About two months ago, I started working on a story about building a new PC in 2018. The whole point of that story was that the good times are here again. After the cryptocurrency debacle of 2017, prices have stabilized. Right now is a great time to build a PC.
And now it’s time for the next crisis.
Welcome to the our fall 2018 PC builders guide. Thankfully, the bulk of this story is still about how now is a great time for buying components. Competition is fierce in the CPU space, GPUs are affordable again, and RAM prices are … OK, well they’re still not great. But enough of the stars have aligned that I think that October and November are a great time to start getting parts for your rig or as gifts for a loved one.
In fact, you almost certainly shouldn’t wait because the clock is ticking. It is likely that in six months, no one’s going to feel great about building a PC. And that’s for one major reason: tariffs.
Also, keep in mind that I’m going to cite a lot of prices in this story, and they are current as of the time of publication in early October 2018.
Trade wars are dumb
Prices are going to increase. That’s all you really need to know. President Donald Trump loves tariffs, and no matter how slowly people explain to him that they’re bad, he keeps coming back to them. Oh, and tariffs are awful. That’s not a political stance — it’s a factual one.
The president likes to say that he’s putting tariffs “on China.” But a tariff is a tax paid by the importer when a consumer good reaches customs. The importer, by definition, is in the United States. They write a check to the U.S government to pay for that import tax. But now their costs have gone up, and they still have to make their profit margin. And to pay for that, prices go up until they reach the consumer — so tariffs are effectively a sales tax.
Sure, these tariffs should hurt China somewhat. If Chinese goods cost more, people will seek out alternatives. And that’s great … if the goal is to hurt China. And it definitely seems like that is the mission. If the win condition is anything else, like bringing manufacturing jobs back to the U.S., tariffs are unlikely to work. Instead, the money that companies would put into innovation, they will probably start spending on investigating ways to circumvent the import tax.
Should you hold off on building a PC until the tariffs go away?
So prices will go up, and innovation will go down. But it’s just temporary, right? Once China starts treating America fairly, won’t PC component prices go back to normal?
Maybe, but that’s not a guarantee. We have a habit of holding onto tariffs long after we lose the reason we wanted them in the first place.
For example, we still have a 25-percent tariff on light trucks from 1968. Tariffs are difficult to get rid of because they are bargaining chips. When we attempt to get rid of tariffs, we often try to get something in return from the countries they affect. So maybe the tariffs will go away next year … or maybe we’ll still have to deal with them decades from now.
I know I’m skirting into fearmongering territory. And that’s not great when my answer to that is to tell you to run out and spend your money now. Think about your own situation, and do what’s best for you. But tariffs are coming, and prices will go up, according to what many manufacturers told hardware news site Gamers Nexus. And the one thing that no one knows is when the prices will return back to today’s normal — or even if they ever will.
How to build a PC today
With the grim tidings out of the way, let’s get into the process of building a PC today. The good news is that you can still build a really decent PC for about $850, but you just have a lot fewer options to get to that price while getting the most power possible. On the high end, you can quickly end up with a machine that costs $2,000-to-$3,000 depending on some key choices you make along the way.
I designed two machines with the goal of using them as test benches going forward for the Intel and Ryzen platforms. And that put them both squarely on the high-end of the spectrum. But I’ll talk about the best places to make sacrifices while still getting the best machine you can afford.
Click through to the next page to see what we built.