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Jon Bach (President)

Features are not always selling points

Written on December 29, 2009 by Jon Bach

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!

Great article, Jon. This is a great contrast between features and benefits. Benefits or perceived benefits sell. Features are nearly meaningless unless it's an engineer on the phone.

Posted on 2009-12-30 22:45:15


Posted on 2009-12-31 19:03:54
Mark Adelman

jon great info you have had some real good blogs lately. but i disagree to a point...simple isn't always better but it sure can be limiting to the end user at times.

So now how about showing current i7 socket 1366 users that choose Asus P6T boards their problem/failure rates.... wether P6T Deluxe (original with SAS) and P6T Deluxe V2, and P6TD Deluxe and any other of the P6T line you may have changed with.... for whatever reason.

You must have the figures on those by now. some may have had more service calls than others, bios upgrades, memory touchiness, etc.

I'm betting that would be interesting to current users.

and to get back to simpleness for a moment it's limiting and while you may not sell 80 units with a sound card that is more for the music listener than gamer i see more nad more users going that route. your orders may show the exact opposite as more users going with onboard sound..... blah!

while i commend you all for at least giving asus cards a shot even though they based it on previously developed chips it beats creative.

the sound card set is industry limited in this price range this i understand but there are others that are at least kept up to date by their respective companies.

you built me one stable machine... and yep i am still running vista ultimate 64 albeit via a recent clean install which has fluctuated via 10.00 and 9.88 on "reliability monitor" and i run all the cakewalk software and ableton updates along with all nikons software.
so other than adding some ram for my music work along with photography stuff. i can't complain but would have used more choices had they been available.

Posted on 2010-01-09 23:13:13

Great question -- the P6T series has gone through two revisions since we started selling them a year ago. It is interesting to compare their reliability. Its a bit off topic from the study of reliability vs feature sets, but let's give it a look! I would expect each revision to be incrementally more reliable, as Asus fixes problems found in the field.

Asus P6T Deluxe (began selling Jan 09): 28.26% failure
Asus P6T Deluxe V2 (began selling Mar 09): 5.64% failure
Asus P6TD Deluxe (began selling Oct 09): 6.82% failure

The 28% number looks alarming, but on close inspection I see that about 60% of those failures were due to a defective battery mount -- the mount in that model was not very well designed, and units would arrive to us broken. We actually were one of the early reporters to bring that to the attention of Asus, and they fixed it in the V2 revision. Only 5% of those failures happened in the field.

Even so, you still see a reduction of failure rate starting with the V2. The P6TD sees a slightly larger failure rate, but it is within our margin of error, so I wouldn't read too much into it.

I didn't mean to imply a blanket argument against features -- just ones that aren't needed. If you need a feature, absolutely, go for it! My encouragement is that people should think about what they *really* need. Especially with our market segment. Some of our customers are quite well off financially, and I think the discussion needs to be about more than the monetary cost of features -- there is a reliability cost as well.

Posted on 2010-01-09 23:31:31
Mark Adelman

jon you are one heck of nice business owner to work with.

i only wish my industry was as forth coming... while we have the data heads get chopped for putting it out there.

kudos for the response and the speed of it too :~)

Posted on 2010-01-09 23:39:23
Dennis Sanders

Thanks for the great article Jon,

I am a little shocked and very impressed that you hold such a high unmatched standard when testing your product. I can't imagine any PC manufacturer checking to see if a chip is a little hotter than it should be or testing benchmarks to 5%. All I can say is WOW and this is why your reputation is second to none. This testing/return to vendor process has got to be somewhat expensive but makes for a superior product. I also agree with your simple approach Vs feature approach especially when it comes to reliability and system efficiency. Great job.

Posted on 2011-04-01 07:54:58