For many people, getting their own PC is the next step in the gamer’s progression. You’ve seen those videos of people playing at 4k resolutions at 60 fps and you want in on the magic.
The most immediate question you have to answer is: should I buy a PC or build one? For some, the answer is obvious: of course you want to build your own PC to meet your exact specifications, why do anything else? However, there can often be a lot of benefits to buying a prefab build, such as saving time and money.
So we wanted to create this comprehensive mega guide on building or buying your gaming PC. We will cover the benefits and advantages of both, then talk about the different components you need to build a PC. We will then also give our recommendation of some of the best premade gaming PC builds.
Pros and Cons of Building a PC
Building PC Pros
The single best reason to build your own gaming PC is that you get 100% control over everything. You can choose the exact CPU, GPU, RAM, motherboard, SSD (or HDD), and power supply, among other things. You can customize your build so it is easier to overclock and can mix and match components that you think would go well together. A custom build PC also just has more character and you can put your unique thumbprint on it.
Another good reason to build your own PC is that you can maintain it and periodically upgrade it. You can replace PC parts over time so you never have to shell out a ton of money to buy an entirely new system, as you might have to do with a prefab unit or a console. With a custom PC you can change out your GPU when you get a better one, upgrade your CPU when you have the money, and so on. In that sense, it’s much more flexible.
Less Expensive Over Time
Initially making a PC will have a greater upfront cost than just buying a prebuilt one, but over time you will most likely spend less. The reason why is that custom components are usually more durable than stock components in a prefab build. This means you won’t have to replace components on your custom rig as often and you can periodically upgrade it piece-by-piece instead of having to drop a ton of money on an entirely new rig.
All other things being equal, a custom-build gaming PC will perform better than a pre-built PC. This is because the components are individual and you have more control over their configuration. In many cases, pre-build PCs will compromise slightly on components to keep overhead costs low, but a custom PC can be completely maxed out with the highest quality hardware. So if you want to max out your resolution and frame rates, then a custom PC will be your best bet.
Building PC Cons
Expensive Upfront Cost
Perhaps the single biggest downside to building a custom PC is that it costs a lot upfront. A solid high-end gaming PC can run you anywhere between $1,500-$2,500 or even more. The individual components can get very expensive as well. For example, a current-gen GPU can cost over $800 on its own. Also, shipping fees on parts can add up, especially if you have to go out of your way to find them.
Despite what many might think, building a PC is not an extremely difficult task, but it can be tricky if you have never done it before. The most difficult part is making sure that all your pins and cables are connected properly and that all of your components are actually doing what they are supposed to be doing. When building your first PC, it can help to follow guides to make sure everything is connected and configured properly.
Another common problem is part compatibility. PC parts are specifically designed and might not work with one another. So when buying PC parts, you need to be extremely careful to make sure that you are buying parts that will work with one another. If you don’t, you might end up with a fan that doesn’t fit your case or a motherboard that is not compatible with your CPU. So be sure that you thoroughly check part compatibility before you buy anything. Switching out the wrong parts is frustrating and time-consuming.
It also just takes time to build a PC. From researching the parts, finding them for sale, waiting for delivery, and actually putting things together, you are looking at a significant time investment. In contrast, a pre-built PC is ready to go out of the box and can be played almost immediately. Building a PC takes a lot of time and effort, and some people just want to game. At the same time though, many people like sinking their time into creative projects like building a rig.
Pros and Cons of Buying a PC
Buying PC Pros
If you want to get a laptop, then you practically need to buy a pre-built one. Most laptop parts are not standardized and the firmware is designed specifically for the stock components. There are websites that will let you “build” a laptop by manufacturing a laptop from the components you choose, but it’s usually not practical to build a custom laptop like you would build a desktop PC. But by all means, if you think you can do it, you can try to make a custom DIY laptop.
Sometimes, you don’t want to deal with all the complex bells and whistles of building a PC. Sometimes, you just want to plug in and play games. A pre-made model is just easier to deal with and you don’t have to worry about making sure that all the components are properly connected.
Buying a PC will also incur a lower upfront cost. You can buy an excellent quality pre-built PC for around $1,000, whereas building a custom rig of the same caliber might cost more. However, over time, a custom rig will probably save you money because of its modular and upgradable nature. But in a certain sense, buying a premade PC is cheaper and can save you money.
When you build a PC, each component might have a different warranty and if something goes wrong, you need to do some investigating to figure out what part you need to replace. This can get annoying if the one piece that breaks is one that is not covered under a warranty, especially if the part is a critical component that your PC cannot operate without. With a premade PC, you have a single warranty for the entire PC. So if one thing breaks, everything is covered and you can get a replacement without having to go hunting.
Also, buying a premade PC just takes less time than other options. You order the PC, it comes, you plug it in, and you are good to go. You don’t need to worry about hardware configurations and you get to playing games much faster. So if you do not want to spend all that time researching and buying PC components, then you can just buy a premade PC.
Buying PC Cons
In general, a custom built PC will always perform better than a pre-made model with stock components. The reason why is that companies need to keep overhead low, so they do not use the absolute best components. It’s the same reason why consoles are usually a generation or two behind cutting edge graphics cards; it’s just too expensive to be profitable otherwise.
Another disadvantage of buying is that you have relatively limited configuration options. Many pre-built PCs are designed for one specific configuration and you cannot change components without some serious workarounds. While theoretically you could mod a pre-built PC, it would take some non-conventional methods to make it work. So when you buy a PC you will probably have to make some concessions about the individual parts.
When something in a pre-built PC goes wrong, it can be hard to figure out where the problem is for repairs as you are not as familiar with the individual components. You may have to service the entire machine, which takes more time than just servicing a single component. Also, if something is wrong, then you have to replace the entire machine, which takes even more time.
How Much Does It Cost to Build a Gaming PC?
The cost of building a PC depends heavily on the specific components that you choose. A gaming PC can cost as little as $500 or all the way up to $5,000. Even single components can cost thousands of dollars, such as NVIDIA’s GTX Titan Z GPU which had a price point of ~$3,000 when released.
In our estimation, you can build a solid, high-end gaming PC that can handle all modern games on high or ultra performance settings for anywhere between $1,000-$1,500, give or take a few hundred dollars. Pricing differs because the price of components changes depending on their availability. You might also get lucky and find the same part for a significant discount at a different outlet.
However, you can build a low-end basic rig for about $500-$600. Here is a rough schematic of what a lower end might look like with some recommendations and how much it would cost. (Note: All prices are averages and might differ slightly depending on retailer.)
As you can see here, a suitable low-end gaming PC can run you under $600 if you are willing to take a few concessions on the parts. Notice however that our breakdown does not include costs for a monitor and other peripherals that you need, such as a keyboard and mouse.
A budget model can cut very close to $500, but a good high-end rig will cost over $1,000. Later in this guide, we will give another recommended build, this one for a high-end gaming PC.
How Much Does It Cost to Buy a PC?
It depends heavily on the specific configuration and builds, but generally speaking, buying a premade PC costs less than building a custom rig. In general, you can find pre-built models as low as $300, though computers at this low of a price are generally not that good. A solid pre-built PC that can play most games passably would probably cost between $600-$700. For example, the iBUYPOWER Element Mini 9300 is a solid rig that falls in the $600-$700 range.
What Parts Do I Need to Build a PC?
Let’s give a quick rundown of the essential pieces that you need to build a custom rig.
The CPU is like the brain of the computer and handles all the ‘executive functions.’ CPU processing power is measured in its ‘ clock speed’ which is basically the number of calculations that the processor can manage per second. Clock speed is the number of cycles that the CPU can complete in a second and is measured in hertz. So for example a 3.8 GHz CPU performs about 3.8 billion cycles a second. CPUs can also be ‘overclocked’ to run at a higher rate than they are originally designed. When it comes to gaming, the CPU handles all the large instructions like NPCs, environment, and any simulations.
A graphical processing unit (GPU) is a separate processor that is specifically designed for graphics rendering. In other words, a GPU is basically a CPU that’s dedicated to processing graphics. Modern games tend to be very graphics-intensive so the GPU handles all the raw computation for graphics while letting the CPU handle other aspects of running the game.
RAM stands for ‘random access memory and is a form of semi-permanent storage that allows the computer to access instructions quickly. You can think of RAM as the total amount of variables your PC can keep track of at once. The more RAM, the more tasks your PC can handle at once. RTSs like Civilization or open-world titles 8usually have to keep track of a lot of variables and access them quickly and so require a lot of RAM to run smoothly. In general, though, you should shoot for at least 8GB of RAM for a gaming PC.
Memory is the main storage unit of your PC and is where all the data is ultimately stored. Memory blocks can be either hard disc drives (HDDs) or solid state drives (SSDs). All other things being equal, SSDs are superior for gaming as they have faster read/write (R/W) speeds and the processor can access SSD units faster than HDD units. HDD units also have a bad tendency to break because they have a lot of moving parts. Installing an SSD over an HDD will reduce load times for games significantly.
The motherboard is the hardware component that coordinates the activity of all the other components. A motherboard ties all the other pieces together and makes sure they work together, just like a mom does for a family. The motherboard is a fundamental piece of hardware because it determines what kind of processor you will be able to use. So it is extremely important that you make sure your motherboard is compatible with your CPU, GPU, and RAM. Most modern motherboards nowadays are made with the ATX 24-pin or ATX-20 power supply connectors. So make sure that your processor is compatible with this kind of setup.
The power supply, as the name implies, provides DC electrical power to the computer’s components. Power supply strength is rated in watts and if your PSU does not have enough watts, then it won’t be able to power your rig efficiently. A good threshold to shoot for is at least 500W, though you could probably get away with around 300W if you have lower-power components. Most likely, you will never need anything greater than 800W, unless you are planning on doing some crazy stuff with your rig.
Last but not least is the case, which holds all the components into a tower. We guess you technically don’t need a case but it is highly recommended to get one as you can organize the components in it and arrange them to maximize airflow. Without a case, your components would just be strewn about on your desk instead of integrated into a cohesive unit. A case also protects your components from gathering dust and other types of corrosion.
Second RAM (Optional)
Most of the time, your motherboard will have more than one RAM slot. While you only need one RAM card to actually use your computer, you can improve gaming performance by adding another RAM card. With multiple slots, you could potentially get all the way up to 64GB of RAM.
Wireless Adaptor (Optional)
If you want your PC to connect to networks wirelessly and do not plan to use an ethernet cable, then you will need a WiFi card. WiFi cards open up wireless network connectivity for your PC and install directly in the motherboard. Some motherboards have built-in wireless adaptors but these tend to not be very good. We would recommend sticking with a wireless adaptor card instead of buying a pre-installed one.
Disk Drive (Optional)
For the most part, CDs and DVDs are basically obsolete. But some people might want to play old CDs and DVDs on their computer and you will need a disc drive to do that. So if you want to play old PC games you only have on a disc, then optical disc drives are relatively cheap to pick up.
Cable Clips (Optional)
Lastly, you might want to consider getting cable clips. These clips let you arrange and organize your power cords so space and air flow are maximized. Cable clips are strictly speaking optional but are highly recommended because they keep things neat and organized.
$1500-$2000 Custom Gaming PC Build
Now we want to talk about some different types of custom PC builds before moving on to select pre-built PC builds. So we want to focus on a hypothetical recommended build for a mid- to high-end gaming PC for around $1500. We will talk about recommended components and also give some alternative options that can achieve more or less the same effect.
Intel has long been a mainstay when it comes to CPUs and the Core series is the cornerstone of their business model. The i7 is a beefy processor that consistently ranks in several publications as one of the best gaming CPUs, behind the i9-10900K with two fewer cores. Even with two fewer cores, the i7 has some good specs with 18 threads and a total unlocked clock speed of 5.1GHz, more than enough for any modern game. The one criticism is that it is not PCIe 4.0 compatible, but honestly, there is not much point in investing in a PCIe 4.0 CPU yet. The LGA 1200 sockets are also an update from the previous model LGA 1151 sockets. The i7 10700k is about to hit the 2-year mark in a few months but it still manages to impress in 2021 and took a price cut that makes it more desirable.
Nvidia has long been the king of GPUs and the RTX 3000 series has been selling like hotcakes since it dropped a while back. The 3060 Ti beats out the previous generation’s 2080 Super in both performance and efficiency and is close to the 3070 but costs about ⅕th less. The only downside is the relatively low 8 gigs of VRAM. Most games do not require that much but a handful might be pushing that limit, especially on ultra settings. But to be completely honest, it’s hard to find a graphics card of this quality at this price point, so until AMD releases their next iteration of the RDNA2 cards, the 3060 Ti is probably your best shot at a very price-friendly high-end gaming card. The only difficulty of this card might be actually finding it. The RTX 3000 series has consistently been sold out since it dropped last year so you might have to wait until the summer to pick one of these up.
The MSI MAG Z490 Tomahawk Motherboard is a great motherboard choice for an Intel focused build and features including impressive DDR4 memory up to 128GB and an on-board 2.5G LAN plus Gigabit LAN. This motherboard also has a pre-installed I/O shield for discharge protection. The motherboard also has 2 M2 slots for high speed SSD storage. The Tomahawk also has a generous amount of both Type-A and Type-C USB ports, which is a great feature as Type-C is usually reserved for more premium boards.
Add link really dropped this great SSD series on us and has significantly brought down the price of excellent gaming SSDs. This Add Link has top-tier PCIe 3.0 performance and runs using Toshiba’s reliable 3D TLC memory architecture. There are also multiple sizes of storage available. The 512 GB SSD is a good even cheaper choice, but we decided to instead pick the 1TB SSD as it barely registers a major price increase and modern PC games can eat up a 500GB drive very quickly.
G Skill’s Trident series of RAM cards have been very popular for some time now and for good reason. The Trident Z Neo comes with RGB lighting and can manage up to an impressive 3600 MHZ speeds. The best part of the Trident Z is that it is very affordable at each iteration and has 32Gb options, which are probably more RAM than you will need for the next few years.
The XPG Core Reactor is a formidable power supply that has a max output of 7650W, more than enough to feed your hungry Nvidia-based graphics card. It has a very quiet fan profile and compact dimensions. It has two EPs connectors to make it compatible with higher-end motherboards as well.
We recommend the Corsair here because it is specifically designed to optimize airflow. If you have been following our guide recommendations so far, then you will have picked up a very beefy processor and GPU so you will need good air space to keep them cool. The Corsair tower also comes with 3 built in fan slots and a fan array. The Corsair also has the classic ATX form factor so it is compatible with a wide range of motherboards, and has enough space for that GPU card, SSD, and potentially second SSD if you need more memory.
So there you have it. If you have been following our guide, then you will have put together a high-end PC for just over $1,500. Keep in mind that the prices we listed here are just average and might be subject to change, especially, if manufacturers start to run out of components. This is notorious for Nvidia products so if you do go Nvidia you might have to wait a bit until they go back into stock.
A few more notes as there are a few “rules” in the PC building sphere. When it comes to GPUs, Nvidia is generally considered superior to AMD, although AMD tends to have more affordable mid range chips that can perform well.
There are also several sources and forums out there claiming things like Nvidia cards work better with Intel CPUs. This is not true in any meaningful sense. While some Nvidia cards might work better with specific Intel CPUs instead of AMD CPUs, there is no general rule that says one combination is superior to others.
Windows or Linux?
When it comes to custom build PCs, there are two major options for OS software: Windows and Ubuntu. Most modern pre-build computers come with Windows software pre-installed, though it is perfectly possible to game with a Linux Ubuntu OS. Windows is much easier to use from a consumer standpoint and has some nice compatibility features, but Ubuntu is free to use and ultimately offers more flexibility if you know what you are doing. Ultimately, this dedication matters little for gaming as the major components that determine performance are your CPU, RAM, SSD, and GPU.
Best Pre-Built Gaming PCs
At this point, we want to turn to take a look at some pre-built gaming PCs for balance. These gaming PCS come pre-fabricated for convenience and can offer performance comparable with a custom rig.
Coming in at a solid $1200 is the Alienware Aurora R11. Alienware has long been a favorite name in the gaming laptop market and has put out some very hefty rigs. The basic desktop configuration comes with an Intel i5 10400 Core-F, an Nvidia GTX 1650 Super, and variable between 8-32 GB of RAM depending on the model that you chose. You can also choose a model with the blazing-fast RTX 3090 GPU. This Alienware Aurora also comes with an amazing 2TB of M2 SSD storage and 2TB of SATA HDD storage. It definitely has a higher price than average, especially at the higher ranges, but the Alienware Aurora is a solid pre-built PC that even allows for upgrades. We are also impressed with the technical support that the launch has been met with.
The G5 is Dell[s foray into prefab gaming PCs and features a beefy i7 Core processor, the classic GeForce GTX 1660 HPu, and up to 16 GB of DDR4 RAM. This prebuilt PC also comes equipped with a 512GB M.2 SSD for fast storage and read/write times. The G5 is not an incredible power house, but it should be able to play most modern games on medium to high settings while maintaining a smooth 50-60 fps rate. This model also has a ton of ports on the front and back which makes it very peripheral friendly; a good option if you like your fancy gadgets or want to connect a separate USB hub. One criticism we do have of the G5 is that there is not much in the way of tinkering, so you have to settle for what you get.
The HP Omen Obelisk is a pre-built PC that offers some interchangeable options and comes equipped with a standard Intel Core i7 8700 and a GeForce RTX 2080 along with 8up to 15 GB of DDR4 RAM. The Omen also comes with between 256GB SSD storage and 1TB HDD storage. One thing to notice about this PC build is is that it comes with about an SSD and HDD memory which is useful if you want to use the PC for gaming and other tasks. That being said, at this stage a 256 GB SSD may not even be large enough to hold up to 5 games. The Omen Obelisk, true to its name, has a very simple blocky design that puts performance over presentation. That doesn’t mean it looks bad; to the contrary, it has a very authoritative look, like the monoliths from 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Up next on our list of affordable pre-built gaming PCs is the Skytech Archangel, which boasts an impressive base model with a Ryzen 5 3600 and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1660 TI and includes several different models with the Ryzen 5 3600 or a Intel Core i7. You get a lot of different options, all of which have impressive performance capabilities. It can handle pretty much any game at standard 1080p and even manage 1440p gaming for some titles. This model also comes with a 500 GB SSD unit which boasts 30x more speed than a traditional HDD. The kit also comes equipped with a dual-band Wi-Fi and three RGB fans.
Gaming PC FAQ
Which is better: building or buying a PC?
It depends on what exactly you need, but all other things being equal, building a custom PC will give you better performance overall. On the other hand, buying a PC is a good way to streamline the process and make it easier to just play games when you want to.
What major components do I need for a gaming PC?
To build your own PC, you at the very least will need a CPU, motherboard, GPU, RAM cards, power supply unit, memory block (SSD or HDD), and a case. You will also need other peripherals such as a keyboard, mouse, and controller for gaming. You may also need wireless cards, sound cards, and all relevant cables.
Is a PC better for gaming than consoles?
It depends on what you mean by better, but for the most part, a PC will give you better performance and graphical fidelity than even current gen consoles can. Consoles are very convenient and reliable, but they just cannot compete with the output of a high-end gaming PC. Consoles are improving though and continually closing the gap.
How much does it cost to build a gaming PC?
It depends on the exact build but you can get away with building a gaming PC for about $500. However a decent mid- to high-end gaming PC costs usually between $1000-$1500. Any PC worth around $1500 should be able to play all modern games at high-quality resolutions.
How many fans do I need?
You do not need to always get extra case fans, but you should have at least two fans. Most cases come with at least 1 or 2 fans built-in.
How much RAM do I need to get?
You can get away with just 8GB of RAM, but we would recommend at least 16GB. Most modern games will run just fine on 8GB RAM but they are starting to hit the limit and soon might require 16GB.
Which is better, Nvidia or AMD?
It depends on your preferences ultimately but both cards have their pros and cons. Most people would consider Nvidia to generally be a better brand but recent AMD GPUs are quickly closing the gap, and several AMD models compare or even exceed Nvidia. AMD also tends to have a more competitive price point than Nvidia GPUs.
What is better, an HDD or an SSD?
An SSD hard drive is always better for gaming. SSDs have fewer moving parts so they allow faster read/write speeds which means faster load times for games. SSD models tend to be more expensive than HDD equivalents though.
At the end of the day, whether you should buy or build your gaming PC depends heavily on your personal preferences. A custom DIY PC offers generally better performance but a pre-built PC is much more convenient and cost-effective. So there are pros and cons to each option and it depends on what you want.