Who makes the best PCs these days?
July 1, 2012 12:35 PM   Subscribe

I've been asked to recommend a new desktop PC for a relative, but I have no idea what brand to recommend these days. Can you help? Details inside.

A relative needs a new desktop PC for fairly light tasks like email, word processing, web browsing and the sort. It doesn't need any heavy duty gaming capabilities. I'm thinking an i5 with 4 to 8 GB memory will do fine. They want to buy now, before Windows 7 is gone. They'd want to get 7-8 years service from this machine.

But who do you buy from these days to get a reliable, well-built machine? Here's what I'd like to see in a new PC:

I'd like it to be as low as possible on pre-installed crap-ware.

Preferably I'd like a real windows CD rather than no CD or a restore CD for reinstall/repair.

I'd like the manufacturer to have good customer/phone service and reasonable warranty.

The cost should be reasonable, but I'd rather have quality rather than the cheapest possible price.

I've thought that maybe I should just order parts and build the system myself. I've done that once before and it worked out fine. But I'm not that confident about picking the individual parts (mainly the motherboard and case).

I had rather bad experiences with HP/Compaq back in 2005/2007, so I'd rather stay away from them unless they have greatly improved.

Do you have any recommendations? Thanks in advance for your help.
posted by DarkForest to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

I used to build PCs for friends and family, some years back I learned how much easier it is to say "Just get a Dell" than be on the hook for a machine I put together. Both my parents and my in-laws are on their 5th year of problem free service from their Dells.
posted by Cosine at 12:43 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you don't go with a Big Box, then the Ars Technica Budget Guides are extremely useful when putting it together yourself.
posted by Brocktoon at 1:07 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Preferably I'd like a real windows CD rather than no CD or a restore CD for reinstall/repair.

You're not going to get that with most PCs, regardless of where you buy one. It will be an OEM license of Windows on a restore disc or a hidden restore partition on the hard drive, and the restore image will be tied to that machine and its hardware.

If you buy your Windows license and media, use the restore partition to make a driver disc (this contains installers for all the hardware drivers) and then wipe the hard drive. Use the retail disc+code to install Windows, and the driver disc to reinstall hardware drivers.

That way, you get your own Windows disc, you have a driver disc on hand, and you eliminate all the spyware and adware that are installed on new PCs. It's a good way to get the computer off to a fresh start.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 1:27 PM on July 1, 2012 [3 favorites]

Apple iMac or Mac Mini. Seriously. When you start talking about having good support from the company and not having crapware, that's basically the way to go. You can tack on support packages to your PC, but you'll be closer to Apple's pricing at that point (basically, PC makers disaggregate the hardware from extended support, whereas Apple tends to bundle these together).

If Windows is a requirement (and your description doesn't imply Windows is a requirement), you can run Windows via Bootcamp or Parallels. Bonus in that case: you'll get a Windows CD from Microsoft and it'll be a clean install.

Also, 7 - 8 years is kind of a long-ish lifespan for a machine.
posted by chengjih at 1:32 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I have built my own PCs since high school, and I agree with chengjih: get an imac. At the very least, go into an apple store and tell the sales person: "hi, I need to do web and word processing stuff. I'm used to windows. Show me what life would be like on a mac." Get the tour.

If that's a no-go, get a dell. Building boxes for other other people is (IMO) a no-go unless you're making a business out of it.
posted by kavasa at 2:22 PM on July 1, 2012

Ah, this machine is for an older relative, not me. It has to stay with Windows. My own machine is a triple boot Hackintosh :D

My own first thought was Dell, but I have the idea that a lot of bad stuff has been written about them here in the last few years.

I understand that I won't be getting a general purpose Windows CD with the machine, but I hope at least for an OEM Windows CD (tied to the machine) with repair/reinstall capabilities, rather than just an image of of the HD when it arrived.

I'd agree that an 8 year lifetime is pushing things a bit. That's why he's retiring his 2004 Dell.
posted by DarkForest at 2:31 PM on July 1, 2012

Seconding Dell. My experience with them since 1997 has been good. My Dell at work is from 2006 and still working fine. My other Dells (or machines I bought for other people) died of old age, when I couldn't be bothered to replace parts. On the other hand I had a non-Dell machine (NEC) die of spontaneous combustion and the Acer/Asus/Sony/whatever of my coworkers seem to crap out after a year or so. Now I'm using magic to keep PCs working (i.e. I can fix the small problems myself) so perhaps there's a bias here. In any case I appreciate the (relative) lack of preloaded crapware in Dell machines.
posted by elgilito at 2:45 PM on July 1, 2012

8 gig memory is way overspecced. 4 gig will be absolutely fine (2's all you actually need, but eh, memory is cheap). The state of the art is currently so far beyond the basic uses you describe these days that it's hard to really go wrong, unless you're buying a video card (which you're not).

I'd also go for a Dell. I've had a Dell laptop for my wife for the last four years - it's got a few quirky problems that are cropping up, but was low on crapware and basically a very sound piece of kit. Support was very good.

And I got my mother a cheap Dell desktop and it's great - quiet, reliable, does everything it's supposed to. I'd say a desktop will be more reliable than a laptop as there are fewer necessary compromises in the design.
posted by Sebmojo at 3:09 PM on July 1, 2012

Lenovo desktops also are solid, reliable.
posted by lathrop at 3:12 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

If you want a machine that will last a long time, take a look at the Dell or Lenovo small business lines.
posted by monotreme at 3:14 PM on July 1, 2012

8 gig memory is way overspecced. 4 gig will be absolutely fine

OP is hoping to have this machine keep running 7 years, I think spending the small extra to get 8gb is cheap future insurance. 4gb is pretty much what Windows 7 wants just to run itself.

By far, the single biggest regret I see in computers 3-4 years old is not enough ram.
posted by Cosine at 3:24 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Vizio has done a fine job with their new PC's strangely enough! Sans crapware, well designed.
posted by wrok at 3:26 PM on July 1, 2012

Dell for sure.

My entire office runs on Dell machines, and I do not intend to go anywhere else.

1) Very reliable - I have a Dell Dimension that's more than 8 years old, and it still runs fine
2) Customization - this may not be so important for you, but I like being able to spec the PC to my own requirements since there are things that I may not need (and therefore not want to pay extra money for)
3) You get an honest-to-goodness Windows CD - no hidden restore partition or burn-it-yourself restore CD
4) Their service is good - this may be important if you don't want to be doing a 24x7 support for your relative; Dell's technical support is fairly competent (in contrast with other manufacturers, though that isn't saying much)

The only other maker I would consider is HP; I have a client who exclusively runs HP computers (from their small business line), and have been very happy with them. I had have excellent experiences with HP support for parts replacement, though I'm not sure how their consumer products are in terms of reliability and support.
posted by titantoppler at 5:01 PM on July 1, 2012

I used to build PCs for friends and family, some years back I learned how much easier it is to say "Just get a Dell" than be on the hook for a machine I put together. Both my parents and my in-laws are on their 5th year of problem free service from their Dells.

I also agree with Dell. Everyone I know who has one has had little to no trouble with it. It might be worth it to get something from the Optiplex line- better warranty and less crapware. Vostros are cheap for a reason. Check out the Dell Outlet. That's where I buy my computers.
posted by gjc at 5:17 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

As other people have said, get a Dell (if you can't get an iMac). But I think you should focus on their small business lines rather than the consumer lines, as you'll possibly get somewhat more reliable components that will be sourced for longer if there is a problem. I'm thinking of the Optiplexes, not the Vostros, to be specific. Yeah, it'll be more expensive than the consumer lines, but I think you'll get a better machine.
posted by chengjih at 5:42 PM on July 1, 2012

Velocity Micro. Smallish shop, good prices, great service.
posted by xyzzy at 5:47 PM on July 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

This past Thanksgiving I built my first PC after years of buying them. I got Win 7 Pro 64 bit from the store I bought all the parts from for about $120, and I was amazed at how nice the case was for about $75...Asus motherboard $130, Corsair memory $60, 6 core AMD processor $170. I already had the hard drives, but you could tinker with the specs for the machine you say your relative needs and end up getting a hard drive too. Tom's Hardware forums are your friend, really. And I liked New Egg's Build Your Own PC videos out on You Tube (because I was a first time builder).

I have a feeling that I am getting more bang for the buck with this PC than I ever got with any that I purchased (and yes, I've got a Mac Book Pro and a Mac Mini too). And I can't prove it but I suspect it will last a lot longer with roomy case with plenty of air flow and name brand components. But I can tell what the years will bring. YMMV.
posted by forthright at 8:14 PM on July 1, 2012

I will nth Dell. About a year ago we finally retired the work computers from Dell that we had been using daily since 2003. (They were still running fine, but were on Windows XP/2000.) The new Dells in my office (Optiplexes) have been great - easy to spec them exactly how we needed them, there was an option when you ordered them to not have a bunch of crapware installed, and they have been running great. Also highly recommend trying the small business site instead of the consumer site - a tiny bit more expensive, but better support and better components in my experience.
posted by gemmy at 8:45 PM on July 1, 2012

I had a hellish experience with Dell service around 4 years ago regarding a brand-new home desktop (not mine but I had to get it all fixed of course), so since then I have bought and recommended HP for personal use, both laptops and desktops. Very pleased with quality and service, both email and phone - nothing major, just questions I had. A little decrapifying never hurt anyone, nor burning the OS discs. Corporate Dell and retail Dell supports are different things, I found, sadly and angrily. I do not have experience with corporate HP service/support, but their home support is fine, as far as I know, right now.

The Microsoft Store sells a curated selection from several manufacturers, including HP and Dell and Lenovo and interestingly Vizio, already decrapified to MS' desires as "Microsoft Signature" models.

Woot! often has deals on "Refurbished" HPs, which are really new just-discontinued retail channel overrun models in plainer shipping packaging, but usually they have less than 1000 pieces. Here's the latest one, no longer available, but a great deal that was better than what you need. i5/8GB/2TB/$499. They'll have something similar in a week or two. Woot also gets rid of HP retail stripper models the same way, but you won't want one of those.

- Sent from one of my personal HPs -
posted by caclwmr4 at 9:17 PM on July 1, 2012

Dell, with a 3-year on location warranty. Very reliable and they really do come to your house to fix the computer.
posted by fifilaru at 11:06 PM on July 1, 2012

My own first thought was Dell, but I have the idea that a lot of bad stuff has been written about them here in the last few years.

I get that impression too, but I have nothing but good personal experience of Dell. They were the most affordable option for me and the computer has been unwaveringly reliable for five years and counting.
posted by londonmark at 3:07 AM on July 2, 2012

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