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College bookstores sell PC hardware now, but pricing is as bad as the textbooks

(Image credit: Future)

College bookstores are not just for textbooks and spirit-wear anymore. If you are currently a student, you might have noticed gaming PCs and peripherals on the shelves or online over the last couple of years. Having been out of school for a while this is definitely a new concept to me, but my own undergrad years would not have been complete without playing Counter Strike with my dorm-friends, or making popcorn and watching one of our friends play FEAR in the dark. (The good ol' pre-Twitch days). It's kind of cool to see some colleges doing this now.

And it makes sense given the rise of gaming and esports clubs, but student bookstores are not known for their budget-friendly prices. The convenience of picking up a new headset or keyboard with your textbooks comes in the form of a markup, generally. Gaming-anything can be expensive, so even if that markup is $5 more than MSRP, that's still a lot for the average college student.

A quick trip to the student store at California State University Fullerton showed as much. There was an Asus VG245 24" monitor going for $208.99, which I think might be the same as the VG245H, but the model number on the box itself was missing the H. Anyway, you can find the same monitor (TN panel, 1080p, 75Hz, two HMDI ports, FreeSync) elsewhere online for less. The Asus website currently lists the monitor for $199.99. However, when you factor in shipping and sales tax, you're saving money by purchasing this monitor at the student store. If you buy the same monitor at a brick-and-mortar store like Best Buy, it's $199.99 before tax, but is about $10 cheaper than buying it at CSUF. Again, $10 might not seem like a lot, but $10 is $10.

The same college had an Alienware desktop and laptop on display, too, both with a 7th gen Core i7, 16GB of DDR4 RAM, and a 128GB NVMe SSD with a 1TB HDD. The desktop had a GTX 1080, and the laptop had a GTX 1060. However, it didn't actually have any units in the bookstore for purchase. Speaking to one of the student workers, anyone looking to purchase an Alienware system would have to go on the Dell website, pick their build, and enter a student code to get $100 off—but those exact systems are not available on the Dell website anymore, and some higher-end configurations are not available in California.

While CSUF has a lot of current-gen Corsair and Roccat mice (I spotted a few Razer Deathadders, one of the best gaming mice, for more than the average price) and keyboards for sale too, you can't buy them from its online store, inexplicably. Other colleges like Chapman University, UCLA, and Michigan State have the same or similar gaming PC products available from their online student store. However, expect not only for everything to be marked up, but also to pay more if you're having it shipped instead of picking it up in the store, if the school has that option.

(Image credit: Future)

I found a LucidSound LS25 gaming headset on Chapman's website for $79.99, when the price on the LucidSound website is $74.99. There's a Lenovo IdeaCentre Y710 Cube gaming desktop too for $1,999.00, but not only does Lenovo no longer make that PC, but it also has some seriously old hardware: a 6th-generation Core i7 and an AMD RX 480 8GB.

UCLA has a MSI GL63 gaming laptop on their online store for $1,699.99 with an Intel Core i7-8750H and a RTX 2060, but the GL63 models only go up to a GTX 1660 Ti according to MSI's website. Considering the GS65 Stealth is around $2,000 at Best Buy, this might be a good price range, but it's hard to compare when the specs, model name, and price don't match up on UCLA's store. MSU lists a SteelSeries Siberia P100 on its store site for $54.99, but when you go to SteelSeries website, not only is the Siberia P100 out of stock, but it's priced at $49.99.

It seems college pricing for gaming PCs and peripherals is really messy, and if you're new to the PC gaming scene or a parent shopping for your college-bound kid, you might not know what a good price for something is, or if the school is trying to sell an outdated product at a ridiculous price.

If you're looking for an upgrade before the school year is fully underway, you might want to shop around a bit before impulse buying a PC or something else with a stack of Bluebooks. Or wait until Black Friday. Or just build your own.

When Joanna's not writing about gaming desktops, cloud gaming, or other hardware-related things, she's doing terrible stuff in The Sims 4, roleplaying as a Malkavian, or playing horror games that would give normal people nightmares. She also likes narrative adventures.