Notebook Review On Tour: AVA Direct

by Reads (12,155)

by Kevin O’Brien

When most people think of a customized notebook, they figure it must be a model where you could configure what size hard drive, how much RAM, or maybe even what screen the computer has. AVA Direct takes it one step further by allowing customers to pick the exact specifications of their notebook down to the part number of the RAM or hard drive installed, as well as what paint job they want for a fully custom look. We decided to drive up to their factory in Cleveland, OH and see what goes on behind the scenes at AVA Direct.

AVA Direct is a company that revolves around building systems to exact customer specifications. They started in 1999 with the idea of filling the gap between building your own computer and buying one pre-built from Dell or HP. To set themselves apart from the competition, they offer parts selections that rival most electronics stores, and only build systems using the highest quality components. With annual sales currently around $8 million, they aren’t exactly working on the scale of Dell, but they are growing at a steady rate.

Ordering Process

Ordering a custom notebook from AVA Direct is slightly more difficult or advanced compared to ordering from your average manufacturer website. For the total hardware geek it’s great, but for your average consumer who isn’t familiar with computer hardware it might not work out too well. Customers are given dropdown lists for each customizable part in the notebook, some categories include more than 50 different choices.

To give you an idea of what to expect, here are some part options for the Clevo D901 gaming notebook:


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Here is a dropdown list for the hard drives:


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Note that not even the entire list shows up at once. You actually have to scroll quite a bit to see all 57 hard drives. For those who might not know all of the information off the top of their head about each drive, you can click "more info" after you make a selection. It will pop up an information page with all of the product’s specifications.

Even the operating system selection is given the same treatment:


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This stage of the buying process really impressed me, since I always want to know what is being installed inside of my system. With most companies, for example, they might have three or more hard drives to choose from internally depending on available stock. By the luck of the draw you could be stuck with last year’s model, or the latest thing to hit the shelves. You won’t even know until  the notebook is shipped out and you inspect the system yourself. AVA Direct takes out the worry by letting you decide.

Once the system is setup exactly how you want it, you submit your order; you can even contact them for rush priority if you must have it as soon as possible.


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Building Process

Once the order is confirmed and your payment information verified, all of your pieces are ordered from suppliers. To keep prices low, AVA Direct keeps minimal overhead and inventory so they don’t have unsold products sitting around losing value. Once all the parts are in, your barebone notebook and all its related parts are placed on a single cart with your order invoice. The notebook stays with the cart at all stations until it is ready for packaging.

The first step is where the notebook is actually assembled by trained and certified technicians. On grounded anti-static work benches, your notebook is carefully assembled. Notice all of the system components carefully laid on top of an additional antistatic padded mat. For delicate parts like system RAM or the processor, this is a must.


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After the notebook is fully assembled, it moves on to the next stage where all of the software is loaded. This includes the latest BIOS, drivers, and any other patches that might be available on the day your notebook is being built. Once all of the software is up and running, your notebook moves on to what is probably the most important stage — stress testing.


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For 48-72 hours each computer is fully stress tested to find faulty components before it gets shipped out. If anything were to fail, they would much rather have access to it while they can quickly swap it out in the shop, instead of shipping it to a customer who would then have to ship the notebook back. Not only does this cut down on shipping costs but it also reduces the chance of a customer getting mad over a malfunctioning computer.

Only after the notebook has tested to be in working order is it double boxed and ready to go out. While the packaging is going on, AVA Direct takes pictures of the computer from all angles, including inside the shipping box. Their pictures are used in the event they need to provide proof of its condition. While the customer doesn’t always see these unless they make a special request, it helps protect both sides in the event of damage during shipment or claims of missing parts.

Depending on the shipping method picked, you should have it in the next few business days. If you added rush shipping to your order, it would be at your door the next day.

Customer Support

For any problems that come up after you receive your new computer, telephone support staff are located on site. This even includes Misha Troshin, the CEO of AVA Direct, who will sometimes handle support cases. In the event a product has to be shipped back for repair, it will end up on one of the support benches for inspection. Computers are tested for problems and, if required, have system components replaced before being sent back to the customer.

Conclusion

After seeing the AVA Direct factory up close and personal, I really got the impression that their overall goal is to make the customer happy through all stages of the ordering process. While few if any companies let you build computers to such exacting specifications, AVA Direct goes all out with options consisting of almost every compatible product on the market. The great service continues throughout the entire building process, from the latest drivers and software, to prolonged stress testing to find faulty components.

The flip side to all of this is a not-so-friendly website interface that can frighten off even knowledgeable computer experts and overwhelm you with many, many options. AVA Direct isn’t for everyone, but if you fall into the category of a user who wants a highly customizable notebook but doesn’t want the hassle of building it yourself, they are an excellent option.

Related Links:

AVA Direct website


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