Build your own or look locally
I am always pleased to see the excellent responses here and the responses to this topic is an excellent indicator of the depth and breadth of knowledge of people in these forums. This topic has concerned me so much lately that I have to voice my concerns.
I have been building desktop workstations, gaming machines and servers for myself, friends, family and family small owned business since the 486 days. This has been a hobby for me; a source of enjoyment and personal satisfaction. I read several forums and magazines, browse many websites, listen to Kim Komando (http://www.komando.com/) on Saturday mornings and share knowledge and information with coworkers. Even though this trend of outsourcing technical support by major Personal Computer (PC) and peripheral vendors to offshore companies shouldn't affect me directly because I build my own, it does. And it's not just limited to hardware. Many software vendors are doing the same thing. It affects me in my discussions and readings, it affects me when I try to get software support, it affects my own buying decisions and recommendations, and it affects me while trying to help others resolve their problems.
And I think that is a key point. The point is this trend is affecting everyone in the PC marketplace regardless of technical proficiency. Unfortunately, it won't change until it starts affecting the bottom line, namely company profits. And those effects will take a period of time to manifest for many reasons. And even then, adjustments will be made to improve the support not a reversal of outsourcing. And while this trend will open many business opportunities, it will take time to see these come to fruition. And this trend is affecting more segments in the marketplace than just PCs. This trend has gotten out of hand. While I would like to see congress take action, I know that if they do it will be a political result. I.E. too late and probably full of loopholes and mal affects.
My best advice is to learn to build your own computers. Do the research; there is a wealth of information and knowledge posted out there on the Internet. Some of the best sites are hobby sites, folks sharing their own knowledge and information. It's really not that difficult. When we speak of building our own computers we are really only "assembling" our own computers. We don't manufacture any of the components such as the case, the video card, the motherboard or the CPU; we just assemble these components into a functional PC. There is no doubt it will take time to learn but the payoff can be great. Not only will you be able to select the right computer for your needs, you will be able to troubleshoot problems on it yourself. You do not have to be an expert in everything. Expertise is relative. And it really doesn't take that long to learn, just a couple weeks of research and a day to assemble. If you have not built one yourself, you should do it just once. And if you do it just once, chances are you'll never turn back. For that single momentary leap of faith in your own abilities that seems insurmountable quickly becomes personal satisfaction and confidence. And the knowledge you will gain just that once is immeasurable. What is the worst that can happen? You assemble a computer that is flawed or doesn't work? Well you can get that by buying a mainstream PC. And now with the trials, tribulations, and outright frustration of this technical support outsourcing trend, you can't rely on the mainstream manufacturers to fix their flaws either. So you might as well depend on yourself. And then you will be in a much better position to help yourself and others. You may pay more to assemble your own vice buying mainstream but the nonrecurring costs of buying mainstream with lousy support can quickly outweigh the initial investment of building your own. Now more than ever, the tradeoff of investing the time to learn how to assemble your own computer makes sense. A lot of the information I have put on my hobby website may be dated, but it is still applicable and should be enough to get started: http://www.cluefree.com/technical/buildyourown.htm.
It is also good to understand what type of a PC you are looking for. Most of the PCs I build need to be very reliable as opposed to the highest performance or lowest cost. Although I have built a few high performance ones as well, I typically stay away from the lowest cost. Usually somewhere in the middle is the right combination for me. Building a high performance PC that is reliable can be done, but more often than not, these two qualities are mutually exclusive. I will simply say that most usually the latest and greatest technology whether it is hardware, software, PC or peripheral, is immature. It takes time for new technology to mature. Manufacturer testing has its limits. Some do better than others but there is a limit to what they can do. Like it or not, the greatest test-bed is the consumer marketplace itself. For example if a company spends six months with 200 people testing the bright shiny new widget, this is nothing compared to six months of 2 million people testing it. I have always expected as a new technology purchaser, that I am essentially a beta tester. Manufacturers rely on marketplace feedback and lessons learned to improve and fix their products. And while this phenomenon has generally improved in recent years, with its ups and downs, this phenomenon still exists today. It's simply a matter of the numbers.
I have also found that technologies developed for servers are trying for reliability and stability. That is to say they may not actually be more reliable, but they are trying to be. In some cases they actually hit the mark. There are many resources on the internet for this market as well. Resources that can help you view other folks experiences as well as independent reviews just like there is for consumer end products. Keep in mind reliability typically costs more. This is not always the case but it is a typical trend none the less. You must also consider how long you want them to be reliable. I.E. the reliability bell curve not the simple infant mortality weeded out through burn in testing. The decision you have to make after researching server products and reliability is whether the additional cost is worth it. To be clear, you do not have to buy or build server components to function as a server. You do not have to purchase server components to get a reliable and stable PC. But research in this area can arm you with beneficial knowledge and yield positive results. And if you select your own components from your own research, you will know which items to watch or suspect in the event problems occur.
And to be fair, I should also say that nothing is without problems. My philosophy is that problems are always going to occur no matter how much we try to mitigate or avoid them. And while the art of trying to mitigate and prevent problems is important, so is how we deal with them when they occur. And naturally that brings us full circle in this discussion. This is another reason why this outsourcing trend concerns me so greatly. Problems are going to occur but these manufacturers are dealing with it in a business decision manner. And until the marketplace reacts accordingly, all we can do is arm ourselves and help ourselves. It pays to do research and increase our skills and knowledge in how things work. We can no longer rely on manufacturer support...if we ever could.
If you just can't get over that hurdle for whatever reason, and there are many, very good reasons, I suggest you shop around locally. In my area we have a very good local shop that custom builds and supports PCs. I highly recommend them to others locally: http://www.northalabamacomputers.com/. They sell components as well as complete systems. They are friendly and share technical information. I find these two qualities very key. Some shops are reluctant to share technical information. If they seem put out or affronted to discuss technical information then my advice is to turn around and don't look back. It has been my experience when this happens that they really are not half as smart as they think they are; and are interested only in the initial sale regardless of advertisement rhetoric. The main advantage of shopping locally is that when you need support, it is local, knowledgeable and friendly. In fact I try to buy as many components as I can from them. They may not be the cheapest, but if I ever have a component go bad they research their database to see if it's still under warranty or offer a suitable replacement. These factors are well worth the extra money I pay to buy locally vice buying it online. Now I am not saying there are not online and distant vendors that can't do as well. In fact there are online vendors that do very well. But I really enjoy a short drive to talk to someone face to face. A real person in the flesh vice an email, telephone call or online chat is invaluable to me. Still, sometimes I am forced to buy online. And this is another area to research. But today we have online vendor reviews from individuals and independent sources to help us with those choices as well. Simple searches in your favorite search engine for reviews of the vendors you are considering will yield great results.
I apologize for such a long answer but as you can see your problem is also my problem and a pet peeve at that. I dont know where this is all going to end up, but right now it is unacceptable. Just writing this e-pistle has helped me. But I hope this helps you and hope you find an appropriate solution to your problem.
P.S. Now if I can just figure out how we can build our own laptops I'll be all set! Until then, I'll just have to grit my teeth and pick the lesser of evils.