There are many advantages to a prebuilt PC, even when there aren’t global shortages of computer components to contend with. But, if you do choose the convenience of a prebuilt over a DIY PC, you should carefully consider this checklist.
Are All the Components Branded?
Prebuilt computers are often sold on the strength of major components such as the CPU and GPU. However, other components can have a major impact on both the performance and longevity of your computer. A good prebuilt PC should have details of the exact model for every component available. If the builder doesn’t disclose the brand and model of the power supply, motherboard, RAM, and other components, that’s a red flag.
Many prebuilt systems use unbranded OEM (Original equipment manufacturer) components in order to cut down on costs. These are not necessarily poor quality simply because they are OEM components, but it’s a good idea to find out whether the no-name PSU or SSD in your prebuilt computer was built by someone with a good reputation.
Is the Build Balanced?
Another common issue with prebuilt computers is that they’re built with strange performance balance issues. For example, the CPU or GPU may be mismatched in terms of performance, leading to bottlenecks. Manufacturers may allocate budget to flashy components that look good on a simplified specification list, but then put a single stick of RAM in single channel mode into the system or use an SSD with poor real-world performance.
Remember that a computer is only as fast as the slowest component involved in any given job you give it. You may want to look for reviews, or real-world benchmarks of the computer to make sure that it performs as advertised.
Is The Power Supply Good Enough?
A good rule of thumb with power supplies for computers is that you should overcompensate a little. You can use tools like Seasonic’s Wattage Calculator to see what sort of power supply the computer should have.
Don’t just consider the wattage alone. A power supply also needs to supply enough amperage to components like the CPU and GPU for stable operation. Check the detailed PSU requirements of those components against the specifications of the power supply. It’s important that the system builder doesn’t skimp on the basic quality of the PSU, since this is a component that can do a lot of damage if it goes wrong!
Does It Have a Holistic Warranty?
Carefully read the warranty documentation of the prebuilt computer to check whether the system is covered as a whole. One benefit of prebuilt systems is that the builder should warranty the computer as a whole.
When you build a computer yourself, you only have the individual warranties of each component to cover you. So if the power supply takes out your CPU, RAM, and motherboard, only the power supply itself is covered. Make sure the prebuilt computer is covered as a whole, rather than as a set of individual parts.
Is The Computer User-Serviceable?
The beauty of desktop computers is that you can repair and upgrade the system as you need to, within the terms of the warranty of course. If you want your prebuilt system to remain useful for years to come, it needs to be user-serviceable.
What does this mean in practice? First of all, a toolless chassis, or one that can be opened without special tools, is a must. If any component that should be removable is riveted in, that’s not great. The same goes for the use of glue to hold things down.
If the computer uses an OEM motherboard, it’s important that it complies with established chassis standards, so that you can swap in an off-the-shelf replacement if needed. It’s also a good thing if the chassis itself is designed to be user-friendly. Some cheap OEM cases have sharp internal edges, for example.
Is it Put Together Competently?
All prebuilt systems are not created equal. Some are made by boutique system builders, who hand-assemble the computer from quality components. Others are put together rapidly on an assembly line.
Of course, you pay more for the boutique option, but there can be real benefits to a prebuilt that’s made carefully, using best practices. Many problems can be hidden from the user as well. Cheap prebuilt systems can have messy cable management and use cheap cabling, hidden away where users won’t see it. The same goes for the application of thermal paste or the assembly of water-cooling loops. Mass-produced prebuilt systems often cut corners in ways they hope users won’t notice.
Do You Have Upgrade Options?
One good way to make owning a PC more affordable is to buy one with good basic specifications now and then upgrade it later. This is why it’s important to buy a prebuilt with good upgrade options. For example, can you add a decent number of additional drives? Are there open RAM slots so you can add RAM without sitting with extra sticks after?
You should also think carefully about the CPU socket that the system uses. Is it near the end of its life—or might you still get another generation or two of upgrades from it?
Is the IO Adequate?
IO (Input-Output) specifications aren’t sexy, but when you realize you don’t have enough ports to plug in all your peripherals, it’s going to matter. Make sure there are enough USB ports and that they are of the right type for your needs. Features such as built-in Wi-Fi or Bluetooth are also worth looking for, as these are not a given with desktop systems. Good front-panel IO is also worth its weight in gold, making it easy to plug in headphones or flash drives.
Has the System Been Burned In?
Good system builders will run a 24-hours burn-in test on each system they put together. This is a stress test where all the components are run at their maximum level to ensure that the cooling system works properly and that the computer is stable. This also ensures there are no DOA (dead on arrival) components and that if a part such as the PSU has a critical fault, it will fail under stress before leaving the factory or workshop.
If a computer survives such a test, it becomes much more likely that it will last long term as well. If the prebuilt computer you’re considering doesn’t get this type of quality control before going to customers, you may want to consider running such a burn-in test yourself when you first take delivery. If anything isn’t right, you can send the system back as soon as possible.
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