Is it worth the effort to build a PC in today's market? This is a question I keep returning to as friends and family have debated jumping into the PC gaming fold. At the end of the day this still gets me excited. I love PC gaming and love more people getting into it, but as prices on new hardware keep increasing, and alternatives like the Steamdeck and great current gen consoles hit the market, I have to ask what the best recommendations are for someone's hard earned money?
What has really brought me to question this lately is thinking back to the PC I built in 2018. It was a budget machine that really punched above its weight class in my opinion. A Ryzen 5 2600, a GTX 1060 6GB, 16GB of DDR4 RAM and a 500GB Solid State Drive, along with a budget case motherboard and PSU to tie it all together all for about $650 dollars. This price to performance was awesome but at the time you could find videos all over youtube showing off similar performing PC’s at similar prices. I understand inflation exists but hardware also has a tendency to get better generation over generation.
Since 2020 though a number of low to mid range GPU’s have come out at a very similar performance to the 1050ti and 1060 cards yet their prices keep going up. A quick look at the steam survey tells an interesting story. For the last 6 years the GTX 1060 has been the most popular graphics card in the world, but that has finally been dethroned. As of Q4 2022 the GTX 1650 is now the most popular graphics card in the world. This is a card that launched over 2 years ago at an MSRP of $150 and with similar performance to a 1050ti a card launched in 2016 for $140. For possibly the first time gaming PC’s on the budget end seem to be going backwards. If you want a meaningful upgrade or a new PC to play triple A titles, that’s no longer something that can be found for $600 when buying new. The gateway into PC gaming is officially getting more expensive….. Or is it.
I was stuck in this train of thought for a whole week after I started writing this, but I knew I was being stubborn. I finally swallowed my pride and started looking at the alternative: the used market. Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the used market and I personally love scrolling used listings looking for awesome deals. It just felt weird to have to explain to my friend that he might be better off with a GPU from 6 years ago rather than something brand new. If a console was 6 years old it would be on its way out the door! Either way I came to the conclusion that this was without a doubt the way to go and sure enough Nvidia 10 series cards are abundant and priced incredibly well. The GTX 1070 was the perfect price to performance for $150-200 dollars and I finally felt like I was making progress and things were getting better. None of this changes how I felt in the first section ranting about the price to performance of new parts though.
Another week went by and I finally found the motivation I really needed to finish this article and reevaluate how I felt about building a PC in the current market. It was time for Massive LAN. Along with a small group of friends I headed off to a weekend LAN party about an hour away. I took this as an opportunity to rant about the prices of new hardware and how I was trying to price out a PC for a friend. Well what do you know, one of the friends in the group spoke up; he had a GTX 1070 and was willing to part ways with it for $100. After all of the frustration in the first week this was really turning around and I started to feel bad for ever complaining. This was the final piece to this story. When I say “look to the used market” I don’t just mean Ebay, Look to friends and family that are already into the PC gaming hobby, look to discord communities and reddit, look to facebook marketplace. There will always be affordable ways to enter the gaming PC fold if you are willing to work a little bit and it just so happens that at the beginning of 2023 it is the used market.
I guess at the end of the day this was supposed to be my old man yelling at a cloud moment. I was going to complain that building a PC for under $1000 dollars may no longer be possible in a few years and that the average performance of most PC’s had gotten worse according to the steam survey. Looking at that in a different light though, and you realize that means developers have to make games for that lowest common denominator and that means all of that older hardware on the used market will just have a longer and longer lifespan.