One of my pet theories is that if a PC manufacturer would only turn out units with slightly “out of date” technology instead of competing on specs with everyone else, they could offer some amazingly cheap but still very functional PC hardware. It looks like Fry’s Electronics is doing just that as Loyd Case reports at PC Magazine in Your Next PC Will Cost $159:
Holy tightwads, Batman! A better PC than what you’re running costs less than a pair of designer jeans? What’s happened to the computer industry?
Were GQ magazine to design a computer, it would sport a Gucci leather jacket and stroll in slick Prada loafers. It would also cost eight, maybe nine thousand dollars. But when Fry’s Electronics designed the GQ system, it wasn’t thinking of luxury linens and leather. It wanted something cheap. The surprising thing is that the GQ (short for “Great Quality,” by the way, not Gentleman’s Quarterly) turns out to be a powerful PC. It’s low-cost, in other words, not high crap.
Hit the link for the full review but here’s what you get for $159:
What $159 Buys You…
- COMPUTER In addition to the 1.67-GHz AMD Sempron chip (and integrated graphics and 6 channel audio), you’ll get four USB ports, Ethernet, and an AGP slot.
- MEMORY Only 128MB of RAM, which is barely adequate, really. Replace it with 512MB for around $40.
- 40 GB hard disk.
- SPEAKERS They’re included, but they sound awful. Really, these speakers are just terrible.
- Generic modem
- KEYBOARD AND MOUSE A surprisingly responsive keyboard and generic ball mouse round it all out.
…& What It Doesn’t
- NEW TECH You’ve heard of PCI Express, SATA, and dual-core, but you won’t get them here.
- LCD MONITOR Nope. Not a chance. In fact, there’s no screen included, period. (Fry’s offers a companion 17-inch CRT for $119.)
- DVD BURNER There’s no DVD recorder, not even a CD burner. But there is a fast CD-ROM drive.
- SOFTWARE Nothing from Microsoft here, but to be fair, the Linspire OS is pretty decent.
As far as the hardware goes, the memory is obviously short, even for Linux, but while you can argue about some of the other features it seems to be a pretty capable machine. Case was impressed with Linspire (which comes with OpenOffice) but obviously that’s going to be a matter of taste. If you have to buy Windows XP, it’s likely at least another $70 on top which rather spoils the deal but gives you an idea of where the money on a PC is going.
However, it turns out that there’s another alternative. Microsoft’s Chris Sells saw the PC Magazine review and decided to give the bargain PC a try. Apparently the $159 PC was a limited quantity offer, but he came up with an equivalent one for $171 and added $100 for 1GB of RAM and $95 for an ATI Radeon 9550 AGP card. The net was a $366 PC and he installed a beta of Windows Vista on it!
At 12:04am, I started the Vista Feb ’06 CTP installation. At 12:44am, I was running Vista, it having recognized all of hardware (except the sound device) from my $366 PC, including enabling those cool “glass” effects and the nifty animations, integrated search and all the neat things you’ve read about in the Vista reviews.
I know I work for “the man,” but even so, I’m seriously impressed. The install was fast and seamless. The performance is way better than I thought it would be. And the little UI tricks are fabulous. I can’t do any media stuff ‘cuz my audio device wasn’t recognized, but it was cool when I tried to play video and a DVD, that the Vista Media Center UI came up (my complete home entertainment needs are served with a coupla TVs, a Media Center PC and an XBox).
I know, I know, I got the OS for free, but come on! It’s still beta and it runs great on my cheapo PC!
Hit the link for all the details including a certain amount of disbelief from some commenters who have had performance problems with the Vista beta. I’m not recommending buying an inexpensive PC in anticipation of Vista, but it looks like there truly is some capable bargain hardware out there if you are willing to shop around.