Tobold's Blog
Wednesday, October 05, 2011
Getting rid of Alienware

4 years ago I bought a computer from Alienware. Not a bad machine, but it was the last "pre-made" computer I ever bought because I realized something: Companies like Dell / Alienware turn PCs from an open architecture into a closed proprietary one. You can't just do anything you like with such a system, just like you can't do anything you like with an Apple computer.

Well, I'm buying a new computer every 2 years, give the 2-year old computer to the wife, and kick out the 4-year old one. So, just having bought a new PC, it was time for the Alienware PC to be given away. Obviously I didn't want my programs and data to remain on it. After some attempts to "clean" the hard drive from all information relating to me, I quickly realized that this wouldn't work without a clean format and re-install. Which I then proceeded to do.

At that point the Alienware PC decided to give me one last smack on the head for having bought a closed system. I had formatted the hard drive and re-installed Windows XP. But Windows XP refused to run without activation, and the Alienware PC refused to let itself be activated. Via internet he refused to communicate with Microsoft activation service. And when choosing the activate via telephone option he refused to give me the identification number required for that phone activation. Searching for the problem on Google turned up the information that this was actually not uncommon for pre-made PCs.

In the end I had to use the re-install disc that had come with the Alienware PC, even if that was Windows Vista. 4 years ago I had installed Windows XP over the pre-installed Vista (the first version of Vista was rather horrible, although it improved slightly with the service packs). That somehow overcame that Windows XP activation problem. But a clean install of Windows XP wasn't possible on this machine. Well, the nephew of my wife who is going to inherit the computer is going to have to live with Vista. I already spent all evening getting the machine up and running again, and I wasn't in a mood to retry my feat from 4 years ago to install XP over Vista. And now the only desktop computers left in the house have been assembled by the local computer shop from separate components. No more being locked into a Dell / Alienware system. Good riddance!

Why switching to Vista when you can go for Windows7? The age of XP is gone, don't think it's still better than Win7. I'd skip Vista completely, to be fair.

I was tied to WindowsXP for years, mostly due to software compatibilities in my office. I started using W8 when it was in open beta and I loved it.
Making your own PC also gives you a lot more choice. I know what I want to put in my PC and those pre-made PC's are never exactly what I want. The last pre-madePC I bought had for example a tv card and card reader. Don't need them buy you pay for them.
What Carra said!

It also means that if you have decent components you want to keep (optical drives, for instance) you can move them over to the new machine and save a bit of cash.

I spent about £500 on my new machine a couple of years back, and just transferred the optical drives and wireless network card, plus other bits and bobs from the old machine, saving myself probably a good £50 in the process, useful if your cashflow is a bit more limited!

The best part was the graphics card, which was a bit of a monster when I got it - 1gb, and takes up a rather large amount of space, and has copper cooling pipes :)

Oh, and I stayed with Win XP as didn't like Vista, and my printer and camera card reader don't work with Win7
Build your own.

You can order all the parts online (I use Amazon). Takes one afternoon to assemble - less if you aren't re-using parts from your old machine. And it's fun.

In the end you get a machine that exactly fits your specs, is MUCH cheaper than what you can buy on-line, and you know it inside and out.
I've always avoided the pre-mades for the reason you specify. After putting together (or having a computer shop do most of the assembly) for a long time, I bought a DogHouse Systems computer. All standard parts assembled and tested.
I have building my own PCs for years and ever since Microsoft introduced online activation the operating system has always been a difficulty.

In the first instance self build can involve a lot of trial, error and re-installing of operating systems which quickly exhausts your activation limit. In the second instance my self build PCs tend to evolve naturally over time as new bits get added and parts get replaced. To me it is the same PC because it sits in the same box and does the same job but every few upgrades Windows decides it is a new PC and insists on re-activating.

To be fair Microsoft were always reasonable with Windows XP. I have had to ring up many times because the online activation refused me but they always gave me a code after I explained that it really was the same PC even though I had replaced the motherboard, processor, hard disk and graphics card.

They have tightened the rules with Windows 7 unfortunately and now the operating system seems to be tied to the motherboard. Upgrade your motherboard and you need to buy a new copy of Windows.

Given that the motherboard is the bit that ties everything together I suppose that policy is understandable but it has directly influenced my decision not to upgrade my older machines to Windows 7 even though they could benefit from it. I am not going to waste a license on an older motherboard that will be soon replaced.
Alienware was good before they got bought out by Dell. Now you are paying for an overpriced Dell when you buy Alienware.

In the US, I really like Digital Storm. Good price, fully configurable, tested, and great support. I'm more than happy to spend an extra $200-300 to have someone else test all the parts, put it all together, and answer any questions I might have over the 3 years it's going to be used.
Agreed. I built my current beast from parts I ordered through NewEgg and put the thing together myself. It has been running like a dream for over two years now, and I have only had to update the graphics card to play the latest titles on full graphical settings!
I think you will find licensing, especially Windows, getting more onerous. Even with a computer bought from a local shoppe you need to ensure the Certificate of Authenticity label goes with it. I do not see how buying from local dealer would have changed your pre-installed Windows experience.

You are doing the logical and recommended strategy. I do not see how a local dealer who buys hundreds of chips is going to be price competitive with a manufacturer who buys millions. I use to always buy top-of-the-line computers. Now it is probably more effective to spend less money more frequently.

My beliefs are:
never pay (non-warranty) to repair a system, never upgrade inside the case(external drives & monitors are OK), never "upgrade" a Microsoft OS - new OS means new hardware. The new Apple OS licensing is convenient and the upgrades work.
Sounds like Linux may be the way to go in future!
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