What is the (price no object) ideal computer set-up?
December 10, 2003 6:48 AM   Subscribe

I married into a large family. Our favourite nephew will be 18 on the 19th of January 2004. He's computer-mad and savvy enough to fulfill all our needs. We've all agreed (around 40 relatives) we'll chip in to give him the best system that has ever been had. We need to know what's the best possible combination of computer; printer; broadband connection for someome who's passionate and obsessed. What is the (price no object) ideal set-up?
posted by MiguelCardoso to Computers & Internet (25 answers total)
Probably too much, but I just came across this not an hour ago.
posted by ODiV at 6:55 AM on December 10, 2003

First of all - this is from an Intel/AMD/Windows perspective. If you want to get him a mac, just go to Apple and load up a G5 system.

If you're computer-mad and savvy, "build your own" is the way to get the best possible system. BUT.. you guys probably aren't. You're probably best off getting a top-of-the-line box from a company that specializes in high-spec gaming rigs like Alienware or Falcon Northwest. I'm assuming you'll be ordering this within Europe, and I'm not sure how these US companies are about international orders. There are probably similar outfits in Europe.

Here's some specifics:
CPU: There is always the eternal Intel vs. AMD war. If he's computer-mad, he probably has a preference, and may actually be insulted if you get him an Intel if he's an AMD nut, or vice versa. If he has no preference, the AMD Athlon64 FX-51 is at the top of the performance heap right now. Both Alienware and Falcon NW sell them. Dual CPUs are also an option, but aren't as common as in Macs. However, for both AMD and Intel, dual-cpu setups are a big increase in cost because you have to go to their "professonal" cpus - the Opteron for AMD and Xeon for Intel. If cost truly is no object, go to town.

Memory: Lots of it. As much as you can afford. 1 Gigabyte is a good spot - any more really won't be noticed but it sure looks impressive in the specs.

Hard drive: Similar to memory - as much as you can get. RAID setups can improve performance dramatically, so try and see if you can get it.

Video: ATI's got the edge right now with their Radeon 9800. It's faster and quieter (always a plus) than the competetive NVIDIA FX5950.

Optical drive: Get a DVD recorder that can do both DVD+R/RW and DVD-R/RW. 8x drives are bleeding edge right now, so try to get that.

Keyboard/mouse: both Logitech and Microsoft have pretty sweet wireless units - can't go wrong with either.

Sound: I'm not too keen on computer speaker setups - I'm sure someone else can opine on this. Most sound cards will do the job, but the Creative Labs Audigy series is quite popular. M-Audio makes higher-spec, better sounding cards if he's an audiophile.

Printer: if cost truly is no object, a color laser is nice, fast, and crisp, and they're getting under $1000 US. They're actually not very good at printing photos however. Inkjet on photo paper usually looks more photo-like. A good compromise is a low-cost B&W laser like a Samsung and either an HP or Epson high-spec photo inkjet.

Broadband: this really relies on where he's going to be. Almost all computer systems sold now have a network port so they'll be ready to plug into whatever cable or DSL setup is out there.

On preview, the system in thirteen's post is pretty tasty...
posted by zsazsa at 7:12 AM on December 10, 2003

Miguel, probably one of the most important considerations is whether your nephew is a gamer or not. And does he have an know preferences in the Hardware Holy Wars? (AMD vs Intel, etc.)

You'd be hard pressed to go wrong with Alienware, though.
posted by Cyrano at 7:15 AM on December 10, 2003

Uh, like zsazsa said...
posted by Cyrano at 7:15 AM on December 10, 2003

If I were you, I'd follow the lead of the guys at Ars Technica: The God Box
posted by oissubke at 7:37 AM on December 10, 2003

It's getting to the point these days where this is a really hard question to answer without knowing what the computer will be used for.

You can very easily waste a huge amount of money on a "fully loaded" computer since it will have more of everything than you need. For some things RAID is a must, for others it's overkill. For gaming a $400 video card is a must, for anything else it's just an extra heat source. A gig of RAM is nice, but few will need it enough to justify the extra cost.

Alienware or Falcon make great systems, but you'll pay a premium, as they bill themselves as premium brands. Dell's high end systems will get you just as far and cost much less.

My solution is to have several computers each tuned to their specific function. The PVR workstation doesn't need a huge amount of RAM or a speedy processsor, and an older ATI video card will work just fine. Which makes it a bit of a dog. But it needs to have tons of speedy storage and a fast DVD burner. Meanwhile the gaming box needs exactly the opposite.

But if you want a full blown performance machine out of the box, this page has some reviews I trust. Click on the computer name to see the system and test results.
posted by y6y6y6 at 7:43 AM on December 10, 2003

I second the Ars Technica recommendation. AT is rather like the Byte of ten years ago: fair, technically sound and to the point.
posted by bonehead at 7:56 AM on December 10, 2003

Avoid TabletPCs; they've have had too many quirks.

If you're going the Mac, bear in mind that VirtualPC 6 for OS X isn't optimized for G5s yet. VPC's cross-platform emulation is perfect if your nephew is interested in networking or website design, but it's not powerful enough to properly handle games. Also remember a seperate monitor is more preferable to eMacs/iMacs or even the portables. (With price not being an object, one can choose a display that's truly easy on the eyes!)

For broadband, consider the planning options; a phone utility or broadcast provider could integrate service with an existing account at a discounted rate.

But whatever you do, don't froget about headphones. Even with a favorable sound system, there's something that can be said for keeping the rest of the house quiet while surfing the web at 3:45 am.
posted by Smart Dalek at 8:57 AM on December 10, 2003

For someone who is passionate about computers, a personal computer is like their baby. If I was in his place, I'd prefer to be given the "price no object" budget and asked to go wild, the restriction being I can only spend it on my computer/printer/broadband. That way I can get everything I want, and nothing I don't need.
posted by riffola at 9:09 AM on December 10, 2003

I'm guessing your nephew has/wants a job in the computer industry?

If he's a techie coder, I would get him a top-spec Alienware PC, which really seems to makes the techies drool :)

However, if he were my nephew, i would get him a top spec dual 2ghz Powermac G5, with a high-quality CRT monitor (crts are much better value for money and imo better quality). If there were any leftover i would get him a good quality digital camera/camcorder and this book (amazon link). Get him interested in a creative career!

Also - Macs hold their resale price a lot better than PCs, worth thinking about because in 2 years time, whatever you buy him will be obsolete. I bought a dual processor G4 2 years ago, and it's still worth just under half the $2500 new price.
posted by derbs at 9:55 AM on December 10, 2003

If he wants to print photos, the current state of the art home printer is the Epson 2200 - I think it might be sold as the 2100 in your neck of the woods, Miguel. And I'd throw in a b&w laser printer for text.

If you're going for a Mac, urge him to hold off until MacWorld at the end of January - rumors abound of dual-2.6Ghz powermacs with 1.5Ghz front-side bus.
posted by stonerose at 10:32 AM on December 10, 2003

Because in 2 years time, whatever you buy him will be obsolete.

I would avoid the major manufacturers like Dell, HP/Compaq and the like because they tend to use proprietary parts and can be a pain to upgrade (you buy from them and pay their price, period.) Your nephew can save a lot of money down the like by having something he can upgrade piece by piece rather than buying a whole new PC every few years (I've had the same box for six years but have upgraded/replaced virtually every part in it at least twice so it's really been about three different PC's during that time. The total cost is still probably less than one new PC would have cost me.)
posted by Cyrano at 10:47 AM on December 10, 2003

If you're going the Mac, bear in mind that VirtualPC 6 for OS X isn't optimized for G5s yet.

In fact, Virtual PC won't even run on the G5, because it uses a G4 feature (hardware little endian mode) that the G5 doesn't have.

MacWorld at the end of January

That'd be at the beginning of January. But figure any new top-end system announced there won't be available in quantity for 1-2 months.
posted by kindall at 11:01 AM on December 10, 2003

What Riffola said...

Buying a computer for a techie is kind of like buying a pair of shoes for somebody else. Odds are the fit won't be quite right.

I'd say give him the cash or a gift certificate for one of the high-end PC places.
posted by SteveInMaine at 11:12 AM on December 10, 2003

I would avoid the major manufacturers like Dell, HP/Compaq and the like because they tend to use proprietary parts and can be a pain to upgrade (you buy from them and pay their price, period.)

Not true of Dell. I just bought their Dimension XPS tower with very similar specs to what zsazsa outlined above -- ATI Radeon 9800, SoundBlaster Audigy card, 2GB RAM (it was a "free upgrade"), 120 GB Serial ATA drive. Nothing proprietary. The one snag was getting all the crap software they throw in to their bundles whether I wanted it or not. System was ~$2500.
posted by briank at 12:28 PM on December 10, 2003

Dell uses non standard motherboards and power supplies. Their bios offers almost no performance tweak options.
posted by riffola at 12:59 PM on December 10, 2003

Do not overlook the many benefits of silent computers.

Many modern systems sound like helicopters when you turn them on. Take one 500W power supply with a cheap and noisy fan, add on another cheap and noisy case fan, add on a small and REALLY noisy fan to the CPU, still another fan to the motherboard chipset, and, for good measure, a fifth fan to the ridiculously overpowered video card. Attach to this an optical drive that spins the disks so fast that it sounds like a Boeing is flying in your data, and a hard drive that chatters like a monkey whenever you grab data from this. Finally, take the whole mess and shove it into a cheap, un-soundproofed tower case so hollow that it can take any vibration and amplify it.

PC Users should do what Mac people have been doing for years, and spend a couple extra bucks (I'm talking between $100 and $700) to get a system that is designed to be quiet. I ordered a "Stealth" system from ARM Systems. It's fully loaded (except that I picked a cheap video card with no fan), but is so quiet that I can barely hear it at all. Hush PC, which I believe is UK-only, offers very small, very quiet, somewhat underpowered systems.
posted by profwhat at 2:56 PM on December 10, 2003

I would avoid the major manufacturers like Dell, HP/Compaq
Add IBM to that mix, as well. If you have ever tried to upgrade one of these systems, you will know the heartbreak.

If he is a true tech-head, he will want to build the system himself, so present him with a whole stack of boxes with all the top hardware/software and let him put it together his way. I have been known to disassemble a new system and put it back together myself just because I did not like the way the components had been arranged in the case.

profwhat has an excellent point - the new system that I just built for myself has a total of 5 fans and quiet it is not. My next project - shut the damn thing up without cooking it!
posted by dg at 3:14 PM on December 10, 2003

here's another way of thinking.

get him a slick as fuck notebook. this link is a sony vaio, which are very well made and cool as hell. the one i linked to is a top of the line P4, with a hot swappable DVD+-RW (well, one's available..make sure you get that) and floppy.

but instead of having that be the end of your purchase, buy a port replicator and a wireless keyboard, monitor, and external drives. the laptop actually comes with a bunch of PVR features, and such, and the port replicator, even though the lappy has a 15 inch screen, allows you to have a setup on your desk to plug into when you're at home. you can have the surround sound and subwoofer and crazy awesome monitor at home, but take the same computer with you when you go out.

make sure you buy two ac adapters and mice. one to keep at home, and one to go with him.
posted by taumeson at 4:41 PM on December 10, 2003

Make sure to let us know what you end up with.

And is anyone in your family adopting?
posted by ODiV at 6:52 PM on December 10, 2003

Response by poster: Wow. Thanks a million, you guys! Not only does this AskMeFi work, it changes your life. When I posted the question I was (ignorantly) looking for a straight, ready-bought answer. I had no idea of the options available - [insert another wow here] - but, above all, I never even considered that the best gift (considering the investment) had to be tailor-made to his requirements.

Yup, I've consulted the main players and all now agree we should just give him the 5000 euros we'd planned and have his mother and father, my in-laws, make sure he spends it all on hardware. I did try to include software, btw, but the family was adamant about that. Hey, this is an old country.

I'll be certain to report back on what he finally buys and builds. The great thing is that he'll get the link to this thread along with the cash!
posted by MiguelCardoso at 8:07 PM on December 10, 2003

Miquel, if you're still keeping track of this thread, make sure you suggest your nephew gets a Trios hard drive switch. I adore mine. It lets me have one hard drive for day to day stuff and another that I have optimized for gaming plus room for one more. A great geek add-on.
posted by Cyrano at 7:47 AM on December 11, 2003

A set-up like this should satisfy anyone.
posted by thirteen at 7:01 AM PST on December 10

especially if Miguel's nephew wants to start WWIII from his mom's basement!
the question is, does he want to?
posted by matteo at 1:22 PM on December 11, 2003

did try to include software, btw, but the family was adamant about that

And, frankly, it sounds like he isn't the kind of guy who needs to buy software. A man after my own heart, mind you. Best of luck, and keep us posted.
posted by Hildago at 4:22 PM on January 4, 2004

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