These days, it seems as though everyone on the internet is building their own PC. Of course, there are still plenty of people who buy pre-builts from stores or receive them as gifts from their parents. That won’t stop the online PC enthusiast community from telling you to build your own until they’re blue in the face.

And why not? Building your own PC is superior to purchasing a pre-built for a myriad of reasons. You get full control over what parts you want inside of it and you don’t have to pay for extra stuff you don’t want. You get a more intimate understanding of your PC, yielding greater knowledge of individual parts and giving you the opportunity to upgrade down the line. And you often save a lot of money building a system equivalent (or exceeding) in power to a pre-built PC.

With all of these things being undeniably true, there are still some people who are a bit scared of assembling a PC on their own. They’ve heard horror stories of ESD (electrostatic discharge) frying motherboards, or people destroying pins by depressing the lever too quickly on their incorrectly positioned CPU. Others are scared that if something breaks, troubleshooting would be a nightmare – when you build your own PC, there is no “tech support” number to call like there would be with HP or Dell.

So what does one do, if they’re too wary to build a PC of their own, but they’re cognizant of the benefits of doing so? They turn to the mighty custom, pre-built PC.

It seems as though this is the logical bridge between inexperienced builders and a customized PC. You have the option to choose your parts, you get tech support, and someone else does all of the “heavy lifting” – so to speak- for you. Most (if not all) custom pre-built services on line even offer to overclock for you! This, of course, begs the question raises the legitimate question: are these customized, pre-built PCs already worth the money?

For full disclosure – I offer my own personal services in building PCs for other people. This article directly analyses people that I might consider my competitors. It is in my full financial interest to be as biased and unforgiving as possible when discussing their services – it is my hope in these next few pages to convince you that I am not. It is also my hope in writing this to encourage you, as a customer, to be mindful of the purchases you make so as not to reinforce bad or sloppy sales tactics by larger companies, and it is my hope that said companies work a bit harder in delivering an honest, worthwhile product to their customers.

I am going to be visiting each website as a layman and searching for a mid-level, gaming PC. My approximate budget will vary between $800-$1300 USD. I will discuss the flaws in each build I come across at said price point, and offer some suggestions/revisions concerning said flaws.

Suspect #1 – ibuypower.com

As I open the website of my first potential seller, I glance over the tabs in search of “Gaming PC”. I scroll down and I see “FEATURED GAMING DESKTOPS”, and I see a couple that have caught my eye.

Here’s our first option (Special-A) for $1,099 USD, and here is our second (Weekly Gamer Special) for $1,469 USD.

I’m going to ignore the plethora of “customization” options below, because I don’t even want to get into how much of a rip-off 99% of the services listed are. For instance, charging an extra $49 for overclocking a k series processor..? That out of the way, let’s look at the issues our first $1,099 PC has.

Let’s look at our first option, Special-A.

Problem 1: 4770k processor. Why? There is absolutely no reason to recommend an i7 for a gaming rig. Games today simply do not take advantage of more than 4 threads. [1] [2] A quick rule of thumb from someone with experience building systems – if someone suggests you an i7 and you haven’t explicitly told them you are going to be working with video editing or 3d modeling, run! An i7 is a total waste of money for any gaming system, especially when your graphics card is a…

Problem 2: 650ti graphics card?! Even though the 7850 is priced similarly and is a superior option [1][2], neither card is appropriate in a $1,000 machine. If you’re building a $1,000 machine and you’re not spending at least $250-350 towards graphics, you could hardly even call it a gaming PC.

Problem 3: 16GB of RAM. Why? Completely and totally unnecessary, especially in a gaming PC.

I won’t even get into how stupid it is to include a no-name liquid cooler (that probably gives worse performance and costs more than any decent air cooler) and still charge extra for overclocking…

Shudder.

The thing that upsets me is that the problems with the first rig have nothing to do with the total cost of the system. It’s that someone who is inexperienced with building systems picked which parts to put into a PC built for gaming. This is troubling to me. Maybe the next system will fare better.

Next up is the $1,469 “Weekly Gamer Special” machine.

Problem 1: i7-3820. What?!?!?! A low-class, Sandybridge-E chip? We’ve already established, earlier, that games simply aren’t equipped to take advantage of more than 4 threads, so why on earth would you include a processor that is two generations old that has worse per-thread performance compared to newer Haswell or Ivybridge chips? [1 - SB is the 2700k chip, which is comparable in single-threaded performance to SB-E] In terms of gaming, sandybridge-e tends to be more expensive, yet worse! in terms of performance. [2] The 3820 isn’t even a 6-core processor. Just a normal quadcore, comparable to the 2600-2700k SB chips. This might be the single worst processor you can buy for gaming – it’s expensive, it’s bad, and it’s out-dated.

Problem 2: GTX-770. This card isn’t terrible, but if you’re spending upwards of $1,500 for a system, you can easily do better.

Problem 3: 16GB of RAM again..? I guess this number is just for dick-waving contests?

So what on earth did we get for $1,469? A terrible processor, no operating system, an okay graphics card, no SSD, a PSU that’s only 600w that leaves us no room for adding a second GPU…??? Who chose these parts??

Suspect #2 – cyberpowerpc.com

Sigh…let’s venture over here and see if we can find something better. Upon opening the page, I immediately scroll down to the “Featured Gaming Systems” section and eyeball two PCs in the upper part of my price range. Immediately, something catches my eye.

Remember earlier when I said that the per-thread performance of the 3820 was worse than the per-thread performance of newer chips, such as Haswell chips? By their own benchmark standards, posted on their website, their $1,319 machine is worse for gaming than their $1,169 machine. If you were new to building machines and wound up on one of these sites, how confused do you think you would be to see those numbers??

I could do a point-by-point analysis of each machine, as we did earlier, but it appears as though the same sins have been committed. The first build, for $1,169, sports a measly 7870 with another 4770k! i7′s have no business in gaming machines! Why is this a trend?! And the second machine was sporting a disgusting 3820, with a GTX760! The 760 isn’t a terrible card, but in a $1,319 gaming rig?! Dear God, why?! No SSDs? No OS’s? What on earth are you paying for in these systems? It’s not like I’d even get a cool case, like I would with…

Suspect #3 – alienware.com

(NEXT SECTION MAY BE EXPLICIT, CHILDREN BEWARE)

I threw this one in for giggles because everyone gives Alienware a hard time for their prices. Let’s see how it stacks up against the other two, popular, “custom pre-builts” websites.

Let’s look at the $1,399 Aurora.

Problem 1: i7-3820. Okay, fuck this chip. I don’t know who thought it’d be funny to include this processor in every single gaming build, but seriously, fuck this chip. The IPC is bad, it’s two generations old, it sucks. I’ve said all I’ve had to say earlier, but Jesus, this chip is fucking TERRIBLE for gaming rigs.

Problem 2: GTX 660. IN A $1,400 BUILD?! A GTX 660? WHAAAAAAAAT??? You should have a MUCH more powerful card in a rig like this; who in their right fucking mind would fork over so much money for such a shitty system?!

Problem 3: 1TB HDD…and that’s it. No SSD. No additional storage. No mouse, no keyboard. At least we get Windows 7 with this build! And the operating system is a generation old, to match the generation old GPU and the two generation old processor!

This build is GARBAGE. Glancing even higher, EVEN THE $2,548 USES AN I7-3820. WHO PUTS THIS SHIT TOGETHER?! WHAT THE FUUUUUUUUU

(explicit section ending)

Verdict

Every single one of these websites is terrible. It’s embarrassing to think that people are tricked into believing they’re getting a good deal by purchasing a “custom” PC from any of these websites. Someone asked me a while ago how my personal prices for building PCs stacked up against larger websites like these. When I started going through what these websites offered, originally I was guessing I’d only be pointing out how high their prices were. The truth was much, much more upsetting.

There are two possibilities concerning these websites: Either the people in charge of putting these parts together are ignorant, and have no idea what needs to actually be in a gaming PC, or they are actively trying to scam the people who visit their website. Both possibilities are unacceptable to me.

So now that we’ve torn apart the pickings from the aforementioned websites, what exactly is a good PC for gaming? Let’s take a look at something like this.

Assumptions: Person wants a PC strictly for gaming, his budget is around $1,300. Let’s see what we can come up with.

$1,300 sample gaming rig

Ahh…it’s like a breath of fresh air compared to the mountains of garbage we had to wade through to get here.

The CPU is a 3570k, an Ivybridge i5. It only has 4 cores because we only need 4 cores, and it is a newer architecture than SB, yielding greater IPC (instructions per clock – basically how much work the CPU can do in a given clock cycle) to give us higher framerates in our games. It can be overclocked, and we’ve added a 212 air cooler to it to keep it nice and cool. The UD3H motherboard is pretty much the standard when it comes to Z77 overclocking. 8 gigs of 1600Mhz 9 CAS RAM, because that’s all we need. A 2TB HDD, because 1TB HDD’s are expensive given how little storage they provide. A GTX 780 to DESTROY any game you throw at it at 1080p. Honestly, you could even cut back on the GTX780, or xfire 7950′s or SLI 770′s, but those are all finer points that would need to be looked at. The Source 210 is a nice case that will have room for everything and is cheap, letting us put more money towards other components. The PSU is rock solid – SeaSonic make amazing PSUs. And the DVD reader will perform its job of reading DVDs just fine.

Now some would argue over different smaller points concerning the above build, but one fact is undeniable – it will absolutely annihilate any of the earlier builds we examined posted on any of those websites, even the builds costing $100-$200 more. The performance you get out of this rig (gtx 780 + 3570k) is astronomically greater than anything a lesser GPU/SB-E chip can provide.

I hope you enjoyed the read, and I encourage every single person out there to do the reading necessary so you can simply assemble a PC of your own! But if you are too scared to go down that route, be careful what you’re getting yourself into when it comes to custom pre-builts.

Happy gaming! ^_^

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