Would you like Frys with that?

Fry’s opened up its first store in Washington state. Fry’s is a strange place — sort of a department store for geeks with a large selection of stuff, prices slightly higher than mail-order, theme-based decor, and notoriously oppressive customer service. If you don’t mind the casino feel — and I mean that as in pit boss watching employees watching you — it’s one-stop shopping for discrete electronics, kitchen appliances and computer peripherals.


The grand opening received a modest amount press, though less than that of Krispy Kreme in Issaquah. I was on the way to the airport Friday evening, and hoped I could just pop in, kill some time, and then pick up my folks. Cars were backed up for three miles in each direction. When I got closer, I realized that it was because their rather large parking lot was overflowing. No way I’d get in there at 8pm on a Friday evening…


I was more successful Saturday. My father tagged along and we were going to be very disciplined, picking up just the minimum set of things needed to upgrade my wife’s computer, an AMD 850Mhz/512Mb memory. They had a $59.95 motherboard which included a 2.4Ghz Intel something CPU with it…. but there were a couple of catches. First, it needed a CPU fan, $12.95 (or $29.95 for a quiet one). Second, the memory architecture is radically different. They had 512Mb sticks for $69.99 each, so I bought one.


When you order a motherboard or any other discrete high-end components, a salesperson in the back takes your order and makes up a printout. The theory is the cashier just scans it then goes back to “the cage” to get the components. I imagine this is to cut down on theft, though it’s unclear if it’s employees or customers or both. The two problems with “the cage” approach are (1) it’s slower at checkout, mitigated by the queueing model, and (2) if you change your mind and, say, want the original, cheaper fan, they have to redo all of the paperwork at the register. (Of course, one may wonder why the “salesperson” has to write up non-discrete components.)

We eventually headed for the checkout line. People directed us along the red line maze to queue up. However, because they have 64 registers and one feed, the line moves very, very quickly. Our cashier, an inaudible guy obviously deficient on sleep, was very, very confused when we said we changed one of the items. Worse, one of the $10 impulse buys had a rebate, and he had to procure a rebate coupon for us. It took about 20 minutes to actually check out once we got to the register.

We get home and start spewing machine parts all over the table as we disassemble the original computer and put in the new motherboard. I install the CPU and try to figure out how to add the cooling fan — it turns out to be the wrong kind, for an AMD chip.

Good evening, may I see your receipt and some ID?

After lunch, we made a second trip to test Fry’s return policies. There are four registers, each moving at a glacial pace. We wait. And wait. And wait. My dad suggests I go ahead and start shopping while he works the refund. This should be a no-brainer — everything’s in its original packaging, the purchase was made the same day, and we have a receipt even showing the error. Half an hour later, my dad reports that there was a lot of scrutinizing and eventually they gave us a Fry’s “gift certificate” for the amount purchased. (Most vendors would just credit the amount your credit card.)


While looking for fans, I ran into Jeff Few, who’s equally giddy at having a place where one can buy high output LEDs, motherboards and kitchen appliances. We talk briefly, then I hunt around for the Intel compatible fan. I see why we made the earlier mistake — everything’s randomly stored.
While I’m there, I buy another 512Mb stick, a back massager, and a portable spotlight.

I did more assembly. By now it’s almost dinner time and everything is assembled… except the connector from the on/off switch to the motherboard. It’s definitely a different kind of connector that I could either mess around with for another four hours, potentially causing a fire, or just buy a new case. Sigh… another trip.

We decided that we’re going to end up with two computers, the original one, that worked quite fine before I started futzing with it, and the new one. I scheme about using the “old” computer as a Freevo. (You see, we have a problem getting our kids into bed exactly at 8:00, meaning we typically either miss the first part of Star Trek Enterprise, or watch it later when it’s over. What we really need is the ability to do time shifting.)

I pick up a case, a third memory stick (this one was $79.99 with a $30 rebate), TV tuner, video card, and some connectors. Cha-ching!. I assemble the machine and power it on. It works fine.

After a dozen service packs and ensuing reboots, my wife’s machine is happily running Windows 2000. I’ve spent about $800 this weekend on:

  • Motherboard and CPU
  • CPU Fan
  • Computer case
  • Three 512Mb PC2700 memory sticks
  • Back massager
  • 200 Gb hard disk
  • 2 power splitters
  • Video card (with TV out)
  • TV tuner card

not including the $150 in various rebate coupons that have to be received by the vendor in two weeks.


My freevo project is still in the works. I’ve installed Redhat 9, but am having problems with the network card, which will eventually be replaced with a wireless network card so I won’t have to run ethernet under the floor. Stay tuned…

11 thoughts on “Would you like Frys with that?

  1. On Frys in SoCal: My advice is to go during weekday biz hours around 10am. Lines are low and salesmen aren’t tired yet. I snuck away from work last week to get an extra 512 of memory for my laptop and was in/out in less than 10 minutes. Like you said it cost barely more than on-line, and I didn’t have to wait for it (but I did have to pay the ridiculous 7.25% CA sales tax)

    On Freevo: Oh, just shell out the $250 and get a Tivo. I have had mine for six months and love it. It is already set up to record the season opening of Enterprise next week. If you want more disk capacity, those are also now available.

    On Enterprise: I know you liked him in Quantum Leap and as Archer he is actually okay, but I am still waiting for the show to find itself. I keep in mind that TNG’s first season was just horrible (except for Troi’s outfits), but by the third season it found its pace and rythm. Enterprise isn’t there yet, and I hope this is the year it finds it.

  2. > Oh, just shell out the $250 and get a Tivo

    This would make more sense… the freevo idea was really last minute “well, we have enough parts to build another PC, and you know how we always miss the first half hour of Trek…”

    >I am still waiting for the show to find itself

    Me too. I’ve watched the ST:TNG reruns and amazed at how horrible it was the first season was. On the other hand, the last episode, “All Good Things…” was better than the movies that have followed.

    I really like the Travis and Phlox characters, and would go into the decon chamber with T’pal any day ;). Mayweather and Yoshi don’t seem to have had enough development. (I remember seeing one episode where Yoshi was planning a party and thinking “WTF?”).

    The Andorians are a great adversary.

  3. It’s definitely worthwhile to get a tivo over a freevo-type device, unless you want a hobby.

    I’ve said this to you in person, but it’s worth posting: Fry’s is a hellish place, only suitable for storing crummy second-rate electronics merchandise, not for actual shopping. Their pricing, selection, and inventory are poor at best. You’re *much* better off using newegg, unless you absolutely can’t wait a day or two for the parts to arrive.

    For what it’s worth, did they build a cool building, like the pyramid? Or is it just a boring costco-like warehouse?

    My first experience with Frys is when they came to Portland by buying out the Incredible Universe chain when they went under. It was funny- almost post-apocalyptic to see the change from a pretty retail store to a gritty, geeky electronics shop.

    -ted

  4. > You’re *much* better off using newegg

    I’ll check out newegg.com. Are they a spinout of the former egghead.com?

    Thank you for the links to the stories (they’re quite funny and accurate) and the online newegg reference.

    I have no doubt you’re right that Fry’s will eventually wear thin. I currently have a lot of pent up component lust and will probably be in therapy for another couple of months:

    Hello, I’m Jim, and I shop at Fry’s …
    (In unison): Hello, Jim!

    I disagree about their selection. At least currently, it seems much better than any of the physical store alternatives in the area that I’m aware of: Circuit City, Comp USA, Office Depot/Max, and Staples. Please let me know if there’s an alternative physical store.

    You’re right about the staff being largely clueless. Yesterday I saw another customer ask a woman what the tradeoffs were between two DVD writers priced $10 apart. Rather than just saying “I don’t know,” or trying to look at the boxes and pick out the nugget, she tried bullshitting, only digging herself in deeper before sneaking away to do something else.

    (Admittedly: I find the DVD standards confusing. However, with the current pricing, e.g., a DVD+/-R is twice as much as a DVD+R or DVD-R, I’m loathe to purchase anything. (Useful links: http://www.dvdr-digest.com/articles/articles.php?article_id=17&mode=print and http://www.smithdot.net/display.php?category=hardware&article=dvdbygeneration.txt)

    > did they build a cool building, like the pyramid?

    No, this one’s pretty boring… Around the front are pictures of Old Renton – these could be Old Anywhere. Aisles are a bit wider than the store in Palo Alto, and each has a creepy photo of the sales person allegedly “in charge” of that row of products.

    But it’s located next door to Cirque du Soleil, which is very French. 🙂

  5. Have you and the wife seen any Cirque Du Soleil shows? We’ve seen two of their live shows, and I was awestruck by both of them.

  6. > Cirque Du Soleil shows

    I saw the first show when they FIRST toured, must be more than a decade ago – before they were popular. They had set up in Santa Monica near the pier and I was quite amazed. It was so different from anything I had seen before.

    I saw the second (or is it the third) show in Vegas, Mystierre (or whatever weird French spelling it is). There is now a second Vegas act based on water called “O”, which I haven’t seen, but people give it good reviews.

    BTW, I think they are French Canadian and not French (I could google them but don’t feel like it).

  7. My best Fry’s story is from 1991. In California Fry’s stores there is always a necessity aisle. Cheetos, bandaids, etc. 1991 marked a milestone in feminism – Fry’s added tampons to their necessity aisle. We computer girls were now totally Fry-able!!

  8. > I’ll check out newegg.com. Are they a spinout of the former egghead.com?

    I don’t think there is any relation. I _think_ egghead.com went to outpost, which went to Fry’s. If so, that’s somewhat ironic. I could easily be wrong on this.

    newegg is just a great place for geek hardware. I’ve never liked local shops for buying computer stuff.. I can usually wait a couple days for it to arrive, and it’s much more convenient than driving 20 miles, parking and walking from the back of the parking lot, into the store, finding the right aisle, waiting in line forever, and finally leaving, only to drive all the way back home. I’d rather wait 3 days and get it through fedex.

    susan- that’s rad that Fry’s had/has tampons! So you can get your caffeine, motherboard, and “feminine products” all at the same shop. Kind of like a supertarget (or walmart with groceries) for geeks.

    -ted

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