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Building vs. Buying a PC: Which Is Right For You?

Should you build or buy a new computer? Here’s everything you need to know about building vs buying a PC so you can make the right decision for you.
October 21, 2020

In this Article:

Building vs. Buying a PC: A Top-Level Comparison

This guide will tell you everything you need to know about building vs. buying a PC.

Key Factors to Consider

Whether you’re building or buying, knowing what you will use your new PC for can help you determine which specifications matter most to you as a user. 

Should You Build a PC?

There are luckily a ton of resources out there that make building a PC possible for anyone.

Should You Buy a Prefab PC?

The quickest way to get a new computer and have it up and running is to buy a pre-built PC. 

Buying a new computer is a serious task that requires both time and research. Whether you plan on purchasing a pre-built PC or buying components and building it yourself, the ultimate decision will be a serious investment. But which is the better option? Well, that depends on your specific needs. Here’s everything you need to know about building vs buying a PC so you can make the right decision for you.

Building vs. Buying a PC: A Top-Level Comparison

Pre-built computers can get you up and running quickly but often have limited components or other drawbacks that can come back to bite you. Building a PC is the route to choose in terms of quality. However, components can get expensive, and user error can end up costing hundreds of dollars. Either way, there are several factors to consider that can make a significant difference no matter which option you end up choosing. Luckily, this guide will tell you everything you need to know about building vs buying a PC, so you can determine which is right for you.

Key Factors to Consider

Whether you’re building or buying, knowing what you will use your new PC for can help you determine which specifications matter most to you as a user. To help you get started, check out this list of standard specifications and terms you may hear when purchasing a new computer:

Storage Size

This refers to the number of programs, files, and other media you can have installed on your computer. Storage size is usually measured in GB (Gigabytes) or TB (Terabytes). The higher the number, the more storage on the PC. The component responsible for storage is the hard drive (HDD or SSD). This part is easily upgraded, so it is not the most important at the time of the initial purchase. Other solutions, such as cloud or external storage, can also help mitigate any storage size issues.

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CPU Power

The power of your CPU or processor is directly related to the power of your PC. Processor power is measured in a few ways, but the most common is clock speed, represented in Gigahertz (GHz). To put it very plainly, the higher this number, the more powerful the processor. Most modern CPUs average speeds from 3-4GHz.

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GPU Power

Like the CPU, the GPU or graphics card plays a critical part in determining how powerful your machine will be. You can use clock speed to measure GPU strength as well. However, there is another equally important specification to pay attention to. VRAM or video ram is the amount of memory the GPU has, and it directly relates to how powerful it is. Again, the higher the number, the more powerful the GPU.

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RAM/Memory

Random Access Memory or RAM is the component that stores all of the data currently in use by your computer. You can easily upgrade the amount of RAM in your PC, with some limitations. How much you can upgrade your RAM is ultimately up to your motherboard. To put it plainly, the more RAM you have, the more things your computer can do at once. Modern PCs typically have 8-16Gb of RAM.

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Should You Build a PC?

Successfully completing a new PC build is one of the most rewarding feelings there is. After hours of research and work, you will have a powerful machine that will function for a long time to come. Unfortunately, putting that new PC together can get rather stressful. Everything from compatibility issues to user error can make the process exponentially more difficult and expensive. There are luckily a ton of resources out there that make building a PC possible for anyone.

If you’re deciding on whether or not you should build a PC, take a look at these advantages and disadvantages first:

Advantages of Building a PC

Here are some of the top benefits of building a PC:

  • Cheaper Long-Term. Initially, building a PC is always more expensive than buying a pre-built machine. When purchasing components individually, however, they are often better in quality than the bulk-ordered components that go into pre-built computers. This leads to an overall better build quality that makes the computer have a longer lifespan. Building a PC will actually save you money in the long run, because you will likely not need to replace or repair components as often as with a pre-built.
  • Easier to Fix. When a component fails inside a PC you built, it is easier to identify because you are more familiar with each part. When you buy individual computer components, they often come with extra spare parts that pre-built computers do not. These additional parts can sometimes save you from costly repair bills or unnecessary tech support visits.
  • Better Overall Quality. If peak performance is your goal, build a PC. Building a PC allows you to handpick every component that goes into your machine. When you have total control over your computer's internal components, the final product can have a better overall build quality. Pre-built PCs often focus on just a CPU or GPU and fill the rest of the computer with cheaper, less desirable components.

Disadvantages of Building a PC

Here are some of the most common disadvantages of building a PC:

  • More Expensive Upfront. Buying individual parts adds expenses like shipping fees or limited quantities that drive up prices. When you buy a pre-built PC, none of that is a problem because all the components come in the PC included in its original price.
  • User Error. While building a PC can be rewarding, it can also be challenging if you have not done it before. The smallest user error can result in a broken pin or snapped cable that can ruin costly components. Even the most experienced PC builders are susceptible to occasional user error. The good news is that there are plenty of helpful tutorials out there to walk you through the process step by step.
  • Part Compatibility. When you build a PC, it is essential to make sure all of the parts you purchase are compatible with each other. Everything from the case down to the fans has specific needs that other components need to meet for the final product to work as intended. If you purchase parts without checking compatibility, you could end up with a GPU that does not fit in your case or, even worse, a motherboard that does not support your CPU or RAM. Just be sure to check components for compatibility before buying!

Should You Buy a Prefab PC?

Getting a new PC is incredibly exciting, no matter how you plan on doing it. The quickest way to get a new computer and have it up and running is to buy a pre-built PC. You can avoid stress and know that you are getting a machine that requires no extra steps to get working. If it is from a store, you can take that PC home and have it working that day! If you order a pre-built computer online, you will still have to wait some time, but its only one package to wait for instead of multiple components — and there is very little setup time.

Advantages of Buying a PC

Unsure if buying a prefab computer is right for you? Here are some of the top reasons to buy a PC:

  • Plug & Play. Pre-built PCs are super easy and stress-free to set up. Most of the time, you only need to plug the computer in and turn it on. Sometimes, pre-built computers can even come with specific software or apps installed that can save you valuable time.
  • Quick Delivery. When you buy parts individually for a PC build, there is the issue of numerous tracking numbers and delivery dates. On top of that, you have to wait for all of the components before using anything. With pre-built PCs, however, the entire machine is ready to go as soon as you purchase it.
  • Cost-Effective. When manufacturers make pre-built computers, they often can reduce the final cost by buying parts in bulk. This allows companies to offer discounts on pre-built machines that are often unmatched when building your own computer.

Disadvantages of Buying a PC

Don’t buy just yet. Consider these disadvantages to buying a PC:

  • Repairs. When a pre-built PC needs repairs, it is harder to determine where the problem is. This is because you will be less familiar with the machine's individual components. Suppose you cannot determine where the issue is. In that case, the entire computer will need to be serviced, taking up valuable time. The other major problem with repairs and pre-built computers is that if the machine is under warranty, you will need to have the entire PC serviced, not just a single component.
  • Build Quality. Part of the reason that pre-built computers are so cost-effective is that manufacturers save money by putting cheaper parts in "less important" areas of the PC. Pre-built computers focus on core components such as the CPU and GPU because of their direct relationship to PC power. Other components, however, such as the power supply or hard drive may be lower quality.
  • Limited Configurations. Since manufacturers buy parts in bulk and build many of the same machines, that means that configurations of pre-built PCs are severely limited. When you buy a pre-built PC, you will have to settle on some components.

The Bottom Line

After thinking about all the pros and cons, you hopefully have a better idea of whether building or buying a PC is right for you. Both methods achieve the same goal but take very different paths getting there.

Building a new computer can be an exciting and rewarding experience if you have the time and resources. When time is an issue, pre-built PCs can get you up and running as quickly as possible. No matter which option you decide on, there is always room to customize or upgrade your PC later down the road. Hopefully, this guide will make deciding easier for you, and remember there is no "wrong" decision when it comes to buying a PC.

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