Is Buying a Prebuilt PC a Good Idea?

If you want to upgrade your PC with a new graphics card, GPU shucking might be the way to go. It may go by different names, but the goal is to buy a fully assembled PC with the graphics card you want, then remove the GPU and sell the rest of the system. And, unlike hard drive shucking, the main PC would still be fully functional, allowing some of the graphics card’s cost to be recovered. Basically, find a PC with one of the top graphics cards, or anything from the upper half of our GPU benchmarks hierarchy, buy it, remove the graphics card, and sell it as a PC with integrated graphics or give it to a non-gaming family member. Before you go this route to get a graphics card, there are a few things to think about.

To begin, make sure you have realistic expectations. To put it frankly, you will not find a good price on a current-generation graphics card this holiday season. If you’re a gamer playing The Witcher or crazy time or a bitcoin miner, you must understand there is still high demand for GPUs.

What kind of graphics card to shuck?

There are, of course, additional caveats. First, you must locate a buyer for the rest of the computer, which could take many weeks after you receive it. Other than a one-year OEM guarantee, your recently purchased graphics card will come with no real warranty (which might be void if you remove the GPU from the original PC). Finally, if you buy from a huge OEM, you’re likely to get a generic graphics card, which will be at the bottom of the ladder in terms of specs and features – don’t expect an Asus ROG Strix, MSI Gaming X, EVGA FTW3, or RGB lighting, for example.

This is a far bigger issue than you might imagine. Where possible, we use AMD and Nvidia reference model cards or third-party cards from key AIB (add-in board) partners for GPUs that don’t have a reference design. The reference cards usually reflect the lowest level of performance that a GPU may achieve, but this does not include OEM-specific designs. When you buy a pre-built PC from a large manufacturer, you’re essentially asking Monty Hall which GPU is behind door number three. It could and most likely will have a substantially inferior cooler, lower speeds, a lower TDP, and a special VBIOS to allow the card to run in a bespoke PC case with limited airflow. None of these are desirable outcomes.

You can avoid most of these issues by purchasing a pre-built system from a custom PC system integrator, but as you might guess, these PCs are more expensive. So, at that point, you might as well just pay the exorbitant GPU pricing on eBay or Amazon and save yourself the trouble.

Is it better to shuck or not to shuck?

Of course, there’s no rule that says you have to get rid of the rest of the computer. Perhaps you’re still using a 4-core CPU on an older computer. Technically, that’s still adequate for most games, but if you could upgrade your graphics card in tandem with the rest of your PC, giving away your old system could be a better option. Alternatively, you may give it to a family member or a friend, but a whole PC upgrade would not be a bad idea, and our best gaming PC offers can assist you in finding something worthwhile. If you do remove the GPU, keep in mind that an Intel system with integrated graphics will be more precious; most Ryzen CPUs (non-G processors) will require a graphics card to function as a standalone PC.

While a system with a single 8GB DIMM might be technically acceptable, the lack of a dual-channel memory arrangement reduces performance. Using the integrated graphics will be significantly more visible, but even with a dedicated GPU, single-channel RAM can lose you 10-15 percent of your maximum performance. The issue is that once you start implementing “minor” changes, the cost can quickly escalate.

According to current PC desktop deals, the average price for a recent RTX 30-series or RX 6000-series graphics card when purchased with a pre-built PC is almost 50% higher than AMD and Nvidia’s “fake” MSRPs. If you get lucky on an auction, eBay prices can sometimes match that, but the going rates on eBay are closer to a 100 percent markup on most cards, and prices are now heading up. Prepare to spend a premium for a new high-end graphics card if you truly want one.