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Uh Oh + Err = New Computer
Jeff Pasternack

To borrow a concept from the renowned British author Terry Pratchett, author of Thief of Time: among the very worst words that can be heard by anyone sitting across the office from someone who is working on your computer, the pair known as “uh-oh” possibly combines the maximum of bowel-knotting terror with the minimum wastage of breath. This pair is typically followed by another word that, while not the worst you can hear while your computer’s guts are laid open, is not at all good when it’s said by the technician: “Errr…”

When 8 ounces spill into an open computer case, Diet Mountain Dew, and possibly every other liquid, will prevent the computer from properly functioning. If this is the cause of the nefarious “Uh oh, Err…” combination, do not panic. Unbeknownst to you, you are likely the first homeowner in your neighborhood with the latest in high-tech lawn ornamentation. Be proud.

Once you return from the homeowner’s association meeting where your lawn ornamentation was unanimously declared to be junk, you can now panic. Why? Because buying a computer today is simultaneously more complex and easier to do than ever before. And if you think that the Web is changing at a blistering pace, wait until you try deciding which computer to buy.

I can neither confirm nor deny that the reason I bought a new home computer from Falcon Northwest was because of the coincidental presence of a new lawn ornament at my house. How I came to purchase from them is an unusual adventure in and of itself, and the purpose of this month’s article.

My criteria were pretty basic: Windows 2000 Professional (Win2k); 512 ram; Nvidia-based 4600ti video card and the Pentium 4 2.53 chipset. The system would be used primarily for multimedia and gaming, with a smattering of small office functions. After buying many systems from short-lived small local companies, I decided that I would go corporate and compared the offerings of Dell, Gateway and MicronPC. After investing a week in researching Web sites such as Epinions, and others, I decided that I would buy a Dell Dimension 8200.

I visited SlickDeals and found a Dell deal. After activating it, I built and saved the system at Dell's web site. I called Dell and had the representative review the system and sweet-talked her into giving me an extra $50 off. I also reiterated my need for the system to come with Win2k. Being assured that this would be the case, I placed the order and was told that my system would arrive in five days, which it did.

I opened the packing slip and hungrily reviewed the contents. Pentium 4 2.53 CPU…check. 512mb ram…check… WinXP Home…what? I re-read the line and, to my dismay, the box was not shipped with Win2k. I called up Dell’s legendary customer service and was promptly connected to a courteous service representative who said that she would send me the Win2k discs immediately. The next day, however, I received a call saying that Dell was no longer supporting Win2k and that I’d have to keep WinXP. While Dell’s computers and service may rock, my opinion of them was sinking like one.

I decided to wait a week, hoping for them to change their minds. After all, the computer had not been plugged in and there is a 30-day money back guarantee. Every day I held onto the computer, I reasoned, its value would fall and perhaps Dell would be more likely to properly fulfill the order.

A week later I attempted to reason with the same courteous representative. She reiterated Dell’s new policy against shipping computers to home users with Win2k; Win2k was only being shipped to businesses. Sensibly, I asked if she could transfer the paperwork to the business division, and she laughed nervously and said no. The best I could do was to return the computer and re-order one from the business division and probably pay more. Alternatively, I could install Win2k myself and void the warranty. Thoroughly disappointed, I asked her to transfer me to the returns department.

The new representative was also courteous. She offered me a digital camera as further incentive to keep the computer. Attempting logic again, I commented that, even when bought in bulk, a digital camera is probably worth $100. How about they use that money to cover the cost of sending out a tech to install Win2k on my box? After recovering from a brief fit of laughter, she said that this couldn’t be done. Thus, at their own expense, they picked up the perfectly new, and now far less valuable, Dell Dimension 8200 with WinXP Home.

Now soured on the concept of buying from a big corporation, I changed my focus to companies that have a reputation for blistering system speed. This led me to two firms, Alienware and Falcon Northwest. A quick call to Alienware eliminated them because their arrangement with Microsoft didn’t allow them to ship systems with Win2k. Which left Falcon Northwest.

Their Web site indicated that Win2k was available and I decided that I would handle the transaction on the phone. The sales manager and I thoroughly discussed my needs and helped me select the components that would power my computing enjoyment for the next few years. By the time I hung up, not only was I more knowledgeable about the features of my system’s components, I was confident that I was buying from a company that could really meet my expectations. Plus, I was able to get two new performance-enhancing technologies not offered by Dell: 1066 ram and a hard drive with 8mb cache instead of 2mb.

Falcon Northwest custom builds each computer and manipulates the configuration to extract the maximum performance out of each component. Each system is subjected to a battery of performance tests using benchmark tools such as Mad Onion’s 3Dmark 2001 Second Edition, which tests the video card performance. Each computer comes with its own binder, detailing the configuration and settings.

While systems from Falcon Northwest are on the expensive side, their systems are consistently ranked as being the best of breed in the gaming and multimedia communities. While these systems are probably not ideally suited for business use, you will be hard pressed to find a better system for aggressive multimedia and gaming purposes. Which, suffice to say, is exactly what this system will be doing.

Jeff Pasternack is the president of Dynamic Consulting Group, a franchise partner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK? and author of the TechnoPeasant Review.
If you have questions or comments about this column, please write to him at