Should you buy a gaming PC or build one?

If you want to build a great computer lab at home, you need to start with a great PC. But with so many ways to get good PCs these days, you need to make a decision:

Are you buying a ready-made 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 choices, so I’m in an excellent 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 which ones I recommend.

What do you need to build your own gaming PC?

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

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

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

For purchasing parts, I recommend PCPartPicker. It’s a great resource for beginners and lets you compare different parts so you can get exactly what you want (and it will also tell you if any of your parts aren’t compatible with each other). You can also use our checklist above and buy the individual parts from an online store like Amazon, or pick them up from a local store like Micro Center.

Going into this process, you should know that PCs are complex and fickle. One wrong move can cause problems starting your PC for a test. And if you’re not careful about static buildup, you could accidentally fry one of your expensive components.

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

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

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

It’s worth noting that all PC builds differ slightly depending on the parts you select. If you’re struggling with a part you have that the person in your video tutorial doesn’t have, try reading the instructions or – better yet – look for a build video that features your specific case, motherboard or processor.

How do you get a custom pre-built PC?

Outside of building your own PC, you can buy a ready-made PC that comes out of the box from a retailer like Best Buy, or you can customize one from an online retailer like iBuyPower. The former may be fine, but I recommend that you buy custom.

All you need to do is go to iBuyPower’s website (there are many such websites, such as CyberPowerPC) and open their PC customizer. You can select your parts from a long list and even test how your hypothetical build will run popular modern games like Elder ring.

As long as all your parts fit together – for example, it warns you if the graphics card you want is too big for your case – you can check out. Then an expert will collect your parts for you, build the PC and ship it to your home. All you have to do when it arrives is remove the weird giant packing peanuts in the case and plug it in.

It’s all very useful, and it also made the huge financial burden of a brand new PC much easier for me to swallow. I was able to purchase my iBuyPower PC using the site’s built-in Affirm partnership. Affirm checked my credit and gave me a cheap rate and a 12 month payment plan. Overall, I paid an extra $189 for my $2,324 PC, but it was well worth it because of the option to upgrade my aging desktop a year early.

Of course, if you have the money to hand – or a really good credit card – you can buy everything in advance. But if the cost of the PC is your biggest roadblock, getting a custom may become easier if you go the route I did with monthly payments.

Which one do I recommend?

A new iBuyPower stands on a wooden floor

Photo: Ryan Gilliam/Polygoon

In over 10 years of building machines I have never encountered a major problem during any of my builds. I never fried anything and my PC always booted on the first or second try. Many more talented PC builders I know haven’t been so lucky, but I’ve had great experiences. I also really enjoyed the process and originally thought it would be something I would do every few years for the rest of my life.

But after multiple builds and upgrades – and a pandemic – I wanted to try something simple and easy. I wanted a perfect build for both work and play, and that’s exactly what I got from the custom PC I got in 2021. I still picked out all my parts, but I didn’t have to do anything. Most importantly, I was able to pay for the computer over the course of a year instead of up front, which was very helpful for my family during the pandemic.

When I get a new PC many years from now, I will undoubtedly buy a modified PC again. It’s just easier in almost every way and I had an excellent experience with iBuyPower. However, I still appreciate the experience I had building my previous PCs. I know how they work and eventually I will be able to upgrade my current PC because I know how to install computer components carefully.

If this is your first PC and you enjoy learning, you’ll really appreciate the experience of doing it yourself. That said, if you really just want to game 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, easy, effortless and it just works.

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