I’ve never been a fan of prebuilt computers. And no, it’s not just because I’m a DIY PC building snob. In the past, it was not only fun to build your own – it was also easier and cheaper.
But for all sorts of reasons, this year more than ever, my eyes have been opened to why people continue to turn to pre-built desktops instead of trying to build one themselves.
Even with top-notch components readily available, building a solid PC only gets harder year after year. Without pointing any fingers (yet), the blame falls on several culprits – and no one is going away anytime soon.
Almost two decades have passed since I first picked out my own PC parts and attempted to assemble them. It took me a whole day and I was stressed, but in the end the computer booted up fine and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Physically putting parts together has only gotten easier since then. We now have motherboards with integrated features and built-in I/O shields, tool-less cases, modular power supplies and M.2 SSDs that are super easy to install. CPU installation is now also a breeze, making it so you don’t have to worry as much about bending the pins (although you should still worry a little).
In theory, prebuilts should slowly become a thing of the past. But they are not.
Each of these changes made PC building more accessible than ever. We also have YouTube tutorials and instruction guides that take you through the process step by step and dispel the idea that you have to be some kind of hardware wizard to assemble a computer from scratch.
Considering all of the above, prebuilts should slowly become a thing of the past. After all, why would anyone spend more money on a (often inferior) prebuilt when they could just build their own computer for less?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Much of the difficulty has been moved elsewhere, away from the assembly process and into the research. Unfortunately, PC building just gets harder and harder to figure out every year. The biggest problem is not how the parts fit together, but the value – or lack thereof – of each individual part.
Whether you’re building a computer or buying a new TV, there’s a common misconception that spending more money is bound to get you something that’s better quality, lasts longer, or will perform better. And my goodness, does this current generation of hardware put that mindset to the test.
I’m telling you: It’s hard out there, and making sure everything fits together isn’t even the biggest problem. It’s not as simple as that select a processor and make sure your motherboard has the right socket; compatibility issues are just the tip of a really tall iceberg. It’s the sheer amount of research you need to do if you want to get your money’s worth, and GPUs are particularly affected.
Somehow, even with almost everyone best graphics card in stock, choosing a GPU feels like pulling teeth sometimes. I finally built a new PC this year, and even though I was familiar with the in-depth benchmarks for each new GPU, I still went back and forth on that choice a lot. Honestly, the whole experience almost made me miss the GPU lack.
How is a person supposed to tell the difference between RX 6600, RX 6600 XT and RX 6650 XT?
When you don’t have a basic familiarity with the subject, the choices can feel overwhelming, and it’s easy to fall into the trap I mentioned earlier – thinking that a more expensive GPU must be better, which is sometimes simply untrue.
The RTX 4060 Ti 16GB is a prime example of that. Despite having double the VRAM of the cheaper version, the card also has the same narrow memory bus which drastically limits its bandwidth. Given that it also has the exact same specs as its sibling, for most people buying the 16GB version is like giving Nvidia an extra $100. The actual performance gains are very small. It’s slightly faster than the RTX 3060 Ti, but not to the point where it would make much more sense to buy it. Nvidia’s DLSS 3 is this card’s salvation.
Nvidia has a few more cards that are pretty poorly rated in this generation, for example RTX 4070 Ti or the one RTX 4080. When you’re on a budget, it’s better to avoid them – but buyers won’t know this without digging deeper.
Then there is the endless debate about AMD vs. Nvidia it just makes PC building all the more daunting. Many people start shopping with a preference in that regard, and in my experience the scales often tip towards Nvidia. However, this can also be a trap, as AMD tends to be better value on tighter budgets. Even then, AMD also has some GPUs that may sound good, but aren’t as good as their slightly more expensive siblings — I’m talking about RX 7700 XT and that RX 7900 XT.
Don’t even get me started on AMD’s latest generation cards either. The RDNA 2 series is so rugged it should come with a travel guide. This isn’t bad, but it makes it even more difficult for people who just want a good computer without having to do hours of homework. How is a person supposed to tell the difference between the RX 6600, RX 6600 XT, RX 6650 XT, and how do they know what to spend their money on? Research of course. A lot of research, tracking GPU pricesand having to learn things you don’t need in your daily life just to get a stable computer.
Building your own computer is a true test of character. Few things can give you as bad a case of fear of missing out (FOMO) as trying to pick out the parts for a good gaming PC, especially if you’re trying to stick to a certain budget. And if you decide to ask for help on Reddit or in another community, you may be tempted to spend way more than you really need to.
While these communities are often a great way to get all the benefits of a custom desktop without the hassle and stress of studying benchmarks for hours, they’re often a bit of a gamble, and no wonder. This is the internet; anyone can claim to be an expert, but opinions and preconceived notions often enter into the advice given, and that can be a problem.
For example, if I had a penny for every time I’ve seen someone recommend Nvidia over AMD because of “driver problems”, I’d have enough money for currently (and always) too expensive, RTX 4090. However, the notion that AMD is somehow inferior to Nvidia is pretty false if you’re trying to stick to a $1,000 budget. In fact, AMD wins in such builds almost every time, and the only thing you miss out on is DLSS 3.
It can be quite challenging to estimate what type of PC you actually need.
In addition to potentially receiving bad advice, gamers have to deal with the fact that building an enthusiast PC is very expensive right now, and things are unlikely to improve. GPU prices are through the roof compared to just a few years ago, and next-gen cards aren’t likely to do any better, though AMD may change that narrative.
The worst part is that it is very easy to fall victim to incremental upgrades. For example, say you set out on a budget of $1,000 with around $200 of wiggle room. While you can get a solid PC for $1,000 or less, through research you’ll soon find that by spending a little more you can get a significantly better GPU, like the RTX 4070. Then you may need to upgrade your power supply, and since you already spend more, you might as well get faster RAM … and suddenly you have a computer that cost you $1,500, and it can often be better than what you really needed in the first place.
It can also be quite challenging to really appreciate what kind of PC you need, especially if you are not an expert. While GPUs like the RTX 4060 are typically 1080p cards, there’s nothing stopping you from using one at 1440p with decent results – you just have to lower the settings in select games. However, since most online benchmarks are done in ultra settings and in AAA titles, it can be hard to tell if you can still play on medium to high without problems.
PC building is such an individual matter that it can only become more and more niche over time. With new GPUs and processors being released every year, not to mention all the other parts, it’s something that only enthusiasts really want to do.
It’s probably fine to just dip your toes into the subject once every few years when you get a new computer. But each time means a lot of research – and making a mistake stings more every year as the components get more expensive. The barrier to entry into the world of PC building only seems to grow higher every year, as the increasing complexity of components creates a steeper learning curve for newcomers.
It’s no wonder many people still opt for gaming laptops or pre-built PCs instead of putting themselves through this.
Obvious, prebuilt has its own problems. You’ll find that, more often than not, the computer you’re paying for might not have the best specs. It may come with an older CPU or with unknown parts that may cause problems down the line. Newcomers also encounter these problems and sometimes regret their purchase choices. It’s small consolation, but at least that regret stems from a purchase that wasn’t backed up by hours of research.
Despite the difficulties, my best answer to anyone who asks is always to build your own computer instead of buying a pre-built one. It’s not easy—in fact, it’s often frustrating—and it’s full of pitfalls, but if you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll get a better computer and a lot of satisfaction when you put it all together and it actually stops working. It’s just a shame getting to that point sometimes feels like such a chore.
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