When buying a computer, especially desktop or workstation class computers, why is it so annoying to configure a computer that you want?

For example, go to Dell.com's "Large Enterprise" store and find the lowest cost configuration that gets you a workstation computer with at least the following specs:
  • 2 or more processor cores with VT extensions (of any speed)
  • 4GB of RAM (with or without ECC and of any speed)
  • Either a 160GB 10k RPM or 128GB SSD hard disk drive
  • DVD+/-RW burner
  • Windows7 32bit Professional w/ XP mode
It's so impossible it's not even funny.  I attempted to wade through this exact situation at my Fortune 500 the other day and I was not a happy camper.
What's the difference between an Optiplex 980, 960, and 780?  How do those compare to the Precision T1500 and T3500?  Which one will let you get at least the above specs for the least money?  Why the #%@$ can't I get a 256GB solid state drive in any computer I want?

I have no friggin idea.

A great idea would be a web 2.0 style drag and drop interface for configuration of a PC.  Along one side it would list all the different categories of things you can choose, like processors, RAM, disk drives, graphics, etc.  You'd have a work area in the middle and you can drag any of the categories onto the work area.  Once you drag a category onto the work area you can narrow your selection of available choices by putting constraints on the category, like I only want >2 cores.  As you refine your search by adding constraints, options that aren't compatible with your constraints would simply not be available (like if you choose a constraint of ECC memory being required, you wouldn't be able to choose a Core2Duo processor anymore).  As you refine your search by putting constraints on categories and adding additional categories to your work area, another column would list the number of configurations that fit your requirement along with highest and lowest prices.  Most people would simply pick the lowest price computer that met their requirements.

This would be great for pretty much anyone who has specific requirements for their PC.  It wouldn't be that hard to develop (at least compared to other configuration interfaces) and would probably get a lot of use by customers.  I'd think someone like Dell would really reduce the headache of customers by offering a system like this.  It'd even help their internal sales people, probably especially when quoting larger orders for corporate clients.

If no one has something like this next year, maybe I'll teach myself Ruby on Rails and some JavaScript and do it myself.



17 November 2010