New midrange desktop computer in Canada?
September 10, 2009 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Buying a new desktop computer for gaming, programming and photography, in Canada.

My old (2001) computer isn't cutting it anymore; it only has USB 1.1, so transferring photos to it is a pain, and RAW processing is almost right out. It only has integrated graphics, so modern gaming is right out. It does okay for programming, but even simple IDEs (e.g.: DrScheme) are slow.

I need a new Desktop computer that will, ideally, allow me to run Fallout 3 at moderate detail, allow me to do some RAW processing on my photos, and allow me to run DrScheme relatively fast.

I'm live in Gatineau, right next to Ottawa, in Canada.

My options, as I see them:

1) Get a "name brand" computer, such as this Dell. Pros: I get a lot of computer for little money, and a warranty (no DOA parts, I hope). Problem: the affordable Dells (<1000$) have utterly basic graphic cards; I would have to get a new card or run games in low detail & resolution. I'm not completely sure putting a new card in one of those cheap computers is a good idea (heat, power supply). Other brands: I have a prejudice against Compaq/HP (bad experiences of friends). Are Acers any good?

2) Buy parts online (tigerdirect, ncix, newegg), build something myself from one of the online guides (djb, ars technica, techreport). Pros: I can get all the parts I want. Cons: it seems that I would get slightly less performance for my money; I have to assemble it myself, and may have to deal with some problems (DOA parts, incompabilities), which I'd rather not.

3) Buy a custom computer from a local shop. Pros: as with 2), I get to choose exactly what I want. The shop deals with assembly. Cons: probably more expensive than either 1) or 2). I don't know which local shops are reputable.

4) Go all out and buy a Mac (Fuck everything, we're doing 5 blades). Pros: Hell yeah, a Mac. Cons: the Mini seems to not have the power I need, so that's out. The desktops in my price range have integrated screens; I want something large, to that's going to cost me.

My budget: strictly online (credit card limit): $1400, taxes included, max, for the box. Brick and mortar: add $600 (it has to be worth it). I will be buying a screen, possibly separately.

Laptops are right out. If I'm building, I'm probably looking at the better price/performance ratio possible, which seems to mean AMD or maybe the new "mainstream Intel i5/i7". If you know of a good shop in Ottawa or Gatineau, please tell me!
posted by Monday, stony Monday to Computers & Internet (20 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
For option 2) you have an assumption wrong... you would definitely get MORE performance for your money if you buy parts separately and build it yourself. The potential downsides are DOA parts, and/or breaking something while putting it together or not putting it together properly and thus having it not work. That being said, I put my own computer together almost a year ago, and still have a beast of a machine, all for about $1k (US). It really wasn't that hard, and I actually had fun doing it, but that might just be me...
posted by Grither at 10:51 AM on September 10, 2009

$1400 is more than enough to get a good computer. I too am prejudiced against HP/Compaq and would consider getting a Dell if a local shop couldn't put together anything better.

As Grither says you can get good deals if you build your own PC. One option would be to have a computer place put together a bare-bones pc for you and then add in stuff like a video card on your own.

TigerDirect has this for $1100. Seems to have good reviews as well.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 10:56 AM on September 10, 2009

I love putting together systems from newegg. Here's a build:

Intel Core i7 920 Nehalem 2.66GHz Quad-Core Processor Model: $279.99
Intel BOXDX58SO LGA 1366 Intel X58 ATX Intel Motherboard: $243.99
SAPPHIRE 100279-1GL Radeon HD 4870 1GB: $154.99
mushkin 4GB (2 x 2GB) DDR3 1600 Dual Channel Kit: $94.99
Western Digital Caviar Blue WD6400AAKS 640GB 7200 RPM SATA 3.0Gb/s 3.5": $69.99
Pioneer CD/DVD Writer Black SATA Model DVR-S18M: $46.99
LIAN LI PC-A05NB Black Aluminum ATX Mini Tower Computer Case: $85.99
SeaSonic M12II 500 Bronze 500W Power Supply: $99.99
Microsoft Windows Vista Business SP1 64-bit for System Builders DVD: $139.99

Subtotal: $1,216.91
posted by Palamedes at 11:20 AM on September 10, 2009

IMO I think that buying a "name brand" computer is overrated. The CPU is either Intel or AMD, the various cards are produced by their respective companies (ATI etc.), similarly with the drives (LG, Sony etc.). And the motherboard is created by a company in China, that I'm certain creates motherboards under other labels, including brand-X/no-name.

So I ask you: if you buy Dell, what value is Dell corporation adding by having the name 'Dell' on it?

Do yourself a favor: build your own PC. Or else go to a small local PC shop - I'm sure there are at least a dozen within a half-hour drive of your house - and ask them to cobble together a system for you. I'm sure the service and support will be worth whatever markup is added to the hardware, and you'll still save money compared to a name-brand model.

If you must buy a name brand, IMHO don't buy Dell. I bought a nice, fast Dell a few years back, one of their better models, and a key piece of hardware failed under warranty, maybe 2 or 3 weeks after purchase. The tech came and replaced it, but getting my PC back up and running (it wouldn't boot successfully) was a nightmare for a n00b like myself, made worse by the shabby customer support via phone.

Remember too that Dell created a support forum website, and they quickly shut it down because it became overloaded with irate Dell owners posting their woes.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 11:46 AM on September 10, 2009

There is an OEM Express in Kanata / Ottawa that I would highly recommend (if they are anything like Edmonton's branch). They might even assemble your pc from parts that you choose for cheap. They have prices that are comparable or lower than NCIX/TigerD/etc. Plus, you get the service locally if something dies.

Good luck :)
posted by Khazk at 12:22 PM on September 10, 2009

If you're not quite comfortable putting it all together yourself, NCIX will build a computer out of the parts you request for an additional $50 (link).

I suggest you go to their weekly sales page (linked from the banner at the top of the site, this week it's here) when you're ready to buy and take advantage of the deals if it's a good week. If you're not sure, check the forums. There's usually some pretty frank discussions about what is a good deal and what isn't.
posted by ODiV at 1:40 PM on September 10, 2009

Best answer: Hey neighbour!

I've been buying computers locally from RB Computing now for more than a decade. The sales people generally know their stuff and are quite decent about warantee service and/or replacement. They're local, so turn around times are often better than mail companies. You can either buy their recommended systems or you can essentially spec-out the Ars systems (or whatever) from them. RB will build for you for about $50 or sell you parts. I've done the latter three or four times and been very happy with the results.

A local parts shop that has decent prices is OEMExpress. As their website implies, they do not spend a lot of money on a fancy web or store presence, and their level of in-store "service" certainly reflects that. That said, they have some of the best prices on items in Ottawa.

Of the mail-order places, I'd disrecommend most strongly Tiger-direct. Their handling and restocking fees are insane. You're much better off going with someone else. NCIX isn't bad, but shipping can still be expensive from them. They're quite dependable for mail-order. is getting better all the time, but still isn't up to the .com US-only version for electronics.

Personally, I'd check the RB Computing site, at least for comparison purposes, and especially if you want something particular, like a silent system. If you're looking for something more in the commodity, lowest price line, it really is hard to beat Dell at their game. I've been very happy recently with Dell Canada for certain items.
posted by bonehead at 2:22 PM on September 10, 2009

I see there are two Canada Computers in Ottawa. They built me a reliable system a few years back for less than the cost of individual parts. They're my go-to store for all computer equipment.
posted by scruss at 2:44 PM on September 10, 2009

I love macs but if you just gotta get your game on, I'd get a bog standard PC. Intel just (like days ago) released the new Lynnfield Core line which look very nice. I'm currently salivating over this one.

You also have another option. Buy online from one of the lesser known builders, such as Puget or IBuyPower or... I'm sure there's more. They will generally build to order as well.

You could also get the smaller iMac and an 24" monitor for around $1400. It can drive external monitors in addition to the built in screen so you would have lots of real estate. It would not be a gaming powerhouse though.
posted by chairface at 3:17 PM on September 10, 2009

^ ah, going with the Lynnfield drops the price $100; as above, with these changes:

Intel BOXDP55KG LGA 1156 Intel P55 ATX Intel Motherboard : $209.99
Intel Core i5 750 Lynnfield 2.66GHz LGA 1156 95W Quad-Core Processor: $209.99

Subtotal: $1,112.91
posted by Palamedes at 3:45 PM on September 10, 2009

$1400 CAD will get you a heck of a lot of computer these days. I just built one for less than half that that runs Fallout 3 (and every other game I've thrown at it except for the infamous Crysis) easily at 1920x1200 with max settings. Here's the rough breakdown (in USD, but USD and CAD are about at parity these days):

Motherboard + CPU - $150 (dual-core 3 GHz AMD, which is plenty; Biostar motherboard)
RAM (4 GB) - $40
Case + PSU - $100
Fancy video card - $150-200 (I went with the Radeon HD 4870)
DVD drive: $40

Grand total: about $550, rounding up. Add maybe $70-100 for a new hard drive, if you don't already have one to use. Add whatever display you want (you can get a decent 24" WUXGA-res S-PVA LCD for about $600-700).
posted by neckro23 at 3:55 PM on September 10, 2009

As far as video cards go, I'll put in a vote for the EVGA GeForce GTX 275, about $220 off Amazon (cheaper than Newegg, since I get taxed in CA), and it made my machine feel brand new with no other upgrades. I look at performance tests on, since they are one of the most thorough sites out there and tend to do pretty wide comparison tests.
posted by Allenthar at 5:59 PM on September 10, 2009

Response by poster: So I ask you: if you buy Dell, what value is Dell corporation adding by having the name 'Dell' on it?

I want a Windows OS. Dell (or Compaq/HP) can probably get licenses for extremely cheap, and will pass me some of the savings. They also buy relatively few kinds of each piece of hardware, by the truckload, and can therefore apply more pressure on their suppliers than, say, newegg with its myriad of products. Finally, they can assemble the product in a big factory, using standardized practices and probably a good bit of automation, so they don't need to mark their system up as much as smaller operations.

The problem is that they don't seem to build exactly the machine I want, and soI may be better off building a custom computer.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 8:42 PM on September 10, 2009

The Studio XPS you linked to has a weak-ass power supply which puts a big limitation on which graphics cards it can run. In particular, no dual-card options. You should be looking at the higher end XPS systems (assuming you go with Dell) and can probably put together something decent for $1400 ...
posted by zanni at 4:41 AM on September 11, 2009

I want a Windows OS. Dell (or Compaq/HP) can probably get licenses for extremely cheap, and will pass me some of the savings. They also buy relatively few kinds of each piece of hardware, by the truckload, and can therefore apply more pressure on their suppliers than, say, newegg with its myriad of products. Finally, they can assemble the product in a big factory, using standardized practices and probably a good bit of automation, so they don't need to mark their system up as much as smaller operations.

I think you should expect to pay more for a name brand, not less. Any savings Dell (or HP or Compaq) accrues by buying in bulk, they'll use to maximize their profit margins.

And again, if I wasn't putting the system together myself, I'd seek our a small PC shop, maybe even a one-man operation, that can at least pay some kind of personal attention to the product that is being provided to you. I can assure you that you won't get this from Dell.

And there's no reason AFAIK that a small PC shop can't sell you an OEM version of Windows. Try haggling with the owner, he'll probably give you a deal.

But YMMV and it's your decision.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 10:06 AM on September 11, 2009

In Canada, retail "OEM" prices on Windows run from about $110-120 for Vista Home Premium (or XP Home) to $180-200 for XP Pro/Vista Business. There doesn't seem to be a lot of variation between the local shops (ShopRBC, OEM Express) or the mail order places (NCIX or Considering that Dell is rumored to get the XP Home/Vista Home for under $50, there's a significant savings possible from the large manufacturers---they have more room to discount.
posted by bonehead at 11:48 AM on September 11, 2009

In Canada, retail "OEM" prices on Windows run from about $110-120 for Vista Home Premium (or XP Home) to $180-200 for XP Pro/Vista Business.

Browsing around the bundled desktops on the site, it appears that the baseline Windows Vista Home isn't explicitly costed out; and Vista Ultimate that is upgradeable to Windows 7 is $150 when purchased with the PC suggested in #1 in the OP.

Basically for a true cost comparision you'd have to add up the different components and Windows for a 3rd party PC vs. an equivalent Dell PC and compare the bottom line prices. Even if Dell did sell you Windows cheaper, they easily could recoup it by marking up something else...

So Monday, stony Monday IMHO you may need to consider the bottom line price of all hardware and software together; IF dell can sell you windows cheaper it still doesn't mean you'll save money by going to Dell.

Yes, their volumes are higher but their overhead is higher too, they're a big company with lots of employees and fixed assets ...
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 1:40 PM on September 11, 2009

Response by poster: You may be right. The Home Premium edition of Windows 7 will lack some things I want that are in the Business edition; I don't know exactly how the coupons will work, but if I'm stuck with Home Premium Windows 7 if I buy Home Premium Vista, then I would need to shell out $150 for Vista Ultimate, which would cancel any savings I'd get through Dell. I'm probably going to go to a local shop.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 9:31 PM on September 11, 2009

Response by poster: So... I just built this from parts:

CPU: Intel Core i7-750
Motherboard: Gigabyte UDR-UD2
Video: ATI Radeon 4770
Hard Drive: 1 TB Western Digital Caviar Black
Optical: DVD-RW
Case + power supply: Antec Sonata III

I got it from Canada Computers, because they had it in stock and were close to me. It cost me around $1000 total, taxes included. I was quite nervous about building my own computer (bad memories from trying to upgrade my parent's computer and messing it up), but it mostly worked. I didn't buy an OS, and now it doesn't want to boot from my USB key so I can install Linux: I'll try once more, and if it doesn't work I'll pick-up Vista (with a Windows 7 upgrade) tomorrow.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:19 PM on September 23, 2009

Response by poster: I might have wanted to wait a little for the new Radeons 5000s to come out; I bought a Dell u2711, and then I had to buy a video card that could push 2560x1440. In my case, it meant a $400 Radeon 5870.
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 10:22 PM on May 10, 2010

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