The simple fact is that many computer manufacturers aren’t working for your best interest. They will take shortcuts, install old or cheap knock-off hardware, or even install expensive upgrades that can’t be fully utilized. Buying a more expensive computer doesn’t protect you from these practices either. Most people would assume that paying more means that you get newer and better, which is almost true. Paying more tends to get you better hardware, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a higher quality installation. $1500+ computers can still have installation shortcuts used and deceptive marketing.
Power Supplies (PSU)
First and most often sacrificed for profits are power supplies. Often, the only information you will see about a power supply is its wattage. With so little information listed, PSU’s are prime targets for cheap non-branded equipment. This means you will often get non-modular cables, 70% or less power efficiency under load, and a much hotter PC.
Modular cables enable a PSU to have installed only the cables you need instead of every possible cable. Modular cables improve cable management which improves air flow and cooling in a computer. Though this tends to have a relatively low impact on performance, it is overshadowed by one of the defining features of a power supply: its 80 PLUS rating.
80 PLUS is voluntary certification program that certifies power supplies have more than 80% energy efficiency at 20%, 50% and 100% of rated load, and a power factor of 0.9 or greater at 100% load. For power supplies, the higher the power factor the better. It isn’t uncommon to find power supplies with power factor ratings as low as .5 to .6. As for what 80% energy efficiency means: out of the 100% of power being used by the computer, only 20% is converted to heat. This can quickly become an issue when using PSU’s with an efficiency of 70% or less. At 70% efficiency, your PSU will run 50% hotter than a PSU with a rating of at least 80%. This has a direct impact of the longevity of the PSU and the performance of your computer. This impact is magnified as the overall strength of the computer is increased and is especially pronounced in servers.
80 PLUS certifications have multiple tiers starting from 80 Plus, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum, and Titanium. Each progressive tier has stricter standards for power efficiency under load and power factor. This is simple enough to understand, however that doesn’t stop manufacturers from trying to defraud you. 80 PLUS is a trademarked program and only uses the certification listed above. If you see a someone claiming that their PSU is 85 PLUS or 95 PLUS certified or “equivalent to 80 PLUS”, basically anything other than exactly 80 PLUS certified, know that they are intentionally misleading you. Every PSU that is 80 PLUS certified receives a sticker based on how it grades i.e.: bronze, gold, etc. This sticker is included for free with the certification, so it will be visibly evident whether the PSU is certified. Any claims that a sticker wasn’t issued to them or “it fell off but trust us” should be highly suspect. You can check if your PSU is 80 PLUS certified by going to Plug Load Solutions official website. The site has a list of every PSU manufacturer that is 80 PLUS certified and at what level. Included is a report of exactly how the PSU performed and even a picture of the PSU (often times from an angle that prominently shows the 80 PLUS sticker).
Random Access Memory (RAM)
Much like a PSU, RAM is a common target for cheap knockoffs. Often only the number of GB of RAM is the only information included. As of the time of writing, 8 GB of RAM should be the minimum for most users. The RAM speed is determined by what your motherboard supports. Upgrading RAM speed costs very little, so a low RAM speed is indicative that a very cheap motherboard is being used. A good target RAM speed for most users would be anything over 3000MHz.
Another quick test if you are getting quality is if the RAM is listed as DDR4. DDR4 is the latest type of RAM to be released back in 2014. DDR4 RAM has been used for awhile now and is the standard. DDR3 RAM was released back in 2007, which in computer terms is ancient. Again, 13-year-old RAM is indicative of a very cheap (and ancient) motherboard. This isn’t to say DDR3 RAM is bad, just that you definitely shouldn’t be paying a premium for it.
Central processing unit (CPU)
The CPU is probably the most important component in a computer for most users, but it is a target for cutting costs more often than not. The strength of a CPU has direct impact on how fast your computer does basically anything. Considering how important the CPU is, it boggles the mind knowing that computer sellers are still installing Intel Core 2 model CPUs. Often seen listed as “Intel Core 2 Duo”, that line of CPUs was released in 2006 and was officially discontinued in 2012. Another popular CPU to install from corner cutting computer sellers is the Intel I7-2600K. While a fantastic CPU for its time, it was released in January of 2011. These CPUs aren’t just outdated, they are aged nearly a decade or more. A quick Google search of the CPU will tell you when it was released. Optimally you are looking for a CPU released in the last 3 years.
Additionally, CPU chipsets tend to change annually. Newer chipsets typically aren’t compatible with older motherboards. This means that an old CPU requires an old (and therefore much cheaper) motherboard.
Most often, the only information listed about a hard drive is whether it is a Solid-State Drive (SSD) or Hard Disk Drive (HDD) and its storage capacity. SSDs are much faster than HDDs, so many people just look to see whether an SSD is installed or not. The problem is that all SSDs aren’t created equal. The upgrade cost from an HDD to an SSD isn’t too steep, so another factor should be considered when judging your hard drive: read/write speeds. A significant percentage of the time, you won’t find read/write speeds listed. This is done intentionally to mask the lower speed of the SSD. Cheap SSDs tend to have read/write speeds 1500/1000 MBps or less, while higher end SSDs tend to have speeds 3500/3000 MBps or greater. Some SSDs try to feign quality by having a read speed that is much higher than their write speed (ex: 2500/1000 MBps), but this veneer will fall away under performance. The reason manufacturers try to mask their SSDs performance is because high end SSDs cost between $300-$500 more than low end SSDs. For this reason, if an installer installs a fast SSD they will be the first to tell you about it.
Installation and Shortcuts
While sticking computer parts in the right slots might sound simple enough, cost cutting measures are applied here as well. A popular shortcut is to hot glue parts and cables into their appropriate sockets. This cuts down on returns due to parts or cables popping off during shipping. While this may not sound that bad, I mean the computer still works, it does mean that the parts are much more difficult to repair or replace. In my personal experience, hot glue is entirely unnecessary. The connectors fit so snuggly into their appropriate sockets, with each connector having locking latches.
Another popular shortcut is poor cable management. Optimally cables should be neatly routed in such a way to maximize air flow through the computer. This usually results in most cables being routed behind the motherboard and bundled together with zip-ties with an overall professional and high-quality look. Time is money as they say, and professional cable management costs time. It is not uncommon for bargain installers to route cables that completely block air through the computer. A common option for shorter cables is to route them directly over the graphics card. This can actually damage or destroy your graphics card (sometimes it takes some muscle to stretch the thick cables over the GPU).
The final common installation problem is broader: installation decisions. This tends to result in deceptive marketing. For example: the computer will say it offers USB 3.0 slots, but because of installation decisions you will never receive those speeds. You can look at the slots on the computer and visually tell they are USB 3.0 slots; you can verify that your computers motherboard supports USB 3.0 with dedicated header; so, what’s the problem? Turns out the installer routed the cables from the motherboard’s USB 3.0 header to the back of the computer and installed a USB-C slot in the back via an expansion card, so that they can also claim they offer USB-C connectors. They even recommend using a USB 3.0 connector is for your mouse. This means your mouse is getting USB 3.0 speeds, 5 Gbps of data, while cables from the USB 2.0 header, 480 Mbps of data, has cables routed to your USB 3.0 slots via an adapter on the front of your computer. Another decision that is commonly made is to include a Graphics Card (GPU) that is much stronger than the CPU. Inevitably the weaker CPU bottlenecks performance of the computer resulting in a wasted GPU. Considering that high end GPUs are quite expensive, usually costing between $400-$1200, it is an easy way to ramp up the price of the computer while saving money on a cheaper CPU. For reference, a CPU that can handle higher end GPUs should cost somewhere around $300-$400, though they could cost upwards of $1000. Installing a $100 CPU into that same computer makes the installer an extra $200 with no benefit to you.
These are only a couple examples of the vast array of installation decisions that can be made. Profit focused, strange, or outright confusing decisions like this are made at your expense.
If that seems a bit intimidating to consider when buying a computer, don’t worry, Gremlin Control has you covered. Gremlin Control computers are built by professionals and stress-tested to work straight out of the box. Every Gremlin Control computer features 80 PLUS Gold power supplies, professional cable management, high end SSDs (3500/3000 MBps), at least 8 GB of 3200 MHz DDR4 RAM, strong and modern CPUs, with no shortcuts taken. Backed by a 2-year warranty, you will have high performance that lasts for years.