Are you considering ascension to the “master race”? Or is your rig getting a little old and you’re interested in doing something new? Over the years, it has become much easier to put together your own gaming computer. PCs are very modular these days, making it quite literally a snap to put together parts as long as they are compatible. Even with the new release of the latest generation consoles, the PS4 and Xbox One are still leagues behind the most powerful gaming PCs.
Furthermore, there is a wide range of creative stuff you can do on your PC that just isn’t possible on a console. We aren’t trying to get into a heated console vs. PC debate (its hard to beat firing up a console and playing some online multiplayer or co-op on the big screen with a good group of friends), all we’re trying to say is that you can’t go wrong building your own gaming computer. Here we look at all the major factors you should consider when deciding whether or not to build your own gaming PC.
In addition to saving money you’ll be proud of your self-built gaming rig. However, it is important to note that in some cases, building your own rig won’t result in a significant cost savings. PC manufacturers have the power of buying in bulk that us individual consumers just don’t have. The real cost-saving will come if the manufacture decides to add a hefty mark-up and labor cost to the final price.
There are a couple instances where it is a no-brainers here when it comes to buying rather than building. First if you’re just looking for a budget PC (which typically aren’t us gamers) just buy. Second, if you desire a gaming laptop, buy (unless you have those mad soldering skills and a great deal of time on your hands).
Table of Contents
To Build or not to Build, that is the Question
Here’s the top Pros and Cons of building.
Pro’s of building your own gaming computer:
- Save money (sometimes). This isn’t as cut-and-dry as it used to be. PC manufacturers realize that one of their main competitors is the DIYers and have aggressively priced their gaming machines as such. Generally speaking, if you’re putting together a beast of a machine that’s around the 2-3K mark, you’re going to be able to save yourself about $250-500. If you’re looking at building something in the range of 800-2k you may be able to save anywhere from $50 to a couple hundred bucks. Of course, these are ball park figures and if you’re thorough in your pursuit of deals and sales you will more likely be in the upper range of those numbers.
- Get exactly what you want. The freedom and flexibility to customize the build with the specific parts and components you desire is really nice. Maybe graphics are really important to you but hard drive space isn’t because you already have an external HD. Save money on the hard drive and pour that into a more powerful GPU. All such things are possible when building your own gaming computer. Customization includes the aesthetics piece of the puzzle as well, if you want a snazzy case with lighting features you can design all of that exactly to your own personal tastes.
- Know your PC. It will be that much easier to upgrade, or troubleshoot, when it comes time because you know the machine inside and out. Everything will function as a result of your actions, so there is sort of a nostalgic feel that goes with it. This is one of the things that makes PC building kind of addicting. This power of knowledge that comes with building your first PC makes it upgrading or doing a second build (or third or fourth) that much easier. If you’re a gaming enthusiast and going to be upgrading frequently and changing PCs more than once every two years or so you can start to picture where the value lies in learning to build A PC.
- Selectively replace parts. In some scenarios, gamers never build another computer from scratch after they put together their first PC. They just replace the main gaming work horses such as the graphics card and CPU and whatnot every so often—leaving the case, power supply and other such components as is until they really need updated. That’s another really cool thing about building your own computers is that you will have 100% access to all those parts when it comes to upgrade. Brand name PC’s often suffer from proprietary components, making it difficult to re-use/re-sell certain components. Clearly, in the long run, this aspect of building over buying can be financially beneficial depending on how often you upgrade and what you are doing with those left over parts.
- Empowerment. You did it yourself… feel the empowerment my friend! Maybe you’ll even be lucky enough to get everything right on the first go.
Cons of building your own gaming computer:
- Time. Obviously it going to take some time to assemble all the parts. Granted, there’s a lot of “how to” videos on you tube that will help walk you through the process as well as a ton of other site resources out there. For beginners, its still going to a great deal of time and research. If you’ve never built a PC and are a complete noob its going to take about 4-5 hours to research and pick out your parts (or a lot longer for some folks), 8 hours to actually build it + 2-3 hours of watching YouTube videos, installing the operating system and over clocking is going to take another 4 hours or so to learn and do that. When all is said and done, its going to be a time investment of about 20-30 hours for most people new to PC building. What really helps is if you can get a buddy that’s already built a PC to help out and show you the ropes. Obviously don’t let him do everything and learn it all for yourself. Don’t defeat the purpose! Also, your buddy isn’t going to want to provide tech support over the next few years each time a problem pops up.
- More research. While some people find it a blast to spending time scouring the internet for parts deals and researching the optimal builds, others find this a chore and a time sink they aren’t interested in.
- Hassle. If you get easily pissed at putting together furniture this is a whole other ball game. There is likely going to be some troubleshooting aspects involved. The nice thing about furniture is a few good slams or whacks probably will do minimal damage, but PC parts aren’t going to take to kindly to any sort of physical beating. For those of us who can approach PC building with a learning experience mind set, are patient, and don’t mind taking their time its a great opportunity to learn a new skill. For those who look at as a necessary evil or are easily frustrated it can be a nightmare.
- No peace of mind. This is a big one for a lot of people. Rest assured that your new computer will work out of the box. Knowing your new PC is being built and tested by a skilled professed and work out of the box can be comforting. Also, you receive the benefit of a manufacturer warranty. Most of these warranties run about two years and depending on the company, can cover quite a lot. Nice, considering that in most cases if a part fails it will be replaced at no cost. If you build it yourself and something like this happens—or you break something in the set up—your likely out a couple hundred bucks.
- Loss of gaming time. Game time must be accounted for. This is no joking matter! After all, those 20+ hours could have been spent gaming.
Next, let’s take a quick look at the history of our modern gaming computers, from the earliest days of computing technology until now.
A Short History of Computers
Here, we’ll take you on a little tour of how gaming computers even came about.
Computers are everywhere—in our homes, in our pockets, and even in our cars. They have a diverse range of applications, from the equipment blinking and buzzing in hospitals, to the network of relays and satellites that conveys information across the world in an instant. From their humble beginnings as glorified calculators, computers have evolved with society and defined every generation since their introduction.
It can sound quite noble and grand, until you realize that we use them most often for looking up silly pictures of pets and—gasp!—wiling away countless hours on video games.
Yes, video games: the bane of productivity since 1958.
It all began with a little game called “Tennis for Two”, developed for the Brookhaven National Laboratory in 1958 by William Higinbotham. Suddenly, these monolithic constructs morphed from purely scientific instruments to something capable of providing entertainment.
One of the first mainstream home computers was the Apple II, introduced in 1977 by Apple Computers several decades before the iAnything would hit the market. The success of this and other early computers developed for the consumer market sparked a revolution in the computing world which continues to bear fruit to this day. Computers shifted from a massive investment of money and space, to something functional, affordable, and small enough to fit in the living room. As access grew, the range of potential uses for computers grew as well, eventually encompassing leisure as well as business.
This brave new frontier exploded with popularity soon after its introduction, quickly evolving beyond simple text-based games like Zork (1980) toward the graphically rich environs of games like The Bard’s Tale (1985). The complexity of the fledgling gaming culture grew exponentially, as developers considered their experiences with complicated tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons for inspiration. Steep learning curves dominated early PC games, but despite their limited audience, they made a bold statement: computers would never again be mistaken for glorified calculators.
When it comes to humankind’s efforts to escape reality—even for a moment—we prefer to ease suspension of disbelief. Two dimensional graphics could only provide so much detail, and so the movement toward the third dimension was quick to gain traction within the gaming community. Wolfenstein 3D, released in 1992, and DOOM, released in 1993, remain two of the most successful and most ported games of all time, not to mention paving the way for three dimensional gaming. DOOMremains one of the most popular first-person shooters, and single-handedly carried the genre into the limelight, where it has remained ever since. The visceral intensity of running and gunning through a Martian base full of demons immersed gamers to the point that reactively ducking away from the monitor to dodge enemies seemed reasonable, and once you’ve had a taste of seeing through one heroic protagonist’s eyes, it can be difficult to return to the world of static images and text-based interactivity.
With great power comes great responsibility, and suddenly gamers began to discover that what was under the hood of their computers mattered if they wished to run the latest and greatest of these new, interactive experiences. Building believable worlds came at a significant cost, and so an arms race of sorts began between video game developers and their audience. As bigger and better games were released, gamers would rush out to their local computer hardware emporium to purchase the latest in bleeding-edge graphics cards, RAM, power supplies, and sometimes even completely overhauling their machine with a faster CPU. Gamers became tinkers and hardware enthusiasts, with rigs cobbled together by their own two hands containing whatever was necessary to make their games run, and computer manufacturers were quick to note the exploding market for machines with the most powerful components money could buy.
Why do Olympic swimmers shave off every bit of body hair? Why do race-car drivers run special additives through their engines to burn off the buildup of combustion byproducts within? If you’re interested in becoming something more than an average participant in whichever pastime you choose, you need to invest. Time, and often money as well. If you are—or wish to become—serious about gaming, a system that can run games seamlessly on at least low settings is necessary.
Money is a precious commodity. Consumers will often hang back from pulling the trigger on that shiny new gaming desktop because they’re left wondering if it’s really the right choice for them. That’s an awful lot of money—what if they’re mistaken in their decision? Maybe that nice man in the colored polo and khakis doesn’t have their best interest at heart.
We haven’t even begun to discuss building vs. buying. I’ll give you a moment to catch your breath, before we crest the next hill.
Building vs. Buying a PC: The Great Debate
Many gamers still abide by the “buy and build yourself” creed, and while we have recommended it in the past, we still acknowledge there is a place for pre-built computers. The bottom line is it can save you a lot of time and headaches. Of course, it is now possible to obtain pre-built computers dedicated to gaming, with a robust assembly of blazing fast components. This can be accomplished by paying a slight premium over what it would take to do buy the parts separately and do it yourself. Perhaps you’re a lifelong gamer looking for a new rig, or maybe you’re taking your first, tentative steps toward joining the PC Master Race. Where do you begin?
When evaluating the requirements for you gaming machine, there are several key factors to consider which will lay the foundation for the rest of your rig: what will you play, what is your budget, and how long do you hope to run between upgrades.
Naturally, the foundation of gaming is—well, games. But, there’s a stark rift between games like Counter-Strike and Crysis. Your favorite games (or game-related activities) should set the bar for the mission critical portions of your rig. Do you want to stream your gameplay? Do you want to run games on the highest graphical settings—or would you rather emulate your favorite professional gamer and play the newest games with minimum settings and low resolutions? The choice is yours, and neither approach is wrong. But remember, your decision will have wide-ranging implications for your ideal set-up.
If you’re confident—or foolhardy—enough to take up a screwdriver and slap it together yourself, you can custom-tailor the computer to your exact budget and performance needs. However, if you’d rather have an assembled foundation for starters and simply swap components as necessary, a pre-built rig might be for you! Again, there’s no clear cut answer, but your decision will have a significant impact upon your final choice. Be sure to give careful consideration to whether you have the knowledge and talent necessary to put it together yourself without the costly lesson of frying a component.
So you’ve made it this far—let’s presume that you’ve opted for the premade route. It’s time to talk brands. There are many high-profile players in the gaming desktop industry, churning out a swath of worthy contenders for your cold, hard cash. Who should you pick, and why? Checkout our best gaming desktops pages for our top recommendations: best gaming desktops under 2000, best gaming desktops under 1000, and best gaming desktops under 500.
High Ground View: Build it
There are a lot of competing voices saying buying is better or vice versa. Without a doubt, there are some great gaming companies out there that put together well-priced, quality systems. In the end, do what’s best for your personal situation.
If your a gaming enthusiast and plan to be for awhile your going to reap the rewards of your labor for many years to come. Sure it’s the hard way but as with a lot of things in life, the hard way is the best way. If you realize the long-term potential, it is easy to see how building your own PC is a pragmatic investment that pays future dividends. The majority of PC builders don’t do it themselves because its cheaper. They do it because it gives them more control and a deeper understanding of how their PC works.