Monday, December 31, 2007

Well... I hadn't planned on it...

But the deal was so good, I couldn't pass it up....

Well... actually... BOTH deals; but I only ended up with one, and that was as a result of the first one falling through.

What am I babbling on about?

Why, buying my SEVENTH computer for the holiday season; this one for lil'ol'me.

Kinda funny how this one worked out.

I had wisely avoided the day after Christmas mess; but I got several emails that day alerting me to "special savings" etc...

One of them had a system exactly like what I was planning to build, excepting without the second hard drive, or bluray/hd-dvd combo drive. The kicker was, it was only $999... but they wanted $70 shipping.

Well, that set me off on a research run as to specials available that day, and build vs. buy values based on those specials.... then I remembered I had seen one of the exact same computers that I was looking at as a "special value" deal in Costco with a 24" monitor, for $300 more than I was seeing it on the net for... which was a worthwhile deal if I decided I wanted that monitor; but I don't buy monitors sight unseen.

So the day AFTER the day after Christmas, I headed down to Costco to check it out.

Thus the adventure TRULY began.

When I got to Costco, they indeed had the system I remembered; but apparently that price was only good just before, and the day after Christmas. It was running $200 higher that day.

... still a good deal actually, but not better than I could build after taxes vs. shipping were taken into account.

At any rate, since I was out; I decided to head down to Frys, just to do a little comparison shopping; and because I knew their after Christmas sale went through the 1st... well technically their after Christmas sale went through the 28th, and their New Years sale went through the 2nd but anyway.

I got down to Frys, and they had the same system as Costco, but without the monitor; for about $400 less. Again, a good deal, but not better than I could build; and it's a $580 monitor, so I'd be better off buying from Costco.

Now I don't know if you've ever been to Frys, but they tend to be thin staffed at the best of times; and this was not the best of times. Also, unfortunately, my smart phones internet connection doesn't work inside their store; and I had various technical questions I needed answered about several models.

Let's just say it took me a while.

At any rate; I didn't care for the price on the Intel C2-Q6600 machine with the BluRay/HD-DVD combo drive. It was $1350; the exact same price as I would get online actually, but $25 shipping vs $90 tax... Not a great deal.


They had a brand new quad core AMD Phenom system, identical to the Intel box 'cept without the BluRay combo drive... and they had it for $950... and they sell the BluRay drive separately for $299.

and I really like the memory architecture on the phenom; it's actually significantly better than that of the Core 2 (there are errata on both processors by the way; neither is likely to occur iN any real world instance).

Better yet though, that is actually cheaper than I could build the same system for.

Now remember, this is after an hour driving to and shopping in Costco then driving down to Frys, and another 90 minutes in Frys trying to get served etc... etc...

I looked at the deal, I thought about it for a couple minutes, I thought about the online prices and the build prices... and I said what the hell, let's buy it.

So, 20 minutes later the sales guy finds the box in the back (they've only got one and it's stacked in some weird location), and I head up to the line with it.

Again, if you've never been to Frys, the lines are legendary. They have 30-50 cashiers lined up at the front of the store, and one REALLY long line, that snakes back and forth across the full width of the store, in multiple rows of S curves.

On this night, there were about 200 people in line ahead of me. From the time I made my "let's buy it" decision, to the time I got to the register, was about an hour. A total of about 2 and a half hours in the store...

And I get to the register, and check all my things in, which takes a good ten minutes because of a malfunctioning scanner...

And I present my card for payment and get in response "I'm sorry sir, we no longer accept American Express".


Now let me just let you know something. We have a few cards, but they are all low limit (on purpose), and used mostly for the reward points, and for the convenience of buying and paying bills online. We pay our cards off like cash every month. The only higher limit card we have is the Amex, which we use as our primary large purchase card, because it's the only card they take at Costco (in fact, it's the Costco Amex rewards card. A great deal by the way).

Now technically, I could have done it by splitting the purchase across two other cards (which they will do); or I could have paid in cash on the debit card, but this is just after Christmas, and I'd just (that day) paid every credit card off in full to account for Christmas purchasing. Not only did I not want to put more on the other cards, but I wasn't sure which payments had cleared yet and which hadn't... and I didn't want to dip into the cash reserves that far (the total including tax, and the bluray combo drive was $1300 something).

So after two and a half hours in Frys, and another hour in Costco, I just abandoned the hardware there and made ready to go home.

Man I was irritated. I HATE wasting my time like that; and I espeically hate having to change things around after coming to a decision.

What happened next... well, that's another post; but lets just say that my weirdness magnet proved once again infallible, and it cost me $150, and a fair bit of irritation. When I say this is for another post, I mean it. It's too good a story not to share, but I'm going to share it some other day soon.

At any rate, by the end of all this, I'd been out for four hours or so, and it had not only been a complete waste of time, it had been net loss. I was tired, and pissed off, and annoyed (yes I can be all three at once, and it's not a pretty sight)....

I needed to either break something, or build something... or maybe both.

So there was a Best Buy not too far out of my way home, and just for the hell of it I stopped in; not expecting I'd find anything, but I wanted to see what their after Christmas deals were...

And damned if they didn't have a core 2 quad system, identical to the one I'd got an email about, that started this whole mess... and for $910... $90 cheaper than the email box. In fact, because the email box had such high shipping; accounting for tax vs shipping, still $90 cheaper.

So I asked the sales guy about it, and he said "Oh, it's the last one we've got, a floor model; you can get it for $800".

To which I said "do you take Amex?"

Yes, yes they do.

So, the specs:

Proc: Core 2 quad 6600 at 2.4ghz
Mem: 3gb PC6400 (2x 1gb 2x 512m)
Video: Nvidia GeForce 8500GT
Board: Intel G33 oem workstation board (good quality, a bit light on features)
Drives: 2x 500gb 7200rpm SATA3 with 16mb cache
Other: Lightscribe DVD combo drive, 15 way media reader, optical out and HD surround, 2 firewire ports onboard, 8 USB2, eSATA port, 7 sata ports total, GigE.

The only thing I'd change if I were building it myself, is go with a gamers motherboard (about $70 for an equivalent board) , and to use an 8600gt instead of an 8500gt ($150 vs $75). My cost including tax: $865 dollars. Difference in component cost: $145. Cost to build it and ship it as I would have built it: $1110 dollars.

Hmmm.... looks like I break even, even replacing the motherboard and video card, and I'm not going to replace the mobo. Honestly, I don't need to overclock a quad 2.4ghz machine, and that's the only reason to replace the mobo.

Oh and of course this way I get a 1 year warranty, tech support, and an OS; rather than having to actually pay MS an extra $150 for an OEM copy, which I didn't include in the build price (I have OEM XP, I don't have OEM Vista, and if I want DX10 games, it's Vista only).

I MAY replace the video card at some point; but I can reuse the 8500gt in my kids computer (which has crappy video), so it's no loss.

In the mean time even this vid card overclocks to 600mhz stable with no heat issues (the entire 8 series are overclocking monsters), maxes out the Vista performance scores, and screams in every game I've tried it on... though I haven't tried to run Crysis yet; and I'd expect it wouldn't do too well since it's only a 256mb board (actually the only reason why I'd bother changing it is to get 512 or 640).

I stuck in a wireless card; and I'm going to grab that $300 combo drive (funny enough, it's not cheaper anywhere online than it is here locally), and a Hauppage PCIe HDTV/VidCap card with remote.

I actually could've bought the comp with the 24" monitor, and got another $140 off, but I was still trying to decide what to do about a new display (and I have a really top quality 19" already) so I declined that deal (it WAS a smokin deal though).

I'm still trying to decide if I want a new 24" monitor; or if I want to go whole hog and get the 30" and just use the whole thing as my secondary HDTV/Media center.

Or hell, I could even go dual head on the thing with my 19" as my "windows" display, and use an HDTV as my other display. They've got some really nice smaller model LCDs at quite low prices these days; and 1920x1080 on an $800 30", 32", or 37" TV looks just as good on an HDTV from a computer over HDMI as it does on a $1400 monitor (of course the $1400 30" monitor can do 2560x1900, but I don't NEED more than 1920x1080).

Oh and before you real hardcore geeks ask, yes it's dual booting Ubuntu, and yes, kernel compiles absolutely SCREAM.

For my graphics geek friends, don't expect TOO much because it's just an 8500gt; but the cpu scaling results are pretty damn good:


Tester : Chris Byrne

Processor : Intel(R) Core(TM)2 Quad CPU Q6600 @ 2.40GHz
MHz : 2400
Number of CPUs : 4
Operating System : WINDOWS 32 BIT 6.0.6000

Graphics Card : GeForce 8500 GT/PCIe/SSE2
Resolution : <1280x1024>
Color Depth : <32>

Rendering (Single CPU): 2435 CB-CPU
Rendering (Multiple CPU): 8586 CB-CPU
Multiprocessor Speedup: 3.53
Shading (OpenGL Standard) : 3285 CB-GFX

Oh and thats on the standard clock; the fan always being on high when I had the video oc'ed was irritating me.

The 8600gt typically sees 1000 better or so on the Shading test. I haven't seen an 8800gt yet, but I'd guess its another 500 over and above that. Also, Vista typically sees lower results than XP (or OS-X), and for "standard" tests, benchmarkers usually use 16 bit, because some systems use 24 bit and some 42 bit as their maximum, but they all support 16 bit.

I'll run a few more different benchmarks (any requests?) and post them up tomorrow.