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Even now, it’s still cheaper to build your own PC than it is to buy a pre-built machine from a manufacturer like Dell or HP. Not only do you save money, but the resulting machine is often more capable, too.
If you’re shopping for a new computer, then you should really consider building one from parts. It sounds scary, but it really isn’t — especially if you follow our easy guide to building your own PC. It’s like LEGO: you mix and match pieces that already fit together.
But even though building a PC from parts is already the more affordable option, there are a few tips and tricks you should know to shave off even more money from the final cost.
1. Pick Only the Parts You Need
One of the best ways to save hundreds of dollars on a PC is to build it to meet your requirements and not more. There’s no sense in shelling out $1,000 for a gaming PC if you only play browser games, read email, and watch Netflix. It’s nice to have a powerful PC, but if you need to save money you should be really selective about the components to include.
And no, don’t try to “buy for the future” when it comes to PC parts, also known as future-proofing.
Thanks to Moore’s Law and other related phenomena, hardware prices constantly drop from year to year. A $100 hard drive today will be $50 in a few years, and the same will hold true for CPUs, GPUs, monitors, and even peripherals like keyboards and mice.
New models and upgrades are pushed out every year, and each time that happens, the price of older hardware always get slashed. As such, buying for the future might be a convenient move, but not exactly an economical one.
Buy what you need to suffice for the present. Three years down the road, if you need a better PC, then upgrade the individual component that you need improved. That’s the beauty of a PC — you can upgrade individual parts instead of buying an entirely new system every few years.
Pro Tip: Future-proofing your PC build will only cost you more money in the long run.
So how can you determine the capabilities of the PC you’re aiming to build? Answer: By using a website like Logical Increments, which lays out dozens of different PC component combinations to create the exact PC that you need.
On the site, “Destitute” tier PCs can be built for as little as $191 while “Monstrous” tier PCs are as expensive as $3,666. The key is to hover over each tier’s name for a description of how powerful each tier is. Using this guide, you can build a relatively powerful gaming PC for under $600.
And there’s a bonus: for each tier, all listed components are compatible so you don’t have to worry about that.
2. Use Price Comparison Tools
Once you know which parts you need, it’s time to practice a bit of patience. You could hop on a site like DealExtreme or http://www.tigerdirect.com/, fill up your shopping cart, and instantly check out — but then you wouldn’t be saving a lot of money.
In fact, one of the most effortless ways to get a good deal on PC parts is to use a price comparison website. There are dozens of these websites to choose from, though, so focus your attention on a PC-specific price comparer like PCPartPicker.
Let’s say I’m looking to purchase a Samsung 850 Pro 512 GB SSD. If I were to buy it from Adorama without second thought, I’d end up paying $258. But by using PCPartPicker, I see that it’s available on Amazon for $219. A bit of an extreme example, but you can see how convenient this is.
Note: Amazon usually has great prices, so this tool is more useful if you want to actively avoid Amazon.
On top of price comparisons, one neat feature of PCPartPicker is that it will store and track your PC parts wishlist. This list shows you every component that you’ll need, let’s you fill each slot with what you want, and calculates the final build price based on the best price comparisons it can find.
And you should know that PCPartPicker has a section where you can view completed PC builds that others have submitted. These tell you all of the components included in the build and the final price. If anything, these are great to use as a basis for further customization according to your personal needs.
3. Wait for Price Drops, Promos, Coupons
If you do decide that you want to buy everything from Amazon — e.g. maybe you want to take advantage of Amazon Prime and free shipping — then price comparisons won’t help you much. However, there’s is another class of tools that could prove useful: price history trackers.
The truth is, not every Amazon product is a deal. When a listing tells you that you’ll “save $200 (17%)” on a purchase, it doesn’t necessarily mean the product is actually on sale for 17% off — it just means that the product’s current price is less than its price when it first launched.
Amazon price history trackers, like CamelCamelCamel, make it easy to see the price trend of a given product so you can decide whether it would be a good idea to buy now or wait a while.
If CamelCamelCamel doesn’t suit you, there are other Amazon price trackers that you can use. For example, TheTracktor isn’t as detailed but can be more accurate in some cases. The Keepa extension for Chrome is nifty as well.
Another way to chop up big price tags: wait for promos and coupons.
Sites like FatWallet and SlickDeals are invaluable if you aren’t in a rush to purchase. As long as you catch their deals in time, you could save up to 50% or more on flash deals and limited time promotions. Slim chance you’ll be able to get the exact items on your wishlist, but it’s still worth checking.
If you prefer a more passive way to check on deals, consider using an automatic coupon finder. They aren’t as accurate or as specific, but they do cut out a lot of the work for you.
If you shop online a lot, then you should consider installing these 10 money-saving browser extensions.
And don’t forget about mail-in rebates. It’s easy to be lazy once the computer parts are delivered to your home and you’re looking at a mail-in slip for $10. “Is it worth it to drive down to the post office?” Yes! $10 might not seem like a lot, but $10 off of a $100 video card is a hefty chunk of change. Don’t let laziness prevail.
Have Any Tips of Your Own?
If you’re still in the beginning phases of PC part shopping, check out these PC-building helper sites for some of the best tips and advice regarding your builds.
And if you want to throw in a bit of flair to make sure your PC is unique, consider these ways to spice up a boring computer.
Do you build your own PCs or buy them pre-built? What kind of tricks do you use to shave dollars off of the final price? Share with us in the comments!