What Makes a Good Computer?

By Deane Barker on October 20, 2005

Let’s face a fact: computer manufacturers don’t “make” anything. They assemble parts they purchased from somewhere else. This being the case, what makes a “good” computer? What’s the differentiator between purchasing your computer from HP or Dell? Compaq or Gateway?

I’ve come up with a short list, along with my picks between the only two brands I have a lot of experience with: Gateway and Dell. So, if you’re buying the same machine, with the same parts, why pick one merchant over the other?

  1. Case configuration and ease of physical maintenance
    This is why I love Gateways. There are no screws on any of the internals. The hard drives all come out by sliding a little pastic clip thing. To my pleasant surprise, I found the other day that the power supply is fastened in the same manner — I swapped one out without a screwdriver.

    Gateway hard drives are back-end out when the side of the case is removed, so you don’t have to slide them out inside the case before removing them.

    Case size plays into this a lot too. The Gateway cases I have around here are all much larger than the Dell cases. You can get huge cases on the higher-end Gateways.

  2. Ease of purchase
    A big reason why I still buy Dells — not so much because I’m so sure their purchase process is better, but because I’ve bought so many Dells that I’m used to it. That’s a poor excuse — I should try Gateway more.

  3. Support resources
    Driver downloads are handy — make them easy to find. Don’t make me hunt for the maximum RAM my system can support. If the video on my screen is upside down, there had better be a search engine that returns something for the phrase “upside down.”

    Gateway really wins in terms of Web sites. Not only is their site beautifully done and usable as all get out, but they have the serial number lookup system which I use once a month, without fail. I’ve never seen anything so handy.

  4. Return and repair competence
    I haven’t had to return too many computers for repair, but Dell has always done well for me. They sent me a new keyword for a laptop once, with great directions on how to replace it — took about five minutes.

  5. Price
    The other big reason I still buy Dells. They’re inexpensive as anything, and the low-end machines are great for office workers who need to send email and run Microsoft Word.

And here’s one thing many might bring up, but that I don’t think is that big of a deal:

  • Expandabilty
    It’s just not that important, and that’s more a function of the motherboard than the manufacturer. Lots of slots are good, but with USB and Firewire, it’s less important these days since peripherals can be added externally.

    Maximum RAM isn’t that important anymore either, since it’s so high on most machines.

What do you think? If you’re loyal to one particular manufacturer, why?

What This Links To


  1. I think you know my answer to your question and let me tell you why. #5 is the only one that is different from the reasons people buy from Dell. I’m willing to pay more for an Apple product because Apple beats all the others on your first four criteria so handily. If they made it difficult to buy one and were a pain to deal with I might have a different opinion. You’re right on the expandibility part. When was the last time you actually considered upgrading a processor or added a PCI card to your pc? USB and Firewire have all peripherals covered these days.

    Unless you are trying to bait Dave and myself you should probably title this “What makes an adequate Windows PC?”

  2. Unless you are trying to bait Dave and myself

    I wasn’t trying to bait anyone. If the first four reasons are why you buy Apple, then that’s a valid observation.

  3. They sent me a new keyword for a laptop once, …

    Is a “keyword” a new-fangled laptop component that I am oblivious to or did you mean “keyboard”?

  4. I used to be a Dell fan but have switched in the past couple of years to putting my own small form factor boxes together using the Shuttle XPC barebones offerings (see NewEgg for great service and prices). Several things drove me to switch:

    • Size: I have no need for a full size computer with all the expandability options. Early on I was buying my computers with an eye towards future expandability but by the time I had extra money to expand and upgrade, the system would be old enough to need to be replaced.
    • Custom fit: I can configure my box exactly how I want it with the specific hardware and specs that I want. I’m in control of everything, including the operating system and what goes on the box. I got tired of all the junk that came on a machine from Dell. Sure, most of it is meant to help, but I never used it or needed it.
    • Quiet: I have one last Dell box that I need to replace. It is one of their low end boxes with a Celeron and very little anything. Yet the box makes enough noise between the fan and various whines and other noises to make you think it was being used for hardcore graphics. I know custom boxes isn’t for everyone, but I was surprised at how easy it actually was.
  5. I don’t know if this counts towards your questions but I’ll throw it out there.

    None of the companies impress me that is why I build my own. For example I can’t wait to build my own Mini-itx system. ;-)

    No fans, no noise, and really small.

  6. I would buy a gateway over a Dell because Dell has outsourced their customer service dept to India or Phillipines and it sucks. Dell used to be good. I have a Gateway 675 laptop that has required alot of repairs … I use it 24/7 but with the priority service i get AMERICAN service people who understand the problems and resolve them quickly. I would never buy a dell over a gateway because of their service personnel in foreign countries who don’t have a clue.


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