It used to be that if you wanted a truly high-end, well-built PC, it was a no-brainer that building it yourself was a far better solution than ordering a pre-built that came off an assembly line somewhere.
But these days, the PC gaming industry is stronger than ever and previously expensive features like SSDs and many-core CPUs are commonplace as mainstream consumers demand snappy experiences whether they're gaming or just trying to get some work done. I mean, it's quite easy these days to find pre-builts with these features and a discreet graphics card for less than 700 U.S. dollars. So is the pre-built versus DIY question really all that easy to answer anymore?
Let's start by looking at how current pre-builts might have an edge over custom rigs, other than, of course, the convenience you get from not having to put it all together yourself. If you want a PC that's somewhere between the low- and midrange, a pre-built can be a compelling value.
Because PC manufacturers can order large amounts of lower-range commoditized parts at low cost, it's rather difficult to achieve the same cost savings if you go out and buy those parts on your own. But if you want something on the upper end of mid-tier, or even in the actual high end, it's gotten a fair bit easier to find these types of systems off the shelf.
It isn't just the fact that NVMe drives and powerful graphics cards are more common in pre-builts these days, it's also that there are plenty of options out there that use the same components you'd find at a major retailer for building a system yourself. AIO liquid coolers, motherboards with lots of connectivity options, and even premium cases. Do note, however, that these features are more common in machines from smaller boutique builders rather than the super-big-name brands.
This actually brings us to the things you need to watch out for if you're shopping for a pre-built. If you're not buying from a boutique builder and instead are getting something from Dell, HP, or another major manufacturer, you're probably going to discover some things that frustrate you.
As they did 10 or 15 years ago, these companies will often cheap out on the power supply, and a bad power supply can make your system far less reliable, so it should be one of the first things you check on before buying.
However, the situation has gotten a little better if you buy from a specific gaming lineup from those companies. Additionally, you might find a variety of weird quirks, none of which will be endearing.
Pre-builts from large manufacturers can have proprietary cases and motherboards with very limited upgrade paths. We've seen even some that don't use a standard ATX power supply connection, so you can't change out the crappy included PSU even if you want to.
But lest you think that frustrating issues are restricted only to large manufacturers, there are some issues that plague both the big boys and the boutiques alike. Thermal management can be poorly though out with weird or insufficient fan placement, and cable management might not be to the same standard as you'd like if you just did it yourself, if you're the perfectionist type.
And when you consider the premium you're going to pay for a mid- to high-end pre-built PC over a DIY rig, these kind of oversights can make the additional cost hard to justify. Then you get to the question of customer experience. Many people buy pre-builts because they may not have as much knowledge about the components that they might need as a do-it-yourselfer, but it's a crapshoot as to whether you'll get good advice about what to buy from a manufacturer or a system integrator. And the larger companies are notorious for trying to upsell you with extended warranties and support options.
But this isn't meant to scare you out of buying a pre-built if you really want one or just aren't comfortable building your own PC. There are definitely well-built options out there that give you good value for the money. We're just saying to think about all aspects of what you're buying and not just jump on something because the components on the spec sheet sound impressive. It sounds corny, but a PC is more than the sum of its parts, just like crispy salad. If you'll excuse me, it's lunchtime here.