A word on pre-made PCs

Discussion in 'Computers' started by Scott L, Aug 2, 2004.

  1. Scott L

    Scott L Producer

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    Just thought I'd share this since I recently talked my friend into getting a new motherboard. About 1.5-2 years ago he ordered a performance system from some online company whose name I forget at the moment. I was urging him to build his own box or just let me do it but for some reason he wanted it all completely assembled. So he got it in the mail; great looking full tower case, 9700 Pro, 512mb of ram, P4 2.53. And it seemed to work geat. One time I went over and I tried to overclock. The bios let me do it to around 2.8 but when we went to play a game it crashed, so we just put it back to stock.

    Just recently we've been chatting on MSN and I had the notion of sending him the program CPU-Z just to get some system specs from his PC. I asked him to check what speed his AGP bus was running at and he told me 1x!! [​IMG] Thought this was pretty crazy since his card is able to run at 8x AGP speed. I gave him a friendly "I told you so" thrashing but told him to go into his BIOS and see if he can increase the bus speed. Wasn't successful, his chipset was an SiS, older one I'm guessing.

    Sooo I told him to buy a new motherboard, the same one I got which is an Asus with the i865PE chipset, one of the best values out there right now for Pentium users. He REALLY didn't want to. Instead he was planning on using his money on a fancy $300 water cooling system because he thought getting his system even cooler would make things run more stable and fast. I finally persuaded him to spring for the much cheaper motherboard upgrade.

    Results:

    - Games now run 2-3 times as fast
    - I easily overclocked his CPU to just above 3Ghz, and it's super stable
    - Boot is much quicker

    Now I just hope he'll listen next time! [​IMG]
     
  2. Rob Gardiner

    Rob Gardiner Cinematographer

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    Three cheers for DIY PCs! [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  3. Mike~Sileck

    Mike~Sileck Supporting Actor

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    Amen to that, I have that arguement with my friends and family whenever there's a new computer to be bought!

    Mike
     
  4. Mark Shannon

    Mark Shannon Screenwriter

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    This is exactly why I'm building my own PC this coming month. I jsut don't trust anyone at those custom assembly shops to get it right.
     
  5. Rob Gardiner

    Rob Gardiner Cinematographer

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    I have to struggle with my boss sometimes on this issue.

    We have a dedicated workstation for all video work (capturing, transcoding, enhancement, noise removal, etc.) from the low quality VHS our office often receives.

    Right now we're using an inexpensive box put together by a local dealer. It was purchased on the basis of price. We want to upgrade to increase performance and ensure stability. (It's frustrating to spend 3 hours encoding a video and have it crash 2:45 into the process.)

    After spending time at the AVS Forum, I've discovered the following components are necessary for a STABLE machine: 1) Name brand RAM (doesn't necessarily have to be expensive, Kingston ValueRAM is very stable), 2) power supply that is known to be reliable (based on Toms Hardware reviews), and 3) chipset with stable drivers (Intel chipset for Intel CPUs, Nvidia chipset for AMD CPUs).

    I've applied these theories to my desktop machine at home, and have not had a system crash (though I have had a misbehaving application, such as a new unpatched game, crash) since I put it together a year and a half ago. I've put together a list of components for our office's video station based upon the same theory: making careful choices in the 3 parts mentioned above (as well as keeping Win2K patched & up to date) results in a machine that is stable for practical purposes. My DIY video station is also economical; I've avoided "top of the line" parts in favor of components that are "good enough", given the low volume of video work we do.

    Every once in a while, the boss will get excited over a CompUSA ad, which features under-$500 crapboxes from Compaq. He tells me how many MB of RAM, how big a hard drive, etc. the bargain box includes. I have to tell him, "this ad says NOTHING about the chipset, power supply, or brand of RAM included". These are exactly the elements that the companies cut corners on in order to come up with the lower price.

    A week ago, the cheap power supply that was included when we bought the old video workstation died on us. Fortunately, we had already purchased a reliable Fortron power supply in anticipation of getting our new video WS put together. I had to resist the temptation to jump up and down, giggling "I told ya so!" [​IMG]
     
  6. Chris Bardon

    Chris Bardon Cinematographer

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    Actually, what I find worse than the crappy hardware is the crappy software that manufacturers insist on installing for people. I've "fixed" many people's machines simply by going through and deleting all of the garbage that Compaq/Sympatico/IBM etc decided to install and clutter things up.
     
  7. WayneO

    WayneO Supporting Actor

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    After experiencing what a major PITA it was to upgrade a Compaq system back in 1997, I never bought a pre-built PC again. Now, if anyone mentions a new PC needs to be purchased I'm all over them telling them I'll build a machine at the same cost with twice the performance. Problem is, I always forget I become the "tech support" after the fact! [​IMG]
     
  8. Rob Gardiner

    Rob Gardiner Cinematographer

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    When my parents bought their last PC, I used that fact as leverage. My dad wanted to get an HP because he used to work for the company years ago. I told him HP machines were crap ever since they bought (or were bought by, I forget) Compaq, the worst company in the business. I finally told him, if I'm expected to provide unlimited gratis tech support, I should have some say in what they buy. Also, my motivation was nothing more than setting them up with a machine that would require less support in the first place. I finally talked them into getting a Dell, which I have always understood to be the most reliable of the pre-built boxes. After a couple years, I think the biggest problem they've had was getting a replacement for a plastic faceplate that broke (totally cosmetic).
     
  9. Darryl

    Darryl Stunt Coordinator

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    I've owned a Dell and have been very happy with it. I've read some bad experiences that other people have had, but my Dell has been stable and has dealt with upgrades really well. It's gone through a Win ME to XP OS upgrade, adding a second hard drive, a wireless network card, more RAM, and a DVD burner, all with no hiccups at all. I'm finally replacing it after 3 years because I'm transfering my home videos to DVD and the rendering takes forever.

    BTW, I have built my own machines before. About 6 months before I bought my Dell I built a machine with a Gigabyte MB and high quality components where I thought it mattered. That machine went bad after just over a year. I wasted a lot of money replacing parts I thought were the problem - turned out to be the mother board. I'm sure others are better at the custom thing than I am, but I've gotten better value out of pre-builts than components. But I definitely DON'T go out a buy the first pre-built I see just because it's got a big hard drive.
     
  10. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

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    I must be mentally challenged. I tried the build your own method. It was very much a "pita", a can o' worms. Since, I have a network at home(for gaming) with three lappers; an HP, a Dell Inspiron and my new toy, Alienware Area51m.


    I had my computer guy tweak it a bit, fresh install. The thing is a demon. He says it's very easy to upgrade, compared to the other two.

    You guys are hardcore. I commend you for having the patience and time to build your own.
     
  11. WayneO

    WayneO Supporting Actor

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    Shame some people have problems building their own. My biggest gripe with MOST pre-builts, is the sorry performance they put out. A 2.8ghz Dell we purchased recently at work is mediocre at best by my standards. And of course, you don't "upgrade" most pre-builts, you buy another, which is the plan. Alienware, Voodoo, Falcon Northwest build great PC's but cost $$$. But hey, PC building ain't for everyone.
     
  12. DaveGTP

    DaveGTP Cinematographer

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    Our desktop IBM 2.8 P4s w/ HT (that's hyperthreading, not home theater [​IMG] ) at work are very iffy. Erratic overall behavior, performance, etc. Some work well and some are crap.

    I'll take my Athlon 1800+ / VIA KT333 setup over the 2.8ghz beasts at work. Even if my Radeon 8500 isn't working too well these days.
     
  13. Gerald LaFrance

    Gerald LaFrance Supporting Actor

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    I will be building my computer from now on it was alot of fun and I learned the inner workings of building a computer. It really isnt that hard nowadays there is alot of helpful info on the net wasnt as hard as I thought it was gonna be.
    It cost about $500 and at the time I bought it was a high end system plus just did a midlife upgrade new Processor and memory good to go for at least a year or 2!! well at least until Half life 2 comes out. [​IMG]

    I had a Emachines bought back in 2000 NEVER again!!
     
  14. Zen Butler

    Zen Butler Producer

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    Are any of these being built by you guys, laptops? Can you even build one yourself yet?

    That was part of my deal. My brothers and I wanted a gaming network, but for me(work) and for them(school, we had to have laptops.

    I would love to have 4 gaming towers for our network instead of using our high-dollar laptops.

    Are you guys saying I could build 4 towers for around $2000? Could I get away with cheaper for a 5th tower, which will only be used as the gaming server?
     
  15. DaveGTP

    DaveGTP Cinematographer

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    I've always heard laptops are hell to work on, and very proprietary. Even the Compaq engineer that I talk with at work (for our ancient VAX/VMS systems, but he does NT stuff too) says they are a pain.

    As far as cheap gaming towers:

    Cheap but decent case: $50
    Decent power supply: $50
    Athlon64 2800+ --> $148 (or upcoming 32-bit Sempron chip on socket 754 is 120ish).
    Nforce3 250 or KT800 motherboard: $100ish
    512MB PC3200 DDR Ram - $80ish
    Radeon 9800Pro - $200ish

    That's like $630ish. DVD-ROMs are like $20-30ish if you don't have any ROM drives laying around.
    You need to add a hard drive - if you keep an eye out for a good rebate deal @ Officemax, Staples, etc. I got a 80GB 8MB cache drive a while ago for $20 after rebate (that was a good frickin' deal!). So, realistically, about 700ish for a VERY speedy PC.

    Now you can slice off a few dollars by doing some more budgetary components. Going with an Athlon XP (80-90ish) instead of Athlon64 and thus an older board (maybe 70-80?). You can slice a few bucks off the case (maybe $30) and a few bucks off the power supply, but cheapie power supplies can be trouble. So perhaps you could do about $530ish at that price point.


    The big cost is really the video card. It's really hard to cut costs there (esp. thanks to Doom3).


    The biggest savings by building your own, as a gamer, is the CPU curve. You can get a nice cheap 2600+ Athlon XP for sub-$80 and spend the saved money on a high-end video card instead. Not something normal manufacturers do. Yeah you can get a gamer rig from Dell or somebody, but you pay for the 3.4Ghz P4EE they combine with it [​IMG]
     
  16. DaveGTP

    DaveGTP Cinematographer

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    (We're talking late '98/early '99 here)
    My Dad's PC is an old Compaq K6-2 450mhz machine. It was originally to be my sister's (she plays Strat. games). I remember trying to install a video card and a cd burner in it when she got it.

    The hard drive was bolted down in one of the CD-ROM bays, rather than in the 3.5in brackets. And the salesperson at Best Buy lied about whether it had an AGP slot. I took a power screwdriver to the harddrive when a normal one didn't work...even the power screwdriver couldn't unscrew the screws from the HDD. Don't understand why they put the HDD in the CD-ROM expansion bay...

    Needless to say, my homebrew machine ended up with the 2X CD burner, and the TNT2 Ultra went back to Best Buy.
     
  17. Drew Bethel

    Drew Bethel Screenwriter

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  18. Rob Gardiner

    Rob Gardiner Cinematographer

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    Drew,

    Those specs you linked to make no mention of:

    1) Type of power supply
    2) Type of RAM
    3) Chipset on the motherboard

    I can put together a system, probably for more than $600, that will be stable and never crash.

    If you make your decisions based upon price alone, don't be surprised if you end up with a crapbox that crashes all the time. Personally, I never claimed a DIY machine would be cheaper than a pre-made box: just higher quality.
     
  19. DaveGTP

    DaveGTP Cinematographer

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    Drew,
    Yank out the $200 Radeon 9800 Pro and use onboard sucky Geforce4MX like the Emachine [​IMG], save $200. (I will note something, if you are not aware: Even a Geforce 3 is generally faster than a GF4 MX, don't let the "4" fool you)

    As far as a cheap HD for the setup, per Fatwallet's master HD deal tracking thread, $59.99 ($20+$30 MIR) for a 120GB WD drive from Best Buy. Seems like the best pricepoint. Or apparently Fry's (a West Coast outfit) has 200gb Seagates for $89.99 after a $40 rebate, if you are on the west coast.

    EDIT: I guess it also has a DVD+/- writer. What kind? Probably some cheapy model. A 4x Pioneer writer should be sub-$50 (newegg is only carrying 8x now). A new Pioneer 8x is $89.

    All the other stuff can be had cheap. Keyboard, media reader, etc. $10-15 apiece tops.


    And if you spend decent money (say $50-60) on a power supply, and get a good name brand motherboard, VERY VERY stable. And the Athlon64 2800+ is faster than a 3000+ XP.


    All my prices were basically off Newegg. Their customer service is generally regarded as outstanding.


    This comes out to $700ish. Yank the Athlon 64 and go back to an XP chip and you could save some money. You could also grab some RAM from Officemax after a rebate deal and save a few bucks.


    I could come out to $500 or even less, but it would involve a cheap motherboard, cheap power supply, and cheap memory. Questionable reliability and stability.

    Or with a move to an older XP board/2500+ XP chip you could get sub $500. Questionable reliability and stability.



    Summary:

    Cheap but decent case: $50
    Decent power supply: $50
    Athlon64 2800+ --> $148 (or upcoming 32-bit Sempron chip on socket 754 is 120ish).
    Nforce3 250 or KT800, socket 754 motherboard: $100ish
    512MB PC3200 DDR Ram - $80ish
    Radeon 9800Pro - $200ish onboard graphics: free
    Nforce 5.1, 6.1, whatever audio FREE - onboard
    DVD Writer: $50ish
    DVD-ROM drive $20
    HD: $59.99 a/r
    Keyboard, Media Reader, Network card or modem (onboard): say, $40 and that is pushing it

    $597 And it won't play any games worth a crap [​IMG]
    $797 With a Radeon 9800PRO

    Perhaps a few extra dollars here and there for shipping (say total $50 tops), but Newegg's shipping is pretty reasonable.
     
  20. John*K

    John*K Stunt Coordinator

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    Is this true for the 939 socket MBs? I've been thinking of getting the Asus A8V w/Via chipset, but saw that there is a Gigabyte MB with an nVidia chipset available.
     

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