The world of premium boutique PCs is quite an exciting one. There are quite a lot of players on the market, with a lot of companies trying to secure its piece of the pie. The allure of boutique PC vendors is very strong with large corporations, so we weren't surprised when Dell snatched Alienware, followed by HP acquisition of Voodoo PC. Acer also had its sights on a lot of acquisitions, but the Taiwanese giant settled with the acquisition of Gateway/eMachines. We heard bombastic promises of changing the corporation inside, and annihilating the competition, pronouncing that boutique PC vendors are dead. But we didn't see that AMG effect on Mercedes Benz cars, M effect on BMW cars… both Alienware and VoodooPC got swallowed by the corporate mentality. For instance, gorgeous MacBook Air-killing HP Envy 133 turned into a pathetic rip-MacBook Unibody rip-off... and the examples move on.
Today, MAINGEAR is relaunching itself as a company that decided to stay independent through murky waters of PC industry and hopes to become the standard bearer in the world of high end computing. Their main foe is no other than Apple - in a run up to this launch, we spoke with Wallace Santos [CEO] and Chris Morley [CTO] about the future of the company and the line-up at hand. For this first article about the company we are presenting an in-depth interview Chris Morley, who joined MAINGEAR Computers following his stints on BOXX Technologies, Velocity Micro and even HardOCP, where he wrote innovative reviews of complete system buying experience. BSN*:
Chris, could you tell us what do you exactly do at MAINGEAR Computers and for how long you've been inside the computing business? Chris:
I am Chief Technology Officer of the company, my duty is to help design, position and market our entire product line. Besides that, I also help in shaping up day to day operations… have my hands in a little bit of everything, but my primary focus is designing and positioning our products from sales and support perspective. BSN*:
MAINGEAR Computers... what would you tell about your company to the user that didn't hear about it in the past? Chris:
What we say is that we are the premier provider of high performance custom computers for North America. We are located in Union, NJ which is about half an hour drive from New York City. Time to SHIFT
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According to the documents we received earlier today, MAINGEAR is unveiling its new line-up of computers. What can you tell us about this line-up? Chris:
Actually, we are re-launching the whole company, now centered around SHIFT, which is our new flagship system we are dubbing "the personal supercomputer." It is an exclusive design, it is not an off-the-shelf design. We spend over a year designing this system getting it ready for mass production... we have a new website
, new company logo...we have refined some of our messaging, especially centered around customer service because to us, customer service is a keystone of our business. It's been a foundation for our success and it is going to be a key to our future growth. BSN*:
What was the vision behind SHIFT?
Chris: SHIFT is a trendkill for us. What that means is that we took a look at the market out there and you look at what Alienware is doing with their new systems, you look at ASUS with their gaming systems and… you've got something designed by aliens, you've got something that looks like the head of Voltron
. If you take a look at what Alienware just released with retina-searing LEDs… it is all user configurable and you can change all the colors but you know what? I just bought my daughter a Lite-Brite
, why would I want one sitting on my desktop and why would I design a computer that looked like it? Our customers... they're not kids. They are people that are discerning buyers who are looking for performance and style. What we have designed with the SHIFT is going against the status quo, against the mentality that says that you have to make these powerful machines look more extreme, and put a lot of bling.No bling... for the users who know they have a powerful computer and don't need to show it to everyone
MAINGEAR is going exactly for the opposite direction. We have refined lines, subdued esthetics - no bright lights. There are two LEDs - one is for power on and hard drive activity - but they are stealth a bit so that there is no direct line of sight for LEDs. Basically, you see the reflection. As you can see, it is all black. Mat black access, black acrylic, very clean lines. This is what sets it apart from all of the other "gaming PC's" on the market. Because you know what - we are not just building a gaming PC, we are building the everyday supercomputer. The focus is on GPGPU Computing and fusion of that with mainstream, with Windows 7, with CUDA and all the stuff that CUDA has brought to us. For instance, vReveal from MotionDSP is fantastic, CyberLink software, Badaboom - these are just examples of real world titles that people are using and they're relying on GPGPU. But you need to create a good thermal design to cool down these powerful GPUs. We can put anything in SHIFT, we can keep it cool - we can keep it quiet.
It is also recognition of the fact that GPU is playing larger and larger role as the days go by. You know, GPUs are no longer just for gaming. We always like to say that a well-built gaming system will be good for just about anything. And we have seen this trend because more and more customers are coming to us saying "I am not a gamer but…" That is usually followed with "I want a better performance," "I want better reliability" "I want better support" and with our pedigree as a gaming company, we already have that in place. With the resurgence of PC with the Windows 7… with people starting to get that they don't want to pay for systems that come with pre-installed bloatware, crapware, underware on under-specced and underwhelmed computers. The consumers are awakening up and we are putting us out there by drawing a line in the sand and you are going to get a completely different experience with us. BSN*:
You are targeting the whole segment... let me rephrase. You want to redefine PC compared to standard definition of PC supported by Apple..? Chris:
The PC world, the Windows world - needs an Apple. They need it. They need a standard bearer. They need somebody who can put out intelligent designs, who can stand on their own two feet without having to load up lots of bloatware, crapware and all the unnecessary 3rd party software that other vendors put on the system to subsidize for the price of the machines. They need somebody who can talk intelligently about the PC architecture and the ecosystem… how PC makes an everyday impact on somebody's life. And most importantly, the PC world doesn't have somebody who can stand there and support the product - because no matter how good product you have, if it doesn't work - it doesn't matter. Basically, we are going to pick this flag up and say: "look, Apple - we want our customers back"
[laugh]. We are building a better system, we have a better operating system and we have a support structure and most importantly, we have better hardware.
That key messaging, that applies to everything and everybody. That applies to Apple, applies to HP, applies to Dell, to Alienware - our messaging applies to any company out there that is doing what we are build with the SHIFT, with our award-winning F131, which is our classic desktop… our X-Cube, which is a fully-featured SFF [Small Form Factor] PC. Our X-Cube is a little bit bigger than a shoebox and it fits all the latest hardware, long video cards, multiple video cards, quad-core processors… and then Access HD, our media center.
We have a whole wide range of products for "anybody who needs anything" and "everybody that needs everything" type of customers. A desktop PC or a Media Center PC and we think we have some of the best offerings in the business, we know we've got one of most customer-centric support infrastructure in the industry… when you call MAINGEAR, you are never going to get an agent that works on commission.
In fact, you never talk to anyone who hasn't built a PC for us... those are the employees that are going to give you the best advice to buy and more importantly, what NOT to buy. I can't tell you how many times we have saved people money. We had numerous customers that came to us and said they want 3Way SLI and they've got the money for a 3-Way SLI or a 3-Way Crossfire. But they've got a 22" monitor. So we talked to our customers and told them that they wanted overkill - that we can save them several hundred dollars. If you're not planning on getting a larger monitor, for instance, if they have 3D Vision glasses and are limited to that 22-23" display they have - there is no reason to be spending that kind of money. On other side, you have call centers with people who just take in orders… how would they know how to do that, how to properly advise a customer. Unless this is what they do every day, what they love doing, if they didn't lay their hands on the systems they are recommending. BSN*:
In a nutshell, your goal is to provide a level of service in the PC world that would match the level of service that is normal in other industries, such as car industry and premium vendors there - for instance, AMG for Mercedes Benz, M Division for BMW. Chris:
Exactly. You have companies that manufacture off-the-shelf, Point A-to-Point B companies and you have premium vendors. At the end of the day, both Ferrari and Kia Rio have four wheels, but the feeling and the price is different. But why would PC industry consists only of vendors that nickel and dime their customers? If you have a product that looks like something that came out of Pininfarina design studio, it should operate in the same way and if you encounter a problem, it needs to be addressed accordingly. BSN*:
What design concepts have you implemented in designing of the SHIFT?
The SHIFT is not made to diminish the hardware side. Obviously, we had to build it around something. We have built it by focusing on vertical, natural path of airflow, moving fans, the esthetics and clean lines... but you are right. SHIFT is not just the product. I think that the new website, the new messaging, the new approach shows us that we are becoming a solutions company… a PC solutions company. If you are a multi-national, Tier One orphan, and have fallen through the cracks, if you are a disaffected PC user, a Windows XP holdout, or you casually switched to the Mac because you got frustrated with the PC and saw those Mac Commercials… it is those users that are sick and tired of messages sent out… you cannot just throw the product out and honk "hey, buy this". You have to give people a story, a narrative. You have to talk about the whole experience because people are not just buying the hardware. There are plenty of companies out there that provide just the hardware. They're quick turnaround discounters. But if you want premium pre and post-sales experience and the best customer support to go with that hardware, that's when you come to us.
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