Computers

Is Buying a Prebuilt PC for its Graphics Card a Good Idea?

If you’re looking to upgrade your PC with a new graphics card, your best plan of attack may be GPU shucking. It might go by other names, but the idea is to buy a complete pre-built PC that includes the graphics card you want, then strip out the GPU and sell off the rest of the system. And unlike hard drive shucking, the main PC would still be perfectly serviceable and should help recover some of the graphics card cost. Basically, find a PC that includes one of the best graphics cards, or really anything from the upper half of our GPU benchmarks hierarchy, buy the PC, remove the graphics card, and sell what remains as a PC with integrated graphics — or give it to a family member that doesn’t play games. Here are some things you’ll want to consider before taking this approach to acquiring a graphics card.

First, set your expectations appropriately. Put bluntly, pretty much no one will give you a good deal on a current generation graphics card during this holiday season. Demand for GPUs, from gamers as well as cryptocurrency miners, remains extremely high. Our GPU price index shows how much the various cards cost (on average) from eBay, and that’s the price you’ll want to beat.

How Much Do You Save By Shucking? 

Here’s a recent example. Dell had a deal for an XPS desktop with an RTX 3060 for $999, $370 off the “normal” price. The specs on most of the PC were underwhelming, but the deal still sold out. That’s because the RTX 3060 on its own currently goes for around $725 on eBay or $900 on Amazon, over double the normal price. It includes a previous-gen Core i5-11400, 8GB RAM, a 1TB hard drive (and no SSD!), plus the case, power supply, Windows 10, and an optical drive (how quaint). Add all of those up and you’re looking at about $450 in total cost. If you could sell the rest of the PC for $450, you’d effectively pay just $550 for the RTX 3060.

Yeah, that’s still a lot more than the official $329 MSRP, but MSRPs are basically a fever dream right now. Every desirable GPU, from budget cards like the GTX 1650 Super and RX 5500 XT up through high-end options like the RTX 3080 and RX 6800 XT, costs about twice the official launch price. We don’t expect that status quo to change any time soon, as shortages and supply chain shipping issues are likely to last throughout 2022.

Dell has had a couple of other desktop deals go by, like the XPS Special Edition for $1,469 with an RTX 3060 Ti. That was supposedly $630 off, though no one should pay full retail pricing on a Dell. Looking at the components, that’s basically an $850 PC, plus the graphics card, which means you could get the RTX 3060 Ti for about $620 — it goes for about $950 on eBay right now. Meanwhile, the Alienware Aurora Ryzen Edition was on sale for $1,322 (down $387 from normal), with a comparable PC cost of about $750 — around $572 for the included RTX 3060 12GB, then.

What Kind of Graphics Card Will You Shuck? 

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

There are other caveats, of course. First, you need to find a buyer for the rest of the PC, and that could take a few weeks after you get the system. Your newly acquired graphics card will come with no real warranty, other than a one-year warranty through the OEM (which might be void if you remove the GPU from the original PC). Finally, you’re likely to get a generic graphics card if you purchase from a big OEM, which will generally be at the bottom end of the ladder when looking at specs and features — don’t expect an Asus ROG Strix, MSI Gaming X, EVGA FTW3, etc. or RGB lighting, in other words.

This is actually more of a problem than you might think. Our GPU benchmarks use reference model cards from AMD and Nvidia where possible, or third-party cards from major AIB (add-in board) partners for GPUs where there isn’t a reference design. Usually, the reference cards show the lowest possible level of performance you can expect from a particular GPU, but that doesn’t include OEM-specific designs. Buy a pre-built PC from a major OEM, and you’re basically asking Monty Hall which GPU is behind door number 3. It could — and probably will — have a noticeably inferior cooler, lowered clocks, a reduced TDP, and a custom VBIOS to make the card work in a limited airflow custom PC case. None of those are good things.

You can mostly avoid these problems if you buy a pre-built system from a custom PC system integrator, but as you might expect, prices on such PCs tend to be higher. So at that point, you might as well just go out and pay the massively inflated GPU prices on eBay or Amazon and save yourself the hassle.

To Shuck or Not to Shuck?


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