Even going for the latest chip but the 2nd fastest speed can give a huge
Years ago I wanted to get an AMD K6 233MHz which was the fastest K6 chip at
the time. It was priced at about £250 at the time but in short supply. I
ended up getting the 200MHz one for just over £150 I think.
The same principle was there when I got my 1.13GHz Athlon (which I'm still
I have asked a few questions in this group in the past, now a post has
come up where I have alot of knowledge, thought I'd give something
I have worked in the PC industry for many years now and during my time
have visited many of the tier one and smaller suppliers' facilities.
I can tell you that contary to what many people proberbly beleive, the
tier one suppliers *do* test their products compatibility and
reliability for some time prior to releasing them to market. This is
done (in the main) to reduce their after sales costs, the more
reliable their product, the more money they make!
They have teams of people carrying out this testing, working alongside
the suppliers of components to produce the best quality product they
can that meets the price points expected by the market (i.e. us, the
Why am I telling you all this? Well, if the OEM sells less than 100k
units pa, they have no chance of obtaining the kind of support offered
to the major OEMs. Which means PCs purchased from the smaller players
[< 100k units pa] have more chance of failing or causing compatibility
issues than from major suppliers [statistically] generally speaking.
I have heard the term 'Optimising' used in this thread, unless you
have strong links with the component manufacturers, there is very
little 'optimising' that can be carried out on todays hardware. (Major
OEMs can have drivers re-written, firmware changed, BIOS's re-written
etc... simply put small OEM's don't have a hope of competing with them
on 'optimising' for both speed *and* reliability).
That spec of PC if built by a major OEM would proberbly retail around
1,500 UKP. 2k should get you bigger HDDs and faster processor. The
problem will be finding a major OEM with your exact requirements.
For the record, I would not personally consider VPC to come close to
the major OEMs in terms of testing and reliability. Trust me, any OEM
can win 'awards' if they provide the *reviewer* the right hardware at
the right time!
If I were spending 2k on a PC, I would _only_ buy it from a major OEM.
I like the comfort of knowing that it has been tested by a *team* for
compatibility / reliability, have backup incase of issues arrising in
the future e.g. software / driver / firmware updates but most of all
the warranty in case of failure.
P.S. For those wondering, NO, I don't work for any of the major OEMs
but I have visited the manufacturing facilities for 90% of them!
BIOS/firmware change is something VPC claim to have done with ATi &
Really, out of the big OEMs, I only really think of Dell for home systems.
They just don't cater for my market and cost LOADS more when you start
adding all my extra bits :(
Granted, I don't know a lot about the company, but the reviewers weren't
small time mags & nerd pages, they should know what they're doing. Valid
point about making a prototype that is cool, but reading between the lines,
my guess is that they actually make quite good systems. Quite a few US
hobbyist pages point to them too, which is always a good sign.
The problem is, someone like Dell, IBM, HP, etc. aren't going to spend the
time you'd think configuring systems. They bang stuff together for high
volume sales. Their main market is the sub-£1000 stuff, which is just a
bunch of cheap bits bunged together. They *do* have good relationships with
the "bits" companies, because they are spending so much money on them. It's
all a bit mass-production. Fine china doesn't come from a 500,000 unit a
day factory, it comes from small, loving businesses who care about what they
sell. Same with cars ... except there's only about 3 car companies left in
the world now!!!
I don't know enough about them to say if they are good or bad, all I
can say is they won't have done the same amount of testing as the
major OEMs, they simply couldn't afford it.
See my other post! - It is in their interest to configure and test
their units to avoid costly returns and after sales support costs.
"Bang[ing] stuff" together is more akin to the < 10k pa suppliers IME.
Before a new PC range is released, a major OEM will have used several
teams of people to test the product for several months! - Thats alot
of man hours! (Remember they also have access to new techology long
before it hits the shelves)
Yeah, but I'm getting out of their core market - they're not going to spend
much time on the systems that only 2% of their customers spec. The high-end
guys only sell these systems. At that level there are also very different
issues than at the low end. Low end is tried and trusted cheap technology
that's been around for a while. The manufacturers of high end kit won't be
shifting that much to the big OEM's. The smaller, specialist guys are
*only* buying the really fast cutting edge stuff though and may well shift
just as many units. Plus their guys tend to be a lot more "genuine" PC
builders. I've worked with a lot of big tech companies - the bigger they
get, the more money seeking "tech cattle" they attract!!
Left Nothing wrote:
I always find it interesting to see these differing perspectives.
Quite prepared to accept that...
also probably true...
Not sure about that - it does depend on the skill and experience of the
"white box" builder though - so there is more of an element of lottery
perhaps unless you know the small system builder by reputation.
Note also that some of the big OEMs can have quite frightening return
rates on some kit - Dell and laptops for example.
In the sense of hardware optimisation etc you are right - I doubt even
the big OEMs would want to routinely go in for BIOS rewrites etc. The
areas where the smaller dealers will win are on service and attention to
true - also as a home user looking for a top end system you are often
wanting to specify things that the big OEMs give you no control over at
all (like getting a case that makes good use of internal space - has
enough free internal drive bays - with good filtered air flow over them
This is the statement that give me the biggest difficulty! Yes the basic
package of components used for the system will have been tested for
compatibility, and the assembled unit you buy will have had some burn in
testing - but that will be true for most small system builders as well.
Firmware updates etc are mostly produced by the components vendors - the
big OEM may package them and make them easy to find on their web site -
but that is normally the extent of the service.
It is in the backup and service issues where you can really win with the
smaller players, plus attention to detail on the things that matter to
the customer now and in the future (rather than things that cut
production and support costs for the OEM):
If you phone a big OEM for tech support you get routed to a call centre
staffed by a (relatively) non skilled person with a check list to
follow. This is usually a painful experience that is often a waste of
time, where you go over all the fault finding tests you have already
done, and try to ignore the instruction to "just re-install windows from
your recovery CD". Next time you phone you can't talk to the same person
again. It may take many calls (and hours in telephone queues) just
trying to get to talk to the "level 3" technical bod who you can
actually communicate with on equal terms!
With the smaller dealer you may get to talk to the same person each time
- who remembers what you said in a phone call a couple of days ago and
can carry on with the diagnosis where you left off - not with the next
When you look at you nice new big OEM box it may work fine up until you
want to upgrade it. You open its nice corporate friendly "tool free"
chassis, ready to install a extra hard drive and find there are no spare
mounting bays, or the "value added" design of the "sleek low profile
case design with PCI riser" means the card if half an inch too tall!
A few years down the road you decide that the base computer is fine but
it is time for a motherboard, CPU and RAM upgrade. Then you find the big
OEM used a non standard motherboard layout, and the PSU connector is not
Not knocking the big OEMs - much of their output is very well suited for
their main target market (i.e. businesses), just highlighting that the
things that can make a great supplier for business customers can also
work against the discerning home customer.
Agreed that the *build quality* will depend on the experience of the
builder but there is more probability of compatibility & reliability
issues with these smaller white box builders.
Agreed! - Like everything in life, there will always be mistakes made
or things overlooked. The better OEMs will learn from them and make
sure they don't make the same mistakes again.
Most major OEMs will have the BIOS re-written when the motherboards
are first introduced into their range, then slight modifications are
made as new technology is introduced. Firmware on things such as
optical drives, HDDs & modems are modified to increase reliability or
speed depending on the application of the units.
Agreed, cases are one of the things that you will very rarely be able
to specify from major OEMs. This is due to the corp identity mainly
although alot of R&D work is carried out on the case design prior to
This is true for the smaller players, the big OEMs have access to more
source code than you may imagine! Some employ teams of engineers
in-house others have contracts with external sources to
modify/optimise as necessary!
Agreed, the difference is that a CC has the backup of the
manufacturers, developers, R&D labs etc whereas the smaller dealer has
access to a much lower level 'dealer line' at the manufacturers or the
same access as the public to their web sites.
Due to the 'mass production' aspect of the major OEMs, many problems
will have already been resolved before you actually notice they exist!
Most CCs will use some form of call logging software to track previous
calls from customers. Although not as good as speaking to the same
person again, should help them in continuing the diagnostics process.
As nearly all CCs actually cost the OEM/retailer to run (premium rate
lines nowhere near cover the cost of running a large CC!), it is in
their interest to *resolve your problem* in the shortest, most
efficent way possible.
The problems usually arrise when the staff don't have the same
commitment to their customers as the management does!
I have not seen any major OEMs ship products with riser cards in for
years, the cost of R&D, production and warranty is too much to warrant
They are usually only used now in specialised hardware or where a
specific design requirement exists.
Again, see above!
As businesses are very slow to upgrade their hardware, they also need
to cater for the home market! - A good percentage of most major OEMs
volume will be to the home user.
For a low cost PC, built to an exact specification, your local PC
builder is proberbly the best option if you have little experience.
Personally I would source the components online and D-I-Y it myself
:-) (had to get a reference to D-I-Y in somewhere! :-)
Not seen much evidence of that - oddly it is often systems from the
middle tier vendors that seem to cause our cutomers most grief.
Oddly some don't seem to bother with some product range... perhaps they
have worked out the economics and decided that it is actually cheaper to
ship out replacements to 30% of their customers for a certain product in
Hmm - next time you talk to a big OEM tell them you want a DVD drive
without RPC2 region restrictions.... ;-)
(Something small dealers will be able to deliver without too much
Often that R&D is focussed on reduced cost of ownership though - not
Most corporate buyers using the channel, have acces to slightly better
info than Joe Public. More importantly though they often have more
incentive you use it to resolve your problem. Many OEMs just dont have
the customer commitment for non business users (or at lest finding the
one in five members of staff who do is the trickey bit)
Yup doing support is expensive - shame that the biggest of them are so
hopeless at achieving that goal then ;-)
(Must admit if I were working in a call centre with Joe Public on the
phone all day with daft problems mostly of their own creation, I most
likely would loose the ability to be civil within the space of a
morning! - not a job I envy at all!)
You can probably still get Optiplex systems from Dell that still use
them. Also any rack mount stuff under 3U will have them (not that many
home users will buy rack mount!)
Saw a new HP (low end system) the other day with a bespoke PSU (standard
connector for once - but an odd case size). Seen plenty of newish Dells
with non standard motherboard mounting locations etc. So they are still
Alot are now realising that - it is taking them time to adjust to the
differing needs. They also tend to have different CCs for home and
business users - the home ones are oftne not a patch on the business ones.
For a low cost system I would say that any supplier is probably OK - the
big OEMs will be fine as well.
IMHO If you want a special system and Don't have the skills to build it
yourself then go to a specialist.
Well obviously - same here - but then again I design microsystems and
software etc for a living so the prospect of buying an "off the shelf"
system is almost an affront to my dignity ;-)
I've found the same to be the case. We're a Compaq/HP shop and a lot of
their new kit seems to have really obvious problems - especially laptops
(and while I'm whinging about them - why the hell can't Compaq make a
battery that lasts more than 1 hour and doesn't pack it in after a year!?).
Exactly - smaller firms make it their business to impress and look after
their user base. Particularly if this user base might be coming back to buy
another very expensive system from them in a couple of years! Big OEM's
couldn't give a damn if they lost a small amount of customers.
Yep - all the importance is placed on the corporate business. All the call
centres make their staff learn the ropes on Joe Public first, then be
"promoted" to corp. support.
I did it a long long time ago and it damn nearly killed me!! The experience
even today makes me never want to spend much time on the phone to anyone!
I can put together a system myself no problem. Just don't have the
experience knowing what works well together and what will land nicely in a
case to make a good neat design!
Google groups is your friend here - shortlist your components then
search for the issues people are having with them.
Much of the extra performance will come from a bit of planning in the
setup. For example making sure that the windows swap file is on a
different physical drive to the rest of the OS. Partitioning large
drives to keep management of data simpler and also keeping the size of
partitions under the size of the backup medium available etc.
Don't forget the cost of delivery and excise duty (and VAT I think)
which is helpfully levied on the goods value plus the insurance plus the
The tax is collected by the carrier on behalf of HMCE who allow them to
charge a extra admin/commission fee on top. There is little chance of
escaping this tax. Personal experience!!
To Reply directly to my mailbox, change myisp to ntlworld
Delivery is $235, which sounds a lot, but with the current exchange rates
still works out damn cheap! The VAT and/or excise duty however I'd be
interested to hear more about. Do I just have to pay 17.5% when it arrives?
Who do I pay? How does it work? If they charge admin, can you pre-pay this
to avoid it if there is no chance of it "slipping through"?
You would be liable to excise duty on the PC, plus VAT on top i.e.
you pay VAT on the cost plus duty total. Then an admin charge by the
IMHO it isn't worth the hassle and potential problems with goods
damaged in transit.
Build your own from quality components, making sure you go for a top
quality case and PSU. Look at cases from Supermicro amd PSUs from
Enermax. With some, if not all, motherboards, the amount of RAM you
can slot in decreases with speed. e.g. one I saw let you have 3Gb at
DDR266 but only 1Gb at DDR400.
On 20 Jan 2004 10:50:55 GMT, firstname.lastname@example.org (Andrew
You mean a combined rate including VAT?
I've brought in parts quite regularly, personally and have always
declared them as such. Sometimes I'm asked if they are for personal
use. Either way, I've never paid other than the VAT.
With tools, sometimes I've had to pay about 1.7% duty and then VAT...
On one occasion, I had some computer items for business purposes.
Theoretically you are supposed to do a Merchandise in Baggage
declaration and procedure for that, but I simply told them what I had
and what it was for. The customs person asked if the business was VAT
registered (it is) and then just let the whole thing go saying that
there was no point in creating paperwork - had I had to pay, VAT would
have been reclaimed as input tax anyway.
To email, substitute .nospam with .gl
That's expensive for shipment.
I would consider buying the more expensive and lighter weight
components in the U.S. and cheaper, heavier stuff locally.
Regarding importation costs, there is certainly 17.5% VAT, but there
is no duty.
If the supplier uses somebody like DHL or Fedex, they will generally
contact you when the goods arrive in the UK and ask you for a credit
card number before clearing and delivering the goods. If you use
them more than a couple of times, they will set up and account for you
and you will simply receive an invoice for the VAT some time after the
goods are delivered.
On anything coming via a courier firm, items will not escape VAT.
In terms of on-line suppliers in the U.S., I have had good success
with www.provantage.com. In many, but not all cases if a reasonable
sized order is placed, the pricing is quite a bit less even with
shipping taken into account.
Another thing that you could consider is to make a shopping trip to
the U.S. Airfares are currently very cheap - for example, I had
an email from Virgin today offering a promotional fare to New York or
Washington for £179 and San Francisco for £219.
If you were to do that, you can bring back goods personally and on
entry to the UK, you have a duty and VAT free allowance of £145.
One note is that you can't put this towards a more expensive item - it
has to be smaller items or item coming together to this figure.
So for the purposes of a PC you would need to buy it as bits.
Over and above that you pay VAT. In practice, I have found that if
you have not gone hugely over the figure and haven't brought booze or
tobacco then they will let it all go.
If you do the sums on that, you can actually do a trip, take in some
tourist stuff if you want and buy computer pieces and pay the same or
less than having it shipped.
One thing to bear in mind is that you don't get all the consumer
protection legislation and returns are going to be harder. On the
other hand, you can take a view on that on the argument that no one
single item in the machine is likely to cost more than £100-150 and
take a risk. I've done that for a few years and have not had
significant problems. I had a dud motherboard once, value about
$80, so am not too concerned. Obviously it pays to buy well known
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