One of the most poorly kept secrets in the world of computer enthusiasts is that there really isn't a lot that can be done to make at PC truly unique. If you put the same parts into two different computers, they will perform the same. The cases could look completely different, but if all the internal components are the same then there is functionally no difference. If someone starts tuning one of the PCs by adjusting memory timings, system voltages, and perhaps even overclocking, then of course there would be a difference again, but short of this the same parts will offer the same level of performance.

That might seem like an obvious situation to most people, but it's important to keep in mind when looking at system reviews. In fact, we can take things a step further and look at the individual components. If you have two motherboards that use the same chipset, as we have shown in many instances, stock performance isn't going to vary much at all. The same situation applies to graphics cards: other than minor differences in clock speeds and cooling, any two graphics cards that are based off of the same GPU chipset are going to perform nearly the same. The differentiating factors between computers and components used to be relatively large, but we have reached the point now where the major aspects that determine which component or computer is better are often up to individual needs. Features, warranty, support, and price tend to be far more important for most people than whether or not you get an extra 1%-2% performance.

Most of our component reviews are now focusing on those areas, though of course we continue to look at overall performance as well, and it makes sense for system reviews to take a similar approach. One of the major differences between complete systems and individual components, however, is that it is virtually impossible to put together a review of all of the systems any company might have on offer. Take a quick look at any system builder's web site, choose any single base system, and you will still end up with numerous options that can be customized: CPU, memory, hard drive, and graphics card almost always have several possibilities, and depending on the vendor you might also be able to choose among motherboards, cases, power supplies, and extra cooling features. On top of that, throw in all of the accessories (speakers, keyboard, mouse, display, etc.) and warranty options and putting together a review of any particular system is really only going to be looking at one configuration out of potentially thousands.

There's nothing inherently wrong with doing a system review looking at one specific configuration, but when you consider that components often change after a couple months (or even weeks), focusing on the final performance is almost meaningless. Sometimes, a computer that we're sent for testing is basically discontinued before we even have a chance to complete the review -- or at least some of the components are replaced -- and it doesn't make much sense to spend time looking at the performance of a system that no one can actually purchase anymore. That's basically where we are today: we have not one but two systems from iBUYPOWER as well as a computer from Puget Systems, but every one of them has at least one component that is outdated or discontinued.

Rather than spending a lot of time talking about the performance of these systems, we decided to focus on the features, warranty, pricing, support, and options available from both companies. We will be using the test systems as examples of the sort of quality offered by these vendors, but benchmark performance isn't going to be a major factor. After all, it shouldn't be hard at all to configure nearly identical systems from either vendor that would end up offering the same level of performance. Both companies use off-the-shelf parts for their PC desktops, so what you're really doing is paying them to put it together for you and provide advice and support.

These two companies offer a range of desktop systems, from basic budget builds all the way up through extreme performance computers that cost thousands of dollars. iBUYPOWER sent us two units representing midrange and high-end configurations while Puget Systems sent us a single high-end computer. Even though the cost of the high-end systems is similar, the two companies took very different approaches, and it would be unfair to say which one is "better" by merely looking at a few benchmarks. Which approach is best depends on what you want. We'll start with a look at the systems from iBUYPOWER.

iBUYPOWER: Overview
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  • EvErywhErE - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    Great Article on Pudget! I stumbled accross them quite by accident last month after my work machine melted down... I was tight for time, didn't want to think about anything, and was planning on doing just a litle internet research to see if anyone could beat Dell for general price, performance, warrenty, and ease of assembly.

    I was instantly impressed with the pudget website, and the fact that a real person picked up the phone and seemed to know exactly what I needed. I explained that I was an mechanical engineer and that the machine would be used for CAD work about 90% of the time. 10 minutes later I recieved an e-mail link to a custom computer that served as a great starting point. I did just a little customizing and really felt quite happy knowing that I didn't have to spend the rest of my day weighing performance, stability, and an unknown amount of time troubleshooting that one unexpected thing.

    I ended up going with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 Quad-Core 2.66GHz, an Asus P5Q-E mother board, Quadro FX 1700, and 4Gig of ram. Not the most amazing machine out there, but more than enough to keep me working for another year or two.

    As luck would have it my modest workstation proved to be a nightmare to get up and running... In the end it took a full 4 weeks to get everything up and running. This included some hardware shipping delays, swapping of memory, OS choices (xp64, then Vista 64) swapping the motherboard, and eventually solving the problem with a Bios update.

    Needless to say I've gone through many levels of frustration during the whole process, but at the same time I really have felt supported by pudget the whole time. My contact person has been quick with updates most of the time, and has always been good at not making promises that he couldn't keep.

    In the last week I've spent so much time researching computer components that I decided to just build my own one more time, and when I realized how huge my mark up was it really did make even more sense. But there really is a bit of irony though because my last machine was painstakingly built up with the help of a knowledgeable friend for the exact same purpose and I had a bios gremlin the haunted me for the past 3 years...

    So to bring this long story to a finish, I sent an e-mail to Pudget today saying that after a lot of thought, too much computer research, and of course way too much waiting, I'd decided to cancle the order. This had already been discussed previously and the plan was to make a final decision today. I recieved a very nice call from a manager just an hour or so later who was very sympathetic to the whole situation.

    As it turned out my computer had finally made ith though the last phase of QA and was ready to ship. Considering all I'd been through he offered to ship it next day for free and let me demo the machine with an unconditional 30 return and no restocking fee. At the moment I'm still pretty set on the idea of building an SLI machine myself- but at the same time I realized that even in this worst of all imaginable scenerios, I as a customer never felt negleted. That's a really had thing to find these days even in the best of situations, so to find a company that really did manage to fall flat on their face in terms of expectations, but still maintain customer support and confidence is really something that stands out.

    About 10 minutes after I got off the phone I recieved an email summary of my newly completed system complete with thermal images in both an idle and loaded configuration. It's just a little touch, but really that is what makes the difference between high quality and useless junk. My new test drive toy should arrive monday morning; I can't decide if I want to to be amazing, or if I want to need a little more. I guess too much geeking out on specs the last week has really started to sink in. Either way it's nice to know that there's a whole crew of people to support me regardless of my decision.

    Pudget definately isn't the cheapest, and they don't offer every component known to man, but if you're in the market for a team of people that will take the time to do the job right, and provide quality human interaction the whole way through the process they may be a very good choice.
  • Metal Face - Monday, February 26, 2007 - link

    It looks like Puget may have scrapped their Certified Systems program
  • icthy - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    I've been considering buying a computer from Puget Systems for some time now, so I was quite glad to see the article. I especially appreciate that you calculated the markup for a computer, although it would have been nice to see some details. Also, I want to mention the reason I've considered Puget Systems is they'll build a top of the line linux computer, which is nice because then you don't have to worry about issues with compatability and cutting-edge hardware. I'd like to offer the friendly suggestion that this would have been a useful piece of information for the article, as it's rather difficult to find a computer vendor that will build something that will be guaranteed for linux.

    Finally, I'd suggest checking out Envision Computer Solutions for a future article along these lines. I bought a PC from them and was very impressed. (Note: I have absolutely no personal or business relationship with them).
  • Imnotrichey - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    yikes, i didnt see that part. 25% markup seems a bit extreme.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    Check out VoodooPC, Falcon Northwest, Alienware, and anyone else like that. Some of them seem to be about a 50% markup - and yes, I'm accounting for the cost of their custom paint jobs (where applicable).
  • Imnotrichey - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    Yes, I'm sure you are correct that this is better than those others. Just surprising to me, since I never looked into it. 5-10% I could understand, but making a 2000 buck system cost 2500 just doesn't seem worth it. Seems like someone would slip under that 25% mark up and force them to compete at that level.
  • JeffDM - Sunday, February 18, 2007 - link

    Given the costs of doing business, I really don't think it's extreme.

    In your example, the $2000 "system" isn't really a system, it is really just a pile of parts. It's part of the $500 extra that makes it into a system, the rest have to go to business expenses. The labor, procurement, warranty and support aren't free. There are a host of other business expenses in there too, running a business is not cheap.
  • runestone - Saturday, February 17, 2007 - link

    I live in the nearby area of Puget Systems, here's my .02: when the A8nE-sli boards came out, they were hard to get. I noticed they had some; called them and got a quote of 275$, well past my threshold of gouging. I found one a day later for 100 less.
    I guess if you have the money to blow they have some nice systems.
  • anandtech02148 - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    good taste, always begins with a computer case. Puget got it.
  • Imnotrichey - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    I agree, Puget system seems to give you so many top notch choices

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