Ask Engadget: Do I buy, build... or both?

How many PCs does one student need?

The support shared among readers in the comments section is one of the things we love most about the Engadget community. Over the years, we've known you to offer sage advice on everything from Chromecasts and cameras to drones and smartphones. In fact, our community's knowledge and insights are a reason why many of you participate in the comments.

We truly value the time and detail you all spend in responding to questions from your fellow tech-obsessed commenters, which is why we've decided to bring back the much-missed "Ask Engadget" column. This week's question comes to us from a high school senior with a dead laptop and a need for a solid school laptop and a gaming machine. Weigh in with your advice in the comments -- and feel free to send your own questions along to!

Would it be worth the money to build myself a PC (for gaming and other activities such as basic coding), and get myself a notebook to take to school? Note that I am going to be a high school senior this upcoming school year, and am deciding on either going to a nearby university or community college or a nearby trade school. My current laptop is pretty much dead. Please help!

Devindra Hardawar

Devindra Hardawar
Senior Editor

As tempting as it is to roll up your sleeves and put a desktop together, I wouldn't recommend relying on one as your primary computer when you leave high school. You'll want something to bring to class and study sessions, and you'll find yourself spending a lot of time in libraries and coffee shops. And given just how cheap notebooks have gotten over the years, you really wouldn't be saving much money by building a desktop.

The real question you should be asking yourself is what kind of laptop you need. We've listed a few in our back-to-school guide; personally, I'd recommend looking at Dell's XPS 13 and the Surface Laptop. If you want to play some games, though, consider something with a dedicated graphics card, like the Dell G3 15 or Acer Nitro 5. Just be warned that you'll be sacrificing portability and a lot of battery life if you go with a gaming machine.

You could also try and split up your budget. Get an affordable laptop, and then put the rest of your money towards building a desktop PC. You'll certainly learn a lot by doing so, but be aware that these days you can also buy pre-configured desktops for less than individual components. Make sure you really want to put together your own machine before committing to it.