As a PC hardware enthusiast who fixes computers for people on a regular basis, I am frequently asked how much it would cost to put together a ‘brand new’ or ‘gaming’ computer that will either allow somebody to browse the internet and use office programs, or ‘be better than my games console’. There are a multiple facets to this question, and I have found that PC users are generally more willing to spend a lot of money on pre-built systems at large retail chain stores, rather than put in the time and effort to build their own for a much lower cost (and often better performance).
The purpose of this article is to compare like-for-like PCs through major suppliers of pre-built systems with purchasing the separate components and building the system at home. As evidenced below, the cost savings are huge, and completely worth the (relatively) small amount of effort involved in researching how to put them together yourself.
Building your own PC may sound like somewhat of a daunting task, but there are hundreds of guides and tutorials available on the internet, and through forums and message boards such as Reddit’s ‘BuildaPC’ sub-section (www.reddit.com/r/buildapc) and of course, www.PCReview.co.uk! With modern components and free support readily available, it really is as easy (and fun – I promise!) as putting Lego bricks together.
A note on Solid State Drives (SSD)
The introduction of Solid State Drive technology (hard drives with no moving parts and substantially faster loading times, due to the use of Flash memory rather than rotating magnetic disks) has revolutionised the desktop PC user experience, through instant loading of programs such as web browsers, office applications and games to Windows start-up times and disk copy/paste times.
I have found that installing an SSD into an older PC (such as recently - a Pentium 4 with 1GB RAM using Windows XP) will boost performance more than any other upgrade, short of completely rebuilding the computer. Due to this I usually recommend that clients use Solid State Drives in their computers if they are being upgraded, and regard the drives as essential components in newly built systems.
The only drawback with using these drives is that they trade speed for substantially less space; therefore it has become standard practice to install the Operating System and essential programs onto the SSD for speed, and use a mechanical hard drive for storage of large files, such as photographs, video files and game installations.
Unfortunately, manufacturers of pre-built systems such as HP or Dell have been rather slow on the uptake with regards to using these drives in their PCs and many desktop computers still do not have this technology as standard, promoting hard drive space over speed of operation.
To illustrate the savings that can be made by building your own PC, I have put together a number of comparisons identifying what I consider to be optimal builds for different tasks, with categories of General Internet/Office use, mid range gaming and high end gaming. The prices will be compared with a leading supplier of pre-built PCs to compare the costs involved.
Example 1 (Internet browsing, Office applications and general desktop use):
TOTAL PRE-BUILT SYSTEM PRICE: £679.99
TOTAL BUILD IT YOURSELF PRICE: £467.25
If you were to build this PC yourself, the total cost would be £467.25 (using like-for-like components listed above) – a saving of £212.74. This is a saving of over 31% for a machine that will perform much faster, due to the addition of the Solid State Drive included in the price!
Example 2 - Mid Range gaming PC for playing most modern games at Medium/High settings @ 1080p:
In order to build a PC suitable for gaming, there are two main components that need to be upgraded from the standard build. These are: The graphics card and power supply.
With the standard PC listed above, the graphics come from the Intel i5 CPU processor. Whilst this is more than ample for most applications, many modern games will not run properly without some serious graphical horsepower, in the form of a separate card for processing complex environments and visual effects. With this addition comes the need for extra power, as modern graphics cards can easily suck an extra 250 Watts from the power supply.
TOTAL PRE-BUILT SYSTEM PRICE: £999.99
TOTAL BUILD IT YOURSELF PRICE: £731.83
This pre-built system comes with a Solid State Drive and an upgraded processor, so we can use the original build, but add a better power supply, GTX 660 graphics card and the i7 Processor. We will also keep the extra 1TB storage space over the Pre-built storage drive. The cost to build this PC yourself would be £731.83 (again, using the components listed above) – a saving of £267.17. This is a saving of over 26% on the pre-built system. Still a significant amount of money!
Example 3 – High End gaming PC for playing most modern games at highest/extreme settings @ 1080p:
This pre-built model will follow the same build as the previous gaming PC, but upgrades the power supply slightly, adds an extremely fast graphics card and an extra 8GB Ram (which is generally not needed for most modern games). The system has also sacrificed the Solid State Drive for 3TB mechanical storage, which (in my opinion) is a huge sacrifice to make and will impair the speed of the PC. I will keep the SSD in the home-built system for this example to show how much you can save, and obtain a much better machine.
TOTAL PRE-BUILT SYSTEM PRICE: £1399.99
TOTAL BUILD IT YOURSELF PRICE: £922.97
Again I have used like-for-like components listed below, apart from the GTX 680 Graphics card, which is no longer in production. I have substituted this for the nearest performer, the GTX 770, which is slightly faster and has more up-to-date architecture than the GTX 680.
This build gives a saving of £498.40, a saving of over 35% for a machine that will perform much faster, due to the addition of the Solid State Drive included in the price. In my opinion, a machine like this is worth building yourself.
Warranties and Conclusion
With regards to warranties on parts and systems, usually a Pre-built system will come with a 1-year warranty, with the option to purchase extra ‘Care Plans’ which cost up to £12 per month. When purchasing components for a home-built PC, each individual component will come with its own warranty, allowing them to be swapped out or returned individually.
Systems purchased from suppliers will also frequently arrive packaged with software such as free anti-virus subscriptions as ‘bonus’ items. Unfortunately these programs frequently expire after a year and demand payment to continue working properly. There is a huge variety of options available online with regards to free security and anti-virus packages that will never require payment subscriptions, such as Microsoft’s Security Essentials and Avast Anti-virus. I have not discussed these included programs above, as it is debatable whether many of the software packages that are pre-installed on purchased desktop PCs are necessary at all, and some may actually hinder the computer’s performance rather than assist it.
I hope that this article has been of some use to you, especially if you are considering a new system in the near future, and I hope it encourages users to do a little bit of research into what they require from their PC and have the confidence to build their own! Our forums are always open for any questions you have about the process.
All parts were sourced from Aria Technology Ltd (www.aria.co.uk) and PCWorld (www.pcworld.co.uk) February 2014