For the last 2 years I have been thinking about buying a new
computer. My vintage September 1995 Gateway (company was called
"Gateway 2000" back then), although still useful for
most basic computing tasks, continues to be pushed into obsolescence
by bigger and more power hungry multimedia type Windows applications.
Although I had upgraded my original CPU (Central Processing Unit)
from a 100 MHz to 233 MHz and gone from 8 MB to 64 MB of RAM,
it just was not enough. My dilemma was that along the way, in
fighting off obsolescence, I had acquired a 17 inch monitor,
scanner, printer, CD writer, and much software. Therefore, I
did not need a computer bundled with these items that most companies
want to include in the package. I was looking for a company that
would sell me a computer designed with components of my choosing.
I wanted name brand quality components and a system that would
allow me to upgrade easily. In other words, I did not want any
proprietary hardware or a motherboard with integrated sound and/or
video which the big name computer makers are fond of using to
cut costs. I also wanted an AMD Athlon processor as everything
I have read says you get "more bang for your buck"
than with a Pentium. That requirement alone knocked Dell out
of the running as they only use Intel processors. Dell and Gateway
also like to bundle Internet access with their products. I don't
need another ISP (Internet Service Provider). I already have
an ISP and don't want the hassle of changing e-mail addresses
or my Home Page URL (Uniform Resource Locator) which most of
the search engines already have indexed. Gateway claims "people
rule" but I find that hard to believe with the few choices
they offer for configuring a computer.
I started my quest for a new computer figuring a 700 MHz CPU
speed would be enough but with the passage of time that requirement
has moved to 1 GHz. I have the intent (maybe it is more of a
dream) of editing home movies on the computer. I already have
a Hi-8 camcorder and video capture card which should allow me
to get started. In the future I hope to replace the Hi-8 camcorder
with Digital 8 and then add a Firewire PCI card. I'm not into
computer games so I did not need the fastest frame rate video
card with the ultimate in pixel rendering. What I wanted was
a decent multimedia type computer with a good sound system and
DVD (Digital Video Disc) drive. TV-out on the video card was
a big requirement. I wanted to be able to record video off the
computer back on to a VCR. Along the way I heard about some newer
video cards that have dual display heads i.e. you can feed two
monitors from the same card and thus save a motherboard expansion
slot. Both Windows 98 and Windows ME (Millennium Edition) allow
for use of multiple monitors. That became a requirement. AnandTech
has an excellent comparison review of Dual Display video cards
It took quite a bit of research, something the Internet is
great for, to find a company that could fill my needs. For checking
and comparing prices on components, which added together would
give me a feel for a reasonable system price, I used the search
engine Pricewatch (http://www.pricewatch.com).
Armed with that basic knowledge I could start to look for companies
that would put the package together for me. After much searching
I found through PC World (http://www.pcworld.com)
magazine's list of "Top 15 Home PCs" a company called
ABS Computer Technologies (http://www.buyabs.com)
in Whittier, California. They had the configuration options and
components I was looking for. And their system price was also
very attractive. I was hoping to bring this package in for just
under $1000 and ABS allowed me to reach that goal.
Questions remaining in buying my new computer dealt with the
reputation of the company. Could I trust that I would indeed
be getting what I was paying for and that there would be quality
service with my order? For answers I turned to two sites on the
Internet: ResellerRatings.com (http://www.resellerratings.com)
and Bizrate.com's Store Ratings Guide (http://www.bizrate.com/ratings_guide/guide.xpml).
ResellerRatings is an excellent site for getting a feel for how
happy you will be with your purchase from a mail-order company
on the Internet. The ratings and comments are from actual customers.
ABS has been in business for over 10 years and the ResellerRatings
customer comments did show a few complaints and problems. But
the thing that convinced me to go with ABS was that in reading
through the comments, I came away with the feeling that ABS always
made an honest effort to resolve the situation.
so I ordered my new computer which included assembly, testing,
and a 3 year warranty. Here is the detailed listing: InWin Q500
ATX Full Tower case, Gigabyte GA-7ZX-1 VIA KT-133 motherboard,
AMD Athlon Thunderbird 1.0GHz CPU, Kingston 128MB 133MHz SDRAM,
Maxtor 30GB 7200RPM ATA 100 Hard Drive, A-Open (Pioneer) 16X
DVD (40X CD-ROM), ATI Radeon VE 32MB AGP (dual head plus TV-out)
video card, Altec Lansing ACS54 (4 speakers plus subwoofer) sound
system, SoundBlaster Live! Value sound card, Zoom PCI 56K V.90
modem, Mitsumi floppy drive, ABS scrollmouse, Microsoft Internet
Keyboard (has 10 hot keys for the Internet), Realtek PCI 10/100
Base-T network card, Windows ME, and Corel WordPerfect Office
2000 (included free).
How happy am I with my purchase? Very happy! Darlene was my
ABS Sales Rep and she was just super. The service was excellent.
I had several questions which I posed at various times either
via phone or by e-mail. By phone Darlene was there immediately.
There was no being placed on hold and waiting. Once I called
and Darlene was busy with another customer, so I was invited
to leave a voice message. Darlene called me back within 5 minutes.
Likewise, Darlene answered e-mail questions within a few hours
of my asking. When I had technical questions about specific components
she gave me the web site address with the answer. She even sent
me a JPEG picture of what my full tower case would look like
when I asked about the color. I also dealt with Rosemary in Customer
Service after the sale and she was just as responsive as Darlene
in answering my e-mails. Both ladies are true assets to the company.
It really makes a customer feel good to be dealing with a company
that cares and does not take days to answer e-mails. I cannot
render an opinion on the quality of ABS Technical Support as
I have had no need to call them. But if my experience with Sales
and Customer Service are any indication, ABS should give the
big guys like Dell and Gateway some serious competition.
computer arrived via 3-day FedEx a week earlier than the original
estimate of 2 weeks to build and ship. Darlene provided me with
the FedEx tracking numbers so I could check it's progress on
the Internet. The packing job was top notch and the computer
fired up right out of the box with no problems. Along with the
computer, ABS supplies a large PC Organizer 3-ring binder that
has plastic zip lock pages for holding all tech manuals, installation
CDs, and application CDs that come with the computer. I must
say ABS really has their act together. I also received a large
"Quick Setup Guide" chart which showed me how to wire
up the pieces. Everything is color coded so it in next to impossible
to make a mistake.
could not resist taking a look inside my computer. One of the
reasons I ordered it with the full tower case, in addition to
wanting plenty of room for expansion, was to make it easy to
work on. I was not disappointed. The entire side panel comes
off with the removal of just two screws. ABS Computer Technologies
did a terrific job in placement of the drives and various cards
in the expansion slots. I could not have placed them better.
The inside was clean with all cables neatly laid out and bundled.
I noted also that ABS took the extra step of tying the Radeon
VE Card in with some nylon line. I presume this is to give added
strength because of the large heat sink that hangs from the card.
My computer came with Windows ME installed along with all
the applications for the sound card, video card, and DVD drive.
The Corel WordPerfect Office 2000 CD was in the 3-ring binder
but not installed, which is great, as I would prefer to install
such a huge program myself. Some of the components like the sound
card and video card only had CDs. There was no printed manual.
But that was no big deal. In the case of some components a PDF
(Portable Document Format) file with the manual was on the CD.
If not, I could always turn to the Internet and download the
PDF versions of the manuals from the manufacturer's web site.
Overall I found more bundled software included than I expected.
Trial versions of Norton Antivirus/Utilities 2000 SE (Special
Edition) were included as well as Paint Shop Pro SE, and earlier
versions of Netscape, Communicate! Lite, and eSafe Desktop. The
DVD drive came with a program called "Power DVD" on
a CD and it was also preinstalled on my hard drive. The ATI Radeon
VE video card came with ATI's DVD software player. So I now have
a choice of two different software programs for playing DVD movies.
Each has some unique features. For example, the Power DVD program
allows for capturing video still frames of the DVD you are playing.
The DVD playback quality is excellent with a crystal clear picture.
One could therefore capture a still frame from a favorite DVD
movie and use it as Windows wallpaper.
One of the programs I mentioned above was eSafe Desktop
This is a comprehensive security program by Aladdin Knowledge
Systems that includes both antivirus and firewall protection.
It is free for personal use and a fairly complex program. The
bundled CD had version 2.1 but I knew a later version was available
so I just downloaded version 3.0 from the Internet, installed
it and did the auto update for the virus definitions. This is
a first class program and it really works. I had alarms going
off when Windows ME was quietly (read that "without telling
me") trying to connect to the Internet to update itself.
eSafe definitely informs you of what is happening.
The ATI Radeon VE video card is a new card just released in
late February 2001. I chose the Radeon VE because of it's dual
display capabilities plus it has the S-video TV-out. A feature
of the dual display that intrigued me was the capability of hooking
up a Digital Flat Panel (DFP) monitor (via the card's 24-pin
DVI-I connector) along with a conventional analog CRT (Cathode-Ray
Tube) monitor (via the card's 15-pin VGA connector). Thus, I
have a leg up on the future if I decide to buy a Digital Flat
Panel display. In the meantime, the Radeon VE comes with a Digital
to Analog adapter so I can still hook up two analog (VGA) monitors.
It also comes with a S-video to Composite video adapter so I
am covered two ways for output to a TV/VCR. Now that I have this
multi-monitor display capability I just read where Microsoft
may remove this feature from the Home Edition of the new Windows
XP (eXPerienced) Operating System and only include it in the
Business Edition. Guess I will not be upgrading to Windows XP
PC Magazine has a brief review of the Radeon VE
called "Double Your Pleasure" at http://www.zdnet.com/products/stories/reviews/0,4161,2706413,00.html.
This online review is dated April 11, 2001 and appears in the
May 8, 2001 hard copy version of the magazine on page 47. Additional
info on the Radeon VE can be found on ZDNet at
AnandTech has a thorough review of the ATI
Radeon VE video card at http://www.anandtech.com/showdoc.html?i=1421.
Tom's Hardware Guide has an equally thorough review
called "Working on Two Fronts: ATI's Radeon VE Handles
Two Monitors" at http://www6.tomshardware.com/graphic/01q1/010316/index.html.
The article's summary page (http://www6.tomshardware.com/graphic/01q1/010316/atiradeon-11.html)
clearly explains why I decided to go with the Radeon VE. The
Radeon VE may not be the fastest card around but I think it will
serve my purposes well.
Finally, as you maybe aware, Creative's SoundBlaster Live!
Value card has been around for a while and for good reason.
It is one of the most popular sound cards. Aside from it having
excellent 4 channel surround sound quality it comes with a bunch
of software. Any home musician will not be wanting. Visit Creative's
web site at http://www.soundblaster.com/products/sblivevalue/
for a rundown on this card. It really is a great "Value."
And ABS Computer Technologies even saw fit to throw in a ABS
multimedia microphone to use with my SoundBlaster Live.
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