Adventures in ComputerLand
Over the last few weeks I researched and ordered a new computer system. Even though I have a technical background (major in Computer Engineering) there is always a lot to learn every time I buy a new system. The system is being built and should be ready in a day or two, but in the meantime here's some things I learned (or was reminded of!) this time:
1. Verify that all vendor-recommended components are the right ones. One vendor recommended Pinnacle Studio Plus 700 for video input and editing. I questionned that because Pinnacle has a poor support quality/record and he responded (in writing!) that he's been installing Pinnacle products for 10 years and that the support has improved. I chose another vendor for the system, but I did order the Pinnacle product. Before it arrived I thought I'd do a little double check and found that the product rated an average of 1/5 stars on Amazon (reviewers stated that they would rate it lower but 1 star was the lowest Amazon would allow) and 1.4/10 on CNET. This in 50-80+ reviews per site. I dropped by their support site and the support was apalling: users wanting support are ignored or offered virtually useless feedback. IMO the fact that the company continues to sell the product constitutes something close to fraud, if these reviews are to be believed. I cancelled my order and replaced it with a Happauge PVR-150 and Adobe Premiere Elements. I think I'll be much happier with that, and get pseudo-TiVo in the bargain. (Aside: Avid bought Pinnacle last year, in what seems to be one of the weakest exercises in due diligence imaginable. I'd love to know the real story here! I am astounded that Avid has not chosen to respond to the horrendous PR about Pinnacle's products, which says to me either Avid isn't paying attention or they lack integrity.)
2. Shop around of course. Price differentials are huge. I contacted three vendors, and checked prices on Dell.ca. Compared to the lowest price: Vendor 2 was +$200, Vendor 3 was +$500 and Dell was +$1,000. This on a sub-$5,000 system. Trick here is to make darn sure you're comparing apples and apples: same motherboard/video card/case, etc. etc.
3. Verify all component part numbers in writing by email. All vendors made silly mistakes in their quotes, such as changing my 7800 GT request to 7800 GS or 7800 GTX. A single letter off in a spec and their could be trouble, especially when changes are made to the original order.
4. The PC performance curve is flattening. Performance increases per year are lower than they used to be. Prices are coming down though. I benchmarked my ca. 2001 old machine (PCMark05) and it performs at about 25% of a good machine now.
5. It's fascinating the Microsoft software versions are now so infrequent. Perhaps I'm buying Office 2003 at the wrong time as the next version is pending, but it's survived 5 years already. And XP came out in 2001, and Vista looks like 2007.
6. The media convergence is cool, if still in its infancy. I wanted XP Pro, but XP Media Center edition is very interesting.
More to come I'm sure once I get the machine, install a bunch of software and network to my old computer. FS9 of course will be first, then for the first time I can experience V+ as it was intended.