CES Day Four: Dell, Bringing PCs to a New Level in 2006

Dell Renegade

Well 2006 will be the year that I finally upgrade my PC. Why? Well, Vista will ship this year as will CableCARD/HD Satellite solutions for Media Center, viiv is super exciting and will bring cooler, quieter, faster PCs to market. 64 bit computing is finally ready for prime time bringing a significantly enhanced memory experience, and the XBox 360 will allow me to network my home from my home office with HDTV and all my media available in every room in the house.

The only question that remains is which PC to get. While I haven’t made up my mind entirely yet there is a good chance it will be a Dell. Why a Dell? Well for a couple of reasons. Despite Jeff Jarvis experience otherwise I’ve actually had pretty good luck with Dell computers over the years. I’ve owned four of them and found all four to be reasonably reliable quiet computers with pretty good tech support. By pretty good tech support I mean accessible and with reasonable troubleshooting skills. Most technical support is horrible but of the major manufacturers that I’ve tried Dell has seemed to do the best job. Another major factor in considering a Dell is that I think they represent good value for your money. While I’d probably get much more power from something like a Niveus it would also come with a much larger price tag. And while you can’t really put a price on something as priceless as a finely tuned powerhouse PC, Dell seems to represent the best bang for the buck.

I visited with Dell today and spoke with one of their Dell Direct employees about the future of high end PCs for Dell and what we might expect from them in 2006. The first thing the Dell rep showed me was a new Dell box due out in February called the Renegade. And boy what a sweet box this was. The box is a virtual PC powerhouse with four GeForce 7800 GPUs, an Intel Pentium Extreme Edition that comes overclocked from dell at 4.6GHz, two 10,000 RPM 150 GB Raptor drives and a pretty major power and cooling systems.

Dell Renegade, 2

The Renegade will also in fact be something of a collector’s item. Not only will it be Dell’s most powerful PC but they are only going to sell 25 of them. Yep, you read that right, 25. Why only 25? Mostly because of the paint job on the case. The paint job on each of the 25 will be done by Mike Lavallee who the Dell rep was quick to point out to me also paints for Jesse James. I had to look Jesse James up online as the only Jesse James I knew was that old outlaw, but it turns out Jesse started something called West Coast Choppers and he’s somewhat famous, as is Lavallee as a painter of fire and flames. In any event, I guess Mike paints Jesse’s bike.

I took a look at the Renegade box that they had on display and I did have to agree that the case was quite the beauty. The rep didn’t know how much the Renegade was going to cost but guessed $8,000 (mostly because of the paint job), which puts them right up there in Niveus land. They had it hooked up to a pretty nice Dell 30″ monitor and I do have to say it looked pretty hot.

Of course I won’t be buying a Renegade but I suspect that the Renegade power will also be made available in future Dell Renegade like PCs due out next year.

One thing that I also asked the rep about was how sales were with Vista coming out right around the corner. I’ve suspected that sales would be way down with people figuring that with Vista this close (and especially now with viiv right around the corner as well) that it would be best to wait it out a bit longer (as I am doing) before upgrading. The rep said that while they were seeing some of that on the high end that they were still shipping plenty of low end PCs designed to tide people over until Vista.

Perhaps one of the biggest reasons for anyone to wait to buy a new PC though has to do with the excitement around Vista’s CableCARD certification. As I’ve blogged here in the past, Media Center’s ability to *finally* announce CableCARD high def content coming later this year has been one of the highlights of my past year. But readers need to be warned. Just because Vista will play high def content as certified by CableLabs later this year doesn’t mean that a PC that you buy today and upgrade to Vista this Fall will be able to CableCARD upgraded. The reason why I say this is that CableLabs certification of Vista only certifies Vista as an operating system and CableLabs will also need to certify individual OEM built PCs as entirely secure before receiving the CableCARD blessing. I spoke with the Dell rep about this and he did confirm that this is in fact the case. He agreed with me that this would most likely give Dell an advantage over smaller OEMs as they might not have the vast amount of resources that Dell does that will be needed in order to get a final OEM built product certified as completely secure and CableCARD certified by CableLabs. As one of the largest OEMs I’m confident that Dell is in fact already working with CableLabs to ensure that their Vista products have certification as soon as they can possibly be released to the public.

My one beef with Dell has to do with their lack of internal storage, at present according to the Dell Rep, the most internal storage you can buy from Dell is a terabyte — in the form of two 500 gig internal drives. I’ve always felt a terabyte is not enough and find myself constantly asking, as the character Oliver did in Dicken’s classic orphan tale, “more gigs please sir, may I have some more gigs.” The Dell rep did confirm though that with the Renegade (and also most likely it’s successor) that there is room to add an additional 2 internal hard drives in the unit after market that could get you up to two terabytes — certainly a more acceptable level. I wish though that Dell would just offer a four 500 gig drive solution directly instead of making me go to the aftermarket to upgrade. I’m not sure why they don’t do this as it would seem like a pretty easy way for them to make more money as they are selling you the new PC in the first place.

While my mind isn’t 100% made up yet that I’ll be buying a Dell later this year I’m pretty sure that I will be and what a glorious day that will be.


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