Affordable tower with premium tech support
November 26, 2011 5:15 AM   Subscribe

My father-in-law wants a sub-$500 desktop tower that will last him 5-6 years with minimal upkeep. All he uses are webbrowsers, spreadsheets, and Quicken. Most important features: upgradeability and reliable tech support. Can you recommend a SoCal vendor who can give him what he wants out-of-the-box?
posted by billtron to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It's going to be difficult to make that price point with the current hard disk price rise (caused by the flooding in Thailand).
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 6:14 AM on November 26, 2011

I don't think you're going to hit it at that price point. The problem is probably "reliable tech support" over 5 years. For example, Dell's best home user support package will be around $150 for 3 years, and you're hitting your budget with their least expensive (and possibly crappiest) tower (Inpsiron 570).

AppleCare is around the same price for 3 years on a Mac Mini on more expensive hardware.

Assuming that the support price is linear (and it won't be as the hardware gets older), you're going to eat up half your budget buying support.
posted by chengjih at 7:15 AM on November 26, 2011

What about getting an iPad? It shouldn't require much upkeep or tech support, but the Genius Bar should be adequate for most queries.

The iPad excels at Web Browsers and spreadsheets. The only unknown is Quicken, but I'd wager that there'll either be an appropriate app or that their online service would function fine in mobile Safari.
posted by Raze2k at 7:22 AM on November 26, 2011

Response by poster: Is there a regional vendor who will build a computer for him, and when things die or are obsolete, will replace them with newer parts down the line? Dell and Apple are too big to offer this, but there must be something between them and DIY.
posted by billtron at 7:29 AM on November 26, 2011

He may be against it but building his own computer might be a good idea. Picking the parts out is the most difficult part and there are many resources available to help with that. Putting everything together is pretty simple and he'll learn about the parts that make up the computer and can take care of his own machine down the road.

I wouldn't be surprised if he balks at the idea but I don't see a larger company offering the support he wants in that price range. And I doubt even a smaller shop won't give you a 5-6 year warranty. They may charge less to repair or upgrade it but I don't imagine they'll support it free of charge.
posted by robotnixon at 7:58 AM on November 26, 2011

I can't help on the cost or the customer service questions, but if you're looking for someone to build him a computer, maybe the people at Fry's (located in southern CA) can help.
posted by dfriedman at 8:27 AM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

To hit that price point, consider a refurb. My local MicroCenter always has a ton of refurbed desktops for well under $500.
posted by briank at 8:28 AM on November 26, 2011 [2 favorites]

Local computer techs can upgrade the computer as needed. Hell, I can do that, and I'm not a tech, so they should find it simple. Just avoid the big box stores that will overcharge and oversell.

So, save bucks, buy online or follow dfriedman or briank's advice, and pocket the $$$ for the presumed upgrade.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:06 AM on November 26, 2011

Apple often has refurbished Mac Minis under or around $500 at their refurb store. There were some on there just yesterday. We just replaced our 6 year old iMac and it worked great up until the end, so we're hoping for the same with the mini. Upgradability on a mini is restricted to adding ram or USB harddrives, but that's very easy to do. In the latest model there are no moving parts, but an external DVD drive can be found for around $30.
posted by monkeymadness at 9:28 AM on November 26, 2011

Response by poster: My father-in-law is a retired doctor. He doesn't want to build his own computer. He's also getting a mac book air for travel and to watch streaming Korean dramas on the big screen television. I've told him that he can use this computer for all his needs, but he has had a desktop in his office for years and wants to replace the one that just died. He likes working at the desk and won't just carry the laptop there, for some reason. He doesn't need a great computer, but he has stressed that his previous one lasted five years and his new one should too. I figured that for his needs, anything above $500 would be superfluous. If you can think of a solution that we have overlooked, kudos!
posted by billtron at 10:35 AM on November 26, 2011

I have been in the computer industry since 1986 and have been programming since the 70's. I'm here to tell you that there is not a single computer or OS around that will not be obsolete in 3 or 4 years. By obsolete I mean that it will not be able to run the latest programs and software in a reasonably fast manner. That's just a fact and it has to deal with forced obsolescence in the industry, blah, blah blah.... but it is a fact. Running Linux on a machine tends to prolong it's lifespan and you get maybe that 5 or 6 years that you are looking for but few people want to run linux.

You're best shopping strategy is not to look for a machine that will last 6 years. That's not going to happen. Instead look for a machine that is cheap enough that it will essentially be a throw-away in 3 or 4 years or get a machine that has a decent resale value and upgrade every 2 or 3 years. Macs have the best resale value. You can generally sell a mac for 75% - 80% of what you paid for it after 2 years. There are plenty of low end cheapo windows machines around the $299-$399 price point - especially if you look for one around this time of year.
posted by Poet_Lariat at 12:03 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: How can I convince a man whose last machine lasted 6 years that he won't find a machine that will last 6 years? Remember, he's using the internet, excel, and Quicken. Not Photoshop and Quake XIV.

Have things really gotten that much worse in the computer manufacturing industry since 2005?
posted by billtron at 12:19 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Have things really gotten that much worse in the computer manufacturing industry since 2005?

I use a beat-up four year old Dell laptop at work, and I have a six year old Toshiba laptop. Both do basic internet stuff and video streaming. Although I am no expert, old computers can work fine.

Maybe what you need is a different kind of forum-- one devoted to computer questions. Maybe has a forum where people would know of small vendors in your area who could build you want you want.

I don't know anything about computers, but I would ask there.
posted by vincele at 12:38 PM on November 26, 2011

It's the 5 years of tech support that's out of reach here, and that really shouldn't be such a big deal. Virtually any PC on the market will run browsers, Excel and Quicken for five years. He might need to replace a hard disk or power supply in that time frame but it needn't be a big deal if he does, so long as he has a sound backup system.
posted by jon1270 at 1:34 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

How can I convince a man whose last machine lasted 6 years that he won't find a machine that will last 6 years?

At the current rate of change in the market, the physical "desktop" may be pretty much a niche or nearly obsolete in six years.

I really question why you're dead set on this price point. The guy has a Macbook Air. Personally, I'd consider sticking with Apple, unless there's some overriding reason not to -- tech support is just that much easier -- but maybe you have some legacy Windows residuality here. My point is that for me, my own tech support, having a cheapo box with no support is one thing, but for your dad, who has a top-of-the-line notebook and is keen on high levels of support, I have no idea why you're trying to cut corners. It just doesn't match up.

If you want quality and support, pay for it. The peace of mind for that couple hundred bucks will definitely outweigh any utility you get from shaving corners.
posted by dhartung at 2:39 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Get him a Mac Mini. They're well built and easy to transport if he needs to take it in to the Apple store if something breaks. If he decides in a year that he hates it, it'll probably still be worth $400.
posted by jeffkramer at 3:20 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

If he has a MacBook Air, I'd say just get him a Mini. Yes, it's going to come in over your pricepoint by a bit, but is it really worth fracturing his computing environment to save 1-200? Plus, you can count on them being around to provide customer service over the next 5 years. As for whether it will last 5 years, likely, given what he is using it for.
posted by Good Brain at 5:09 PM on November 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

Fry's is not really going to be helpful. They'll sell you computer components or entire computers (your standard Apple/Dell/etc) but nothing in between. Nice folks, but not really your best bet.

I'm a SoCal native and I can't really think of a regional chain which sells non-brand computers at a cheap price. There might well be one, but nothing's springing to mind.

There's small, independent computer stores you can explore which will build and support a computer (not all of of these will really have a web presence and you don't specify where in the 200 mile span of SoCal you are so I'm not linking to anything specific here but when I googled for my area of SoCal I noticed quite a few independent stores which offered cheap computers +service contracts. MeMail for details).

Honestly I would suggest that's probably your best option given your price constraints and interest in support. Any local computer store that has survived this long will probably be worth it.
posted by librarylis at 10:38 PM on November 26, 2011

Given the new information, I suggest you actually get the somewhat fancier Mac Mini, with 4GB RAM. Your sticking point will be Quicken; there's a Mac version, but it will suck compared to the Windows one he's used to. One solution is to run virtualization software, and basically have a Windows installation on the Mac Mini, just to run Quicken; you're going to want a bit more memory for that.

Yes, I am blowing your budget, but I don't think your budget was realistic given your requirements.
posted by chengjih at 1:39 AM on November 27, 2011

« Older Pasta Sauce Recipes   |   Blacklight bleed on Samsung 40 inch TV Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.