AAC Direct, or All American Computers, custom builds each PC separately, with results that show up in Tom's Hardware as The Best: Beats Alienware, Falcon Northwest and CyberPower. Coupled with great (if comparatively few) reviews on ResellerRatings.com, I realized they might be a good alternative to a Dell XPS, given Dell's recent pricing changes and lack of a cohesive plan to move to Conroe. AAC already has a plan, given they've been beta-building Conroe ATI Crossfire rigs already.
So I e-mailed them and asked for a quote for a computer costing no more than $2,800 with shipping & tax, that can run Oblivion fluidly. I specified no parts other than "I want a Conroe Crossfire capable setup."
AAC shot back:
- CPU: INTEL CORE 2 DUO E6700 2.66GHZ 4MB CACHE
- MOTHERBOARD: 975XBX (handles Crossfire)
- RAM: DIMM 2GB 800MHZ - GEIL 800MHZ DDR2 2X1024MB VALUE DIMMS (or something)
- PSU: 620 WATT ENERMAX LIBERTY POWER SUPPLY (or whatever)
- CASE: LIAN LI PC-V1000 ALUMINUM CASE
- VIDEOCARD: ATI 512MB X1900 XT PCI-E CARD
- HD: SEAGATE 320 GIG 7200 RPM SERIAL ATA HD (double up for RAID 0)
- DVD/CD: NEC ND-3550AGBP DVD+/-RW DUAL LAYER BK
- SOUNDCARD: (built-in)
But before I ordered from them, I had to know "what is their support like?" I had read that the owner, Kyle Felstien, will sometimes answer the phone and talk as long as is necessary (indeed, he gave me the above quote), but I had to call them for myself.
The Phone Call:
Well I got Dave, who got Kyle because he said Kyle would know my order, and Kyle and I talked for 1 hour and 45 minutes. First we went over each item in the PC build - does the onboard sound work well or load the CPU? Okay, Audigy SE "Suck Edition" takes the load off of the CPU and doesn't have any fandangled features, but does do 5.1. Great. What's the difference between X1900 XT and X1900 XTX? $100 and 3-4%? Okay. Thank you for not making a "ka-ching" sound and quoting me the XTX. What's a LIAN LI case? Oh it's that good? Okay. I want that.
Then we talked about Gainesville, Florida, because Kyle used to live here. He even knew Burrito Brothers, the famous burrito shop where my dad used to work. I told him the rat story. He kind of chuckled and didn't say anything, like he was wondering "Was I eating there, then?"
Then we talked about the state of technology today, and two things became obviously clear: much of my two weeks of hardcore research had proved me right on many points (from Crossfire Express 3200 - 16x to the old 8x standard and what that means) and Kyle knew of tons of topics I just didn't know about - such as why ATI's roadmap for the future is better than Nvidia's and a distributor's nightmares in dealing with Nvidia (though he offered me an Nvidia rig 5 times just as a manner of speaking), why Conroes are so freaking hot (he knows about the architecture), and why ATI cards made now will, to a degree, support the DX10 standard of using GPU's as CPU's.
Warranty? How about Custom Burn-In of Every PC to go with that?
Oh, and did I mention that every system shipped goes through a complete burn-in? Comes with a 3 year parts warranty (1 year labor) and phone support for the life of the system?
Well, obviously, I found out about their phone support, and though they are a small shop that isn't there 24/7, they sold me.
As Kyle said "We put our major costs into building the computers and making sure they work, rather than technical support down the road." He has the latter, but as he said "We've only got so many people, so you can only reach us at business hours." However, they seemed helpful and glad to discuss any questions about the computers they sell you.
Kyle talked about build quality - about CyberPower's cheap computers that aren't even tested to Falcon Northwest and Alienware's costly systems. He builds custom "show cases" to more gamer oriented PureXS systems (LiquidXS systems are for rich folks at around $4,000).
Kyle and I spoke about art and laying out beautiful computer cases, cabling and cooling, airflow; more about why Conroes are badass, lighting, why fan lights are better than lighting tubes (basically the tubes are so bright many people get annoyed after several months, while fan lights are more subtle)...
It was an incredible phone conversation and I was riveted the entire time. I never told him that dinner (I was already going to eat alone because my mother had taken my wife & kids out shopping) was ready at 6:30pm. We didn't get off the phone until 7:50 (I'd called just after 6pm EST, when their store closes). Kyle is also an expert at Mexican goodbyes - where Mexicans say goodbye to each other, and in doing so think of something else fun to talk about, and go back at it. I'm great at it because I live with a Mexican girl, but Kyle can hold his own!
I have not had a more exciting conversation about computers since I worked for Rusty Butler in 1998. Only conversations with Jock and Billy come close, but since we're not industry developers like Rusty and Kyle, there's only so far we can go.
Money spent with AAC, I'm sure, will be well-spent.
The Fate of AAC Direct / All American Computers