Someone recently asked me for help in buying a new PC system. I've been buying parts for so long, I'm a bit out of touch when it comes to pre-built systems.
Is it the case that they'd be better off getting a Dell or Gateway rather than buying something from Fry's or CompUSA? I'm assuming the shipping cost is offset by the lack of sales tax? Then there's Dell's free shipping.
What's the conventional wisdom these days? Should I just steer them towards Dell?
By Jeff Lackey on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 06:42 pm:
Yeah, I'd steer them towards Dell. I've helped a number of folks lately (last year) buy systems, and the best cost/performance/satisfaction seems to be from Dell. Gateway has been spotty as of late. CompUsa, Best Buy, etc. is very likely to result in propietary on-board sound and video and other issues (and low performance.)
By Brian Rucker on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 07:19 pm:
There are companies that specialize in high quality gaming systems like Falcon Northwest, Alienware, and Voodoo. If that's what you're looking for I think all three of these companies are pretty reputable.
By adamc on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 07:54 pm:
Another company you could look at is www.gamepc.com. You can get pretty detailed in your order as far as which parts you want.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 08:01 pm:
I would normally recommend Dell, but since they're bonded at the hip to Intel and Intel's currently weak P4 lineup-- I'd look elsewhere. You're likely to end up with a hobbled P4 and PC133 memory if you go Dell right now. Or worse, extra-expensive RAMBUS. That's ugly.
So, given that, I would look at the gamer-specific houses mentioned above. They may cost a bit more, but you make up for it in that these guys don't cut corners on the little stuff (sound cards, video cards, etc). It's worth it if you go with one of their "value" AMD systems.
Things will get better on the Intel side of the house when Intel supports DDR officially, and the next "rev" of the P4 is released with 512kb on-die L2 cache. The new P4 rev is due before christmas, and DDR support is supposed to happen January 1st when some of the RAMBUS contracts expire.
That last paragraph was dedicated, in loving memory, to Desslock.
By Brad Grenz on Saturday, October 6, 2001 - 11:11 pm:
Don't let your friend buy something that's been sitting on a shelf for two months at a department/electronics super store. Also don't go to one of those Gateway Country outlets. They charge more than if you order online or over the phone from Gateway, and you still end up waiting for a factory to build your system and ship it to you. They don't have inventory at the stores.
Dell's pretty good if you're going the Intel route, but they don't sell AMD stuff which is what people really ought to buy. But I'm not up on good OEMs that sell AMD systems. Haven't read a Computer Shopper in ages. But my don't do's are still good advice.
By hido on Sunday, October 7, 2001 - 01:23 am:
After two Gateways, I couldn't be happier with my system from Hypersonic.
By RogerWong on Sunday, October 7, 2001 - 02:34 am:
If I were to buy pre-built, I would buy Dell.*
A lot of solid engineering goes into Dell systems. My component failure rate amongst a dozen Dell systems in the past 10 years has been zero. This includes the one that fell 3 feet when my cheap particle board workbench collapsed under the combined weight of a PC, 2 monitors, and my fat ass.
I cracked the case of my Dreamcast dev station and broke the hinges off the N64 debug box, but my Dell Optiplex workstation was still buzzing along just fine. I had no bad sectors or fractured monitor boards, but just a well-engineered computer.
Full disclosure: The author of this message has owned Dell stock at one time or another.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Sunday, October 7, 2001 - 03:01 am:
I would recommend Dell, and I historically have. But right now, the way they are wedged so far up Intel's ass is doing consumers a disservice.*
* Except for Desslock, who has the world's fastest P4 system. On games, anyway. Well, some games. Except those games where my Athlon system is faster. And stuff. Did I mention my system probably cost half of what Stefan paid?
By Rob Funk (Xaroc) on Sunday, October 7, 2001 - 07:12 am:
I have had 2 Dell's and they were top notch machines. Of course the last one was a Pentium Pro 200 so take it for what it is worth. :)
By Davey on Sunday, October 7, 2001 - 10:02 am:
-> disservice.* * Except for Desslock, who has the world's fastest P4 system. On games, anyway. Well, some games. Except those games where my Athlon system is faster. And stuff. Did I mention my system probably cost half of what Stefan paid? <-
Once an asshole, always a wumpus
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Sunday, October 7, 2001 - 01:02 pm:
Davey, shouldn't you be starring in some christian claymation right about now? Perhaps with your dog Goliath?
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Sunday, October 7, 2001 - 08:38 pm:
My wife has a Dell, which she got from the company she works for, and one of my friends has one also.
While I'm very fond of my "hand-made" system, the Dells I have been around have been pretty dependable systems.
By kazz on Monday, October 8, 2001 - 01:41 am:
Dell's good, but -stay away- from their USB keyboard/mouse combo. My USB mouse (plugs into keyboard) stopped working a week after I bought the system. After 16+ hourse on the phone with them and surfing their byzantine site, I gave up and got a serial mouse.
Other than that, it's been fine. And the prices look good now, if the ad in the back of CGW is any indication.
By Robert Mayer on Monday, October 8, 2001 - 08:39 am:
I use a USB Explorer mouse and a standard keyboard with my Dell, no problems. I have had problems with the USB mouse and USB keyboard (both MS stuff) at work, though, on our home builts. I rather suspect it's not Dell stuff that's at fault, but some odd USB thingy.
By XtienMurawski on Monday, October 8, 2001 - 11:47 pm:
I got a Dell laptop from my wife and both of us really like it. A couple things have gone wrong with it and the company took care of them immediately.
By Desslock on Wednesday, October 10, 2001 - 12:54 am:
>I would normally recommend Dell, but since they're bonded at the hip to Intel and Intel's currently weak P4 lineup-- I'd look elsewhere
>I would recommend Dell, and I historically have. But right now, the way they are wedged so far up Intel's ass is doing consumers a disservice
wumpy -- you posted the first comment and when no one took the bait, you posted essentially the exact same message in a more inflammatory manner. You really are a troll.
Like others who have posted here, if you're going to go with a pre-built system, I'd recommend a Dell (caveat: Gateway doesn't have a meaningful presence in Canada, so I'm not commenting on its systems). Stay away from pre-built systems at retailers like Frys and Best Buy like the plague.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Wednesday, October 10, 2001 - 01:59 am:
Hardly. It just physically pains me to see people spend more of their hard-earned cash for an inferior PC. If that's being a troll, then color me guilty!
By Desslock on Wednesday, October 10, 2001 - 12:19 pm:
"physically pains me"
That's a powerful sense of empathy. Such altruism. Who knew?
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Wednesday, October 10, 2001 - 10:45 pm:
Okay, I will admit that it's a little annoying when the self-styled king of RPGs all of a sudden becomes a hardware expert. Shouldn't you be busy.. oh, I don't know.. levelling up your characters, or finding hidden magic wands, or something, instead of bandying about (bad) advice for gaming hardware?
And just for future reference, Desslock, that song "Candle in the Wind" was not written for Gordon Moore.
By Bub (Bub) on Thursday, October 11, 2001 - 12:08 am:
And shouldn't you be trying to eat those billy goats crossing your bridge right now Wumpus?
By Desslock on Thursday, October 11, 2001 - 01:44 am:
>I will admit that it's a little annoying when the self-styled king
What does that make you, slick? The idiot child prince of the unfairly demonized hardware monkees?
Take it to the man!
You're a troll. Embrace it. Sing it loud, little prince.
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Thursday, October 11, 2001 - 01:50 am:
Man, I haven't seen such fury against Wumpus since his last bout with Chick about a certain FPS's merit, or lack thereof...
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Thursday, October 11, 2001 - 06:53 pm:
"What does that make you, slick?"
That makes me the guy who's going to point out all the benchmarks that directly contradict your assertion that "The P4 is faster in games". Nothing more, nothing less.
Although I do appreciate the irony of Desslock advocating a platform that runs Quake 3 "really fast". The question is, how fast does it run Baldur's Gate II?
By Brad Grenz on Thursday, October 11, 2001 - 08:12 pm:
Yeah, the P4 is faster in a grand total of 1 game. The Athlon XP stomps on a 2Ghz P4 in Serious Sam, Return to Castle Wolfinstein, 3D Mark 2001 (Max Payne engine), Unreal Tournament... Who even plays Quake 3 anymore? And it only has an advantage at 640x480, where you're getting like 200+ frames per sec, but if you bump things up to higher resolutions (which you should iff you're getting more fps then your monitor refresh rate capabilities) the advantage disappears.
By Desslock on Friday, October 12, 2001 - 02:55 am:
>that directly contradict your assertion that "The P4 is faster in games".
That's not my assertion, brother. You suggested, at the time we had our original "debate", which system I would get if I wanted the fastest system for games. At the time, it was clearly a high-end P4, although I recommended an AMD for a price/performance bang for your buck. Based upon the stats for the AMD 1800+, that chip is now the clear winner, if you can get the same test motherboard (which may be difficult). In a month, the balance may shift back to the P4 2.2 Northwood -- we'll see.
Here's a hint: Unlike you, I'm not a zealot, and I certainly don't have a vested interest in any "winner". I'll continue to recommend the chip which is the fastest at the time my recommendation is asked for, if that's the only criteria people are interested in. Right now, if you can get the motherboard and chip, it's definitely the AMD 1800+, although a high end Pentium4 is still a decent alternative, since they're cheaper than ever.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Friday, October 12, 2001 - 06:33 pm:
"which system I would get if I wanted the fastest system for games. At the time, it was clearly a high-end P4.."
Not if you play Serious Sam, Return to Wolf demo, or Max Payne, it wasn't. Ye Olde Athlon 1.4ghz trounces the 2.0ghz P4 in these games. At 1/4 the price no less! Unless your definition of 'fastest' is different than mine.
"Unlike you, I'm not a zealot"
Unlike you, I am not Canadian.
"and I certainly don't have a vested interest in any "winner"."
I think we all have a vested interest in fast computers being sold. The old chicken and egg conundrum of game development. And cheap fast computers sell better than expensive fast computers.
"although a high end Pentium4 is still a decent alternative, since they're cheaper than ever."
P4 2.0ghz - $515
P4 1.9ghz - $362
P4 1.8ghz - $247
Athlon XP 1800 - $216
Athlon XP 1700 - $158
Athlon 1.4ghz - $108
Can we get some kind of audible alarm or warning when we're entering the Desslock Reality Distortion field? Please? For the children.
By Desslock on Friday, October 12, 2001 - 07:32 pm:
"although a high end Pentium4 is still a decent alternative, since they're cheaper than ever."
Athlon 1.4: $150
Pentium 4 1.5: $144.50
Good luck getting your hands on a new Athlon 1800+ and the same motherboard those test results came from. It likely won't be realistically available to the average purchaser before the Intel Northwood P4 2.2s. Seem like great chips though.
I think it's amazing that you can get a high end computer -- Intel or AMD -- fully loaded, for under $2,000 now. That's pretty incredible considering it wasn't too long ago that high end systems were at least twice that.
>Unlike you, I am not Canadian... Can we get some kind of audible alarm
Ho ho! Prejudice is always a gas, isn't it?
Maybe you need someone to ring your bell before you destroy your own credibility again?
By Bruce_Geryk (Bruce) on Friday, October 12, 2001 - 09:49 pm:
I'm having horrible stability problems with my Thunderbird/VIA combination that will probably see me go the P4 route within the next couple days. It hates my Audigy, which I need because I use the computer as a sequencer for my studio instruments, and it also hates my GeForce 3. Both these things run fine in my P3/440BX machine. The Athlon crashes repeatedly, and locks up if left on for more than an hour if I'm not using it (goes to sleep and won't wake up). On Monday I'm ordering a P4. A fast chip doesn't do me any good if it only works for 20 minutes at time.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Friday, October 12, 2001 - 10:07 pm:
"Athlon 1.4: $150
Pentium 4 1.5: $144.50"
If an Athlon running at 1.4ghz frequently outperforms a P4 running at 2.0ghz, what will happen when we compare it to a P4 running at a 33% lower clock rate? It will demolish it. These aren't even in the same ballpark.
"Good luck getting your hands on a new Athlon 1800+ and the same motherboard those test results came from. It likely won't be realistically available to the average purchaser before the Intel Northwood P4 2.2s. Seem like great chips though."
Eh, well, http://www.newegg.com has the XP 1700 in stock. Of course that's running at "only" 1.47ghz versus the whopping 1.53ghz of the XP 1800. Hardly comparable of course! NewEgg also has the Shuttle Via KT266A in stock too. Don't believe me? G'wan. Check for yourself. Or, you can continue to base your arguments on supposition and conjecture, which is, as always, a source of endless amusement.
"Ho ho! Prejudice is always a gas, isn't it?"
Hey, some of my best friends are Canadian. Not that there's anything wrong with that.
"I'm having horrible stability problems with my Thunderbird/VIA combination"
Yeah, VIA/Intel is a Billy Idol white wedding sort of arrangement. This is why so many people fervently hope and pray to be saved by nVidia. It's so sketchy that even SIS is seen as a good guy.
You might try an alternate chipset before dropping that substantial sum for a P4 and RAMBUS. The AMD 760 is considered the "safest". It's up to you, of course.
By Brad Grenz on Friday, October 12, 2001 - 10:35 pm:
The Via/SB Live problem is well documented. Creative Labs probably could've fixed it with the Audigy, but they're snooty pricks... Have you got a AMD approved power supply? The latest 4 in 1 drivers from Via? The latest BIOS update from your mobo manufacturer?
The good thing is if you simply don't want to go with a Via based mother board you can get one based on the SiS 735, mobos with which cost only like $65, and is the fastest chipset you can get on the street today. Or you can get an nForce based board when they hit in a few weeks.
>"Athlon 1.4: $150
Pentium 4 1.5 : $144.50"
Only problem with that comparison it the fact that a 1.2 Ghz Thunderbird will easily outpace a 1.5 Ghz P4 for like $89.
By Steve on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 01:42 am:
Jesus, here's a newsflash: they're both really fast! They'll both run games really fast! They're both overkill for 90% of all games in existence!
All hardware battles come down to this: the hardware I purchased is better than whatever you purchased because it's what I spent my money on and I don't want to look like an idiot.
"Why of course the Pentium 4 is better! Why do you think I paid $500 more for it!"
"My AMD is faster and cheaper, and I really enjoy the fact it overheats and needs new drivers every week."
"The Pentium 4 is way more reliable!"
"Who cares? The AMD is CHEAP! If I fry five processors this year, it'll equal what you paid for your P4! You suck!"
End of discussion.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 02:10 am:
"Jesus, here's a newsflash: they're both really fast! They'll both run games really fast! They're both overkill for 90% of all games in existence!"
What are you playing-- minesweeper? Or its distant cousin Civ III? I can tell you that in Op. Flashpoint, it gets pretty damn jerky at times. I'm looking forward to a DDR/AthlonXP upgrade in the next 2 months or so.
Also-- you suck.
By Anonymous on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 03:37 am:
"I can tell you that in Op. Flashpoint, it gets pretty damn jerky at times"
You should probably upgrade then.
By Jeff Lackey on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 10:03 am:
"I can tell you that in Op. Flashpoint, it gets pretty damn jerky at times."
Yeah, it does that on Athlons. Has to do with the pre-fetch commands in the AMD architecture. Low MHz P4's are smooth as butter.
By Desslock on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 12:38 pm:
>All hardware battles come down to this: the hardware I purchased is better than whatever you purchased because it's what I spent my money on and I don't want to look like an idiot.
No, some of us are a little less self-interested, thanks. Don't paint us all with the "consistently lives up to our lowest expectations" Wumpus-brush.
As always, if you ain't interested in the thread, don't participate (and if someone could consolidate the various music/religous threads into one nice location for me to ignore, that'd be accommodating). But a lot gamers are "legitimate" computer hardware fans.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 01:15 pm:
Hey Stefan-- just got an e-mail notification from NewEgg this morning. The Athlon XP 1800 is in stock now.
And the Northwood P4 (the one with 512kb L2 cache) got pushed back to January for some reason. I guess everyone's shot their wad for the year, now.
I need more data on how well the various XP models overclock, and the procedures for overclocking them, before I upgrade. Evidently the L1 pencil trick doesn't work on these.. you must use the conductive rear window defogger repair kit.
By Steve on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 01:22 pm:
>>As always, if you ain't interested in the thread, don't participate. But a lot gamers are "legitimate" computer hardware fans.
Sorry Officer Desslock, the thread cop, I won't do it again.
By the way, our December issue has a big Intel versus AMD comparison article, the new 1.53GHz XP versus the 2.0GHz P4. At AMD's suggestion, the Athlon was built by Falcon (it was slightly overclocked, which Jason turned off), and the P4 system came from Intel. The only thing unique to each system is the memory/motherboard/processor. All the hard drives, video and sound are indentical (Jason ripped the machines apart and moved the exact pieces between the rigs).
He tested games, Photoshop, video and MP3 encoding, synthetic benchmarks, application benchmarks...
By Jeff Lackey on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 01:24 pm:
Hey Steve/Jason: what MB did you use for the 1800+?
Sounds like an interesting article.
By Jeff Atwood (Wumpus) on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 02:46 pm:
Isn't it funny that XP 1700 runs at 1.47ghz, and the XP 1800 runs at 1.53ghz? That's a whopping 60mhz difference, folks.
I wish nVidia would get off their ass and ship the nForce motherboards to more reviewers, and heck, maybe to stores, even?
By Brad Grenz on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 06:03 pm:
I think most reviewers have reference nForce boards. At least all the ones I care about. Now it's about motherboard manufacturers getting their samples to reviewers (and to market).
I'd also like to hear what motherboard Falcon used. It'd be a shame to handicap the system with a KT266 (non-A revision) or AMD 760. I was surprised by how quickly the KT266A boards have come to market. The Shuttle board is on the streets now and can be had for a really great price ($90). Most boards based on the previous Via chipset go for $30-50 more.
You can read up on Athlon XP overclocking at http://www.oc-athlonxp.com
It's a little trickier then the easy pencil trick and, as always, you can overclock the front side bus easily. Your average user can't expect results like the author of this site, he's got a major league cooling setup. But I think most could see some gains with quality DDR memory and a nice heatsink just upping the FSB a few mhz.
By Desslock on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 09:24 pm:
>Sorry Officer Desslock, the thread cop, I won't do it again.
No problem, sir. I'll let you off with a minor citation this time. Please ensure you don't jaywalk for at least 90 days as well.
Sorry if I was defensive, but your upcoming article (which I'm definitely looking forward to reading) is a prime example of a hardware-related topic that a lot of gamers will be interested in, yet won't have a vested interest in the results (yet). Just a good, hopefully informative, discussion piece.
Frankly, I don't know how any hardware fan can feel attachment to one company, or chipset. 3DFX/Nvidia, Intel/AMD, Soundblaster Live/Monster 3d -- even the most established technology can be challenged, or surpassed, relatively quickly. The pace of hardware development has completely outrun gaming requirements (unlike the the early to mid-90s, where Origin games seem consistently to be released targetting future hardware). Lots of gamers, including myself, like talking about hardware and debating merits just because it's an interesting topic -- your post, while definitely accurately characterizing a lot of usenet blabber on hardware, was also a condescending generalization.
By Desslock on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 09:28 pm:
>Hey Stefan-- just got an e-mail notification from NewEgg this morning. The Athlon XP 1800 is in stock now.
Very cool. You've recommended those guys before, no? I'm somewhat leery about ordering components online, since I can't conveniently holler at the person I've been dealing with if there's a problem with the order, but it seems almost impossible these days to get high end components at independent PC stores until at least 60 days after technology is unveiled. So NewEgg's good? A successor to Egghead?
By Steve on Saturday, October 13, 2001 - 11:36 pm:
>>Hey Steve/Jason: what MB did you use for the 1800+?
256MB, because that's all the RAMBUS RAM we have in the P4. We would have preferred 512MB, and probably could have/should have just broke down and bought it, but it probably wouldn't have affected the results. They're both equally hamstrung/helped by the RAM.
Both were running Windows XP with a new Titanium GeForce 3.
By Tim Elhajj on Sunday, October 14, 2001 - 02:07 am:
"256MB, because that's all the RAMBUS RAM we have in the P4. We would have preferred 512MB, and probably could have/should have just broke down and bought it, but it probably wouldn't have affected the results. They're both equally hamstrung/helped by the RAM."
Yeah, I don't think the 256 limit is that big a deal either. However, I think Jeff was asking about the motherboard in the 1800+. I'm curious too.
By Jeff Lackey on Sunday, October 14, 2001 - 07:55 am:
"I think Jeff was asking about the motherboard in the 1800+. I'm curious too."
Yep, that was the question.
By Gabriel Marsh on Sunday, October 14, 2001 - 11:48 am:
The interesting thing to me here is how off topic this thread became. It started as a simple question of a recomendation for a place to buy a system from, and became an amd/intel war. So let me summarize the thread for the topic.
1. don't buy from an electronics superstore
2. If they don't know a lot about computers, buy from dell or gateway, but not the gateway store. Still recommend they get rdram instead of anything else.
3. If they do know a lot about computers, they don't need advice and could be contributing to the flame war here. Really the entire debate means the buyer has to know chipsets, memory speeds, current prices on processors, and has to find a company that will sell a computer with all that information available. Which means one of the high end gaming machine companies (alienware, flacon-nw, hypersonic, voodoo etc.) will be what they need.
By Steve on Sunday, October 14, 2001 - 05:22 pm:
Oh, the motherboard... duh. It is an AMD chipset, I believe. Not sure of the manufacturer. Jason would know.
By Doug Jones on Monday, October 15, 2001 - 06:00 pm:
Hey I was looking to upgrade but I took a good look at my archiac system and figured screw it just buy a new a one.
So a few questions first, Could someone list off the sites to those companies that build gaming rigs? Secondly my big chunk of change wont be coming for another month of so. Thus I'm wondering if I should wait till Christmas. So I'm asking do computer parts usually usually go on some sort of pre-post sale like everything else in the universe?
By Michael Murphy (Murph) on Tuesday, October 16, 2001 - 12:33 am:
Eh, parts are so cheap right now, I doubt you'd see a very noticeable drop in the next month for Christmas...Except, the Athlon 1800 was just unveiled, so there's a chance that some lower-level parts might come down a bit. Typically, what's freshly released will determine prices more than the holiday season, I fear.
So, will stuff be cheaper in a month? Probably. Will it be remarkably so, that you'll actually notice a difference? Considering you're already gonna fork over -- what, eight hundred bucks? You won't really notice the thirty-five (tops) you'll save on the processor by waiting a month.