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DIY vs Pre-Built vs Custom PC: Which Option is Right for Your Next Computer?

prebuilt vs custom pcIf you’re in the market for a new computer, whether for gaming, professional use, or casual use, you have a few different options to choose from in what kind of system you can get. You can buy a pre-built system that is already ready-to-go, you can have a system custom-built for you, or—the method we recommend—you can build it yourself. If you’re on the fence on whether or not you should build your next computer, buy one pre-built, or have one custom built, in this guide we’re going to go over the pros and cons of the three different options you have for getting a new system.

Build Your Own Computer: The Case For and Against It

Building your own computer, in our opinion, will offer the best overall experience for anyone looking for a new system. However, it won’t be a viable option for anyone who doesn’t want to spend the extra time necessary to choose the right components for their system and learn how to assemble it.

The Case For Building Your Own PC

1. Building your own PC offers the best price-to-performance

There are a lot of reasons why you should build your own PC. Perhaps the best reason for why you should build your own PC is because it has the potential to offer you the best price-to-performance ratio on your system. Since pre-built computers and custom-built PCs typically have high markup costs, they will cost more on average than it will cost to build your own system.

Pre-built manufacturers do get price discounts on components for buying them in bulk and in some cases—especially during sales—a pre-built system can offer a similar price-to-performance as a DIY system can. But, in the vast majority of cases, building your own computer will yield you more performance on a dollar-for-dollar basis.

2. When you build your own PC, you’ll be able to customize it to your personal needs

The other major plus of building your own computer (and, perhaps something that is even better than offering you an excellent price-to-performance ratio) is the fact that you can customize it to your own needs. Often times you’ll find that, on pre-built computers, the component choice isn’t as balanced as you might like. For instance, a $700 pre-built system might come with a $240 processor and a $100 graphics card.

If you’re a gamer, you’d benefit much more with a system that opted for a ~$150 processor and a ~$150 graphics card. That example is just a generalization, but having the option to ensure that you are getting the components that you need rather than having to accept whatever component configuration is available at your budget is a huge advantage for building your own system.

3. Individual components typically have longer warranties than pre-built and custom PCs

On pre-built systems and custom-built systems, you can expect a standard 1-2-year warranty. Of course, you could always opt to pay more to get an extended warranty. However, if you build your own computer, you don’t get a single warranty on your own system, but rather individual warranties on each of your components. And, warranties on individual components are typically longer than 1-2 years.

Intel and AMD’s processors have 3-year warranties. Some PSU manufacturers offer 5-year warranties. Motherboards can offer 3-year warranties as well. Graphics cards also typically have ~3-year warranties, too. So, by building your own system, you’ll get more coverage for your individual components.

Of course, there is a downside to being covered on an individual component basis, rather than on the system as a whole, and we’ll discuss that below.

4. Learning how to build a computer is an invaluable learning experience

In today’s technology-driven world, knowing how to build a computer is an invaluable skill to have. Our society and culture are so reliant on computers, yet most people have no idea what is really going on inside of their systems. By opting to build your own computer, you’ll gain a better knowledge of the technology you use on a daily basis and that could spur a further interest in diving more into computers and related fields.

At the very least, building your own computer will give you a better knowledge of the inner-workings of your computer and, if your computer (or anyone you know’s computer) has problems in the future, you will have a better idea of how to fix it, which will save you the high costs associated with taking your computer to a PC repair shop.

The Case Against Building Your Own PC

1. Building your own computer takes a lot longer

One downside of building your own computer is that it is a longer process than buying a pre-built system. If you’ve never built your own computer before, at the very least, you’ll need to take the time to learn what components you’ll need and how to assemble them properly.

Fortunately, there are plenty of guides out there that will help you choose the right parts for your build and walk you through the building process. But, if you’ve never built a computer before, it will likely take you a couple of hours to build your first system.

The other issue that makes building your own computer a longer process is shipping times. A lot of system builders like to purchase their components from a variety of online retailers in order to ensure that they get the lowest price on their parts as possible. And, sometimes, different online retailers have different shipping speeds. Even if you buy all of your parts on Amazon, there is no guarantee that they will all arrive at the same time. And, if they don’t all arrive at the same time, that will just add to the length of time it will take from the time you purchase your system, to the time you can actually start using it.

Ultimately, the additional time it takes to build a computer compared to buying a pre-built computer or getting a system custom-built isn’t enormous in the grand scheme of things. But, if you don’t have the time to learn how to choose the right components for your build or to learn how to build a system, then a pre-built of custom-built computer would be the better option for you.

2. The process of building a PC is riskier than buying one pre-built or having it custom-made

The other thing that will turn some people away from building a PC is that the process of building a computer is more difficult and carries more responsibility than buying a pre-built or custom-built system.

With custom-built or pre-built systems, the responsibility for ensuring that the system works is on the manufacturer or custom PC builder. If you buy a pre-built or custom-built system and it arrives not working, that’s on the pre-built manufacturer or custom PC builder to fix. However, if you opt to build your own system and, after assembling all of the parts, the computer doesn’t work, it’s on you to figure out what is wrong and make it work.

Again, there are plenty of step-by-step guides out there that will help you through the process of assembling your computer. However, first-time builders often make mistakes and, even if those mistakes have easy solutions, if the first-time builder doesn’t know what the mistake is, they will spend even more time trying to figure out where the problem lies before they can fix it. (Check out our guide on the 31 Common PC Building Mistakes to Avoid.)

So, while there are many benefits to building your own PC, if you aren’t willing to take on some of the risks that come from assembling your own computer, then you should probably go with a pre-built or custom-built computer.

3. The warranty process on DIY PCs is a bit trickier to navigate

While one positive of building a computer is that you get longer warranties on your individual components, the downside is that the process of utilizing the warranty isn’t as simple as it is on pre-built or custom-built computers.

This is because, with a pre-built or custom-built computer, if the computer stops working or is giving you problems and it is still covered under warranty, you just have to send the entire computer into the manufacturer or custom PC builder who built it and they will figure out what is wrong with it and fix it.

If you’re having problems with a system that you built yourself and all of the parts are still under warranty, you will need to figure out where the problem lies before you can send anything in under warranty. You won’t just be able to send in your entire computer and have someone else figure out what the problem is. You’ll have to diagnose the problem yourself and figure out which component(s) need to be sent in for repair or replacement.

So, again, just as assembling the system will place more responsibility on you, so, too, will diagnosing issues and sending parts in for warranty.

Buy A Pre-Built Computer: The Case For and Against It

Buying a pre-built computer won’t give you the most bang-for-your-buck, but it is a fairly affordable alternative to having a PC custom-built for you and they are the quickest option if you need a new system fast.

The Case For Buying A Pre-Built Computer

1. Pre-built systems are ready out of the box

The biggest advantage of choosing a pre-built computer over building your own computer is that a pre-built computer is going to be ready-to-use in a much shorter timeframe because you won’t have to assemble it. Pre-built systems will also be ready to use faster than most custom-built PCs as well, as ordering a custom PC will take time for the custom PC builder to assemble it and ship it.

So, if you need a new computer and you don’t have time to learn how to build your own computer, or you don’t want to wait for the longer lead times that come with having a system custom-built (or to pay the extra cost to cut the lead-time down), then going with a pre-built system is probably your best option.

2. Pre-built systems have the simplest warranty process

Unlike building your own computer and having individual warranties on each of your components, for a pre-built system (and a custom-built system), your warranty covers the entire system. This means that if anything goes wrong with your pre-built (or custom-built) computer, all you have to do is send the entire system in and the manufacturer will figure out what is wrong and fix it.

This will give you some peace of mind in knowing that your computer is protected and it won’t be up to you to figure out which part of the computer has malfunctioned and needs to be sent in for repair.

The Case Against Buying A Pre-Built Computer

1. Pre-built PCs don’t offer as high of a price-to-performance ratio as building your own PC does

The biggest downside of buying a pre-built computer over building your own computer is that, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, you won’t get as much performance out of a pre-built system as you would out of a DIY computer.

The reason is simple: there is a high markup cost associated with pre-built systems. That high markup cost takes away money you could have spent on getting better-performing components. So, the bottom line is that, if you want to stretch every penny of your budget to get the best performing system possible for the amount you have to spend, then you need to build your own system.

2. Pre-built PCs typically don’t come with as long of standard warranties as individual components do

While the warranty process on a pre-built computer is much simpler to deal with than a DIY system, warranties are typically shorter on pre-built computers. Most pre-built computers come with 1-year standard warranties with the option to get an extended warranty if you want to pay more.

So, with a pre-built system, if anything goes wrong after a year (or two), it will be up to you to fix the problem, whereas if you had built your own computer, it is very likely that the faulty component(s) would still be under warranty.

3. A pre-built PC won’t be customized to your needs

The other downside of buying a pre-built PC is that it won’t be customized to your own individual needs. You may be able to find a pre-built system that has the exact specs that you’re looking for, but more often than not, pre-built PCs typically come with an unbalanced part list.

For instance, if you have $1,000 to spend on a gaming computer, you can get ideal in-game performance by opting for a mid-range processor and pairing it with a higher-end graphics card. However, most $1,000 pre-built systems on the market opt for higher-end processors and mid-range (or lower) graphics cards, which means that your in-game performance on the pre-built system will be significantly lower than it would be on a system that you built yourself for the same price.

You may also have specific needs out of your system that a pre-built computer won’t offer you. For instance, if you have $600 to spend on a gaming computer and you want it to perform fairly decently now, but you also want it to have the potential to be upgraded to a higher-end gaming system down the road, if you built the system yourself, you could allocate more of your budget to getting a higher-capacity power supply. With a higher-capacity power supply, an upgrade to a higher-end graphics card (the one component that will have the biggest impact on your in-game experience) will be much easier.

Unfortunately, cheaper pre-built computers typically come with lower-end power supplies that aren’t able to accommodate an upgrade to a higher-end graphics card. So, in that case, if you did want to upgrade to a higher-end graphics card in a $600 pre-built computer, you’d also have to purchase a new power supply, uninstall the old one, install the new one, and then add your graphics card. On the other hand, if you already had a capable power supply in your system, all you’d have to do is install the new graphics card.

So, if you have specific needs that your computer must meet, then your best option would be to build it yourself (if you have budget restrictions) or have it custom-built (if you have a larger budget and you don’t mind paying a premium)

Paying to Have Your PC Custom-Built: The Case For and Against It

Having a computer custom-built can offer a higher potential for performance over buying a pre-built computer. However, custom PC builders typically charge higher markup prices on their systems, which makes them the worst option in terms of price-to-performance.

The Case For Buying A Custom-Built PC

1. Custom-built PCs are ready out of the box

Like a pre-built computer, if you purchase a custom-built PC, once it arrives, it will be ready to use. Obviously, there is no assembly required. Again, if you opt to build your own computer, when all of your components arrive, it can take first-time builders a couple of hours (or more, depending on how smoothly the process goes) to get the computer up and running.

2. A custom-built system has a simple warranty process

Also like pre-built computers, custom-built PCs have simple and straight-forward warranty processes. If something goes wrong with the custom-built PC and it is still under warranty, all you have to do is send the PC back to the custom PC builder who built it and it is up to them to diagnose (and fix) the problem as long as the problem is something that is covered under the warranty.

If you build your computer yourself and one of the parts malfunctions, it’s up to you to figure out which component went bad. Once you figure out the malfunctioning component, you’ll need to take it out of your system (which, if its a component like your motherboard, would mean disassembling your entire system) and send it in.

3. Custom-built PCs can be customized to your personal needs

Just as building your own PC gives you the power to choose each component individually, so, too, does getting a custom-built PC. Most custom PC builders will give you a much broader range of components that you can use in your system when compared to a pre-built computer.

The Case Against Buying A Custom-Built PC

1. Custom PCs have the worst price-to-performance ratio

If optimizing your budget to build the best performing system possible is your main goal, you’ll want to forego paying to have a custom PC built for you. While the markup prices on pre-built systems are high enough to hurt their price-to-performance ratio, custom-built PCs have even higher markup prices making them an even worse option on a price-to-performance basis.

2. Custom PCs don’t typically come with as long of a warranty as buying individual components

Like pre-built systems, most custom-built computers come with a standard 1-2-year warranty. There are exceptions with this as some custom PC builders do offer longer warranties. And, of those custom PC builders that don’t offer longer than a 1- or 2-year warranty, they usually give you the option to pay for an extended warranty. Of course, that adds more cost to the build and hurts its price-to-performance ratio even more.

If you build your own computer, you will typically get at least ~3-year warranties on each individual component. And, even though the warranty process is more difficult with individual components, you will have more coverage than you would with a pre-built or custom-built computer.

Which Option is Right for You?

While each of the three methods for getting a new computer listed above comes with their own pros and cons, the reality is that the right option for you will come down to your personal preferences and needs.

If you have a larger budget and don’t want to have to deal with the hassle of choosing compatible components and assembling your own system, then a pre-built or custom-built system would be the better option for you. If you’re working with a tight budget, or you just want to optimize every cent of your budget to get the most performance out of it possible, then as long as you’re willing to take on some of the risks that are associated with building your own PC, that would be the best route for you.

Ultimately, while we always recommend that you build your own system (because, in reality, it isn’t that difficult of a process), we do realize that there are some people out there who just don’t have a desire to take on the responsibility of building a computer. So, if you are in the market for a new computer and you’re on the fence about how you’re going to get one, the information above should help you figure out the right option for you.

Hey, I’m Brent. I’ve been building computers and writing about building computers for a long time. I’m an avid gamer and tech enthusiast, too. On YouTube, I build PCs, review laptops, components, and peripherals, and hold giveaways.

1 thought on “DIY vs Pre-Built vs Custom PC: Which Option is Right for Your Next Computer?”

  1. I’m glad you explained that the right computer option for us really comes down to what our personal preferences are. My husband needs a new laptop for his work and has been struggling to decide if he should have a custom one built. I’ll send him your article so he can more easily decide what type of computer would be best for him!

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