Could a non-gamer benefit from buying a "Gaming PC?"
May 5, 2007 5:28 PM   Subscribe

I'm a power user, but I am NOT at all a gamer. Would I still benefit from buying a "gaming PC" (Dell XPS 710)? Or, would I just be an idiot who wasted money on something they didn't need/won't use?

I'm looking to buy my first computer since 2001, and I want to go all out. I mean ALL out. This is a combination work and play purchase that I know will last for years, so I don't mind going a bit nuts spending money on it.

Being a fan of Dell for quite a while, I've been looking at the Dell XPS 710, which appears to fit all of my qualifications for speed, power, and all around insanity. After doing some customizing, the price comes to around $3500.00.

Thing is, every possible review or mention of it refers to it as a "gaming PC."

I am not a gamer.

I am however somewhat of a power user. I'll be using it for video editing, messing around in Photoshop, and doing other similar activities all while having a million tabs open in Firefox.

My question is, will I benefit from having this computer if I'm not going to use it for gaming purposes?

Like I said, I don't mind the money and I do want crazy speed/power. I just don't want to be like a rapper on Cribs who puts an elevator in his Hummer.

Thoughts and opinions would be very much appreciated.
posted by creative to Computers & Internet (27 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
A lot of people on MeFi hate Dell computers, so be prepared for their responses here. I also recommend that you ignore their advice. I use Dell machines for educational game development (using Autodesk Maya) and vision research (many different graphics packages). I have always found the high-end Dell machines very reliable and a good value.

With the XPS and Precision series, you're paying premium prices for performance and graphics card options. If you ever plan to do any 3D modeling, it is worth it. If you plan to do anything that benefits from hardware video acceleration, it is worth it. However, I use only Precision-line machines from Dell, and unless you can save a lot of money with a comparably-equipped XPS, you should get a Precision, too, from Dell Small Business. The builds and support are just a little better, and I've never been so happy with a PC.

Also, check all the deals websites--, anandtech hot deals forum, etc. My Precision M70 notebook spec'd out at 3200$, but with coupons I paid 2430 -- a stellar stacked-coupon deal.

You can also save a lot of money by buying RAM aftermarket, as Dell really overcharges. You could save 200-600$ this way, depending on how your machine is configured.
posted by fake at 5:50 PM on May 5, 2007

You probably want more memory and less graphics card for this machine. The base model 8600 is a perfectly good buy for your situation. I'm confused on how you got up to $3500 for the machine though. Did you select the base model with the quad core CPU? I think that's probably overkill for what you need.

Dell overcharges on hard drives as well, so if you're getting a large disk for video editing, it would be worth it to buy it separately.
posted by demiurge at 5:54 PM on May 5, 2007

You don't say how you've configured it to bring the price to $3500, so its hard to say how your choice looks. I do note though that for about the same price as their base system, you can build a machine with a faster CPU, twice the memory a larger hard disk and a faster video card. Of course, you'll have to buy all the parts and put them together yourself.

Questions of markup aside, a big part of the price of gaming systems is the video card. These days, video compression software and real time effects software can be accelerated by the graphics card, but only if the particular software you use is written to take advantage. If the software you are using doesn't take advantage, then the money you spend for a higher end gaming video card isn't likely to do you much good.

The other thing is that the value on computers is better if you stay away from the very top of the line. You may pay 40-50% more for 10% more performance. Unless you absolutely need it, I think people are better off saving the money and using it to upgrade more often.
posted by Good Brain at 6:04 PM on May 5, 2007

I use Dell machines for educational game development (using Autodesk Maya) and vision research (many different graphics packages). I have always found the high-end Dell machines very reliable and a good value.

Did you get the corporate warranty? The difference between corporate, on-site service and the usual customer warranty service seems to be night and day, if the guy who came over to fix a Dell work laptop once was any indication.

You can get a quad-core Mac Pro starting at $2500 and it'll do pretty much everything you need, right up to HD video and After Effects goodness. For that matter, the base version of the XPS 710 at $2000 will do what you need as well, if you're really stuck on the shiny case. Or you can probably build your own for less. In short: you're paying for bling and for the honour of being on the bleeding edge for no reason.
posted by chrominance at 6:07 PM on May 5, 2007

I'll be using it for video editing

Why are you on a PC and not a Mac? I'm not being a zealot, it's just that every single person I know (and I know a lot) who edits video for a living has a Mac and would never ever consider Windows machines.
posted by lia at 6:09 PM on May 5, 2007

I'd personally opt to build my own. I used to have a Dell, when their home support was still good, and it was decent. The huge advantage with building my own, though, is that if anything goes wrong I know exactly where everything is inside the case, & can usually fix it myself. The only problem is that with a bunch of individual warranties, it can take a while to replace specific components, so you either should go redundant or be prepared to shell out money for a new component (ex: hard drives tend to die. under dell, they'll swap a new one in the next day. with my system, I can just boot another one until I ship the broken one back to the manuf. if you don't have a 2nd, well, you're kind of screwed).

All that said, I used Dell workstations at work, and never had a complaint. They were meant for video production, so they had huge amounts of memory & not a lot of shit loaded on them. The one issue I did have was that they'd always have P4s with hyperthreading, which I despised, but I hear they have AMD chips available now.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:13 PM on May 5, 2007

Also, look into the high-end IBM DC machines. I've heard good things 2nd hand about them.
posted by devilsbrigade at 6:15 PM on May 5, 2007

What chrominance said, get a Mac Pro, even if you are going to just run Windows on it. They are actually a fairly good deal, and the build quality of the case itself is incredible.

One caveat is that I'd say it's 90% certain that the Mac Pro will see an update in the next two months, and with Apple products, the pricepoint stays the same and they bump the specs, so if you can sit tight until Apple's Developer Conference in June, you'll get more for your money.
posted by AaRdVarK at 6:19 PM on May 5, 2007

Seriously consider a Mac if you're going to spend that amount of money. Even if you need to, you can run XP (wo wants Vista?) on it with Bootcamp.
posted by InsanePenguin at 7:19 PM on May 5, 2007

"Gaming PCs" are just high performance PCs with overpriced video cards. You'll be paying $100 to $500 more for the video card than you'll likely need to. As previously stated, that money would be better spent on RAM.

Also, gaming PCs tend to run a little hot and a little loud. Depending on how much you care about this, you might want to give up on the idea of a gaming PC and look for something quieter and cooler.

And, oh yeah, I'm one of those Dell haters. Initially I hated the service more than the hardware. Then I met the Optiplex GX270 and started hating the hardware much more than the service. Now I'm back to hating the service again -- I've been forced to make eight or nine Dell orders lately and Dell have made, on average, one annoying or time wasting mistake per order, two of which resulted in the order not being fullfilled at all.
posted by krisjohn at 7:23 PM on May 5, 2007

Nth-ing the Mac option. You have the budget for the Cadillac of media editing. Don't turn a civic into a street race car with dell.
posted by cowbellemoo at 7:39 PM on May 5, 2007

I have always had excellent luck with the Dell boxes, but I am going to agree with all of the others that say "Get a Mac Pro" especially if you're going to be doing video editing. Having the ability to boot into Mac OS X will open up whole new worlds for you.

People have been saying that the new Apple hardware runs Windows Vista faster than anything else out there. And nowadays, well, there's really no other reason to buy a "standard PC."
posted by drstein at 8:12 PM on May 5, 2007

Just get an average computer with a ton of RAM.
posted by dagnyscott at 8:21 PM on May 5, 2007

For video editing, you need CPU and memory, but not a special video card. Media processing is very CPU intensive, but the thing is, unless it's computer generated graphics, you are not rendering polygons and the extra graphics card isn't going to help you.

Top end video cards are expensive, specialized cards that do one thing well -- render textures, bitmaps, and 3d models as quickly as possible. If you're not gaming, you don't need this hardware and you should be able to spend that money on better performance elsewhere.
posted by cotterpin at 8:25 PM on May 5, 2007

If you are going to spend that much for a pc, be sure to get a nice monitor (or two). You'll get the ability to view multiple pages in firefox at a time. :)
If you get a really large monitor, or if you get two mid-size ones, then you might benefit from a middle-range video card (which you probably get with the 'gaming' pc).

Unless your video editing software can take full advantage of the most expensive graphics card, there is little reason to get the most expensive one.
But by all means max out the ram, get a fast processor, and get a RAID configuration that suits you.

Oh, and I do second Fake's notion that you should at least price a similar configuration in the Precision series. Dell's business support is much better than their home support. I recently had issues with the DVD drive in my Latitude. They offered to replace the drive right away (try getting THAT out of dell's home support), and even wanted to send out a technician to replace the *modular* drive.
posted by itheearl at 8:53 PM on May 5, 2007

Unlike the other people in this thread, I have a Mac Pro. I have used it to run Windows. It's a nice box, but if your primary use is Windows, don't buy one.

Why? Because Windows has problems on it. XP will only see 2 gigs of RAM. Server2K3 will see whatever you put in, but it has other issues... like, for instance, you can't install Apple's drivers at all; they refuse to work on Server2K3. And 2K3 Service Pack 2 will not install on a Mac Pro, because something is glitched with the free space detection. It will just NOT install; there is no way to do it short of slipstreaming SP2 into an original CD and reinstalling from scratch.

Further, the machine is extremely quiet, but it's quiet to the point of stupidity... if you use an internally-cooled, fast video card, the cooling is not adequate, and you will have problems if you really work it hard. It got to the point where I had to rig up an external fan, open the case, and blow into the interior to run games in Windows.

For it to work properly, you have to buy a card with an exhaust outside the case, which completely defeats the purpose of the Mac Pro being quiet. Those little fans are like leafblowers, loud and annoying. Had Apple just bumped the case fans a few hundred RPM, or given the user some way to manually adjust them, it would have made just a whisper of noise instead. They went for dead silent, and crippled the machine's cooling. Had they gone for just a whisper, it would have been a perfectly fine machine for any purpose.

It also has no PCI slots at all, so you can't use 99.9% of video and sound peripherals out there for a PC. Only PCIe cards will work. (it has four slots with a pretty good amount of bandwidth, so it's good in that sense.)

It's not a polished experience, and I do NOT recommend going that way unless you want to run OSX.

If you do, it's an absolutely glorious machine... under Mac OS, the Mac Pro is excellent, although the drive I/O is much weaker than it is in Windows. I strongly recommend retrofitting a Western Digital Raptor if you buy one; OSX lives and dies on seek time, as it's not very efficient in how it multiplexes disk access.

But if you run to run Windows primarily, stay far, far away from a Mac Pro. It's just not worth the hassle. Trust me.

My biggest beef with Dell is the ludicrous OS installs that come loaded with crapware. That part really sucks. Dell also uses nonstandard power supplies and cases, which means you're stuck with their parts for repairs or upgrades. If you don't upgrade computers much, this may not be an issue for you... since you haven't bought a computer in six years, I'm thinking you may not care.

At your pricepoint, you might want to consider one of the boutique outfits, like Falcon Northwest or Alienware. You'll pay a premium, but you'll be able to customize the machine to exactly your needs. Gaming computers will be good for you, because games need the same things that pros do: fast CPU, lots of RAM, fast disks. But you can dial way back on the graphic card, and it's likely that they'll be able to do a powerful machine with a weak video card.

You could also see if there are any whitebox computer makers in your area. If there are any good ones locally, they're an excellent way to get exactly the parts you want, but have a single source for warranty issues.
posted by Malor at 9:04 PM on May 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Sounds like you want to blow a wad, so buy all means go for a Mac.. :P

If you want top performance for least money, on the other hand, go for the best gaming motherboard with intel quad core support that you can find, but just a cheap video card, and the cheapest core 2 duo you can find (or cheapest core 2 with 4mb of cache, if you want, it is still good value for the $$). You want a motherboard that supports dual video cards, because this will make it easy for you to connect as many monitors as you'll ever want. You should also get a used SCSI ultra160 or ultra320 controller, and a used 36 or 74GB 15k SCSI drive, probably from eBay. If you really want supreme performance and have tons of money to burn, get a solid state system drive.

You should also be checking deals websites like fatwallet regularly. Dell one day only specials are great, but their prices the rest of the time are almost as userous as Mac prices. This is called Differential Pricing, why be a consumer with a high willingness to pay..
posted by Chuckles at 9:35 PM on May 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Above someone called these video cards "overpriced." That's not necessarily true. I find Dell and most reputable retailers have excellent prices for the technology they offer. The problem in your case is that a gaming PC is more or less defined by the video card it has and these XPS machines have very, very powerful 3D capabilities that you dont need to pay for. Also a 3k price point is ridiculous in the fast moving PC world. If you really want to treat yourself spend 1500 now and then 1500 in 18-24 months when the next gen stuff is at the 1500 dollar price point. Your current strategy of blowing large amounts of money every 5-6 years is silly. A 300 dollar PC 24 months after the purchase of a 3000 dollar PC will blow its doors off.

That said if you really want to treat yourself get a decent PC, don't overspend on the video card, get a 2 or more gigs of ram, and buy yourself a nice display. Or two displays in a dual configuration.

FWIW, I'm sporting a machine here that is hand-built that probably has 500-650 dollar worth of stuff in it and it can do 80-90% of the performance you get with the Dell XPS or other higher-end machines. After a certain point the law of diminishing returns kicks in real hard. You dont need to spend much for a great piece of technology.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:07 PM on May 5, 2007

Why are you on a PC and not a Mac? I'm not being a zealot, it's just that every single person I know (and I know a lot) who edits video for a living has a Mac and would never ever consider Windows machines.

I'm a PC person, but this is correct. Final Cut Pro is Mac only. It's the best home video editing program. If they ever made a PC version, there would be no real need for Macs to exist anymore.
posted by drjimmy11 at 10:31 PM on May 5, 2007

Oh, I should point out, since people are calling Macs expensive; trying to duplicate dual, dual-core Xeons, with basically the same spec as the Mac Pro, is about $3500 with Dell. The Mac is about a thousand dollars cheaper for comparable performance.

If you don't need Windows, it's an excellent value in comparison to its competitors. If you do, it's not the bargain it would first appear.
posted by Malor at 1:19 AM on May 6, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the insanely helpful replies everyone.

Ok, you guys have convinced me (and rightfully so) that I do not need the XPS 710, nor do I need anything that costs $3500. Case closed on that one.

For the people recommending I get a Mac, I'm a Windows guy. I'm not anti-Mac or anything, it's just that most of what this computer will be used for are Windows related things. You guys have certainly made it clear that a Mac is the superior video editing environment, but the video editing I'll be doing is just for fun, not work or even REALLY serious hobby. More just normal serious hobby/fun.

That leads me to the Dell XPS 410, which I just customized to about $2400 with the following specs:

PROCESSOR: Intel® Core™2 Duo Processor E6600 (4MB L2 Cache,2.4GHz,1066 FSB)
OPERATING SYSTEM: Genuine Windows Vista™ Home Premium
MEMORY: 4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz - 4 DIMMs
HARD DRIVE: 500GB Serial ATA 3Gb/s Hard Drive (7200RPM) w/DataBurst Cache™
OPTICAL DRIVE: Dual Drives: 16x DVD-ROM Drive + 16x DVD+/-RW w/ dbl layer write capable
MONITOR: 20 inch UltraSharp™ 2007WFP Widescreen Digital Flat Panel
VIDEO CARD: 256MB ATI Radeon X1300 Pro
SOUND CARD: Integrated Sound Blaster®Audigy™ HD Software Edition
SPEAKERS: Dell AS501 10W Flat Panel Attached Spkrs for UltraSharp™ Flat Panels
MOUSE: Dell Optical USB Mouse
POWER PROTECTION: SurgeArrest 11 Outlet with Tel2/Splitter, Coax and Ethernet Protection
EXTERNAL BACKUP & STORAGE: SanDisk 4GB Cruzer Micro U3 USB Flash Drive
FLOPPY & MEDIA READER: 13 in 1 Media Card Reader
MODEM: No Modem

*$2400 price also includes the 4 year warranty and Office Home and Student 2007.

So... how does this look now?

Thanks again everyone.
posted by creative at 7:58 AM on May 6, 2007

Bump it to Vista Pro. Back it down to the minimum amount of memory you can buy, then buy your own. Dell's profit margins are on memory, hard drives, and the like so don't pay them for those upgrades. So the same applies for the hard drive. Anything that is an extra... well, that's just more money.

Are you buying through the business or home store? The business store tends to be cheaper, and you can find a lot of coupon codes on the many "deal" sites out there. At work, we priced out a reasonable base system (lowest memory and hard drive options) for about $500-600 the other day.
posted by mikeh at 9:09 AM on May 6, 2007

Maybe change the hard drive to a small 10K RPM drive for the system, and then buy another drive from newegg for data?

Wireless mouse. Small expense and they're life-changing wonderful.

How much do they charge for their media reader? You can get external readers for $10--15.

Why a dvd-rom + dvd burner? Why not just 2 burners? Also, what is Dell charging for them? dvd burners are $35 from newegg and they're dead fucking easy to install.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:30 AM on May 6, 2007

Just as an aside, Sun are having a sale at the moment, and their Ultra 40 looks like an nice machine for anything which involves large quantities of data, what with it having a lot of space for disks and memory -- and with proper workstation quality parts; ECC memory (which I'd really quite strongly recommend if you're looking at 4GB+) etc.

The main disadvantage with the U40 is the incomprehensible lack of PCI-X, so you'll be stuck looking for PCI-Express cards should you want a RAID card or so.

Also, for some reason in the US they have an Ultra 45 in the space where the Ultra 40 is in the UK. Maybe it's just hiding.
posted by Freaky at 10:05 AM on May 6, 2007

OPERATING SYSTEM: Genuine Windows Vista™ Home Premium
Take a look at this Vista editions comparison chart to decide if you want the added features of Home Premium vs Home Basic.

MEMORY: 4GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz - 4 DIMMs
Get the "1GB Dual Channel DDR2 SDRAM at 667MHz - 2 DIMMs" option and buy 2 of these from Newegg instead. -$170 off your total.

SOUND CARD: Integrated Sound Blaster®Audigy™ HD Software Edition
Remove this. There's no hardware here - you're just paying $25 for some software EQ presets.

SPEAKERS: Dell AS501 10W Flat Panel Attached Spkrs for UltraSharp™ Flat Panels
Not a fan of speakers custom-designed to attach to displays because you may change/add displays but your speakers will not work for them.

Remove these. Add this 500GB external HD w/ eSATA connector to your Newegg cart. eSATA is significantly faster than Firewire and you'll be seeing a lot more eSATA external HDs than Firewire over time. This particular drive contains a pass-through cable and bracket to connect your internal SATA drive connector to an external port bracket.

I checked the price for the same SanDisk Cruzer Micro at Newegg and it's the same price so keep that on the Dell order if you still want it.
posted by junesix at 10:47 AM on May 6, 2007

If you'll be keeping your shiny new pc for six years, you might want to get 64-bit Windows (I'd go for XP, some might prefer the rigors of Vista) because you'll probably want to add RAM during those 6 years, and 32-bit won't address more than 4 GB.
posted by anadem at 4:43 PM on May 6, 2007

N'thing multi core/processor + plenty of RAM.
If you like to Photoshop you should seriously consider a multi-monitor setup.
I'm sitting a my triple-monitor workstation and I'm not looking back.
Nothing beats the ability to unclutter your view by moving palettes off the image.
Great for surfing while transcoding video too :-)
Also consider buying a wacom tablet for editing.
Buy the best keyboard/mouse you can find.
They are the stuff you are actually going to touch during the next five-six years.
To further complicate things I'll suggest you consider (passive) watercooling :-).
A quiet workstation does wonders for your concentration.
posted by Thug at 7:10 AM on May 7, 2007

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