AVADirect's previous evaluation went very well. The company proved that it could build a solid desktop and provide great support. But the true acid test of an integrator is building a stable and fully-featured HTPC. Did AVADirect pull it off?
AVADirect’s website is strictly functional. There are no big logos or Flash animations running amuck. The most noticeable display is the big [H] logo on the left side of the page referencing the evaluation we performed on the Custom SLI Gaming machine. The middle of the page is split into four different sections: Gaming with Athlon processors, Custom HTPCs, Custom Notebooks, and Gaming with Core 2 Duo processors. The top of the page has an additional navigation bar with options for Barebone Systems, Desktop Systems, Motherboard Kits, Notebooks, Parts and even Server Systems.
Clicking on Desktop Systems brings up a selection of categories featuring everything from High-Performance Gaming Systems to Intel-Based Mini-Cube Systems. Halfway down the page on the left-hand side is an entry for Home Theater and Entertainment Systems. Clicking on this link brings up a page listing six different models, all using different CPUs as the basis of the systems. Typical AMD and Intel offerings are available, and there are plenty of options for the price-conscious home theater enthusiast. Since we were looking for both utility and performance, we selected the CUSTOM HTPC, Core™ 2 Duo Socket 775 Viiv PCIe Entertainment System.
AVADirect provides a ton of options when it comes to customizing its systems. There is a wide selection of motherboards, DDR2-800 RAM modules, hard drives, and video cards. However, some advanced options, such as dual tuners or SLI configurations, are not available in this configuration. Curiously, as of this writing, there was no option to select Windows Vista as the operating system. Only Windows XP flavors are available, though a free upgrade coupon is provided. Aside from anti-virus solutions, there are no other software options to be had.
We placed our order and within minutes received an email informing us that our order had been placed and was currently in processing. The next day we received another email informing us that our order was placed on hold. As for all of AVADirect’s orders in excess of $1000 from new customers, we were required to submit a Credit Authorization form. Once AVA has you on file, you don’t have to send in another form. We filled out the form and faxed it in. We then got another email a few hours later saying that AVADirect had received our fax and our order was moving forward.
We then entered into a dialogue with Misha, who initially contacted us by phone. He had some concerns about our build. First, he was concerned that our 600W power supply would not be sufficient to run all of our hardware. He also suggested that we go with a different brand. He said that the Enermax we chose was a fine unit, but that he would suggest a Sea Sonic 700W, since he had seen a very low failure rate with it. Now, this could have been a ploy to get us to buy another unit because AVA was out of stock on the other one, but it seemed very genuine to us, and it was greatly appreciated. We thanked him for his time, approved the part change, and ended the call.
We then started exchanging emails. The first Misha sent was regarding our chassis. He basically asked, “Are you sure this is the case you want?” We said that it was and that the silver would match the rest of our home theater system. He promptly informed us that we had not selected a silver unit. Bumfuzzled, we looked at our configuration and we had indeed somehow selected the wrong case – a true piece of junk. We responded and told Misha what we wanted and he recommended a couple of silver chassis options. He gave us a couple of choices and said, “Usually with cases, the more expensive, the better. You might look at the LC17, which is $56 more than your current selection. Very good price for that enclosure.” We agreed that it was a good price, but it didn’t have the options that we wanted. We went with our original choice, the Kingwin Supernova. We asked him for his thoughts on it. He responded, “I like it! Shall we go ahead with it then?” We confirmed it and production resumed.
Several days later, we received another email from Misha stating that our selected motherboard was not going to work with the configuration we had specified. He said that our chassis required a mATX motherboard. Misha took all the blame and said that it was “his oversight” before recommending another motherboard for us that would serve all of our needs. He also said that a few free games would be tossed into our order for compensation. We followed his recommendation and approved the switch. We were also told that AVA was optimistic about having a quick ship date so that we could get the machine as soon as possible.
We didn't hear a thing from AVADirect for ten days, so we sent a friendly email inquiring as to the status of our machine. The response – from Misha again - was that our order was finally shipping out that day and that the configuration we had ordered had been very problematic for them, even after changing the motherboard. The switch to yet another motherboard (this time the MSI model we ended up getting in the system) solved the issues. He said that it passed their 48-hour burn-in, and they believe it to be working properly. We were assured that our satisfaction with the machine would more than make up for the delay in shipping.
They already offered us free games, and for that we were thankful. However, saying that the satisfaction of having the machine would make up for time we waited seemed a bit premature, but we admired Misha’s confidence in the product.
A few hours later, we received the email notice informing us that our machine had been shipped. We were also provided with a tracking number, but it wasn’t in the email. Instead we had to log into our account on AVADirect’s website to access the tracking information. The machine arrived at our doorstep five days later.