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TR reviews ComputerNerd's Visionator

Thinking outside a very small box
— 12:23 AM on March 26, 2001

Are you thinking horn-rimmed glasses, tight pants, bottlecap-thick glasses and a high-pitched voice? Think again. ComputerNerd, at least for the purposes of this review, is a company based out of Plantation, Florida, and its POW!er 2Do Information Technology division brings us the Visionator. A multimedia workhorse, the Visionator presents a very different kind of computer than you might used to be seeing. No, not Apple different. ComputerNerds were always a different breed, though, and the Visionator is no exception.

A complete package
If you ask any hardcore computer user about buying a pre-built computer, you'll likely get laughed at. Pre-builds have a bad reputation in general—no surprise considering the pretty horrible specs I've seen. Seeing P4 systems advertised with TNT2 M64 video cards is a crying shame, and it tends to taint one's view of systems built by someone else. The big problem occurs when systems are built by, well, idiots who don't know their stuff—systems that put things like clock speed over intelligent specs. Joe user might not know that the TNT2 M64 is anemic, to say the least. He sees the 1.4GHz processor and immediately assumes it'll be the fastest thing on the block.

The big problem with most pre-builds isn't really that someone else builds them; it's who that other person is. Thankfully, the good people at ComputerNerd are just as hardcore as the rest of us. Having them build a system is like having the crazy overclocker down the block build something for you; you know they're not going to skimp on the spec and blind you with a the highest numbers they can find.

So there's no problem getting an inappropriate spec with a complete build from ComputerNerd, but what about the other reason we'd usually prefer to do things ourselves? We're picky. Everyone likes to set up a computer a certain way. We like certain PCI cards in certain slots, we like to apply a certain amount of thermal compound to a processor, have our internal wiring done a certain way, use certain OS and BIOS tweaks, and install the latest drivers. As far as the Visionator goes, these things are either non-issues or already taken care of.

For starters, since the Visionator comes in its own micro case, there really isn't much choice when it comes to internal cable routing and hardware placement. If you were doing things yourself, it's not like you'd have a plethora of options, and the way ComputerNerd has zip-tied all the internal wires and arranged things is pretty optimal for the small internal volume of the case. As far as thermal paste goes, the heatsink comes separate from the unit for shipping concerns, so you get to put it on yourself with the supplied thermal compound.

As for as the OS, BIOS, software, and drivers, things are looking pretty good. The OSes had a few nonstandard tweaks, and the BIOS has been fiddled with not only to overclock the processor, but also to coax the best performance out of the memory. The system came pre-installed with the latest NVIDIA beta video drivers. I was expecting the latest official drivers, but was surprised to find the faster leaked drivers pre-installed—nice touch. All the software that came with the various hardware components was also pre-installed, and since the unit didn't ship with a monitor, the resolution was preset to 640x480. They thought of everything.

This brings me to the best thing about a pre-built system: when you take it out of the box, it just works. I powered the machine on, and I was good to go. A far cry from the time you need to spend building up a system when you buy just the parts. Even if I were to try to build up a system like the Visionator myself, I doubt I'd be able to do a better job than ComputerNerd has done. Packing that much content into such a small case and still having things accessible is impressive. The fact that it's got adequate cooling for its overclocked processor is even better.

The final benefit to a pre-built system is its cost. Sure, you might be able to find prices for individual components cheaper on something like Price Watch, but I doubt you're going to find them all at the same vendor. So now you've got to order parts from a bunch of different vendors, then pay shipping and handling for each one. Of course, you're not buying in volume. ComputerNerd can give you a better price because of their ability to purchase in volume (they're not just building one Visionator), and you only have to deal with them.

Before checking out the Visionator, I had a pretty dim view of pre-built systems. Now I've changed my tune. While I still enjoy building up systems and setting things up my way, I doubt I could have done a better job than the Nerd has done with the Visionator. Before I forget, the Visionator also comes with a year's worth of phone tech support if you mess things up—not that you will, but it's nice to know there will be someone there to help should disaster strike.