Gonna buy a Dell...what should I be wary of?

So my creaky old PC (700 MHz P3) is on its last legs…pretty much everything is dying at once, so it’s time to shoot the old horse and buy a new one. Gotapex is featuring a pretty spiffy deal on a Dell 5150 system (almost half off, with some good upgrades tossed in free) but I wanted to get some opinions before I pulled the trigger:

  1. It’s a single-core system, not dual-core. Right now that doesn’t matter much, but someday it will. Are Intel’s single-core and dual-core chips pin-out compatible, or would buying a dual-core processor require a new motherboard?

  2. The 19" analog flat-panel monitor it comes with has a 16 ms response time. Is that fast enough for gaming, or should I hold out for a system that comes with one of the faster digital monitors?

  3. On-board video stinks, but are any of the featured alternatives (Radeon x300 and x600 boards) worth the $50-90 it’d cost to upgrade, or should I save the money for something better? And what’s the sweet spot for video these days?

  4. Any other hidden pitfalls with these machines I should know about? I’ll be doing some gaming with it, but nothing too stressful…my short list includes stuff like Pirates!, Space Rangers, and Lego Star Wars, so I don’t need a ninja system, but I don’t want to be left with a doorstop a year from now.

I’m strongly opposed to analog flat panel monitors. I guess it depends on how picky you are, but I’d rather stick a spoon in my eye than deal with analog fuzziness on a digital panel. I find it super annoying in practice (although I have to admit, I haven’t tried the spoon thing yet).

$50 isn’t bad I guess for something that will be noticeably better than integrated video, but those are still particularly low-end options.

How much are they selling it for?

It’s 100% true that you should stay away from Analog LCD monitors. The whole point of LCD monitors is that they are digital devices. They’re fixed-pixel which means that each pixel can be controlled precisely. Unfortunately this means that running them at basically any resolution other than the native resolution means the image will be scaled and will look less than optimal. Although this doesn’t make much difference in 3D it makes a HUMONGOUS difference at the desktop in my opinion. There is nothing worse than staring at an LCD display running at anything other than the native res when using Windows.

Although I’m not exactly sure what the equivalent explanation for CRT monitors is, I believe they do have a fixed number of little holes or slits in the shadow mask that allows the electron beam to hit the phosphors, but obviously the beam itself is not a precise thing but it rather sweeps across the screen changing intensity over time and is therefore an analog system. That’s why CRTs are very good at representing any number of different resoultions.

But the point is that buying an Analog LCD panel is like buying a Porsche and then using it to go offroading.

Anyway, as far as the whole Dell thing goes, almost every single thing I’ve heard about Dell in the last year has been extremely negative. Their customer service sucks and they don’t deserve your business.

It’s pretty clear that cost is a major concern. Keeping that in mind, the monitor and single-coredness are fine. Pick up an additional 512MB of RAM elsewhere and a 6800GS and you end up with a great little gaming computer for very little money.

Dell sells reliable commodity hardware at incredible prices. If you want top-shelf customer service, you have to pay top-shelf prices.

If that system comes with an 80GB hard drive, you might consider bumping it up to 160 or 250. 80GB gets gobbled up quickly these days, with modern games being 3-6GB to install.

Don’t bother with Dell’s upgrade options on video; they’re always overpriced. You can do it yourself much cheaper.

Dell is also notorious for pre-loading its systems with all kinds of annoying programs, most of which are set to run when Windows starts.
I’d recommend formatting the HD and re-installing windows. Better to start with a fresh XP install.

… but if you do that, make sure you have any system drivers at the ready before you format (particularly network drivers). Don’t just rely on your system utilities CD, because once you’ve changed your configuration, it stops working.

I just researched LCD monitors, and a few sites indicated that the quality of Dell’s monitors with an analog signal was poor, relative to other monitors tested. The digital signal quality was good.

The Dell monitors I saw tested were dual analog/digital models, while the one in your sale is analog only. They may use different technology, but you might want to check some reviews to check out quality.

The cheapest sweet spot for video is, IMO, the NIVIDIA 6600GT – they run about $130 at NewEgg. I’d suffer with on-board and save up for one rather than spend $75 on something like a x600. The 6800GS mentioned above is somewhat more ($170), but also an excellent card for the price.

Other than that, I agree with stusser – for folks who want a simple one-stop computing solution, Dell provides reasonable quality & performance at great prices.

Ehh, I’ve found it’s really easy just to spend half an hour uninstalling crap through Add-Remove Programs.

I just can’t agree with you guys. You may save money but the product you are getting in the end just isn’t worth the savings IMO.

Spoofy- What specifically is your problem with Dell? Dell overcharges you like crazy for video cards and generally sticks you with a woefully underpowered power supply, but pretty much everything they stick in the system is brand name shit and I’ve had very few problems with the 6-7 Dell systems I’ve purchased/used. I think I’ve got a dodgy HD on one of them, but that may be partially my fault.
Their customer service may be a problem, but A) I thought this was a nerd forum? and B)What’s the better customer service alternative?.

My problem is mostly the customer service. I personally have received awful awful customer service from them several times and I’ve read horror stories on the net from people that were treated like crap. People who’s laptops completely crapped out and Dell wasted weeks of their time trying to repair something that was obviously completely ruined.

I agree with you guys that you get pretty reliable components for a good price in the average case. But the point I’m trying to make isn’t related to the average case…it’s about the fact that they suck in the non-average case.

The savings you get is not worth it because if you have a problem you may be forced to go through them to fix the issue if it’s a power supply or MB problem since they use a proprietary connector (with a non-standard case off course)

Just like Walmart, you’re rewarding a company for delivering on price but skimping on several extremely important factors Do I go to Walmart? Sometimes. Do I buy Dell products? Yeah I have the 2005fpw LCD.

So I can’t really get on a moral high-horse here, but my suggestion would be spend a few hundred dollars more and build a system that is easily upgradeable and that doesn’t reward Dell for delivering low cost systems at the expense of maintainability and service.

P.S. (If I had to buy a new LCD monitor today I’d get the new Gateway)

The trick with Dell is that they customer service is fantastic… as long as you’re withing your 21 day return period. So if there’s anything wrong with the system – if you’ve got one bad pixel – just fire off an email to support saying you’d like to return the system. A UPS guy will pick it up tomorrow, no charge.

After the 21 day period, it’s a bitch to get anything fixed.

I think Dell is fine for a low-cost PC. Actually, for a typical home user, you’re probably even better watching for sales in the Best Buy circular and picking up a cheap HP or e-Machines - the latter in particular offers a LOT of computer for the buck.

Yes, you have to de-install a lot of junk, but it doesn’t take THAT much time. Also, the advantage of buying from brick and mortar is that if it’s DOA, you can return immediately, with little hassle, and moreover, if you gunk something up in the first 14 days (i.e. in deinstalling stuff, etc), you can also generally return/exchange it pretty cleanly.

Seconded x1000000

Happened to me, runs SO much better after a reformat.

I bought some Dells for my kids.

Went to upgrade the memory and …it was a non-standard key configuration available only from Dell.

Just thought I would let you know. Upgrade the memory now and save yourself the hassle later.

I’ve been buying dells for 10 years now and I’ve never seen them wityh anything but standard memory for consumer models.

Don’t know what to tell you rob.

I matched the timing and pin specs at a local shop as an X-mas present. Told the little sprites to pop them in and after an hour or so they came back telling me they couldn’t do it. that’s a big no-no in my house. “Fiddlesticks” says I as a march into their rooms to show them how an old pro does it and…damn things didn’t fit. Pop out one of the old memory cards and…yup the key is in a different location, about a 3 mm offset. No local shop had anything like it. Had to reorder from Dell.

Local guys were nice about taking back what they sold me and Dell had a deal goin’ so in the end even with shipping I ended up saving $20 or so, but the hassle existed. I wasn’t imagining it.

I didn’t expect that as I thought they had moved away from that practice. They used to do weird things with their drive bays, but I havn’t seen that for some time. I’ve heard of non-standard connecters from their power supplies, but I’ve never had personal experience with that.

Thanks for the advice, all…especially Phil with the e-Machines suggestion. Best Buy’s got a heck of a deal on the 6420 this week that I think I’ll take them up on. Toss in a 6600 or 6800 and I’ll be good to go. Thanks!