Purchasing a computer is often a trying, expensive affair, especially if you aren’t sure what to look for. The deceptive tactics of marketers, “Geniuses” and Best Buy employees typically result in you spending too much money on what ends up being weak hardware for the asking price. This especially applies if you aren’t familiar with the price of the components in question – most people who are simply don’t bother purchasing prebuilts.
Note: In this article “prebuilts” refer to desktop computers and not laptops or any other mobile devices.
Before we get into the benefits of ordering your own rig and either building it yourself or having someone else build it for you, let’s talk about some areas where prebuilts will usually come out on top.
- Priced low. The cheapest prebuilt desktops you can find typically sell for a couple hundred bucks. These models are typically a few years old and are out of active rotation but end up available at what’s actually a really good price for the performance. Even so, be sure to inspect the specs before buying to make sure you aren’t being cheated.
- Easier warranty, repairs and replacement. When you purchase individual parts for a PC, all of your parts come with long warranties. However, this means whenever you have a problem with a custom-built PC, you have to diagnose what’s causing the issue yourself and go through the process of contacting the company you bought it from and maybe even performing what’s called a return merchandise authorization (RMA). Have a problem with a prebuilt and you only have to contact the company that manufactured it as opposed to one per component.
- Convenience. Despite the drawbacks of prebuilt desktops we’ll be going into later in this article, it usually is more convenient to just buy a computer knowing that it’s going to work, and that if it doesn’t you can just get it replaced. There’s more to this than it seems, but we’ll go into that later.
Now that we’ve covered the benefits of prebuilt desktop computers – so I don’t get accused of the bias – let’s go into the point of the article: why you shouldn’t buy one.
Overpriced for Components, Especially at Higher Price Ranges
Let me just say this right off the bat: if you’re buying a gaming rig, it will always be far cheaper to buy a machine of equivalent specifications than to buy a prebuilt from a company like Alienware.
Make a visit to any PC-gaming community, and you’ll see plenty of people’s ugly sides whenever Alienware is mentioned. This ranges from outright spite, or in most cases an outpouring of sympathy for the newbie who bought an Alienware and didn’t know that he was actually wasting a fair amount of his money in doing so. In addition to the problems that we’ll be discussing later in this article, expensive prebuilt gaming PCs tend to be overpriced for their specifications. Sometimes, this can be innocent – a $20 or $50 margin – in which case it’s actually a good deal. Other times, this gap can be in the hundreds of dollars, sometimes up to a thousand.
In addition to being overpriced for their specs, many high-end prebuilts also don’t perform as well as they should, at least not in games. For instance, many “gaming” PCs are shipped with Intel Core i7 processors alongside a weak graphics card. Not only is an i7 a huge overkill for most titles you’ll throw at it (a line of processors best used by professionals, streamers and video editors), but it’s also significantly more expensive, doesn’t offer a performance boost compared to an i5 in most titles, and is bottlenecked by the rest of the computer. In computing, a bottleneck is when something is preventing a component from performing to its fullest potential. An i5 is good enough to power all but the very best GPUs.
Pairing a weak GPU with a strong processor doesn’t make much sense in terms of performance, but unfortunately it happens all the time. If you’re on the lookout for a prebuilt, and you don’t feel like listening to me when I tell you not to get one, please, please, please listen to what I’m saying to you right here. Don’t buy an Alienware and don’t get a PC with an i7.
Poor Build Quality/Power Supply Issues
Price/performance is my main issue with prebuilt desktops, but there’s more to it as well. Many prebuilt desktops come with poor build quality and bad power supplies (and “bad” power supplies can be disastrous in the long run). Not only does this make the desktop easier to break and harder to maintain, a manufacturer skipping in important areas like system cooling and the power supply can result in overheating, performance bottlenecks, failure of hardware or even actual real fires.
Also, as noted by Logical Increments in their article, the PC in the picture above is actually suffering from a variety of issues beyond just being ugly and overpriced. While the actual specs aren’t poor, the quality of the PSU, the presence of only a single cooling fan, and the usage of a low-end motherboard all dampen the experience significantly. The other components being no-name cheapo components is especially bad because while the core components of the PC are indeed very powerful, low-end hardware can and will fail, especially when put into a case that has very poor airflow and cooling.
In addition, many prebuilt computers can be difficult to perform maintenance on and upgrade. The PC in the above picture, for instance, certainly wont fit a second graphics card or account for water-cooling, and prebuilt PCs with special form factors can be a particular headache to deal with.
Some prebuilts might not have the best build quality; many of them may be overpriced for their hardware, but what about convenience and peace of mind? Why can’t I just buy a prebuilt desktop and enjoy using my computer?
The truth is you can. However, I’m of the belief that things like computers and smartphones are investments, not just items for personal entertainment. In fact, even if used exclusively for personal entertainment, why pay more for less? There are many PC enthusiast communities around eager to help you out, including the likes of the Linus Tech Tips forums, the boys over at Tek Syndicate, the PC Master Race, and even the Build A PC guys. When it comes to actually choosing parts, using PC Part Picker to get the best deals or Logical Increments for the most logical increments in builds both help you significantly.
As for the actual hard, scary part? The building? Let’s say you’ve looked at tutorials, and it seems too difficult for you, or you simply don’t have the time or the inclination to build your own PC. You can still buy the parts – PC Part Picker will ensure compatibility, and Logical Increments will too – and take them to a local computer shop or tech guy to have them assemble it all for you. You might not even do that if you have a friend like me who’s experienced with computer hardware, building and repair. We’d probably love to help you!
I mean, I would. That’s why I wrote this article. If you have any questions at all about this, just tell me in the comments, and I’ll get back to you.
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