Why You Should (And Shouldn’t) Build Your Own Computer
From frustration to elation and back again a thousand times in one evening.
I took advantage of some extra time and did something I had always thought about, but never really had the urge to do. I built a computer. I had never felt intimidated by it, I’ve always liked tech and had an understanding of what it could do, but I never had a reason to do it.
Back when I was in high school, I found out that custom-built PCs were considerably cheaper than their pre-built counterparts. I’d had some friends that had built computers, but I never thought that I’d do it myself. At the time, most people I knew were building computers to play games on. I was happy gaming on my relatively inexpensive console, so I didn’t feel the need to build a computer. But now, with an actual need for a powerful machine, and with an engineering degree under my belt to give me more hubris than an actual advantage, I got to researching what I would need.
Some helpful guidance from a builder got me well on my way. Some YouTube videos and articles helped me pick out exactly what I needed for my build — nothing more, and definitely nothing less.
After weeks of research, I finally ordered all of my parts. Then came the weeks of research to learn how to actually build the thing. I watched videos, read articles, talked to people who had built systems before. Then once my last part arrived, I got to building.
Three and a half nerve-wracking, but rewarding hours passed, and I was ready to turn my computer on for the first time. If I had made even one wrong move from the beginning, now was the time for me to find out. I pressed the power button and waited. After an eternity, the monitor turned on and I was in the BIOS.
Relieved, I cleaned up my build and got to installing Windows. Then, almost five hours from when I first started, I finally got into the operating system and was able to start downloading my desired programs.
For me, this experience was a great one. Even if when I was halfway through building I sat thinking about how much easier it would’ve been to have just bought something pre-built and paid the 20% premium for peace of mind. Once that feeling had subsided, I felt great that I now had this modular workstation that, when it was time to upgrade, I could do so incrementally, rather than needing to build an entirely new system.
But the question is, would I recommend that everyone builds a PC? And the answer to that is absolutely not.
For a lot of people, the hours spent learning just which components go into a PC, let alone those needed to understand the minutia of what’s happening under the hood enough to know how to put the thing together are not worth the time. And that’s totally fine. The premium for a pre-built, Windows-ready desktop tower that I once thought was ridiculous, now seems like a bargain. If the only reason you want to build a PC is to save a little bit of cash, then you’re not going to have a good time.
If, however, you’re interested in learning more about the internals or you want something super custom and modular, maybe your head is in the right place and you might want to consider building a computer.
But with all of that said, after building this thing, I have gotten an even greater appreciation for pre-built machines, especially those with a laptop form factor that allow for extreme portability while maintaining the same level of power in my own machine. Even though it’s twice the price, the engineering more than deserves it.
At around the same time I finished building my computer, my sister received her college-ready Macbook Pro. It’s a little more expensive than the machine that I built, and a lot less powerful, but it’s packed into a tiny, beautifully engineered package that’s going to deliver everything that she needs for four years of college. Plus, the laptop went from inside its delivery box to ready-to-operate in 15 minutes rather than the nearly six hours it took for me. If given the opportunity, would I have built her a custom rig instead? Even under the unattainable assumption that she wouldn’t need her computer to be portable? And the answer would be no. Despite its clear monetary advantage over a Macbook, a custom PC still wouldn’t be the right choice. It would overperform for her needs for power and underperform for her desire for an easy-to-operate experience. And if anything goes wrong, she’ll be able to contact Apple rather than needing to contact me at a time where I likely wouldn’t be able to immediately help.
So if you’re at all curious, or if you want a challenge. The answer is easy. Start researching and start building. It’s true, there has never been an easier time to build a computer. There are resources abound that will aid your building process, no background knowledge is required.
But if the term RAM sounds scary and if a Motherboard sounds more like something from a Sci-Fi movie than it does something that you put in your computer, then buy pre-built. The savings aren’t worth the headache and you can get some beautiful machines for pretty low prices. And unless you’re doing intense workloads like 3d modeling, multimedia production, or software development, you can get a pretty cheap machine to do it for you and it’ll be endlessly easier.
PC gamers who absolutely need the best experience may consider building, but building kits can take away some of the hassle, and so can pre-built towers and laptops.
More than anything else, it depends on what you’re looking for and what your expectations are. If you want to be on the bleeding edge of tech, don’t expect there to be very many pre-built options for you and there certainly won’t be any consumer laptops for you. You will need to build it. On the other end, if you just want to read and write word documents and watch Netflix, the latest graphics card will be a bright, shiny waste of money.
Expectations are the same. For me, despite my preparation, I thought the build process would be easier than it was. It wasn’t impossible, but it’s a lot to keep track of and for the majority of computer users, it’s unnecessary headache. Miscellaneous screws, endless wires, component placement, and the stress of jamming an expensive graphics card into a slot that it doesn’t look like it should fit in. If these things sound bad to you, don’t build a PC. Buy one. But if it sounds tolerable for the satisfaction of having built a piece of tech that you can use, then why not do it. If you can get past the barriers to entry the upsides are plentiful.
For those who are just beginning and don’t have a clue where to start, here are some useful resources for getting going:
For ensuring compatibility between parts and keeping everything in one place: https://pcpartpicker.com/
For some great information on how to start as well as a community that’s willing to help: https://www.reddit.com/r/buildapc/