Mystery Shopper - high power PCs

Our spy heads to Worcester in search of high-end gaming and video editing rigs
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Computer House

At the back of the store I found a staff member working on a PC. I informed him that I had a reasonably open budget – it was the spec and quality that mattered. He said: “Well, to get started, you will need at least 4GB of memory; 8GB (DDR3, approx £400) would be better as long as it is combined with a good motherboard. This will ensure you maintain high speeds at all times. It is important they are compatible – I would recommend ASUS and Gigabit.”

He listed various components including an Intel i7 processor (3.6 speed, approximately £300/400), a 1TB hard drive (approximately £120) and a Blu-ray drive. “The i7 Atom will be good for gaming and editing. Multi core abilities and Hyper-threading are what you need if you want better performance,” I was told.

Moving onto monitors, he said 22-24-inches were popular sizes for gaming and movie watching, with a resolution of 1080i. “My recommendation would be either an LG or Sony – they share the same technologies.

“All that’s left is the total build cost; I would estimate you need to consider spending between, £1,000 and £2,000. Once you’ve decided on the final quality of the components it will be in this price range.”

Whilst the store looked a little untidy, the assistant’s knowledge was second to none
and he spoke with confidence and obvious enthusiasm for a potentially exciting build.

8/10

AT Computers (Apple)

Good morning, sir. How may I help you?” asked a member of staff. I told him I was looking for a desktop machine when he stopped me mid-sentence and retrieved a piece of paper from behind the till. “This is a price list of what you can buy from the store – it will help us select the right product for you.”

He highlighted some relevant products before walking me over to the iMac display. “This will be all you need, everything is built in and it has the right spec for nearly all users.” I was amazed that it was so simple. He continued – “What sort of games do you think you’ll be playing?” I told him COD: Black Ops and Crysis 2 were on my list.

“Oh. That changes things then. You will have to ‘Bootcamp’ your machine so you can play that sort of game.” I asked him what Bootcamp was.

“Because there are very few games made for Apple Macs you will need to partition the hard drive and load on Windows 7. Then you can switch over to this operating system to play your games.”

The assistant drew my attention to the different specs that were available and advised me that these could be purchased from the store. He highlighted the top performing MC511iMax 27-inch, commenting: “This machine comes with a 2.8Ghz Intel Core i5, 4GB memory, 1TB HDD Superdrive and an ATi Radeon HD5750 with 1GB graphics card. All this for £1,684.

“If you want to upgrade the spec it is possible, but not in store. Custom builds are done online and delivered to you.” Opening the Apple Mac online store site he showed me the process for customising my Mac.

This was a detailed and informative visit delivered by an enthusiastic salesman who clearly knew his products although the overall cost for the Apple system was slightly greater than the PC equivalent.

8/10

Solutions

“If you want your PC to be good, then this is what you’ll need,” said the member of staff, moments into our chat. “You start off with the basics – the starter kit at £199. This gives you your chassis, boards, drivers and starter software. Then you start upgrading. You will choose your processor, increase the memory, add more storage and choose a better graphics card.”

Going into more detail, he recommended Intel chipsets, “I feel their chipsets are far more efficient than others, with better speeds and better running costs. I suggest you go for an Intel i5 Core 2 Quad Q8300, at £90. Then add more memory – 8GB DDR3 at £60.”
Interestingly, he suggested adding two hard drives to prevent ‘scratching’. “When you copy data from one section to another or, for example, you are adding an effect to a video during editing, then this can cause ‘scratching’. By adding in another hard drive you reduce the amount of interference and the process is quicker.

“For your graphics card I would recommend Nvidia – the GTX460 (£170) will give good all-round performance whilst still showing high levels of detail and coping with high speed action.” He also mentioned Windows 7 Home (£80) and a suitable monitor, “We usually go with AOC, they are 1080i HD-ready screens, and you simply decide which one dependent on the outputs you require, such as VGA, HDMI.”

Upon leaving the store, the member of staff was keen to assure me that Solutions aims to
build systems and customer relationships that last rather than one-offs. “When you are ready to change or upgrade again then we hope to be here for you. We have created plenty of satisfied customers that recommend us all the time. Come back in soon and see what we can do.”

9/10

PC World

The assistant pointed out the more obvious ‘gaming’ units, easily spotted due to the additional store ticketing and specially designed cases. “These are created for gaming but we have other machines which are just as capable. You’re looking for a minimum of an i5 processor. Next you need to look for how much memory you’ll get, so for gaming you’ll want no less than 4GB.”

Then I asked about graphics cards: “The normal rule is the larger the number of the card, the better it is. The more capable it is means it will rely less on the power of your i5 processor and therefore work faster. If we look at the two shown on these tickets the GTX405 will work better than the GT340.”

A screen was next on the list, “If you are going 22-inches or above I’d recommend going for LED lit, these usually produce better colours and give sharper images. Some packages can be arranged so you get an LED monitor rather than an LCD.”
Out of all the desktops we looked at, he preferred the HP Pavillion P6790uk with a 23-inch LED screen, i5, 6GB Memory, 1.5TB hard drive and an Nvidia GTX405 graphics card priced at £1199.95.

Although service was slow, the assistant made up for this with product knowledge and confident advice.

8/10

Comet

The sales assistant said, “You’ll need one with a good processor and with a dedicated graphics card. But I’m not sure what we have.”

We were joined by another assistant who said, “We haven’t got many specific gaming PCs, but what you’ll need is a good processor, graphics card and memory.” I asked, “So what sort of processor do I need to look for?” They replied: “An i3 will do it – that’s the minimum you should look for.”

I said I wanted to play COD: Black Ops. “That’s quite a spec heavy game which uses lots of memory. I’d go with at least an i3 processor for that one. Having more memory available means the PC will flow more smoothly and will not break up or crash.”
I asked him what he could recommend. “The best we have right now is an Acer M5910 priced at £769.98 with a 22-inch LED screen. It has an Intel i3 processor, 6GB memory, 1TB HD and Nvidia GT315 512MB graphics card.”

“How do I know which graphic card is best?” “Usually the numbers help. Normally the higher the number, then the better the performance.”

As I left one of the salesmen apologised for not being able to help me – but it was appreciated that he had found someone else who could advise me correctly.

6/10 

Currys – Worcester

The salesman took me straight to a gaming PC: the Acer Predator G5900 (£599, Intel i5-900 processor, Windows 7 home, 4GB memory, 500GB HD, Nvidia GeForce GT340 1TB graphics card).

“This has been built with gamers in mind, but it will also do a good job of editing video. It’s been built with its own dedicated graphics card and will be faster compared to an average desktop. With this unit you’ll get a 1TB Nvidia GeForce GT340. The key benefit is that this card comes with its own memory, so you won’t use up any of your processor memory, resulting in better performance and speed. The minimum processor you need for gaming would be an Intel i3.”

I stopped to ask: “I see the Predator comes with 4GB of memory, will that be enough?” “Yes, it should be, but increasing the memory means the PC can cope better if it needs to be doing lots of other things at one time."

Next he recommended a screen, pointing out a LED back-lit model: “This will give you vivid colours and the best picture quality.”

I was provided with a salesman who displayed excellent product knowledge and an enthusiasm for PC gaming and the desktop selected had a decent spec list.

8/10

Summery


Although in some stores I struggled to find assistance, once located, the advice provided
was comprehensive enough to make a properly informed decision.

The desktop prices varied, although similarities were noted particularly in the selection of Nvidia graphics cards, Intel chipsets and LED back-lit monitors.

Solutions narrowly took the win with a combination of product knowledge, confident delivery and service. If you are looking for a gaming desktop, Worcester is well worth a visit.

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