I’ve never been a fan of preset computers. And no, it’s not just because I’m a die-hard PC builder. In the past, building my own house was not only fun, but 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 off-the-shelf desktops rather than trying to build one on their own.
Even with high-quality components readily available, building a durable computer becomes more difficult year after year. Without pointing fingers (yet), many perpetrators are to blame, and none of them are going away any time soon.
Building computers is confusing
It’s been nearly two decades since the first time I picked up the parts for my computer and tried to put them together. It took me an entire day, and I was very nervous, but in the end, my computer ran fine and I’ve been hooked ever since.
Physically assembling the parts has been easier since then. We now have motherboards with integrated features, built-in I/O shields, tool-less cases, modular power supplies, and extremely easy-to-install M.2 SSDs. Installing the CPU is now a breeze too, making it so you don’t have to worry as much about bending the screws (although you should still worry little bit).
In theory, pre-built buildings should slowly become a thing of the past. But they are not.
Each of these changes made building a PC easier than ever before. We also have YouTube tutorials and how-to guides that take you through the process step-by-step and dispel the idea that you need to be some kind of hardware wizard to put together a computer from scratch.
Considering all of the above, pre-built buildings should slowly become a thing of the past. After all, why would anyone spend more money on a pre-built (often less efficient) machine when they could just build their own computer for less?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Much of the difficulty has moved elsewhere, away from the assembly process and into the research. Unfortunately, building personal computers becomes more difficult to discover every year. The biggest problem is not the way the parts fit together, but the value of each individual part – or lack thereof.
When “best” does not equal “good”
Regardless of 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, will last longer, or will perform better. And oh boy, does the current generation of devices put that mentality to the test?
I’m telling you: it’s tough out there, and making sure everything fits together isn’t the biggest problem. It’s not that simple Choosing a processor and making sure the motherboard has the correct socket; Compatibility issues are just the tip of a really long iceberg. It’s the sheer amount of research you have to do if you want to get something worth your money, and GPUs are particularly affected.
Somehow, even with almost the best graphics cards out there, 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 of each modern GPU, I still hesitated about this choice often. Honestly, the whole experience almost made me miss the GPU deficiency.
How is one supposed to tell the difference between the RX 6600, RX 6600 XT, and RX 6650 XT?
When you don’t have basic knowledge of the subject, the choices can seem overwhelming, and it’s easy to fall into that trap I mentioned earlier – thinking that a more expensive GPU must be better, which is sometimes not true.
The RTX 4060 Ti 16GB is a prime example of this. Although it has twice the VRAM than the cheaper version, the card also has the same narrow memory bus that significantly limits its bandwidth. Considering that it also has the exact same specs as its sibling, for most people buying the 16GB version is like gifting Nvidia an extra $100. The actual performance gains are very small. It’s somewhat faster than the RTX 3060 Ti, but not to the point where it makes any more sense to buy. Nvidia’s DLSS 3 is this card’s saving grace.
Nvidia has a few very poor value cards in this generation, like the RTX 4070 Ti or RTX 4080. When you’re on a tight budget, it’s best to avoid them — but buyers won’t know that without digging deeper.
Then there’s the endless debate between AMD and Nvidia that makes building PCs more difficult. Many people start shopping with a preference in this regard, and in my experience, the scales often tip toward Nvidia. However, this can also be a trap, as AMD tends to be better value on tight budgets. Even then, AMD also has some GPUs that may look good, but aren’t as good as their slightly more expensive siblings – I’m talking about the RX 7700 XT and RX 7900 XT.
Don’t get me started on AMD’s last generation cards either. The RDNA 2 lineup is so powerful that it should come with a tour guide. That’s not a bad thing, but it makes it more difficult for people who just want a good PC without having to do hours of homework. How does a person tell the difference between the RX 6600, RX 6600 XT, and RX 6650 XT and how does he know what to spend his money on? Research of course. Lots of research, tracking GPU prices, and having to learn things you won’t need in your daily life just to get a powerful computer.
budget? What’s the budget?
Building your own PC is a true test of character. There are few things that can give you as bad a case of fear of missing out (FOMO) as trying to pick out the right parts for a good gaming desktop, especially if you’re trying to stick to a budget. And if you decide to ask for help on Reddit or another community, you may end up being tempted to spend a lot more than you really need.
Although these communities are often a good way to get all the benefits of a custom desktop without the hassle and stress of studying benchmarks for hours, they are often a bit of a gamble, and it’s no wonder. This is the Internet; Anyone can declare themselves an expert, but opinions and preconceptions often play a role in the advice given, and that can be a problem.
For example, if I had a penny for every time I saw someone recommend Nvidia over AMD due to “driver issues,” I would have enough money to buy Nvidia. Currently (and always) the RTX 4090 is overpriced. However, the idea that AMD is somehow worse than Nvidia is a bit of a misconception if you’re trying to stick to a $1,000 budget. In fact, AMD wins in such releases almost every time, the only thing it misses is DLSS 3.
It can be very difficult to estimate what type of computer you actually need.
Aside from the possibility of receiving bad advice, players have to put up with the fact that building a PC enthusiast is very expensive right now, and things are unlikely to get better. GPU prices are very high compared to what they were just a few years ago, and the next generation of cards is unlikely to make them better, although AMD may change that narrative.
The worst part is that it is very easy to fall victim to incremental promotions. For example, let’s say you start with a budget of $1,000 with about $200 wiggle room. Although you can get a powerful PC for $1,000 or less, by researching you’ll soon discover that by spending a little more, you can get a much better GPU, like the RTX 4070. After that, you may also need to upgrade your source Power, and since you’re already spending more, you might as well get faster RAM…and suddenly, you have a computer that cost you $1,500, and may often be better than what you really needed in the first place.
It can also be difficult to estimate what type of computer you need, especially if you are not an expert. While GPUs like the RTX 4060 are typically 1080p cards, no one’s stopping you from using a 1440p one with good results – you’ll just have to lower the settings in specific games. However, since most online testing is done at ultra settings and in AAA titles, it can be difficult to know if you can still play at a medium to high level without any issues.
Prefabricated buildings suddenly started to look enticing
Building personal computers is such an individual matter that it may become more specialized over time. With new GPUs and CPUs being released every year, not to mention all the other parts, keeping up with them is something only enthusiasts would really want to do.
It can be said that it is a good idea to dip your toes into the topic once every few years when you get a new computer. However, every time, it means doing a lot of research – and making mistakes becomes more painful every year as ingredient prices rise. The barrier to entry into the world of PC building seems to be rising every year, as the increasing complexity of components creates a steeper learning curve for newcomers.
It’s no wonder so many people still opt for gaming laptops or pre-configured PCs rather than subject themselves to this.
naturally, Preconstructions have their own series of problems. You will find, more often than not, that the computer you are paying for may not have the best specifications. It may come with an old CPU or unknown parts that can cause problems in the future. Newcomers also face these issues and sometimes end up regretting their purchasing choices. It’s small consolation, but at least that regret stems from a spur-of-the-moment purchase that wasn’t backed by hours of research.
Despite the difficulties, my answer to anyone asking is always to build your own computer rather than buying a pre-built one. It’s not easy – in fact, it’s often frustrating – and full of pitfalls, but if you’re willing to put in the time, you’ll have a better computer and a great deal of satisfaction when you put everything together and actually get the work done. It’s a shame that getting to this point sometimes feels like a chore.
“Writer. Friendly troublemaker. Lifelong food junkie. Professional beer evangelist.”