A point to bear in mind - and one that is commonly overlooked when deciding whether or not to purchase a computer or the components to upgrade of build a computer - is the quality of the vendor's support staff.
It is common to discover that they do not have the kind of in-depth knowledge of computers that is required to sort out complex matters in a satisfying, hassle-free, cost-saving manner.
For example, you might be told that your computer can use a certain processor when it cannot.
I myself have been given the motherboard jumper settings by support staff for a processor that could not run on a motherboard in a computer from Time Computers, which went out of business in July 2005. In my opinion, the company went out of business because of adverse market conditions combined with the ill-will its bad after-sales and technical support created in the buying public over the many years that it was in business.
On this particular occasion, the motherboard settings for this particular processor upgrade looked wrong to me, so I had them confirmed by Time's technical support staff. Unfortunately, this company's staff always took care to provide me with the information over the telephone, so I had no recourse against them. In those days, I was ignorant about how the settings worked, and my ignorance was compounded by a confusing motherboard manual.
Manufacturers that produce quality motherboards tend to provide very good manuals and online support, such as device driver and BIOS file updates; the manufacturers that don't produce first-rate motherboards tend to keep everything as vague and as confusing as possible, and offer little by way of online support.
To avoid great expense, you should check a PC manufacturer's policy with regard to telephone support. Computer component manufacturers don't usually provide telephone support. A purchaser of a video card, hard drive, motherboard, etc., usually has to make contact with the manufacturer by email. However, if you purchased the component from a retail store, you can often make contact with support staff on the telephone. Usually the cost of a call is the going rate charged by your telephone company, but some stores operate premium-rate support lines, the cost of which can add up to a substantial sum, especially if you are kept waiting in a call-queue.
You should find out where you stand with regard to the cost of calls to technical support staff, because it is easily possible to spend tens of hours on the telephone to sort problems out. Sometimes it's possible to spend a small fortune on calls without getting the problem sorted out.
Computer magazines, such as Computer Shopper, often include a short review of the technical support provided by the PC vendors whose machines it reviews. However, in my opinion, the information is usually poorly researched, and as such cannot be relied upon - especially if the PC magazine runs advertisements paid for buy the same companies whose computers it reviews.
Apart from articles about such investigations, the best sources for this kind of advice is to be found in magazines that deal with consumer issues, such as Which here in the UK. This magazine conducts regular polls of its readers to gauge public opinion on a wide variety of consumer issues.
For example, the result on one such poll in which the readers were asked which PC vendor they would not recommend to a friend, placed Time Computers and Tiny at the top of the list. Both companies, owned by the same group, went out of business in July 2005.
Most of the major PC manufacturers, such as Dell, Compaq, Hewlett Packard (HP), Gateway, and Packard Bell, have newsgroups dedicated to them. You can obtain all kinds of good advice by either reading the postings, or by posting your own request for advice. For the relevant newsgroup addresses, either use the search engine that is provided by newsreaders, such as Microsoft's free Outlook Express and Mozilla's free Thunderbird email readers, to search the downloaded list of newsgroups, or visit the Newsgroups page on this site for a guide.
Always remember that all of the major PC vendors or manufacturers have websites that provide a great deal of valuable information and downloads for their products. And if your PC contains a motherboard supplied by one of the major motherboard manufacturers, it will also have its own website and ALT newsgroup in the form of alt.comp.periphs.mainboard with the name added to the end. The newsgroup for Asus is alt.comp.periphs.mainboard.asus.
If your Internet Service Provider (ISP) doesn't provide access to a particular newsgroup, you can usually access it via Google Groups.
Visit the Motherboards pages on this site for more information on motherboards.
If you have purchased a brand-name desktop PC, or built your own, you might have to send it back to the manufacturer or to a repair shop to diagnose and fix a problem. During its stay away from home, its components could be removed and replaced with old or cheaper ones. To be able to prove that your PC is returned in the state it was in before it was sent off, you should make a note of the makes/models of the hardware components.
If you don't know the makes and models of the hardware components installed in your computer, a good free utility called the Belarc Advisor creates an analysis of the hardware and software on a personal computer that you can print out. Look for it under FREE DOWNLOAD on belarc.com. You would then just have to run the utility again when the PC is returned and match the two printouts to find out which components have been changed.
July 23, 2009 - Unscrupulous staff in some of the major laptop PC repair shops in London have been exposed by an investigation conducted by Sky News.
To conduct the investigation a laptop PC had a RAM memory chip loosened so that it would not boot. Key-logging software was installed to monitor what was accessed on the computer and the laptop's built-in camera was activated to show what was going on in the repair shops.
Files were illicitly accessed, an attempt was made to use fake bank details that were placed there on purpose, some shops said that the motherboard needed to be replaced, charged for replacing it, but obviously didn't replace it because it wasn't faulty. However, none of the shops attempted to install spyware, which would be the most serious crime, because it could allow remote access to the computer and therefore compromise its security.
Only one of the investigated shops was honest. Its technician discovered the loose chip, reseated it and said that there was no charge.
If you want to read advice on what to do to avoid being ripped off or having your computer abused by repair shops, read this Q&A on this website: Crooked PC repair companies or technicians: If I have to send my desktop or laptop PC in for repairs or recovery, how can I protect the files, data and hardware from unscrupulous repair companies or technicians.
Exposed: Repair Shops Hack Your Laptops -
There are many people who advertise themselves as technicians who are either not competent or will cheat unsuspecting people they know to be ignorant about computers. Technicians who work for computer vendors and manufacturers can also engage in what amounts to theft.
For instance, it is common for an unscrupulous technician, who works for himself or a company, to replace more expensive components, such as video and sound cards, with much less expensive ones so that he or she can sell the expensive components at a profit.
Therefore, where components are replaced always insist that you keep or have the component that was replaced returned with the computer. You can then test it yourself. Some dishonest technicians have not only replaced a good component with a much cheaper one, they have also charged the computer's owner an extortionate fee for doing so.
An incompetent technician can also often charge you for not fixing the problem properly, or can seriously damage your computer, so you should make sure that you do not employ a cowboy by only engaging a technician that can provide good, checkable references.
I have come across several instances in which an incompetent technician has removed all of the data from a computer while upgrading it. In some of those cases the owner did not have backups of the data and had to spend a fortune re-creating it.
A good tip to carry out before you allow anyone to work on your computer is to use something like Tippex to place a small mark on each of the main components so that you can check if they are the same ones after the job is done. You should mark the adapter cards (sound and video cards, modem, etc.), the motherboard, the disk drives, and the RAM modules.
Inspect the computer before you take it home or allow the technician to leave your home.
If you send the computer back to the vendor or manufacturer for repairs it would be a good idea to take clear photographs of the inside of the case or of the individual components.
Visit the Warranties page on this site for information on the closely-related subject of the different kinds of warranties - statutory and paid-for - that vendors and computer manufactures must provide by law, or sell to provide additional cover.
You can report any kind of scam you have suffered from to the Scambusters website site, scambusters.org.
Read this very interesting forum thread about standard warranties being increased from one year to two years in the UK due to an EU directive:
2 year warranty - know your rights!! [Applicable to the UK] -
"Recently I had a problem with my graphics card, which ended up in the company I purchased it from refusing to replace/refund it even though relatively new EU legislation extends warranties of everything bought in the UK to two years. However I knew I was right, took them to court and won getting a complete refund including the court fees (only L25)." - http://www.tomshardware.co.uk/forum/130-40-year-warranty-rights
The claimant mentioned in the forum thread linked to above used this online claim court:
Her Majesty's Court Service -
"Money Claim Online (MCOL) is Her Majesty's Courts Service Internet based service for claimants and defendants. Money Claim Online is a simple, convenient and secure way of making or responding to a money claim on the internet." - https://www.moneyclaim.gov.uk/
There is a limit on the size of claim you can pursue in an action through a Small Claims Court, but it is often within the limit if you are trying to force a computer vendor to restore a computer to proper working order, or even to restore it to the same state it was in when you purchased it, because it is not uncommon for a computer to be sent in for repairs and to be returned in a damaged state - and still not working.
For this reason, it is advisable to have witnesses examine the computer, and then take photographs of the back, front, and inside of the case and monitor (if it is also returned) before you send it in for repairs. It is also a good idea to place small marks on the motherboard, PCI and AGP cards, and RAM modules, by using, say, Typex, to ensure that the same ones are returned, because it is not uncommon for high-spec cards to be replaced with lower-spec ones by service personnel.
Here is a useful Small Claims Court site in the UK. You can use of a search engine to find relevant sites in the US and others in the UK. -