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Vendor Rant: Dell & Asus

First off, let me say this is not just a post purely to rant. About once/week I have somebody asking me “what brand laptop/desktop/servers” should I buy. OK, servers are less often but do come up about once/year when other CTOs ask me what I’m buying these days.

Now on to the venting & then some useful info…

This is a rare 2-for-1 rant. Let’s start by re-kindling the old rant with Asus. Talk about a company that has utterly failed in a new market after being successful. Asus makes great motherboards. Asus makes REALLY REALLY HORRIBLE laptops. My top-of-the-line (at the time) Asus G73JH has been nothing but a disaster from day 1.

Asus Service Round 1 : Epic Fail

To recap last year’s rant, my Asus G73JH stopped working in less than seven months. Actually it never quite worked, at least not properly. Seven months in it became unusable with the now infamous “Grey Screen Of Death”. The video processor was completely fubar and on boot the system would hang or just display the gray “pinstripes”. Some blamed it on the video bios, but whatever the problem it had to go in for repair. That is when all hell broke lose.

The “1 week repair” took 4 months. Asus, after random claims of my not shipping it or their not receiving it, finally admitted they “lost it”. The “fixed in 3 months or we refund your original purchase” did not hold. They said that policy does not cover my laptop because technically they’ve not started the repair process, they just can’t find my laptop.

4 months later after having purchased another laptop from Dell, the Asus came back.

Asus Hardware : Epic Fail

Fast forward almost exactly 1 year to the day. We are ready for Asus failure round 2. I have a brand new RMA sitting on my desk and I’m waiting for my new HP laptop to get here so I can ship this piece of junk back to Asus. This time I ordered the laptop BEFORE shipping the Asus as I have no idea if I’ll ever see my Asus G73JH again.

This time around the disk controller built into the motherboard is failing randomly. The disk I/O interface freezes at random times. Usually at boot, due to the high amount of disk I/O, but it can happen at ANY time. Typically this will leave traces in the Windows event log that iaStor 0 has stopped responding just moments before the system hangs. After suspecting a drive failure and replacing the primary drive with a brand new unit, it was apparent it is NOT the drive but the controller. This week the laptop started telling me to “insert the boot disk”, the answer to which is to power-off/power-on and pray. One in ten times it will then boot fully.

The other issues: two distinct “bright spots” on the LCD where the back lighting bleeds through fairly severely making any graphics work on the laptop monitor difficult, a touchpad with dead spots (and I RARELY use it, maybe once/month when travelling), and a usb port that if you happen to TOUCH a usb connector to it upside-down (and who EVER does that) immediately turns off the system with a hard power off.

So, the laptop has a new RMA and will go away for who-knows-how-long.

Dell Customer Service : Epic Fail

I like Dell. Always have. They are my go-to supplier for desktops and laptops and have long been my recommended solution for most of my business clients. However the last few times I’ve dealt with them their service has been horrible. They outsourced all their customer service about a decade ago. It was a horrible experience. About five years ago they brought most of that back on shore, things got better.

Apparently Dell has not learned their lesson. My recent order for a new Dell laptop has shown that Dell decided to go the cost-cutting route and outsource once again. What a huge mistake. This has been the WORST customer service and product ordering experience I have ever had in 20+ years of purchasing hardware.

First off, I ordered a Vostro 3750 Fastship model. It was not exactly what I wanted but I compromised. I needed it here YESTERDAY to replace the failing Asus. I went with this model because they had a special deal AND free overnight shipping AND it would ship the next day. I’d have it in less than 48 hours. Perfect!

But wait, NOOOO… that would not be the case. The day the laptop was promised to arrive I has finished moving all my files off the Asus to an external drive. I cleared out all my settings and my passwords in preparation for repair. After an hour of this process I booted the Asus and got my first email messages.

“Dear customer – your order will NOT ARRIVE TODAY as promised, your new *anticipated* arrival date is this Friday”. Forty eight hours AFTER their promised next day service with their FAST SHIP system. Damn it. The only reason I ordered this system and compromised on the specs was because I could have it in < 48 hours.

Dell : Service Rodeo

The first thing I did was call the 800# that was listed on the order for “more information” or to cancel the order. “John”, clearly in India somewhere, answered. He asked “The Four Questions”:

* “What is your name?”

* “What are you calling in refrence to?”

* “Can I have your order number?”

* “Can I have a call back number in case we get disconnected?”

After answering all 4 questions he looks up my order and basically reads the email I already received back to me. I tell “John” that I need to know why the order was delayed and need to be certain it will ship within 24 hours so I can have it before the weekend. He tells me the cookie-cutter response: “The order was delayed due to a parts shortage, I will look into that for you. Sixty second pause. I don’t see any parts on back-order. It *should* ship tomorrow.”, given the emphasis on SHOULD (his emphasis, not mine) I ask him, “Should? Is there any way to find out for certain, or at least with some high probability that this will actually ship. It is important I have this laptop by Friday.” The response from “John” is “I can’t answer that but a customer service representative can, if you will hold I will get one for you.” I hold. Two minutes later I’m transferred.

“Steve” picks up. Funny accent for Steve, but OK. He asks EXACTLY the same questions. He reads me EXACTLY the same script, a version of my email telling me the order will arrive Friday. I ask the same exact question, he gives EXACTLY the same response as “John”. We follow the same path and he transfers me to a “customer service” representative.

“Prapeet” picks up. Literally a nearly IDENTICAL exchange as John & Steve. Almost verbatim. What the hell.

Twenty five minutes later I’m on the phone with a different “John”. I’ve now spoken to FOUR, no kidding, FOUR people that did the same exact routine. When Steve answers I just about lose my mind. I tell him if he can’t give me an actual answer and tries to transfer me to a customer service agent I’m going to “go postal”. At the end of that conversation he tells me “I can’t get you an answer, but let me have your number and I’ll call you back by end of the day TOMORROW”. WHAT?!?! I need to know before end of day tomorrow or I’ll have no other option but to order something else. He promises to call back within 4 hours.

Dell: The Truth Comes Out

To “John #2’s” credit, he DOES call me back. Guess what? After four people tell me my order *should* be here Friday he gets me the truth. One of the MAIN PARTS is on backorder and there is very little chance my order will ship anytime this week.

What the hell? Dell not only took the order knowing this, but they have trained their customer service reps to lie (or are purposely feeding them mis-leading/inaccurate information). After a series of email exchanges, and thanks in part to “John’s” honesty I ended up having to cancel my order.

The best part is that before the order is fully cancelled, I get an email from Dell on the SECOND PROMISED SHIP DATE saying:

Dear Dell valued customer,

During the process in creating your order, we encountered an error. To resolve this issue, we were required to cancel order number 937687130. Please contact your account representative if you have any questions.

They cancelled the original order more than 72 hours late. Wow. What a cluster.

Dell : On Site Repair Fail

As a side note, which is related to the comments in The Summary below, our last Dell purchase has been great. Until last month. A year into service the motherboard failed. Luckily we had next-day on-site business repair services. It was easy-to-use and well executed. They arrived promptly the next morning and repaired the system.

Sadly, however, the technician used a MAGNETIC screwdriver to repair the laptop. That is a huge problem when you are re-installing a hard-drive after replacing a motherboard.  Shortly after the tech left the laptop was exhibiting drive corruption issues. 1% of the sectors were bad and some files were lost.

We had to purchase a new drive & transfer all the data. We did on our own after a 10 minute run to the local computer shop to buy a drive. We didn’t have time to setup another ticket and schedule another service call with Dell.

The Summary

Bottom line, customer service in general and especially in the consumer electronics world has gone to complete hell. There are virtually NO computer companies remaining that provide professional business-class services any longer, whether on a business or personal computing level.

I blame it on the constant downward pressure on computing devices and the harsh competition between the manufacturers as they attempt to garner market share purely based on pricing models.

The only standout exception to this is Apple. If anyone wonders how they command such large valuations on Wall Street and why their market cap is so high with barely 10% of the market, just look at their price models. They are consistently higher priced. However for that price they at least make SOME EFFORT in customer service.

In fact the ONLY thing Apple is missing, in my opinion, that keeps them from storming the corporate world is the fact that they have ZERO offerings for next-day on-site support. If your laptop, server, whatever breaks and they can’t fix it over the phone you are screwed. If you are lucky enough to have a local Apple Store they can fix generic run-of-the-mill problems for their best-sellers and get you online in a day. However, for any serious problems or for stuff that is not on the best-sellers list like the highest-end laptops or servers you are out 3-5 days while they ship it out to a repair depot.

Someone in the “PC World” needs to get back to SERVICE FIRST and not play the price wars game. I, for one, will gladly pay a higher price for a better quality system with some real customer service.  Next-day, on-site service is a must to retain business continuity.   Today, that leaves me with a single choice: HP laptops, desktops, and servers with an on-site Extra Care warranty.

Apple could easily be there as they already have the quality-of-experience issue down pat, but they need to address the next-day on-site repair service to be viable in an enterprise setting.

My new laptop arrives soon. It is an HP. Dell is now off my list, even though they have next-day onsite, I can no longer recommend their systems due to deplorable service.

Based on dozens of systems purchases over the past 24 months, here are laptop/desktop brands I now stay away from:

  • Sony – Stay away at all costs, the systems come with bloatware, are overpriced, do not have on-site services of any kind, have a horrible repair process, and have horrible driver support. The $4,000 Vaio best-of-breed laptop was discontinued less than 4 months after launch and had ZERO 64-bit support. It is the most expensive laptop in the office and NOBODY wants it.
  • Asus – Again, great motherboards, horrible laptops. Just Google for a bit and ignore the planted 4 and 5-star reviews. You’ll find dozens of laptop complaints, primarily about major system failures.
  • Dell – Decent price for decent equipment, but heaven forbid you have any problems. Both the sales & service customer support is some of the worst in the business. If they could fix this they could recover.

Recommended laptop/desktop brands:

  • HP – But keep away from the low-end or mid-range consumer junk. There are distinct differences in build quality. Spend the extra $100-$300 and go upper-end only. The stuff at Walmart, Best Buy, etc. is mostly junk. For businesses get the Extra Care on-site warranty.
  • Apple – You pay a premium but their support people are zealots. That can be a good thing. The only down-side is that this is a no-go for business continuity if something major goes wrong. A laptop motherboard on a 15″ Macbook meant 5 days with zero use of the system. Just be prepared for that if it happens. It is not as rare as you think. Apple still uses the same chip suppliers and device suppliers as everyone else.

There you go, my experiences and recommendations… at least for Q1 2012.

 

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Asus Laptops – Half As Good

Tonight I was on hold for Asus Warranty Services for over 25 minutes. I found it quite humorous that at least 5 times while on hold I got to listen to the Asus marketing propaganda about how great their laptops are and how their laptops require repair at least “3 times less often than the competition”. Wow, someone at Asus really has no clue about appropriate markets. Someone somewhere said “yeah, run that quality of product commercial on our RETURNED MERCHANDISE HOLD LINE”.

If Asus ran a funeral parlor they’d be running ads telling people how their new vitamin water adds years to life, “buy a case today!” in an exciting happy voice… just what you want to hear while planning grandpa’s burial.

Someone literally thought “let’s run ONE AD on all of our hold music”, regardless of how inappropriate it is. Ok, I added that last part. However it underscores an important point. Asus may have half a clue, but HALF a clue is not good enough. This is just another indicator of how Asus thinks… or doesn’t think as the case may be. It is obvious that the people behind Asus spend virtually all of their time thinking about one thing… how to make the most profit by cutting the most corners.

Really Meaningless for Asus Numbers

This very same thinking has led to another interesting situation while dealing with Asus warranty repairs.    When you find yourself needing repair of your brand new Asus Laptop (which will surely happen sooner or later given all the cut corners),  you will learn that you MUST HAVE AN RMA NUMBER before you can send in your laptop.   They drill it into  you at every corner.  You can’t do ANYTHING without that RMA NUMBER.

OK, I’ve worked in computer support and return centers before.  That makes sense.  It is a great system.

So you put the RMA number on a box.   Asus sends you a FedEx prepaid ticket with that very same RMA NUMBER embedded right in it.    Wonderful.   You must put the RMA on the box, on a paper in the box, and on the return label address.    All makes sense.

Then the Asus repair facility gets that box with the RMA on it and all the paperwork.  But guess what?

ASUS CANNOT TRACK THE SYTEM BY THE RMA NUMBER ONCE IT IS AT THE REPAIR FACILITY!!!

Yup, you read that correctly.   As I was told by Andre, an Asus Technical Support Supervisor “somewhere in the Caribbean”, they could not possibly locate my laptop at the repair facility by using just the RMA NUMBER.   No way, no how.   They MUST HAVE THE FEDEX TRACKING NUMBER.

To be absolutely certain that poor Andre was not confused about what I was asking for, I made it very clear that someone told us on Tuesday afternoon (just 4 days ago) that they had in fact received the laptop and that it was being given to a technician.  I also noted that FedEx has the package listed as being received and signed for by someone in their Jefferson Indiana location.       I was confused why they needed that tracking number to get a “status update” on my repair.

I was told “We cannot track down your laptop with an RMA NUMBER.   It is much faster to find your laptop with the tracking number.”.    Again, I was CERTAIN Andre was confused as to what I was asking him.   I stated that I knew their repair facility had already received the laptop, that a technician was working on it according to ONE of the people we spoke with on Wednesday, and that I just wanted to know if they had an estimated date for having the repair done.

Again Andre made it very clear to me that Asus cannot locate repairs by the RMA NUMBER.    That is when I realized that RMA does not mean “Return Merchandise Authorization” but rather is “Really Meaningless for Asus” in every sense of the word.

Half Solutions = ZERO Business

At this point I can only pray that I once again see my $1500 laptop some day.    Now I feel like I spent $1500 on this thing that I may never see again.    I basically rented an Asus Laptop for $1500 for 90 days and there is no  guarantee I’ll ever get to use it again.

Asus focuses on HALF of the solution.   They have a system for generating an RMA and require it be adhered to by the customer.  Then they completely throw that system out the window once things are internalized.

I can only believe that this is exactly why that $1500 laptop failed in the first place.    I imagine they only put in half the screws, or soldered have the connections, or ran half the QA tests.

One thing is for certain, they got ALL my money on this purchase but they are going to get a hell of a lot less than HALF of my computer budget for as long as I am in the business.   I’ll certainly be recommended to ALL of my clients to spend 10% more and go with a company that gets the WHOLE picture.

Sorry Asus, but half the effort simply is not good enough for me.

Asus Fail Cake Update

In the 2 weeks since we shipped the laptop we have heard the following from Asus:

Day 1: “We have not received the laptop.” (we have proof of signature from FedEx)
Day 2: “Someone is looking at your laptop.”
Day 3: “We have not received your laptop.”
Day 4: “The ticket is not updated, we can’t give you a status.”
Day 5: “Please give us the tracking number, NOT THE RMA, so we can locate your laptop. We don’t know where it is.”
Day 6: “Nobody has updated the status.”
Day 7: “We did not receive your laptop.”… “oh wait, yes, we did”… “the technician has not updated any notes”.
Day 8: “The status has not been updated.”
Day 9: “The status has not been updated. We cannot tell you who is working on it. We cannot tell you when it will be fixed”.
Day 10: “We have not received your laptop”.
Day 11: “We have not received your laptop”… “we DID receive your laptop”…”status has not been updated”… Supervisor: “There is not status update. I HAVE NO SUPERVISOR OR MANAGER. We have 10-14 days to repair and get the laptop back to you. No, I can’t tell you when you’ll get it back. No, it may not be there in the next 4 days.”

Nice job Asus!

Fail Cake Ingredients – In Writing

Well, Asus finally put their excuses in writing.   The best part is this is more than TWO WEEKS after they have signed for the FedEx package.  Their online customer service agents are trained to give the same exact excuses as the phone agents.

Asus appears to actually be training their customer service people to deal in excuses and puts extra effort into avoidance techniques.  What a joke.

From: Trinity Sparks [mailto:tsd@asus.com.tw]
Sent:
Sunday, January 16, 2011 2:00 PM
Subject: Re:<TSD> Notebook G73JH [ID=RWTM20110112257317560-148]

Dear Mr. Cleaveland,

Please provide the tracking number and I will chcek on the RMA and see what is going on. As of right now I do not show that we have received the unit. Once I have the tracking number I will send the proof of delivery to the Indiana facility to get status and ETA of when the unit will ship back to you. Thank you and have a greta day1

Best Regards,
Trinity Sparks

———- Original Message ———-
From : lance@cybersprocket.com
Sent : 1/11/2011 7:06:33 PM
To : “tsd@asus.com.tw”
Subject : <TSD> Notebook G73JH

[CASEID=WTM20110112257317560]

Apply date : 1/11/2011 6:57:31 PM(UTC Time)

[…]

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How To Buy A Business Laptop

Lesson learned, don’t always go for the latest laptop with the fastest processor, most memory, and biggest screen.   Not that those traits are BAD things to look for.  Making a decision to purchased based on those metrics cross-referenced with the price IS a bad way to buy a laptop.  At least if that laptop is your primary computer, which it is for most of us, and DEFINITELY the wrong way to shop when it is your primary BUSINESS and personal computer.  I admit, I was foolish in how I bought my most recent laptops.  Not just once, but TWICE.    Shame on me.   Luckily I’ve learned my lesson and am sharing that lesson here with you so that you may avoid the same pitfalls and maybe short-circuit your buying research and save a few hours in your day.

Mistake #1: Sony Vaio VGN-AR890U

The first laptop I purchased in a very long time, just over 2 years ago now, was a Sony Vaio.    I knew what features I wanted, a big screen (17″+) with true high definition and a fast CPU.    I wanted to be able to replace my desktop tower that handled HD video editing of my then-2-years-old son with aplomb.   An hour of video rendered, fully edited, in less than 30 minutes.    Not many laptops could do that, but I found a FEW that did.   The Sony Vaio was one of them.    It got rave reviews from the few people that actually purchased them as well as a LOT of editors at places like CNET that get plenty of advertising dollars from companies like Sony.     I figured it was a big company with a lot of resources and I was buying from Newegg, a well-known online retailer.   I even bought the extended 3-year warranty with accidental damage coverage.

Wow, was THAT a mistake.   This $4,000 high-end laptop had virtually NO accessories that make life more bearable with a highly mobile laptop.  No docking stations, no stands, and barely a backpack that would fit this 9-pound guerrilla.  I wound up with a generic Sony USB docking station, that never really worked right.   It NEVER supported the full HD resolution afforded by the HDMI connection even though it had DVI output.   It also never had properly updated drivers that would work with the 32-bit Vista OS that came with the system.     In addition, Sony made NO EFFORT to put forth ANY drivers beyond those initially released, which meant all the bugs, system crashes and other problems where there to stay.   (Interesting side note: The system touts 64-bit all over the place and 4GB of RAM, but ONLY Vista 32-bit is supported so 25% of the RAM is useless and NOTHING is executed 64-bit).

Then the pixels started dropping.   About a year and 1 month into service the pixels started dropping.  Some red, some white.  It was starting to look a bit like Christmas.  Every day.   Then the bad pixels decided to get together and form a band.    A little bad-pixel mosh-pit opened up in the top right quadrant of the screen in a very conspicuous space that you’d never even notice; about 1.5″ down from the top and 2″ in from the right edge.  Perfect.   Just before I sent the Sony out for service to fix the broken door latches and these bad pixels I swear they formed an outline of someone flipping me the bird.

Now came my first lesson in buying a laptop:  DO NOT BUY AN EXTENDED WARRANTY FROM SERVICENET.    After many painful hours on the phone with ServiceNet, which was the only extended warranty option offered because I bought this laptop from Newegg, we finally got an RMA number.   They told me to send in my laptop (sorry, no advanced replacement) and I’d get it back in about a week.  THREE WEEKS later it finally showed up.    We powered it on and it promptly decided to show the full screen with no dead pixels for about 30 seconds and then relegate the screen to a permanent cloak of darknesss, operating at about 25% of the lowest brightness setting.    You couldn’t even see the screen in a dark room.   What a joke.

Lesson #2: DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING SERVICENET TELLS YOU. We sent the laptop back in for repair AGAIN.    This time they told us it would be “a couple of weeks”.  By which they mean TWO AN A HALF MONTHS.    Guess they use a different calendar in that part of the country.    After countless calls where we would ask “where is our laptop” and getting a “parts are on order, but we WILL get this back to you next week” we finally gave up.   Then, suddenly, as if by some God-given miracle a beat-up box arrived with our old friend the Sony Vaio laptop inside.    We promptly erased the drive, installed Windows 7 64-bit (after all Sony didn’t support this thing with THEIR drivers), and it’s been running happily for about 5 weeks now.     (Another interesting side note:  Sony stopped selling & supporting this laptop after just 6-8 months on the market.   Good luck getting ANY support on this $4,000 “top-of-the-line-best-we-make” product from Sony).

Lesson #3: The “BIG BRANDS” (Sony) Are NO MORE Helpful Than Smaller Brands. After dealing with this debacle for almost a year I also learned the Sony really had no clue about their laptops.  The supposed “Vaio premium support” was no better than support for any $500 off-the-shelf Taiwanese computer.  They spoke English no better, provided just as horrible after-hours support, and knew nothing about the product.  The read the same cookie-cutter scripts & had us uninstall & re-install the drivers, operating system, power off for 5 minutes, and other routine technical support tricks.  When they finally decided the system was fubar they offered NO ASSISTANCE in getting it repaired.  They simply said “contact the place you bought it from”.   Great.  Nice job Sony.

Mistake #2: Asus G73JH

When I finally realized that there was no way around sending my Vaio out for repair for more than a week I knew I had no choice but to get a replacement laptop & load it up before sending out my Vaio.  This time I played it smart and went with a laptop that came WITH ITS OWN extended warranty & support.   After a bit of searching I found a company that touts its warranty coverage for laptops as “head and shoulders above the competition”.    They claim the fewest laptop defects of any manufacturer (a claim reinforced by their on-hold advertising while waiting for customer support for an RMA claim, how ironic!).      They also are the only company that comes with a 2-year factory warranty with accidental damage “out of the box”.      They do a great job marketing their customer service, their warranty, and their below-normal failure rates on their laptops.

Lesson #4: Don’t believe the marketing hype. Even though I read CONSUMER reviews and avoided any opinions written by paid editors or the company itself, Asus told a good story.  Most early consumer reviews were good.   The marketing hype was better.  I mean, here was a company that truly has fooled itself into believing it’s own hype.  They have GREAT warranties and GREAT support.    Woah, not so fast.     In the 48 hours we’ve been dealing with trying to get my dead screen serviced we’ve spent nearly 20 HOURS combined with two of us trying to hunt down a knowledgeable customer service rep.   My technical support ticket, now 30 hours old, has yet to receive a response of any kind.      This is starting to feel just like any other laptop manufacturer to me.

Lesson #5: Don’t buy new release models. Although the initial reviews of the G73JH were positive, in the months since I purchased this laptop the reviews have turned sour. There are HUNDREDS of people complaining that this gaming laptop cannot run games properly.  There are serious design issues with the ATI video board and how it plays with the Asus BIOS.   Asus blames ATI. ATI blames Asus.  The consumer is caught in the middle.  The bottom line is that graphics don’t render properly in many games.  Even when not gaming many video cards show what has become the infamous “gray screen of death” and the “psychedelic screen of death” (different colored striping on the monitor).    My laptop just suddenly decided not to communicate with the built-in LCD, what has become known as the “black screen of death”.    One laptop, less than a year in production, and so many creative new names all ending with *SOD.   Wonderful.     Problem is, this laptop is the first one Asus has put out on this platform. Clearly all the bugs are NOT worked out.  In fact it appears that Asus has already taken this model out of production (much like Sony did with the VGN-AR890U) and has released a similar G73JH-X5 model.  Guess they are hoping a new suffix will prevent all that bad feedback posted on the old model from following around their new platform.

Preventing Mistake #3

At this point I have realized that I know have to purchase a THIRD laptop to replace my new “bucket of fail” that has been delivered in the form of an Asus laptop.    It is obvious that Asus will not help me with preventing an interruption of work, so it is up to me to fend for myself before sending away the Asus for a service that will take “just a week”.  Even giving them the benefit of the doubt that they will not “pull a Servicenet”, a week is way too long to be unplugged as a computer consultant.  That leaves me on the hunt for a new laptop.    Below is a summary of the brands I’ve reviewed in light of what may be the most important lesson of all:

THE BIG LESSON LEARNED:
When buying a laptop that is your PRIMARY computer for daily business use
make certain you have NEXT DAY SERVICE or ADVANCED REPLACEMENT available.

While that lesson is fairly obvious to some, what I’ve found out is that many – in fact most – laptop manufacturers do NOT consider this an important feature.  In fact I found ONLY ONE manufacturer to provide viable warranty and support services if you simply cannot be offline for more than 48 hours.    Here are some of my findings and who I will be buying my next laptop from.   It may not have all the latest & greatest bells & whistles, but it WILL allow me to stay online and keep my business running without interruption.    I can sacrifice and inch or two of screen real estate and a few Hertz on my CPU cycles as a trade for getting back online quickly should something fail.    First, the systems I WON’T be buying:

Apple

That’s right.   For all the hype about how well built their products are, they are NOT flawless (Google iPhone 4 and the initial launch, Apple makes mistakes too).    While I do like Apple products in general, after all they are shiny and look cool, there are TWO main reasons I won’t be getting one this time around.   The first is price.  You pay a premium for SHINY not for advanced technologies.  You simply do not get what you pay for.  The second and BIGGER reason is that Apple does NOT provide advanced replacement or guaranteed 48-hour turnaround.   If you have a catastrophic failure on a laptop you have to pack it up, ship it out, wait for repair, and hope it comes back soon.   That is at least 4-days before you see this thing again, *if* they have the parts in stock.   Sorry, but for business use that is a deal breaker.

Acer

Consumer brand.  No good extended warranty support and NOTHING close to professional class customer service or support via their website or toll-free numbers.

Asus

Another consumer brand.  Again, no options to get advanced replacement.  Also their much-touted customer service is all based in India from what we can tell and that makes it very hit-or-miss on whether or not you get a qualified support person to assist.

HP

If they have extended service or business service options they are nearly impossible to find via the website.  Also, the business class systems they offer which DO appear to have a premium level of support are LAME.   I guess business  users can’t possibly want anything over a 15″ screen or want to use it as a multimedia system after-hours.     Obviously HP thinks business laptops belong nowhere outside of the boardroom.

Lenovo.

See HP.

Sony

Well, the lessons are pretty well spelled out in the case study above.   Also, they charge as much a premium as Apple… almost.   But you get much LESS service.  No local “Sony Store” around here, and even if there was they are clueless at those places.   At least Apple Store employees have a clue most of the time.  Also, no advanced replacement or 48-hour turnaround.    Sony, much like Apple, is a CONSUMER BRAND.   They are not geared toward business users.

Toshiba

Nope.  Good brand, but the ONLY offer extended warranties through Servicenet.   I’d rather have my head put in a vice and have it tightened slowly for 6 hours straight than deal with another Servicenet support call.   No WAY am I going with a company that only offers Servicenet support.

What Will I Buy?

Dell.

That’s right, Dell.  The same company I stopped buying from 2 years ago because they could NEVER ship a system on time.  They also went through nearly 2 full years of ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE customer service when they outsourced nearly the entire operation to India.    Lately they’ve been cleaning up the mess.   The new Mexico-centric support center is MUCH BETTER at understanding and dealing with support issues.    They also seem to be getting better at at least estimating the delays in shipments BEFORE you buy.    Even though you may have to wait, at least it’s not “wait 10 days” then “wait 10 more days” then “wait another week”.    At least that is what I’ve been told from others in the industry.

More importantly, nearly EVERY high-end laptop and EVERY business laptop comes with NEXT DAY ON SITE SERVICE.   Most for just the first year, but ALL have a 3, 4, or even 5-year extension available.   That’s right, you debug the issue on the phone (to save a useless, “oh just press FN-F7? duh” trip) and if they determine it truly is a problem, a Dell representative will show up the NEXT DAY and fix your laptop.     They also offer damage protection and all the other goodies direct from Dell.   Sure, they may outsource all of that, but you still deal with Dell directly.

Do I know WHICH laptop I’m going to buy?   Nope.  But I can assure you it will not be their latest model.  In fact I’m leaning toward the Precision laptops that have been around for ages.  They even have REAL DOCKING STATIONS based on the same proprietary port that all Latitude & Precision laptops have had for years.     THOSE systems have real drivers that have been fully debugged and tested by thousands of users over the years.

So Dell, here I come.   I’m bringing my business back along with the $100,000 in annual purchases I make and/or recommend for myself and my clients.    Are you ready to do it right this time?   I am.