Buying a new computer is quite an ordeal. First you need to figure out your budget and then decide if you want to buy a pre-built system or build your own. Because there is so much involved in it, I am going to share with you the experience I had buying my latest computer. I will also touch on some performance at the end.
Decisions, Decisions, Decisions
Weather you decide to build your own computer or to buy a pre-built you are first going to need to know what you want to use the computer for. I wanted a powerful computer mainly for playing games, but I also want to be able to program, edit video, and do word processing. Any computer that has enough guts to play the most modern games should also be able to do the rest.
I decided that having someone else build the computer was more worth my time because I don’t have to do the research about which hardware is compatible and I don’t have to support hardware failures and stuff like that.
Deciding which computer maker to go with is the next decision. I already knew that I wanted an AMD processor, for me that is a no-brainer because they seem to be beating Intel in all the comparisons and they are a bit cheaper. Since I wanted an AMD processor I immediately eliminated several of the bigger computer builders like Dell. I then went on to several hardware review sites to see who already had a good reputation. There were several names that came up: Overdrive PC, Alienware, and Velocity Micro were among the top. Overdrive PC specializes in overclocking and I was not interested in that. Alienware has strange looking cases and others computer makers were a bit expensive. I found for my needs that Velocity Micro offered the best combination of price and performance.
After choosing a computer maker you now get to choose what you want in the computer. Because I wanted a gaming computer I needed to focus on performance. That means a fast processor, lots of memory and a fast hard drive. I also wanted to be able to do video editing, so I needed a lot of hard drive space.
The ordering process with velocity micro is really straight forward. I especially liked the fact that everything is on one page. This may be information overload for some people, but I liked it because I did not have to go back and forth between pages when I made changes.
After ordering you have a certain number of days to make changes to your order. All changes must be made before the building process begins. If you make a change after that, then it will cost a lot more and delay your order. Every time there is a change to the status of the order an email is sent. Unfortunately, there was no way to check the status online. The whole process takes about 4 weeks. After that the computer is shipped and that takes about a week.
From what I got, it looks like Velocity Micro uses all retail parts and ships all the extra components with the computer. For example, I received several motherboard addons like extra USB ports, and a serial port. I also received all the extra components for my hard drives, video cards, sound cards, case, and everything else that I ordered. This makes up a lot of value. Most other computer makers use OEM parts which means you will not get those extras.
Velocity Micro also includes a nice case with all the software that comes with the computer. Most other computer shops just give you a bunch of loose disks. This is a great way to keep those disk organized so you don’t lose them. Included in this set of disks is also an image of your hard drive, at the time it left the factory, so that restoring your computer back to factory condition only takes about 30 minutes. A separate disk is much better then storing the image on your hard drive. This makes it so you don’t loose everything if the hard drive crashes and it does not take up precious hard drive space.
The look of the system is secondary to the performance of the computer, but a well designed inside can really help performance by keeping things cool inside. Also, a well designed inside can make it easier to upgrade the system later on.
A good case can make or break your system. If it is too small you won’t be able to fit everything inside, the airflow will be bad and moving parts, like fans, could touch cables and stuff and break. Aluminum cases are better than plastic because they are more sturdy, and they can act like a huge heatsink. One thing you have to worry about with metal cases is rattling noises and vibration. Windows on the side of computer cases are becoming more common. I keep my computer by my feet so I don’t really get to look at the window very often. If you are the same you could probably save a couple dollars by getting a case without a window. The case that Velocity Micro uses has plenty of space on the inside for cards and hard drives, and plenty of space on the outside for more DVD drives or other add-ons.
Velocity Micro worked hard to keep the inside really clean. There is plenty of room for the air to flow to keep the system cool and lots of room for future upgrades.
One nice thing that Velocity micro does for all of its systems is cable folding and tucking cables behind the motherboard so they are out of the way and the airflow is improved. This particular picture makes it look more like the cables were just shoved in rather then nicely folded.
I really like how the CPU fan is on the side of the heat sink. This makes air flow better because it pushes the air back toward the rear case fan. Another nice thing about this fan is how it attaches to the heat sink. If you look closely you will see that it is attached with small rubber knobs. These are very flexible and allow the fan to spin without transferring any vibrations, this reduces the amount of noise produced by the fan.
The case comes with two lighted fans by default. You can add more lights or even change the colors. Since I keep my computer by my feet I really don’t care about lights.
The performance of the computer is directly related to what you put into it. Better parts also cost more, so you can expect that more expensive computers are more powerful. How powerful of a computer do you need? That depends on what you want to do? If you are unsure you should probably consult a specialist so that you don’t end up spending more or less than you need.
Because I plan on doing a lot of gaming, video editing, and other stuff, I need a powerful computer. The system bought has a 2.4 GHz dual core AMD 64 processor, 2 GB of RAM, 2 x 250 GB SATA hard drives in a raid 0, 2 EVGA GeForce 7800 graphics cards SLI, and a Sound Blaster XtremeMusic. I expect that this configuration would give me a great deal of performance. Since I am using this computer with the Dell 2405FPW I need a powerful computer to power my games and videos at 1920×1200 resolution.
One of the best ways to test the performance of a computer is to test it by playing games and recording your Frames Per Second (FPS). The higher the number the better your computer can handle the demanding needs of modern games. The number that you should be shooting for is between 30 and 60 FPS, but more is always better. To test the performance I found one of the most demanding games I had and tried it out with different resolutions. The game I played was Doom 3. Luckily this game comes with the ability to test performance, it even comes with its own demo that can be used. When you play the demo it reports the FPS at the end. The first pass I played the demo at 800 x 600 with all the options turned on except Anti-Aliasing (AA). With these settings I got an FPS of 126.9. Considering I was shooting between 30 and 60 this is an exceptional number. I next played it at the highest resolution possible which is 1600×1200. With the same setting as before I got an FPS of 93.3. Then I started too apply higher AA. First I started out with an AA of 4, which dropped my FPS to 51.6. At 8 AA my frame rate plummeted to 15.2 and kept falling as I got higher AA settings. While I was happy at first I got more and more disappointed as the numbers dropped. I kind of expected that a computer with a dual core process and dual graphics cards would handle games better than this. Then I realized that I had not turned on SLI. SLI is when the two graphics cards work together to process the graphics. I turned on SLI and retested the higher settings. AT 1600×1200 with AA at 4 and with SLI I now got a FPS on 95.0. This is almost double what I got before. With AA at 8 I got a FPS of 29.8. Again almost double what I got before. SLI really made a huge difference in the performance of my games.
Because the case is made out of metal, I sometimes hear a bit of vibration in the case. I only have to touch the side of the case, the window side, to make it go away. It would have been nice if the case had some rubber pads so that it was not metal on metal.
Warranty and Support
Like most computer makers you have to pay for the support that you get. The minimum warranty is 1 year parts and labor, 1 year of business hour support, and depot repair service. This plan is free. The maximum is 3 years parts and labor, 3 year 24/7 support with emergency support, and On-Site service. This plan costs $199.
Getting a support rep on the phone is another question. I tried calling at 11pm and I waited on the phone for 30 minutes before hanging up. During that time they just played advertisements for their different computers. It would have been very helpful if they would have had a time remaining announcement or even an indication of where I was on the waiting list. That way I would know if I was making any progress.
There are some things that Velocity Micro could do to improve the customer experience. First, they should create come kind of online tracking of your order. Email is not only unreliable, but it is not good for impatient people who like to check the status every day. Second they should organize all the updates for the different hardware that they install, in one central location, like Dell does. This would not only keep you from having to search dozens of websites for updates, but it also brings customers back to the Velocity Micro website. That in turn exposes them to new deals and upgrades for their computer. Despite those shortcomings, which are minor, I really enjoyed the ordering process and even owning the computer. You really do get a lot of control over the parts that go into the computer. All the parts are name brand and retail. Retail may not seem like a big deal, but when you see all the extra stuff that comes with it then you really can appreciate the difference. I can recommend Velocity Micro to anyone looking for a new computer. Even if is not for gaming.
|JusTech'n editors' rating|