We love building our own computers but it takes quite a bit of time. If you love to build but find you don’t have the time, a custom-built PC still gives you control over your components, while leaving the actual assembly up to someone else.
When considering a new computer, you can buy, build, or just get a laptop. Either way, buying a PC or laptop is pretty easy while building you own computer is akin to anything else that takes care and assembly. There’s a process – research, gathering, assembly, testing – and and while you can certainly research and gather in tandem, you can’t do anything else until you have all the parts.
Altogether, it can take a considerable effort because when it comes right down to it, you’re spending money and you want the best computer for your budget. You don’t simply want to buy the first components that pop up in your search results.
Like we said, if you want easy you an always buy a Dell, which will undoubtedly meet your needs but it’s still a Dell. For the true geek experience, you want a computer that is unique and uniquely your own. You want to pick each part and think about how it goes together. Sadly, buying a PC from a vendor like Dell or HP largely dilutes that experience.
We feel there’s a happy median between cobbling your own PC together from NewEgg and Amazon, and leaving it up to a mass PC maker like HP, Dell, or Asus. Many companies nowadays let you assemble a PC from a vast array of parts for about the same price as doing it yourself. They then put the computer together, test it, and ship it right to your door. You then end up with a machine that works right out of the box, and it’s covered by warranty in case something goes wrong.
Depending on how long you spend poring over and researching parts, it can take a little over a week to actually get your new PC, but in the end, you’ve got something that, while you can’t necessarily brag about putting together with your own hands, still accomplishes the same purpose: a custom PC wherein every part meets your approval while still fitting into your budget.
Consider your Needs and Decide on Your Budget
The first thing you need to do when building a new PC is determine your budget, so you can buy the best parts possible while still considering your needs. In our case, we want it to obviously be fast for simple everyday tasks, but also be able to handle modern games at higher frame rates. We’re not interested right now in a multi-GPU system due to cost and power considerations. This means we can hopefully devote just a bit more to a single GPU and a more powerful CPU.
We still want room to expand, so we need to consider a motherboard and case that allows for plenty of it. We also need to think about RAM and storage – we’re thinking we need at least 16 GB and a 250 GB solid state drive, which is the capacity sweet spot right now for SSDs.
So, the basic list goes something like this: higher end CPU and GPU, expansion-friendly mobo, large roomy case, at least 16 GB of RAM, and a 250 GB SSD.
If we can do all this for $1200 to $1500, then we’ll feel good about keeping this computer affordable but having enough power for at least the next three to five years.
Time to Shop
Like needs and budget, where you shop is entirely up to you. We’re not here to recommend any one manufacturer over another, so we urge you to go to various companies, compare builds and prices, and go with the one you like the most.
There are few respected PC builders out there and it behooves you to do your research and shop around. There is Digital Storm, Falcon Northwest, and iBuyPower, just to name a few. If you need a good place to start, here is a useful list.
We ultimately went with CyberPower PC simply because we liked the vast selection of components they offer, our build price was competitive and within our budget, and we’d heard good things about them.
There are two basic ways you can go about this. You can buy a pre-configured PC and just be done with it. This may fulfill your needs and your budget, but if you’re a more experienced builder or just looking to be more involved in choosing your components, then you’ll want to use a configurator.
CyberPower offers an array of pre-configured base models and these will give you a pretty good idea of where to start.
Being a builder, you’ll have your own thought process as you go through and configure your system.
For us, the first big decision is the case, which has to be sensible, have good cable management, and be roomy enough for expansion. There are a lot of cases, in a variety of shapes, designs, and sizes. This is one of those instances where you are going to want to look at the designs that interest you and do a little research, such as check reviews and customer feedback.
We’ve also got cooling considerations, but luckily you can elect to fill up your case with the maximum fans, and even install lighted ones if that is your preference.
Next, we want to pick a CPU, a motherboard, RAM (at least 16 GB of the fastest we can afford), and a video card. This might take a bit of time as well, particularly with regard to the mobo and GPU, both of which might require a bit of research. Again, we stipulated at the outset we wanted a motherboard will lots of expandability, so through our research and keeping an eye on our budget, we managed to find one, and a video card that works ideally for us.
One of the more tedious things you have to think about when building is how to keep the CPU cool. Thankfully, there’s quite a selection of not just heat sink/fans, but liquid cooling as well. Cyberpower may even be running a special where you can pick up a liquid cooling system for free, such as we were able to do when we configured our new machine.
Then, there’s the matter of picking out our storage option. Our needs are simple. Since we already have magnetic hard drives from our previous system for storing and archiving files, we want a fast 250 GB SSD as our main system drive. Finally, we need to make sure we have enough power to run everything. That’s no problem because the CyberPower configurator tells us if the power supply is able to handle our requirements.
Beyond this, the rest of CyberPower’s selections (accessories and software & services) will be optional. Want an optical drive? We haven’t touched a recordable disc medium in years so we saved a bit of money that way. You can elect to build a multi-GPU system, which will inflate the price considerably, or pick parts that are ideally suited for overclocking but that’s entirely up to you, your needs, and your budget.
OS or No?
When you’re doing your final run-through, you can have an OS installed before it leaves the the factory. If you already have an OS, then this will save you over $100 on the final price.
Pay close attention to this option because the cost of a Windows license can easily drive your system over budget. Altogether, the final price for our new system when we include shipping (and not Windows) was $1285, and comes with a three year labor/one year parts warranty.
The Buying Experience and the Waiting …
Once finished “assembling” our PC, it’s time to buy it. The entire experience of buying a computer should be easy and stress free. If there is an error, the system should alert you. Throughout the build, you should be able to follow its progress and have a fairly good idea when to expect your system. It’s fair to say that Internet purchases come with a certain amount of expectations, and as consumers we expect to know what’s going on with our stuff.
In our experience, at least with this company, all those fears were allayed. Despite a couple of crossed-up digits that delayed our credit card authorization for a day, the rest of the process was smooth and we could quickly track its progress from the CyberPower website. Additionally, we received regular emails at the end of the day when our PC progressed to the next stage. If we had a problem or concern, customer service was only a phone call away.
The last thing left to do after that was wait about 10 days from purchase to delivery.
The OOBE and Final Thoughts
Having another company build you a custom PC isn’t devoid of the most fun part. You still get to unpack it and have the out of box experience (OOBE).
Inside the ginormous box it came in, along with thick foam padding, was the PC in its case box. Any supporting documentation and spare hardware (screws, brackets, whatnot) came included with the original motherboard box.
Inside, the case all our components are secured by a big glob of hard foam surrounded in plastic film. It achieved about 90 percent of its purpose. No components were damaged during shipment, but our video card did come loose from the motherboard.
We chalked that up to the exclusion of a screw to attach the considerably heavy item to the case.
It didn’t take long to re-seat the video card and secure it in place, but it did leave us puzzled at the builder’s oversight. That notwithstanding, the entire process of building a PC in this way was affordable, convenient, and relatively quick. Since adding it to our office as our main Windows PC, it has been stable and ably meets our speed needs both everyday and gaming-wise.
Moreover, it really is a custom PC, not unlike something we would have built the old fashioned way. Being able to configure and order in the way that we did, however, removed a significant amount of research and other considerations from the process. We didn’t have to think about cables, fans, or any of the minutiae associated with building at home. This is arguably part of the fun, but again, it’s time consuming and if you forget something (thermal paste anyone?), then you’re left scrambling off to your nearest PC shop or waiting for UPS again.
There’s no guarantee we’ll build our next PC this way, but given that it met our needs so ably while still delivering the same end result, there’s probably a good chance we will. To that end, if you’re thinking that with Windows 10 just around the corner, and there being so many new and upcoming game titles you want to play, then a new computer may be in your future.
If you want to build your own, don’t have the time, and still want something that fits your unique computing needs, we believe ordering a boutique system is a great way to go about it. Have a comment or question you would like to share with us? Please leave your feedback in our discussion forum.