View Full Version : "Bargain" Big Name Computers vs. Last Year's Model

October 19th, 2010, 01:49 PM
One of our elderly neighbors had his computer fail on him recently, so I offered to look at it/fix it for free. It was loaded down with over 200 instances of various viruses and malware applications (I stopped scanning after 200) due to the fact that Major Computer Corporation didn't preinstall a virus scanner. He was a bit shocked that something I described as a basic necessity when running Windows wasn't included, and remarked that "I guess that's what you get when you buy a cheaper model."

"Cheap" in this case was apparently more than $500. What does that get you? An AMD Athlon 64 3500+, 512 MB DDR2, a remanufactured DVD-RW drive, and a remanufactured Seagate Barracuda -- one of those lovely 7200 RPM drives with faulty bearings (I've RMA'ed three).

Rather than dealing with this particular system (the DVD drive had already failed, and the hard drive was sometimes producing the "Seagate beep" all three of mine produced on their way out), I offered him an "older" system for free: a Socket 478 machine also from Major Computer Corporation. Definitely an older model by most people's standards, this machine sports an Intel Celeron 2.6 GHz processor, 120 GB Western Digital Caviar hard drive, 1 GB DDR (my main reason for offering it to him...I have piles of DDR RAM), and a DVD-ROM/CD-RW drive. Price to me? Around $30, maybe.

Now I know the $30 figure doesn't include the cost of my reinstalling Windows XP (for which there was a legitimate license key attached to the case), dusting the machine out, a monitor, keyboard, mouse or printer. Still, you'd think with the abundance of eWaste we've got, more people would be aware that the top-of-the-line model from a few years ago will work just as well, if not better, than the ultra-bargain offering of Major Computer Corporation...and, it's cheaper! I'm pretty sure this machine will do 100% of what he wants to do with it (pictures of grandkids, e-mail, and web browsing), and even if he'd paid me for it, the system might have cost 1/2 of what he got (including things like a flat-panel monitor).

End rant.

October 19th, 2010, 03:41 PM
AMD 64's are pretty old these days, do major companies even sell single core systems in the last few years?

It used to be ages ago you could build a system cheaper then buying a prebuilt major brand, these days the best deals are debranded machines (old stock OEMs just ditch to the secondary markets with their name badge ripped off and no warrenty). Sometimes its not worth refurbing older systems because the RAM tends to cost too much (DDR1 on an Athlon 64 is pricey compared to DDR2/3 these days and you need to upgrade it for the latest OS).

My "fastest" are ancient (Dell P4 HT-3ghz and a Emachines Athlon 6400 3000+) both do their jobs well enough that I have yet to bother upgrading (I keep putting it off every Christmas to where it is a joke about when if ever I will upgrade).

October 19th, 2010, 05:07 PM
I have to agree 100% percent with you. In fact at work one time we tried a little project, could we use an older system for two weeks without problems. What I can tell you is somethings might be mildly inconvenient but its doable. Now this project was two years ago so, 2008, but what we did was put Windows 95 OSR2, Firefox 1, and Office 2000 on a Pentium 200 with 256 megs of RAM and it works for me just fine. Granted I couldn't watch alot of videos, but I could do everything else I needed to do.

October 19th, 2010, 05:40 PM
One of our elderly neighbors had his computer fail on him recently, so I offered to look at it/fix it for free.

Good rant - I have to jump on the bandwagon.

Having tried, and failed to teach my 80 year old mother how to use a mouse, I think most of the problem is with the elderly buying more computer than they'll ever use.
They get too much stuff and it's easily confusing - hell, it is for me sometimes, and I'm my own one man band and the IT guy to boot.

I get more emails warning of new viruses that "will wipe everything on your hard drive", and have "been confirmed by Snopes.com" from elderly friends and acquaintances than I can count. (I usually reply politely that they need to run these things through www.breakthechain.org (http://www.breakthechain.org) before emailing them al over the place, and causing widespread panic among their other friends)
They just don't get it, but they still want to be part of the scene.

A virus protection subscription is a must for seniors - most of them don't realize what they're clicking on when they open an email or get on the web.

The secret is keep it simple, easy to use, and (having done it on several occasions) easy to fix via remote access/remote assistance.

October 19th, 2010, 08:09 PM
A virus protection subscription is a must for seniors - most of them don't realize what they're clicking on when they open an email or get on the web.

Nope. Why give them a solution that costs them money they don't have? Yes, no subscriptions, just install Microsoft security essentials. It's a solution that doesn't rely upon viruses and malware to keep the company in business.

BTW, what was the mouse problem? I find that playing a game of solitaire is good mouse practice as it uses just about all the mouse commands. Drag and drop, click, double click, right click and of course accurate movement of the cursor.

Also if it's any inspiration to give her if she just doesn't want to learn the mouse, my 80 going on to 90 year old gransmother went under her own will and want and bought an ipad to use. Yea, surprised me too. :) So she's not too old or anything, your mum that is.

Ole Juul
October 19th, 2010, 09:44 PM
One can always install pine or some text based e-mail client. Usually older people can read quite well because they've done it for so long, so a text interface is sometimes better than a mouse/GUI which is a pretty abstract concept. I have trouble with it myself. :) As for virus checking, I do think that if one is setting up a computer for someone (old or young) who is not so computer savvy, that an OS which does not require security software or maintenance, is a better choice. Give them something they can't break. I've never played much with MS-Windows myself, but I do think that it is the wrong choice for these kinds of situations, notwithstanding MV75's suggestion.

Regarding glitch's rant, I completely agree. You don't get your money's worth. Bargain/bigname computers use cheap motherboards and cheap everything that just causes trouble when you try to change anything. It is also not guaranteed that the producer even has the skill set to do a good job as I found out when I mistakenly bought one of these "brand names" a few years back. Never again!

October 20th, 2010, 03:47 AM
For someone looking for quality on a budget, I would recommend a Mac Mini, especially the factory refurbished ones Apple usually lists. We have had two Minis (one refurb, one used) and have had a very good experience. (If you don't like Mac OS you can stick Windows on them instead). Many people say Apple hardware is overpriced for what you get, but I don't think this is true of the Mini, which is sort of a "loss leader" to get people hooked on Mac OS. I do also think Mac OS is a better choice for a user who doesn't want to worry about malware -- not because Mac OS is inherently so much more secure but there's still much more Windows-specific junk out there, and the updating process for a Mac is easier to manage. Windows 7 closes the gap notably, however. With any OS and a casual user, probably the most important thing is to tighten down the browser security settings a lot.

October 20th, 2010, 04:48 AM
Well, a main point certainly also is that if you buy a cheap system from a system builder, what you buy is actually the hardware.
They might throw some software on it, but certainly that and the configuration is not been given any real attention.
That normally is done better by the Compaq/IBM/ etcs.

October 20th, 2010, 05:53 AM
DDR2 wasn't supported on AMD platform till socket AM2. I think AMD dropped the 64 designation on the processors since they EOL all none 64 bit capable processor around that time. So it's either a socket 939 with DDR or a dual core AM2 with DDR2.

Dave Farquhar
October 20th, 2010, 07:05 AM
I've long advocated buying an off-lease business desktop and upgrading it, rather than buying a bottom-of-the-barrel consumer PC. It costs less and you get a better quality machine. But granted, nothing comes from the store with anything better than a 90-day trial of antivirus software--the antivirus racket is just too profitable. MSSE neatly solves that problem, but you have to know you need it. We all do, but Tillie down the street doesn't.

Those big names do know how to build a decent machine, but they don't sell them at retail shops. There, it's all about cutting corners to meet price points. Especially be wary of Black Friday specials. I've owned two PCs that were Black Friday specials (I got them both secondhand for next to nothing), and while they're not quite as bad as what Packard Bell used to do, they're close.

I would say go to a computer store and have a good machine built using quality parts (the combination of a Seasonic power supply and a mid-range Asus motherboard will give you a good basis to start with), but when I went with a friend last month to do that, it reminded me of why I learned to fix/build PCs in the first place. Finding good computer service is even harder than finding a good auto mechanic. If you have a decent store near you, that's a great approach.

October 20th, 2010, 04:49 PM
DDR2 wasn't supported on AMD platform till socket AM2. I think AMD dropped the 64 designation on the processors since they EOL all none 64 bit capable processor around that time. So it's either a socket 939 with DDR or a dual core AM2 with DDR2.

Yea, you'd think so eh?


The story right there. ;)

And it uses less power than the 475 pentium. I would have fixed that machine up instead of costing the poor old bloke more $ on power bills. :)

October 20th, 2010, 05:18 PM
Yep, that's it, and definitely single-core. Of course, there's nothing wrong with a single-core processor in a modern low-end desktop application, it's just that the rest of the system was poorly designed, too. The 280 Watt proprietary-package power supply was a discouragement to rebuilding the Athlon system, especially since it showed a huge accumulation of dust and ran very hot when I got it.

+1 for off-lease business machines as well. My girlfriend's laptop is currently my old laptop -- an off-lease IBM T40. Not exactly top-of-the-line with an 80 GB hard drive, 1.5 GHz Pentium M and 1 GB RAM, but it runs Linux just fine with a mid-weight window manager, and it's bulletproof. I got it in 2006 I think, and when I bought my Acer Aspire One (don't need much power on the go...desktop at home) she replaced her Intel Core 2 Duo Toshiba laptop with the IBM, for weight and reliability. The Toshiba laptop has been through two motherboards and a hard drive.

October 21st, 2010, 02:30 PM
I guess I've just been lucky, then :)

My first computer was a Packard Bell 486SX-25. Legend 610 model, specifically, purchased new around 1991/1992. I forget exactly when. It cost us $1000 with a .31dp SVGA monitor which long ago died (along w/ the keyboard and mouse). That computer, however, is still alive and kicking. Completely. All factory parts inside, outside of the 4x256kb memory chips and Intel Overdrive I put into it back in the day.

My 2nd retail computer was an HP Pavilion laptop I purchased new in 2000. Duron 750mhz, 128mb RAM upgraded to 256mb, 20gb hard drive. The battery died quite awhile back, but I still use that laptop to this day for interfacing with Cisco gear via serial.

My 3rd retail computer was another HP laptop I purchased new in 2006. 1.8ghz AMD single-core, 1gb. I still use this regularly.

My 4th retail computer was a refurbished Gateway laptop, purchased for power and gaming capability. Dual-core, 1gb discreet graphics, etc.

In-between these laptops, I've built 4 desktop PC's, all of which are still alive and functioning, whether in my house, or in the house of someone I've given them to. My point? You can have a great experience with a new/retail PC too - I certainly have..

With that said... for my day-to-day general tasks, my old Duron laptop is plenty powerful enough, and certainly my 2006 HP is. It's sad that so many people don't realize that same thing and stick with what they have until it's physically dead... but I guess it's worth it to them to purchase that $300 black-light special PC than it is to spend half a day restoring windows with your recovery disks, and another half-day installing updates and restoring software/data, not to mention the weeks/months/years of acquiring the foundation of knowledge to allow them to do such things correctly and with confidence.

October 21st, 2010, 03:31 PM
Sure, there are plenty of great retail computers out there...in fact, if I were going to buy a top-of-the-line machine, I'd probably look into a retail system since they're often cheaper than buying components. The Acer Aspire One has been a great computer, as was our first PC (a Packard Bell too). My complaint is in the production of "bargain" PCs by big-name companies that know the designs are inferior. Couple that with the fact that these "bargain" machines are usually equal in price and capability to a properly built model that's just a few years old and you have to wonder why companies aren't pushing off-lease and refurbished machines instead of designing inferior products.

October 21st, 2010, 07:20 PM
Ah... Missed that in my quick read of this thread this afternoon.

So... you're complaining about E-Machines in general, hmm? ;)

October 22nd, 2010, 12:43 PM
Goes on to show not to believe everything one reads on the internet :D