Are retail PCs really this bad, nowadays?

Discussion in 'Computers' started by DaveF, Dec 19, 2005.

  1. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I read an interesting, and discouraging, review of a Dell XPS 400. The conclusion is that the hardware and build quality is good, but the software setup is terrible, to the point of preventing mainstream games from working properly, even installing!

    They also comment on the lack of hardware manuals, no Windows CD nor driver recovery disc.

    Is this normal for retail computers in general? Throughout grad school, I found Dell to be a quality computer maker. My (antediluvian) P3 450 came with manuals for the monitor, video card, etc. It had a proper Win 98 install disc, CDs for all software, and a recovery driver disc. The hardware layout was decent, and easily upgraded.

    As you might guess, I need a new computer, and now wonder if buying retail is no longer a good choice.

    What's your experience?
     
  2. Christ Reynolds

    Christ Reynolds Producer

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    all retail computers are made with the same components basically, if you have a windows disc, then you should wipe your hard drive as soon as you get it. i build my own now because i dont use windows and dont want to pay the windows tax with a new system, but if you dont have a windows disc to start over with, you may be stuck with the awful crap dell and other system assemblers love to put on their new systems. i'm sure there are guides to help you get rid of it all.

    CJ
     
  3. Francois Caron

    Francois Caron Cinematographer

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    Unfortunately it's an ever increasing trend. Manufacturers are loading their systems with what I see as "promotional software" which in their stripped-down versions are not only totally useless, they also slow down the computer. It wouldn't surprise me if one of these components is preventing the installation of other software such as games, possibly due to a conflict between the anti-virus software and the game's copy-protection scheme. And if the manual and recovery discs aren't included, you can't simply wipe out the hard drive and reinstall the system. Even if you DO have the recovery discs, they may insist in re-installing the crap software during the recovery.

    Even worse, many manufacturers are adding proprietary components in their systems, making it impossible to replace critical components such as the power supply with off-the-shelf replacements. That's why so many people build their own systems even though there's no cost saving like there used to be many years ago. If something goes wrong, the defective part is easily swapped out at a fraction of the cost of a proprietary component.
     
  4. MikeGee

    MikeGee Second Unit

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    I've bought only 1 retail computer in my life. I'll never do that again. Any other computer i've either selected parts and have the store put it all together or i'll just build the whole thing myself.
    Personally if it were my choice i'd just go to a computer store and select components you want in the computer and have them install everything. I'd never buy a retail computer, too expensive and no sense having trial version watered down programs.
     
  5. Christ Reynolds

    Christ Reynolds Producer

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    agreed. in fact, i'd be surprised if the installation problems came from any other place besides all those bothersome software packages.

    CJ
     
  6. Mike_J_Potter

    Mike_J_Potter Second Unit

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    Agreed, I think its because the manufactures get kick backs for having the certain programs or trail versions on their PC. Same reason why you see AOL icons all over your PC when you install allot of programs. Buying a retail PC is fine, just wipe it and reinstall the OS once you get it. I have seen 20+ programs running at start up. Seems like every program wants a icon in the tray, or something checking for updates or phoning home.
     
  7. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    In the [H] article, they found removing the secondary programs fixed the gaming problems. The odd thing, as they point out, is that the XPS line is targeted at gamers, yet it is poor for games as delivered.

    I find this all very odd. Dell used to provide good computers, with reasonable performance at good prices. The secondary software wasn't onerous, and sometimes useful.

    Building a computer could be interesting, but I don't have much time for that. Fortunately, I do have a Win 98 install and WinXP upgrade disc, so I can start from scratch if necessary.
     
  8. Andrew Bunk

    Andrew Bunk Screenwriter

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    It honestly only takes about a day to do this. I just built a gaming PC for a friend's son for Christmas and finished way ahead of schedule. For about $1450 shipped, I got from www.newegg.com:

    Aspire X-Navigator case w/PSU (sometimes better to go with separate PSU though)
    2GB Corsair DDR 400 RAm (PC3200)
    2 120GB Seagate Barracuda SATA hard drive
    1 NEC DVD Dual Layer burner
    1 Floppy Drive (not standard gear on Dell's anymore but still necessary!)
    1 DFI Lanparty UT nF4 SLI-D Motherboard (supports dual graphics cards)
    1 AMD 64 FX 3500+ Processor (Venice) (equivalent of a 3.5Ghz Pentium)
    1 BFG Tech Nvidia 7800GT 256MB OC Graphics Card
    1 Creative Audigy2 audio card
    1 Windows XP Pro full version OEM

    It came together great and runs very cool-haven't seen the processor over 30 celsius yet.

    I built my own audio recording/gaming PC two years ago, and the only things I've changed so far are the PSU (need more power than the case-supplied PSU could supply) and the graphics card (went from an FX5200 to a BFG 6800GT). Thing still runs like a champ.

    If you don't feel you have the time or knowhow to build your own, I would consider finding someone you know and trust who might be capable of it and pay them. IMO, even if you have to pay someone to build a system, it'll still almost definitely be cheaper than a comparable system from someone like Dell, and it won't be pre-loaded with all that crap.
     
  9. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    I've heard this for years, but not been bitten by it. I've upgraded memory, hard-drives, CD burner, graphic card, and network card in my Dell. And re-installed the OS 3 or 4 times. But I've nevery dealt with a bad PSU, power switch, or other such thing.

    And by that measure, I'm not really scared of building a PC from scratch. I'm now considering it, since it's the only reasonable way to get a system with an AMD X2 (dual core) CPU.
     
  10. Mike LS

    Mike LS Supporting Actor

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    True, Dell does ship their Diminsions systems with a potload of crap installed on them, but it's not really that big a deal to remove. Granted, the XPS systems may be different, but I just installed about 20 Diminsions systems in my office and had to spend an hour or two removing the junk software and setting each system up to my liking. Since then, the machines run great and have no traces of the crapware that Dell shipped them with.
     
  11. Kimmo Jaskari

    Kimmo Jaskari Screenwriter

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    Building your own pays off in that you get exactly what you want both in the machine and when it comes to the case.

    I thought about my current computer a bit more than usual and realized I was tired of machines that sound like attack choppers at low altitude, so I spent some time browsing sites like www.silentpcreview.com before picking my current machine. It paid off - I now have an Antec P180 case with a fanless PSU added and absolutely minimal fan noise in general, without sacrificing cooling.

    Software-wise, I only have what I want and need. No added third-party cruft bogging things down.

    For offices, I'd be happy to buy brand name machines, but for home, not a chance. Picking a decent setup in parts, ordering it online and then assembling it is a breeze and doesn't take long at all - and after you're done, not only do you have the exact specification you want, you have the satisfaction of assembling your own rig.
     
  12. Paul Padilla

    Paul Padilla Supporting Actor

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    -Gamer/HTPC enthusiast...build/hand select your own.

    -Average home user...pre-fab brand names like Dell are just fine. I've set up and configured dozens Dells and many dozens of other brand names as well as custom jobs. There are always going to be horror stories no matter which side of the coin you look at. Personally, I built my own computer at home, but then I enjoy that, in spite of working with computers all day as a Network Engineer.


    Dave...Dell has recently gone to adding a selection of "Backup Media for XP...etc." when you order new machines. It's only another $20 for them to include the XP CD as well as the Resource CD which contains drivers, utilities and docs. If you're not watching carefully when you order you'll miss it. It's always safer to have the physical disks anyway.

    What they do to get around including disks is set up a restore partition on the hard drive which can be used to take everything back to factory install condition. In fact...if you choose to wipe the drive and you have to speak to tech support for any reason, that's the route they're going to want you to take if it comes down to it. I've had them be pissy with me because I typically remove that restore partition altogether.

    For the last 20 or 30 machines I've set up for my office, I've primarily wiped the drives and installed everything from scratch, but my IT manager insisted that I leave at least a couple with the factory install and just un-install what we don't need or will interfere. I have to say, there really doesn't appear to be any difference in performance. That may not be true if it's being used for gaming...but as I said at the top...a gamer should really be looking at a custom system...for the price if nothing else. The XPS line is outrageous.

    Proprietary parts?...yes and no. The only things that really fall into that category would be the power supply and the motherboard and possibly a few connectors to provide USB, firewire, etc. to the front of the case. Hard drive, floppy drive (what's that [​IMG] ), RAM, CPU, video, CD/DVD Rom, cables, etc. are all standard. Andrew's power supply incident was a real drag, but that's not typical in my experience. The worst part about dealing with Dell or any other manufacturer these days is speaking to a tech support person who isn't on the same continent and who's first (and probably second) language isn't English.

    Basically, Dave, what are you planning to use it for? If you're really not up for a project computer and it's just going to be used for Internet, E-mail, Word, Excel type of things like the majority of home users, then my recommendation is stick with a brand name. I'd say ignore the hyped up and expensive XPS line and go with a Dimension.

    Warning Dr. Smith. I've seen this get ugly many times. My last job was in a computer shop and I can't tell you how many times we had people bring in computers saying, "I have this friend who worked on my computer..." If you do decide to go custom, seek out a reputable shop who's been around for a few years. There's no substitute for having a legitimate company to go to if and when a problem arises.
     
  13. Andrew Bunk

    Andrew Bunk Screenwriter

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    I agree, though I had assumed Dave would use all due discretion when making a decision like that.

    Also, I have to think Dell has padded the price a bit to pay for support, which to me is a real slap in the face. As you said Paul, the home user support (and business for all I know) is now internationally outsourced. When I called to get my PC fixed, I already knew it was the PSU. All the tech support person did was read me their tech manual PDF verbatim-the same one I had in front of me. How helpful! They actually made me disconnect and reseat everything, including the CPU and heatsink, before they would agree to place an order for that part, which they didn't have anyway! [​IMG]

    Now you tell me, if you press power button, and nothing, I mean NOTHING happens, how is that an improperly seated CPU in a machine that's worked for 2 years and never gets moved around.

    But I digress....

    I agree with the logic that if your needs are for basic email and internet and the like, off the shelf is probably not that dangerous. But if you intend to be a power user, build your own. I think another benefit of doing that is you gain so much knowledge about what makes your system tick.
     
  14. nolesrule

    nolesrule Producer

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    Chip creep - when chips or expansion boards seem to creep out of their slot. This can cause intermittent system problems or full hardware failure. It is caused by the continual heating and cooling experienced in the computer. Chip creep can happen from large and prolonged room temperature fluctuations and not just power on/off component heating.
     
  15. Paul Padilla

    Paul Padilla Supporting Actor

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    It's the same for business support, Andrew. The first person you speak to may never really have worked on a computer in their life...they're just flipping through a flow chart asking pre-arranged questions. It takes a small miracle to speak to a 2nd level agent who might actually have some tech experience. It's worse when the user really does have strong hardware knowledge. They're used to speaking to non-techie's, and when they run up against someone who knows their stuff, communication can break down quickly.

    And I agree that charging for the disks plus outsourcing equals a double whammy.
     
  16. DaveF

    DaveF Moderator
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    [​IMG] I found my computer needs dropped dramatically when I finished grad school: no more FFTs, program compilations, or ray traces and my CPU was breathing easy. Until I put WinXP on...

    For my next computer, I'll do some gaming. I've been out of the gaming loop for a few years and want to play some older ones I missed and new ones.

    I want to do basic video editing -- lightweight stuff for my Toastmasters club. Windows Movie Maker is mostly adequate for my needs. And basic photo management and editing.

    And then normal home use: email, finance, web.

    My habit is to buy mid-range in the high-end line and keep the computer for 6+ years. I expect I'll do the same here.

    I am considering building one, based around the AMD 64 X2 CPU. But Dell is easy and affordable, especially if they bring back their 30% off coupons next year.

    I'm uncertain though: very large expenses are looming, that mean I have to postpone the PC for the moment.
     
  17. Scott L

    Scott L Producer

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    If you're gonna go pre-built look at HP. The one I got for my folks had a tiny amount of bloatware but was easily uninstalled. Comes with XP cd, is super quiet, reliable (they never turn it off), and really inexpensive.

    [​IMG] to hp
     
  18. Andrew Bunk

    Andrew Bunk Screenwriter

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    Joe,

    My point was, there would still be signs of life on the board, in the form of LED's, etc., even if the the chip was not seated properly. I had absolutely no power at all. Sorry if I didn't make that clear before. In my experience, if a CPU was unseated with a powered motherboard, I would expect the machine to start beeping like crazy if I attempted a power on. I don't doubt the possibility of chip creep, but the symptoms i described to Dell did not point to anything but the PSU in my opinion.
     
  19. Paul Padilla

    Paul Padilla Supporting Actor

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    That would be true if your machine had one of the old AT power supplies which had physical on/off switches.

    The power switch on ATX machines for the last 8 to 10 years rely on connectivity on the motherboard to activate power...leds...fans...everything. Plug a known good ATX power supply in to AC power and nothing else and press the button and nothing happens...the PS fan doesn't even come on. Connect it to a motherboard that's dead or has no CPU, etc...same thing.
     
  20. Andrew Bunk

    Andrew Bunk Screenwriter

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    Well, on my Dell, as long as power is flowing to the PSU from outside current, and the PSU is connected to the board, I'd have at least one LED lit on the board. This was confirmed the instant I installed my non-Dell supplied replacement PSU.

    I guess I forgot to mention the most important part (I didn't forget when I talked to support). The PC literally went down out of nowhere. It wasn't like one day it stopped turning on. Went down and wouldn't come back on. Besides, it wasn't the first time I've see a dead PSU in a PC-I work IT for a retail company with about 5000 machines deployed.

    I do appreciate the alternate info posted here, but in my case, these alternates were not the reason Dell led me down the path they did. They simply went down their handy-dandy little PDF until they were stumped.
     

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