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  1. #1
    2 Star Lounger
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    Quick recs for desktops?

    --- Inadvertently posted on Software Finds and Wants. Where's the "bus" to Hardware!?! ---
    I'm considering a new desktop, and I wonder if anyone has recommendations on brands? I've researched till my head spins <img src=/S/dizzy.gif border=0 alt=dizzy width=15 height=15>, so of course I'm asking for another batch of opinions... <img src=/S/grin.gif border=0 alt=grin width=15 height=15>. I have a good idea of the components I want, but I'm hung up on whether to buy a brand name PC or a custom-built one.

    If you're so inclined, please tell me:
    - What brand of desktop you use (or if you built your own machine)
    - If it was a personal purchase, where you bought it and how long ago
    - Whether it was a "value" system, "mid-range," or "killer" system when you bought it
    - Whether you've been happy with it

    Not to exclude anyone, but I'm not looking at laptops. And not to invite a flame war, but I'm not interested in Mac recommendations <img src=/S/evilgrin.gif border=0 alt=evilgrin width=15 height=15>.

    Thanks!
    Bob
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  2. #2
    Silver Lounger
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    Re: Quick recs for desktops?

    Hi Bob,

    You will get dramatically different answers to your questions depending on who you ask. The biggest questions that should be answered first are:

    - How much are you willing to spend?
    - What kind of performance do you need (or want <img src=/S/evilgrin.gif border=0 alt=evilgrin width=15 height=15>)

    I prefer building a system from scratch myself, or at the very least buying a barebones system (Case, motherboard, CPU) from a PC shop and adding the rest myself. I would consider myself a gamer, although I haven't played much for several months. I tend to lean toward the "killer" systems, as you put it. I can usually build a system for half the price of a comparable pre-built system (especially those from companies like Alienware). Depending on the price of the video card (usually the most expensive component of a gamer's system), these can be built for about $1500-$2000. I usually start with a website like Pricewatch for the best prices.

    However, if your needs are mostly business, your options are much more broad. I've known people who bought an out-of-the-box system from retail stores (like Costco, Sams, Best Buy, Circuit City, etc) and gotten great deals and a hefty rebate. That's definitely the way to go if you're more budget concious. For this type of user the specs aren't nearly as important (i.e. you won't really notice the difference between 512MB of PC2100 RAM and 2GB of PC4200 DDR RAM). You can usually get a decent system for $500-$1500.

    With the huge number of computer vendors (retail, specialty shops, online, etc) I would usually avoid the big guys (like Dell, Gateway, IBM) UNLESS you are in a situation that requires the extended Technical Support and/or Warranty. These systems will be a bit more expensive, but they come with tons of OEM software and excellent phone support. For some users, it's worth the extra cost.

    Hope this helps!

  3. #3
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    Re: Quick recs for desktops?

    In general I agree with Mark. But if you want a power machine for the above average user, I have found the the Sony Vaio series work very good. Plan on spending about $900+ USD for a good machine. Most of the OEM software can be uninstalled upfront without to much of a problem.

    Now running HP Pavilion a6528p, with Win7 64 Bit OS.

  4. #4
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    Re: Quick recs for desktops?

    I agree with everything Mark has said and I tend to build my own boxes these days. But if you're not "inclined" in that direction, my personal preference for "brand name" purchase tends to lean toward Gateway. Many of the other so-called majors tend to do things with their products that give them a restricted or constrained use, like special hard drive setup and so on. My experience with Gateway is that they tend to use more or less "standard" components and don't do tricks with the hard drive. I think you're going to get a myriad of recommendations, so the initial question that needs to be answered is: are you willing or able to build your own system?

  5. #5
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    Re: Quick recs for desktops?

    are you willing or able to build your own system?

    I have never built my own system, but I am comfortable mucking around inside the case. I probably could do it, but I'm leaning toward buying one.

    I am also looking to spend less than $1000, but that's why I asked primarily about brands. I figure a Honda Civic is a Honda just like the Accord, though obviously with different specs. I wanted to hear primarily recommendations about what people like and don't like. Your positive words about Gateway are exactly what I was looking for. I haven't really looked at their systems.

    I'll be curious to hear other thoughts. I figure that people who visit this part of the lounge will lean more toward either high-end systems or building themselves, or both! <img src=/S/grin.gif border=0 alt=grin width=15 height=15>

    Bob
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  6. #6
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    Re: Quick recs for desktops?

    Bob,
    I am also solidly in the "build-it yourself camp.
    I also do repairs, on the side, in my spare time. Funny, but the last ten in for resolving "issues" were Dell boxes.

    I suppose if I had to choose among the "brands", I would opt for Sony, Gateway, then Dell. ( but only if I were forced to )
    BOB
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    Today it is called golf!

  7. #7
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    Re: Quick recs for desktops?

    As tempting as it is to go into the wholesale club and purchase an HP, "out of the box system" with a 2-page list of features for $699, I would encourage you to give some serious thought to building your own. Even though the feature list looks outstanding, keep in mind that you're getting a system that will be difficult if not impossible to upgrade, an HP monitor, HP optical drives, etc. This maybe okay with you as HP is a fine company, but performance wise, you can do better...

    When you build your own, you can opt for a top notch screwless, lightweight, aluminum case. You can go for a better, high performance power supply. Pick the size and brand of your hard drives. A 'real' SoundBlaster sound card vs. an onboard emulator. Go for a namebrand (Pioneer, Yamaha, LiteOn, etc) optical drive. Choose the size and brand of monitor that you like rather than what comes pre-packaged in the box. Install only the software that you plan to use rather than the 200 titles that you'll never use...you get the idea!

    As far as opinions on ready made systems, two thing's are for sure: Everybody will have an opinion, and hardly anyone will agree! One positive note for most branded systems is you'll probably get good tech support and a warranty. It's almost impossibe to get either when you buy parts and build your own.

    Over time, I have purchased a Tandy system, a Compaq system, a Dell system and a Gateway system. I will never again purchase from RadioShack, Compaq system or Dell, All three used a ton of proprietary parts which made the systems almost impossible to upgrade and even if you could, you'd have to purchase directly from them at super-high prices. But Gateway is worthy of consideration . If you haven't already, you should go to the Gateway website. It will let you 'custom build' a system on-line. Naturally, you'll have to pick from the choices that are offered but all-in-all it's a pretty neat deal. To this day, I still use the Gateway 19" trinitron monitor that came with my original Gateway system. I know it's actually a Sony monitor with the Gateway label attached.

    Last word: AlienWare will give you a good idea of what the latest and greatest components are and PriceWatch will let you go shopping for those parts. if you do the build-your-own thing, you'll be sorry if you cut corners on the video card and the monitor. Regardless of what's in the box, you'll be looking at the monitor while you're computing.

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  8. #8
    Uranium Lounger
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    Re: Quick recs for desktops?

    Like many in these parts, I'm a builder. I am a firm believer in the value returned for the effort. And frankly, it truly is not that difficult a thing to do, but it is time consuming and guess who your warranty provider is? <img src=/S/grin.gif border=0 alt=grin width=15 height=15> Once you do it yourself, you will likely not look back.

    My current desktop system was slilghtly behind the trend at the time I built it and still does more than adequately - in fact, it's great. It's based on an Athlon XP 1700 processor, and over time I've added and removed so many other components that I could not begin to list them all. I suppose that lands it firmly in the "midrange" category. I've had more or less the same rig for about two years now and I have no need for something newer (although I want something newer and that's a lot different).

    Have I been happy? Aside from a few hardware failures, extremely so. I am fortunate in the regard that I can troubleshoot and don't mind doing so. Again - your warranty provider can be a deciding factor.

    For prebuilt systems, I love Dell's desktops for a great many things. Very solid pieces and their website is also very comprehensive. I would only buy HP or Compaq stuff if I were forced to, I find them overpriced and not all that reliable. Sony is nice too, but they also seem to command a premium price.
    -Mark

  9. #9
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    Re: Quick recs for desktops?

    The bottom line is, you can not self build a system as cheaply as the retail guys - unless you can afford to buy a million harddrives, a couple million memory sticks, etc.,. and get the volume discount. But, for ANY class of computer, you can build a better system. Period.

    IF you decide to roll your own (and I highly recommend you do), here are some of my thoughts for you to ponder. First, determine what you already have, parts that you can plunder from other systems that will save you up-front costs - allowing you time to upgrade later (providing great fodder for birthday or Father's Day gift suggestions!) For example, do you already have a CD-ROM drive, floppy drive, monitor, keyboard and mouse that you can use for the time being? In this way, you can still build your system, install your OS and apps, use it, and upgrade later. This is one of the MAJOR advantages to home-built - as mentioned above, many retail systems use proprietary parts forcing you buy from them, if it is even upgradeable. My Dad's Dell, for example, had a machine mounted motherboard using twisted prongs punched from the case to clamp the board to the case - half broke when untwisting them and then there was no way to mount a new board.

    To start your system, buy a good case. It does not have to be aluminum or black or any fancy color - just well made, sturdy, rolled edges on the sheet metal (no jagged edges), and supports larger fans (larger fans move the same or more air but at a lower RPM - therefore they are quieter). Look at Antec - even their cheap ones are good. CompUSA has them - look inside, flex the whole case from opposite corners, look in the corners for reinforcements - use that as a guide if you see another brand you like. Higher priced models have slide out/removable drive cages - these make it very easy to mount your drives and route the cables. Some higher priced cases have slide out motherboard trays - nice but not needed - unless your job is testing motherboards. Don't be fooled by the claim that aluminum cases keep the insides cooler - that's bull! If your case is warm, that is due to lousy ventilation/air flow. They are lighter however, which is nice - if you lug your system around to lan parties - but then it better be reinforced or it will flex and stress the motherboard - not good. Fancy windows and lights do not make the computer faster or better - in fact, they add heat, use power, and can even introduce electronic noise.

    Many cases come with power supplies - which may be junk!

    Next, don't skimp on the power supply - again, Antec makes good ones. Depending on the reseller, there may be a power supply with a new case - But expect the possibility of an off brand one thrown in to make the case sale - these PSs are often underrated for the application, overrated in their specs, and noisy (audibly and electrically). Throw it away or use it on a test bench or whatever - just get a good one - 350 to 450 watts is good for most - don't get less than 350 - the Antec Truepower 380 is a very good supply (and no, I am not affiliated with or own stock in Antec - they just have an excellent reputation for solid performance and they are quieter - I also like Enermax power supplies).

    Get an UPS (uninterruptable power supply). Don't waste your money on a surge protector. An UPS is a commonly referred to as a battery back up and while they do offer that, the primary benefit of an UPS is that it delivers "regulated" power to the power supply. When your line voltage sinks (brownouts - like when the refrigerator cycles on) the UPS will compensate. Surge protectors do not. This allows the PS to deliver clean power to the motherboard which, in turn, allows the voltage regulators on the motherboard to work less (and produce less heat as well). Most UPS designed for home use also connect to the PC through USB or serial cable. When there is a power outage, the batteries continue to provide power and will communicate to the PC to shut down "gracefully" BEFORE it runs out of juice. The bigger the UPS, the more you can run from it and the longer the hold time. I have a 550VA system running a 3.06 P4, all my network gear, and my 17" LCD monitor. Works great. (NOTE: CRT monitors consume lots of power and need bigger UPSs).

    Now with a good case and power supply, you have 1000's of options open to you and you can start shopping for a new motherboard - a whole different thread - just make sure it supports the fastest FSB (this way you can always toggle down for slower (cheaper) memory & CPU now, but ramp up when you upgrade). A good case should last for years, through several upgrades - well, see note below.

    You might want to wait a couple months before you buy - gives you time to research and learn. There are several new "standards" about to hit mainstream. The new video standard (PCI Express) is just now being deployed and the new motherboard form factor, called BTX, is just beginning deployment too. BTX will replace ATX, which is the standard for today in motherboard, case, and power supply size and layout. Some new cases support both ATX and BTX but you will have many more to choose from if you wait a little. ATX is expected to phase out in the next few years and BTX will be the norm - at that time ATX only cases will become obsolete.
    Bill (AFE7Ret)
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    Heat is the bane of all electronics!

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  10. #10
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    Re: Quick recs for desktops?

    Bob

    I would say that the fundamental question is:
    How much time are you prepared to put into getting a new computer?

    If not very much, buy one ready-built and working from a 'major' manufacturer, like Dell.
    If you want to spend lots of happy time playing, build it yourself!

    As has been said, the financial cost is not likely to differ significantly...

    John
    <font face="Script MT Bold"><font color=blue><big><big>John</big></big></font color=blue></font face=script>

    Ita, esto, quidcumque...

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