Why now is actually a good time to build a new PC

Earlier this month, my colleague Jacob Roach wrote an article about how right now is one of the worst times to build a PC in a long time, not because the prices are terrible right now (they aren’t), but because the next one is Generation it’s just around the corner. New CPUs and GPUs will force retailers to sell older models cheaper, buying DDR4 for endless platforms is a bad idea, and DDR5 will continue to fall in price while we wait for the Ryzen 7000 and Intel Raptor Lake to arrive. If you can only wait a few months for the next-gen, you’re much better off, so the argument goes.

I do not agree with you. I think right now is a great time to build a PC because it’s hard to expect the next generation to be great. If you look at the last five years, it really does seem like we’re entering an era where you can’t expect new CPUs and GPUs to offer better value than older models. And while it’s tempting to immediately buy into new platforms with cutting-edge features like DDR5 memory and PCIe 5.0, you’re unlikely to get your money’s worth.

Stagnant prices for CPUs

AMD Ryzen 7 5800X3D pins face up on a table.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

For most of PC gaming history, newer hardware has almost always offered better value than older hardware, usually through a combination of performance increases and price reductions. However, we are entering a new era in which generation-to-generation increases in value are steadily declining and it is beginning to look more like a trend than a simple speed bump.

I want to talk CPUs first, and I want to set the stage with AMD’s bulldozer-powered FX CPUs that hit the market in 2011. The Bulldozer architecture was terrible at practically everything and crippled AMD CPUs for years. From 2011 to 2017, Intel had a virtual monopoly on the entire x86 CPU world, including the mainstream desktop. PC gamers have had to settle for the same $330 Intel quad-core year after year, with modest generational improvements.

The launch of Ryzen 1000 in 2017 is often seen as the start of a renaissance for desktop CPUs, and it’s not hard to see why. AMD offered the eight-core Ryzen 7 1700 for $329, the same price as Intel’s then-flagship Core i7-7700K. Later that same year, Intel quickly released 8th generation CPUs with more cores. The back-and-forth between AMD and Intel has continued since then, albeit with a brief hiatus in 2020 and 2021 as Intel failed to ship 10nm CPUs on time.

As it turns out, we’re not exactly in the renaissance we thought we were. While AMD certainly delivers significant performance gains every generation, pricing becomes an issue. The 8-core Ryzen 7 1700 launched in 2017 for $329, and that was a great deal back then, but five years later, the Ryzen 7 5700X, which is also an 8-core CPU, is about that same amount. Six-core CPUs are still around $200, as they were in 2017.

Someone stops the Ryzen 7 5800X3D at a red light.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Ryzen 5000 in particular was bad for price-conscious buyers. Budget options like the Ryzen 5 5500 and even the Ryzen 7 5700X only came out a few months ago – almost two years after the first processors appeared. AMD has provided generational improvements, but value CPUs came too late for the party to matter.

At Intel, we see increasing MSRPs rather than stagnation. Up until the 7th gen, $329 was the limit, but starting with the 8th gen, Intel started increasing both core counts and prices. The Core i7-8700K was Intel’s first mainstream six-core CPU and was only 10% more expensive than the Core i7-7700K. But the next generation, Intel, increased prices by nearly 40% with the introduction of a new tier of performance, led by the Core i9-9900K. AMD followed suit, and now it’s not uncommon to see CPUs like the Core i9-12900K retail for well over $600.

It’s hard to argue that price stagnation or MSRP increases for AMD and Intel CPUs are solely due to competition. AMD and Intel have been very competitive when it comes to performance over the past five years, but AMD is not forced to drop prices, and Intel continues to raise prices on its flagship parts, even when those flagships aren’t very competitive ( see Core i9-11900K). It seems AMD and Intel are increasingly targeting high spenders while neglecting cheaper segments of the market.

The death of budget GPUs

Two graphics cards sit on top of each other.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

GPUs haven’t fared well over the past five years either. Since Nvidia launched its phenomenal GTX 10 series, both Nvidia and AMD have launched several inferior GPUs, all but killing the low-end and mid-range segment. Despite some promising launches, AMD and Nvidia have made it clear that value is not the priority.

It all started with the RTX 20 series. Yes, it introduced ray tracing and AI upscaling to the mainstream, but with few games supporting those features, the price point for the 20 series was just unbearable. The $699 RTX 2080 was directly worse than the $499 GTX 1080 because it was only 11% faster for $200 more. I don’t think there’s ever been a GPU series prior to this gen that actually offered worse value than the previous gen, and I see the RTX 20 series as a game-changer in desktop GPUs.

As someone who bought an RX 480 in 2016, it’s depressing to see that there isn’t a GPU worth upgrading to for the same price.

The RTX 20 series represented a change in Nvidia’s demeanor where increasing value for money was no longer a priority, and while that didn’t affect the high-end very much, it absolutely smashed the mid-range and low-end. Budget GPUs used to start at $100, and you could get cheap budget GPUs around the $150 mark. But today, Nvidia’s cheapest 30-series GPU is the RTX 3050 at $249. You don’t even get your money’s worth with the 3050; The 2019 GTX 1650 Super was $159 and the 3050 is only 30% faster.

And let’s not even talk about the disastrous GTX 1630.

AMD appears to have followed in Nvidia’s footsteps and downgraded the score as well. A very good example is the RX 6500 XT, which aims to replace the RX 5500 XT. The problem? The 5500 XT came with 8GB of VRAM, while the 6500 XT only comes with 4GB. It’s also barely faster than the five-year-old RX 580, which also came with 8GB of VRAM. All of these GPUs were released around the $200 price tag and they all have roughly the same performance. As someone who bought an RX 480 in 2016, it’s quite a depressing trend to see. The RX 480 is six years old and AMD still hasn’t released a GPU worth upgrading to for the same price.

It’s possible that supply chain issues caused by the pandemic are to blame for AMD’s and Nvidia’s lack of budget options this generation. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean things will go back to normal once these issues are resolved. AMD and Nvidia might decide things have been going really well without offering budget GPUs. After all, more expensive GPUs have bigger and fatter margins, which is good for business.

Don’t be an early adopter

Intel Core i9-12900K in one motherboard.
Jacob Roach / Digital Trends

Intel’s LGA 1700 socket introduced DDR5 and PCIe 5.0, and AMD plans to follow suit with its upcoming AM5 socket. It’s certainly tempting to upgrade to take advantage of these features, but it usually doesn’t pay to be an early adopter when it comes to technology.

DDR5 has been around for a while and Intel’s 12th Gen Alder Lake CPUs offer a choice of newer DDR5 or older DDR4. If you have an Alder Lake CPU, going for DDR5 won’t really get you much more performance, making DDR4 a much better value since most DDR4 kits are half the price of DDR5 kits of the same size. It is true that DDR5 will become cheaper and faster in the future, but DDR4 is cheap today and has good performance.

PCIe 5.0 is certainly an improvement over PCIe 4.0, offering twice the bandwidth, but more bandwidth only translates to more performance if devices are designed to take advantage of it. The extra bandwidth makes sense for SSDs, and fast PCIe 5.0 SSDs will undoubtedly be available soon, but PCIe 5.0 for GPUs probably won’t be necessary for some time. We saw the same thing with PCIe 4.0, whose main selling point was really SSDs and not GPUs.

Finally, consider the teething troubles that new technology platforms have. New features can’t be perfectly tested before they’re released to the world, so it’s more than likely that users building a PC on these new platforms will see at least a bug or two. I think given the price, the initial lack of use of these features and the high possibility of bugs, older platforms with DDR4 and PCIe 4.0 still make it very viable.

I hope I’m wrong

Powerful and custom MSI computer build.
Wild Snap/Shutterstock

I would really like the next generation to get us back on track. I really want Ryzen 7000 and Raptor Lake to come out at good prices and new AMD and Intel CPUs to cover the entire stack, from low-end to high-end. I really want AMD and Nvidia to bring back really good budget and mid-range GPUs with the upcoming RX 7000 and RTX 40 GPUs.

I just don’t see that given what I’ve seen over the last 5 years. The big three have certainly made great strides in technology, but you can’t enjoy that advancement anymore unless you’re willing to shell out hundreds of dollars. So buy your CPUs and GPUs while they’re relatively cheap, because that probably won’t be the case forever.

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