New Computers: Where To Buy Them And What To Look Out For

By Ara C. Trembly

If youve read our first 3 articles in this series (see NU, Aug. 11, Sept. 15, Oct. 3), youve done your homework and youre ready to buy a new computer, or a slew of new computers, for your agency or office.

Youve completed your agency technology inventory and done some thinking about CPU speed, RAM, hard drive needs, platform, Windows version, etc. Now the only question is where youll go to purchase your new systems, and what else you might need to know.

Attached to this article is a list of specific kinds of outlets from which you can purchase personal computers, portable computers or workstationsalong with the advantages and disadvantages of each. Before you peruse that list, though, its worthwhile to consider some basic facts about todays computers.

Breakdowns. Just like any other device, a computer is subject to breaking down, no matter how reputable the brand or the distribution source. However, its also true that todays computers have few moving parts and that physical breakdowns areor should berare.

When a physical problem does occur, though, the repairs can be expensive, and they can be time-consuming. Theres not a lot you can do about the time it takes to repair your unit, but the expense can be covered by the extended warranties offered by many outlets that sell computers. In essence, youre buying insurance against the product failing within whatever time the warranty covers.

Of course, the manufacturer of your computer probably will offer some kind of limited warranty (usually a year or less) when you buy, but beware that sometimes these warranties require you to pack the broken computer back up in its original box and ship it to a distant location. That means more cost to you and more time spent without your computer.

Extended warranties generally are offered by outlets that have their own repair facilities, or that have fast access to such facilities for their customers. The question of whether or not you purchase an extended warranty then becomes a value proposition.

How important is the new computer (or computers) to your business? Would losing the use of a unit have a major impact on your operations, or could you get by for a week or more while a faulty computer is being repaired? The answer will tell you whether or not an extended warranty is for you.

Beware of the cost of extended warranties, however. I once had a famous electronics outlet chain offer me an extended warranty on a small piece of electronics, but the warranty actually would have cost more than simply replacing the unit at the same price. When I pointed this out to the salesman, he just kept trying to sell me the warranty. This is how strange it can get.

As mentioned, physical computer breakdowns are rare, and if you elect to gamble that such a breakdown wont happen over the first 2 or 3 years of ownership, the odds are heavily in your favor. But, as professional gamblers are often heard to say, never gamble more than you can afford to lose. If the computer is critical and the cost is reasonable, an extended warranty may make sense.

Tech Support. The majority of problems that occur with computers and workstations are software-based, and this is where having responsive tech support is vital. (Some extended warranties also cover such problems, by the way). A good telephone tech support representative quickly can identify common problems and have you up and running without too much delay. Thus, an important consideration in buying computers is whether or not tech support is provided by the manufacturer or distributor, and whether or not you have to pay for such support.

Its also important to find out when the tech support is available. If youre likely to be working early mornings or late evenings, a tech support program that covers you from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. doesnt do you much good.

Who is providing the tech support? Are the tech reps employees of the manufacturer, or are they some third party hired to do the job? Third-party tech support may, in fact, be very good, but it also removes you one step from the company. Assuming it is available, tech support directly from the computers manufacturer is the most desirable option.

Are there limits on how often you can access the tech support that is offered? Some tech support programs allow free access for a period of time or a number of calls, then begin charging for subsequent calls. Make sure youre clear on the limitations of your tech support program.

Finally, its a good idea to check out the reputation of a companys tech support function. Reviews of such programs can be found in some of the periodicals devoted to computing for consumers.

Brand. You may have heard that most computers these days are built from the same “cheap” parts, so that brand doesnt really matter. To a certain extent, the commonality of parts is reality (for example, several different computer manufacturers may use drives from the same hard drive manufacturer).

Thats really not important, though. Those parts generally work fine, otherwise manufacturers wouldnt use them. What is critical is the likelihood that the manufacturer will stand behind its products and provide the service and responsiveness you need. Thats why brand is something you need to consider.

Its probably a good idea to avoid “store” brands or off-brands that may give you a box with confusing information as to who built it. You may get warranties and service from that unknown company, but why take that risk?

Its worth paying a little more for that known brand, especially because the better-known brands have been reviewed and evaluated endlessly in the computer media. Thus, if theres a problem or weakness, you could find out about it in advance.

With these factors in mind, its time to look at our list of outlets and decide which kind makes the most sense for you.


Reproduced from National Underwriter Life & Health/Financial Services Edition, March 5, 2004. Copyright 2004 by The National Underwriter Company in the serial publication. All rights reserved. Copyright in this article as an independent work may be held by the author.