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When Deciding Where to Buy a Computer,
Think Service

(Part 1 of 2)

By Shakil Ahmed

One of the most asked questions we get is what kind of a computer to purchase. With prices dropping on components and semiconductor companies such as Intel and AMD coming out with a myriad of different microprocessors to choose from, finding the right "box" for your needs is downright confusing.

To add to the confusion, computers have become such a commodity that it's hard to figure out where to buy one. You can find them on sale at local computer shops (that build their own machines); you can purchase them from local distributors of national brands; you can buy them in "big box" retail outlets like Costco; or you can purchase directly from Mainland companies such as Dell, on the Internet. In this first column we would like to address the issue of where you should go to purchase a computer. In the second part of our series we'll focus on what kind of components you'll need.

So Many Choices of Vendors

Does it matter if you purchase it from a local shop, a "big box" store or online from a mainland manufacturer? We believe if you are running a business, it makes a big difference.

Chances are a big outlet like Costco or Office Depot might be ok if you're going to buy a computer for Johnny's homework assignment but not for your mission critical applications (such as accounting or email) that make the difference between life and death for your business.

Computers built specifically for businesses not only are of superior quality than the ones sold at the big box stores, but there is also the matter of service. All things being equal, what's critical to a business is how quickly and efficiently your machines going to be repaired if your system goes down. The kinds of questions you need to consider are: Will there be parts if you need them? Will you have to wait a day, a few hours, or a month before your system is repaired?

Service is the Issue

When you buy a computer you're not only buying the components that go into it--you are "buying" that company's service department. Thus whomever you buy your computer from had better be there when you need them. Your business may depend on it.

Scott Kawahara, a technology specialist with Queen's Medical Center told us that he agreed "service is the issue". Said Kawahara, "Service support is critical. For example, parts for large brand name companies can be hard to find because they may not be stocked locally. The level of support, even the major manufacturers, can be a problem." Kawahara stated that Queen's has been dealing with Dell over the past few years and has had "good service" from them. Prior to that, the hospital depended on IBM and according to another Queen's technology specialist, Jo Ann Cuaresma, even with Big Blue "it sometimes took a week or even a month turn on repairs."

We believe local computer stores have a big incentive to take care of their customers. Like any business, local computer vendors depend on referrals and return business. If they can't deliver, they are out of business sooner or later.

And what about purchasing a machine online from Dell, Compaq, or Gateway? The quality on most of these machines is pretty good and some of them have the advantage of 24-hour tech support. Rather than having offices here to attend to support, all of these companies have third party vendors. Some of these service vendors are very good. Others may not be up to snuff. The trick is, if you do intend to purchase a mainland machine online, try to determine the reputation of the local company that is acting as a service rep for Dell, IBM Gateway or whatever national brand you are interested in.

So where exactly should you buy your computer?

One option, voiced by Tom Ishimitzu, an IT Manager at the Manoa Innovation Center, the state-run high tech incubation complex, was to buy "local". He told us that he likes to support the local vendors but that isn't the only reason. "Local computer builders don't have the name recognition that IBM or a Compaq have. However I find that local outlets manufacture machines that are equivalent or even better than what you get from name brands." Added Ishimitzu, "If you buy local it's easier to get them worked on rather than mailing the boxes in. I've had good luck with locally built machines for my own personal use and for business. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them."

If you are not sure where to buy a new machine we suggest you ask around. You need to find out who are your colleagues purchasing their computers from and what kind of luck have they had?

If you can't get a name of a local vendor, the yellow pages or advertisements in the local papers are a good place to start. We think it's a good idea to call up a local shop and spend a few minutes with a sales person on the phone. Ask them how long they have been in business and see if you can get some customer references. Find out also if they have on site service contracts and how much they cost.

There are perhaps half a dozen local shops where you can purchase a machine as well as the larger stores such as CompUSA. If you do a little homework and ask a few questions I'm convinced you'll find the vendor of your dreams.

Shakil Ahmed is the founder of PDC Systems, a Honolulu computer and networking company established in 1991. Questions or comments should be addressed to askshak@pdcsystems.com

Pacific Business News - March 10, 2000

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