Boutique Graphics PCs Duke It Out

Boutiques Grow Up

Starting a PC company used to be as easy as buying a few parts, building a few systems, and selling them at low enough prices to gather a small circle of customers. Price wars among big brands have all but killed small competitors in traditional markets, however, as average buyers now expect "disposable" systems with service lives of one to three years. A few mid-sized custom builders continued to fight for customers who can still tell the difference between gigahertz and frames per second, but most have either bankrupted themselves or sold out to become the fashionable brands of faceless conglomerates.

For high-end customers, the common options are to either build a completely custom system at home, or buy an off-the-shelf "high-end" production unit with very few custom-selected parts. The build option offers the most flexibility, but some buyers simply don't have the time or skill to build a system, test it, tweak it for performance enhancement, and then retest it. What if you could pay someone to do that for you?

A few companies are still around to do just that: AVA Direct and Digital Storm would love to turn your personal vision of the ultimate PC into hardware reality. Both are refugees of the price wars that drove so many competitors out of business, and both have come to specialize in one-off, hand-built, custom-tuned performance systems.

The similarities don't end there, though. Both companies made the transition into high-end custom game systems around the same time, both provide three-year warranties, and both offer many of the same hardware choices. The AVA Direct and Digital Storm systems we received use the same basic hardware, yet customized parts selection spread the price difference out by a little more than 100%. Testing will determine if the lower-cost system is good enough for mid-quality gaming, and whether the higher-priced configuration is worth the extra money.

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