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Recommendation for home desktop or workstation PC computer

Posted on 2003-02-26
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Hello experts,

I am looking for a recommendation for purchase of a home PC desktop/workstation. I do not want to buy separate parts to build from scratch.

I'd prefer to buy a turnkey pre-built system. But I have no fear for rummaging through the inside, nor fear of upgrading components, or install replacement parts myself (e.g. memory, backup tape drive or additional hard drive, new video cards as they come out etc).

My current workstation is a Dell Dimension XPS... I am looking at Dell again, but would consider other makes.

So I am looking for specific manufacturer, make, and model. Bonus points will be awarded if you can point to actual reviews of the company and model via URLs (extra bonus points for professional reviews).

Here are some specs/requirements/desires:

1. Cost: preferably spend under $2000, $2500 max;
2. Desire well engineered case for getting at internal components easily and fast;
3. Will occassionally use to telecommute to job at one of the National Laboratories;
4. Good for running standard apps, and software developer tools (e.g. Photoshop, as well as coding in Visual C++);
5. Looking for quiet fans and quiet system;
6. Will probably *not* need to run a web server;
7. Room for expansion -- additional disks, cards, and peripherals as I use the PC;
8. Does not need to be the fastest CPU or speed now, but
8.5. Needs ability to upgrade for speed in the future -- flexible system that can be upgraded with faster CPUs (and memory if possible), as time goes by;
9. GAMING -- this machine will be used for games. Needs to be at least decent in this regard;
10. May want to run Linux on separate disk or partition;
11. Company I buy from would ideally have good reputation for customer and technical support, as well as quality of product;


Thanks,
-gold..fish
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Question by:jongoldfish
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AlbertaBeef earned 903 total points
ID: 8031144
I'm extremely please with voodoo pc's www.voodoopc.com

They're meticulously built machines to very exacting standards.  Reviews are everywhere, and awards are plenty.

Awards: http://www.voodoopc.com/company/awards.aspx

I know you asked for professional reviews, but I feel there is no better reviewer than the people who own them.  As such, here you are:

Reviews: http://www.resellerratings.com/seller2044-p4.html
         

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LVL 1

Expert Comment

by:brakmat
ID: 8031288
Honestlly, If you can spend $2000...I would build my own with new parts that have warranty.
It will end up 2 times better than any pre built machine, and you will get everything that you want in it.  You won't have to get upgrade this and upgrade that.
>>11. Company I buy from would ideally have good reputation for customer and technical support, as well as quality of product;

You might as well leave this off your list...They are all about the give me your money and don't come back until you want to spend some more.
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LVL 13

Expert Comment

by:magarity
ID: 8031993
Since you already like Dell and want a premade complete system, I advise you to just stick with them.

The Dimension 8250 is their current top model and the base model is only half your preferred budget (sans monitor):

http://www.dell.com/us/en/dhs/products/model_dimen_dimen_8250.htm

This is a decent looking machine based on Intel Pentium 4 chips in a variety of speeds.  The default video card is a GeForce4 MX, which will provide very good gaming performance.  There are Radeon 9700 video cards available as upgrades if you want killer performance.  If I read the specs correctly, there are four empty drive bays so you can add plenty of extra drives in the future when you want to upgrade.

Just go to the 'customize' screen to look over the options.  As for what CPU and such, well, I advise you to get the least expensive options unless you have a dire need for the best right away.  Dell makes a nice base machine on a budget but they nail you on the prices for upgrades.  Since you've stated you don't mind doing your own upgrades, I think this is the best path.

Also, I would get the system sans monitor.  Dell's monitors are OK, but just OK.  You can get very nice screens mailorder from discount retailers.  Especially if you want a panel, you can get a Samsung SyncMaster for only a little more than a generic panel from Dell.  If you don't have a favorite mailorder vendor to check for monitors, I can recommend some.
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LVL 13

Expert Comment

by:magarity
ID: 8032055
As an example of Dell's upgrade pricing, according to www.pricewatch.com the going price of a P4-2.4Ghz is $158 while a P4-2.66Ghz is $189.  Dell's 'customise it' page wants $200 to upgrade the base 2.4Ghz CPU to the 2.66.  The only change triggered when ordering this upgrade will be the CPU.  As you can see, they do nail you for the upgrades, which is why the base models are the only way to go.  A quick survey reveals most of Dell's upgrade options exhibit this kind of pricing compared to the street prices.
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LVL 23

Expert Comment

by:slink9
ID: 8032870
I remember hearing of good reviews of the EMachines systems also.  They don't get very good reviews now.  Get a Dell.  You will be much happier.
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8033074
AlbertaBeef, brakmat, magarity,
thanks for the quick feedback.

I put a price tag of $2000, but really if today I could spend in the range of $1500, sans monitor, that would be the best. I expect to spend another $1000 over the next six months-to-year, adding and upgrading, which brings it up to the $2500 figure.

You bring up a good point about Monitors. I was planning on buying a system without a monitor, since I already have a good CRT. Eventually I'd like to upgrade to an LCD.

AlbertaBeef, I'll take a look at the voodoo PCs. Have you heard of Alienware or Falcon? As I wrote, I'd like to use the system for both business and pleasure (games), if there is some sort of perfect system out there. I saw some comments from gamers recommending Alien and Falcon. Or does it not really matter in the final analysis whether you use a gaming system for *real* work?

brakmat, I won't totally reject building a system from parts, but it does seem like a lot more work up front. But the main thing I am concerned with is stability of the system. I mean-- I figure that companies like Dell, Gateway, etc. spend a lot of effort on final test of systems, testing with lots of application and game software to make sure all the components work nicely together. Can you recommend a good Web site that speaks to these issues?  Or a website that gives good advice on building a system on your own?  Also, can I really save that much $$ ??  But the real question, is, comparing apples-to-apples, just how much can I save by building my own system?  Are we talking 20%? 30%? more?

magarity, I was mostly looking at the Dell Dimension 4550, which has a base price of $749. As you are aware because you too have run through their customization process, as soon as you add some memory, and a decent hard drive, the price quickly mushrooms. I was customizing a 4550 with something like this:
-- 2.4 GHz processor
-- Microsoft® Office XP Small Business
-- 512MB DDR SDRAM
-- 120GB Ultra ATA/100 Hard Drive
-- basic DVD drive
-- no monitor
-- 64MB DDR NVIDIA­ GeForce4 MX (default)
-- SoundBlaster Live! 5.1 Digital Sound Card
-- Altec Lansing® ADA745 4.1 Surround Sound Speakers
-- Microsoft® Windows® XP Professional
-- Belkin 9-Outlet SurgeMaster Maximum Series
No other software or hardware add-ons (yet).
Price:  $1,632.00 (w/shipping)
So you see, if I went with the 8250, it would be a few hundred more.
And the the real question is, what the heck is the difference between the 8250 and the 4550??  Why should I go with an 8250 over a 4550?


Well all, thanks for "listening". More comments are welcome.

-gold..fish
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LVL 23

Expert Comment

by:slink9
ID: 8033127
Go with the LCD monitor from Dell in the beginning.  I have seen nice systems priced at $650 with an LCD monitor.  That  would put the price of the LCD monitor quite low since the system itself is worth a minimum of $550.
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LVL 13

Expert Comment

by:AlbertaBeef
ID: 8034091
slink9 -  If you think they're charging you $100 for an LCD monitor, I want some of what you're smoking . . .

All kidding aside, there's really no such thing as a "nice system" priced at $650 with an LCD.  That means their using a sub $300 LCD and a $350pc.  Not something worth gaming on, that's for sure.

Also, I've never heard any good reviews on emachines.  Ever since they first appeared they've been using power supplies in the 145w range, their service is terrible (I've heard of people waiting 3 months for parts) and the parts mix they use is the least expensive you can get.

I'd stick with Voodoo, Alienware, Falcon Northwest, or a high-end Dell System.
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Expert Comment

by:slink9
ID: 8034179
Sub $300 LCD?  Definitely.  I wouldn't call a P4-1.8 with 128M a $350 system, though.
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8035205
Adding my few additional reminaing points to spur discussion...
-fish
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LVL 5

Expert Comment

by:rrhunt28
ID: 8035272
DO not go near emachine, i used to work for best buy and those things where crap.  And if you buy a low end system no matter who its from, it is not going to be as upgradeable or as powerful as the high end systems.  And, if you plan on doing alot of gaming i would not go with the LCD, they are not as clear a picture, and they can have problems while running 3d games.  The differnce in the 8000x and the 4000x dells, is that the 8's use a differnt chipset, they also use rd memory, the 4's use ddr memory.  If you do decide to go with this get the ddr model, not only is it cheaper but will probably be a better technology in the long run.  And building the system yourself will probably not save you alot of money.  However what it will do is allow you to chose exactly what you want, and when you want it.  Hope this helps...
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LVL 13

Expert Comment

by:magarity
ID: 8037155
"Why should I go with an 8250 over a 4550?"

Well, I had only glanced at the technical specs and saw that the 8250 accepted up to 1.5GB of memory while the 4550 accepted 1GB.  With future expansion in mind, I picked the 8250.  Also, the 8250 makes a point that its AGP slot is 4x while the 4550 has AGP without its speed mentioned.  However, upon closer examination we see the 8250 uses RDRAM, so I've changed my mind and now go with the 4550.  

"Or does it not really matter in the final analysis whether you use a gaming system for *real* work?"

No, go right ahead.  The gaming systems are still just PCs.  They just tend to have the maximum available features right away and thus are more expensive and leave little room for future expansion on the cheap.

Also, Dell has a widely known sterling reputation for customer service while I've never heard either way about Falcon or Alienware.

"But the main thing I am concerned with is stability of the system"

I have two systems; one is a hotrod I've built myself.  The other is a laptop from Toshiba that about all I can do is add one memory module and put in different hard drives.  The hotrod runs circles around it when it works.  As a dedicated hobbyist and longtime professional, I know how to fix the thing but it frequently has one thing or another that wants attention.  I don't use it for work.  The prebuilt Toshiba is the darnest thing I've ever seen, having only owned homemades until I bought it.  Never had any trouble from it.  It's slower than the hotrod but when turned on it just works.  I use it for all real work.  While a do-it-yourselfer is a lot of fun, they are a lot of trouble.  I recommend that you get a premade system unless you have a strong desire to fiddle.
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by:rrhunt28
ID: 8037247
I built two machines for myself, and there is always a transition period after you get them running, fine tuning everything, but once that is over, I have had no troubles.  My big machine i use for games runs almost 24/7 with no problems.  The one thing I do that helps keep it that way is to keep it on a good UPS that is big enough to run it for serveral minutes.  Most people dont realize small power changes can and do crash computers.  And I personaly do not think i will ever buy an off the shelf pc unless its a laptop.  But i do hear good things about dell.  Alienware is pretty good, but over priced.
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8049509
slink9, Sorry but I am in agreement with AlbertaBeef and rrhunt28 w/respect to EMachines.

I bought one of the EMachine cheapies a few years ago for my Dad. It was an impulse buy, since I was back in New England visiting him, and he needed a new computer. But it was basically a waste of time and money. Sure, it worked for the requisite 3 months or so. And then it was difficult to upgrade, and it basically fell apart a short time later.

magarity, thanks for that KEY advice on the Dells: "...the 8250 accepted up to 1.5GB of memory while the 4550 accepted 1GB." That's really good to know.

rrhunt28, Do you have any pointers to web sites that address issues on building machines part-by-part?? Extra bonus points will be awarded. Guess I'm gonna have to buy me some -- extra points that is -- to dish out  :-)

thanks for the ongoing discussion.

-gold..fish
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LVL 23

Expert Comment

by:slink9
ID: 8049537
Believe me, I wasn't suggesting EMachines junk.  If it sounded that way I sure didn't mean for it to.  Here is a tirade of mine against them.

Here is some good advice.
Take the motherbaord out.  You don't need to worry about grounding yourself or anything.  Now that you have it out of the case walk outside to your dumpster and open the top of it.  Throw the motherboard as high as you can above the dumpster and listen for the big crash and the splattering of parts and pieces.  You have just done all of computerdom a favor in completely annihilating a piece of EMachines trash.
No responsibility taken for being hit in the head by the motherboard as it comes crashing down.  No responsibility taken for flying capacitor shrapnel. :>:>:>:>:>
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8049680
slink9: LOL!
-fish
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8049688
Time to add some more points, to really catch people's eyes.  -fish
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LVL 23

Expert Comment

by:slink9
ID: 8050013
No need for more points.  Get a Dell and give them to Magarity for the model specifications.
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8051931
Well I'm not sure, Slink. Yesterday I got on the Voodoo site, started surfing. Then a (hot-sounding) sales rep named Brittany got online via their cool built-in chat window. She hooked me up with Dave, the Sales tech. They have cute Canadian accents -- no offense AlbertaBeef :-). They seem like an A-1 company. And they referred me to the resellerratings.com place that AlbertaBeef mentioned.

Anyway, I'm going to take a good look at Voodoo (and Alienware and Falcon Northwest) before deciding.

I keep adding points, because I am trying attract new people to this discussion who are browsing the "Hardware > Desktops" category. As of this moment, my question is still in the top 20 list, and I figure that 301 pts. could catch somebody else's eye.

-fish
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8051937
AlbertaBeef, are you still on this thread?  I want to ask you a question about Voodoo.  -fish
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LVL 13

Expert Comment

by:magarity
ID: 8052181
I also always buy my computer equipment from the hottest sounding sales reps with cool accents.  Because that's the #1 indicator of an A-1 quality company, as everyone knows!
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8052198
Now magarity, let's not be too sarcastic. My statement, "They seem like an A-1 company" was not meant to be connected to my joking about their cute, hot, naked sales reps.  Ooops, did I accidentally go to the Voodoo-X web site...?
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LVL 5

Expert Comment

by:rrhunt28
ID: 8058207
Toms hardware has some step by step stuff.
www.tomshardware.com.  And I personally do not know voodoo so I am not much help there.  Just make sure they look reputable.  
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8075920
AlbertaBeef, you still around?

rrhunt28, thanks for the pointer to Tom's hardware, I'll check it out.  -fish
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Author Comment

by:jongoldfish
ID: 8217265
Well.

After a long and twisty path, I've finally settled on a system: I've decided to build my own from parts.

Now, the reason I decided to award AlbertaBeef the points was because he was the one who directly addressed my primary question, with both links to the company (Voodoo), and links to reviewer site(s). The reason I graded it as Good, instead of Excellent, was that Voodoo was expensive in the price category, and... Beef kind of fell off the earth at the end there.

I did really like Magarity's Dell advice, so look for extra points awarded soon.

However, after I spent a bunch of time on Voodoo's site, and talking to their sales rep, reading reviews and recommendations, I finally came to the realization that in order to be able to afford a very fast system, I was going to have to build my own. It does seem to me that if you can afford the cash and/or don't want to build your own, you can't go wrong with Voodoo.

I started reading more at Tom's Hardware (www.tomshardware.com). I would have liked to awarded brakmat points, but just claiming that building a system from parts, and not backing it up with enough info, wasn't helpful enough.

In talking to a local colleague he pointed me to a site which was a key factor in helping me spec out what I hope to be a very fast unit, for a mere $1,721.23 INCluding shipping!:

http://www.sharkyextreme.com/

I used the Feb. buying guide article extensively:

http://www.sharkyextreme.com/guides/MHGSBG/article.php/1962981

[Of course it's end of March already, and they have a new guide for this month... which I think has a higher price tag limit of $4000 or something like that]

Tom's Hardware is an excellent site too, better than Sharky's for technical knowledge, but it really was Sharky that got me over the edge/fear factor of deciding to build a system from scratch.
 
However, rrhunt28's advice to look at Tom's does warrant some bonus points. Look for them soon.

And finally, here is the system that I speced out, ordering most of my parts from www.newegg.com. They've been ordered, and shipped, have not arrived yet, so I can't yet comment on NewEgg's service:

NewEgg   http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproduct.asp?DEPA=&submit=Go&description=N82E16811112030      CaseLian-Li PC-6089 USB2, 12-Bay, Silver Aluminum Case with Fog Blue Front Cover Door. Color: Silver, Model: PC-6089      $176.00       $0.00      $176.00       3/25/2003
NewEgg  http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproduct.asp?DEPA=&submit=Go&description=N82E16817103419      Power supply   ENERMAX EG465P-VE(FCA). 431W Power supply for AMD K7 & Pentium4      $95.00       $0.00      $95.00       3/25/2003
NewEgg  http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproduct.asp?DEPA=&submit=Go&description=N82E16819103342      AMD ATHLON XP 2700 /333 FSB PROCESSOR CPU - RETAIL      $258.00       $0.00      $258.00       3/25/2003
NewEgg  http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproduct.asp?DEPA=&submit=Go&description=N82E16835109008      CPU heatsink : Thermalright SLK-800        $38.00       $0.00      $38.00       3/25/2003
NewEgg  http://www.sidewindercomputers.com/sun80ullowsp.html      CPU heatsink fan      $7.50       $2.00      $9.50       
NewEgg  http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproduct.asp?DEPA=&submit=Go&description=N82E16813131436      Asus Motherboard for AMD Athlon/XP/Duron Processors, Model# A7N8X Deluxe Retail       $148.99       $0.00      $148.99       3/25/2003
NewEgg   http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproduct.asp?DEPA=&submit=Go&description=N82E16820145430      CORSAIR MEMORY XMS Extreme Memory Speed Series, Low Latency (Twin Pack) 512MB(2 x 256MB) 2x(32MX64) PC-2700LLPT With Platinum - Silver Heat Spreader.       $159.00       $0.00      $159.00       3/25/2003
Western Digital  http://store.westerndigital.com/product.asp?sku=2017750      Western Digital Special Edition 200GB, 7200 RPM, Ultra ATA/100 Retail Kit with 8 MB Cache      $299.00       $5.61      $304.61       3/25/2003
NewEgg http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproduct.asp?DEPA=&submit=Go&description=N82E16814156002      "ATI Radeon 9700 PRO AGP 8X 128MB DDR Video Card w/TV-Out, DVI & CRT by SapphireTech
"      $250.00       $0.00      $250.00       3/25/2003
      Floppy: none      $0.00             $0.00       
NewEgg http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproduct.asp?DEPA=&submit=Go&description=N82E16827100008      DVD   MSI DVDROM 16X DVD, 48X CDROM Model MS-8216 RETAIL       $34.50                   3/25/2003
      Monitor: none      $0             $0.00       
NewEgg  http://www.newegg.com/app/viewproduct.asp?DEPA=&submit=Go&description=N82E16837102015      Creative Labs Sound Blaster Audigy 2 - RETAIL      $78.00       $0.00      $78.00       3/25/2003
      Mouse: none      $0             $0.00       
      Keyboard: none at this time      $0             $0.00       
      Network/LAN: none at this time      $0             $0.00       
NewEgg       Microsoft Windows XP Professional with Service Pack 1 - OEM Full Version       143      $0.00      $143.00       3/25/2003
                              
      NewEgg Shipping charges      26.63                  
                              
      Sub TOTAL parts      $1,686.99                   
                              
      Sub TOTAL shipping      $34.24                  
                              
      TOTAL parts&shipping      $1,721.23                   

Phew.
-goldfish
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