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Home » Articles » Buying Guides » Custom and Gaming PCs – you get what you pay for
Custom and Gaming PCs – you get what you pay for by UK Gaming Computers

There is a hidden agenda when it comes to either buying parts to put together a custom pc, or purchasing one from a system builder who will build it for you, which the majority of people are not aware of or simply do not understand. We feel it is incredibly important to understand this pitfall when parting with hundreds or thousands of pounds for some new shiny kit.

We guarantee this will be the most important article you will read before you make up your mind on what and where you buy your computer or components so take the time to have a read.

Every day UK Gaming Computers are asked to compare one of our systems to anther system out there. Often it is an email from a potential customer and goes along the lines of:

"Hi UK Gaming Computers,

I have seen this system and am comparing it to your (Insert similar spec UKGC system name here). On face value it looks like the system is better/cheaper/better value for money than yours. Could you please explain why this is as I can see that you are the highest rated gaming pc builder in the UK but don’t understand why customers would purchase from you when this deal looks better? Here is the spec/link to the other system;

CPU -Intel Core i7 4770K
RAM - 16GB DDR3
Graphics card - Nvidia GTX 770 2GB
Power supply - 700W
Hard Drive - 1TB
Motherboard – MSI B85M-P33
Case – Black ATX case with blue fans
24x DVD & CD rewriter

Many Thanks

A potential Customer"

If you are nodding your head as if you would have send us a similar email or agree the potential customer has a point and are also unsure, then I’m afraid to say that you have fallen into the trap. The smart guys out there would have sent us the email and we would have the chance to explain what is to be laid out further in this article however many will simply disappear and think – “I’m not using them, they are expensive, I’m going to get that ‘deal’ elsewhere”.

Before dissecting the example spec our potential customer has sent us, I will firstly explain that there are actually 3 kinds of computer builders/manufacturers out there and we are not all the same;

1 – The big brands – These are the guys you see in big retail stores and now online at places like eBay and Amazon where you purchase there and then and take it away, or it’s delivered next day. It’s ready to go. Specs are listed in a similar way Specifications of these systems are listed in a similar way to our potential customers email. You usually are unable to customize the specification in any way as the system is already built. These are the most common type of PC. The fact that you are reading this article on our site means you are probably aware of the reputation these guys hold.

2 – The cheap online system builders/independent shops – These guys are considered the alternative to the high street big brands described above who produce systems to a similar specification to the big brands and try to compete with them on price – I.E. knock it out for a cheaply as possible. Machine Specifications are listed in a similar fashion to big brands/potential customer and can be found off the high street in stores or online at places like eBay and Amazon again plus their own website. Shop purchases and via their own website usually have a sufficient degree of customisation choices. Reputation is considered much better than the big brand guys.

3 – The Enthusiast system builders – These guys are best described as the guys in the know who produce systems very different to the first two types of company. Many people are unaware of their existence and if they are (like our potential customer), find it difficult to distinguish them between the cheap online system builders, not to mention there are not many of them about. A Computer from them is normally found via their website or local store and will list a specification much differently to the potential customer email/big brands/cheap online system builders with often the option to extensively customise the system. The cost of an “i7, 16GB, 1TB GTX 770 system” is more than the other two for reasons explained further down in this guide. The reputation they hold is the best in the business. UK Gaming Computers are part of this category.

Ok, so now onto the important specification of the system, for the purpose of this article we will use our potential customer email specification. Obviously the specifications will vary nearly every time but the whole principle is the same and what you are about to read will help you spot this infamous pitfall.

CPU/Processor – Listed as a “Intel Core i7 4770K”

This is usually the first specification listed on any custom or pre made computer and as a result is usually the first thing customers see. This is actually quite an accurate listed specification – There is only one product in the world that is actually an Intel Core i7 4770K, the Intel Core i7 4770K itself!

If you see a specification listed like this you know exactly what processor is in the system as it cannot be mistaken for anything else or changed for anything else otherwise it’s not a Intel Core i7 4770K. If you wanted to be very particular about the specification then you would hope for it to be listed as something like “Intel Core i7 4770K 3.5GHz 4th Generation (Haswell), socket 1150” which will further affirm the knowledge that the CPU is what it says it is but since there is only one “i7 4770K” it cannot be anything else.

Easy eh?. If you see a system listed with this kind of description of the CPU then that is exactly what CPU the system will have. Every type of company, (big brand, cheap system builder, Enthusiast System builder) will all use the very same part which will ultimately be sourced from Intel themselves. This is the only component that cannot be fudged into making you receive something you don’t expect/don’t know about so pay close attention to the components that follow.

One little tip to be aware of is not every i7 computer out there will have an i7 4770K CPU in it. There are loads of them, 36 desktop i7 CPU’s and 70+ mobile i7 laptop CPU’s. If you just glance a computer specification and just take in “I7” check to find the model number as performance and price between i7 CPU’s varies massively – An “i7 4770K 3.5Ghz” costs around the £220 + VAT mark whilst a “Intel i7 920 2.67Ghz” is now several years out of date and costs around the £160 + VAT mark but has less than half the performance. It’s not just out of date processor you have to be aware of too, take an Intel i7 4960X which costs around £650 + VAT which is around 3 times the price of an i7 4770K but is only twice to no faster (depending on the application), than the much better value for money i7 4770K.

Price difference £0.00

RAM – “16GB DDR3”

This is where is starts getting interesting and where the whole purpose of this article starts to take form. There are hundreds of products which qualify as “16GB of DDR3 RAM” and this is where you will get caught out.

Let’s look at 3, “16GB DDR3 RAM” products with their full specification and price from a well known online UK component retailer, for our example;

1 – Unknown/house brand 16GB 1333Mhz (4 x 4GB) DDR3 CL11 RAM £60.32 + VAT
2 - Kingston 16GB 1333Mhz (2 x 8GB) DDR3 CL10 RAM - £79.90 + VAT
3 - Corsair XMS3 16GB 1600Mhz (2 x 8GB) DDR3 CL9 RAM £89.78 + VAT

As you can see, each product meets the “16GB DDR3 RAM” specification but are all different in some way or another. These differences can also be further amplified by introducing the higher end products like “Corsair Dominator Platinum 16GB 2133Mhz (2 x 8GB) DDR3 CL9 RAM” at £141.45 + VAT. Those numbers and specifications not included in just “16GB DDR3 RAM” all make a difference to the performance of the RAM in question – 1600Mhz RAM is faster than 1333Mhz, CL9 is better than CL11 and you want the least amount of modules possible for a 16GB kit – 2 x 8GB for performance as well as upgrade potential – you can’t add another 16GB of RAM if your first 4 x 4GB kit is populating all 4 DIMM slots? As well as the specs of each kit the brand also carries weight, Corsair RAM = Lifetime warranty, Unbranded/Unknown brand = you will be lucky if they answer the phone a week after you buy the RAM!

Ask yourself, if you sold big brand computers and as cheap as possible systems, what RAM would you use or probably more to the point be forced to use, to keep the price ‘cheap’? Yup, unbranded or unknown RAM and you will find that the big brand companies and cheap online system builders/shops will also use this kind of “16GB DDR3 RAM” RAM. The Enthusiast system builders will use whatever RAM they list with the full spec and model listed in their specification so you then know exactly what RAM the computer will have inside, this will almost certainly not be the unbranded or the low end stuff. We use the Corsair XMS3 range as our “entry level” RAM.

Price difference £29.46 + VAT

Graphics card – “Nvidia GTX 770 2GB”

An Nvdia GTX 770 2GB Graphics card

The graphic card listing follows a similar route to that of the processor. Something listed as an Nvidia GTX 770 2GB is an Nvidia GTX 770 2GB and cannot be anything else.

There is a slight deviation from this rule, its slight but worth mentioning as there are different Nvidia GTX 770’s out there – Nvidia, and the same applies to AMD/ATI, don’t actually make the graphics cards themselves, they just make the chips (GPU (Graphics processing unit)) that go in the cards and then sell them onto what we call the board partners/manufacturers. The board partners/manufacturers then design the PCB (circuitry), coolers, and handle the packaging, R&D, and marketing. PCB’s, coolers, packaging, R&D, and marketing all cost varying amounts of money and therefore each manufacturers version of a Nvidia GTX 770 2GB will vary slightly.

“PNY GeForce GTX 770 Graphics Card - 2GB” - £255.77 + VAT
“Palit GeForce GTX 770 Graphics Card - 2GB” - £267.50 + VAT

A small price difference given the scale, however the extra cost to cover the better PCB, cooler and R&D shows with a superior card. The Palit cards superior PCB will make the card more reliable and the cooler will also make the card more reliable and quieter. Big brands and cheap system builders/shops will cram their systems with a PNY card all day long where as we think that little extra cost makes the difference and will use a superior card.

Price difference £11.73 + VAT

Power supply – “700W”

This is usually of the biggest corner cutting technique for any system builder, which is a bad move, as the power supply is probably the most likely component to fail in a custom PC. Choose a substandard PSU and it is a case of ‘when’ it gives up rather than ‘if’.Here are two examples;

1 - Best Value Pulse 700W 120mm Silent Red Fan SATA PFC PSU - £13.33 + VAT
2 - Corsair Enthusiast Series Tx650 650W PSU - £58.69 + VAT

First glance at the two products and you may be thinking that surely the 1st choice is the one to go for, it’s got 50 more watts of energy and is a quarter of the price! Quite simply put – It’s not the size of the wattage that counts, its how you use it!

By all means, when choosing a power supply wattage needs to be considered as all the other components have a wattage requirement but since this article talks about systems that are already built, the builder is responsible for selecting a sufficient PSU so in theory the “700W” PSU is enough although when systems are built for as cheaply as possible even the big boys can sometimes get it wrong and cut the requirements too fine.

The most important thing to consider when looking at the power supply in a system is the Amperage of each “rail”. A rail is a power path within certain a supply which supplies a single voltage. Usually a certain supply is a 3.3v Rail, 5v Rail and an 12v Rail. The 12V rail is the important one as that is responsible to getting power to the CPU, motherboard and the power hungry graphics card.

Confusing isn’t it? Perhaps the easiest thing to do is look at the power label attached to the PSU, here is the cheaper Pulse PSU spec;

A Pulse PSU Power Label

Here is the Corsair TX650 spec;

A Corsair TX 650 Spec

Obviously you can’t look at these numbers until you actually have your hands on the power supply so a Google search maybe your answer and what you see above are in fact Googled screenshots.

An Nvidia GTX 770 2GB graphics card needs a 12v Rail that has an amperage of 42A.

Looking at our Corsair TX650 output specs we can see the +12V rail has an amperage of 52A. This is plenty to run an Nvidia GTX 770 2GB graphics card and leaves enough amps for all the other components.

Now take a look at the Pulse PSU output specification.......the +12v rail only supplies 20A, combining the two 12v rails (+12V1 + +12V2) only yields 40A which not only falls short of the GTX 770 requirements (42A) but also will be unable to supply all the other components.

Despite the short fall in amperage the Pulse PSU still will power our example system, however as soon as the system needs to do some hard work for a sustained amount of time and the graphics card and CPU want some juice that exceeds the available 40A it will blow up and usually with quite pretty sparks and flames. Whilst the short firework display looks nice it is not a good thing, the PSU will be fried as a minimum and a high chance of the PSU outputting irregular power in the form of spikes which will kill motherboards, power supplies, graphics cards and pretty much any other component plugged into the PSU.

This is a great video which demonstrates this;

Another factor to consider is how efficient the power supply is. The Corsair unit is over 80% efficient and is certified for this (“80 plus certification” – an industry standard), the pulse has no mention of this anywhere so expect its efficiency to be much less. Cheap PSU’s tend to be in the 20% – 60% range meaning they cost loads more to run and will generate more heat and not to mention not actually being able to supply 100% wattage at 100% load leading you down the same path as not having sufficient amperage. Given the variations of efficiency you could save £20 on your electricity bill a year, meaning in 2 and half years, a better more efficient power supply will pay for itself!

Other factors such as amount of connectors, braided cables, fixing kits, product support and manufacturer warranty also play an important role. For example the Pulse PSU comes with a single year’s manufacturer’s warranty, the Corsair PSU, 5 years manufacturer’s warranty!

This is not the end of it either, there are cheaper power supplies out there which nearly all big brand computer builders will use which won’t even be branded or have a model number that means anything meaning the specifications of these power supplies will be even worse than that of the Pulse power supply. It will of course still be a 700W power supply! The cheap system builders will generally use power supplies like the Pulse one we have used for our example and the enthusiast builders will use the likes of corsair power supplies.

Price difference £45.36 + VAT

Hard drive – “1TB”

Hard drives are another good way to cut corners as again there are many variations of a 1TB hard drive with varying specifications however the cost implications are not as vast as say a power supply or RAM but still are a potential trap. Two examples;

1 – Hitachi 1TB SATA II 5,400 16MB - £37.88 = VAT
2 – Seagate Barracuda 1TB SATA III 7,200 64MB - £41.98

Both examples are a “1TB” hard disk but other than the physical size of the two drives that is where the similarities end.

Interface – SATA II/SATA III – defines the hard disks interface. SATA III is much faster than SATA II leading to overall better performance.RPM – 5,400/7,200 – Defines how fast the hard disk spins. The higher the RPM the faster the drive spins and therefore the better the RPM the better the performance.Cache – 16MB/64MB – Cache is a temporary area where data is stored, it acts as a “go between” data on the hard disk and RAM. More cache equates to better performance.

Big brand PC builders use the cheaper 1TB drives. The cheaper system builders will use a combination of the cheaper 1TB and increasingly are using recertified drives (Drives that have been repaired by the manufacturer and sold to them cheaper than the cheap drives) which carry a higher failure rate than normal. Enthusiast system builders will of course be using the better drives out there like the Seagate Barracudas, us included, so make sure you check exactly what hard disk is being used in a system.

Price difference £4.10 + VAT

Motherboard – MSI B85M-P33

The specification of a motherboard in a gaming PC or any PC for that matter will and does vary considerably. There is a vast amount of motherboards out there from a vast amount of manufacturers loaded with all sorts of features that you may or may not need. Explaining the differences in motherboards would be its own article itself so I will only cover the basics.

The same kind of principals are followed by each type of the system builders/manufacturers – The big high street brands are usually the worst at this as they will use the cheapest and most mass produced motherboard they can get their hands on and purchase them in mass quantities. The need for these motherboards to be altered and flexible towards new components is pretty much irrelevant as the systems are not designed to be upgradeable, they just have to “do the job/meet the advertised specification” for that particular computer, if you are lucky you might be able to add a little more RAM in at a later date but that is about it. Another pit fall is big manufacturers will also ensure these motherboards are exclusive to them, they will partner up with the likes of Asus, Gigabyte and MSI and get them to make however many thousand units they want but with physical design elements different from the ATX standard such as an extra notch or odd shape. They then combine this odd design feature in conjunction with the case they use, so that it too has an extra notch/cut out or shape so that only that specific motherboard will fit in the case. At the time of buying one of these systems it’s almost irrelevant as there is no need to change the motherboard, but what if the motherboard fails later down the line or the user wishes to swap it out?

The answer to the first question is you have no choice other than purchase a replacement motherboard from the manufacturer, and since they are the only company you can buy it from they can charge what they want is it will always be at least twice the price of what an better band equivalent spec motherboard will be. If you don’t pay up then the PC is rendered useless.

The seconds question, upgrading the motherboard - you can’t unless you change the case. It’s pretty naughty really and something everyone should be aware of.

The cheap system builders/local computer shops will generally opt for a the cheapest motherboard out there that does the job as they won’t have access to an exclusive motherboard that the big brand guys get made up as they won’t want to order thousands of motherboards in one go. In our Customers email case the MSI B85M-P33 which is the cheapest “B85 chipset” motherboard on the market priced at £43.48 + VAT. For a few pounds more you can have the Asus B85M-G (£49.88 + VAT) which has more expansion and DIMM slots and a host more features easily worth the extra £6.40 and will be more upgradable later down the line.

The later motherboard choice with the extra features with slight more cost is the choice of enthusiast system builders such as us.

Price difference £6.40 + VAT

Case – “Black ATX case with blue fans”

Like the power supply in a computer, the case is another big area where computer builders can and will cut a corner to keep costs down/hide the cost. Computers case prices vary massively, they can cost as little as £12 + VAT right up to £300 + VAT and there are literally thousands of them out there so it is important to understand exactly what you are buying otherwise you could be getting charged far more for a case than you think.

A “Black ATX Case with Blue Fans” pretty much only describes a black case that houses an ATX size motherboard and PSU which there are thousands of! A Couple of blue LED fans can be added to any case.

Both the big brands and cheap system builders know that they can save lots of money by using a cheap case as most people simply think a computer case is just a case and that it doesn’t really aid in being able to play the latest games any better so investing in one is a waste of money. Nearly every time you see “Black ATX Case with Blue Fans” it translates to a cheap £15 case with a couple of cheap, noisy poor performing blue led fans installed brining the cost up to no more than £20 + VAT.

Anyone in the know will tell you that putting a high end system such as a 4770K and an Nvidia GTX 770 in a cheap case is asking for trouble. Whilst LED fans and flashy lights may look appealing, the system will get hot therefore reducing the lifespan of the components, causing them to throttle or even worse result in a failure. A PC with that sort of specification needs a good case such as a Coolermaster Enforcer, Corsair 300R or a NZXT Phantom. Currently our Erebus http://www.ukgamingcomputers.co.uk/erebus-i7-gaming-pc-p-120.html system comes with a specification very similar to the example spec in this entire article, it is housed in a NZXT Phantom which costs around £80 + VAT.

The enthusiast gaming PC builders should also follow this trend and use appropriate cases to keep systems cool, quiet, reliable, good looking, feature rich and future proofed as after all the case is usually the component that you keep the longest and survives upgrade after upgrade.

A good tip is to look for cases that have a brand and model name and stick with established manufacturers such as Coolermaster, NXZT, Zalman, Corsair, Antec, Xigmatek and Fractal design.

Price difference £60.00 + VAT

Optical Drive – “24x DVD & CD rewriter”

There is a really small price difference in this department but it’s getting a mention as the same trend will be followed – The Big brands and cheap builders will use whatever is the cheapest around as there are plenty of “24x DVD & CD Rewriters” out there. Thankfully you are unlikely to see something unbranded so will usually be backed up with a decent brand but it will be their entry level optical drive. For around £1.00 more you can get the next model up which will be quieter and more reliable. Look for a make and model on a full system specification when it comes to the optical drive.

Price difference £1.00 + VAT

The Hidden Extras

Many pre built and custom PCs will come with extras with differences between all 3 of the computer builder types and indeed will vary from company to company, it maybe something as small as instruction manuals or free software but here are the important ones to consider;

Warranty – One of the most important factors to consider when purchasing a new computer. It is also a great indication of how much faith each company has in their product. Big brands and the cheap builders are supplying a product full of cost cutting methods so the chance of a fault is going to be more likely so for them to give out a 3 year warranty would be daft – expect the minimum requirement of 1 year. The longest warranty you will see on a system is 3 years, if you see a PC with a long warranty like this then you can safely assume the system is much less likely to suffer a fault. There are currently only a handful of UK companies that supply a 3 year warranty at no extra cost in the UK and UK Gaming Computers are proud to say are one of them.

Support & Aftercare – If the worst was ever to happen to your PC how can you get help? Email, online guides, phone, chat systems and walk in stores are all ways problems can be resolved. The big brands are usually the worst for this, how many times have you called a support line only to work out your call is routed halfway around the world where the person at the end of the phone is running through a flow chat for your questions and are hard to understand because of their accent? Poor support and aftercare are a sure way to destroy a company reputation, check out the companies reviews around the web to see how they stand the test of time. If your warranty on your PC has expired how likely are, the company you brought it from, going to help? Do they offer an upgrade service/advise? Do they even want to hear from you again? All of these points are important factors for you to consider.

Build process – This is something that is never considered by the consumer. They don’t care how it’s put together or how much testing goes into the system. Quite rightly so but they soon are concerned about it when the system arrives and it doesn’t work right, there are wires hanging about because they haven’t been secured or routed correctly or there is a mess of wires that can been seen through the clear side panel which is meant to show case the hardware inside. Look at product photos and past customer reviews for the PC.

Reputation – So who exactly are you handing hundreds if not thousands of pounds over to in the hope that they will come up with the goods? Most are usually OK in this respect but be careful of the eBay types of systems as it could be one or two lads working from home or a small lockup who will have no hesitation packing it all in when the going gets tough or personal circumstances change – Who will give you the support and advise when they are no longer around? Check reviews, addresses, limited status, when they formed and even company accounts if need be. There are loads of scammers out there so a quick 2 minute look around could save you thousands. If it looks too good to be true then usually it is.

Free software – Can have a positive and negative effect on a gaming computer. Free software like games or well known programs is a bonus in anyone’s book but there are plenty of suppliers out there that will load a system with dozens of programs that are pretty naff and of no use to 99% of people out there, only for it slow a PC down. The extra software is installed because the software creator has paid the computer builder to put them on there to maximise profits and not because you actually want them! The high street brands are notorious for this where as the cheap and enthusiast system builders don’t.

Conclusion

Adding the price differences between the cheap/big brand manufactures and us comes to a total of £158.05 and at the current UK VAT price, £189.66. On a system that is around the £1100 inclusive of VAT, that is quite a difference!

These prices also compare the difference between us, the enthusiast system builder and the cheap online system builders/local shops so comparing us with the big brands would show an even further gap.

The hidden extras have also been excluded from this calculation as you can’t really give them a set price. I suppose it makes them priceless, but only you will know how much the extras are really worth to you?

If you have made it this far, well done! Hopefully now you are aware of the costly pitfalls and appreciate why a cheap computer is actually cheap and are able to make an educated purchase.