How to Choose: Pre-Built Vs. Custom PC

When shopping for a new PC, it’s important to choose one that is compatible with how you want to use it. We break down the unique differences between pre-built PCs, custom-built PCs, and PCs that you build yourself.1 2

Once you’ve made the choice to get a new gaming PC, the first step is deciding between a laptop or a desktop. Assuming you’ve chosen to go with a desktop, the next step is finding the right one. It likely won’t be long before you’re choosing between a pre-built PC vs custom PC.

Though system diversity is one of the biggest advantages of PC gaming, there are a lot of options out there, so it’s not always easy to know where to start.

While there is a spectrum of options available, you generally have three choices:

  •  You can buy a PC that’s already been built. Pre-built gaming PCs are complete systems put together by well-known manufacturers using balanced and reliable hardware configurations. They are produced in quantity by some of the most trusted names in the PC space. These are usually available in local stores and are designed to be ready to use right out of the box.
  • You can have someone else build it for you. Another option is ordering your build from a custom PC building company. You select the features and components you want and rely on a team of qualified experts to build a PC to your specifications and ship it to you.
  • You can build it yourself. Lastly, you can obtain the individual components and assemble them at home.

Though the three options within this spectrum aren’t strictly defined, and there is some crossover between the three, they’re all worth considering. Let’s explore each category in closer detail.

Let’s start with one of the most important factors to think about when buying a new PC: The components inside. One of the advantages of PCs is that you can get the performance you want with the hardware you choose. But you can also let someone else make those choices for you, if you prefer.

Pre-Built

  • Less choice over the components in your system
  • Convenient
  • Helps to know the CPU and GPU you want

Pre-built systems are an attractive option for those who are less concerned with the minute details of every component in their build (such as the manufacturer and detailed specifications like RAM speed).

They are ideal for someone who favors convenience over the ability to pick and choose every piece of hardware in their build.

Knowing some specifics about what you want (for example, your preferred CPU and GPU) will help you choose the right PC, but you’ll have to trust the PC manufacturer to choose the additional hardware for you.

Custom

  • Customizable hardware configurations
  • Expert-built
  • Should have a rough idea of the specs you want

If you’re looking for customization and the ability to easily upgrade your hardware down the road, but don’t necessarily want to build your own computer, consider ordering a custom-built machine from a PC building company.

This option provides some of the advantages of building your own PC, in that you can choose the parts you want. The difference is that an experienced builder will put the PC together for you.

Keep in mind that suggested hardware configurations might not always align with your personal needs. It’s useful to have a rough idea of the hardware specs you’ll need to balance your system. This allows you to adjust your build parameters to make sure they reflect what you’re looking for.

DIY

  • Fully customizable
  • Built by you
  • Requires some technical know-how

Building your own PC is the best solution for those who want full control over every aspect of their build. It provides the most thorough customization options, from the CPU to the fans and lighting.

That means you’ll always have the exact hardware you need. And because you built it, you’ll know exactly how to upgrade and customize your PC.

Not to mention, building a PC is easier than you might think. (And we have a handy guide to walk you through it.) However, it does require enough technical expertise to select and install your own components..

Budget

The old adage that building your own PC is the cheapest option isn’t always true anymore. Between pre-built, custom-built, and DIY, there isn’t a clear “cheapest” choice. The price of the same hardware configurations across all three categories can vary depending on factors like volume discounts and demand.

The decision ultimately comes down to how meticulous you want to be with your spending strategy—whether you prefer to buy a PC for a lump sum or to price out individual components.

Pre-built. If you’re considering a pre-built system, keep an eye out for online and retail store discounts, especially around time-sensitive sales like Black Friday. Price reductions will vary by retailer, but remaining vigilant when these discounts appear can be a great way to make sure you get your desired system at a good price.

Flexibility is helpful here. You might not find the exact system you’re looking for on sale, but keeping your options open can result in some serious savings.

Custom. The cost of custom-built PCs will scale depending on the hardware you select. Additional features like liquid cooling systems or customized aesthetics also add to the cost. This feature-based pricing contrasts with pre-built systems that have a simpler cost structure.

That being said, keeping an eye out for discounts on individual components, site-wide deals, and additional included hardware or upgrades can still result in significant discounts.

DIY. Building your own PC allows you to strategize based on your needs. You’ll have the most opportunity to be selective about the hardware that goes in your machine. By going into the process with a general sense of what you’re looking for and the flexibility to build around that strategy, you’ll be in a solid position to maximize your budget.

Assuming that you’re upgrading from an older PC, there might be components you can reuse. Just make sure they’re compatible with your newer hardware and are still functioning properly.

Assembly Time

Another important question to consider is how quickly you need your new PC.

Prebuilt. If you’re looking to pick up a system today, a pre-built machine from your local brick-and-mortar store could be the way to go.

A pre-built gaming PC will usually come with almost everything you need to get up and running, including a keyboard, mouse, and operating system. Also helpful: On-site sales associates can answer questions you might have.

Custom. Custom-built PCs, on the other hand, have to be constructed and shipped. The time this takes depends on the company. Some excel at fast-turnaround work, while others take several weeks or longer. The complexity of your build also determines the time you have to wait.

DIY. How long the process takes will mostly depend on you. It’s certainly possible to put a PC together in one day, especially if you make use of our wide variety of educational resources. But if you’re ordering each piece separately, particularly while watching for deals, the process could take significantly longer.

Tech Support & Troubleshooting

You’ll also want to think about what happens after you purchase your PC. If you run into issues, are you confident you’re going to be able to fix them yourself, or are you going to need assistance?

Pre-built. When selecting a pre-built system, there’s often a manufacturer warranty or store protection plan available. These details will vary, so you’ll always want to double-check what is being offered if support after purchase is a priority.

Custom. PC building companies often provide robust support options, like phone assistance and warranties. Again, this varies from vendor to vendor, so always confirm that they offer what you think you’ll need when shopping for your new build.

DIY. If you’re building your own PC, you probably won't have access to system-wide support. Be conscious of component-level warranties. These can be useful in the event that your PC needs work.

Though you may need to repair your computer yourself, there are plenty of helpful guides out there to use for reference and support.

Software

Additionally, you’ll want to consider what software you’ll be using with your new PC.

Pre-built machines usually come with an operating system pre-installed, often alongside manufacturer-recommended programs. Custom builds often come with an operating system installed, typically Windows.

When you buy storage separately for your own build, you’ll be looking at a clean slate. Keep in mind the operating system you want to use as well as any other programs you might need.

Aesthetics

Aesthetic elements like paint, RGB lighting, and the physical design of the body can vary greatly from one gaming PC to the next. You’ll likely have your own preferences as to whether you want to modify your casing or not.

Pre-built. These systems are fine for those with no interest in modding their system. That doesn’t mean your build will lack visual appeal. Computer makers often place an emphasis on making gaming PC cases stand apart from ordinary non-gaming desktops. Because they are mass produced, however, they may lack individuality.

Custom. Bespoke PCs often have more aesthetic flavor than pre-builts. The cases for default builds often have visual features such as transparent shells that display the components glowing within.

On top of that, some custom PC companies specialize in visual customization options including UV printing and laser etching. Falcon Northwest*, for example, is a system integrator well known for custom paint jobs that add a unique flair to their PCs.

Going with a custom-built PC is the best option for those who want a customized case but lack the tools or the confidence in their artistic ability to pull it off themselves.

DIY. Building a PC for yourself gives you free rein to design a PC with a personalized aesthetic. Your build will look exactly the way you want it to.

Should you choose to prioritize the visual elements of your build, a wide assortment of custom cases and components are available to help you along. Our interview with the case fabricator Peter “L3p” Brands serves as a good introduction to custom PC case designs.

Side by Side Comparison

Whether you’re drawn to the convenience of a pre-built computer, or the flexibility of DIY, there’s a gaming PC option out there that is recommended to fit your unique needs.

 

Pre-built

Custom

DIY

Hardware Configuration

System level selection

Component level selection

Fully customizable

Budget

System level discounts

Component level discounts

Widest selection of component options

Assembly Time

No assembly required

May require lead time

Takes time to build

Support

Warranty and customer service

Warranty and customer service

Limited to individual parts

Software

OS pre-installed

OS often pre-installed

No pre-installed OS

Aesthetics

Lightly customizable

Customizable

Fully customizable

Product and Performance Information

1Intel does not control or audit third-party data. You should review this content, consult other sources, and confirm whether referenced data are accurate. Intel® technologies may require enabled hardware, software or service activation. No product or component can be absolutely secure
2Your costs and results may vary.