There are many choices to make when getting a new PC. The first one for most people will be choosing between a prebuilt or custom PC. The prebuilt vs. custom PC decision isn’t straightforward. Factors such as price, warranties, and convenience all come into play.
While there’s generally no outright winner, the ongoing parts shortage in 2021 has made prebuilt computers much more appealing. Let’s go through the pros and cons of each so you can decide for yourself.
Defining Prebuilt vs. Custom PCs
For our discussion, we’ll be using “prebuilt” to refer to both ready-to-ship systems like MAINGEAR’s VYBE PCs as well as customizable rigs like ORIGIN PC’s NEURON. These systems are ready to go when you receive them, with perks such as centralized warranties and technical support included in the package.
Prebuilt PCs are great for anyone wanting to skip the hassle of sourcing parts and the risks of assembling a PC from the ground up.
“Custom” PCs are do-it-yourself PCs that you assemble using parts purchased separately. You can usually save money doing this, as there’s no premium for assembly, warranty, and support. Choosing parts yourself also means you can get precisely the rig you want and build it the way you prefer.
But building your own PC does mean you’ll have more hassle to deal with, including separate warranties and having to troubleshoot. The table below neatly summarizes what we’ll cover in-depth in the following sections.
|Prebuilt PC||Custom PC|
*The GPU and CPU shortage of 2021 has pushed component prices up, making prebuilts generally cheaper in 2021.
Now that the basics are out of the way, let’s dig deeper into prebuilt vs. custom PCs.
Price and Value
In the past, custom PCs were almost always cheaper than prebuilt equivalents. The savings would differ depending on your choice of components, but it was an accepted rule that a custom-built PC offered the best price-to-performance ratio.
In 2021, though, things are a bit different. Custom PCs can end up way more expensive than a comparable prebuilt because of graphics card pricing. Let’s take the ASUS GeForce RTX 3070 TUF OC as an example. The card has a $549 MSRP, but you’d be lucky to snag one for anything even close to that.
So let’s check eBay, probably the most reliable source for GPUs right now. That $549 ASUS card has been selling for close to $1500.
Spending upwards of $1000 on your GPU is going to push your custom-built PC well beyond a prebuilt, no matter how much you save on other parts. Unless you can overcome the bots and scalpers to grab a card when they appear on retailers’ websites, it’s going to be hard to find GPUs for anything close to MSRP right now.
Let’s look at how current GPU pricing affects the price comparison between prebuilt and custom-built gaming PCs. We tried putting together a PC to compete with MAINGEAR’s Stage 2 VYBE prebuilt, equipped with an AMD Ryzen 5 3600, Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti, and 8 GB of RAM for $1049.
Here’s the MAINGEAR system:
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 3600|
|CPU Cooler||AMD Wraith|
|Motherboard||MSI B450M Pro-VDH|
|Memory||8 GB DDR4-3200MHz RGB|
|SSD||250GB Seagate Barracuda SSD|
|GPU||Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 Ti|
|Case||MAINGEAR VYBE MK. V|
|PSU||500 Watt PSU|
|OS||Windows 10 Home|
And here’s what we could put together on PCPartPicker:
|CPU||AMD Ryzen 3600||$247.98|
|CPU Cooler||Stock AMD Wraith||-|
|Motherboard||MSI B450M PRO-VDH MAX||$79.98|
|Memory||G.Skill Ripjaws V 8 GB DDR4-3200||$54.99|
|SSD||Seagate BarraCuda 510 250 GB||$54.99|
|GPU||Gigabyte GeForce GTX 1660 Ti OC||$769.99|
|Case||Cooler Master MasterBox MB311L||$74.98|
|PSU||SeaSonic S12III 550 W 80 PLUS Bronze||$56.99|
|OS||Windows 10 Home||$108.78|
As you can see, the DIY PC fails miserably on price entirely due to the listed $770 cost for the GPU. That’s $470 above the card’s $300 MSRP, with no guarantee you will even secure that price. The Ryzen 3600 is also more expensive than its $199 MSRP.
If both parts were available at retail prices, our custom rig would be $929, decent savings compared to the MAINGEAR PC. But since they’re not, the MAINGEAR system dominates the price comparison. That’ll change if prices start coming down, of course. But for now and the foreseeable future, a prebuilt will usually be cheaper for most people.
It’s also worth remembering that you get some extra benefits when buying a prebuilt that you don’t get with a custom-built PC.
Buying a prebuilt PC from the best PC builders gives you a centralized warranty, free labor, and technical support as part of the package. Combine that with the convenience of a ready-to-go system, and the extra cost might turn out to be good value depending on your preferences.
Let’s say you simply have no interest in building a PC and don’t enjoy troubleshooting by yourself when things go wrong. In that case, the extra money you pay for a prebuilt offers good value, saving you from having to deal with those things on your own.
There’s no clear winner on value. It really depends, as what’s priceless to one person (like lifetime support) is useless to another.
Warranty and Support
One of the biggest attractions of a prebuilt PC is the centralized parts warranty. Most companies offer at least a one-year parts warranty by default, coupled with 24/7 tech support for anywhere between three years to the system’s lifetime.
You might think that a one-year warranty isn’t a big deal, as most PC parts will come with their own one-year (or longer) guarantee. While that’s true, what you don’t get when buying parts separately is a centralized warranty. That can save a lot of hassle and reduce downtime.
Buy a PC from Origin PC for example, and the company will attend to all your warranty needs. Regardless of the manufacturer, Origin will sort it out for you. It’s so much more convenient than the warranty process for a custom PC.
If you’re not tech-savvy, having 24/7 access to personalized tech support can be a great argument in favor of prebuilt PCs. There’s nothing quite like having someone walk you through resolving or identifying an issue.
If you build your own PC, you’ll likely have to deal with separate retailers for each component. In many cases, you might end up going to the manufacturer directly to get a return merchandise authorization (RMA) for your failed components.
Dealing with customer service to return defective parts can be a pain. We’ve had to do a lot of RMAs over the years, and it’s never fun. You won’t get any loaner components either, so your system will be out of commission for the amount of time it takes for your replacements to arrive.
It’s a similar tale when it comes to technical support. With a custom PC, you’re mostly on your own when it comes to troubleshooting issues. Sure, forums and Reddit are great resources, but they’re not quite the same as having a professional on hand to help.
There’s really no contest here. There’s no way a custom PC can hold a candle to the simplicity and ease of getting a prebuilt PC up and running. A prebuilt PC will be ready to go from the factory, and all you need to do is get it set up on your desk and make sure all the cables are correctly connected.
It’s quick, effortless, and not much can go wrong. You’ll be in-game within moments of the shipping container arriving at your doorstep. Just make sure to remove any packing material inside the case!
Compare that to a custom PC, where you’ll have to install and assemble the components yourself and deal with all the issues that can arise during the process. PC building isn’t as difficult as it used to be, but things can still go wrong.
Whether it’s misplaced screws, too-short SATA cables, or bent CPU pins, we’ve experienced many mishaps when building PCs over the years. Some are minor and easily overcome, while others, like bent CPU pins, can ruin your entire week.
Experience helps make building a safer and quicker process. Regardless of your level of expertise, though, it won’t ever be as painless as buying a prebuilt PC. That said, what you lose in convenience, you gain in flexibility.
You can sometimes choose between a few types of pre-configured PC, but you’re stuck with what the company thinks is the best combination of parts for that price point. And sometimes, these companies don’t make the best component choices.
Let’s take an example from a recent GamersNexus video to discuss. Here’s a prebuilt Dell G5 Gaming Desktop. It’s an $849.99 system that, by default, comes with a 1 TB HDD and no SSD. An SSD is essential in everything except the most budget rigs, and not having one in an $850 rig is a poor decision by Dell.
You’ll need to add another $50 to get an SSD with this rig. Even then, it’s only a 128 GB unit, which is particularly annoying since a 512 GB Silicon Power NVMe SSD costs around the same.
Customizable options, like those from Origin PC, generally don’t suffer from similar problems since you can pick and choose exactly what goes in your system. However, in those cases, you’re stuck with the brands that the company has relationships with.
In the case of Origin PC, it means a whole load of Corsair parts since Corsair owns them. That’s not a deal-breaker, but it does mean you might lose out on better-value parts from other manufacturers.
You won’t have to deal with any of these compromises with a custom PC. When you’re building a PC yourself, you have free rein to pick whichever parts you want for your computer. You can prioritize the components you consider essential and reduce (or totally eliminate) spending on things that aren’t relevant to your needs.
Let’s take MAINGEAR’s Stage 1 VYBE prebuilt, which costs $699 and comes with an “RGB lighting kit & rear RGB fan.” If you’re not interested in RGB, that’s wasted money. When building a similar PC yourself, you could forgo the RGB lighting kit and fan in favor of a reliable PCIe WiFi card, for example.
The downside to this flexibility and choice is that you need to have some PC component know-how. You’ll have to make sure you pick the correct parts for your needs and ensure that all your components are compatible with each other. If you’re curious, we have a few guides that should help you out:
Build Or Buy? You Decide
Under normal circumstances, there would never be a clear, outright winner in the prebuilt vs. custom PC battle. Each has its own pros and cons and will appeal to different types of users.
A prebuilt PC from one of the best PC builders is excellent for someone who isn’t concerned with the nitty-gritty of choosing parts and assembling a PC. In contrast, custom PCs are perfect for enthusiasts who know what they want and don’t mind making an effort to get the best deal possible.
However, the supply shortages for CPUs and GPUs in 2021 have made prebuilt PCs the better option for most people. Sure, you give up flexibility and might have to live with some sub-par component choices. That’s certainly not ideal. But if the other option is not having a new gaming PC at all, we think it’s a compromise worth making.