Upgrading from a Prebuilt

If you’re like me, you bought a prebuilt PC years ago, not wanting to spend a lot of time and effort finding and making your own rig. Now though, that ultra powerful gtx 660 ti is seeming a little shorthanded. Time for an upgrade.

But wait! This is a prebuilt case,too small for a gpu with a standardized cooler, filled with proprietary, short, and weird cables, and a gpu riser for some reason. This is definitely intimidating, and can make you want to hold off on upgrades, or even buy a new system. Resist! Having just come out of the process, here’s some tips that will take you from prebuilt peasant to custom king.

Let’s get started.


Is pre-built wrong?


Buying a new computer pre-built isn’t a bad thing, in fact it’s an easy and good way to get into PC gaming, and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. It even has some advantages.

  1. It saves you time ordering individual parts and putting them together
  2. You know all the pieces work together and don’t take a risk if you don’t know much about PCs
  3. You’re covered by warranty in case of accidents
  4. There are technical experts ensuring your rig is built and tested before shipping
  5. Tasks like cable management are already sorted.
  6. You know how it’ll look when it’s built.

That being said, there are downsides to be sure. Numbering among them is the markup that prebuilt PC vendors charge, components that are chosen for a wider audience instead of you yourself, and the big one: the difficulties of upgrading.  

My story

You see, most pre built rigs that you get are actually designed specifically for that build. My prebuilt is a good example of this, an Alienware x51 compact gaming rig that I bought. When I got it, it fulfilled all of my needs, fitting a lot of power in a small form factor case. . I could easily store it down the side of my desk without being an eyesore.

However, after years of gaming, my graphics card, the gtx 660 ti died on me. Even though I bought it pre built, the warranty did expire. But I did have this rig for a good few years. Anyway, after crying for a while, I went online and bought myself a shiny new 960 4 gig card!

GTX 960

GTX 960

I waited expectantly while it shipped, and when it was delivered, I was thrilled. However, I was in for a prebuilt punch to the nuts – I had measured the dimensions wrong.  The card was too big for my case.
I’d gone too far to send the card back. In my desperation, I made a snap decision: screw the case. However, I couldn’t wait for the new, shiny case to arrive, so I made do with, well… No case.

Shelf Case

Shelf Case

That’s right, in the weeks before I got a new case, this was my rig. Don’t be like me. Here’s how you can avoid the “shelf case”.

Avoiding the shelf case

Most pre built rigs come with cases that are…. Odd. Designed for cost effective manufacturing and looking cool above upgradability, cases like the one that my Alienware came in.


This case had its benefits. There was no wasted room, everything managed to fit into it’s place and not get in the way. Being a compact case, this meant I could store it neatly. I mean this thing was smaller than some game consoles! (And more powerful).

But sometimes…

These types of cases often have weird form factors, risers, awful cable management, and non standardized mounting and installation points. Trying to upgrade this particular model isn’t easy. As you can see, only room for 1 hard drive, 2 sticks of ram and that’s pretty much it. Graphics cards are limited to size which, again compact case so small is the key word.

In order to avoid all the headaches that come with trying to get new parts for these cases, take these tips:


Find compatible hardware


Obviously not everyone knows whether the graphics card they’re looking up will run on their machine.


Luckily, as I mentioned above, the web service, https://pcpartpicker.com/ is a great resource to put your current computer specification on and see whether the new graphics card, SSD or even a new motherboard will work with your current loadout.


Take into account of hardware size

When buying a new graphics card, even if the dimensions are exact, please allow a bit of room for error.

For me, the cooling pipes weren’t taken into account. This is what started my dilemma! But after this I learnt and now I know for next time.


Changing case size

If you go from a compact to a much bigger rig, then you’ll struggle to make the cables reach the ports. You can purchase extensions to fix this, they’re relatively cheap.

Also make sure your motherboard is compatible with the new case, by that i mean, it can be attached, not all cases support all motherboards.


Not all hardware can be transferred

In my case, I wasn’t able to fit the optical drive from my old rig to the new one, due to the size difference. It’ll be like putting a laptop optical drive into a desktop.

Luckily I didn’t use it that often before but if I plan to use discs in the future, I’ll have to buy a new optical drive


Do your research

Before buying any new hardware, do some searching online. Check reviews, public comments, videos of installations or demonstrations.

Knowing for certain that it’s the product you want will save you money and time, otherwise you’ll be delayed by returning it.


Patience is key

When modifying your computer, even a small change can cause issues. Sometimes it’s as simple as the driver didn’t install, or you’re putting the RAM stick in the wrong way.

Other times it can be bigger issues, but there’s no need to panic, stress or cry, just stay calm, document the symptoms (such as not booting, or constant beeping on bootup) and do some research.

When I received my new case, I was excited, transferring the parts over. Once again another issue, this time the cables were short.

The thing about pre-built gaming rigs, they tend to be designed really well. By that I mean, nothing is wasted, so cables were built for specific lengths between hardware. So, when I realised my new PSU cables were too short to reach from the bottom of my new case, to avoid resting on the heat pipes on the new GTX 960, not to mention a cable management eyesore.

New case: Short Cable

New case: Short Cable

After picking myself up, I made a trip to the local computer hardware shop for cable extensions, which helped out by enabling cables to connect to their assigned sockets. Another benefit of getting cable extensions is the ability to do some cable management.

In the picture above, you can see I have quite a few cables resting on my graphics cards heat pipe. Such a hazard as because, the heat on the pipes could damage the cables, which would of been a disaster!

So using extensions, I was able to move the cables out the way. This case allowed me to remove the back cover to tuck all my excess cables to help keep a clean look. Helping airflow and preventing any possible obstructions to the internal fans. Cable management, it’s a finicky task to make sure everything is neat, but it’s worth doing when finishing your build. I mean, what’s the point of getting a shiny new case and graphics card if you obstruct it with cables.

And here is my result! Further upgrade options are now available to me, for instance, I can now add a bigger motherboard, a few more HDDs or SDDs, I could even add another graphics card.

New Case: The Result

New Case: The Result


Through my experience, I found out that upgrading a prebuilt computer isn’t impossible.

Sometimes it’s difficult, depending on what you currently have.

But if you plan it out, research your components. You will find it’ll be a much easier task, after which, you’ll have a nice looking custom rig.

Are you’re running a prebuilt now? Want to upgrade but don’t know where to start?

Or maybe you have upgraded and also had the “Shelf Case” like me.

Comment below your questions and experience.


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