Before we start, can I just say that Al Gore is a terrific guy, did a terrific job for the nation as Vice President, and is even better than most of the people who voted for him know?

OK, back to computers. Please, no more . . . but I thought these were worth passing on:

Alan: ‘Always buy the barebones system from whomever you buy from (lowest memory, no peripherals, etc.). Then pick up the rest of what you need on eBay. I did this with my Dell laptop, and saved close to 50% on additional memory, the docking station, the Zip disk module, the DVD module, and on and on.’

Peter Ludemann: ‘For cheap hardware, also consider They provide new/refurbished hardware at good prices. I bought a PC from them that wasn’t exactly what was advertised and I had no problem getting it returned. So I bought another one and a flat screen and saved about 40% overall. I think I got an exceptionally good deal, but you should be able to save at least 20%. Stick with brand-name stuff and avoid their ‘white box’ computers unless you really know what you’re doing.’

Brad Hurley: ‘I use Windows 2000 and Mac OSX, and they’re both rock-solid (neither has ever crashed). The Mac is more intuitive and requires less time and effort to configure. But if you’re used to Windows you’ll be more productive on Windows. If you’re used to Mac, you’ll be more productive on a Mac. I love my Mac but I’m happy working in Windows as well. Both systems have problems, and both have great features. But both of them allow me to get my work done, and in the end that’s what counts.’

Jeff Cox: ‘I enjoyed your IBM saga, but I’d be careful about trusting those Mac evangelists. Macintosh makes a nice machine; I’ve used eight or ten versions over the last 18 years or so. However, I’m ready to switch to a Dell or IBM or Compaq; Macintosh customer ‘service’ is as unhelpful as IBM’s. I will say, though, after reading your experience, at least the Mac people say right up front that they won’t help.’

Dan Perkins: ‘It’s been my experience that while first-level phone support at whatever company I call will often only have canned answers (which will satisfy most callers), once I escalate a level or two, I will find someone who can help me with a specific problem not covered in the scripts provided to first-line support personnel. Go up the food chain!

Jeff: ‘The screen-black issue on startup persists on my ThinkPad and I have to press the Fn button on bottom left keyboard at same time as F7 button. Why? God only knows. But little quirks aside, I predict you will fall in love with it. What a beautiful, reliable machine.’

Pieter Bach: ‘A big THANK YOU to Michael Joy, who correctly put his finger on the solution: indeed, it is the secretaries who get things done, and it is all too rare that anyone actually notices.’

Dennis King: ‘I am a self-employed software developer and probably purchase more computers than most people. I am convinced that buying and servicing a computer is a crapshoot. Sometime everything runs fine and the service experience is pleasant. Other times, every possible thing goes wrong at every step of the way.

‘I had problems with an Apple G4 a few years back. Everyone at the Apple support line was great. They determined I would need a new motherboard (replaced for free under warranty) and that I could take it to a local dealer and have it back in a few days. Unfortunately (in my area anyway), the service sucks! I took my machine to a small Apple Approved place a few blocks from me. I thought I would get better service here than at one of the Big Box places. (Ha!) After waiting weeks with no computer and many calls to Apple and the dealer, I find out that there is some sort of billing dispute going on between the dealer and Apple. Apple will not ship my board to the dealer until this situation is resolved. I finally manage to convince Apple to convince the dealer to let me get my unfixed computer back, so that I can try my luck elsewhere. I then take it to CompUSA (Another Apple Approved place). Apple said that they would ship the board express to them and that I should be able to get my computer back in a day or two. After about a week, I still did not have my computer back. I call CompUSA and they tell me that their Mac guy (note that this is singular) was unavailable to replace the board. After more frantic calls to Apple and CompUSA, I convince them to GIVE ME THE BOARD AND LET ME REPLACE IT MYSELF. (Note that Apple offered to give me a better computer at this point at no additional charge. I declined because it was not that much of an upgrade and I perceived it as just further delaying my getting back to work). I took the stuff home and within an hour or two I was up and running. Apple sent me a free RAM upgrade afterward as their way of apologizing. A nice gesture, but I would have rather had my computer repaired promptly with no hassles in the first place. It would have been even better to have a computer that had a reliable motherboard in the first place.

‘About 3 or 4 years ago, I had problems with a top-of-the-line Gateway computer as well. This required me to reinstall the entire system and all the other software I was using on about a weekly basis. Once again the support people were great! Very patient sometimes on the phone with me for hours! However this gets old very quick when you do it once a week or so. To make a long story short, as nice as they were, I could not keep this machine running reliably and once again had to just get back to work.

‘The quickest and cheapest way for me to fix this at the time was to go down to the local Office(Whatever) store and buy one of these cheap new eMachines computers. Although, these computers seem to suffer from a bad reputation in the press, I have had, for the most part, pleasant experiences with them. All told, I have bought 3 for myself, a couple as gifts, and have steered numerous friends towards them. Service and reliability-wise only two had any problems. One day, my mom’s would just not start up. We shipped back to California and it was replaced within a couple weeks. The other had a bad power supply (after 2 1/2 years). I replaced this myself for about $30 bucks.

‘Certainly eMachines are not perfect, but from MY EXPERIENCE, better than the expensive big names. Bottom line is, I will NEVER buy top of the line computers again, regardless of the brand. The reliability is a total crapshoot. The service is a total crapshoot. When things are working, there is not THAT much difference in performance between a top end machine and a cheapie. Top-end machines typically have newer boards and technology, with newer glitches and as yet un-patched versions of various software and drivers.’

☞ I think Dennis is just jealous of my ThinkPad.


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