Preassembled computer vendors

This is a discussion on Preassembled computer vendors within the General Discussions forums, part of the Community Boards category; Hi, I'm looking into getting a new computer, and have to decide between getting components and assembling it myself, and ...

  1. #1
    Cat without Hat CornedBee's Avatar
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    Preassembled computer vendors

    Hi,

    I'm looking into getting a new computer, and have to decide between getting components and assembling it myself, and buying a complete system. I'm not sure which way to go.

    The system is intended to dual-boot Windows + Linux, and be a gamer PC under Windows and a work PC under Linux. Since my work obviously involves lots of C++, this means I want 4 cores and massive amounts of RAM. (Compiling big projects is slow otherwise.) On the game side, I also need some graphics power. I'm not looking for a top system here, but I still want to be able to play new releases with decent settings two years from now.

    I've looked at Lenovo's desktop offers, but they're useless in this area - Lenovo is clearly focused on business computers. I suspect that the same goes for similar big companies like Dell. Dell's Alienware offers high performance, but I'm not sure if the prices are reasonable.

    On the other hand, if I go for components, I have to do all the research and selecting of components. The assembling itself is no problem, but the selection is a significant time investment, and I'm rather out of touch with the hardware market.

    So, any recommendations for system vendors?
    All the buzzt!
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  2. #2
    Malum in se abachler's Avatar
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    Are you doing a major upgrade, or do you need an actual separate system, i.e. are you keeping your existing system to use for running Seti@home or some such task?

    Personally, I would check to see how much a prebuilt system that meets your needs costs, and then check to see if you can build a similar system cheaper. Although for my personal tastes the prebuilt would have to be about $150 cheaper, since I already own several copies of XP and will not run any system using the OS they include for 'free' because of all the trash they also preinstall. So basically unless I'm saving enough on the prebuilt to buy a copy of XP and still break even, I'd go with building it myself.

    Other than that, all vendors are pretty much the same. I would avoid HP, Dell, and Gateway though.

    The big downside of prebuilt systems is they usually have very poor performance motherboards.
    Last edited by abachler; 12-20-2009 at 12:35 PM.
    Until you can build a working general purpose reprogrammable computer out of basic components from radio shack, you are not fit to call yourself a programmer in my presence. This is cwhizard, signing off.

  3. #3
    Devil's Advocate SlyMaelstrom's Avatar
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    There isn't much you have to look into as far as component selection. As far as CPUs and GPUs go, the cost to performance ratio is almost perfect... you can basically decide on what processor and graphics card you want by your budget. Once you've selected those, all other components are easily selected by brand name. If you go top of the line or even middle of the line brand names, you're almost guaranteed to get a good product. You might want to look into reviews if you plan on doing some serious overclocking as certain motherboards and RAM modules tend to be better than others in that aspect. If you're going to keep everything stock or close to stock, however... any good brand will suit you just fine.

    Personally, I would build... you're talking about a pretty high-end PC by your description. At that level, any pre-assembled unit will slap on an extra $1000-1200 just to put it together for you. I don't even bother looking at PC manufacturers unless I'm looking at a very, very low end computer which I have no components for.
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  4. #4
    spurious conceit MK27's Avatar
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    Yeah, when I built from components last year I ended up with something that would have been AT LEAST 50-100% more pre-assembled.* Plus you can pick yourself a fancy case to compete with the xmas tree The only thing I'd never done before is mount the mobo in the case, but it is not that hard.

    Most of the big on-line sellers (newegg, tiger-direct, etc) have "bare bones" deals like a case + PSU + mobo or mobo + CPU + graphics card; this can help simplify the decision making.

    On thing to watch for with the motherboard that I missed is the number of SATA plugs. My mobo only has two, which I have a SATA hd and a SATA cdvdrw, so when I want to put in my extra hard drive (also SATA) I have to unplug one of them.

    Another thing which came up here a few weeks ago is wrt the PCIe slot: make sure it is 2.0. I think a lot of boards currently just say "PCIe" and do not refer to version 1.0 or 2.0, which means they are almost certainly 1.0. Almost all new vid cards are 2.0; they can work in 1.0 slots but there are no promises, eg, I had to return a nvidia 220 because it would not work properly in a 1.0 slot.

    * I am sure they tack on something for the OS too, which presumably you don't need.
    Last edited by MK27; 12-20-2009 at 01:02 PM.
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  5. #5
    Registered User jdragyn's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by CornedBee View Post
    On the other hand, if I go for components, I have to do all the research and selecting of components. The assembling itself is no problem, but the selection is a significant time investment, and I'm rather out of touch with the hardware market.
    If you do decide to build yourself here are a couple links that might help you jump back into the know relatively quickly:

    Guide to Choosing Parts
    Homebuilt Buying Guide

  6. #6
    Registered User jeffcobb's Avatar
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    Only thing I would throw in is that distributed compiling can be a lot of fun....but I hear CornedBee about being out of touch with the hardware market. I started in the 80s in the hardware market, by mid 80's was pure software dev, then in the past five years been working on stuff that isn't even on the market *yet* so when it comes time to pick out what is best now, I know very little and tend to wuss out and just grabbed a pre-assembled system or a kit from Tiger Direct (they pick out the parts, you put them together to save money)...
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  7. #7
    Cat without Hat CornedBee's Avatar
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    you're talking about a pretty high-end PC by your description
    Well, yeah, I'm looking at the first generation that isn't in the "brand new" category anymore. $1000-1500 range in total is what I plan to spend. (Actually, that's €, but hardware still far too often comes at a 1:1 exchange rate.) You can build a pretty sweet system with $1500.

    Thanks for all the suggestions. I'll probably go for assembling this myself. I can reuse hard disks and case of the old system anyway. I have a laptop, so I don't need the big ones running in parallel.
    All the buzzt!
    CornedBee

    "There is not now, nor has there ever been, nor will there ever be, any programming language in which it is the least bit difficult to write bad code."
    - Flon's Law

  8. #8
    (?<!re)tired Mario F.'s Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jeffcobb View Post
    but I hear CornedBee about being out of touch with the hardware market.
    I hear you too. At the beginning of this year I did a major update to my systems involving one laptop and two desktops. But for that, had to ask here stuff like what's the deal with XP and SATA drives, or what's a Core 2?

    Gradually, with the first Pentium machines, I started to for some reason lose interest on hardware developments. It's become now to confusing for my taste and I prefer to just go with the flow. I just don't buy wholesale.

    Quote Originally Posted by CornedBee View Post
    Thanks for all the suggestions. I'll probably go for assembling this myself. I can reuse hard disks and case of the old system anyway. I have a laptop, so I don't need the big ones running in parallel.
    You may also want to check this Hardware Confusion guide, geared exactly towards systems that one wants to remain useful in a couple of years. Between that and the questions I asked here at the time (if you remember), it enabled me to buy 3 new systems, all of which have yet to fail me in any way.
    The programmer’s wife tells him: “Run to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”
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    Originally Posted by brewbuck:
    Reimplementing a large system in another language to get a 25% performance boost is nonsense. It would be cheaper to just get a computer which is 25% faster.

  9. #9
    Registered User jeffcobb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mario F. View Post
    I hear you too. At the beginning of this year I did a major update to my systems involving one laptop and two desktops. But for that, had to ask here stuff like what's the deal with XP and SATA drives, or what's a Core 2?

    Gradually, with the first Pentium machines, I started to for some reason lose interest on hardware developments. It's become now to confusing for my taste and I prefer to just go with the flow. I just don't buy wholesale.



    You may also want to check this Hardware Confusion guide, geared exactly towards systems that one wants to remain useful in a couple of years. Between that and the questions I asked here at the time (if you remember), it enabled me to buy 3 new systems, all of which have yet to fail me in any way.
    My falling-down point is video cards seconded only by audio cards. Time was nVidia and Soundblaster were safe bets. Now memory and 101 different configurations and the wrong one will yield either a non-functional system or worse, one that subtly fails...yee-ha.
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  10. #10
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    Prebuilt systems usually save money on motherboard and power supply, because normal computer buyers look at the CPU, the video card, amount of RAM, harddrive, but not motherboard or power supply. Unfortunately, those 2 components determine the reliability of the computer for the most part, especially as it ages. I've had many prebuilt computers fail after 2 years or so, right after the warranty expires. Also, they modify the BIOS to take out all the fun options (mostly for overclocking), leaving you with much less flexibility.

    You can probably build a decent one for $700 or so.

  11. #11
    Registered User jeffcobb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyberfish View Post
    Prebuilt systems usually save money on motherboard and power supply, because normal computer buyers look at the CPU, the video card, amount of RAM, harddrive, but not motherboard or power supply. Unfortunately, those 2 components determine the reliability of the computer for the most part, especially as it ages. I've had many prebuilt computers fail after 2 years or so, right after the warranty expires. Also, they modify the BIOS to take out all the fun options (mostly for overclocking), leaving you with much less flexibility.

    You can probably build a decent one for $700 or so.
    I second that; there are however two classes of prebuilt:
    1. The kind you would get from your local electronics superstore. These will have barely enough power supply to run the box, let alone anything else you add. More, the motherboard will rarely be of the quality that you pick out yourself. As an example of this most of these machines will populate the memory slots with the cheapest RAM available and use all available slots doing so. Thus if you decide you want to up your RAM you have to (usually) replace ALL of the RAM, costing more money. If you were to do it yourself you would pick a motherboard and populate the RAM with room to grow. For example the store-bought version has (say) four slots for RAM and if you get 2G of RAM on it, it will be 4 sticks of 512M each, using all available slots. If you were to do this yourself you would get 2 1G sticks leaving two slots empty for future expansion.
    2. while I am not endorsing Tiger Direct they have barebones kits that come with everything you need and more importantly you know exactly what motherboard/RAM/power supply you are getting before you place the order...
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  12. #12
    Malum in se abachler's Avatar
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    Well, you could always just skip all the hardware selection if you just need something to do scientific calculations.
    Until you can build a working general purpose reprogrammable computer out of basic components from radio shack, you are not fit to call yourself a programmer in my presence. This is cwhizard, signing off.

  13. #13
    C++まいる!Cをこわせ! Elysia's Avatar
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    For CPU, I would go AMD. They have the cheapest processors right now, offering the biggest value for the money. The phenom processors have quad core line ups and are basically the high-end cpus. They usually use socket AM3, so that's what you should look for on the motherboard.
    As for memory... this is a little trickier. On one hand, there is DDR2, which is cheap. Then there is DDR3 which is newer and faster, but pricier. AM3 supports only DDR3. However, AM2+ supports DDR2, but if you're going to upgrade later, you're still going to have to get DDR3. So for future upgradability, I would say DDR3. It still shouldn't cost a lot to get around 8 GB ($100 or so?). There are several manufacturers that offer lifetime warranty. Sweet, I say. No worries about memory breaking, usually.
    Hard drives - anything SATA (3 GBs).
    Graphics card - can't name a specific brand, but be prepared that they will suck power like hungry beasts. Count around 200W or so. Unless you underclock them or get an older card. Many of them require 2 PCIe power connectors from your PSU. Make sure you have it!
    Audio - well, usually comes on the motherboard. Nothing worth investing in, really. The ones on the motherboard is usually good enough.
    Motherboard - I'd prefer ATX, since it has more PCI(e) slots than mini-atx. Make sure the motherboard supports AM3 or optionally AM2+ if you're going AMD. Also make sure it supports at least 8 GB of maximum ram. Checks to see if it has 3 or 4 slots for ram. 4 is better. Then you can put your memory in slows of two for dual channel, which will enhance performance.
    It must have at least one PCIe 2.0 slow (all new motherboard do, though). Many PCI slots are a plus, since it will allow you to plug in a lot of other cards, should you need them.
    Be sure to check the layout of the board. Many boards have problems with the SATA slots being placed right behind the PCIe slow which makes it difficult to plug in your disks when you have a fat graphics card.
    Make extra sure when buying the board since it's a very critical component and everything plugs into it. Prefer to put much into the motherboard than the other stuff, I would say. Make sure it has the specs you need.
    PSU - another critical component. Make sure it's quality! And make sure it can put out enough amps along its rails to power your system. Read the reviews! Very important. Also 80+ certification is a nice bonus, to ensure it doesn't waste too much power.

    Finding components, especially motherboard and psu can be daunting, but it's worth it in the end. Good luck.
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    Make sure you get a NVIDIA video card if you want to run Linux. NVIDIA driver always works out of the box. ATI Linux driver is one huge mess.

    As for CPU, go with AMD if you don't want to overclock. Intel if you do. Current Intel CPUs (both Core 2 and i7/i5) overclock like there is no tomorrow, and can save you tons of money.
    Last edited by cyberfish; 12-20-2009 at 04:08 PM.

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    Registered User jeffcobb's Avatar
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    I have always liked AMD procs over Intels since the 386dx days...they ran cooler at the same clock speed and just seemed to last longer...
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