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Choosing Your Next Gaming PC: Should You Build, Buy, or Get a Laptop?

So you’ve saved up for months but still can’t decide which kind of gaming rig is best for you? Do you need something that can stay with you wherever you go, or just want to get the most punch possible regardless of cost or portability?

If this conundrum has had you scratching your head for too long, check out our guide on the three main options available on the market today, and make the pick that’s right for you.

Building a Custom PC: The Best Bang for Your Buck

First, there’s custom PCs built from parts you picked yourself. At their face, it’s undeniable that self-built PCs offer better value, better performance, and upgradeability throughout the years and various product cycles.

It can be a daunting process, however, figuring out which components fit in which slot, whether this motherboard is compatible with that processor, or whether you need one graphics card or two.

At the most basic of levels, all of these different factors will boil down to what you plan to use your rig for in the day to day. If you’re just looking for something that will hold strong during a match of League of Legends, a sub-$600 machine will be plenty to get the job done. If you want to run Crysis 3 at 4K resolution on ultra settings, however, the price tag will jump considerably.

Not only that, but there are also different kinds of processors and graphics cards split between workhorse machines and those made strictly to game. If you’re doing design work or 3D modeling in the medical field, you’re much better off investing in a Titan Z than a GTX 980, as one is made to handle lots of processing data, while the other is built strictly to push out as many polygons in a firefight as possible.

Luckily, there are resources available to people who want to build their own PC, but don’t even know where to get started. Communities like Reddit’s r/BuildMeaPC are a place where anyone can post their budget and what they plan to use the rig for, and the forum will respond with every part you’ll need neatly laid out in a list at the best possible price.

Gaming Laptops, and the Argument for Portability

If scouring NewEgg for the best priced part doesn’t sound like your favorite idea of system shopping, another category of machine — gaming laptops — can offer that “all-in-one, flip-it-on-and-you’re-done” experience that consumers are flocking to these days.

Outside of an external mouse (I have yet to meet a person who can game effectively on a trackpad), everything you need to boot up and start blasting baddies is included in the laptop itself, and that sort of no-frills approach is valuable to anyone who can’t be bothered with putting together a gaming rig on their own.

Plus, if you’re always on the road and need to get your fix outside of the home office, a gaming laptop is perfect for squeezing in a couple matches while making the monthly visit to grandma’s place. It might get a little hot around the collar (gaming laptops are notorious for their problems with proper heat dissipation), but when it comes down to it, it will still get the job done.

The caveat with this choice, however, is that when compared to full-tower computers, you’ll never be able to achieve the same amount of power for the cost. More often than not, laptop-based graphics cards will carry an “M” badge at the end of their name (the GTX 980M, for example), which denote that while the core architecture is in the same family as their full-sized brethren, many of the chips inside have been clipped and hemmed at the seams in order to make something that will fit squarely into your saddlebag.

Also, despite their best efforts, we haven’t met a laptop yet that has enough battery to keep a hardcore gaming session going for more than a few hours at a time. This means that even though you might be portable for a little while, if you plan on doing some serious fragging, expect to stay close to a power outlet because it will only be a matter of time before a power indicator starts pestering you to plug in.

So maybe the decision between getting a gaming rig or laptop isn’t so much about price as it is portability. Gaming laptops can still hold their own against most major titles these days (save for something like Battlefield 4 in ultra 4K), but that capability will come at a significantly higher cost by comparison.

Prebuilt Custom Desktops: The Compromise

But maybe you don’t have to choose?

One of the main reasons why people prefer the experience of a gaming laptop to a custom-built desktop isn’t as much because of the portability as it is convenience. When you get a gaming laptop, you know everything is going to work the way it’s supposed to straight out of the box.

No hassles of installing Windows, configuring this setting or changing that menu — it’s all right there, and it’s ready to go. Well, now there are a range of companies who are willing to do the heavy lifting for you, and don’t charge too much on top for the effort. The leader of the pack has got to be CyberPower PC, a custom PC manufacturer with the widest range of available options when it comes to picking the parts and processor that’s best suited to your budget.

When building identical machines on CyberPower’s site vs. NewEgg, we found there was only a mere $65 difference between what the company would make for you, and what you’d have to build yourself. This is a far cry from the Alienware-esque premiums of yesteryear, and just goes to show that as long as you’ve got a little extra to spend on top, having your very own customized computer doesn’t have to cost you a day in the shop or the potential of troubleshooting for weeks after.

CyberPower is far from the only game in town providing high quality gaming rigs either. Other players in the space include the likes of Digital Storm, iBuyPower, and Velocity Micro, all of which offer desktops in every area of the price spectrum. Even the cheapest of their respective lineups can still put out enough horsepower to handle current popular titles, save for all but the most demanding like Crysis 3 or CD ProjektRed’s recently released resource-hog, The Witcher III.

Similarly, if the perfect match of portability, power, and reliability is what you’re after, popular options like Northwest Falcon’s Tiki and Orgin’s Chronos are cute, compact computers that manage to pack in all the punch you’d expect out of their heftier competition. Though they may not quite hit the level of portability a laptop can offer (an external display, keyboard, and mouse are still required), between bulky gaming monsters and limited laptops, these boxes strike a nice balance in the middleground of both.

They might be a bit on the pricier side, but when you consider that you’re paying for a customized case as well as their warranty/guarantee of reliability, a bump in the bottom line is well worth the hit.

In case you aren’t sure if the model you want will handle the games you plan to play, you can check out our article which will help you find out just how much you should drop on a processor, graphics card, or motherboard to fit.


No matter which route you eventually choose, the fact can’t be denied that pound for pound, self-built PCs are the best value for your money. That said, pound for pound they’re also the least portable of the three options we have listed.

Laptops can give gamers on the move all they need to play most of the biggest AAA-titles wherever they might be in the world, but their compact nature will inherently come at the cost of raw graphical output. And lastly, custom PC makers like CyberPower PC offer boxes which are slightly pricier, but powerful alternatives which don’t take up a lot of legroom while still offering all the benefits you’d get out of a tower rig.

PC gaming is in its second-renaissance, and the options available to consumers have never been as numerous or plentiful as they are today. Whichever machine you decide to drop your hard-earned money on, now you can make sure it’s the right one just for you.

Chris Stobing is a writer and blogger from the heart of Silicon Valley. Raised around tech from birth, he's had an interest in PC hardware and networking technology for years, and has come to How-To Geek to contribute his knowledge on both. You can follow him on Twitter here.

  • Published 05/28/15

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