Ask the internet if you should wait until Black Friday to upgrade your PC, and you’ll get a stream of comments dismissing it as a time for good deals.
They’re not wrong, but they’re not right, either. Sure, if you’ve got your eye on a very specific part, your chances of a deep discount are generally a toss-up. It can be as likely you’ll get a better price at another time of the year as you will during Black Friday. The more niche it is, the rougher your odds.
But if all you care about is price and are semi-flexible on features for your components, you can chain together Black Friday deals for ultimate savings. (In fact, you can go the full distance and build an entire budget PC for stupid cheap.)
So which way should you go? Because the situation gets particularly confusing in the early weeks of November, when everything’s on sale but it’s not clear what’s an actual bargain, I put together some general guidelines to help. (Things are even worse this year, since deals already began as a slow drip in October!) These should allow you to find the best balance between sweet savings and waiting indefinitely for a discount that may never come.
Black Friday 2020: What to buy now, what to wait for
Below are my buying recommendations for the most common PC parts that people upgrade, tailored specifically for Black Friday 2020. Current supply and demand issues are incorporated into the advice.
For components not covered on this list, you can hone your own ability to figure out sales trends (and just how to spot deals) by following the advice in our Black Friday FAQ.
Let us help you: If you do decide to wait for Black Friday deals, we’ll be tracking the best prices on PC parts during Black Friday, both in the lead-up and the week of.
Wait. Last year’s advice carries over to 2020, but for completely the opposite reason. Instead of expecting fire-sale prices on older chips (the deal to beat in 2019 was the $130 Ryzen 7 2700X at Micro Center), we could all be hard-pressed to find deep discounts on CPUs. AMD’s launch of its new Ryzen 5000-series part came with a price increase, meaning the company may no longer feel the need to woo consumers with steep discounts on previous generations. On top of that, AMD’s budget and mid-tier parts have been extremely popular during the pandemic: You can’t find the Ryzen 3 3100 at MSRP or Ryzen 3 3300X at all, and the Ryzen 5 3600 is backordered at Amazon until mid-November. As for team blue, Intel has never indulged in substantial discounts, and for them to buck that trend now would be extremely surprising.
So with these circumstances hanging overhead, waiting for as long as possible before buying will let you see how the dust settles from the shakeups brought by 2020 and AMD’s continued ascent. Just familiarize yourself the previous best prices on the CPUs you’re eyeing, so you know when quit your vigil early to grab a deal.
Toss-up. If you absolutely must get a cooler for as low as possible, the week of Black Friday does offer better discounts on both air and closed-loop models. Previous years generally offered an extra $10 to $20 in savings, but there was never a guarantee that specific models would get a price drop.
Typically most discounts that spring up over the year are decent, so if the model you want is on sale before Black Friday proper, go for it.
Buy. Because many builders have brand loyalties, specific features they want, and additional form factor requirements, getting a killer bargain on your motherboard of choice can be like waiting to win the lottery.
However, if you’re buying a CPU too, you might want to wait. That gives you the opportunity to score a deal on the CPU, and possibly also an additional combo or bundle discount. It also pays to wait if you’re flexible with your motherboard requirements. Just be prepared to abandon any hope of keeping to a particular aesthetic.
Buy. Graphics cards have undergone a bit of a shake-up in the last couple of months. If you’re not in a hurry to buy, you may find the landscape more hospitable in early 2021. But if you must get a video card now, mind this advice on what constitutes a GPU deal and what doesn’t, and then keep your eyes peeled. Usually, graphic cards don’t get slashed in price during Black Friday. What makes them worth waiting for is the combination of a discount and (for the mid-tier and enthusiast-level cards) free games.
As a general guideline, don’t expect a discount for RTX 30-series and Radeon 6000-series cards. They’re too new and demand is too high; if you can pick up any kind of free game with purchase, that’s the best you’ll do. As for ancient Polaris cards like the RX 570 and RX 580, do your best to hold out for the low prices we saw in January and February of this year–they’ve ticked back up in price, and you should avoid bad “bargains” for tech that old.
Wait. Prices are good right now, but if Amazon’s recent Prime Day discounts were any clue, we’ll see even better prices across capacities, form factors, and interfaces during Black Friday (or at least the week of Black Friday). The exception to this guideline is if you have a specific brand and capacity you’re after that doesn’t often go on sale. For those SSDs, buy as soon as the price drops by a solid amount.
Depends on capacity. Hard-disk drive prices on drives that are 2TB or smaller don’t generally go on sale at steep discount, even during the week of Black Friday. You won’t see a staggering difference between those deals and general sales throughout the year. Our rule of thumb is that a name-brand 1TB drive for $35 and a name-brand 2TB for $50 are extremely good sale prices.
For higher-capacity drives, they rarely get sizable discounts–except for big sale days like Black Friday and even Prime Day. It can be worth seeing what discount you get during the week of the 27th. A 20-percent discount is a good deal, but take a look at sites like Camelcamelcamel.com and Slickdeals.com to get an idea of previous historical trends–and keep in mind that with 2020 being what it’s been, 15 percent might be the best you’ll do.
Wait. RAM prices have been good throughout the year, but reports say that they could drop further by 10 to 15 percent during Q4 2020. Moreover, Amazon’s Prime Day sale in October hinted that we could see a few staggeringly excellent RAM deals during Black Friday. (A Crucial Ballistix 16GB DDR4-3200 CL16 RAM kit plunged to $45.) Any discounts that crop up between now and November 27 won’t be bad at all, but if you can hold out, do it.
Toss-up. Not all cases go on sale, so your buying mindset determines if it’s worth waiting or not. You can generally save a nice chunk of change by waiting if you don’t care about brand and/or just want a super-budget case.
But if you want a particular model that doesn’t often go on sale, and and it hits its last historical low (or near it), don’t hesitate. To determine if it goes on sale often or not, check out the data available on Camelcamelcamel.com and Slickdeals.com. This year in particular, we strongly recommend not waiting–November has already kicked off with a handful of solid discounts on name-brand cases, like the Corsair 275R and Fractal Design Define 7, which feels a bit shocking after months of anemic deals.
Toss-up. In general, if you prefer a specific manufacturer (much less specific model), don’t wait if you see what you want go on sale. If it’s a good price relative to previous deals, pull the trigger.
But if your requirements are a little more flexible, you can save by waiting. Just be aware that power supply deals aren’t numerous, and they tend to cluster toward the budget end of the spectrum. You’ll save the most if you’re looking for a power supply that’s 550W or less, and don’t need it to be modular or have higher than a Bronze rating (if that). You can also still find bargains at higher wattages, but the models that get a discount tend to completely random.
Toss-up. Most people end up zeroing in on specific models for monitors, and in such cases, it’s not worth passing up a good deal on what you want in the hopes it’ll get better during Black Friday. If your research says the deal is a solid one, go for it.
If you instead have a set of general criteria—e.g., 1080p, 144Hz, G-Sync, 24-inches—then it can be worth your while to wait. Like cases and power supplies, the monitors that go on sale tend to be scattershot, and you’ll make out best if your criteria aren’t too rigid or tied to a particular manufacturer. Still, do your research in advance anyway, so that you have a better idea of what the best models are. We’ve seen an increase in gaming monitor options in particular, and teasing out what’s best for you can take a little digging.
When doing research (or checking out a deal), be aware that VA and IPS panels with high refresh rates are much more common now, so don’t assume you’re stuck with a TN panel if you want a 120Hz (or faster) display. Also, beware of vendors who are sloppy about their labeling–some don’t clearly distinguish between G-Sync and G-Sync compatible (aka FreeSync). If the price looks too cheap for actual G-Sync, it very likely is.
• Write down the parts and the features in them that you want. Even if you have a specific component in mind, you may still find yourself wondering whether a different sale option is better. This list will make it easier to compare.
• For 2020, cutthroat bargain hunters should have their shopping lists researched and set ASAP. Some major retailers this year are releasing their deals in waves, so forewarned is forearmed.
• You can hedge your bets by waiting to use your PC parts and shopping strategically: That is, at stores that allow returns of unopened items, have extended return windows, don’t charge restocking fees, and don’t cost you much in shipping or gas when returning items. Just be aware that if you make too many returns at some stores, they can ban you from shopping there, so don’t do it gratuitously or make it a frequent habit.
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Alaina Yee is PCWorld's resident bargain hunter—when she's not covering PC building, computer components, mini-PCs, and more, she's scouring for the best tech deals. Previously her work has appeared in PC Gamer, IGN, Maximum PC, and Official Xbox Magazine. You can find her on Twitter at @morphingball.