A Tale of Two Hard Drives: Apple’s Secret Weapon?

In my day job, helping people with computers, I see many failed hard drives. If the computer is under warranty, I’ll always try to get the system manufacturer to replace the drive rather than order a new one for the customer. Recently, two clients came in, one right after another, and it really illustrated the differences between Apple (s aapl) and everyone else when it comes to hardware support. “Lauren” bought a sub-$1000 PC, but didn’t consider the support costs and time involved. If she had, she might have second thoughts about her decision to buy a PC.

The Dell Experience

Client #1 comes in because Windows won’t boot. The minute she turns on the PC, I know the problem. It’s that horrible high-pitched clicking noise that is worse than nails on a chalkboard to any technician. It’s obvious the drive has failed and the solution is to replace it. I booted off a test CD and verified the hard drive failure.

Fortunately the computer is under warranty. No big deal, Dell (s dell) should replace the hard drive. I call Dell. After 20 minutes on hold, I’m not getting a live person, so I try the online chat and wait and wait and wait. Eventually, someone comes online. The first obstacle is that the client is a student and the father bought the computer via his work. Dell will not assist us until we tell them the owner of the computer and the shipping address. Arrrgh. So we play a multiple choice game for about 20 minutes trying to find out which name and address it was under.

We are now at about an hour. When we get the “correct” answer to the shipping address, our tech then begins to help us. I explain that the hard drive is making a high pitched clicking noise and the system doesn’t show a hard drive. First, the tech wants me to try a special diagnostic that is preformed off the hard drive. Of course the hard drive is dead, so we go back and forth with that I must be doing something wrong. His English was so shaky that I often didn’t understand his questions. (How does one answer  “Is this issue not facing now?”) Eventually the tech believes I’m doing it right and then asks me to boot off a CD that come with the system, which of course the client doesn’t have. We’re supposed to look for the disks and contact them again, but I refused. The client didn’t know where the disk is and we needed this resolved.

Eventually, the support person realizes we don’t have the disk, but he now wants us to open up the computer and reset everything. We’re now at the 1.5 hour mark. Eventually the agent agrees the hard drive should be replaced. Thank you! However, they must ship the hard drive to one of their contracted field techs per her warranty. Actually, that’s lucky; sometimes you have to ship the computer back to Dell. Her warranty was “upgraded” to include on-site repair. The tech will then contact her to set a time to install the hard drive. Three days later, there was no contact from the tech, no hard drive. Fortunately, I gave her a loaner and got her up and running.

We tried calling Dell to no avail. There was no record of the request for the hard drive. Eventually we contacted Dell “Unresolved Issues” and the hard drive was shipped. Total time on the phone: three hours. Delay in hard drive replacement: almost two weeks. The time involved on the chat I assure you is very typical and it’s not just Dell. I see it with HP/Compaqs as well. Service is simply not part of their deal.

The Apple Experience

My next client had a Macbook. I could hear it was the same problem immediately. Ironically, it was the same brand and size of hard drive as was in the Dell. I entered her serial number on Apple’s support web site, and it showed the computer was still under warranty. We then set up a “Speak to an Apple Expert” call-back for about 20 minutes later. On the dot, the technician called. I explained the loud noise and told the tech I booted off the Leopard DVD and the hard drive showed errors. He agreed to ship a new hard drive the next day. Total phone time was less than five minutes and it was 30 minutes from problem diagnosis to closure and less than 24 hours from the time I called until the new hard drive arrived on her doorstop. Again, this interaction was very typical.

For the sake of argument, let’s say these clients didn’t use a consultant to solve their problem. The Mac client could have made an appointment with a genius if an Apple store or an Apple Authorized Service Provider for the repair. The PC client has no physical store she could go to unless she bought that PC at a store that also offered warranty repair.

The phrase “Penny wise and Pound foolish” comes to mind. Did the first client end up saving money because she bought a PC?