PC Club is back, but our experience with them our third time around is drastically different. We take a look at a mid-range laptop from them and try to figure out what happened to PC Club.
Purchasing, Packaging, and Presentation – 8/10
The PC Club website is easy to navigate and you can quickly select your item and be on your way to receiving your system. We'd like to see a bit more detail in the components selection screen; perhaps links to the parts themselves or information related to them. We were happy with the shipping and packaging that we received. It would be nice to receive some documentation from PC Club so that our experience feels a bit more personalized. The system itself looks sharp and arrived without any damage.
Build Quality – 6.5/10
From the beginning, we had some concerns about the build quality of this system. Its all-plastic design looked cheap and felt flimsy, especially in context of the price we paid, and the CPU and GPU being placed in tandem on the same heat pipe had us concerned. The latter was shown to be a non-issue and we found that we had nothing to be worried about. It would have been nice for all of the hardware to be accessible from the bottom of the chassis instead of having to go from the top to get to the hard drive, but this is a minor issue.
The chassis has a lot of connectivity, which is very nice. The touchpad is small and the buttons leave much to be desired. The heat management issue is a bittersweet one in that although our chips are able to stay astoundingly comfortable, the user is the one who foots the bill for that comfort.
What dragged down PC Club’s score down here was the incredibly flimsy construction. Even though it housed some good hardware, we weren’t convinced this system would stay together for even a year without duct tape. It is not a good sign of durability when keys keep popping off the keyboard.
Gaming Ability – 8/10
Gaming was a mixed bag on the ENP612. For the best game play experience on an LCD, you need enough graphics power to play games at the native resolution of your screen. In our case, the native resolution was 1280x800, and we were able to play games with a modest amount (as shown by our ability to use Medium quality settings in many instances) of eye candy, which is necessary to fully immerse yourself in a game.
Battlefield 2, Lego: Star Wars, Flight Simulator 2004, and Sims 2 were all playable at the native resolution of our LCD screen. Of those games, only two are current best sellers. Of the rest, we had to sacrifice resolution and special effects to make the games playable.
However, we never encountered any glitches, crashes, or issues with the games we played.
Multimedia and Productivity – 8/10
A major disappointment for this system was the sound quality of the speakers. This affected a number of things we did with our system, from gaming to DVD quality testing. Visually, it had a very nice presentation.
The display is crisp and vivid and there is little wasted space on the display part of the chassis. The high reflectivity of the display was a nuisance, but is a compromise you make for clarity. This type of glossy screen is seen on many different systems in the marketplace today, and you either love it or you hate it.
Otherwise, the system is fairly well-equipped. The Adobe Premiere encoding time was acceptable and nearly identical to that of the Gateway CX200X, which had the same CPU. We liked the fact it had a memory card reader and FireWire, but for the price, we would have expected this.
General Usage – 7/10
The battery life, or lack thereof in this case, was a huge impact to the general utility of this system. With just over two hours of up-time compared to the three hours needed to recharge the system, we can’t help but feel very unimpressed with the power management with this system.
The World Bench 5 test didn’t present any surprises and went off without a hitch. The subtle differences in scores between the ABS Mayhem G4 and the ENP612, which are accounted for by the difference in CPU, are indicative of the high fidelity of the test itself. Overall, the performance fit the hardware well. We were impressed with the general utility of the system when on AC power. The Pentium M chip showed that it is very versatile and powerful in everyday applications.
The trackpad’s lack of size and usability almost required the use of an external mouse.
In the end, we could have forgiven this system’s limitations in the battery department if it was a desktop replacement and performed as such, but given its form factor, weight, portability, and hardware, we just wished there was the battery life to match it.
Stability - 10/10
We were concerned about system stability because of the integration of the GPU and CPU, and also because of the noticeable heat dissipation through the keyboard. However, in our several hours of gaming and our torture test, the system showed that it can manage heat very well on the CPU and GPU. Our system was very stable and we never had any issues with it.
Technical Support – 0/10
The issue that we had with the operators at PC Club was extremely disappointing, and a normal customer would have been greatly inconvenienced. In fact, even as independent critics, we were greatly inconvenienced. PC Club obviously prefers not to receive phone tech support calls since the numbers are buried in their support section on the PC Club website. Their tech support also appears to want to remain unbothered by emails from consumers, as they provide a bogus email address for contacting tech support. In trying to contact them for an RMA, using their prescribed method of an email request, we were again unsuccessful.
We were left in a difficult situation, but not nearly as difficult as a consumer would be in if they were to have a problem with their system. Perhaps the most striking circumstance of our experience is that our previous interactions with PC Club were remarkably good. When I talked to Brian about all of this, he expressed nothing but disbelief and confusion. After bearing witness to the unanswered or rejected emails and the numerous unanswered voice messages, we can only say that there is a complete logistical breakdown in the PC Club chain of communication.
For the large voice that the PC Club consumer base has, they provide free, public forums. These forums have great potential utility, from being able to ask advice on what system to buy, to tech support issues. The forums are supposedly frequented and moderated by PC Club techs and representatives; however, our impressions are that PC Club representatives only rarely address consumer questions. If you look down a list of twenty some-odd threads in their forums, perhaps one or two will have a response from a PC Club employee. The forums provide an interesting and convenient solution to addressing problems with your computer, but don’t count on PC Club tech advice at the drop of a hat. There’s no evidence to suggest that there is any urgency in responding to customer issues.
A total of five phone calls and two emails going unanswered over the period of two weeks is pretty much the worst experience you could possibly have. We never once talked to a real person at PC Club.
Value – 4/10
It’s debatable if this is a fair price to pay for this system or not. Our ABS Mayhem was slightly more expensive four months ago and this system is just barely better equipped. The Pentium M processor is powerful enough to muscle out today’s games and is very dexterous at general utility applications. The 6600 Go is beginning to age, but if you’re not interested in tomorrow’s games, it is a very fine solution if you’re looking for a mid-range system.
If we have to point out what makes this system a “bad” deal, it would be the support. PC Club’s support quality greatly impacted the value of this system because at least part of the price premium that the consumer pays to an OEM is in the expectation that they will receive support for their purchase. This feature alone is why most people will purchase a system from an established OEM instead of building it themselves or getting the kid down the street to put one together. The consumer wants the security of being able to call up an “expert” so that they can resolve their computing issues. The perceived value of a builder’s tech support is one of the most important aspects to purchasing a computer from an OEM. Here, we simply felt like we were being ignored.
Another aspect that affected the overall value of this system in our minds is the chassis. The general design of it is suboptimal and it leaves a great deal to be desired. While PC Club doesn’t build the chassis, they chose this chassis to represent their company, and I think that there are better alternatives on the market.
The Bottom Line – 4/10
There were a number of misses with this system. From chassis design and quality, to battery life, and non existent tech support, we were generally disappointed with some important aspects of our experience.
However, we were able to achieve a gaming experience that we have come to expect from the hardware we purchased, which allowed us to play half of the time at the native resolution of the display, which is the optimal game play experience on an LCD. However, we did have to turn down a few eye candy effects to make the experience enjoyable.
The end result is we bought a system of marginal value and we were very turned off by the complete absence of customer service from PC Club, which is absolutely vital to people who purchase a laptop, where the vendor is oftentimes the only place that can provide support.
There’s not much I can say about this system or our experience that wasn’t covered in detail by Jason. We were absolutely shocked that we would ever reach the absolute lowest score we could hand out in terms of tech support. People have asked me what it would take for a full system to score a zero, and I have said that the company would have to fail to even deliver us our order! Similarly, a complete lack of any type of tech support from a company certainly deserves a zero score as well.
The real shame of this is that shortly before our purchase, the President of PC Club, Jackson Lan, passed away. From reading feedback in the PC Club forums, his employees loved and respected him and his leadership of the company.
Since then PC Club has gone under some management changes, and the new management has begun to restructure the company. Most notably, PC Club shut down over a dozen stores with absolutely no warning to its employees or customers. PC Club employees quite literally went to work one day and a found their store locked.
Certainly this is evidence of drastic changes inside PC Club’s corporate infrastructure. While it may have been a trying time for PC Club after such a devastating lost and dramatic shift in leadership, which we can certainly understand from a business perspective, it in no way mitigates the fact that during this time PC Club was selling and “servicing” customers. We purchased a system from them during this transition and PC Club failed to deliver on its promises. Whether or not PC Club can come back from this, we don’t have that answer. But you can rest assured that we will revisit PC Club in the future.
[H] Consumer Managing Editor
Thank you for taking the time to read our latest system evaluation. If you have any questions or comments, please join us in discussing this article here. Also worth pointing out is that PC Club Marketing Coordinator has stepped up to answer some tough questions in our forum thread. Kudos to PC Club for giving us some explanations as to what is going on with their company.