Be Sure To Get Comprehensive, Itemized Quotes When Working With Local Businesses — Hamor Photography

My cousin, Brian Hamor, runs Hamor Architecture Associates LLC in Stowe, Vermont. He recently reached out, and asked for PC and monitor upgrade recommendations for AutoCAD, Archicad, Photoshop, and general office tasks. Since computer-aided design (CAD) has heavy processor (CPU) and graphics processor (GPU) requirements, a workstation-class system is recommended.

He asked for opinions on a quote that he had received from a local PC vendor, but it was a bit lax on details, and the system appeared to have a high markup. I was going to reply via email with my thoughts but, since I went down the rabbit hole and the email was encroaching on article-length, I figured that I’d share the knowledge!

This article will simply break down the quote, and I’ll have additional suggestions in a few days.

Support local business!

I love supporting local businesses, even if it means spending a bit more money, because it curates important relationships — both business and personal. I’ve lost count of the number of times where a vendor has helped me out, given me a discount, or added something to an order for free. This, of course, results in me recommending them to my own clients, or returning the favor if they need my services.

And it means that I’ll overlook the occasional pricing discrepancy, because I know that I got a good deal on another order…

However, smaller local businesses have a tendency to be quite terse with their quotes, because their clientele is generally coming to them to quickly solve a problem. The average non-technical small business owner, who is looking for computer or network equipment, doesn’t want to read pages upon pages of specifications.

They simply want a solution. Today.

Don’t be afraid to question your local business, and seek competitive quotes…

Take, for example, the quote that Brian received from his local computer, networking, and tech-support vendor:

$1,450.00 — Lenovo P330 Tower — i7–9700, 16GB DDR4, 512GB SSD
$200.00 — Microsoft Office Professional 2019
$350.00–27" 4K HD IPS Monitor w/VESA Mount

Even if you’re not a computer expert, examine the quote as if you were buying a car, camera, television, or other high-dollar item that you are an expert on. Similar to cars, computers have hundreds of options available. My preferred vendor, CDW, has 145 different SKUs for the Lenovo P330.

Doing a web search for each line item on the quote will gleam additional information. According to Lenovo’s website, the P330 model line is end-of-life and is already obsolete, as it’s based on previous 8th and 9th generation Intel Core processors. 10th generation is current, with 11th generation mobile processors slated to launch in a few days.

Additionally, the quote doesn’t specify whether the P330 is the 2018 P330 or the 2019 P330 Gen 2. Could the vendor be trying to sell off old stock at a discount? Possibly, but CDW lists a P330 Gen 2 with the same processor and storage, but double the memory (32GB) for only $1,175.14.

If I were Brian, I wouldn’t immediately write off this vendor, especially if I would be relying on them for local on-site tech-support services. The vendor may have already pointed all this out to Brian before providing the quote. But, in my opinion, that price is too high for a system that’s obsolete before it leaves the showroom floor.

My recommendation would be to wait until after Intel’s 11th generation announcement on September 2nd. Then, approach the vendor, point out the price discrepancy, and ask for a quote on a latest-generation system with a 3D GPU that’s optimized for CAD. With the new quote in hand, run through the same pricing and research exercise again.

Even if Brian’s local vendor can’t beat CDW’s price, paying a couple hundred dollars extra to build a relationship could be worth it in the long run. And don’t be afraid to request multiple quotes. Remember, it’s the vendor’s job to serve the customer, not the customer’s job to accept the first thing that the vendor suggests.

Don’t skimp on the monitor…

There’s a common idiom, “where the rubber meets the road,” which describes the most important point of something. In the literal sense, an expensive sports car won’t perform to its full potential on cheap tires. The same can be said for a computer monitor — the often-overlooked device that you’ll be staring at for eight or more hours per day.

Following the car analogy, Brian’s vendor quoting $350 for a 27" 4K HD IPS Monitor w/VESA Mount would be like a car dealership quoting $35,000 for a blue sedan with a 245-horsepower turbo V4 engine and trailer hitch. With no make, model, or additional specifications, you have no idea what you’re paying for.

A good monitor is like a camera lens, and should outlast the computer by many years. I’m still kicking myself for purchasing a pair of inexpensive 4K monitors in 2013. It doesn’t matter that I had the fastest newly-released Mac Pro at the time — the slow refresh rate and slow response time of the budget-priced monitors always made my system feel sluggish.

Since Brian is purchasing a computer for CAD, a 27" or 32" monitor, with silky-smooth response time and refresh rate, is absolutely critical. At a bare minimum, the monitor should sport a 4K (3840 x 2160) or higher resolution, 60 Hz (60 FPS) or greater refresh, with a super-fast response time.

Using another car analogy, response time is like a car’s zero-to-sixty time. Or, how quickly does the mouse pointer on the screen start moving after you physically move the mouse. In the case of my pair of budget 4K monitors, the response time is slow enough that my brain can actually perceive the lag of the mouse pointer on the screen from the movement of my hand.

Lastly, make sure that your software licenses are legal…

At first glance, the quoted $200 price for Office looks like a great deal! The MSRP for a single license of Microsoft Office Professional Plus 2019 is $439.99, and the prices from CDW range between $399.99 and $522.49.

I’m not an expert on Microsoft reseller pricing, but $200 feels like too much of a good deal. Smaller mom and pop PC vendors will occasionally purchase a Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) or bulk software site license, and then pre-install the software under that developer or bulk license. If this is the case, then the software is owned by the vendor, and not the customer.

This is because developer and bulk licenses are meant for larger businesses with dozens, hundreds, or thousands of PCs. If the vendor is not providing a boxed copy, then be sure to ask what the procedure is if the software needs to be reinstalled, or if technical support is required.

But Office might be an unneeded upsell. I personally haven’t had to use Microsoft Office in twenty years. For daily office tasks, I rely on Google G Suite’s Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Calendar. On the rare occasion that I do need to open native Office documents locally, I use the free and open-source Libre Office.

Brian’s case may obviously differ but, if his G Suite account or Libre Office doesn’t suffice, he should ask his vendor whether the software license is a genuine boxed copy, site license, or MSDN license.

The right tool for the job, and the wait for September 2nd…

I’m a firm believer in the right tool for the job. Mac vs. Windows vs. Linux. Every tool has its place. Since Brian and his family already have a fleet of iPhones and iPads, he asked if he should migrate to Apple Mac instead.

My fleet of Ubuntu (Linux) servers and laptops serves my needs for cloud development, but I’ve been a Mac evangelist since 1984 for graphics and photography workflow. So my next step is to research AutoCAD and Archicad performance on Mac to see if the transition makes sense for Brian.

Once that research has been completed, and after we find out whether or not Intel’s September 2nd announcement includes workstation-class CPUs, be on the lookout for another installment!

Sean Sosik-Hamor is a former employee of Canonical. Working within Canonical’s IS Team Alpha Squad, Sean’s focus was end-to-end logistics, planning, implementation, and photography for corporate events, summits, conventions, data centers, facilities, and equipment transport, as well as constructing offices and data centers.

He is currently entertaining offers for full-time positions within the photography, event, and data center fields.

Originally published at Hamor Photography Blog on August 27, 2020.

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Cyber Security Engineer, Data Center Engineer, Photographer, Event Logistics, and Event Networks

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Sean Sosik-Hamor

Sean Sosik-Hamor

Cyber Security Engineer, Data Center Engineer, Photographer, Event Logistics, and Event Networks

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