Written on: 26/08/2014
If you’re simply after a gaming PC then go and order from PC Specialist.
But if you’re a designer or editor or CG artist and you need a workstation, something high-end that you can rely on to produce stunning work for a client, then read this and consider yourself warned:
To give you a bit of background: I spent the best part of twenty five years working for the BBC as a senior designer. I’ve a handful of international awards and for a long time wrote the spec for the PCs and Macs we used in the department.
In April 2014 I took redundancy and started my own company xrayvision.tv
I ordered a custom-built PC from PC Specialist on April 25th - 8 core Xeon, 32 gig of RAM and a Titan Black graphics card. £3,000 of computer that should have been blisteringly fast. It was delivered on 13th May.
It started malfunctioning the day after delivery with a series of unrepairable disc errors ,which meant I had to reinstall Windows 8.
Over the following six weeks the PC was slow in every respect, slow to start up, slow to open programs (After Effects and Cinema 4D especially), painfully slow to render and then unable to play 90 second HD movies (which, with 32gb of RAM should have been easy). File explorer windows would appear empty, when I knew they were full of hundreds of files.
The machine was running so slow I had to ask a client to put back a deadline by a week in order to finish the job.
It was at this point that I called PC Specialist and asked that the machine be returned and fixed. I was first asked to run through a number of diagnostic tests – these tests took the best part of a day and indicated that all the RAM had failed. Only then did PC Specialist agree to my request that the machine be returned.
The PC was away for over two weeks, during which time the motherboard was replaced and I was assured that all was fixed and the machine would now perform to the standard specified when I purchased it.
On its first day back I spent 10 hours yesterday trying to get it to work.
As soon as I installed Windows every Windows 8 app showed an error message.
A phone call to PC Specialist and I was asked to test the hard drive in case it had been “bashed about in transit”. (So first it’s the RAM, then the motherboard and now it’s the hard drive?)
A couple of hours later and the hard drive passed the test. So a reinstall of Windows was recommended. That failed.
I was told to delete any partitions on the drive and reinstall. That failed.
I was told to delete any new partitions and try again. That worked but Windows refused to accept my licence key. I was told to phone Microsoft to get a new one. I did. That worked.
I spent an hour reinstalling all the drivers and then set about downloading Adobe Creative Cloud and installing Photoshop, After Effects and Illustrator.
That failed and threw up dozens of error messages. I spent an hour on the phone to Adobe carefully going through the PC, deleting directories and uninstalling the scattered parts of Adobe software that had made it through the process. I reinstalled. That worked. I installed Maxon Cinema 4D. No problem. Hurray!
Cinema 4D and After Effects are the two biggest processor hogs I have. So I ran two tests. First I downloaded Maxon’s benchmarking app Cinebench. It ranked my 8 core Xeon machine below a 6 core i7.
Next I loaded the same After Effects project on my PC and on my laptop (dual core 2.4gb i5, 4gb RAM). Based on the specification given for the PC it should be at least four times faster than the laptop. I made sure that multiprocessor rendering was enabled and that all settings and codecs were the same. The laptop had a slight additional handicap in that it was rendering from an external USB drive.
The PC took 52’ 23”
The laptop did the same job in 39’ 35”
A £3k, 8 core Xeon machine should have take at most fifteen minutes to do this job. It should not have been beaten by a laptop costing a third of the price.
PC Specialist’s website describe this criteria of PC as ‘A powerful workstation engine - essential in your professional studio’. I would say, with 25 years experience, that my machine fell a long way short of that.
After taking advice from a lawyer at Which? I emailed PC Specialist asking for a full refund under the 1979 Sale of Goods Act. No response.
So I wrote to them, first class, recorded delivery and got an email back the next morning from their call centre manager. He agreed to a refund once the PC was back with them.
So I packaged it up (always, always keep the original packaging) and it was duly collected by courier.
The next day I received an email acknowledging receipt. And then: quiet…
At the start of the following week I emailed asking when I might expect a refund. No reply.
On the Friday I wrote threatening legal action if the money wasn’t in my account by the morning after the August Bank Holiday. No reply.
Tuesday morning came. My computer has been with PC Specialist for almost two week by this stage (and it’s six weeks since I had the PC in any kind of usable condition, even an under-performing one). I get an email from the call centre manager, apologising for not replying to my earlier emails as he’d been off work for a week ill. Okay, I understand that. But you’re a PC company. Don’t you know how to set up out-of-office, or get someone to check your emails?
I’ve been promised the money in my account today or first thing tomorrow. It’s now 6pm and there’s no sign of the money.
Which? Suggested I pursue a claim through the county court, not just for the refund but for the time I spent trying to get this machine to work and for the amount of work I have lost. I run my own start-up business. I can’t afford to lose a month’s worth of work.
My suggestion that PC Specialist consider compensation was met with a ‘100% sincere’ apology (because that’s going to pay the mortgage, isn’t it?)
So be warned. If you are going to rely on your PC to bring in an income, don’t go here. Pay the extra money and buy an established brand, if not new, then a refurbished model through eBay. That’s what I’m going to have to do - if I ever get my refund, of course.
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