I used to work/manage higher level customer/enterprise support for a company not mentioned here but bigger than all of them , and, there is no reason to believe the quality is better than brand name components that you would put together into your own home-built system.
PC/desktop 'manufacturers' factor in component cost, quality, serviceability and profit into what they build as a all-in-one system. And, each of those big companies have varying quality lines of PCs. Lenovo for example, makes some of the cheapest laptops for the mass market, but also arguably some of the best quality units for the discerning business customer (ThinkPads). With desktops, corporations often spec to order motherboards from not necessarily the best manufacturers, and can use lower quality components or skimp on them all together. There are plenty of verifiable scenarios where those companies leave out components or use lower spec components, that can lead to higher customer failures in the field; engineers have to get approval from finance on things like resistors, capacitors, etc - leaving them off motherboards can amount to hundreds of thousands of dollars not spent. (per component)
They balance failure rates against cost to repair them. When you build with individual components - given you'll choose reasonable/better quality components - and you know how to put them together, and do troubleshooting when something fails, you will likely be in a position to replace a defective PSU, motherboard, hard disk or whatever has failed, more quickly and easily, and probably with less down-time and pain than you would with a brand name system.
Too many brand name corporations you listed customize the case specs, motherboard mounting holes, give limited hard drive/bay expansion options. They often use low range power supplies, with limited wattage. Motherboards often lack expansion slots (for adding video cards/monitors), and memory slots are usually limited to 2 or 4 - all those latter things I noted are things you can shop for with a motherboard that you will choose, spending a few $ more, but having decent expansion options down the road.
In terms of overall individual component failures, I can't think of a reason why a major manufacturer's all-in-one PC would have better reliability than one you (properly) build yourself.
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Thanks for your reply, these are some great points, although I have to disagree on a couple, based on my personal experience, which is likely not as statistically significant as yours.
I have a business Lenovo W520 with FHD 1080p display, Developer Workstation, on Win 7 Pro, 64 bit, i7, it has been a POS for me. Runs hot, BSODs, takes 5.5 minutes to boot, keeps switching off external monitor, drops my datafeed connection and won't reconnect until full reboot, etc etc. I've owned several older ThinkPads, and have seen the quality of them decline over time, since IBM sold the Thinkpad line to Lenovo.
When you mention all in one/desktop PC's, are you talking about retail/home PC's, or business workstations made by major manufacturer's? Or are you saying there is not much difference?
One potential reason on why a manufactured workstation could be more reliable than a home built one, is that a manufacturer should have tested/proven the compatibility of all hardware/software/drivers/configuration etc together, where as with a home built one, you will be doing this testing yourself, and problems may take time/specific conditions to show up.
Hard to argue with that (bad) personal experience, isn't it - sounds like segments of potentially bad hardware and software engineering. I too have had many Thinkpads, and the problems have been rare, and almost always resolvable. But I agree when Lenovo took over, things left big-blue's control, nor did they care much; and, what was contracted as expectations from the new owner (as part of the post-sale process of departing IBM), compared to what Lenovo actually delivered became a huge gap. Not to mention, penny-pinching was taken to a whole new level - employees on all levels - former IBMers - were introduced to a new world, that was often unpleasant. I'd kept in touch with many of them at the marketing and support areas, since we were colleagues for decades, and what they were asked to do, with lesser resources, had all sorts of impact. (gee, I wonder where I worked --- the secret is out )
The level of testing done by major computer brand-name manufacturers has fallen tremendously over the last decade. They will do incredibly little if any compatability testing - they will depend on the component supplier's word, and, if something major occurs once the boxes start hitting the field, they will try to stick it to the supplier, technically and/or legally (ie., push back to the motherboard manufacturer) I don't think the brand-name manufacturers play up those points as part of their marketing, so, don't just assume compatibility testing was significant or even occurred. The major desktop manufacturers are more concerned with grabbing market share, and maximizing profit, while having to pay for more expensive post-sale service/warranties, on what is arguably a more expensive unit to service (due to cost of mailing in a whole desktop, or, dispatching a onsite technician, then after you are 'whole' again, testing for the failed component in the desktop, doing it's rebuild/teardown, etc.) - than say is the cost for Asus or Corsair to provide you a new motherboard or power supply.
It's just that with brand-name PCs you really lose more than you gain IMO, over building your own PC. 'Manufacturers' load up all sorts of crap and bloatware. They use borderline power supplies. Limited expansion slots. Limited memory slots. They mix'n'match motherboards, both hardware and firmware. They use different network chips, sound chips, video cards for different models, they have to sub out parts ... it's hard for them to create thousands or tens of thousands of systems with exactly the same motherboard BIOSs, hard drives, video cards, etc ... plus, in giving customers 'choice' to add what they want to their systems, I just don't see how they can test the combination of all those various components any better than someone building their own.
Not to mention, as new software comes along (video drivers, other driver updates, OS updates, etc.) - compatibility issues for a brand-name PC vs. a home build would fare no better IMHO. I've build dozens of PCs, and have many throughout my home, and I've run into minimal issues, TBH, at least not ones I couldn't somehow resolve. It must be those closetfulls of hardware that I have, being able to swap components in and out.
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The real question is how much worth is your own time. I have bought a HP Xeon workstation and then added two graphic adapters for less than $ 1,300. Then connected 3 Dell screens that came at $ 900. The whole thing is quiet and consumes less than 100 W including screens and an external hard disk. Regarding power supplies, expansion and memory slots: I am capable of reading the specifications of the workstation and selecting the model accordingly.
I could have certainly saved a few dollars by building it myself, but I prefer to spend that time to do something useful or have a ride on my bicycle.....
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Fat Tails makes a good point: How much is your time worth?
A lot of the benefits of going with a major manufacturer is their technical and warranty support.
Most of them offer onsite warranty replacement support and you can deal directly with them for any hardware replacement issues.
In some cases when you build your own PC you'll have to deal with the manufacturer to replace hardware vs the business you bought the product from. This can be a pain compared to quick replacement from a major manufacturer.
Fair responses all around, but I guess I am weird and often enjoy building my own stuff, and knowing what I put into it, and how it all works. My neighbor is a great example: he had a $60K hydraulic car hoist built into his garage floor, so that he can do the repair work on his Maserati, BMW, and Rover, by himself. I also do woodworking and a host of other things that I could buy ready made, usually for a lot less, but to me the benefits outweigh any negatives.
On PC technical support, it ain't what it used to be - I used to run huge global call centres, and the quality of support just isn't there. Sure, warranty can be good, but, if one is in a urban center, one can get the broken down built-it-myself PC part serviced quickly, or, just buy another, and then have a spare for an inevitable time when one needs it.
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I generally save 25~30% off the initial cost from assembling my own PCs/servers as compared to buying a complete build. Moreover, the better performance (customizing your equipment easily gives a performance boost, makes it easier to overclock, and saves a huge fraction of computational time), together with careful choice of power-saving hardware (especially your PSU) easily earns back the cost of assembly.
My last straw with major manufacturers was when my laptop broke down at a time when I needed it for 16 hours per day. The warranty expired just days before my hard disk died, so I had to opt between spending $500 to get it repaired, or $1,800 to get a laptop with equivalent specs. It was a Sony with one of those early SSDs - I took it apart and figured I could have fixed it in a day if not that they got SanDisk to customize them a stupid 2" x 1.5"-looking-thing that was like a flat chip integrated onto the motherboard. They would send me a special Fedex prepaid package with the forms to fill and send back to their service center. The whole process took 5 weeks and several angry phone calls and emails.
Repairing your own assembly is easy. Most of the times, the part needs to be upgraded anyway, making a warranty claim pointless. In the worst case scenario, if you absolutely HAVE to file for a replacement, a common strategy is to buy a new part to replace the old one, and wait for the warranty replacement to arrive so you can sell it or salvage it (for a new platform or as a performance upgrade).
2. Currently the best performance-for-value point is with Intel's Ivy Bridge processors, I'd make a rough guess: 3570K or 3770K for a $1300 system. If you absolutely need more performance, you'll have to build a cluster, use a LGA 2011 motherboard with double CPU socket, and/or wait for LGA 2011-based processors next year.
3. You'll want ATI's EyeInfinity cards to run three monitors on a single card, otherwise multiple cards via Crossfire/SLI. nVidia's cards save more power, though.
4. A 128 GB SSD for your OS and optional 1 TB drive for storage is the typical setup where you get the best performance and disk space per dollar. If you need redundancy for your data, I recommend Windows' software RAID over using motherboard RAID. (I learned this lesson when I had one of nVidia's earliest motherboards when they first came out with SLi and only supported it on their own motherboards. The motherboard died, and I couldn't find a replacement, and I lost my data anyway, even though it was in RAID.)
You can't really go wrong, but just pay attention to your power management and choice of monitors - if you carefully calculate, it can cost you more in the long run than you would from any other sales factor.
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I also am weird and enjoy doing things on my own sometimes that would be done more quickly, cheaply, and efficiently by someone else. I'm also anal/OCD/perfectionist about doing these things sometimes, lol.
Are workstation/server parts (cpu, graphics, ECC memory, etc) more reliable than mainstream consumer retail parts, or gaming focused parts?
The workstation is not focused on gaming power but reliability. The only reason that I have opted for a Xeon processor is the error correction mode for the RAM. The discussion about ECC or NON-ECC is decades old, I am not starting it here again.
Otherwise there is no difference in reliability.
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