We had an opportunity to chat with John Malley, BFG's Senior Director of Marketing, concerning their plans in the computer industry. They recently announced their intention to begin selling complete systems with the Phobos line, and we wanted to get more details on their goals and approach to the pre-built system market. Below are the questions and answers we received during our conversation.
BFG has a good reputation with the gaming market. What made you decide to branch into systems?
We looked at the current boutique PC market, and noticed that most high-end systems have case designs that are very "gamer-oriented". The majority of them are flashy—with lights, "gamer" case designs, or loud paint schemes that are targeted toward younger gamers. Unless you build it yourself, which many people can't or don't want to do, there didn't seem to be a refined, attractive system that would look great anywhere in your home. We wanted to design a system that would look just as good in your office or den as it would in your living room, next to a high-end audio system and widescreen TV. When we did some casual market research, we found that there seemed to be quite a few "graduated gamers" like us, who are a little bit older, still love to game and play with HD media, but didn't want a giant alien head or flashy paint job on their high-end system. I think a lot of wives and girlfriends out there might agree.
In addition to that, we realized BFG was in an ideal position to provide a high-end system that would compete with the current offerings out there, based on several factors. First, we have access to hundreds of thousands of graphics cards a year that we can cherry pick to put into our system. We are the only system builder who is also a major graphics card supplier. Second, being a graphics card and power supply provider we will quite often, if not always, be able to provide the latest graphics cards and PSUs in Phobos before other system builders. And our years of experience providing pre-overclocked cards fits in nicely with the innovative "one-touch overclocking" we offer with Phobos' touch screen LCD.
The Phobos is targeted towards "graduated gamers" - could you explain what goals you had in mind when designing for these customers?
We think there are a significant number of "graduated gamers" out there who either don't know how, don't have the time, or simply don't want to build their own system. This is supported by the success of the other boutique system builders currently in the same market.
Our "we do everything for you" system combined with our concierge service was a way for us to offer something more than the competition, while at the same time minimizing after sales tech support calls—which is good for both BFG and the customer. We believe the consumers who are interested in pre-built systems also appreciate not having to set everything up themselves, since most of these customers are not "do-it-yourself" people, but they still want all the performance of a powerful gaming/home theater system.
Could you elaborate on the overclocking option offered with the Phobos system? What levels (CPU speed, BCLK, memory) are attained with the air- and water-cooling configurations? Are the BFG GeForce GTX cards also overclocked?
We're very excited about the one-touch CPU/GPU overclocking function we've built into Phobos. We have a Performance Control screen on the touch panel LCD that allows a customer to put Phobos in one of three modes with the touch of a virtual button: Auto, Quiet, and Max. In Auto mode, the CPU and GPU function as they would in most systems—the graphics card fan will kick into higher RPMs when tasked with 3D applications like gaming and will slow down when doing non-taxing functions. In Quiet mode, the system (chassis fans, GPU fans, etc) will run as quietly as possible. This is great for watching movies, for example. Max mode is designed to bump up the clocks of the CPU and GPU to pre-set levels based on tests we've done with particular models of processors and GPUs.
The OC levels of the CPU and graphics cards are tied to each specific model's headroom and "overclockability". We've done extensive testing on each model we offer, so that we can program the custom software to control that particular model's clocks. So these numbers vary across models.
All versions of Phobos (Performance, Advanced, and Elite) come standard with maintenance-free, self-contained, liquid-cooled CPUs. Customers can request this same liquid-cooled solution for their graphics cards as an upgrade option.
Each system's graphics cards, including the GeForce GTX cards, come with standard clocks, which will overclock when Max mode is selected. We also offer Phobos OC versions of some cards, which will come pre-overclocked to what amounts to our OC2 level. If Max mode in the Performance Control screen is selected with a Phobos OC card, it will overclock to what amounts to our OCX level cards.
How does the in-home setup and maintenance program work?
Once a customer's system is built, burned in, and tested, we ship the system to a local technician assigned to the customer's zip code. This technician will deliver and install Phobos in the customer's residence after pre-arranging a date with them. This is included in the cost of the system.
The technician will get Phobos up and running and even start transferring music, photo, or video files from another system for the customer. And within six months, they'll go back out to update drivers and clean their Phobos system—which is also included in the initial purchase price.
One of the primary focuses of the Phobos seems to be customer support. Are technical support personnel for the Phobos trained on the system? Will the in-home authorized service personnel also have training experience on the Phobos prior to installation?
The technicians have been trained on the Phobos system. They know how to set it up, whether as a straightforward gaming system, or as a part of a home theater setup. They are also trained as field repair/replace techs should there ever be any issues or requests for upgraded parts. Our goal with the Concierge Service is to treat customers with "white gloves" and "red carpet". In other words, we want to take care of everything for the customer, so they can start enjoying their new system as fast and as hassle-free as possible.
The warranty policy states, "Any opening of the computer's case will immediately void this warranty". Will BFG provide services to upgrade the Phobos with aftermarket components (e.g. memory, hard drives, optical drives)? If so, is this included in the price of the system?
Within the six months or so between the installation and the follow-up visit, a Phobos customer can call us and request upgrades to key components. If the request is within the six-month window, there would be no charge for the visit, but they would pay for the hardware. After the six-month follow up visit has occurred, we'll charge a nominal fee to have a technician come out to perform the upgrade service.
Can we expect to see other BFG systems in the future?
We are always looking to expand our product line if it makes sense to do so. Our focus at the moment, however, is making Phobos the best system customers can buy with the best customer service and support.
Can BFG compete with existing boutique computer vendors? Given their background and plans for in-home service, coupled with a price that is commensurate with the level of support offered, we think so. As you might guess, these systems won't come cheap, and they aren't for people that just want a basic office PC. They're stylish and utilize some of the fastest components currently available. If you want to find out more or are interested in configuring your own Phobos system, head over to the BFG Systems site, and if you'd like to see AnandTech review one of these systems, please leave a comment.