Buying a New Computer? Buyer be Aware.

Posted by helios on Dec 29, 2005 1:40 AM
www.lxer.com; By helios

All that glitters is not gold. Those way cheap prices you see on new computers are cheap for a reason. If you are considering a new computer in the near future, you might want to take a look at this.

Considering Buying Any Computer?

Purchasing a computer can be a daunting task for those who have never done so. It can often be a bit of a struggle for those who have. There are so many PC manufacturers and companies, it is easy to imagine why this could cause some people problems. As if those problems were not enough, let me add one more problem to that list.

Most of us are especially aware of TV, radio and print advertising, especially during the gift-giving times of the year. Who can miss it? Dell Computer is a major advertiser on television as is HP (Hewlett-Packard) and Gateway. During the peak buying seasons, these companies offer some of their products at extremely low prices. There is a reason for that. If you are going to buy a computer for someone in the near future, or even for yourself, there are some things need to know.

All that glitters is not gold.

The technology of desktop computing is changing rapidly. 10 years ago, a computer with 32 meg of ram and a 2 gig hard drive, a 266 megahertz processor, standard video card and peripheral hardware started at about $3000.00. Today, we have hand-held devices that meet or exceed those specifications and cost about $90.00. Today's desktop computer is powered by a 3-plus gig processor and hard drive size is expanding rapidly. It is not uncommon to find a hard drive for your computer that holds 300 gigs of data. I have recently seen ads touting terabytes of storage capacity.

With the technology of computing growing at the present rate, it would be shortsighted to think that the computer you buy now will be sufficient in as little as 18 months. There will certainly come a time when you may want to replace a power supply, a hard drive or maybe even upgrade the processor. You would think that if this were the case, you could purchase the parts and make the changes yourself. If you are not so mechanically inclined, you could take it to your repair shop of choice and have it done.

In many cases (dual meaning fully intended), you cannot. Some of the computers you buy now are assembled so that upgrade or improvement is discouraged. In the case of some new computers, it is impossible without damaging the entire unit. Is the industry training us for throw away computers? Are we being conditioned for proprietary lock-in for parts and service? It is beginning to look that way and we are going to show you how it is being done.

Dude, You're Stuck With A Dell.

Dell Computers are fine products. Their quality and craftsmanship are known world-wide and millions of Americans own Dell computers. So what is the problem? This author had the opportunity to spend two days in Round Rock Texas, at the Dell manufacturing plant and administrative offices. I had a chance to talk to assembly line workers and Dell Executives. I saw first-hand, the pride and skill that went into building each and every machine. It is in the building of those machines that possible problems arise.

Lobby4Linux.com owns a Dell Dimension 2400 desktop system. The 2400 is a reliable but low-end product, suitable for home and small business use. The system came to us with a Celeron processor. Many websites had complained that the Celeron processor within the 2400 could not be upgraded and having both the 2400 and a Pentium 4 chip on hand, we recreated the upgrade.

We removed the Celeron processor and replaced it with a tested P4 and did the reboot. The computer failed. We further tested the chip in other machines with no such incident and began researching the problem. What we found from Dell surprised us. While Dell did purchase the standard motherboard from Intel, the bios had been hacked by Dell so that only the exact processor could be used as a replacement. We were also told that flashing the bios would have no effect on the outcome. There is NO room for upgrade without a complete motherboard replacement. Of course, when a failure such as this occurs, who are you most likely to call? Most people contact the company that sold them the computer. The vendor then sells you a new processor and/or motherboard at retail price. Often it may be “suggested” that a new computer purchase might be easier. A page of consumer opinion on the Dell Dimension 2400 can be found here.

Links to other Dell comments and observations can be followed from there as well.

We also found that the power supply for the computer was uniquely fastened to the case and the motherboard to discourage outside replacement or upgrade. Special pins are used in order to accomplish this, therefore not allowing the casual tinkerer or hobbyist to make his own repairs. A webpage that describes the power supply catch can be found at this link: dell power converter

Some may interpret this as an attack against Dell or other large computer manufacturers. Not so. For what the product does, it does a good job. They are simply not the best choice for someone who may anticipate an upgrade down the road. Planned obsolescence has been part of industry marketing plans for 30 years. There are however, alternatives If you think you may want to validate your substantial computer investment later by upgrading, the lower end Dell, Gateway or Hewlett Packard might not be your best choice.

Who Can You Trust?

That is a valid question. Here is the answer.

Yourself.

When you enter an establishment such as Best Buy, Circuit City or CompUSA; remember that they each sell a certain number of brand products. As such, it is in their best interest to sell you something among those product lines. In most cases, the sales representative that approaches you has good but limited knowledge about what you want. They may know “XYZ” computers extremely well, but if you inquire about things outside their realm, chances are they will not be much help. In any circumstance, always ask the representative if the computer will be upgradeable two years from now. This is important. If the sales representative doesn't know, but "thinks it might be upgradeable", insist that they find out before you invest your money.

Before you walk into the business ready to spend your money, it is best to do some research before-hand. There are many simple guides to buying a computer. A good starting point is always Consumer Reports. For specific information on brand name machines and the possible advantages of having a computer custom built you can visit this ZDNet computer guide

If you wait until the last minute in buying a computer, you put yourself at a distinct disadvantage. Assuming that you know what you want in a computer and from a computer, you have the option of buying a machine at substantial savings online. Websites such as TigerDirect or NewEgg.com can offer the prospective computer buyer machines as good or better than the major manufacturers. Truth be told, the majority of computers, regardless of who makes them, have basically the same parts within. You pay substantially in part for the brand name.

While we are on the subject of internal computer parts, let's take a look at a common practice among the major computer manufactures. Most large computer makers buy their internal parts in bulk such as hard drives, motherboards and cd/dvd roms. In some cases, they have their own manufacturing facilities for parts. Most new computers come with a one to three year limited warranty. That sounds good, right? Not really.

Consider that some of the individual parts such as Maxtor and Western Digital hard drives come with 5 year warranties when bought separately. Once a manufacturer installs them into their computer, the warranty can depreciate by as much as 4 years for that part. In other words, the individual part warranty is sacrificed to match the overall warranty of the computer. New hard drives are infamous for failing well before their end-of-warranty cycle. Shortening the warranty on these parts is not exactly a consumer-friendly move. This is just another case in point for having your computer built for you or building it yourself.

The above facts, coupled with the fact that you are often being sold a product that locks you into their product line for the life of the product may be not only unethical...in some states it may be illegal. This is all the more reason to look into custom-built machines or maybe a do-it-yourself project.

There are many companies that will build you a computer from scratch and you may be surprised at how competitive the price is. When you order a custom-built computer, you have the option of telling the technician what the machine will be used for. This way, you do not pay for hardware and software you will not need. At the same time, you can keep your upgrade options open by specifying your intention to upgrade at a later date. Making it known that the computer will be improved upon later will insure that the builder does it right. After all, you will probably give him your business to do so.

Additional Ways To Save Money AND Headaches

Microsoft XP is the operating system that comes pre-installed on over 90 percent of the computers sold in the US. Here is the catch. Sometime late in 2006 or early 2007, Microsoft is introducing Microsoft Vista. Vista will be the next generation Microsoft operating system.

It is reported by experts in the computing field that Vista will require newer and faster hardware in order to run on a machine. Reports from Eweek.com and here as well indicate that Vista will require much more hardware and processing power than the present new low-end machines can produce. That includes the one you may purchase in the near future. Chances are, if you want to upgrade to Vista in a year's time, you may have to upgrade hardware again. Not only with the lower-end machines but the more expensive ones as well. If you have bought a computer that discourages or prohibits an upgrade, you either stay with Windows XP or buy a new computer that will handle the demands of Vista.

It could make one wonder if this dually-beneficial arrangement is strictly a coincidence.

Fortunately, this is easy to fix. If you order your computer from an online merchant, you can order your machine with no operating system installed. If you should wish to do so, the Linux operating system is perfect for such situations. Besides having many choices of free Linux systems, Linux is not victim to Windows viruses and runs on much older hardware. Linux has become a good and reliable alternative to Microsoft Windows.

While there are commercial versions of Linux, the majority of them are free of cost and licensing restriction. That means you can distribute the system on as many computers as you wish without legal ramification or worry. A household with three computers must pay for Windows 3 times in order to legally run it on all 3 machines.

Instead of purchasing your office and productivity software separately, everything you need is bundled with your Linux disk. All the software is free as well. Moreover, ordering your computer without Windows can reduce the cost of the purchase by $200.00. Linux is used by The Pentagon, Wall Street, dozens of Fortune 500 Companies, Universities and hundreds of thousands of businesses across the United States.

Some may be concerned that we failed to mention the Mac line of computers. It was not from a lack of respect or quality. Mac is a fine machine and has a loyal following, however Mac computers are proprietary through and through. Once you buy a Mac, you have a Mac and you must use Mac parts and software from that day forward. Of course, there are millions of people that are perfectly happy with that. Macintosh produces a great machine.

Below you will find a list of links that may help you purchase and outfit a computer. There are also links you may find informative or interesting. You may think that the computer you buy today is high tech, and it may well be. Just wait until you see what the next year or two brings in the way of technology. I think we will all be amazed. Here is hoping that the computer you buy now is up to the challenges presented then.

Store bought or custom-built

Build-it-yourself checklist

So, who throws away a perfectly good computer?

The perfect Linux system for beginners

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