When you buy a new computer, you're also buying a relationship with the manufacturer, importer, or assembler of that computer. So the computer maker's ability to provide good, bad, or indifferent service and support should be an important part of your choice.
Just about everybody who owns a computer needs some kind of technical assistance at one point or another over the life of the machine. Therefore, the warranty and the support services supplied with a new computer are often just as important as the processor and the keyboard. It's entirely possible that the quality of service and support is the biggest difference between a brand-name computer and a comparable unit from a screwdriver shop.
In this chapter, you can learn how to read and evaluate a product warranty before you buy your computer, and how to deal with the world of customer support to help keep your computer working properly and to obtain answers to your questions.
In the United States, the European Union, and most other countries, the manufacturers or importers of consumer products are required to provide a warranty that a product does what it is supposed to do, that it meets its published specifications, and that none of the parts are damaged or defective. If there's a problem during the life of the warranty the business that sold you the computer should promise to fix it at their expense.
That's easy enough if you're buying something simple, like a screwdriver. If it breaks, you take it back to the store, and the salesperson gives you a new one. But computers are a lot more complicated because they're assembled from a lot of individual parts. When something inside your computer fails, you can expect a repair or a replacement for that component. But you probably can't get a whole new computer. In most cases, the best you can expect is a new part.
It's important to understand what the manufacturer or dealer means when they tell you that the computer you're about to buy has a full warranty. Does that include parts and labor? Who performs the repairs? Does a service technician come to you, or must you take the computer to them?
A new computer should be covered under warranty for at least a year. The warranty is intended to protect you against defective parts and premature failures, but you should not expect it to cover normal wear and tear. So for example, if the letters printed on the keyboard's keys begin to wear off after a few months, you should have a legitimate warranty claim, but if the same problem shows up after five or six years, that probably counts as normal wear.
Fortunately, most electronic circuits that fail are likely to do so soon after they are placed into service, so a year is usually enough time to find and report problems. Chapter 27 contains detailed instructions for testing your new computer while it's still covered by the warranty.
Some of the parts inside your computer carry their own warranties, supported by the manufacturers of those parts. For example, many hard drives come with a five-year warranty, and most brand-name memory modules carry lifetime warranties. If a component has a longer manufacturer's warranty, the computer builder should extend that longer warranty to the purchaser.
When you shop for a computer, don't believe a salesperson's verbal promises about the warranty without seeing something in writing or on a Web page. Before you make the purchase, be sure to read the printed warranty packed with the computer. If the warranty is posted on the seller's Web site, print a copy and keep it with the packing slip and other documents related to the computer.
Be sure you understand what the warranty covers. Some warranties include both parts and service for the first year, but only parts for an additional year or two.
The terms of your warranty also specify the type of service you can expect. Some include on-site service in your home or office, but others require you to carry the computer into a local service center or pack up the computer and ship it back to a distant factory or service depot.
Sometimes a company offers a warranty with better service or longer duration as an extra-cost option. For example, the basic warranty might include free access to telephone support, but if it's necessary to replace a part, the service center sends you the new part and expects you to perform the swap yourself, or you might have to send the computer back to a service depot. If you (or your IT staff) are comfortable working inside a computer, that might be all you need. The alternative could be a more expensive warranty that includes on-site repairs by a service technician in your office or home.
Look for exceptions or other terms and conditions that can limit the warranty's coverage. For example, if the warranty doesn't cover damage due to misuse or abuse, you might be out of luck if you drop your laptop, or when you spill a cup of coffee into the keyboard. And don't accept a warranty that doesn't allow you to open the case; if you ever upgrade a video card, add more memory, or even reattach a loose connector, the manufacturer might refuse to honor the warranty.