Buying a Long Overdue Desktop

Dell Studio XPS 8100

It’s been almost eight years since I acquired my last desktop computer. It’s time to go shopping for a new one and wade through dozens of models with long unmemorable names  and figure out a configuration amid infinite variations.

I’ve narrowed my search down to Dell’s Studio XPS 8100 or HP’s Pavilion Elite models. I just have to configure them and shop the end result. Sheesh, a 27-inch iMac would be much simpler, but, alas, waaaay too expensive.

Lord, PC desktops are sold everywhere but Dunkin’ Donuts. Crutchfield, Amazon, Newegg, Amazon, vendor sites  and retailers like Ultimate Electronics.

Let’s take the 8100, for instance. My rationale is buy something high performance and loaded given my current desktop lasted for almost eight years! I suspect this new desktop will have to last just as long. No regrets.

So far, I have come up with this rough and incomplete configuration: a CPU (Intel Core i7 or AMD Phenom II), graphics card (ATI Radeon 4890 or higher), 1080p monitor, 8 GB of RAM, Blu-ray player, easily-accessed USB and memory card slots on the front of the unit, built-in Wifi and a 1 terabyte (TB) hard disk. will let me endlessly customize whereas Amazon’s and Walmart’s  8100s come pre-configured. While Amazon and online discounters can save me a few bucks, I like the time savings and hassle sparing getting everything installed at the factory (lazy, I know, but I want to spend time with other things).

That said, I am bargain hunter at heart and am evaluating several buying sources…except Best Buy, the store I love to hate.

Last week’s big news in the retail world was that Walmart will offer free shipping on 60,000 online items with no minimum spending requirement. Take that, Amazon and Target. So I wondered if I could get a deal on a new desktop at Walmart. As it turns out, Amazon whose customer service is second to none matched Walmart’s pricing on every PC I checked out. If it comes down to Walmart or Amazon, I’ll choose the latter.

For instance, a highly-rated Dell 8100 model with an Intel i7-870 Core CPU was $1098 at Walmart. At Amazon, the same model was $1099.99. The HP Pavilion Elite HPE-400F was $782 at Walmart and Amazon which offers free shipping, too. It was the same at both places for the slightly more powerful Elite HPE 410F – $899.54.

HP Pavilion Elite HPE 400f

Much to my surprise, the 410F was $40 cheaper at HP’s Online Store. The 400f was $749.99 at and $782.54 at Walmart. Hmmm, I am not hearing those falling prices at Walmart. I used the past tense, knowing how fast desktop prices can change.

I asked former Ziff Davis publishing colleague, Michael Miller, who until 2005 was editor-in-chief at PC Magazine, the bible for PC buyers, if he favored either machine. Here’s what he said:

“Both seem like fine machines. It’s hard to go wrong these days. The 8100 (Intel) is a bit faster, but either should be more than fast enough for basic work. In either case, I would go with a graphics board with at least 512 MB (otherwise, I’m not sure why you’d bother with this high-end a system).”

Miller, by the way, now works for the Ziff Brothers, but still writes PCMag’s Forward Thinking blog.

CNet recommends a couple of Gateway (read Acer) models. Consumer Reports give three of its top four spots to the Dell’s Studio XPS 7100s and 8100s and one spot to the HP Pavilion Elite 204f.  PCMag likes a variety of machine including Dell’s 8100s. There’s a dizzying number of configurations, CPUs and models to consider – all with lengthy alpha-numeric names.

Having had good luck with Dell desktops, the 8100 will be most likely choice for me.

Shopping for isn’t all that different than it was eight years ago. PCs are much more powerful and video/TV/game/entertainment and Internet centric, but the drill is the same. One difference is how vendors market hard drives. A 1 TB drives: “Store 666,000 photos, 285,000 songs or 526 hours of HD video or more.”

Megabytes and Gigabytes alone don’t cut it anymore. Darn! I’ll have to start erasing photos when I store my 666,001st. Suffice it to say, hard drive capacity space will not be an issue for me.

So it boils down to a mix of best price, hassle and a trustworthy vendor which makes buying easy and any after-sale issues simple to resolve. I’d love to hear where you bought your last desktop and if you were happy with your choice of product and vendor.

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8 comments On Buying a Long Overdue Desktop

  • Its’ all about luck with Dell as they have become very unpredictable, one may be okay but the next will be crap. Then of course there’s Dell’s service to contend with!
    I speak from personal experience
    If you choose to get a dell then don’t say you weren’twrned, and good luck!

  • Thanks for the warning. Have expanded my search to Gateway and Asus. HP still in the game, too….

  • As a system builder, I think the Intel is a better deal for more reasons than the fairly substantial speed increase, between the 2 choices.

    The problem with a Dell system is that they have components which are OEM proprietary for Dell only. That creates problems as only Dell can provide correct drivers, service, etc.. Unless you specifically order components by brand and model number, you can count on them being whatever Dell could get the best deal on in bulk – and most likely lower end products (memory, hard drives, motherboard).

    Our experience is that high end and low end main computer components (motherboards, memory, CPUs, hard drives, video cards) are more problematic. The upper/middle ground is the place to be for problem free components and bang for the buck, with very few exceptions (EG: DVD Burners, cases, fans…).

    Hope your new PC provides and stores as many new memories as your last one did. 🙂

  • Maybe I should buy one from you…where can I shop your wares?

  • Just bought a new computer and after days of research, decided on an Acer. Nothing to rave about but I lucked out with my choice of vendors, which was Newegg. I can’t really take any credit, as I was just following a Consumer Reports recommendation. I know you mentioned them but seemed to be stuck on Amazon. I thought Amazon was a great place to shop until last Christmas when they really socked it to me on last minute gifts. While I agree that Amazon has great customer service, Newegg has them totally beat in that respect. All I did was write to them to say thanks for their great service, (no tax, no delivery charge, and delivery in 2 days!) and a very nice service rep sent me a free sweatshirt. The only drawback is that their selection is not as vast as Amazon, but if just by luck they have what you want, that’s the place to go. As for Acer, I got a lot for the money but I think next time I will go back to HP. Quality stuff and an extremely helpful website. Thanks for listening (reading).

  • Funny you should mention HP…I bought a Pavilion Elite 401f today at Staples. Seemed like a good deal and Staples matched Amazon’s price. Also got a good deal on a 23 inch samsung LED monitor. I’ll do a post on the experience and rationale for my choice.

  • Thanks for the helpful discussion. I’m in virtually the same position that you were in John, although my current desktop is only 4 years old. The PC (HP Pavilion something or another) still works great, and I plan to keep it for some non-critical applications. I’m a photographer, and I just bought a camera that will put it to the test, so I have to think about what to do, and for tax reasons, I may want to do it this month. I’m thinking of this exact same machine, from Office Depot, because I just like having a local contact person in the event something unexpected happens.

  • Glad it helped…I ended buying a Pavilion Elite 410f….bought it at Staples, which I never I imagined I’d do. It’s loaded…..8 GB DDR3 Ram, 1T hard drive, Phenom II Six Core CPU, DVD burner, Blu-ray drive, 5570 ATI Radeon graphics card w one GB memory…just starting to set it up and transfer stuff from my old Pentium 4 system…

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