iBUYPOWER: Overview

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. They now have a full line of computer systems ranging from entry level computers and laptops to high-end configurations, and they have a wide variety of customization options allowing you to build everything from a typical business computer through a top-performing gaming monster. Prices are very competitive with what you can find in the DIY market, and the net result is that you can basically pay a small price premium while still being able to heavily customize virtually every option you might want in a modern PC. It doesn't matter whether you want an Athlon X2 or a Core 2 Duo system, AMD or NVIDIA graphics; iBUYPOWER provides the most popular components from all of these companies.

Taking a look at the iBUYPOWER website, there are quite a few interesting options. You can select among the various notebooks or desktops, but also present are weekly specials as well as systems that will ship within 24 hours. It's not entirely clear how some of these options differ, as even the weekly specials still have a huge amount of customizability. You can also pay extra to have any system shipped within 24 hours, three days, or five days, so having a separate category for systems that ship within 24 hours seems a bit odd. Many of the system names are not particularly descriptive, and some of the models listed are pretty outdated -- the Intel PC listed as "Gamer SLI" ends up being a Pentium D based system, for example -- so customers should know a bit about what type of system they want to buy before they begin shopping. Regardless of where you start, the majority of the systems appear to be basic recommendations that you can upgrade or downgrade as you see fit.

Given that we know computer hardware quite well, we didn't find it very difficult at all to pick through their offerings and find a few that we found to be interesting. The weekly specials seemed like a good place to start, but after clicking on the Intel offering we discovered that the specials all came with Pentium 4/Pentium D processors. Returning to the main page, we decided to look at customizing a Core 2 Duo system, and that allowed us to quickly get down to the business of choosing individual components for a Core 2 Duo based computer. (Options on their AMD systems are similar in terms of component selection, but we will focus on Core 2 Duo for the remainder of this discussion.) There are currently 17 case choices available, not counting color options, so most people should be able to find a case that they like. You can get any of the cases with or without lighting (it seems rather pointless to get lighting in a case that doesn't have windows, of course), and you can either stick with iBUYPOWER's default 400W/420W power supply or you can choose one of the eight upgraded PSUs ranging from a relatively inexpensive 500W NZXT up through a massive 1100W Tagan unit.

All of Intel's currently shipping Core 2 Duo/Core 2 Extreme processors are available in the CPU section, and the prices appear to be pretty close to what you would pay if you were to purchase the CPU on your own. You can also choose from three different CPU cooling options: stock retail HSF, an upgraded heatsink that includes extra lights, or you can get a Cooler Master liquid cooling solution for a modest $54 extra. It would have been nice to be able to choose one of the higher end air cooling solutions, but considering the weight and the fact that iBUYPOWER is going to ship the systems, we can understand their reluctance to install heatsinks that sometimes weigh over 2 pounds.

The motherboard selection is good, and it's virtually impossible to include every popular option currently on the market. iBUYPOWER seems to focus on ASUS and MSI as their primary options, but they have a few boards from other companies as well (Intel, Abit, and EVGA for example). The memory configuration options are extremely limited, and it looks like most of the systems come with Corsair memory. All of the systems we looked out came with DDR2-800 memory, which is good, but other than that you can only choose between 512MB, 1GB, or 2GB of memory. You can stick with the default "Corsair Value or major brand" or you can spend a bit extra to get Corsair XMS2 RAM. We would like to see the option to install 4GB of memory at the very least, and while it might be nice to get a bit more information about what "major brands" could be used, getting higher performance enthusiast memory is generally only a concern for people looking overclocking -- something that iBUYPOWER does not officially support.

The selection of graphics cards definitely makes up for the limited memory choices. There are presently 33 different GPU options available, ranging from basic GeForce 7100 GS and Radeon X1300 cards all the way up through GeForce 8800 GTX SLI configurations. It does not appear that iBUYPOWER prevents you from selecting incompatible choices -- for example, you can select a 975X motherboard and a variety of SLI graphics solutions -- but we would assume they will contact you if you choose configurations that don't work. If you need help deciding, online chat support is available Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. PST. (Those hours are also the same as the technical support hours.) Most of the systems appear to focus predominantly on NVIDIA graphics solutions, but CrossFire configurations are also available. If you choose one of the NVIDIA graphics cards, you can also choose to spend a few extra dollars in order to get a "High-Performance" EVGA brand GPU -- there's no indication whether these are factory overclocked cards or not, however.

Hard drive choices are limited to SATA models, but that's not a big deal given that nearly all computers use SATA drives these days. You can choose any of the most common sizes ranging from 80 GB up through 750GB, including the 10,000 RPM Western Digital Raptor. The cheaper hard drives (and also the smaller sizes) are all 8MB cache models, while all of the 320GB and larger models come with a 16MB cache. There's also an option to get a 1TB solution that consists of two 500GB drives, and although there's no indication whether or not this is a RAID 0 setup we would assume so. The same options are available for a secondary hard drive, but there doesn't appear to be any way to choose a default RAID configuration and it is possible to select two 1TB "drives" regardless of what case you chose earlier, so it appears there's a potential conflict there as well. Other than the Western Digital Raptor, there's no indication of what brand the hard drives might be, but Seagate and Western Digital are the most likely candidates - most likely whichever happens to be cheapest at the time the drives are ordered.

The remaining options are more mundane, but you still get quite a few choices. Besides an external hard drive array, you can install up to two optical drives (six different options to choose from, as well as the ability to select appropriate faceplate colors), go with the onboard audio or add one of five discrete audio cards (three X-Fi based, one Audigy SE, or one generic Dolby Digital 7.1), and one of five speaker options (or save money and don't get any speakers). You can also choose to add a modem/fax and/or a network card, and let's not forget the venerable floppy -- again with the ability to choose the appropriate faceplate color. Wrapping things up, there are 11 different keyboards options available and nine different mouse options (or you can skip the keyboard and mouse if you already have one that you like).

For the display, you can either get no display, one display, or two separate displays. The display choices are broken down into LCD monitors and LCD TVs, and most of the selections are from Viewsonic. There are 16 LCD monitors currently listed, ranging from 17" models up through 23" models. The only LCD TVs currently listed are 20" and 27" widescreen models, also from Viewsonic. If you like Viewsonic as a brand, the display options should keep you pretty happy, but a lot of people will probably prefer to shop elsewhere, especially anyone looking for a 24" or larger LCD. The prices listed for the various LCDs are in line with what you would expect to see for Viewsonic models, but there are definitely other displays out there that offer a better price/performance ratio.

All that, and we still haven't gotten off the first page of the online configurator! However, most of the choices on the next two pages are a lot easier to make. The second page is comprised primarily of accessories that most people won't need: flash memory readers, printers, flash drives, web cams, and a few other items. Software options are also listed on the second page, so you can choose an appropriate operating system (including the ability to purchase a system without any OS installed!) and whether you want one of Microsoft's Office/Works products. You can also choose to add rounded cables and wireless networking devices if you need them, as well as TV tuner/remote accessories.

The final page consists of the warranty and rush shipping options. All of iBUYPOWER's systems appear to come with a standard three-year warranty, so basically all you need to do is decide whether or not you want to spend extra money in order to get the system sooner rather than later. It costs $49 extra in order to guarantee that your system will ship within five business days, $69 to guarantee three business day service, or $109 to guarantee that the system will ship the next business day. Most people will probably be okay waiting the standard 5-10 days, but for anyone that wants their new computer now the ability to pay the extra for that service will be appreciated.

Going through iBUYPOWER's online configurator shows the company's roots. They appear to target the more knowledgeable computer users that are looking for a highly customized system at a competitive price. There are a wealth of configuration options available, and less experienced computer buyers will probably end up confused. The fact that the configurator doesn't do any error checking to make sure that you don't select incompatible parts (i.e. SLI cards on a motherboard that doesn't support SLI) is a black mark, and given the amount of detail present already it seems like they should easily be able to add the necessary code in order to eliminate incompatible choices. Luckily, if you visit the site during normal business hours you can get live chat support to help you select the appropriate components. One of the nice features is that you get a clear picture of most of the parts you select, including numerous images from different angles of each of the cases. We would have liked to see more images on some of the other components, but for most people the case design is going to be more important than what's inside, at least when it comes to appearances.

Overall, the component selection is excellent and the presentation is generally good, but less experienced buyers might need a helping hand -- either from a friend or via the online chat feature. The site could definitely use some refinement, and some areas that might be important in the future (for example the support area) are a bit difficult to locate. There's a lot of in-your-face advertising that gets in the way of finding what you want; even if you know the type of system you're interested in purchasing, figuring out which of the available options matches your needs/wants basically requires trial and error clicking. Still, the value offered is excellent; comparing the final price of a couple of systems to what you would expect to pay if you purchased everything from an online retailer like Newegg.com, once you factor in the 3-year warranty, the total cost is essentially identical and the system is assembled for you. If you don't want a 3-year warranty, you can knock off about 10-15% from the price (about $450 on a $3000 setup) by building a computer on your own. You still get somewhat lower prices overall if you go there DIY route and no single system integrator is going to be able to match the configuration options available, but for most people companies like iBUYPOWER are a very good alternative.

Index iBUYPOWER: Construction and Design
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  • EvErywhErE - Saturday, October 25, 2008 - link

    Great Article on Pudget! I stumbled accross them quite by accident last month after my work machine melted down... I was tight for time, didn't want to think about anything, and was planning on doing just a litle internet research to see if anyone could beat Dell for general price, performance, warrenty, and ease of assembly.

    I was instantly impressed with the pudget website, and the fact that a real person picked up the phone and seemed to know exactly what I needed. I explained that I was an mechanical engineer and that the machine would be used for CAD work about 90% of the time. 10 minutes later I recieved an e-mail link to a custom computer that served as a great starting point. I did just a little customizing and really felt quite happy knowing that I didn't have to spend the rest of my day weighing performance, stability, and an unknown amount of time troubleshooting that one unexpected thing.

    I ended up going with an Intel Core 2 Quad Q9400 Quad-Core 2.66GHz, an Asus P5Q-E mother board, Quadro FX 1700, and 4Gig of ram. Not the most amazing machine out there, but more than enough to keep me working for another year or two.

    As luck would have it my modest workstation proved to be a nightmare to get up and running... In the end it took a full 4 weeks to get everything up and running. This included some hardware shipping delays, swapping of memory, OS choices (xp64, then Vista 64) swapping the motherboard, and eventually solving the problem with a Bios update.

    Needless to say I've gone through many levels of frustration during the whole process, but at the same time I really have felt supported by pudget the whole time. My contact person has been quick with updates most of the time, and has always been good at not making promises that he couldn't keep.

    In the last week I've spent so much time researching computer components that I decided to just build my own one more time, and when I realized how huge my mark up was it really did make even more sense. But there really is a bit of irony though because my last machine was painstakingly built up with the help of a knowledgeable friend for the exact same purpose and I had a bios gremlin the haunted me for the past 3 years...

    So to bring this long story to a finish, I sent an e-mail to Pudget today saying that after a lot of thought, too much computer research, and of course way too much waiting, I'd decided to cancle the order. This had already been discussed previously and the plan was to make a final decision today. I recieved a very nice call from a manager just an hour or so later who was very sympathetic to the whole situation.

    As it turned out my computer had finally made ith though the last phase of QA and was ready to ship. Considering all I'd been through he offered to ship it next day for free and let me demo the machine with an unconditional 30 return and no restocking fee. At the moment I'm still pretty set on the idea of building an SLI machine myself- but at the same time I realized that even in this worst of all imaginable scenerios, I as a customer never felt negleted. That's a really had thing to find these days even in the best of situations, so to find a company that really did manage to fall flat on their face in terms of expectations, but still maintain customer support and confidence is really something that stands out.

    About 10 minutes after I got off the phone I recieved an email summary of my newly completed system complete with thermal images in both an idle and loaded configuration. It's just a little touch, but really that is what makes the difference between high quality and useless junk. My new test drive toy should arrive monday morning; I can't decide if I want to to be amazing, or if I want to need a little more. I guess too much geeking out on specs the last week has really started to sink in. Either way it's nice to know that there's a whole crew of people to support me regardless of my decision.

    Pudget definately isn't the cheapest, and they don't offer every component known to man, but if you're in the market for a team of people that will take the time to do the job right, and provide quality human interaction the whole way through the process they may be a very good choice.
  • Metal Face - Monday, February 26, 2007 - link

    It looks like Puget may have scrapped their Certified Systems program
  • icthy - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    I've been considering buying a computer from Puget Systems for some time now, so I was quite glad to see the article. I especially appreciate that you calculated the markup for a computer, although it would have been nice to see some details. Also, I want to mention the reason I've considered Puget Systems is they'll build a top of the line linux computer, which is nice because then you don't have to worry about issues with compatability and cutting-edge hardware. I'd like to offer the friendly suggestion that this would have been a useful piece of information for the article, as it's rather difficult to find a computer vendor that will build something that will be guaranteed for linux.

    Finally, I'd suggest checking out Envision Computer Solutions for a future article along these lines. I bought a PC from them and was very impressed. (Note: I have absolutely no personal or business relationship with them).
  • Imnotrichey - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    yikes, i didnt see that part. 25% markup seems a bit extreme.
  • JarredWalton - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    Check out VoodooPC, Falcon Northwest, Alienware, and anyone else like that. Some of them seem to be about a 50% markup - and yes, I'm accounting for the cost of their custom paint jobs (where applicable).
  • Imnotrichey - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    Yes, I'm sure you are correct that this is better than those others. Just surprising to me, since I never looked into it. 5-10% I could understand, but making a 2000 buck system cost 2500 just doesn't seem worth it. Seems like someone would slip under that 25% mark up and force them to compete at that level.
  • JeffDM - Sunday, February 18, 2007 - link

    Given the costs of doing business, I really don't think it's extreme.

    In your example, the $2000 "system" isn't really a system, it is really just a pile of parts. It's part of the $500 extra that makes it into a system, the rest have to go to business expenses. The labor, procurement, warranty and support aren't free. There are a host of other business expenses in there too, running a business is not cheap.
  • runestone - Saturday, February 17, 2007 - link

    I live in the nearby area of Puget Systems, here's my .02: when the A8nE-sli boards came out, they were hard to get. I noticed they had some; called them and got a quote of 275$, well past my threshold of gouging. I found one a day later for 100 less.
    I guess if you have the money to blow they have some nice systems.
  • anandtech02148 - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    good taste, always begins with a computer case. Puget got it.
  • Imnotrichey - Friday, February 16, 2007 - link

    I agree, Puget system seems to give you so many top notch choices

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