Computer help forum: Getting a new computer? Already have one?

by: TONI H January 27, 2005 9:55 AM PST

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Getting a new computer? Already have one?

by TONI H - 1/27/05 9:55 AM

Now that I have piqued your curiosity, I'll post this also into Grif's Tips thread......

Vendor-built Computers pitfalls

If you order a computer built by a vendor such as Dell or Gateway or HP (or if you purchase one off the shelf from Wal-Mart), you are getting pretty good systems for the money, and I don't fault you for getting your systems that way rather than custom home-built or custom built at a local shop where you can tell the vendor exactly what you want and expect to get.

However, there are pitfalls to those systems that you need to be aware of and protect yourself from. Here are a few of things you can expect and not be able to change.

1. Vendors will create their own installation disk called a Master/Restore/Recovery disk and it will include everything on one cd.......your Windows version, all drivers for the computer built, special programs as a 'bonus', propaganda advertising hidden as tours, tutorials, a lite versions of programs that are limited in function in the hopes that you will upgrade to full-featured programs for more money, spam/spyware that phone home behind your back when you're on the net that track your surfing, antivirus programs that are trial/demo versions only but unless you read this carefully you will be under the assumption that you don't ever have to upgrade/renew and that you got this 'bonus' as a freebie just because they like you, and more than likely you will have an extra partition created that holds restore/recovery information with a shortcut icon to it on your desktop so if you need to reinstall a file, you can use that shortcut to do so. The reason for this is that if you can use the shortcut to replace/restore a file or add a component, you won't have to use the Master/Restore/Recovery disk which normally will automatically format the drive and start you back all over to where the system was the day you got it (and wipe out all the stuff on the harddrive in the process causing you to lose all your files before you have backed them up).

2. Many vendor's disks are PROPRIETARY to the computer built at that time. If you replace ANY of the hardware (including getting a new harddrive or adding ram), the cd will NOT work to restore/format the drive to start over on a clean install because the hardware has changed from what the cd expects it to be. In that case, you are stuck in a dark and scary place knowing you have a system that has been formatted without any way to get it back up and running again. You have the option of saving your old hardware and temporarily putting it back in (or removing extra ram you installed), getting the system back up and running, then removing the old hardware again or adding your ram back in and going from there.......this is a huge pain in the butt and inconvenient and unfair as all get out. But it also means that you may panic and take the machine back to where it came from (ship to Dell/Gateway/local vendor but never Wal-Mart) and paying somebody else to 'fix' it for you when you shouldn't have to do this.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Here are a few ideas.

1. First and foremost.........as soon as you get your system home and set up, pop in a blank cd and burn two or three copies of the vendor cd immediately. If you should EVER lose that original, you will be S-O-L trying to get a new one from the vendor or you will have to wait a long time to get it or you will pay for it dearly, when you've already paid for it once. ALWAYS WRITE DOWN THE PRODUCT CODE KEY FOR THE WINDOWS INSTALLATION....TAPE IT TO YOUR COMPUTER, WRITE IT ON THE CD ITSELF, WRITE IT ON THE CD JEWEL CASE. Cover your butt because if you take it back to a shop somewhere and forget to bring your own cd and code key, they will use an OEM cd from the shop and the product code key will be THEIRS and not yours. You might not be able to activate XP if they use a temporary setup at their shop and it expires after 30 days.

2. Always assume that vendors and ISP providers are going to LIE to you. They figure if you don't know enough about computers that you brought the system to them to fix it in the first place, they can get away with telling you/selling you anything....and if your modem can't connect, it will ALWAYS be your fault and not a problem with their servers at their end. You must have messed with the settings or got hijacked is what you will be told, in addition to being told to 'bring it in and we'll set it back up for you'.......and it will cost you a minimum of $50 for that 'service'.

3. Insist when ordering your computer to be built that they give you SEPARATE installation disks for everything they are going to install. That means a Windows install disk, drivers disks for each piece of hardware, and install cd's for all programs they have installed. It costs them 20 cents for a cd and about two minutes to burn each one....tell them you will pay an extra $25 to get separate cd's. Most will do this for you.....but people don't realize they have the right to demand it so the subject never comes up.

4. Insist that they give you a MOTHERBOARD manual, not just a crappy user manual that gives you a tutorial about hooking up your speakers/monitor/keyboard/mouse to the case when you bring it home. A motherboard manual will tell you everything you need to know about that board and what it is capable of being upgraded to later on, and if you have on-board sound or graphics rather than separate cards inside the case. Also insist on getting the motherboard drivers cd so you will have them handy should you format the drive to start over.

5. Burn two or three copies of every cd you get and use the COPIES to do your installations with later on. Save the originals in a safe place so if the copy goes bad/gets scratched, you can burn more copies from the original.

6. If you have the extra money to spend while ordering your computer, and if the vendor says he can't give you separate disks for everything, tell him you want an OEM full or update install version of the Windows at the very least. This may cost you an extra hundred or so, but with it you will have the choice later on of downloading newest drivers for all of your hardware and burning it all to a cd including motherboard drivers, and then if you want to start from scratch without using the vendor specific cd, you can install everything separately yourself....and save money in the long run. The update cd has exactly the same information on it as the full version and will only ask you to prove via the installation that you have another version of windows that makes you eligible for the update. Inserting an old W98/ME cd into the drive when asked for it gives you that proof. The rule has always been that if you buy a piece of hardware from a vendor (and a system qualifies), you can get an OEM version of Windows......so get one....and make sure they give you the Product Code Key that goes with it.

7. Now that you have protected yourself and become more knowledgeable about your rights as a buyer, have a good time with the new toy.

TONI

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