Should you buy a gaming PC or build one?

If you want to build a kick-ass computer lab in your house, you need to start with a kick-ass PC. But with so many ways to get good PCs these days, you have a decision to make:

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

Over the past 10 years I’ve made both of these decisions, so I’m in the best place to guide you through this process. Let’s talk about what you need to build your own PC, what it’s like to order a custom pre-built PC online, and what I recommend.

What do you need to build your own gaming PC?

Building a PC is hard work, but it can be extremely rewarding. It gives you complete control over the process and really makes your PC feel like your own creation. It also makes upgrading your PC easier because you know exactly how every piece and part fits together.

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

  • Incidence
  • A processor (CPU)
  • A processor cooler
  • A motherboard
  • Multiple memory sticks (RAM)
  • A hard drive
  • A graphics card (GPU)
  • A power supply unit (PSU)
  • thermal paste
  • A flashlight
  • A screwdriver
  • An anti-static wrist strap (optional but recommended)
  • A copy of Windows (or another operating system)
  • A screen
  • A mouse
  • A keyboard

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

To begin this process, you need to know that personal computers are complex and volatile. One wrong move could cause you problems when trying to start your PC for a test. And if you’re not careful about static electricity build-up, you could end up accidentally frying one of your expensive components.

This process requires hours of focus and precision. If it’s your first time, I recommend bringing a trusted friend with you – especially if they’ve built a PC before.

The creation process will require you to have a flat surface and either an iPad, laptop or phone so you can watch a tutorial. The best way to build a PC is with an accompanying video that shows you exactly how and how to do it.

ECPU’s video above is a fantastic tool for beginners. They start by detailing the parts and why they are important before moving on to the actual construction. There are also timestamps in the video to make skipping easier. I also like this tutorial from PC Centric.

It’s worth noting that all PC builds are slightly different depending on the parts you choose. If you’re having trouble with a part that the person in your video tutorial doesn’t, read the instructions, or better yet, look for a build video using your specific case, motherboard, or processor.

How do you get a customized pre-built PC?

Aside from building your own PC, you can either buy a pre-built PC that comes out of a box from a store like Best Buy, or you can customize one from an online store like iBuyPower. The first one can be ok, but I recommend you to buy custom.

All you have to do is go to iBuyPower’s website (there are many websites like this one, such as CyberPowerPC) and open their PC customizer. You can choose your parts from a long list, and even test how your hypothetical build will look in popular modern games like e.g elden ring.

As long as all your parts fit together – it will warn you, for example, if the graphics card you want is too big for your case – you’re good to try it. Then an expert will collect your parts for you, assemble the PC and ship it to your home. All you have to do when it arrives is remove the weird, giant peanuts inside the case and plug it in.

It’s all very convenient, and it’s also made it much easier for me to cope with the enormous financial burden that a brand new PC brings. I was able to purchase my iBuyPower PC through the site’s built-in Affirm partnership. Affirm let my loan run and gave me a low rate and 12 month payment plan. Overall, I paid an extra $189 for my $2,324 PC, but it was worth upgrading my aging desktop a full year early.

Of course, if you have the cash on hand – or a really good credit card – you can buy the whole thing in advance. But if the cost of the PC is your biggest obstacle, getting a custom version might make things easier if you go the route I took with monthly payments.

Which do I recommend?

A new iBuyPower stands on a wooden floor

Photo: Ryan Gilliam/Polygon

In over 10 years of construction equipment I have never encountered a major problem with any of my builds. I’ve never fried anything and my PC always started on the first try or second. A lot of other talented PC builders I know haven’t been so lucky, but I’ve had great experiences. I really enjoyed the process as well and originally envisioned doing this every few years for the rest of my life.

However, after several builds and upgrades – as well as a pandemic – I wanted to try something simple and lightweight. I wanted a perfect build for work and play, and that’s exactly what I got with the custom PC I got in 2021. I still selected all my parts but I didn’t have to do any work. Most importantly, I was able to pay for the computer over the course of a year instead of upfront, which was very helpful to my family during the pandemic.

If I get a new PC many years from now, I’ll definitely buy a custom one again. It’s just easier in almost every way and I’ve had an excellent experience with iBuyPower. However, I still value the experience I gained building my previous PCs. I know what makes them tick and I will eventually be able to upgrade my current PC because I know how to carefully install computer parts.

If this is your first PC and you love to learn, you’ll really appreciate the experience of making it yourself. That being said, if you really just want to play with your friends or take advantage of Steam sales, buying a custom build is the easiest way to get into PC gaming. It’s fast, it’s easy, it’s effortless and it just works.


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Charles Jones

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