At work we've been buying a lot of Opteron systems for our compute farm, so I've come to really like AMD's AMD64 and Hypertransport technologies. So I figured I'd go for a junior version of what I use at work and get an Athlon 64. The sweet spot at the moment for the gamer on a budget is the Athlon 64 3000, at ~ $150, only $10 more than the 2800, but $40 less than the 3200. For a motherboard, I'd read a really great review of the AOpen AK86-L, an excellent price-performer at ~ $90. Video card could use upgrading but that can wait. Throw in a half gig of DDR400/PC3200 memory on there and I should be all set, brand new fast computer for ~ $350.
Then begins the nightmare. Now I consider myself a pretty savvy consumer, especially for on-line purchases--one not likely to fall prey to scams, and with a good sense of where and where not to buy from. Unfortunately, I let myself fall prey to a really shoddy outfit that shipped me bad parts and took forever to do it.
Word of advice: do not buy from www.SMKSuperStore.com! I found them through Pricewatch, as one of the cheaper sellers of the CPU I wanted. Also, I noticed they were located in Rancho Santa Margarita, just down the street from me in fact, so I felt I was helping support a local business, and surely they should be able to turn this around next day.
I should have listened to my gut instinct, which was sending me warning signals while browsing their site, only to be overruled by my senses of reason and logic which saw nothing wrong on the surface. If you take a look at their site, you'll see it looks like a fairly typical small shop, which could be good--low overhead == good prices, right? But select a CPU--you'll see that they immediately start trying to upsell you other stuff you don't need nor want, like thermal compound (the fan already has it), pre-testing the equipment (why should this be necessary, stuff is supposed to work), and "expedited service" (totally bogus fee, why I should I have to pay extra for better customer service?).
I saw all this and ignored the subtle warning signs, and proceeded to buy my CPU and memory from them. Not knowing that I wouldn't need it, I bought the cheap thermal compound. But I wouldn't pay for pre-testing or "expedited service". Big mistake as it turned out--on all 3 counts: I shouldn't have bought the thermal compound, and I should have paid for the pre-testing and expedited service. This was Sunday the 15th.
I ordered the motherboard from Newegg.com, which turned it around next day, and I got it on Tuesday. Fabulous prices, free FedEx shipping (with whom I have a no-signature-required waver on file), and fast. 5 stars to Newegg.
And then I waited. And waited. And waited. SMK didn't even process my order until Thursday. I guess they saw I was too cheap to pay for "expedited service" and decided to punish me by sitting on it. Fortunately, the $8 I paid for shipping (which only got me US Priority mail) got me the package on Friday, not a huge surprise given the store, the post office, and my house are all within a mile of each other. Oops, but the USPS requires a signature, and no one was home... (wah wah wah wah). Finally I was able to pick it up on Saturday the 21st at the local post office.
And then it was time to assemble everything. I must say, I really like this motherboard. Great features, good layout, good docs, all kinds of tweaking/tuning potential. Got everything hooked up, turned it on--the moment of truth--and...
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! No video, nothing, just a bunch of beeps. I could tell it was stuck in a reboot cycle. The motherboard support forums said this kind of beeping indicated a memory problem. Yanked everything but the power, CPU, and memory. Same results. Cleared the CMOS, per the recommendation (same). Removed the memory (same). Removed the CPU--nothing :-). Not being a man of unlimited financial means, these kinds of problems are hard to diagnose since I don't have stacks of spare parts lying around. I finally went to PC Club and picked up a memory stick to use as a test--same thing. Okay... so it's either the CPU or the motherboard. Well I figured it was more likely the motherboard, and in either case I'd get replacement parts faster from Newegg than SMK, so I RMA'd it back to Newegg on Monday the 23rd. Newegg turned it around and I received the replacement on Friday the 27th. Again, kudos to Newegg for fast service. Hooked it up, and...
(you guessed it) BEEP! BEEP! ... Argh, okay, it must be the CPU. Went to PC Club, picked up a CPU, popped it in... and voila, now it all works perfectly. That was Saturday the 28th :-). Two weeks from payment to a working computer.
So now I'm stuck with a bad CPU, and memory stick, and a fan I don't want. Let's hope I can get my money back from my friends at SMK. Maybe if I stick a $5 bill in the box they'll expedite my refund.
Epilogue: I'm still a fan of on-line shopping, but I must say when stuff has to be returned, nothing beats a brick and mortal shop. In hindsight, I should have bought the CPU and memory at PC Club, whose prices are comparable, or used the will call service at the local Lake Forest-based AllStarShop.com (which I didn't
Update 9/26/2004: I did finally get refunded, not without some hassle--whatever, enough said on that topic.
Lovin' the new computer though. Sure, Doom 3 is fun, but even it gets a bit old. Graphics are great but I think I'd forgotten just how boring first person shooters can get: run, shoot. Shoot, run. Spin around, shoot. What's really been a treat is playing older games, like Morrowind, Black and White, and GTA. As always, new hardware breaths new life into older games. Definitely need a new video card though.