Gaming PCs: It's time to buy — and not build

If you want a shiny new GPU, you might as well buy a pre-made gaming PC

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you want a powerful GPU in your computer, you may need to make a shopping decision that you wouldn't have before. No, it's not spending way too much on a GPU from a reseller. I'm talking about buying a pre-built gaming PC.

The inconvenient truth about GPU shortages is that demand has continually overwhelmed supply during the COVID-19 pandemic. Even as the pandemic winds down, demand for GPUs is still extraordinarily high — not just from gamers, but also from cryptocurrency miners. A month ago, Nvidia warned that its RTX 3080 shortage isn't just a problem for today, but will plague us in 2022 as well.

I'm admittedly new to this conversation. I've gone from never needing a gaming PC to loving a decently powerful loaner over the course of the last five months. But I've paid enough attention to the crippling chip shortages to know the odds of finding a standalone GPU.

Finding a GPU

Looking for an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3070 GPU online right now, you'll see prices floating around $1,300 to $1,600. That's a markup of 100% to 200% over the graphics card's original $499 MSRP. Of course, Google doesn't exactly help, throwing mirages in where they don't belong. For example: the search engine shows a listing for a Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 GPU in the shopping results for a 3070 search. 

Or you could try to play the lottery. If you sign up for the Newegg Shuffle, for example, you'll get a chance to buy one of these rare GPUs. Prices in this scenario are far more affordable, but still cost at least $649. It's a harsh reminder that everyone's trying to test our spending limits right now. 

Hilariously (and unfortunately), the Newegg Shuffle got weird on May 25. The service tried to sell readers kettles, Uber Eats gift cards and ... fruit hydrators? Oh, and while Newegg had an Asus ROG Strix RTX 3070, it cost $859. I don't want to win a contest where my reward is paying a slightly less usurious markup.

I've already put far too much time into getting a PS5, and I wonder whether that was a good use of my time and energy. Similarly, my colleague Marshall Honorof says it's best to just accept the current chip shortage and its effects on consoles and GPUs. But, with all due respect to Marshall, what if you don't want to accept it?

The benefits of a pre-built gaming PC

That's when you have to accept that it's time to buy a pre-built machine. Why? Because those GPU shortages aren't nearly as crippling for the likes of Dell and other OEMs.

One of the cheapest major-manufacturer desktops with a 30-series GPU, at least that we can find, is the Dell XPS 8940 Special Edition with an Nvidia GeForce RTX 3060 (as well as a Core i7-11700 CPU, 16 GB of RAM and a 256 GB SSD) for $1,749. It takes almost a month to ship, however. 

Want a 3070 instead? That'll run you $1,949, and Dell estimates the system will ship in about 2 weeks. 

If you're aching for the power of a new GPU, this may be your best bet. That's especially true when the prices for entire pre-built machines are barely above those for standalone secondhand GPUs. 

Pre-built pros and cons

Admittedly, it may feel a little wasteful to buy a whole new tower if your existing system still works. Plus, if you're used to building your own gaming PCs (or know anyone who is), you may view these pre-built systems with the same skeptical eye as you view GPU price inflation. 

Yes, you can build that PC for less — or at least, you could if demand weren't smacking supply around harder than Godzilla smacked Kong in their recent movie. You also have less control over a pre-built system.

But, honestly, I'm comparing these prices because I know I'm going to need a new gaming rig sooner rather than later. That's the tight corner we're shoved into right now. 

Personally, I value the time I'll save by buying a pre-made PC instead of haunting the internet, waiting to get my win. Similarly, there's always some inherent risk in building your own gaming PC. You will learn quite a bit the first time you make a mistake, but you might also create an expensive, time-shredding tech support sinkhole. 

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