Features are not always selling points

We all seem to like our products with lots of features, especially when it comes to computers. After all, the personal computer is supposed to be the most versatile piece of electronics that you own, right? How can it be versatile without a long list of features? When it comes down to deciding what product to buy, one of the first things we do is put the features side by side, and see which gives us more capabilities for the dollar. What are we missing?

There is a consumer pattern: a product with more features sells better. Where there is a pattern to consumer actions, unfortunately there is an opportunity for exploitation. Many manufacturers take this opportunity, and so you find component manufacturers adding feature after feature to their products. It isn't about making the products better — it's about selling more of their products for more profit. But the profits only go up if they add the features without greatly adding to their cost of producing the product.

Motherboards are an excellent illustration of this. Today, it is common to find motherboards with a huge list of features. Onboard RAID, onboard sound, onboard video, additional storage controllers, wireless, pre-boot environments…much of what you need to know about their quality is this: these motherboards are advertising many of the same features found in a $200 RAID card, a $100 sound card, and a $100 video card…and yet the motherboard costs only $150. You get what you pay for. Don't get me wrong — in many cases, what the motherboard provides is enough. But make no mistake about the quality of those components.

The fact is, many features are a liability. They add more things that can go wrong. Of course, if your need for a particular feature outweighs the liability it carries, then it makes sense to pursue that feature. However, often times you are forced to buy more than you need in the process. Again, motherboards are a great illustration. The charts below show the failure rates for various motherboards we've sold in the past, with varying amounts of features onboard (the "Deluxe" and "Premium" boards have more features). The pattern is clear.

Intel P35 Motherboards    Failure Rate
Asus P5K3 Deluxe Wireless Edition 18.60%
Asus P5K Deluxe Wireless Edition 11.43%
Asus P5K 11.21%
Asus P5K-VM 5.33%
Asus P5K EPU 4.55%

Intel P45 Motherboards    Failure Rate
Asus P5Q3 Deluxe/WiFi-AP 23.81%
Asus P5Q-E 8.24%
Asus P5Q-EM 6.18%
NVIDIA NFORCE for Intel CPUs    Failure Rate
Asus Maximus Formula Special Edition 50.00%
Asus Striker Extreme 40.70%
Asus P5N32-SLI Premium Wireless Edition 41.38%
Asus P5N32-E SLI 26.02%
Asus P5N-E SLI 13.33%

NVIDIA NFORCE for AMD CPUs    Failure Rate
Asus A8N32-SLI Deluxe 20.16%
Asus A8N-SLI Premium 12.50%
Asus A8N-SLI 7.46%

You may be thinking that these failure rates are shockingly high. The key is our definition of "failure." If ANYTHING is out of the ordinary with a product, we call it a failure. It may be a simple cosmetic scratch. Or a chip that shows hotter than it should on our thermal imaging. Or it benchmarks more than 5% out of spec with what we've seen in the past. Or maybe one SATA port doesn't work. Many of these things you would probably just choose to live with if you were building your own computer. We send it back to the manufacturer until it is right (and they grumble plenty). A vast majority of failures are caught in our factory — that's our job!

There was a time when the call for more features enticed even us at Puget Systems. Under strong demand, we once sold the Asus Striker and Maximus series of motherboards — models known well in the enthusiast community for their exhaustive list of features. The results speak for themselves in the chart above. We quickly realized our error and corrected our product line. From that point on, we embraced simplicity. We understand that one of the big advantages of being a custom computer builder is about what we DON'T sell you. By simplifying our products, we can not only save you money, but we can create a dramatically more reliable product. Are there things you need? By all means, meet those needs! By going custom, you are better equipped to do that without paying for and exposing yourself to the risk of features you don't need.

Of course, product reliability is only one factor to consider. Difficulty of maintenance, longer boot times, and use of system resources are some other "hidden costs" of features. I appeal to product reliability only because that is one of our core focuses here at Puget Systems, so the hard data is already right at my finger tips!