Friends Do Not Let Friends Buy Willamettes

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Was saddened to have to respond to this early this morning:

I just bought a Dell Dimension 8100 with RDRAM. Please give me your opinion on this. I’m a novice, please help.

It came with an Intel Pentium 4 1.3ghz processor, 128mb RDRAM . . . . I bought the machine because I wanted to step up from the old machine I bought 3 years ago. I wanted somthing that was already built, from a good company, and one I could upgrade but not have to for some time.

After buying it, I started talking to people and read at some tech sites that RDRAM is a bad thing.

I am very interested in learning the ins and outs of computers. I’m fairly new to this, but i wanted to have the best I could get.

Is it true in your opinion that RDRAM sucks and if so why and if so, now what do I do?

Also, in your opinion, is this the great machine my Dell salesman told me it was?

I know it’s a little late to ask most these questions, but please give me your honest thoughts.

Don’t smirk and say “What an idiot.” This could have been your mother, or father, or brother or sister, or friend. Maybe pretty soon, it will be your mother or father or brother or sister or friendI would bet that for most of you reading this, it could have been you a few years back. It certainly represents at least 90% of the home buyers out there today.

Besides, calling somebody stupid doesn’t make you any smarter. Knowledge is not like gold; the more you hand it out, the more you get back.

Some might consider my response very harsh, but the reason why it is harsh is because there’s a very deep-set, ingrained habit that needs to be broken, and not just for buying computers.

Let’s face it, unless you have Martha Stewart genes, most people are pretty lazy in at least some part of their lives, particularly about things they know little about. Most of the time, they’ll take the easy way out.

Most people also prefer people telling them what they want to hear, especially how wonderful and right and smart they are. They want to believe that a lot more than someone like me telling them afterwards (no matter how it gets phrased), “You blew it.”

But who did more harm, the people ripping them off, or my noticing it?

I didn’t rip them off, they did. I just noticed. And if people aren’t told that, and told that they have to change their act, it will keep happening.

I would bet sometime in the next year, you’re going to find yourself in these shoes, and you’re going to hear the same arguments. Intel’s going to be pushing these boxes heavily.

To me, the root cause of the problem is (knowing or unknowing) laziness (relying on brand names is certainly a case of that here) and susceptibility to flattery (whether by a salesperson or advertising). So I went after the root cause.

You may disagree with what I said, or how I said it. If you do, how would you answer this? Send me a note.

If you got a better way, I’d love to hear it. This happens to me several times a year, bet it happens to you, too. And sometimes I lose. I bet you do, too.

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My response:

RDRAM in and of itself is not a bad thing. It got that reputation about a year ago when it cost five times more than SDRAM, and gave little performance improvement.

However, that was principally because the motherboards at that time were not able to use RDRAM effectively. The motherboard that comes with the Willamette processor does use RDRAM effectively, still cost quite a bit more than the SDRAM alternative, but at least it does better in the proper configuration.

I hope you got PC800 rather than PC600; PC600 is slower RDRAM that didn’t meet PC800 standards.

Unfortunately, current Willamette systems are not the best possible choice right now (though that isn’t RDRAMs fault). For most applications, they perform worse than high-end Athons or even PIIIs running at lower Mhz and cost more.
See here for a comparison. Please note that you have a slower Willamette than the one being measured there.

To put it simply, the initial implementation of Willamette is rather poor because the chip was designed to do less work per Mhz than the older designs (but could be revved up more in future generations, which doesn’t help you). Intel also had to rip out many performance features to get it to market now. Finally, the chip is reliant on new software standards which historically are slowly if ever used by programmers.

A year from now, changes in the way Intel makes CPU will allow them to put those features back in and run the chip a lot faster, but you will not be able to use the newer chip because it uses a completely different motherboard. Replacing the motherboard and CPU at that time will invalidate your Dell warranty.

The only upgrades you can make to your machine looks to be adding more RDRAM (always in pairs) and possibly changing the CPU (maximum eventually: 1.7Ghz, maybe 2Ghz).

It’s not a terrible machine; it’s just poor value for your money.

This in and of itself is not tragic. What would be tragic is you not learning anything from this. When you make any major purchase, you need to research the purchase more than you did here. You certainly should not rely on a salesman to inform you about a product.

The computer industry is not known for honesty. Period. To be blunt, Intel put out a product it knows isn’t very good because they knew people like you who don’t check into these things would buy it because of the Intel name and because it had a higher Mhz number and whatever marketing hype they came up with. You got played for a sucker, and they were right.

I’m being very harsh about this not because I want to make fun of you, but to impress upon you the need to handle this differently in the future, especially for bigger, more important purchases than a computer. Don’t get mad at me for telling you what happened, get mad at those who did it to you and yourself for letting them if you like, but learn from this.

I’m not even suggesting Intel or Dell are especially evil; nobody has a stellar reputation for honesty in this business. Nobody selling you these things is looking out for you, so you’d better look out for yourself., and that’s going to take extra effort.

This computer is not that big a deal, it will perform a little worse than a machine you could have paid roughly $300-400 less for. But if you take the same approach to buy a car or a house, you’re likely to end up in a lot more trouble.

Email Ed


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