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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Designing and Specifying PC Systems and Components | Key Non-Performance Issues In PC System Design ]


Quality is one of those elusive and difficult to define words, like a couple of others I attempt to tackle in this buyer's guide: "value" and "performance". It means anything and everything and nothing--it all depends on what you are counting and how you are measuring it. Like "value" and "performance", it is something every buyer wants, and every seller claims to have. How then, should a typical PC buyer tackle this difficult notion?

Like most buzzwords, the most important thing to keep in mind about quality is that you need to define and determine it for yourself, and largely ignore the claims made about it. Determine quality by assessing the characteristics and nature of the hardware and software in the system you buy. Augment by researching the products in which you have interest and looking for testimonials that indicate how those items have performed for others in the past.

There is no specific way to define quality: everyone has a different way of tackling this matter. What is high-quality for you depends entirely on what is important to you. Here are a few different aspects of quality to keep in mind. You have to decide which of these, if any, are important to you. And for most people, there may well be other critical issues I have not thought to mention here:

  • Features: One aspect of quality is the feature set of a product compared to competing products. Most people would consider a unit that has significantly more capabilities than another to be superior, all else being equal. However, that's only if all else is equal. Very often it is not--product A may have more features than product B while sacrificing other quality aspects. (This is in fact quite common--watch for it.)
  • Form, Fit and Function: For most shoppers, quality is in part defined by the way the item looks, how its parts fit together, and its overall "feel". Does it look professionally made? Do the components mesh together smoothly? Does it seem "solid"? This is the "kick the tires" school of quality, and it definitely has some validity. These are rather subjective notions, but no less important for being a matter of personal judgment.
  • Design and Build: While the capabilities of most PCs are defined primarily by their constituent components, the whole is still greater than just the sum of the parts. How the unit is designed and the care with which it is assembled can be very important. Also, some manufacturers add special enhancements to their PCs that some people consider to improve the quality of the end product.
  • Reliability: Everyone who buys a product wants it to last a good long time and work without significant problems. Products that break frequently or wear out quickly are of lower quality than those that last a long time and remain trouble-free. Again, this is all else being equal--for one thing, a product with more features has more potential parts to fail. It's easier to make a highly-reliable simple gizmo than a highly-reliable complex one.
  • Service: The quality of a product is definitely affected by the quality of the company that sells and supports it.

Quality, like many other key attributes of any product, is an exercise in tradeoffs. More quality usually costs more money, whether you are talking about PCs or automobiles or anything else: TANSTAAFL. But quality is also a matter of the pride of the company making the product, and that's not strictly a matter of how much money you throw at a problem.

Next: Standardized and Proprietary Designs

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