Computer Buying Part II: 3D
Last week I learned that my annual boost in spending money was going to be significantly larger than I’d expected. It would be enough to cover several of the projects I needed to do in addition to the money I’d already allocated to get to Vegas and the money I’d already spent on a Laptop. I’d also be able to put some into savings.
And I’d have enough to replace one of my son’s PCs in our house that had died in the middle of last year. Rather than replace the low-end, barely enough to play World of Warcraft machine that he’d had. My wife and I decided to replace mine. She’d get my old one. My son would get her old one. My other son’s was still doing just fine. For the people who care about tech specs, I’ll have those at the bottom for all the PCs involved. For now, we’ll skip the tech speak.
As a bit of a computer Geek I am aware of two facts of computer evolution. The first is that desktops are usually more powerful than laptops of the same price. The second is that the gap in price/power is shrinking every year. Actually, it’s much cheaper these days to buy a low-end laptop than a low-end desktop plus monitor plus keyboard. But I am not looking for that low-end. I am looking for something with a bit of graphics power and that becomes much more expensive in Laptops.
Still I shopped around, looking at both laptops and desktops.
I did the usual sweep through Best Buy and discovered that the low-end laptops are dominating the market. They had all of two Laptops that I would consider. The cheaper of the two would have barely met my needs, so it quickly fell off the possibility list. The other one featured something called Nvidia 3Dvision. It was OMG cool. It used a high-tech method to create 3D images with a special pair of glasses. The way it worked was that the screen refreshed at double the rate of a normal screen with alternating images for the left and right eye. The glasses would flicker in sync, allowing the pertinent eye to see the image but blocking the other eye for a fraction of a second. I’m sorry but tech speak is a little necessary here. The normal refresh rate of a computer screen is 60 refreshes per second or 60hz. A 3Dvision capable screen must refresh at 120 times per second or 120hz. This is called shutter technology 3D. There are not many monitors with screens that can do that and even fewer laptops.
I made the decision to buy the laptop. Research showed that Best Buy actually had it significantly under-priced. They also had it significantly under-stocked. They didn’t have any in the store besides the display and they wouldn’t sell the display. They offered to order one for me if I paid in advance, but I was already waiting for a computer to ship to me and didn’t really trust Best Buy to be able to come up with one. I decided I was being foolish and overly enticed by the beautiful 3Dvision.
Further research revealed that the 3Dvision capable laptops were usually barely capable of handling the technology and their video cards would be obsolete within the year and if that wasn’t true about a particular model, I couldn’t afford it.
No other computer at Best Buy could do it. Even online ordering produced exorbitant price options, far beyond what I wanted to spend. I decided I was going to build my own Computer. It would be powerful. It would be exactly what I needed and it would be 3Dvision capable. I really wanted 3D.
There is a local computer shop called DIT. It’s not really local. They started in Omaha about fifteen years ago or so and have since expanded out to Iowa and Lincoln. DIT are the founder’s initials, for the curious. If you were to walk into DIT you wouldn’t see more than one or two pre-built computers. You’d see a bunch of empty computer cases on one wall and all the stuff that you might put inside on the other. I’ve now bought 9 computer systems from DIT over the years.
I picked and chose and came up with a list of things my computer would have. I started with an obnoxiously large and ugly case that had far more cooling power than I’d ever need. The thing has 5 fans built in. Five super quiet fans. I then looked at the newest generation components and decided, as I usually do, that I couldn’t afford those. Instead I go one generation back and get the high end of those. They’re about half the price and I don’t do anything that would need the modern top-end performance. Still, most everything I chose was better than anything I could find at Best Buy in a pre-built machine.
I say I built it myself, but that’s not entirely true. I picked all the parts and I do know how to put them together, but since DIT was willing to put it together without charging me for that service, I let them do it. Then final product of all my research and efforts came in at just under my allocated budget. Unfortunately it came in at just over my debit card’s daily spending limit.
So I called my bank to have them override the spending limit.
Here’s where the fun begins.
Me: I need to bump my spending limit up for today.
Bank: Sure, just let me talk to the salesperson and I’ll give them a manual override code.
Store guy: We don’t know how to use manual override codes. (But I trust these guys to assemble expensive computer components?)
Me: Is there another way you could do this. There isn’t just a place you can change the number?
Bank: No can do, you need to visit your branch.
Me: It’s Saturday and my branch is a four hour drive from here.
Bank: Hmm, if we upgrade your account, it should raise your limit. (And I get a bonus for selling our new product) He didn’t say that last part. The new account will be interest bearing.
Me: Fine, sure, whatever it takes. One no-fees checking account is the same as any other, right? Interest bearing checking is good.
Ten minutes of information exchange later and I’m a proud new owner of a super special free but interest bearing checking account. I am not a proud new owner of an awesome computer.
Bank: That didn’t change your spending limit. It seems that’s a property of your card. We’ll send you a new one with a higher limit; you’ll have it in 5-7 days.
Me: I’m in the store now. I want to spend my money now.
Bank: You could go to an ATM and get cash and pay part of the bill with the card and the rest in cash.
Me: You mean my cash withdrawal limit and my spending limit are separate?
Me: And you couldn’t tell me this forty-five minutes ago?
I didn’t really say that, I just thanked him and paid the majority of my bill with my debit card and ran to an ATM and got the rest in cash, which I returned and traded for my new computer. (Okay so there was a few hours delay while they put it together.)
Saturday night I spent moving data from old computer to new one. I didn’t have a monitor for the new one yet so I was using a cheapo 18.5″ LCD that I’d bought that day for my boys’ computers. They were still using 10-year-old 19″ CRT dinosaurs.
Sunday morning I went in search of my new monitor. As I mentioned it had to be 120hz. I hadn’t found any. I’d already checked Best Buy and the computer store the day before. I went to Sam’s Club at 8am. I am a business member because I have my own business.(You know: this blog. It’s not a high profit endeavor). But, business members get to go into Sam’s three hours before they open for normal members. That’s important when it’s Superbowl Sunday and I want to avoid crowds.
None of their monitors were 120hz. That is, none of their Monitors were. They did have a TV. Most TVs make poor monitors, but this one had settings for PC monitor capability at 120hz. And it was on the clearance rack. A few minutes later I walked out with a 32″ LCD monitor.
Thirty two inches is big. When it’s three feet away on my desk its really big. 1080P three feet away is beautiful.
The last bit I needed was the 3Dvision kit. This is a specialty item and not available in stores. Sigh. A little investigation into where to get it and how to get it to work on my TV/Monitor revealed that I didn’t need the 3Dvision kit. There is Stereoscopic 3D built into the video card. Steroscopic means the kind of 3D where one eye looks through red and the other through blue lenses. And I did have a pair of paper 3D glasses in a junk drawer. I tried it, it works. And I didn’t have to spend another two hundred bucks for a toy. 3Dvision is much prettier than spectroscopic and easier on the eyes, but too much of an investment for me for a toy. If you like 3D, look into it.
Below are technical specifications. This would be a good place to stop reading if that’s the kind of stuff that you don’t care to read about.
My old Computer was also from DIT. It was an unusual exception as it was all top-end when I bought it. It has a boring black case with loud fans and an AMD Phenom quad-core 9750 at 2.4Ghz with 4GB RAM and 1TB hard drive, a Blu-ray reader, and a Nvidia 9600GT video card and a 23″ Monitor. It didn’t start that way, but has seen some upgrades over the years.
The new computer is a huge yellow and black mesh case with lots of fans and very quiet. It has a AMD Phenom II quad-core 3.4Ghz processor and 8GB RAM and a 500GB hard drive (This size was free with a $200 purchase), a Blu-ray writer, a NVIDIA GTX260 and a 32″ 120hz Monitor. The downside is that my printer no longer fits on my desk.
My wife’s old computer was an HP AMD Phenom quad 9650 at 2.3Ghz and 3GB Ram and 640GB Hard Drive and an NVIDIA 8400GT.
The surviving PC that my kids had been sharing is a COMPAQ AMD Athlon X2 7750 at 2.7Ghz and 2GB RAM and a 320GB HARD DRIVE. We’d thrown in a Nvidia 9500GT so they could play games.
We also currently have an old HP 1000tx tablet PC. It’s still cool, albeit wimpy in comparison. I use it about once a week. My new laptop should arrive tomorrow.
DIT can be found on the web at DITcorp.com.