One of the most poorly kept secrets in the world of computer enthusiasts is that there really isn't a lot that can be done to make at PC truly unique. If you put the same parts into two different computers, they will perform the same. The cases could look completely different, but if all the internal components are the same then there is functionally no difference. If someone starts tuning one of the PCs by adjusting memory timings, system voltages, and perhaps even overclocking, then of course there would be a difference again, but short of this the same parts will offer the same level of performance.

That might seem like an obvious situation to most people, but it's important to keep in mind when looking at system reviews. In fact, we can take things a step further and look at the individual components. If you have two motherboards that use the same chipset, as we have shown in many instances, stock performance isn't going to vary much at all. The same situation applies to graphics cards: other than minor differences in clock speeds and cooling, any two graphics cards that are based off of the same GPU chipset are going to perform nearly the same. The differentiating factors between computers and components used to be relatively large, but we have reached the point now where the major aspects that determine which component or computer is better are often up to individual needs. Features, warranty, support, and price tend to be far more important for most people than whether or not you get an extra 1%-2% performance.

Most of our component reviews are now focusing on those areas, though of course we continue to look at overall performance as well, and it makes sense for system reviews to take a similar approach. One of the major differences between complete systems and individual components, however, is that it is virtually impossible to put together a review of all of the systems any company might have on offer. Take a quick look at any system builder's web site, choose any single base system, and you will still end up with numerous options that can be customized: CPU, memory, hard drive, and graphics card almost always have several possibilities, and depending on the vendor you might also be able to choose among motherboards, cases, power supplies, and extra cooling features. On top of that, throw in all of the accessories (speakers, keyboard, mouse, display, etc.) and warranty options and putting together a review of any particular system is really only going to be looking at one configuration out of potentially thousands.

There's nothing inherently wrong with doing a system review looking at one specific configuration, but when you consider that components often change after a couple months (or even weeks), focusing on the final performance is almost meaningless. Sometimes, a computer that we're sent for testing is basically discontinued before we even have a chance to complete the review -- or at least some of the components are replaced -- and it doesn't make much sense to spend time looking at the performance of a system that no one can actually purchase anymore. That's basically where we are today: we have not one but two systems from iBUYPOWER as well as a computer from Puget Systems, but every one of them has at least one component that is outdated or discontinued.

Rather than spending a lot of time talking about the performance of these systems, we decided to focus on the features, warranty, pricing, support, and options available from both companies. We will be using the test systems as examples of the sort of quality offered by these vendors, but benchmark performance isn't going to be a major factor. After all, it shouldn't be hard at all to configure nearly identical systems from either vendor that would end up offering the same level of performance. Both companies use off-the-shelf parts for their PC desktops, so what you're really doing is paying them to put it together for you and provide advice and support.

These two companies offer a range of desktop systems, from basic budget builds all the way up through extreme performance computers that cost thousands of dollars. iBUYPOWER sent us two units representing midrange and high-end configurations while Puget Systems sent us a single high-end computer. Even though the cost of the high-end systems is similar, the two companies took very different approaches, and it would be unfair to say which one is "better" by merely looking at a few benchmarks. Which approach is best depends on what you want. We'll start with a look at the systems from iBUYPOWER.

iBUYPOWER: Overview
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  • bbomb - Thursday, February 15, 2007 - link

    Glad to see HardOCP's method spreading to other sites. The more sites that do similar methods will help to keep more companies on their toes.
  • Zak - Thursday, February 15, 2007 - link

    "iBUYPOWER has been in business for just over a decade now, and they have grown from a very small retailer to one of the more well-known brands." Weird... I've never heard of them.

  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 15, 2007 - link

    Well, they're not as well known as a few other companies, but I've seen quite a few reviews over the years in PC Gamer and other magazines, and they're pretty well regarded. As mentioned elsewhere, their systems are available at Newegg as well.
  • Desslok - Thursday, February 15, 2007 - link

    Great to see these guys taking off.
  • Imnotrichey - Thursday, February 15, 2007 - link

    Thanks for the review, I would of never known a place like puget systems existed without this. After exploring both sites and playing with configurations, I must say I am very impressed with Puget's site. I especially like how they have a quiet pc section.
  • strikeback03 - Thursday, February 15, 2007 - link

    The CPU cooler in the Puget Systems unit is marketed by Arctic Cooling, not Cooler Master as stated in the review. Thanks for commenting on it though, as this cooler seems to get lots of hype but not many reviews.
  • Gary Key - Thursday, February 15, 2007 - link

    Thanks for the comments. I have corrected the cooling solution to Arctic.

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