Should you buy a pre-built PC or build your own gaming rig over Black Friday?

Should you buy a pre-built PC or build your own gaming rig over Black Friday?
(Image credit: Dell)

If you’re in the market for a new gaming PC, the math on that age-old question of "buy or build," changes up in November because… well, the prices all shift during the Black Friday sales. Despite the prices dropping, your position on the issue may or may not change, depending on what kind of specs you’re looking for and how much you’re willing to spend. Some people are just builders, and others buyers. But for those considering both options, there’s a big choice to be made. Let’s break down some realities of PC purchasing so you can figure out whether you want to buy one of the best gaming PCs, or build your own.

Pre-built PCs often have better deals

More deals

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Our complete guide to all the best Black Friday deals on gaming PCs and parts.

Based on the deals highlighted by tech and gaming outlets like us during November 2018, the general wisdom seems to imply that there are more deals on full, pre-made PCs than any individual type of component. With the possible exception of SSDs, which see regular discounts, most components get smaller (or no) reductions in price. CPUs and GPUs often hold their value, even during sales. So, the list of pre-built deals is far longer than individual components, and that practically triples if you’re open to the idea of buying a gaming laptop.

So what kind of PCs are you getting from these deals? They can run the gamut, but you can expect that a good one will knock $200-500 off a $1,000-1,5000 PC. For that money, you’re probably getting a full tower with a Core i5 or or i7 processor, but maybe not 9th-gen (unless you get close to $1,500); a 10-series or 2060/70-level graphics card; a small SSD and a larger HDD. A good gaming PC, albeit one with a shorter shelf life than the one you could build yourself for that price. If that sounds like what you want, you’re going to get a deal on Black Friday.

If you’re considering building a PC, though, there’s a chance you want something more complicated, or higher spec. 

(Image credit: HP)

The thing I would NOT recommend doing is buying a pre-built, then speccing it out with extra parts. You never know what complications may arise from adding a better graphics card or more or storage: Do you need more power? Different cooling? Will all of that fit in the pre-built case made for these specific parts? The cost of modifying the system may completely negate the discount, at which point there’s no reason to force the issue and buy a PC right now.

There are deals on parts, so persist

While they’re often smaller than the big doorbuster deals you’ll find pre-built PCs, you can find Black Friday reductions on most types of PC components. Since GPU prices are trending down, we think it’ll be a banner year for graphics card sales, and we'll be keeping an eye on all the Black Friday graphics card deals.. Other components, like memory and hard drives always seem to get prices slashed in big sales like this, and you tend to get reductions on cases and PSUs too. In the same way that building a PC is always cheaper than buying a pre-build with the same component parts, creating a gaming PC build from discounted parts will likely cost less than its pre-built counterpart. Better yet, depending on your needs, you may be able to build a better machine for the same amount as you spend on the pre-build.

That said, going into Black Friday looking to build a PC requires a certain amount of flexibility regarding what you want. When I’m looking at PC parts (I haven’t bought a full system in a while), I generally prefer to pay a little more to get exactly what I want. I play the sales, but I play the long game. If the three motherboards I’ve picked out aren’t on sale, I’ll walk away. If you are looking to buy on Black Friday, either because your system needs to be replaced or you just have it in your head that it’s time, you have to be flexible because the deals may not be on the parts you prefer. Have a main choice, and some back-ups you’ll be happy with.

(Image credit: MSI)

Have you considered a gaming laptop?

Everything we’ve discussed so far goes out the window once you start talking about gaming laptops. As I mentioned up top, there’s an incredible number of gaming laptop deals every Black Friday. Unlike pre-built desktops these deals seem to run the gamut, specs-wise. Absolutely top-of-the-line gear may still be full price, but you can expect to get at least a small deal on most of PC Gamer’s best gaming laptops on Black Friday. And there is always one high-spec laptop that does see a hefty discount, like the Razer Blade 15 that got 33% off on Amazon Prime Day.

If you’re choosing between building and buying, you probably aren’t thinking about buying a gaming laptop. But if you’re thinking purely in terms of getting the best machine at the biggest discount and walking away happy, then a laptop might actually be the ticket (especially if you’re leaning towards buying a pre-built.)

(Image credit: MSI)

I’m not suggesting buying a gaming laptop on a whim. You should consider, preferably before the day comes, whether or not you’d be open to buying a gaming laptop instead of a desktop. Like I said before, to play big sales like Black Friday you have to be flexible. At the same time, you need to take steps so you can bend without breaking and buying something you don’t actually want.