The Purchase: "Gimme, Gimme!"(computer System Purchase)
Quint, Barabara, Searcher
"Next month: the arrival of my new Dell Computer Dimension XPS P90 ($3,699 in the PC/Computing December 1994 issue, $3,149 in PC Magazine's December 4, 1994 issue)."
Hold it, buddy! Not so fast. Those concluding lines to last month's inaugural "The Great Upgrade" column turned out to be wishful thinking.
The first thing you learn after you've made the basic purchase decision for a new computer installation is that the purchase process takes a lot longer than you thought it would. For one thing, more than one purchase decision occurs when more than one player defines the purchase. Bundled packages of peripherals and software from computer sellers offer the best bargains. However, they also lead to an involved process of Chinese menu ordering ("One from column A, two from column B." , where the vendor's willingness to provide must synchronize with the buyer's wants and wishes.
As the decision process slows down, mired in lots of semi-negotiated choices, another danger strikes -- the onslaught of the dread disease, Technolust (Latin name: Moremore-itis). One would think that the innate reluctance to change my work environment which had kept me from buying new equipment all these years would have inoculated me for the disease. No such luck. One would have thought the shortness of funds which really stopped me from drunken revels at Computers `R' Us in the past would have left remnants of fiscal conservatism. HA!
The first faint realization that Technolust had me in its "grippe" came when a conversation with my cousin the programmer about the criticality of the V.34 modem standard ended with me telling him to order two and keep one for himself. As Lucy Ricardo once said to a helicopter pilot she was trying to persuade to fly her to Europe, "Money's no object. I have credit."
Now began a series of intense calls between the purchaser (me), the purchasing agent and adviser (my cousin), and the computer industry (Dell Computer Corporation et al. . The prebundled package closest to my original specifications priced out at $3,800, $200 below my $4,000 goal. It would include the Dell XPS P90 minitower computer with 8MB RAM and the usual equipment, plus. the special options requested of a 5-1/4-inch floppy drive, sound board and speakers, a 17-inch monitor, 28,800-bps V.34 fax modem, and a quad speed CD-ROM drive. But I don't want a minitower. It won't fit in my computer desk. I want a desktop model. And I want 16MB RAM and a bigger hard disk. And what about a SCSI bus?
My cousin goes back to renegotiate, but insists that I check out how essential a quad (4x) CD-ROM drive is. I call six colleagues expert in CD-ROMs. Three devotees of CD-ROMs assure me that the quad speed is essential. But one impartial techie indicates that 2x drives dominate the field, selling in the millions. The 3x and 4x work faster and better, but they still aren't fast enough to provide really good full motion video. A quad speed drive works at around half the speed of a television set. Then an article from Interactive Age points out that few CD-ROMs are designed to take advantage of the full potential of the quad drives. Nor is that likely to change with the prevalence of 2x drives driving product development. To illustrate, look at how few CD-ROMs are written to take advantage of the older 3x speed. Bottom line: it's not worth it, at this point. Funny. That's what my cousin said all along. When I sadly retract my demand for nothing but the best in CD-ROM drives, my cousin points out that I could buy a quad drive in six months, if I still want it, and probably cheaper.
So now that I've given up the quad speed CD-ROM drive, what can I buy with the extra funds instead? A LASER PRINTER! Another example of classic Technolust-fevered logic. Even a 4-ppm (page per minute) laser printer costs $600-$700, while the difference in CD-ROM pricing only supplies $300.
Once again, my stick-in-the-mud cousin wants me to re-think the decision. He suggests a good inkjet printer. They produce product that looks just as good for a lot less money to purchase and less money to operate. In fact, review articles indicate that laser printers cost as much as 3 cents a page in operating costs due to the high cost of toner cartridges, etc. Three cents a page is about the same as a copying shop would charge. No wonder people still cling to their dot matrix printers for quick and dirty assignments that don't require quality output. Still on this one, I put my foot down. I've wanted a laser printer for years and an upgrade just wouldn't feel real without one.
As discussions have progressed, my cousin's attitude has been changing and not for the better. Conversations have begun to fill with small silences and deep sighs. And he starts delivering little sermonettes on maturity. Herewith a sample:
Cousin: You're overbuying. Don't lose sight of what you plan to do with the machine. You don't need a CAD [computer-aideddesign] station here. You don't want your peripherals to ratchet the price up so high that you eliminate something you really want. Remember the maintenance and operating factors too. We have to buy a maintenance contract for the new equipment and it should be an on-site one. These days if anything goes wrong with a computer, you have to have special equipment to fix it. Look at those people who are getting new Pentium chip replacements from Intel. Free, huh? Only if you don't count labor. If you tried to install one of those things with a screwdriver, you'd ruin the rest of the machine. They're very delicate.
And I still say you should consider the inkjet printer. I can get you a good low price.
BQ: Me want laser printer. Me no want inkjet. Me want laser printer or nothing at all. You just don't want me to have equipment better than yours.
BQ: I have to go now. Someone's at the door.
Lo and behold! Here is UPS with the first official upgrade delivery -- fifty pounds of the makings for a mobile computer cart from Staples Office Supplies. It cost $59.95., a real bargain. They delivered it with the phone number of an assembler who will come out to the office and put it together for an additional $30. Of course, then the total price comes to around $90.
Hmmh, maybe that's the kind of thing my cousin was talking about.
Resisting reality, I sent a copy of all my specifications -- needs, wants, and wishes -- to an outside firm recommended by a friend for bid. However, I indicated I had only around $4,000 to spend. Surprise, surprise. They came back with a full offer on all the elements for -- you guessed it -- $3,999.
Tires! I once had a learning experience with purchasing tires. A colleague recommended an out-of-the-way shop, insisting that if I mentioned his name to Charley, I would get a great deal. When I bought tires before, I had followed a more conservative strategy. Check for tire specifications in the owner's manual. Read Consumer Reports. Call the discount shops, including the one the friend recommended, and get the best price. This time, I tried the alternative approach. The result? Four blowouts in three months. The warranty worked fine, but they just kept giving me more tires that blew out. I ended up having to buy a whole new set of tires recommended by Consumer Reports.
If the price drives the vendor's sale, then they may shop around for the cheapest parts they can find. Sometimes those parts will work fine. But if they don't, the out-of-town vendor won't be around to help. And a maintenance contract with on-site service may not cover oddball equipment.
You know, I think I'm beginning to recover. My Technolust temperature is returning to normal.
The Moment Has Come
It's time. I just got the call from my cousin. "Do you want to order a computer? I have the Chinese menu in hand. You have decisions to make. The Dell guy was nice. He told me to hold off a few days for all new pricing."
For the next hour and a half, my cousin, the Dell Computer man, and I went into the final negotiation phase, an intense sequence of decision making. Suddenly my cousin wanted me to take 75MHz instead of 9OMHz, because it matched a great offer for a multimedia computer bundle on the Dell chart. I dug in my heels on some recommendations and surrendered on others.
Price points are the critical factor for moving in and out of bundled offers. Vendors make assumptions about what customers will want and provide them in a discount package, but the package tends to have one or two under-powered elements. So you start moving up to a higher package, partly for braggin' rights, I fear. Sometimes you can become distracted by nickel-and-dime pricing matters which usually don't signify. For example, Dell added $9 for a printer cable, but then dropped the price of the 5-1/4-inch floppy disk drive from $79 to $60.
One might find some bargains from local purchase houses, but a single-source maintenance contract covering all the equipment offers the security of simplicity. God forbid computer repair should end up like the repairperson free-for-all when the cable, VCR, and television conflict! On the other hand, I still didn't want a 3-year warranty. I figure that the first year usually finds most of what's wrong with equipment. After that it settles down to a long run. In any case, two or three years from now, I would not want a fix, but a replacement with better and/or cheaper equipment. Like they say, we live in a throw-away society.
The final result? I decided on a Dell Computer Corporation Dimension XPS90, minitower (I'll use another desk if there's a problem), with 16MB RAM, 540MB hard disk drive, 15-inch color monitor, 2x CD-ROM drive, 2MB VRAM local bus and video card, Sound Blaster, stereo speakers, floppy disk drive, V.34 28,800-bps fax modem, 4-ppm laser printer, and a one-year, on-site warranty for all parts and labor. Total cost: $4357.38, including tax.
My cousin placed the order and called me with the necessary documentation -- customer number, quote number, order number, and the name and extension of my Dell contact. I called the Dell guy and flashed the really important number -- my credit card. By the way, Big Sibling protects us all. A few hours later I got a call from the credit card people, worried whether some criminal had captured my card. Apparently their computers tagged the size of this purchase as unusual and sent out humans to check it out. No problem.
But while I have the credit card out, how about ordering an upgrade from Windows 5.1 for DOS to WordPerfect for Windows? $99. You will receive it in five working days.
Add-on costs. Now it begins.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: The Purchase: "Gimme, Gimme!"(computer System Purchase). Contributors: Quint, Barabara - Author. Magazine title: Searcher. Volume: 3. Issue: 2 Publication date: February 1995. Page number: 24+. © 1999 Information Today, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1995 Gale Group.
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