Why Dell is Still Unbeatable

OK, I know what you're thinking: Doesn't Marc have anything better to do on a Saturday evening than post a blog entry? Well, yes...and no...

You see, I just bought a new PC today, and I felt I just had to share my experience b/4 details started to fade -- and to illustrate why I believe Dell is still a fearsome competitor and should not by any means be counted out of the game despite all the hubbub regarding exploding batteries, spotty customer service, and accounting irregularities.

I was initially looking for a mainstream system that had to incorporate the lastest technology like a Core 2 Duo processor, fast memory, 250 Gb hard drive and a number of other bells and whistles, like a flat panel monitor and a double-layer DVD burner. I didn't need the fastest screamer game system available -- just something relatively fast and capable of supporting Vista down the road. The system will be used mostly for business, but also sometimes for entertainment and various multimedia endeavors. And if it didn't have all the options I wanted out of the box, the system needed to be relatively expandable so I could perform upgrades.

I also wanted a real bargain. So I looked at the much touted Velocity Micro Vector GX Campus Edition, as well as HP. I also first counted Dell out since the XPS systems I read about seemed a bit too pricey. Anyway, I've been intrigued by Velocity Micro, and the system certainly belongs in  the Core 2 Duo bargain category with specs that looked like they fit the bill. So I placed an order.

Here's the specific configuration and price I decided on:
Vector™ GX Campus Edition
Price: 1219.00

  • Case: GX Black - Velocity Micro Classic Case - Pure Aluminum, matching aluminum drive covers, 2 x 120mm fans
  • Power Supply: 500 Watt Velocity Micro™ Power Supply with Dual Blue Lighted Fans
  • Motherboard: Genuine Intel® 965X Chipset Motherboard with DDR2, PCI Express
  • Processor: Intel® Core™ 2 Duo processor E6300, dual 1.86GHz cores
  • CPU Cooling: Intel® Certified Oversized Heatsink/Fan with Arctic Silver™ 5 Thermal Compound, Thermal Controlled Variable Speed Fan
  • DDR2 Memory: 1024MB Corsair™ DDR2 PC5300 DDR667 (1x1024)
  • PCX Video: 256MB eVGA™ NVIDIA® GeForce™ 7600 GS, Dual Heads 
  • Monitor: 17" LCD Display, 1280 x 1024 resolution - Black (+$100)
  • Audio Creative Labs SoundBlaster® Audigy™ 4, high performance 7.1 channel sound (+$69)
  • Speakers: Creative Labs SBS380 2.1 Channel Stereo Speaker System with Compact Subwoofer - Black
  • Hard Drive: 250GB Western Digital WD2500JD 7200rpm SATA/150, 8MB Cache
  • Optical Drive 1: 16x Lite On® DVD+/-RW/CD-RW Dual Layer, Black Bezel
  • Optical Drive 2: 16x/48x Lite On® DVD-ROM, Black Bezel
  • Floppy Drive & Media Reader: 8-in-1 Floppy Drive & Media Reader Combo, Black Bezel (+$25.00)
  • Network Adapter:Integrated 10/100/1000MBps Gigabit Ethernet Network Adapter
  • Network Adapter 2 or WiFi Adapter: NetGear® WG311 802.11 B+G WiFi Wireless Adapter with antenna, 11MBps/54MBps (+$59.00)
  • Modem: None
  • FireWire: 2 Integrated IEEE 1394 FireWire Ports, 1 front & 1 rear
  • USB 2.0 Ports: 8 USB 2.0 Ports, 2 front & 6 rear
  • Operating System: Microsoft® Windows® XP Home w/Service Pack 2, complete with original CD
  • Productivity Software: None
  • Software Bundle Nero Digital Creation Suite - Capture, Edit, and Author Video with immersive Dolby 5.1 Surround, plus Photo Editing Suite
  • Security Software McAfee® VirusScan® 2006 Antivirus - Pre-installed, with full 12 month subscription
  • Keyboard: Velocity Micro™ Deluxe Multimedia & Internet Keyboard with volume control, custom made by Creative Labs - Black
  • Mouse: Genuine Microsoft® USB Optical Wheel Mouse - Black
  • Warranty: 1 Yr Standard Parts & Labor Ltd Warranty, 1 Yr Regular Business Hours Support, and Depot Repair Service
  • Shipping: $69
As you can see, the system is a good one -- with lots of great features -- at a great price.

After the order was placed, I then hit the Dell site out of curiousity.

And low and behold, the midrange Dell XPS 410 system hit me in the face: Here's the configuration I priced out:
Dell XPS 410

Intel ® Core™2 Duo Processor E6600 (2.4GHz, 1066 FSB)
Windows® XP Media Center 2005 Edition with re-installation CD $1,260.00 1 $1,260.00
Memory: 1GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz - 2 DIMMs
Keyboard: Dell USB Keyboard
Monitor: 19 inch Ultrasharp™ 1907FP Digital Flat Panel
Video Card: 256MB nVidia Geforce 7300LE TurboCache
Hard Drive: 250GB Serial ATA 3Gb/s Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache™
Floppy Drive and Media Reader: 13 in 1 Media Card Reader
Mouse: Dell Optical USB Mouse
Modem: 56K PCI Data Fax Modem
USB 2.0 Ports: 10
Adobe Software Adobe® Acrobat® Reader 7.0
CD or DVD Drive Dual Drives: 48x Combo + 16x DVD+/-RW w/ dbl layer write capable
Sound Cards: Integrated 7.1 Channel Audio
Speakers: No speakers
Microsoft Works 8
Security Software PC-cillin Internet Security with AntiVirus and Spyware removal 15-months
Warranty and Service: 1Yr Ltd Warranty, 1Yr At-Home Service, and 1Yr HW Warranty Support
Dell Digital Entertainment Starter pack- Basic and trial products from Corel and Yahoo
Shipping: Free
Sales Tax: $105.55

For the additional $146, I got a much more powerful processor -- the E6600 vs the E6300, an award-winning digital 19" LCD monitor, XP Media Center, a modem (not bad to have as a little insurance in case broadband goes down), and a better warranty.  The system is much more powerful, and future proof.

And just to be sure I was doing the right thing, and to give Velocity Micro a second chance, I priced a similar configuration as Dell's, but it came in over $500 more.

Granted, I gave up speakers, the wireless adapter, enhanced keyboard, Creative Sound Card, floppy drive and a couple of Firewire ports. But the speakers and adapter I can "borrow" from an older system, I'll probably replace the keyboard and mouse with a Logitech MX 3000 combo, and Firewire (when and if I need it) is a $20 board. Who uses a floppy drive any more? And since the XPS 410 has built-in 7.1 sound, I didn't feel I needed to spring for a separate soundcard.

And to top it off, I also got no interest for 18 months on the system through Dell's Preferred Account offer -- a great deal if you're confident you can pay the system off in that timeframe.

So, I called Velocity Micro to cancel my order with them -- and was candid with the agent about why I was backing out. His response: "Remember: The one big difference between Dell and us is that we 'build' PCs and Dell 'manufactures' them."

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