Safe no hassle way to buy a desktop PC?
August 19, 2016 8:15 PM   Subscribe

What are the best ways not to get myself buying a PC in a hurry?

So my trusty desktop just died today after a decade of service. Had it pipe music out last night, now it just responds to a power on request with a weak flicker.

I'm about to take a week off work, which you'd think would give me a lot of time to do research but when I get back in town Friday I really just want a computer available to set up if possible.

I've got a Surface which is adequate for my laptop needs. I do some light gaming these days but would be perfectly happy to liberate the graphics card as well as my external HD. I'm probably going to be happy with 8+ GB RAM, a small to medium SSD and an adequate CPU setup--fairly mainstream stuff if not absolutely low end. I'm not super price sensitive but I really don't want to get something that's going to be a lemon.

Are there brands and/or online retailers that are especially trustworthy? Or perhaps more realistically can you warn me of any that have a noticeably bad reputation these days?
posted by mark k to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I bought my last computer on Amazon. Looked for something in my price range with decent reviews. It worked out very well. They have a huge selection and you can buy a warranty cheap if you want one.

Alternatively I always go to The Wirecutter when I need gadget type reviews; they have never steered me wrong and often explicitly choose a low price option alongside their best option.
posted by possibilityleft at 8:27 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

OEMs that ship "Microsoft Signature Edition" machines ship them with no adware or other bloatware, which is a refreshing change.
posted by mhoye at 8:45 PM on August 19, 2016 [3 favorites]

The USD/CDN exchange is very favourable right now, NCIX does decent builds and the care in shipping is great. Any one of their 'gaming' builds is solid.

Or you could use those specs as the basis of a cost/compare exercise.

edit: oops, you wanted a general PC. They have good small form factor and general PCs, too.
posted by porpoise at 8:51 PM on August 19, 2016

Intel i5, gtx 750ti for light gaming or 970 for powerful midrange graphics. Get a quality power supply, big hard drive. Samsung evo ssd. That should sort you.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:09 PM on August 19, 2016

I was going to recommend NCIX too. Very happy with the machine they built me for around $1000 CAD. Nice neat cabling inside. Utilitarian case. I believe I got there by tweaking a few options on one of their stock configurations.
posted by Lorin at 9:13 PM on August 19, 2016

I don't know if "liberate the graphics card" means taking it out of your now-dead computer, but a 10-year-old card isn't going to work in a 2016 machine. Or, likely, a card that is compatible in a 10-year-old desktop. If that was part of the game plan, nyuk nyuk, I'd advise that you may wish to lower your expectations of that working out, and look for a machine with a discrete card if that's on the wish list. You may as well start out with all your hardware being up-to-date. Luckily, they're pretty easy to find in pre-built machines these days, so you won't have to pay through the nose to get the functionality you want.

At any rate, I've had multiple ASUS laptops and been delighted. My main laptop is an ASUS Republic of Gamers behemoth, but I note that one may also buy these in desktop form for a non-outrageous price.
posted by Autumnheart at 9:44 PM on August 19, 2016 [1 favorite]

You can also buy "Signature Edition" PCs directly from Microsoft.
posted by mbrubeck at 10:04 PM on August 19, 2016

Falcon Northwest
posted by a lungful of dragon at 10:07 PM on August 19, 2016

pcpartpicker has a pretty great interface and is easy to use if you want to check out the best/cheap options and build a pc. And you can see other builds that people have recommended.
posted by ishmael at 11:59 PM on August 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

My default for desktops for a while has been the Dell XPS line, as they offer excellent bang for the buck and have just worked. They aren't terribly expandable but that doesn't sound like it's a factor to you. If you order from Dell, there's a slow ship time, but you can walk out of most Best Buys/Staples with one tonight if you wanted, albeit at a small price premium. They used to come with a nice two year on site warranty, though that appears to have dropped to a one year, mail-in one, which is no where near as good but might still be acceptable for your purposes.

I've had enough bad experiences with dodgy HPs from their consumer lines over the years that the brand is tainted in my mind. It's been a while since I've dealt with one and they have always made some rock solid ones, but the lemon rate was just too high for me to want to roll the dice with them when I'd had better experiences elsewhere.
posted by Candleman at 4:29 AM on August 20, 2016

The best way to buy is not the same as asking what's best to buy.

I like buying online from the specific vendor. I've done this with Apple, Lenovo, and Dell. You get a chance to spec it out and add/remove components to your preference.

You may see recommendations that you can save money by buying a barebones system and adding cheaper components from other sources. That's a tradeoff and a decision you need to make.

Side Note: One convenience offered by most major vendors: A site to download drivers for hardware devices in their systems. I've found this to be especially useful when reinstalling Windows because the installation image may not include network drivers to support the hardware. (It will install, but then you have no network capacity and no way to download the right driver to get that capacity.) This is common now on Windows 7, and it happened to me a few weeks ago on a 6-month old machine reinstalling Windows 10. You have to download the right drivers(s) beforehand and copy them to a USB stick.
posted by justcorbly at 4:40 AM on August 20, 2016

When my desktop computer died two years ago, I drove to Best Buy and bought an HP. I was back in business literally three hours after my old pc went kaput. I've been very happy with the purchase.
posted by Short Attention Sp at 5:58 AM on August 20, 2016

I bought a Toshiba laptop from Staples. I just walked in, it was on sale, I bought it. Except it wasn't actually in stock at that store and I had to drive 10 miles to a store where it was in stock. Since it was a sale model, and basically a close out, it didn't have the newest service pack of Windows installed which was a problem when I went to upgrade the OS from Home to Professional. I suspect you could have the same issue at any big box retailer.

I have noticed in the past the Costco can have both an older model and the replacement new model on sale for the same price.

I bought a HP Pavillion desktop from HP online. It was delivered promptly. Early, actually. They don't either pack PCs the way they used to, nor do they provide instructions/documentation they way they used to. The only problem I had was with the solid state hard drive which wasn't fixed until the box went back to HP. My HP was fixed within the 1 year warranty.

The company I just retired from always buys from Dell, and I have had not difficulty with them. The Dell laptop they supplied is a much better machine than the Toshiba. I would have bought from Dell instead of HP except that, at the instant I made the decision, Dell did not have a comparable package at a comparable price. A month or two later, they did.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:42 AM on August 20, 2016

In a hurry? Research online, go to a big box. Hassle free? In-store pick-up. You know it's there, no sales person to slow you down. Asus is pretty dang good, from everything I hear. I have an HP at work and I dig it. If you don't trust yourself, go to a big box electronics store and tell a sales consultant exactly what you said to us. You'll get an honest opinion and a good machine at your price point in exchange for a bump toward their quota for the day in less than 10 minutes.
posted by good lorneing at 8:57 AM on August 20, 2016

I recommend Dell to all of the hassle-sensitive people who ask me. You may have to make some config tradeoffs if you want it in 5 days, but your requirements are pretty simple so I think it'll be easy for you to find something you can start using by the time you get back to work.
posted by rhizome at 10:31 AM on August 20, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks for the fine recommendations all. Picked up a few new names to check out, and its encouraging that there's not a lot of hatred for any one brand or vendor so I can mostly focus on price and parts.

Don't know what I'm going to end up doing, but after a first pass it seems NCIX with the Canadian exchange rate ends up with really good prices.
posted by mark k at 10:41 AM on August 20, 2016

I just noticed that NewEgg has refurbished Shuttles right now, and I went ahead and ordered one for someone I know before I told you about it, because they tend to sell out. (They'll get them every now and again, but never for too long.)

I've had one of these models for about eight years now, and it has been such a workhorse that I have now bought these refurbs for two different people whose computers I have to maintain.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:50 AM on August 20, 2016

Response by poster: Thanks again all. FWIW after shopping around on most sites mentioned here I went with a refurbished computer off Amazon provided by ICompNY which happened to be almost exactly what I wanted (including the SSD, which was tough to find on a lower end desktop). It failed the "I want it by Friday" goal but it did get here in one piece and is OK so far.
posted by mark k at 8:30 PM on September 19, 2016

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