Building a PC has long offered the best value when performance and reliability are your primary concern, but things are changing. With component prices skyrocketing, you may actually be further ahead to purchase a pre-built gaming computer even if it’s not exactly what you want. Hopefully, this won’t be the case forever, but now is not the time to build your own system.
RAM used to be one of the cheapest parts of a DIY build — you could get a 16GB DDR4 kit for a little over $ 100 as recently as one year ago. Demand for DRAM chips is so high that prices have essentially doubled at retail. That same 16GB dual-channel kit will probably run you $ 200-250 right now.
The situation with GPUs is even worse thanks to the cryptocurrency craze. Nvidia is trying to keep prices lower for DIY system builders, but you’re still looking at GPU prices that are roughly double what they should be. A GTX 1080 should retail for under $ 500 now — maybe even closer to $ 400 with a good sale. Instead, they’re going for $ 800-1,000. You could build an entire gaming PC for that at this time last year. It’s hard to justify the cost of PC gaming when you can get a PS4 Pro for $ 400 or Xbox One S for just $ 250.
The massively inflated prices are mainly affecting those of us buying parts at retail, but system builders like Dell and HP get parts directly from manufacturers at wholesale. In many cases, they’ve probably contracted to large volumes of RAM and GPUs for their systems at a lower price. Thus, pre-built systems are still priced very reasonably.
As PC World points out, the Dell Inspiron 5675 is a capable 1080p gaming rig with a Ryzen 5 1400 processor, 8GB of RAM, and a Radeon RX 570 GPU for $ 850. Just purchasing that GPU alone at retail would cost you $ 500-600. Amazon is promoting a CyberPower gaming desktop on its site that costs $ 720 with a Core i5, 8GB of RAM, and an RX 580. A back-of-the-envelope calculation puts the DIY cost for a similar system closer to $ 1,200. At the higher end, iBuyPower lists gaming desktops with a GTX 1080 for around $ 1,700. Yes, it’s a lot, but the specs are great and just the GPU alone would cost $ 1,000 retail.
While we’re not telling you to go out and buy any of these systems, it would be a bad idea to build your own right now. If you absolutely need a gaming PC, buying pre-built is the only way to go at the moment. Analysts have predicted the RAM shortage will abate in the coming months or possibly next year. That will shave a few hundred off the cost of a DIY system, but the GPU market could take time to stabilize thanks to the crypto craze.
Now read PCMag’s Best Gaming Desktops of 2018. Or read our guide: How To Boost Older GPU Performance, Since You Can’t Buy a New One