Thinkpad I’m typing this on doesn’t get mucked around with – I’ve wasted so much time on my other self built systems, most of which are intermittently in bits.

            If I’d worked those hours instead, even at minimum wage, I’d probably have a better system than I have now..

            Also, I understand the arguments about motherboards and power supplies, but unless you’re into very specific applications or messing with overclocking, it will work. Likewise, whilst a system builder might be using their own brand PSU they know it’ll be fine, because they don’t want the expense of warranty failure.

            I’d like to say that buying your own decent PSU is ‘future proofing’ but to be honest, I doubt it. When I look at my 2nd newest PSU (decent at the time), it doesn’t really cope with a motherboard and graphics card two generations later (limited EPS12V, no PCI-e 8pin, barely enough amperage on 12V rail for everything).

            If you want to fiddle with hardware or have requirements that are ridiculously specific then knock yourself out with self build. Otherwise save yourself the grief and spend more time playing games and less time fiddling.

          • Det. Bullock says:

            You are missing the point: the SSD is a specific thing, and so are 16gb of RAM.

            A good PSU instead is always good because is less prone to failure, so it’s good whenever you use your PC mainly for internet and basic office work or for gaming and neither tasks need an SSD or so much RAM, they look cool on paper but at the moment their used is either limited or entirely optional.

            Moreover there is no need for long research, there are hardware nuts around the ‘net who’ll be more than happy to be given a budget and pointed at amazon or some other on line store and give you a config based on what is in stock (it’s basically what I did when I went from Athlon XP 64 to Intel i5 last year).

            And putting it all togheter nowadays is mighty easy, it was more of an hassle backupping everything from my old configuration than building the new PC.

            The result is now that for Euro 645 (shipping included) I have a no frills PC I can throw any game at and can do all the basic stuff without problems, instead of spending the 800+ Euros similar configurations costed pre-built.

    • P.Funk says:

      Those of us who are on tight budgets and want to squeeze maximum value out of every dollar we spend faff about for a very good reason.

  24. Andy_Panthro says:

    I’ve built in the past, but pre-built is so much more convenient for me these days. Got my current one from Scan (3xs.scan.co.uk) who were very good, and as I’m currently in the market for a new PC, will probably use them again.

    Mind you, since my current PC is a bit broken I might buy a new pre-build, and try and fix/upgrade the old one…

    • Horg says:

      I wouldn’t. If something goes wrong they will try and shaft you. Scans customer service is awful if something needs to be replaced or refunded.

  25. Carra says:

    For my current PC, I handpicked all my components in an internet store and let them assemble it. Gives me exactly what I want without the worries of breaking anything. I did manage to build my previous PC. Just never managed to get the off button working, it rebooted my PC (but so did the reboot button). I figured I’d rather pay the €40 this time to have it done properly.

    Hardware problems are a bitch to solve yourself without extra components. Just last month, my PC froze regularly while gaming. Memory sticks corrupt? Power supply broken? Graphic card broken? A fan? My CPU? It’s hard to tell without being able to replace it. I eventually managed to fix all my hardware problems, it can just be very time consuming and frustrating.

  26. Severian says:

    I’m a pre-built guy, myself, mostly because I’m lazy and don’t want the anxiety of potentially screwing things up. I’m curious as to what vendors other pre-built folk here might recommend. I’m scared to admit this in this environment, but my past 2 PC’s have been Dells and I’ve been pretty darned pleased with them. But I’m curious to know what good/bad experiences people have had with specific vendors/brands.

  27. JonClaw says:

    I will never go back to buying pre-builts. The lack of bloatware was the hook that got me into building my own PC after my last pre-built was a Dell. Then you’ve got the freedom of choosing what brand of parts you want, getting combo deals on parts, learning the basics of PC hardware, the satisfaction of hearing the beep and POST on the first try.

    The only time I’d recommended a pre-built is if they don’t need something that can do more than internet and email.

    Sure, there are lots of snags like the aforementioned RMA, but once you experience these downsides, you learn to cope with them.

    • Wisq says:

      Yes, I think this bears mentioning: Even if you go pre-built, do not ever use a vendor-installed OS. If they give you one, hard wipe it (don’t just install over it) and use your own.

      Most big-name vendors will install the worst crap on your system, and you also never know what any individual employee might feel about installing things on a particular machine they handled. It’s also just good practice for if anything goes wrong and you have to do it again at some point, and it ensures you have working media to do so.

  28. Skit says:

    I used to build, casemod and obsess about wiring. What a joy it was to screw a 1. 5 kg Scythe cooler on to the mobo. Now domesticated by Wife and Kid im a schmuck that shells out 3 grand for a gaming laptop. So fuck you guys that still can have desks in their homes.

  29. Neurotic says:

    “Or you’ll wonder why anyone imagines the marginal savings of self build are worth the risk of bork.”

    As a devout self-builder since my first 486 DX, I would always rather bork it up myself, because then I have a chance at un-borking much more quickly and effectively. And in the process, I will learn so much more, and have a much more memorable experience for it, increasing my emotional bond with the machine. Partly because of the sheer pleasure of upgrading and building a PC, and partly because my finances make this a Blue Moon affair, I always do my work with a good bottle of gin and a fresh bottle of tonic on-hand. It’s a wee celebration, you see.

    • pepperfez says:

      increasing my emotional bond with the machine
      After doing it once, this is more than enough reason for me to keep building, cost savings or no. Even if it is only assembling parts, it feels so much better to have something I made at the end.

  30. Martel says:

    I build all my own, but I used to do that for a living so got pretty used to it. Now it’s more of a matter that I never buy a new computer, I evolve them to help spread out the costs and upgrade process. So one year I might replace the mobo and CPU, the next might be a new videocard, etc.

    For almost all of my friends I recommend pre-build unless they want to do minor upgrades over time. I’ve never bought from these guys because of what I said above, but some of my friends have and they’ve always had a good experience. link to cyberpowerpc.com

  31. proppaganda says:

    I dropped my 8350… well actually it wasn’t latched into the socket properly and fell out when I flipped the motherboard over. Fell on the tile floor. Bent a few pins…. spent an hour with my Swiss Army tweezers trying to realign them. Great fun.

    Runs strong to this day. Don’t be afraid kids. They not eggs :)

    But seriously, DON’T DROP THEM EVER!!!

  32. Revolving Ocelot says:

    CPUs and thermal paste fill me with absolute terror. I have all the knowledge to build my own PC if I wanted, but I have so little faith in my shaky hands and skills, that I’m far too petrified of breaking something to actually do it. Luckily my current build should last me for some time, I might upgrade the GPU next year (using GTX 760 with 2GB VRAM) but that by itself is easy enough. But attaching a CPU? Not mucking up the thermal paste and getting mocked in a Kentucky-style video? Pants-shitting terror. When I want pants-shitting terror I’ll buy Alien Isolation.

    My current PC is actually a DIY effort, but I had a friend to build it (while I observed) who has since moved to the other side of the country. I shopped around for parts, but after delivery costs for ordering from multiple places I figured I’d just use one website instead for about the same price (aria.co.uk).

    • pepperfez says:

      AAAAAH THERMAL PASTE!!! Why are you so scary??

      That said, I’m stubborn enough that I’d rather melt down the damn processor than hire out my build. I’ve also determined by extensive readings of tech forum posts that people much less capable and stable than I have successfully applied and removed thermal paste, so.

      • Revolving Ocelot says:

        Well, I’ve seen things like: “use a card!” “don’t use a card!” “pea-sized dab and spread it out!” “No, dab on cooler then attach it and let that do the spreading naturally!” It has to be really thin, but not so thin as to be nothing at all, and yada yada.

        Spreading butter on sandwiches also fills me with dismay.

        • syllopsium says:

          Protip : it’s mostly bollocks. Buy a CPU paste that is non conductive, abrasive/acidic and does not need to be regularly re-applied. Check the manufacture website for application, if not use the pea method. If you get it wrong it won’t matter as the CPUs will throttle – this is not like over a decade ago when AMD’s chips would instantly die if not correctly cooled.

          The most recent review I read on pastes basically put the Coolaboratory products clearly out top, but they need to be applied *very* carefully and they’ll eat part of the CPU cover away during application. Don’t bother.

          Everything else? Within a statistically insignificant amount of each other, except for the toothpaste. Even the freebie CPU paste with heatsinks is now fine. For reference the difference between the best, and ‘everything else except the really awful pastes was 3-4 degrees C. Unless you’re overclocking, have a hot graphics card and a non ventilated room/live in the tropics this is not going to matter.

          Similarly, fan controllers are a complete waste of time unless they are fully automatic with their own temperature sensors. Use the one built into the motherboard.

  33. sinister agent says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m someone who really doesn’t give a toss about techie stuff, despite having played mostly on PCs for about 15 years (and perhaps largely because I grew up with Amigas, which had a fairly simple system of “bigger model number = better machine”, and a relatively small array of upgrades, most of which were a case of “plug it into the dedicated port”). I’ve also only ever bought a new PC once, with all the others being second hand.

    But I do know that buying a stock PC was (and I’d imagine still is) often a big rip off, or at least not the best use of money. So I went with the middle option – there are sites that let you customise a PC without having to buy all the parts separately, spend hours researching all the mind-alteringly tedious specs and compatibility issues, and will instead give you many options and let you know what’s possible, and how much it’ll cost. Then they put it all together for you, and ship it to you along with a warranty.

    I’m sure I paid slightly more than I would have if I’d done it all myself, but I saved many hours of research, a lot of farting about, and cut out all the risks of breaking things or winding up with parts that didn’t work together, etc, etc. I’ve had it for over three years now and still no problems (aside from breaking a frontal usb port, which is my own dumb fault).

    The only downside was that the choice of cases was horrible, most of them being violently hideous “gamer” type things with LEDs and ugly “look at me” chunky designs. So I had to get one that had a pointlessly transparent side with some LEDs. But I just face that side against the wall. And it’s bright pink, which I still find mildly amusing, and you’d be surprised how much better it goes with most bedrooms than grey or beige. And it matches my DS, which I got in pink because it was cheaper. I’d definitely do it again.

    So there’s that.

    • steves says:

      Oh, I am totally with you on ‘violently hideous “gamer” type things’, but that fad seems to be lessening slightly these days, and most of the decent pre-built but customised sites have at least one option that fits the bill.

      You have cases like the Fractal Define R4, Nanoxia Deep Silence, NZXT H230, Cooltek Antiphon, and probably many others that basically follow the “2001 black obelisk” model of design, and are generally built for being very quiet as well as not ugly.

    • Zenicetus says:

      You can avoid the hideous cases with fancy lighting if you avoid “gaming” computers and just buy from one of the major supplier’s upper-end workstations designed for graphics/video. That’s what I did when I bought my current HP, and it came in a nice easy-to-open basic black case. If it doesn’t come with the latest fancy GPU you want, just get it with a low-end card and buy the one you want separately. Make sure the case has good cooling, and over-spec the power supply if there is an option for that.

      Anything specc’d for high-end graphics and video work is usually a fine gaming machine, if not absolutely state-of-the-art. I’ve always had good results buying a step or two down from whatever the hot gaming spec of the moment is. YMMV

      • sinister agent says:

        Oh god, I’d never buy a “gaming” anything. That’s code for “overengineered extortio-crap”. You’re right, though. To be honest, it was a few years ago and there may well have been some better cases but I just don’t remember – all I was interested in was a functional box to keep everything in that wouldn’t look awful. There weren’t a lot of options that were also cheap.

        But again, this was a few years ago.

        You’re totally right about going “one step down”, too. PC hardware is a great example of decreasing marginal returns – buying the latest and greatest is never necessary or cost effective.

  34. steves says:

    Well, there’s pre-built like Dell, HP, Alienware, etc, and then there’s the kind of place that basically builds something out of components you choose yourself, takes care of putting it together properly, does a lovely job on wiring, sets up a decent overclock, everything arrives at once, and is guaranteed to work.

    Something like this:

    link to overclockers.co.uk

    for example, which is the ‘cheaper’ side of high-end (I love how you can upgrade to a 970 and save £40), and definitely more than you would pay if you did it yourself, but still shits all over the likes of Alienware, and looks less awful too.

    Having said all that, I did my latest PC all from scratch, having slowly built the necessary confidence over years of having *replaced* almost everything in old box, and it is very satisfying.

    And here’s a tip – there’s nothing more annoying than assembling everything in the case and then finding the memory slots on mobo are borked and having to painstakingly disassemble everything again to return it. You can make a ‘minimum viable PC’ with just PSU, motherboard, memory & processor + stock fan (no need for messy paste at this stage) wired up sat on the floor. If that gets past POST and you can see BIOS it’s good to go, and can save a lot of faff if board at fault.

    Finally, if you are going the DIY route, something like this is the best £6 you will ever spend if you care about case being neat & tidy:

    link to overclockers.co.uk

  35. Initialised says:

    I’ve always built my own. However I have built, tested and tuned thousands for my customers.

    You’d think it would be the perfect job for a PC hardware and gaming evangelist, and for a long time it was. However as the business expanded there was a three way split in quality. The core business of the Bespoke low-end to mid-range systems and laptops, the specialist, high value and overclocked systems, machines and finally those mass-produced and sold through third parties.

    The pre-built units sold through online retailers rather than directly, were generally lower quality, for reasons of volumes, supply chain, new products, essentially for volume production profit per unit is lower so less staff time can be allocated to them as this is a pretty big expense. For example, shipping agreements meant that sending a faulty unit as part of a batch is less costly than than sending a batch a unit short so guess what would happen.

    So if you are going to buy rather than build go for the a Bespoke system with some level of tinkering like overclocking as it will be dealt with by the kind of PC techy that lives in this world, knows what works, how to stress test, gets sent to the trade shows. Use their forums not their live chat or sales line if you need advice. That way you’ll get an enthusiast setting up your system, not an apprentice or minimum wage temp. Avoid ordering at peak times (Late August-Mid September and Mid November-February). It takes time for techies to get their heads around new tech and for supplies to even out, so the best time to buy the new gen CPU or Graphics is 2-8 months into the product cycle. By two months the bugs are usually ironed out and after 6-month to a year the board partners are starting to cut corners, so at this stage it’s worth specifying a make and model from a good brand even if you have to pay a little more for it. For graphics in general go for a premium branded model or go reference.

    Don’t be fooled by product reviews, often the sample product (sent to reviewers and PC vendors) are cherry picked for the purpose and over time the quality falls and it is not unknown for PR department to actively suppress bad news or promote misinformation about rival products. Not all suppliers do this.

    Just me 2p from the other side of the testbench.

  36. DrHeaton says:

    I’ve quite literally just finished my first full build in about 10 years (Windows is updating as I type and I’ve got about 60gb in games queued up to download in Steam).

    I’d intended to buy a pre-built through PC Specialist and had all my parts picked out. It was only when a friend told me a few of his mates horror stories that I decided to price up the components elsewhere.

    Ended up buying everything through my local store (CCL Computers) and saved myself about £160 (on a build I’d initially price up at about £980). I even got more choice to boot and manage to pick up the parts within a couple of days of ordering (it only took that long because I was waiting on my GTX 970 to be in stock).

    I’d say build it yourself because if, god forbid, your computer does break in the future, it teaches you how to fix it. The number of computer literate people I know who take their PCs to PC World when they break makes me cry. If more people built they’d have a better idea how to trouble shoot their own machines.

  37. Pliqu3011 says:

    Another important advantage of configuring your own PC is that you can make sure you’ve only got quality parts. Sure, manufacturers can (seemingly) give you an impressive spec sheet for an impressive price, but they often skimp on everything that is not on the sheet.
    Especially the power supply is often just a crappy no-brand box (it can’t be emphasized enough that this is the heart of your PC, so you should never try to save money here). Other cheap parts manufacturers like to put in include motherboards with very limited features, RAM with large capacity but low speeds and 5200/5900 RPM hard drives. Quality CPU coolers are also a rarity.

  38. syllopsium says:

    I do have a few recommendations, which generally aren’t gaming oriented, but FWIW :

    There are probably other decent PC builders than mentioned earlier – not looked recently. Not needed to. I build expensive-ish systems and then run them until they won’t run any more. Currently still running a very unusual core2quad based system (the graphics card was updated to a 6950 a few years back, and now sports a GTX480 modded to a Quadro 6000 for virtualisation reasons, so it’s still passable)

    If you really must pre build a system :

    If you have to overclock, don’t make it a large one. Never take it near the limit, it will just give you pain. Stability is *good*.

    Fans. Noctua.. or Noctua. Buy the best, there’s a reason why they’re pricey.

    Motherboards. There is a lot of choice, but if you need a very specific feature (you probably don’t, usually) go for Intel, Supermicro etc. Their BIOSes work. They may be quirky, boring and a little pricey but they actually work. Asus creates a huge range of motherboards, most of which are quite decent for general purpose applications, but venture into the weirder bits of virtualisation, manageability or so on and you suddenly find the BIOS might be broken in that area and they won’t help because ‘it works fine under Windows’ doing general tasks and they care not one whit about the Unix app you’re running.

    *read the motherboard manual before buying it*. All of it. Especially page 53 where they reveal that it only supports 16GB RAM using special unicorn scented modules, and that graphics cards run at 4x speed if a copy of Anglers Weekly is placed in the same room. Check that the feature you want has been verified by someone else – don’t be the first person to try it..

    Personal taste : tower cases rule, as do removable motherboard trays. *so* much easier to maintain and cool.

    Also, yes, a decent PSU helps. It isn’t a magical stability fix, but if your system is power hungry and keeps black screening… Check out the extreme PSU calculator online. The cost of the pro version is insignificant in terms of system build cost, too.

    Now, admissions of my PC building fuckups, aka more reasons why to pre build

    1) poor motherboard choice. pentium based system, where it took months to diagnose a fault was due to the L3 CPU cache (supplied as a special cache riser module). Had to junk it in the end.

    2) cheap PSU. Just don’t. Plugged cheap PSU into Pentium IV 3GHz system. Output voltage dropped by over half a volt, leaving it only just in spec. Tried higher end PSU – less than 0.1V output difference under load. Jonnyguru, or anandtech at a pinch rule.

    3) Fanless performance GPU. Fanless is good. Performance is good. Both together? Pain. More effective to buy a big case, quality fans and a GPU that exhausts air outside the case. For bonus idiocy, combine with a noise damping case and a huge heatsink. Result : furnace inside.

    4) Recent mistake – old workstation motherboard from HP which I thought worked. Didn’t google enough. Connectivity is fantastic. Pity that it only works with a very restricted number of PSUs (shuts down if it doesn’t respond instantaneously), the BIOS is broken for the virtualisation feature I wanted, it needs special CPU coolers and the base plate/IO shield is screwed in to the motherboard. Going to become a dedicated gaming/steam machine..

    5) Other server/workstation boards. They pull all manner of Weird Shit. Actually using the ATX EPS connectors. SSI EEB front panel connectors. Fan controller? On a separate management chip – if you’re not running a certified chassis, all fans run at full speed. Limitations on what can go in which expansion slot. etc etc.

  39. Zafman says:

    Just one tidbit about pre-built rigs. System builders tend to cut corners when it comes to the good old power supply unit (PSU). If they give you the option to swap it out for a more-expensive/better-quality/trustworthy-brand one, please do so! When it comes to the PSU you cannot afford to skimp. It’s a vital component and every single piece of equipment is attached to it. A cheap PSU is available for a mere tenner and they are this cheap for a reason. You DO NOT want that piece of no-name crap in your otherwise expensive rig. It WILL fail and it WILL destroy more expensive parts of your computer when it does, which in turn will cost a darn side more than having spent a little bit more on a decent PSU to start with.

  40. mattevansc3 says:

    My PCs are always DIY builds, I’m a tech-head and its my hobby but when my dad was looking for one we went pre-built. My dad wants his PCs to be like his DVD Players, TVs and other home electronics. Open box, plug in, switch on and good to go. Spec building it was pointless and I always suggested parts I’d put in my system but not weren’t necessary for his.

    We went with CCL Online and the parts were branded and has been good quality. Now I can’t stress this enough, when shopping around always ask if the warranty allows upgrades and always ask via email so you’ve got it in writing. Most of the big PC vendors have “warranty VOID” stickers on the case so just opening it up voids the warranty but good system builders will allow you to upgrade. Not talking new CPUs or anything like that but extra hard drives, RAM or expansion cards. Stuff you just plug in. CCL’s specific policy is that if your upgrade breaks the PC the warranty is void but if it didn’t you need to return it to factory settings before returning it for repair.

    Also be careful of the big vendors. I worked in an independent PC store about ten years ago (things might have changed but I doubt it) and I dealt with a lot of angry boxed PC customers. Dell used to glue the RAM to the motherboard and Packard Bell used proprietary power supplies that cost a stupid amount to replace (it was cheaper to buy a new off the shelf case with PSU and pay someone to transfer the innards than it was to buy a replacement PSU). They went out of their way to stop you upgrading or repairing so you’d have to buy a new PC.

  41. P.Funk says:

    Building your own PC is less complicated than fixing a Car’s engine. I’d say people who are averse to figuring out the internal relationship between components and how to put them together, take them apart, are like people who can’t actually change a tire on their cars. How are you going to clean your CPU cooler with any confidence if you never put it together yourself?

    Also, I don’t think I agree with this articles apparent strict division between build it yourself and the advantages of buying pre-built. I live in Canada and I live in the same city that is home to NCIX. Between them and a few other parts retailers I can buy all my bits from them and have the option to have them assemble it for me or if something didn’t go right when I put it together I can just bring mine in and they’ll look at it. Yes, they didn’t assemble it but they’re going to troubleshoot it for me.

    Maybe NCIX is just really abnormal in the PC retailer world but if you can buy your parts from brick and mortar shops I don’t see why you can’t go in to see them. Many will happily help you troubleshoot your hardware for free because they assume that a good working relationship with their customers breeds loyalty. With me they’re completely right.

    So in my opinion there is a lot more crossover between build your own and buy pre-built. The hard division however seems more to apply to people living in the boonies.

  42. buzzmong says:

    Self build as I do have some preferences regarding case size, noise and cooling.

    Every gfx card I’ve bought in the last decade that’s had a reference cooler on it gets a quieter and more effective aftermarket cooler at some point, and as cards and coolers get bigger it always pushes me to research my case choice to get something with ample space and airflow.
    Same goes for cpu cooler, I’ve got a mahoosive block of aluminum fins about the size of a housebrick on my cpu at the moment to keep it really cool and quiet. Again, requires space.

    Doing it youself is very easy these days, plus a couple of bad pre-builts ensure I’d probably change now.

    • Cleave says:

      I’ve used the corsair closed liquid coolers for my last couple of builds. The temperatures stay low and stable and you don’t need a gargantuan heat sink. It’s very compact and neat, not like water cooling used to be.

    • Geebs says:

      Reference coolers are terrible; that goes for both Nvidia and AMD. I’ve had to stick aftermarket Arctic coolers on both a 5870 and a GTX285, and I’m pretty sick of trying to get all those little heat sinks to stay on (pro tip- balance them in the correct place precariously, install the card and run it for a bit, and the heat gets them to finally stick).

      Last card I bought, I just went for one of those MSI twin Frozr jobbies, which has been solid as a rock.

  43. drinniol says:

    I picked all the parts and paid $50 for someone at the shop to assemble and test it. With a full warranty. Best of both worlds.

  44. Cleave says:

    If you get a pre-built PC just make sure it’s got a decent power supply in it. 2 of my friends had there’s blow up within a week, although they did buy them on ebay.

  45. Mungrul says:

    I built my own for ages, but the last major upgrade I made, I decided to go pre-built from Aria.co.uk.
    And I’ll echo the sentiments of others here.

    Firstly, it’s the best machine I’ve ever owned. Part of that’s probably down to it being the first Intel machine I’ve ever owned too, but it’s liquid cooled, quiet and reliable.
    Secondly, as others have said, I’m fed up with the risks inherent in building it myself. Too many times in the past I’ve been sent faulty components, and even while I’ve managed to get them replaced by the reseller, it’s still a pain in the arse I can now afford to bypass.
    Thirdly, I hate thermal paste. That shit gets everywhere, and the cleaning fluid stinks.
    Fourthly, my cable-clutter skills are abysmal, thank you for asking Jeremy.

    I’ve had it 3 years now, and only recently gave it an upgrade, replacing the GTX 580 with one of them flash new 970 jobbers, and it still chews through everything I chuck at it.
    It all comes down to the cold, hard fact that when I first started PC gaming, I was nowhere near as financially secure as I am now, so building it myself made a huge difference. But these days, I can do without the hassle thank you very much, and I can afford to make that hassle someone else’s, so I do.

    • GiantPotato says:

      I’ve managed to avoid faulty components so far by reading reviews on NewEgg very carefully. But I would agree that build-it-yourself customers are the most likely to receive a bad component. Really, where are you going to fob off your bad hardware? Are you going to ship them to some big client, or will you put them on the retail market to be sold off in bits and pieces? As form factors go down, you have to be more and more careful buying parts.

  46. Beat Darwin says:

    I suppose pre-built is more of an even-steven option these days, but for those with ATX mounting points and power + I/O rigging built into home HVAC systems, I still think DIY is the way to go.

  47. dsch says:

    Please explain in what way this is an epistemological question.

    • Zamn10210 says:

      It’s quite simple, it sounds vaguely deep and philosophical: a perfect replacement for ‘metaphysical’ and ‘existential’, which are getting a bit clichéd. And if I don’t know what it means, surely nobody reading this will either!

  48. GiantPotato says:

    I have 2 relevant experiences to this debate:

    Scenario #1 – The pre-built machine: I bought a mid-range Compaq computer in the mid-1990’s. It featured a fast Cyrix processor (yeah, yeah), and advertised some other great features. However, it did not specify “stereo sound” as one of these great features. So when I plugged in headphones, the sound would only come out of the left ear. It turned out this was a hardware “feature” and couldn’t be changed. The bargain-basement sound card that they had included (no onboard sound in those days) was on a standard ISA slot, but it was welded to the motherboard and I couldn’t replace it without literally ripping the computer apart.

    Scenario #2 – The custom machine: I researched and bought a custom machine in the late 1990s, based on a then-popular Asus mainboard. After it was built, the machine would BSOD every 15 minutes. Games would fail without warning. I played nothing but Icewind Dale in those days, because this was the ONLY game that would crash without requiring a hard reset. But even more significantly, creating large .zip files would result in invalid archives (this indicates a memory problem). I replaced the RAM, power supply, and CPU, all with no luck. It turned out that this mainboard was not up to ATX spec and didn’t supply enough power to the memory slots, resulting in extremely difficult-to-reproduce hardware failures.

    These days, I still decide to build my own machines. But there’s no silver bullet that will make these stupid things work the way you want them to.

  49. malkav11 says:

    This may not hold true in every single instance, but you are almost certainly going to pay more for prebuilt than for DIY for the simple reason that with a prebuilt computer you are not only being charged for every part that goes into that computer the same as you would be buying them yourself (and perhaps more than you would pay yourself), but you are also paying for labor. That said, if you have the disposable income and value your time more than your cash, that’s not necessarily a bad trade.

    What makes it a bad deal for me as an ongoing practice is that you are (generally speaking) buying an entire computer at a time if you go prebuilt. You end up replacing everything at once and have to wait until it’s justifiable and you can absorb that whole hit to your finances at once. Whereas the DIYer can simply unplug their computer, open their case, perhaps break out the screwdriver, and swap out any individual part they’d like whenever they want and can afford to. Personally, the last time I assembled a complete computer from scratch was back in 2000 or so, but the very computer I’m typing this on is a modern, powerful gaming PC that has been able to run basically everything that’s been thrown at it on high settings. And it got there by replacing one to three parts at a time, once every year or two (absent parts replaced because they were failing – mostly drives). I imagine its next upgrade will be a mobo/CPU swap since that’s easily the oldest part of the computer at this point.

    Which isn’t to say that you couldn’t buy a prebuilt PC and then gradually update it over time, of course. But if you’re comfortable digging around in the guts I feel like you might as well just do it from the start.

  50. Oktober Storm says:

    A retailer is always trying to make money. Yes, some are cheap, but that’s only in order to get market share and earn money. Cheap does not equal the best parts, or the best fit of these parts.

    And please use Disqus or fix your comment section, it’s just awful.