There's no question that PC building can be an expensive hobby.
It used to be that building your own PC with the help of sites like PC Part Picker could actually save you some money vis-a-vis buying the best gaming PC you could afford off the shelf, especially with the price of some components like the best graphics cards seeing some incredible markups in recent years.
And I, for one, have been banging the drum for cheaper PC components in pretty much every review I do, so you would think that Amazon getting into the PC component market with its Amazon Basics CPU Air Cooler would be a cause for celebration. After all, it's definitely cheap, clocking in at just under $30, which is great for a budget-minded build.
Still, I can't think of another company I'd want in the PC components market less than Amazon, and this foray into PC building does not bode well at all for PC builders out there.
Yes, it's cheap, but it's still a knock-off
As Tom's Hardware notes, this Amazon Basic's CPU Cooling Fan looks almost identical to this Cooler Master Hyper H410R RGB CPU Air Cooler, which is being sold for nearly three times the price as Amazon Basics CPU cooler.
The two have comically similar specs, almost as if Amazon just copied the design of Cooler Master's CPU cooler, slapped on a 20% slower RGB fan, and ruthlessly undercut the company that did all the work to engineer the CPU cooler in the first place.
Don't get me wrong, I'm not out here to shed a tear for the profits of a component company that makes plenty of money selling computer parts. But whatever we can say about Cooler Master, it at least has a vested interest in the market it's catering to, whereas Amazon is out to make a quick buck and isn't interested in the market beyond the money it can extract from it.
Cooler Master, like it or not, did the work to engineer that fan that Amazon just ripped right the hell off, and Cooler Master presumably invested money to make sure it does the job it purports to do. Amazon has done no such thing, I can almost guarantee you.
What Amazon has done is see from its own internal sales data that a product is selling well on its site, and using that internal data, it went ahead and made a knock-off version of it and is now selling it alongside the product it copied at a greatly reduced price. This isn't the first time Amazon has done this, and it won't be the last either.
If this trend catches on, and Amazon aggressively moves into PC components as it has with home goods and elsewhere, PC builders are just going to be worse for it in the long run.
Why knock-offs are bad in the long run
The problem with knock-offs is that the people making them don't actually know what they are doing. They haven't developed an original idea or product, they are just copying what someone else has successfully developed after a lot of time and investment.
The more people buy knock-offs though, the more it hurts the bottom lines of the original manufacturers. Again, I'm not here to cry about lost revenue for Cooler Master, but I do care about Cooler Master continuing to produce a quality product, and like it or not, that costs money. Money Amazon will never invest itself into developing a quality CPU cooler.
If everyone buys Amazon's knock-off cooler, Cooler Master has less incentive to build a better one, since Amazon will just copy it and everyone will buy that one instead. So what's the point?
Over time, the quality of all CPU coolers will go down as there is less incentive to invest in proper engineering, and we end up with worse products as everyone now has to scrape the bottom of the revenue barrel because Amazon is out here selling knockoffs.
Sure, that build right now costs less to build, but future builds will have a hard ceiling on quality as a result.
Component makers need to get serious about budget products
Ultimately, Amazon is doing what it's doing because there is a market there for budget PC components. The best CPU coolers can be pretty expensive, even without getting into the AIO side of things, so it makes sense that Amazon would try to make money off this gap in the market.
The solution ultimately is for component makers to fill those gaps with quality budget-friendly offerings. Component prices have just been going up and up every year, putting budget PC builders in a really bad spot. It's inevitable that someone would come in to fill that gap, and it really sucks that it's Amazon, but that is utterly predictable.
Unless component makers want to get absolutely fleeced by Amazon undercutting it with knock-offs, they need to offer customers an alternative that Amazon can't undercut. Let's hope they heed this wake-up call for the industry.
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John (He/Him) is the Components Editor here at TechRadar and he is also a programmer, gamer, activist, and Brooklyn College alum currently living in Brooklyn, NY.
Named by the CTA as a CES 2020 Media Trailblazer for his science and technology reporting, John specializes in all areas of computer science, including industry news, hardware reviews, PC gaming, as well as general science writing and the social impact of the tech industry.
You can find him online on Threads @johnloeffler.
Currently playing: Baldur's Gate 3 (just like everyone else).