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Opinion Editorials

Re-thinking Computer Warranties

Got Warranty?

Does the computer you use to run your business have a warranty on it? Mine does, and that warranty has cost me a small fortune. It came with the computer but when I look at the cost of it, I could have replaced my laptop with two more machines and I would have come out ahead.

Free support is Expensive

The free support that came with it for the first year also cost me a small fortune, with all the time spent on hold and the hours repeating my serial number and spelling my last name as I was transfered from one person to another during each visit to tech support hell.

Back to the warranty. My laptop died while I was on a short vacation on the east cost. It needs a new motherboard and the warranty covers it. I last saw my machine on July 13th, when I packed it in a box, and sent it to Texas.

Can I run a business without my computer?

Running my business on an old laptop has been a nightmare. I have all of my data, nothing was lost, but I don’t have a machine that will run some of the programs that the data was created in and am without some of the tools and information I need to run my business. I cannot run the software that I need to process the huge photos I take in the RAW format, but have access to a machine that can handle it.

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I did some research and when it comes to warranties on the hardware I can’t find a manufacturer that will repair a computer locally. Computer manufacturers seem to think that we can just put out machines in a box and send them away, and that it is OK.

Throw it away

If I would have thrown the laptop away and had purchased a new one I really think I would have come out ahead. Yes computers cost money but time is also money and my stress level has been at an all time high as I try to run my business and write and keep up with my friends on the internet with an ancient laptop that I replaced for a reason. It crashes every time someone throws a big at me through MSN and I can’t run Twhirl on it.

It Takes Two

I need to have two computers and plan on buying another. I will load all of my software and data onto it and use it to back-up for my laptop. It will be my spare.  I won’t bother to check for any kind of a warranty, and I won’t bother with a service plan.  Our local Geek Squad is the only place I have found anything that resembles customer service or tech support. For hardware issues having two machines will make it possible to send one away for a few weeks.

Computer manufacturers don’t seem to understand that those of us who have small businesses really need our computers. my car has a warranty on it and if it needed repairs they would give me a car to use while mine is in the shop. They know that a warranty is useless if I am without wheels for a week while they replace a part that broke. My computer is at least as important as my car, maybe even more so. I can always rent a car just like my own if I need one.

Got Data?

I hope everyone reading this who runs a business has their data backed up. I had my data backed up but I did not have a plan for how I would operate my business if my computer failed. I do now, and you should too.

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Written By

Full time REALTOR and licensed broker with Saint Paul Home Realty Realty in St. Paul, Minnesota. Author of, Columnist for Inman News and an avid photographer.



  1. Chris Griffith

    August 3, 2008 at 7:15 am

    I prefer to call it “customer no-service”. I’m a decent backer-upper but I should be better at it.

  2. Kevin Sharkey - IBR Broker

    August 3, 2008 at 7:26 am

    Hey Teresa,
    I’m with you. I’d rather lose my car, cell phone, loyal dog and red mittens if I could keep my computer operational. Life ceases to exist once the motherboard dies and goes to tech heaven.

    I switched to a Mac a couple of years ago and have never had a problem. Maybe this would be a good time to make the move to the cool side.

    No, wait, you already are there. Never mind.

  3. Brad Nix

    August 3, 2008 at 7:38 am

    I stumbled upon (not that stumbleupon) an interesting alternative to buying store warranties today. Check out: to cover all new purchases under $5000 for a flat fee. Here is the review at webware:

  4. Lisa Sanderson

    August 3, 2008 at 7:51 am

    I am right there with ya, gf. My notebook ‘puter is OOC and I am weepin’…I also have two other machines to use but it is not the same. Everything takes longer now and seems so complicated. It is not even funny how dependent we are on our main machines and, until now I haven’t given it a whole lot of thought. Just got me a portable hard drive to hold all of my data & to make things a little easier when a situation like this arises. And, I am making sure I have all of my must-have programs loaded on to my office PC which, until now, was used primarily for designing flyers and brochures and junk. That’s MY plan.

  5. Teresa Boardman

    August 3, 2008 at 7:55 am

    My first computer, in 1989, was a mac. I have owned many of them. I may consider one as a back up computer if it can handle the data from my huge expensive collection of PC software. I was a consultant for many years and had to swtich to a PC because none of the networks at fortune 100 companies supported Mac’s. There are several online real estate programs that I can not run on a mac and there are no subsitutes. I can own two PC’s for the price of the kind of Mac I would need to run my business. Would love to go back to Macintosh but there are too many obstacles right now.

  6. Mack in Atlanta

    August 3, 2008 at 8:14 am

    After a 2 week vacation in Florida it’s back to the real world. BTW thanks for reminding me to back this machine up to the desktop.

  7. Elaine Reese

    August 3, 2008 at 8:34 am

    A few years ago I bought a Gateway laptop because they had a STORE here. A couple months later, Gateway closed its stores.

    Two years ago I bought a Sony Vaio and bought the warranties with CompuServe because they had STORES here. A couple months later CompuServe closed. My $400 of CompuServe warranties are worthless.

    I had a difficulty with the Sony last winter and spent 3 hours on the phone with someone who didn’t understand me, nor I him. He took over the computer remotely and left me with a worse mess than I started with.

    There HAS to be a better way!

  8. Holly White

    August 3, 2008 at 8:42 am

    Bought a $2000 Dell about 3 years ago and within a few months the mother board went out. It was under warranty and they honored the warranty. They SHIPPED me a new mother board a week later and gave ME instructions on how to fix it and a customer support number that I had to spend hours on the phone with. A few months after that, that hard drive went out. Again, shipped me parts, gave me the tech support number and had me replace them. Now I think the mother board is going out again (the screen is constantly freezing up and goes completely blue), my DVD player and SD card drive have quit working, and it’s questionable as to whether or not the USB drive will work at any given time. I paid for the 4 year warranty but the frustration of having to do everything myself forced me to get a cheap $599 Acer with NO warranty. I am as happy as I can be now and when this one craps out, I’ll just buy another one. No more $2000 laptops for me, it’s just not worth it.

  9. Matt Thomson

    August 3, 2008 at 8:45 am

    Ignorant question time…what’s the best method of backing up all your data? How frequently?

  10. Holly White

    August 3, 2008 at 8:50 am

    @Matt – I use a USB external drive that can be bought at any department or electronics store. You can get them for as little as $50 or $60 (ebay not included in this example) and as high as several hundred depending on how much space you need. If you’re running Vista, just click on the Control Panel from the start menu and there is a nifty little “back up your computer” button. Simple as that. 🙂 Backing up your Outlook adds another few steps to the process and if you need that info as well, let me know.

  11. Teresa Boardman

    August 3, 2008 at 9:08 am

    1. I do my backups onto a portable hard drive that has a program that syncs the hard drive with the folders on my machine that have my data. I don’t back up the whole thing, software and all because a restore would take a day and it is much quicker just to reload my software and grab drivers off the internet for my hard where.

    2. I have had a dell, a couple of HP’s and a gateway. The hard drive in the gateway failed and they sent me a new one with instructions on how to intall. I have found the “customer service” and “support” for all three manufactures to be outstandingly, amazingly craptastic. They all have little service tags under the machines or on the back that I can’t read. I can not understand their help desk people and they don’t seem to understand me. They all hav automated voice mail jail systems. Again I say we are on our own with computers. Relying on any of the manufacturers is just plain stupid. The only solution I can think of is to have two machines. Yes even Macintosh’s have hardware failures.

  12. Maureen Francis

    August 3, 2008 at 9:39 am

    I live dangerously. No warranty unless it comes with. Actually I use at least 3 different machines most days so most of my stuff is accessible anywhere.

    Brad Inman’s discussion of “the cloud” at Connect make me think I should have all of my data up there floating around in space.

  13. Kelley Koehler

    August 3, 2008 at 10:33 am

    Matt – I backup using Carbonite. It runs in the background constantly, and backs my stuff up to their storage facility online. I never have to remember to turn it on or off, it just runs while my machine is idle. I’ve had to wipe and redo this laptop twice, i think, and Carbonite was beautiful.

  14. Jay Thompson

    August 3, 2008 at 10:43 am

    Big Carbonite fan here too… It’s the only way to back up — virtually real time, and I don’t have to do ANYTHING.

  15. Holly White

    August 3, 2008 at 11:14 am

    @Jay & Kelley – Looks like I’ve been doing things the hard way! $49.95 per year for peace of mind is hard to pass up, especially if you’re only manually backing up every month or so (which I am guilty of). Carbonite looks really good. I am always a bit skeptical of all of my files and documents out there in never never land, but it does look secure. I need to surf around to see if anyone’s information has been compromised using them and if I can’t find anything I’m signing up. 🙂

  16. Matt Wilkins

    August 3, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    My method for buying laptops is that I get a used one off ebay that was the top of the line 12-18 months ago. They usually have the remainder of an extended warranty, still have cutting edge specs, and cost 1/2 to 1/3 the cost of new (I have good luck on ebay). Out of all the laptop brands I have used, my favorites (in order) are IBM/Lenovo, then Toshiba, then Dell.

    As for backing up data, I use a hosted Microsoft Exchange box to backup/sync all of my Outlook data between Outlook 2007 on my laptop and My Treo 800w (Windows Mobile 6.1). All of my transaction notes/forms are stored in an online transaction management platform. Everything else I backup periodically to a jump drive.

  17. Ainsley

    August 3, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    Yep. Warranties aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. My tactics? Two passport external harddrives that back up my main computer (MacBook Pro), and a secondary desktop that I could plug in the external harddrives to access data. If you check most EULA on software – they permit at least 2 installs for one owner on separate computers. But yes, I set it up to make my life easier. Not to mention that my email is all online on a server that’s backed up constantly.

    I like to term these as “chokepoints” for my business. So I go down cuz the laptop has an issue, I can only “fall” so far without finding a way to operate my business efficiently.

  18. Deborah Madey

    August 4, 2008 at 1:55 am

    Great point about having a secondary computer with software installed. If your data is backed up and your computer crashes, you will still have hours of work ahead of you to set up a computer with software necessary to work with your data. I have had hard drive crashes and motherborad failures. Keeping a list of all programs installed with the license info handy is a lifesafer if you ever have to reformat a hard drive and start over on the same computer.

  19. Dale Chumbley

    August 4, 2008 at 3:17 am

    I’m a bit of a renegade in the laptop world. I have stuck with the “cheap” variety for the last 5 years now. My most recent one was a Toshiba for around $600 if memory serves. I’ve had it up and running for a year and a half now (and it’s still going strong!). My previous Toshiba ran solid for 3+ yrs with a little sleepiness in it’s last 6 months. I do not buy any extra warranties with them. I figure that if they live for 2-3 years I’m happy as I’ll be wanting a new one anyway. The price of extended warranties is over half the price of a whole new machine.

    As for backup I use an external hard drive and do it on a pretty regular schedule. I may look into Carbonite though. Sounds cool!

    There you have my 1 cent worth (I’m cheap so you don’t get the full 2 cents worth) ;?)

  20. Mike Taylor

    August 4, 2008 at 6:09 am

    My desktop recently crashed and I learned just how bad I was at backing up my data. I now overkill backup running raid on my desktop and periodically backing up to an external drive as well. I have never heard of Carbonite, but it sounds like it definitely worth looking into.

  21. Steve Krzysiak

    August 4, 2008 at 10:24 am

    Hi everyone,
    I am in charge of technology for Prudential SourceOne Realty in Chicago, and I though I would chime in with my (full) 2 cents. Just a few points:

    1)Macs fail too. Go on any mac message board, or come site at my desk for an extended period of time. They do make exceptional hardware for the most part, but they do fail. Furthermore, there are many die hard Mac fans I have seen bad mouthing the company about their ridiculous approaches to known flaws and repair issues.

    2)Please, please backup, in whatever way is most efficient for you. Data recovery from a failed hard drive can get very, very expensive(thousands)
    — Do you have a tech guy? Use him, I can set up a backup on someone’s PC in two shakes of a lamb’s tail. Just give me an ip address and an administrator password, done.
    –No tech guy, but tech savvy? External hard drive is for you. We actually are using one in the field right now at a newly acquired office, and it has software that came with it. Configure the software(not rocket surgery), and it takes care of the rest!
    –Does the computer scare you? Stick with a third party for your backup, I have not used carbonite, but they could be an option.

    Also, it is important to note that I often encounter agents who can backup all their data on a USB thumb drive. These things drop in price consistently, and keep getting bigger. The downside is they are small, which means you can loose it!

    3)Unless you are a power user, spending more than a 1000 on a laptop is ridiculous(with the exception of size/portability, small laptops get expensive, but have definite benefits at showings/open houses). If you spent more than a thousand, a warranty is the least of your concerns. Why you spent so much, for so many things that you do not need should be your primary concern :p

    Personally, I have an incredibly powerful laptop that cost just over $1000.( However, my favorite laptop, one which I still use for a lot of intensive applications, is my Gateway 450ROG. They can be had on ebay for 3-400 bucks in good condition!

    I also own an Asus EEE first generation, mainly as a novelty, but I have worked off of it for several days at a time. Very portable and cheap, downside for many is it does not come with Windows.

    Sorry for the long comment, just wanted to chip in….

  22. Ainsley

    August 4, 2008 at 11:35 am

    Another point that’s worth sharing – solid state USB thumb drives. It’s pretty difficult to ruin a “solid state” USB thumb drive and with the amount of storage space they have on them… well, they ALMOST serve as a backup for your most IMPORTANT documents. is running a special right now on 32GB thumb drives for less than $140 – GOOD PRICE. For that price, it’s worth investing in TWO of them.

    And yes, EVERY computer fails at some point. Mac or PC – no exception. Personally, I think you should buy the most BANG for the buck you can on a laptop and use it until it dies. I have never bought a used laptop off ebay because I like to have a brand new, never broken in computer.

    Something that I don’t *think* anyone has mentioned – or I just missed it – is that I re-install all of my software about once a month. You got it – fresh install of operating system and everything. This is another “choke point” like I mentioned above. A clean slate on a computer can NOT be underestimated. But this is strictly advice for the technology savvy.

  23. Jennifer in Louisville

    August 4, 2008 at 2:26 pm

    @ Ainsley – While I’m with everyone on the backup being a good thing side of things – I just don’t see me spending the time doing a completely re-install of all software & operating system once a month. Or even once a year. I’d rather take that time to do another deal – and use the money to buy a new system.

  24. Jim Gatos

    August 4, 2008 at 4:10 pm


    I have an ancient desktop, a Dell GX240 with 1 gig ram and a 60 gig HD. No problem with the HD, however, the system is over 7 years now and it’s “grinding” on me. I also have an Acer Laptop with a gig of ram and 100 gigs or so HD. I am looking into replacing the Desktop, to which I do the brunt of my work. I saw this here:

    and am thinking about it. I don’t wanna spend a lot and I tend to think it’s better to spend a little and get as much out of them as possible, rather than get stuck with an expensive system that becomes more and more of a paperweight as time goes by. The Dell served me well and I got it used, 4 years ago, for $350!.. With a cheap monitor. I replaced the monitor and brought it to 1 gig of ram (it had 512 k when I bought it)..

    I have all my files backed up online at Sugarsync ( and it syncs both desktop and laptop for $2.49 monthly.

    Rarely have I thrown anything away. I usually sell anything I have for computers online at

  25. Glenn fm Naples

    August 4, 2008 at 4:40 pm

    Teresa – the big item in your post is the lack of customer service and response to the customer. We are all customers of each other. Customer service has taken on a new meaning – don’t like our service go someplace else.

    I have not purchased an additional warranty for my computers, just use the one that comes with the original machine and have techies that can handle my repairs.

    Living in Florida makes one fully aware of disaster planning. Every business should have a disaster plan that is in writing stating how to operate in the case of a disaster.

    What is interesting – is many questions asked by EDP auditors about a corporation’s electronic data processing area should be questions asked by individual computer users.

    It is not a matter of how things change over time, but really the more awareness of risk analysis.

  26. first time home buyers loan

    August 5, 2008 at 3:03 am

    I use Email Attachment, Its Most easy way to back up your data. Store your Contact Deatils in Excel and email it to your Sam email ID.

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