A gold-plated system builder

Published: May 17th, 2007

System builders are accustomed to rush orders, but not like the one Howard Suissa got recentlyThe customer in Russia wanted a modified version of one of Suissa Computers’ $7,260 Yasuko models for a gift with a few upgrades: Twenty-five 20-point diamonds inlaid in gold to highlight the buttons on the curved santos mahogany case, some custom carving with tulipwood detailing, plus a matching mahogany frame for the LCD monitor.

It had to be done in six weeks.

Undoubtedly, the Thornhill, Ont., company is one of Canada’s – if not the world’s – most exclusive computer builders.

After less than a year in business it has been named in publications around the world for its exotic wood cases and equally exotic prices.

Suissa Computers has a line of only five PCs in its catalogue, but they range in price from the $6,520 Yuki to the $7,390 Revolution. If you want, Howard Suissa will carve an original.

The innards are relatively standard: AMD X2 or Intel Core Duo processors, Asus or EVGA motherboards, Seagate hard drives, Geoforce video cards, a choice of one or two Plextor or NEC DVD drives.

But they’re liquid cooled with components from Danger Den (water pump) and Swiftech (radiator).

“There’s a lot of high-end computers, there’s a lot of expensive computers, there’s gaming computers, but no one’s dealing with the fact that people are putting their memories on computers,” says the 37-year-old Suissa. “Most people would rather not keep their memories on something that looks like a giant green alien’s head.”

This isn’t where Suissa was heading when he entered the University of Toronto‘s fine arts program. But after graduating with a degree in industrial design in 2000 from the Ontario College of Art and Design, followed by some time designing and building furniture, he thought of combining his artistic background with his fondness for computers.

He studied software application development, then worked for a year in Japan doing design for a lighting company before returning to Canada to set up Suissa Computers and build luxury computers.

“People spend a lot of time defining a style through the furniture they buy, the wallpaper, the paintings,” he says. “All of these things make a connection the way they view themselves.” Similarly, he saw a market for buyers want to connect to a computer that looks like a piece of art.

To keep that exclusivity each of his models, four of which are named after friends he made in Japan, are limited to a run of 100. They take between four and eight weeks to build.

Suissa will also install systems himself anywhere in Canada and the U.S. (free in Ontario and Quebec), and at the end of the first year will clean and install any upgrades the customer wants. Under a service contract, after four years he’ll completely refinish the exterior and install new components.

“We treat out customers as if they’re buying a Rolls Royce,” he said.

These models are sold direct. However, he’s looking into creating a line that would sell for around half the price and could be sold by channel partners.

By the way, remember that Russian computer? The final cost was $30,000. Sussia wouldn’t divulge the margin.