Computer Upgrade Nightmare
Mon Aug 30th 2004, 4:05pm (updated Sun Sep 26th 2004, 3:37pm)
Probably like a million other people out there, I got Doom 3, played it for a few days, and decided that I really did need to upgrade my Windows box. Sure, it played reasonably at 640x480 on my Athlon XP 2000+/Radeon 9600 combo, but it'd been about 2 years since I'd upgraded, and all my games were starting to suffer. Plus there are more things to look forward to on the PC in the near term (Half Life 2, etc).

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 know about realize was a comparable deal [updated 9/5] until last week). In any case, this is just another horror story to remember before buying anything from another rinky-dink on-line shop--trust your gut instincts.
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.



Visitor comments
On Wed Sep 1st 2004, 11:43am, Will Fife posted:
AllStarShop and NewEgg are both great computer stores, and Ive had several great experiences with both of them. I also recommend using American Express for all online purchases because they have the best consumer protection.


On Wed Sep 1st 2004, 5:31pm, Matt posted:
you just found out about allstar a week ago?
i told ya about that place a month ago after i bought my new uber-rigs and i've got icq logs to prove it. :P

anyway, sorry to hear ya got burned man.


On Sun Sep 5th 2004, 10:36pm, Steve Kehlet posted:
Will: thanks for the tip, I'll have to check out getting an AmEx card for future online orders. I'm still waiting for word on my refund from SMK :-(.

Matt: okay, I confess. You did tell me about AllStarShop a while back but at the time I thought the prices seemed a lot higher. It wasn't until after I'd placed my order elsewhere that I realized I was on crack. For example, the significantly higher price for a CPU was because--d'oh--it comes with a fan. Yeah, I got burned, and probably the reason why I got irate enough to post about it was because I realized it was my own fault. Buyer beware.


On Sun Oct 3rd 2004, 9:19pm, Steve Kehlet posted:
I have one more constructive thing to add on this topic: I found what looks to be a great online store accountability database at http://resellerratings.com/. Sure enough, Smksuperstore has a 4.0 of 10 lifetime rating, averaged over five categories. If you remove "pricing of products" from the average, they score 2.5 :-). Newegg on the other hand has a 9.71 average rating, with even, high scores in all categories. I took a few minutes to add both my positive and negative feedback into their database. They appear to take reasonable measures to validate their submissions, and they reportedly have in excess of 132,000. I won't make a purchase again from a store I don't know without first checking this database. Yay accountability.


On Thu Mar 9th 2006, 4:17am, Visitor posted:
Do not trust merchant! I purchased an Intel Motherboard, P4 3.0 Ghz, 512 MB RAM combo just the other day from this terrible company and my experience was horrible. They took the funds straight from my credit card and I received an order verification email. 2 Days later they sent another email stating that my order was successfully processed and that I should expect my items within 4 days. The following day they sent another email cancelling my order!!! I called and they said that they ran out of all 3 parts, yet they were still selling them on their website. This seemed fishy so I had a friend call to try and order the exact same parts that they said that they no longer had. They told him that they had them in stock just waiting to be purchased and they could ship them right out to him! I called back and confronted them as I had caught them in their own lie. They admitted that they had the items but no longer wanted to sell them to me for the advertised price. They were rude and did nothing but lie and argue! I filed a BBB complaint and also notified Pricewatch! They even have the nerve to ask people to leave positive feedback before the merchandise is even received. Still waiting for my credit card to be credited back more than a week later. Steer cler of these people as they will rip you off!!!!


On Thu Mar 9th 2006, 11:22am, Steve Kehlet posted:
Haha, another horror story, I assume about SMKSuperStore (although you didn't explicitly mention them by name in your post). Don't forget to file something with resellerratings.com to help warn off any future potential buyers.