Dude, I'm getting a Dell!

by brian d foy

I'm a Mac user, and I just bought a Dell. I'm not going to run Linux on it. I want it to run Windows. It's a little test machine. I must feel some latent guilt about this, because I feel this need to come clean. The most I have to do with Windows is read Preston Gralla's weblog.

I've done this with Virtual PC before, but I never really liked having an emulated Windows: it's as slow and painful as a spyware infected PC. Virtual PC costs a bit over $200, although I didn't shop around. I bought a low end Dell Dimension 2400 with a Windows XP and 512 MB RAM upgrade for $450. The real thing comes with a 17-inch flat panel monitor for "free". I've wanted another flat-panel for a while, so the Dell is already as expensive as Virtual PC and the monitor together.

I had an amusing time buying the thing. What's with all the choices? Steve Jobs just says "You pick one of these and we send it to you". I can get any color I like as long as its blackaluminum colored. Dell lets me pick a CPU too. You mean there is more than one? Holy canoli. I don't even think I know what I have in my, um, G4 except that it's a G4 something-or-other. After that I have to pick a processor speed? Again, I don't even know what I have now. I could choose from 5 or so "productivity" suites. It was interesting seeing all the different choices, even if I really just wanted to click a "I'm a cheapskate" button and skip all that stuff. I can definitely see how people might get confused about buying a new computer.

I think it's cool that I can do all that, and I remember liking Michael Dell's book about his just-in-time supply chain. It's all cool stuff. I've been indocrinated otherwise though. Choice just isn't in my Mac vocabulary. The experience wasn't as difficult as buying a train ticket on Amtrak's website (I wonder if they are actually trying to get de-funded), but I did have to go through a couple of steps of "Are you sure you don't also want to buy a ...".

So, somewhere, a Brown truck is pulling up to a Dell location and someone is loading my computer onto it. Some third shift worker is picking up my box and setting it in the truck. This isn't Gateway, so I'm not imagining so beefy guy carrying my PC while he runs to my house. Somewhere near that truck is a bigger truck going to Chicago. It's almost romantic. Dude, I'm experiencing the Dell supply chain.

I should have it on Monday (I skimped on the shipping, like everything else). I don't know if I actually want it right away, because I'm not looking forward to setting it up on my home network. I don't want it ever to see the internet, and I don't want the internet to see it. I hope I don't have to connect to the net to configure it. That would certainly suck.

I'll see what happens.


2005-04-08 22:09:35
Dude, I Got a Dell Off the Street
Dell is the king of custom hardware. Hands down, when I have ordered Dell boxes for clients, I've had the best experience in customization of any major vendor.

Still, I'm a little surprised that a self-proclaimed Mac enthusiast such as yourself--who lives in an urban area and is capable of assembling equipment--needed to spring for hardware.

I have a couple of cobbled Dells that I cobbled together from parts on the street, a friend, or someone wanting to dispose of an old Pentium 4. They're fast enough for testing and poking at stuff. Certainly faster than Virtual PC.

2005-04-09 00:43:17
Dude, I Got a Dell Off the Street
Where did you get the idea that I could assemble equipment? You said it yourself (and I said it): I use a Mac. :)

I'm not really a hardware guy, and since I'm a Mac user, I don't need to be. I always buy the mid-level Powerbook. I don't look that closely at the features or the differences in the levels. I load it up on RAM when I buy it.

But with Dell, I paid $450 and they'll do it all and drop it off at my apartment. That's a lot more pleasant than dealing with the people who work at CompUSA or Best Buy who tend not to be actual computer users. In 5 minutes, I made all my choices at Dell and was done. :)

2005-04-09 05:26:27
Dude, I'm getting a Dell!
I started with DOS 3.2 running under Windoz on a 486. I have found that little has actually changed with Windoz. The same annoying problems continue, drivers corrupted, wonky stuff I won't go into. I finally built a windoz box and have less problems with it than before. Oh well, welcome to the wacky world of XP SP2...
2005-04-09 12:06:21
That's an interesting point that I had never thought about. That Apple users don't want/need a choice. They just want a computer. I wonder if that has something to do with why so many of us PC users could never ever switch to Apple. We like control of hardware/software, even if not all of us are smart enough to make those choices responsibly. Probably 90% of the people on both sides of the fence are only there because of marketing, but the rest of us know what we want and we get that. That choice is definitely something to think about.

If you are concerned about security (and you should be), you probably don't have to go as far as to exile this computer from the internet. If you have an cable/dsl router in your home feeding the internet to your computer, that will stop practically any non-email/non-browser virus because the virus will be attacking the router instead of any individual computer on the network. If you install an Anti-Virus (like AVG Free: http://free.grisoft.com/) and only use Firefox, then you should be just fine. Just don't open any attachments in emails that say that you have viruses and they have conveniently provided the fix. ;) I know I probably don't have to tell you that, but you never know with Mac users ;) or 99% of the PC users I know, for that matter.

2005-04-09 22:48:41
Dude, I Got a Dell Off the Street
You're right. I made the assumption that you could assemble hardware.

Most Perl hackers I know also assemble hardware as a course of habit because it's more interesting than washing dishes, vacuuming, or taking a shower. Then again, they also use Linux.

CompUSA just scares me. When I'm feeling spiteful, I call it "IncompetentUSA."

2005-04-11 11:09:01
I wouldn't say that Mac users don't want variety, we're just not accustomed to it, or it's pretty minimal. If Apple added more variety and better prices on the options, I'd be happier.

I bought a couple 17" Mac laptops (his and hers) and a G5 for use as a server last year. I picked up my laptop and the G5 from the Apple store here in Chicago (hi brian). I bought my wife's laptop through the online Apple store since she does enough video work that I wanted better video hardware and a faster disk than the stock setup. I also had them preload Final Cut Express.

I added more RAM to all three, but not through the online Apple store since their prices are too high. I also added an additional disk to the G5 that I picked up from CompUSA.

Back when I was using a PowerMac 7500, I had upgraded RAM, VRAM, HD, CPU (to 604e, then to G3), SCSI, 100 Mb ethernet, and perhaps a couple other items.

My previous laptops (5300ce, 1400cs and Pismo) all had upgraded RAM and hard drives, and the 1400 had a CPU upgrade (G3/250), as well.

In other words, just because more variety isn't offered, or is not price-effective through the Apple store, don't think that it wouldn't be welcomed.

2005-04-11 11:29:17
Same boat, different vendor
I also had that same struggle trying to nail down the slew of options for a PC last month. My wife needed a real PC for some work she's doing. I had just bought her a brand new PowerBook 17" with the 1.5 GHz CPU (best at the time) in December, 2004. It was loaded with 1.5 GB RAM, fastest disk, best video we could get. I also added VPC to it for the occasional PC work we occasionally need to do. Unfortunately, this time she really needed the performance that VPC can't touch.

Anyway, she told me her budget was $2000 and to get her the best PC laptop under that mark. That gets you one nice PC laptop, to say the least. I first went to the Dell site and took a look. After about 30 minutes, I told her I'd pick it out in a day or two after getting some more info on the myriad options. From CPU's, to shared vs. dedicated video, ports and a handful of other things, I was swimming in details. Not to mention the discounts and coupons that are out there for the vendors.

I ordered a Dell, only to cancel it the next day when I configured an HP with better performance at a lower price due to a better coupon. Both sites are easy to use, but I needed a cheat sheet to keep track of the options each system had. It was a crash course in CPU's (AMD vs. Celeron vs. Mobile) networking cards (MS vs. the others), OS's (XP Pro vs. Home), configurations (desktop replacements vs. compacts), etc.

I can't wait to get some time to do some benchmarking and see how it stacks up against her Powerbook.

2005-04-14 07:28:22
Dude, I Got a Dell Off the Street
I agree with the Dell Experience - I used to build my own PCs (not for state-of-the-art machines, but for fun), but stopped when I realized how affordable brand new Dell boxes are.

Your sample system was $450, and that included a reasonable system configuration, a monitor, and I assume free delivery - with a warranty on all of them from a large company... It is a good value, value judgements of WinPC aside... (Point of reference, your OS *alone* would run you $180 on the street, for a retail copy of WinXP Pro)

A couple tips:
I've found that the Dell Small Business website typically has better warranties for the same hardware offered at the Dell Home web site. The main difference is "on-site" repair vs. "depot" repair. Prices are usually pretty close.

If you plan on running a Linux system (or Solaris ;^), the Dell low-end servers that ship without an OS are *very* well priced - esp. the PowerEdge SC420 (P4) and 1420SC (Xeon) and both include SATA hard drives.