PC component availability stinks right now. Even worse are the prices of what is available. Scalpers aren’t the only problem—rising costs for shipping and the expiration of U.S. tariff protections at the start of 2021 have lead to manufacturers and retail stores now charging a premium.
You need not spend months waiting out the storm or throw down ridiculous amounts of money, however. Provided you’re willing to put in a little work, you can still get your hands on hot parts like Ryzen 5000 CPUs and almost any graphics card launched in…the last four years.
Yeah, it’s rough times out there. Use these strategies to make them less painful.
Sign up for alerts everywhere—and opt in to push notifications
You’re definitely not the only person refreshing Amazon, Best Buy, and Newegg product listings daily (or maybe hourly). Spread your net wider. Much wider. Start with retailers that might not be traditional sources for CPUs, GPUs, or other components you want, and sign up for stock notifications on product pages wherever it’s an option.
But then keep going. Join forums, Discord servers, and subreddits dedicated to inventory and deal alerts. (Our suggested starter pack: pcbuildhelper.com [Discord] and /r/buildapcsales/ [Reddit].) The more, the better. Not every corner of the internet will report the same findings, and all you need is one lucky instance of you noticing a new post right away and scrambling over to the website while there’s still stock left.
And opt in for push notifications when you sign up for alerts and join communities dedicated to monitoring inventory. Normally, push notifications can become annoying as they pile up, but when items come back into stock, they often don’t last long, which makes the immediacy of notifications useful.
So, set your email app to immediately alert you to new mail. (Don’t leave it on periodic intervals.) For Discord, enable push notifications, then verify that you’ve enabled push notifications for each Discord server you’ve joined for this purpose, too. As for Reddit, take the RSS feed of the relevant subreddit(s) and then use a browser extension, app, or service that’ll alert you anytime a new post hits the feed.
Tip: Use IFTTT to filter Reddit RSS feeds for keywords and then shoot relevant posts over to your email or services like Slack. Doing so will reduce the fire hose(s) of information you’ll have to wade through.
Keep in mind, push notifications will drain your phone’s battery, so keep that in mind if you don’t work from home.
Anyone living near a Micro Center knows the advantage of its in-store-only policy for buying hot ticket items. Multiple PCWorld readers have told us you can walk into stores right now and see the Ryzen 5 5600X or Ryzen 7 5800X sitting on the shelves. Some have even lucked out and snagged the more rare Ryzen 9 5900X by strolling into a Micro Center location at the right time, too.
Similarly, the PCWorld staff has had luck shopping at Central Computers, a local chain here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Getting hold of select SFX power supply models has been difficult online, but one deal alert on /r/buildapcsales (thanks, y’all!) plus one short drive late last fall scored us the exact 750W SFX PSU we’d been long on the hunt for.
You may see a small mark-up at local stores, since they don’t have the same clout and buying power with distributors as the chain stores do, but if it’s a good business, they’ll be transparent about it. The extra cost over MSRP will also be reasonable by normal shopping standards (i.e., when there isn’t insane demand and horribly low supply).
If a store isn’t in your immediate area (say, within a 30 to 40 minute drive), you may still want to consider the benefits of a short road trip. Driving a longer distance for one purchase might be less hassle for you than hitting F5 at home constantly.
Buy pre-builts from big companies
Just a little over a month ago, we already were taking refuge in pre-builts to get our hands on the best new gear. Custom system builders like iBuyPower, CyberPowerPC, and even NZXT offered reasonable prices for PCs put together with off-the-shelf parts.
(Obviously, this strategy works best for folks looking for an entirely new PC, or are confident they can part out the new system to recoup their costs.)
But now even those companies have begun raising prices—on PCs offering older hardware, to boot. NZXT’s $700 “Starter PC” features a Core i3-9100F, GTX 1050 Ti, 16GB DDR4-2666MHz RAM, and a 512GB SSD. Six months ago, a PC in this price range would have included mid-tier components. Now you only get a nearly two year old budget processor paired with a four-year-old budget graphics card.
Sure, the price of a new GTX 1050 Ti hovers around $280 through third-party sellers, which makes this build’s price reasonable from that angle. But you can do better. One glance at what the big behemoth vendors sell, and you’ll realize immediately just how much further your money will go. Right now, you can get a $730 Dell G5 Gaming Desktop that sports a Core i5-10400F, GTX 1650 Super, 8GB DDR4-2666MHz RAM, and a 1TB 7200RPM HDD. You’ll spend a little more than the NZXT system, but this G5’s core components will weather the test of time more gracefully. The storage and RAM can also be upgraded fairly cheaply, too, as those two component types don’t currently suffer from inflated prices.
The moral of the story is that the bigger the vendor, the slower their prices will reflect the current trends. The industry juggernauts buy in much bigger quantities and lock in pricing further in advance, so they’ll remain a safe haven for reasonable prices for more extended periods. The smaller vendors can’t hold out for long. As for where to look: Dell usually tops our list as the first place to check, but HP and Lenovo are other manufacturers to check out, too.