what are some reputable, less-well known computer companies? + purchasing advice

Now that I have a job, I’m looking for a computer to replace my 5+ year-old laptop. I’ve been browsing more “mainstream” company websites (Dell, HP, IBM, etc), but I’d be interested in checking out less-well-known companies. I would like the company I purchase from to be relatively rebutable and stable (so if I purchase a 3-year warranty, they’ll still be around in 3 years). In general, I’ll be using my computer for personal compositions, email, and surfing, as well as listening to music, playing videos, and some games (though I’m not a big gamer).

Any suggestions?

For what it’s worth, here are some rough specs that I’d like, so if any of you happen to know a great deal on a system like this, it would be great: [ul][li]desktop machine (I discovered the hard way that laptops get really warm, they’re hard to upgrade, and they tend to be more fragile)[]flat-screen monitor[]keyboard and mouse (some build-your-own systems have these as extras)[]fast processor (at least 2.4 GHz)[]hard drive at least 80 GB[]CD-RW drive[]DVD-ROM (a DVD burner would be nice, but is not essential)[]IE 1394 port (I want to get an iPod)[]Win XP (I eventually will get a Mac, but I need a PC right now)[]512 KB RAM (though I’ll be honest and admit I really don’t know how much I want/need)[]I don’t need “productivity software” (i.e., Windows Office) or antivirus software, so if I have the option of not buying it bundled and saving some $$, that would be great[]ethernet card[]less than $2000, and the better the deal, the better[/ul][/li]
I’d be willing to open up the box and installing some things (ethernet card, Firewire port) if it would be a better value than buying it in a bundled system.

Thanks in advance.

For your purposes you are probably best off going with a Dell or HP or Gateway machine. While I personally dislike their computers they are not actually bad machines (I’m a computer geek so Dell, HP and their ilk don’t come close to meeting my personal requirements…additionally I despise having to work on their PCs for a variety of reasons).

For the average user however they are just fine. Nothing super special but reasonably reliable and backed-up by strong companies. What’s more, due to their size, you will generally get the best prices from them. You can buy PCs cheaper but the chances that your warranty will be any good or doesn’t have small print casuing you headaches generally makes them less than worthwhile.

If you’re not the type to be too demanding (ala a hardcore gamer who’ll endlessly tweak the system) then stick with Dell or Gateway or HP. There are other companies, much smaller than Dell but still stabel and been around years, that build stellar machines but they are mroe expensive. I’d be happy to recommend those companies (heck…Alienware and Falcon Northwest) but I suspect they are more machine than you are looking for.

How about just finding a local shop that has been around for some years and have them make up one for you. You will probably pay a bit more than Dell, etc. but you should havd a easier upgrade path in the future. You can find a monitor,keyboard and mouse at the office supply store.

Alienware.com has an Aurora Performance machine for $1600 (no monitor). It looks like a flat panel monitor from them will run about $525.

Falcon Northwest has a similar system for a few hundred less.

Both are good quality companies that specialize in machines for gamers, so you’ll get higher quality parts.

When I went computer shopping online last year, I read many good reviews of Micron PC (now known as MPC), many of which were from techs who had dealt with many of their machines. I’ve had my Micron for a year and a half, with no complaints. My one call to tech support (for help changing to NTFS) went very well. You can build your machine online (like Dell), with many options that allow you to choose “none.”

Standard “I’m just a happy customer” disclaimer goes here.

I’d avoid Gateway. I actually just went through this shopping experience with my parents, with such geek visits as Pricewatch and other lesser known spots, and I actually stunned myself with my choice. Dude, they got a Dell. I couldn’t do a build-your-own for the same price as the Dell setup, mainly due to the fact that Dell was throwing in a free 15 inch flat panel monitor. The laptops weren’t such a bad deal either. W/O the flat panel monitor, I think Pricewatch is a place you should at least visit. There are alot of companies out there basically building machines in their garage. The thing about computers is there are only a few very large companies that make the major components, so there isn’t that much difference between a Dell machine and an “Ed’s Computers and Truck Driving Skool” machine. (This is my bitch about Gateway, several of their parts are proprietary, so repair is ONLY through them. And the Gatway repair experience, in My experience, is less than stellar) Another vote for Micron as well, but they tend to get backlogged for laptops due to government contracts. Have fun, and good luck.

NOTE: Avoid getting a flat panel display unless desk space is an issue for you. Yes, they look cool and all but they perform worse than a low-priced CRT (standard TV like) display. For instance flat panels are generally locked to one display resolution. If you change the resolution the display will either look like crap or it will resize the window inside of the display. If you play games changing the resolution can be important for best performance/best look and flat panels (except for the very best ones) generally do not get the job done well for games.

With the tasks you described you hardly need a very powerful processor. In any event, all new branded computers will have the latest processor, which will more than suffice. You should consider an AMD processor-based machine (ie Athlon XP 2500) as they are just as powerful and less expensive (more bang for the buck).

The Firewire port (IEEE 394) is the one feature that not standard and may cost you. However, USB 2.0 is evolving as the standard alternative to Firewire and is standard on all new Windows-based machines. I believe the iPod has a Firewire-to-USB 2.0 cable (not sure). Keep this in mind.

512Mb of RAM will probably be standard and is the safe minimum on an XP machine, though 256MB is enough IMO.

I’d hold off until the quantum processors and holographic displays come out and even then I’d wait until after the first batch to let them get the bugs out.

Check Tigerdirect.com for prebuilt, low buck, good quality component machines. Monitors are always sold separate.

This question comes around quite a lot so you might check archives for responses frighteningly similar to those found here.

On second thought, don’t bother.

I thought about doing a search, but given the pace at which technology changes, I decided to go with a new thread. I want a flat panel basically because I don’t want to lug a CRT around whan I move (the desk space would be nice, too). As I said, I have a laptop, and have found the screen to be suitable to my purposes.

One of the reasons I want to get a pretty high-end machine is because I want this to last a while. I remember when I got my laptop it was all cool, but in 2 years I was running into space issues on my hard-drive, and in 3 I bought some software that my machine wasn’t able to handle.

Thanks for the suggestions. I had seen Alienware and MicronPC on the Pricewatch site.