Where to buy a new PC. (COMPUTE's Getting Started With: Buying a New PC)
by Richard O. Mann
Deciding among mail order vendors, computers stores and dealers, office supply superstores, and other local outlet such as furniture stores can be a real challenge. The decision involves a few important factors:
Where's the Money Coming From?
Your choices of vendors may be limited by financing arrangements. Several users I know bought from a large local furniture chain, because they already had charge accounts there. Buying their systems there made sense; they could add a nominal amount to a monthly payment they were already making and come away with a first-class new Packard-Bell or Epson computer.
Other buy from certain mail-order companies because those vendors offer what appears to be an in-house credit card. Years ago, I bought my second computer from Northgate, partly because the company's ads featured a credit application and offered inviting terms.
Brand Name Versus Clone
You'll pay a little extra for a brand name PC--a lot extra for the big names. In return you get standard, well-known components that can be serviced anywhere. You get the vendor's reputation and know-how, often backed with excellent service and support.
With clones--computers assembled from standard components, with or without a small-vendor brand name--you get less expensive equipment that can be as good as the brand-name stuff or better. It might, however, also be considerably worse. It's up to you to determine the quality of the merchandise.
In buying clones, the reputation and track record of the vendor is key. The PC industry is now mature enough that you have a fighting chance of telling the stables vendors from the fly-by-nights, both local and mail order.
Local Versus Mail Order
If the financing source doesn't dictate a certain vendor, you have a choise between a local source and mail order (they like to call it "direct channel" now). Mail order vendors offer better prices than you get from local source, but the trade-off is easy face-to-face access to service people. If there's an early problem setting up your system or getting it to talk to your printer, your vendor is nearby. If it's the aforementioned furniture store or other mass merchandiser, however, that may be of little value because they don't support their computers. They refer you to the manufacturer for all problems.
In defense of mail order vendors, it should be noted that many offer outstanding phone and fax-back support.
The Final Decision
Whatever you decide, remember there are no certainties in the PC industry Balance price, service availability, assistance with setup, and the reputation of both the equipment and the vendor to make your best decision on where to buy your PC. Then go out and buy the computer and start enjoying it.