I am frequently asked by people what brand/style/type of computer they should purchase. I always turn the question back on them.. The first thing to think about when purchasing a computer is what are you going to do when it breaks? What is "down time" on the computer worth to you?
Today, the odds are about 50% that something is going to go wrong with your computer. At best, it'll be a minor glitch that you could fix yourself.. at the worst, it's going to be an ordeal for an advanced technician to identify/repair the problem, and that includes the possible option that the computer must be totally replaced.
If you purchase a computer thru a standard retail store, their standard plan is to have you bring it back to be checked, and then shipped off if necessary for deeper repairs. At best, this is going to mean that your computer is unusable for 2-3 weeks, and there are horror stories on the web of computers going completely AWOL. I've had it happen myself.
For my 'personal' computer(s), I don't buy a warranty. I assemble them from parts, and when something breaks, I've usually got a spare part around, or it's time to upgrade anyway. I've had good luck with it. However.. there are many people who aren't all that comfortable with diagnosing hardware errors, and I can understand that.
On the other hand, for a 'business' computer, I strongly believe that it's worth the money to buy a warranty that provides on-site repair. Dell in particular has done a superb job for me over the years.. when/if the equipment breaks (rarely), they come TO ME to work on the box. I have at most a day or two of downtime, and the computer never leaves my sphere of control. No chance for it getting lost.
These warranties cost extra money. You must make the decision.. is it 'okay' for the retail store to put your computer in a box and send it off for 2-6 weeks, or do you want a technician to come to you and fix it? Yes, it costs. It costs you either way you chose, but if the computer is 'critical' to you, I would (and do) chose the 'come to me' option.
This brings up my other favorite subject.. BACK UP! Every computer is an accident waiting to happen... If you keep it long enough, then it's not a matter of IF it is going to fail, it is a matter of WHEN. What you must do is try to cover for that eventuality.
Take a break from reading this and go backup your computer now!
In a seminar I attended in '91 or so, it was pointed out that only 25% of computer failures are due to hardware failure, another 5% due to malicious programs like viruses, and the other 70% of computer failures were actually due to 'user error'. How many times have you made extensive changes to a document only to close it and say "no" to saving?
The seminar posed three extremely telling questions:
1) How many people have backed up their computer in the past year? (about
half of the room - filled with IT people - raised their hands)
2) How many people have backed up their computer in the past month? (less than a quarter were left with their hands raised)
3) How many of you have that backup media stored within 5 feet of the computer? (all but about 3 in the entire room raised their hands) (sheepishly, I kept my hand raised)
Quote: If your house were to be destroyed tonight.. where would your backups be?
Quote: A failure to plan is a plan for failure.
Now.. go backup your computer a second time, and this time, take the disks over to a friend or relative's house. Don't leave them in the same room with the computer!!! And, while you're over there.. get your relative to share his backups with you. (of course, if you don't like/trust your friend/relative.. then you can go with a deposit box, etc.) Just don't leave them in the same room with the computer!
It angers me that from time to time there's some new virus that hits the news media. They spend all that coverage telling people to update their anti-virus program, but they never address the core issue.. DO YOUR BACKUPS!! You are FIVE TIMES more likely to have a hard disk error than be hit with a virus!!
I also feel that it's criminal for manufacturers to sell computer without appropriate backup systems. The average computer today has a DVD burner, and a 120gb hard disk. At only 4.7gb per DVD, that's 25+ DVDs (and up to 25 hours) required to backup the entire computer! As the disk drive systems have grown, the backup media has not kept pace, and this has been a trend since the '70s. Consumers really should stand up together and demand an improvement in backup systems.