Every year on Black Friday and Cyber Monday, shoppers scour retailers looking for the best deals on computer parts. Those two days are well known for having the largest sales and best discounts. But is it really the best time to buy?
PCPartPicker tracks prices for over 10,000 computer parts across dozens of retailers. To find out if the holiday season is the optimal time to purchase parts, I plotted out historical prices across different part categories.
Should you wait for the holiday sales? It depends...
First, let's look at Solid State Drives (SSDs) limited to the SATA interface and sized between 60GB-120GB.
For each part retail prices are plotted as blue points, creating an intensity plot. Gray banding represents the span from lowest to highest price. The vertical blue line represents Thanskgiving, and the vertical red line represents Christmas. The thick black line shows the overall average price.
SSD prices dropped slowly during Summer 2011, but then held steady from roughly October through January. Holiday sales showed up as week-long dips on the gray lower bound immediately after Thanksgiving and right before Christmas. Therefore, if you are looking to buy an SSD and aren't locked into a specific model, your best bet to is to buy the week after Thanksgiving or the week before Christmas. If you are locked into a specific model, however, it may not matter; prices generally hold steady well into the next year.
In 2011, flooding in Thailand took several hard drive manufacturing plants offline, resulting in significantly reduced production. The effect began to take hold in October 2011, when inventory shortages caused prices to rise. Because of limited inventory, sales were extremely scarce during the holiday period. As production resumed, prices gradually dropped. Looking forward to the 2012 holiday season, I expect to see much better hard drive deals as production and inventory has largely been restored.
Next, let's look at LCD monitors between 20"-27". It's a very different story here.
From the plot we can tell that LCD monitor prices are slowly trending upwards. (Monitors were added to PCPartPicker mid-July 2011.) The real surprise is during the holiday shopping period. Prices rose quickly leading up to Thanksgiving. Immediately after Cyber Monday, prices rose sharply again. Roughly a week before Christmas, there was yet another rise in prices. There is evidence of spot sales a few days after Black Friday, but overall if you are buying a monitor it is better to do it sooner than later. Waiting for specific deals could end up costing you more.
For CPUs, I first restricted the selection to the most popular segment - Intel CPUs using an LGA1155 socket (excluding Extreme Editions).
Intel LGA1155-based CPUs held steady in price over the last year, even amid the introduction of Ivy Bridge. During the 2011 holiday period, prices were relatively immune to sales, suffering only a small price increase the week before Christmas. Therefore, if you are in the market for an Intel CPU, timing should not have much of an effect. It is worth noting that combo deals are not reflected in this plot.
Next I took a look at AM3 and AM3+ socket based CPUs from AMD:
Like Intel LGA1155 CPUs, AMD CPUs saw steady average prices with few lower-end sales.
With video cards, the introduction of Radeon HD 7000 and GeForce 600 series chipsets caused quite a bit of average price fluctuation. To get a better look at 2011 video card pricing, I chose to look at two previous chipsets - the Radeon HD 6000 and GeForce 500 series. The price trends are different between the two, making for an interesting comparison. GeForce 500 series cards dropped in price slowly throughout the holiday period, with spot sales at the usual times. Radeon HD 6000 series video cards also saw a steady reduction in price throughout the holiday period, in addition to typical spot sales.
When is the best time to buy? It depends on how picky you are about buying specific models. If you don't have specific parts in mind, you should be able to pick up significant savings. But be warned: for several part types, waiting until the week before Christmas could prove costly.
To make your holiday computer shopping easier, PCPartPicker closely tracks part prices. If you have specific components in mind, subscribe to price alerts to be notified when prices drop below your predetermined thresholds.