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

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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?

114 Responses to “A Tale of Two Hard Drives: Apple’s Secret Weapon?”

  1. Dell vs Apple is a big price difference, is it really worth paying so much more for better support in the rare event of hard drive failure? You can just buy a new hard drive yourself with the money you save…

    • Right on. You made the point all the sheeple are trying hard to ignore. Typical HDD failure rates within the first year are below 5%. So, I’d rather save several hundred dollars up front than pay for the premium of having a half-eaten fruit on the lid.
      And, if you need to, buy a second laptop with the money saved!
      Unless, you want to have your computers shipping with cracked screens…now known as iCrack :)

  2. “it really illustrated the differences between Apple and everyone else when it comes to hardware support”

    No, it didn’t. It illustrated the difference between Apple and Dell. Dell is notorious for sucking.

    “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 difference between similar XPS and MacBook Pro laptops is in general on the order of $600 (Specifically, similar 500GB SATA 7200RPM hard drives / 4GB 1066DDR3 RAM / 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processors cost $725 more on a 15″ MacBook Pro than the Dell’s XPS 15.4″).

    For $725, you could buy another, slightly less expensive, laptop when yours breaks. Unless you want a Mac. Then you’d need at least $1000

    Oh yeah, plus tigerdirect/newegg sell replacement PC parts.

  3. I’ll have to agree with others that have pointed out this is an unfair comparison. Would your service have been as speedy if the Apple computer had been registered by another person with a different address than the one being used?

    Maybe Apple will ship to some unregistered address and to some person to whom the computer is not registered. But then that would make me wonder about their process.

    I do agree about the advantage of having physical stores where you can take computers to be serviced. So even if the phone call had turned out to be more complicated, usually taking it to a Genius should sort the problem.

    However, just to be clear AppleCare does require that the original purchasers transfer ownership in writing to the new owner. So a Genius would be well within Apple’s policies to refuse service.

  4. So one person doesn’t know who bought his computer or where it was shipped and that is somehow Dell’s fault? If you’re going for fairness, this article fails.

    I also service both Dell and Mac systems and my experience has been that people who are under warranty get their replacement parts within 24 hours from Dell and can opt for a technician to come to their homes and install the parts for them if they so choose.

    It’s also worth mentioning that upgrading or adding a HDD to a PC is significantly easier and cheaper than doing so for a Mac.

  5. Great article.

    My experience with Dell is similar. Basically with Dell, the machine is usually good quality and value. However, God help you if you need support, or infact need to communicate with them in any way. Unless you are on a premium support contract, the support/sales system is outsourced and a royal pain in the ass.

    Often, the accent of the support person is so strong, communication is very difficult. If they need to transfer you a technician then usually you have to take down a number and call yourself, as they are unable to transfer. And don’t expect to call at 5.05pm and get an answer… these guys finish On The Dot! Finally, to my great irritation, if you place an order online they will often cancel the order you placed and re-create it, delaying the shipping. I have no idea why they do this, but my cynical side wonders if it is to gain their commission.

    But, its the price you (dont) pay these days for cut-price PCs.


  6. yet another steve

    Imagine dealing with Dell when you DON’T know what’s wrong. Their low cost support people have so much time available, they’re willing to go through hours of (useless in my case) diagnostics over the phone.

    Short term solution: was HP. Long term solution, VM Ware. Thank you Apple for switching to Intel.

  7. This doesn’t surprise me one bit. Once your finally make the switch to Apple products you fully realize how much better, not only their customer service is, but their products as well. I’m sure the statistics of these problems occurring on non-Apple products is also much higher! I <3 Apple!

  8. What I get from the article is that the girl with the Dell had no clue how to exercise her warranty rights .. that is not the fault of Dell but the fault of the person who gave her the computer. Also not taking the time to transfer the warranty into her name is a further failure on the part of the customer and not Dell.

    I can also state positively that if the writer had any clue how to deal with tech support he would not have had the issues with Dell that he had. It seems to me that he purposely failed in his job so Dell would look much worse than they actually are.

    I have been in the computer customer support business for over 20 years and I have NEVER had the kind of issues with tech support the writer describes, mainly because I don’t put up with it. I let them know early on that they are dealing with someone that is both computer literate and a computer professional and I get what I need much more quickly. The failure of the writer to do so merely shows his inability to properly support his customers.

    I own both PCs and APPLEs, I have used both and both have their good points and bad points as does their tech support. for every bad experience on one side there is a bad experience on the other side. This whole PC vs. APPLE is just stupid.

  9. blenderman345

    Awesome… this would be great for the next apple mac ad…..

    But my experience with Dell support is terrible, but the computer was 5 years old, and it was quite an immovable thing, calling microsoft, then Dell, then they say my sticker is out of warranty and they’re not even allowed to speak to me?? wth?

    Apple support, I’ve done several times, and it always ends out a happy story.

  10. DELLChrisM

    I am a DCF (Dell Community Forum) Liaison. If they reported the clicking hard disk drive on our forum, we would have contacted them and setup the exchange via a private message.

  11. I live in Australia and have an iPhone from Optus. Normally in the past when I had an issue with an Optus phone (not apple) I would always get an outsourced support agent from an asian country with the normal issues one gets with outsourced support; very bad english being the main problem. However, with the iPhone I found Optus support to be fantastic. The support centre was still somewhere in Asia, but the operator almost had an American accent and was very knowledgeable. I thanked the operator and discussed with him how good the support was. He stated that Apple forced Optus to have a special support unit specifically for the iPhone and that all operators where hand picked, had excellent english and were fully trained in the product and the target country. All in all it was pretty impressive and it gave me warm fuzzies about Apple (and respect for their clout).

  12. I’ve been hanging around this site the past couple weeks b/c I am seriously considering buying a 15″ MBP (currently have a Dell Lattitude). Price is not a consideration (happy to pay more for a MBP). However, the one hurdle I can’t get over is NBD service. I live about 45 minutes from the closest retail store, and frankly, I don’t have the time to spend going to a retail store for service. I am a business user that needs NBD on-site service (and willing to pay for it). Dell offers this to SMB customers but I can’t find anything similar from Apple. I need a service where, after remote diagnosis, the part is dropped shipped NBD and installed on-site by a contracted Tech. But I do love the design and look of the MBP. Any thoughts?

    • Every Apple Store has a Small Business Team member, and what you should do is speak with them about this. They’ll help you in any way needed, and have tons of information.

  13. I had a Dell monitor 4 or 5 years back that was DOA, I called them in the afternoon and the next morning a UPS guy stood on my door steep with a replacement.
    Just this evening I had UPS come by with a replacement set of Apple in-ear headphones.
    A $79 product and I bought it at a local (non-Apple) store, they refused to help me because I lost the receipt. Called Apple and asked them if the 1 year worldwide warranty could help even if I bought the product in a local store, two days later the UPS guy showed up with a replacement:) no questions asked.

  14. Morti Mouse

    Very nice article! I’m relatively tech savvy and I’ve had the very same experiences. I have an early 2006 (May) Macbook that the battery was bulging on in November 2009 (3 1/2 years later and well out of the warranty period). I made an appointment online at the Genius Bar for the next evening after work. I showed up about :05 late, waited less than :05, told the Genius Bar tech the problem, he removed my battery, walked into the backroom, returned immediately with a brand new battery. The tech replaced the old battery, printed a receipt that I signed stating I’d received a new battery and that Apple took the old. I placed my Macbook in the box and walked out. The entire process took less than :30 minutes!

    Now, I have a question. Is there a limit on how large a hard drive I can replace my 60GB stock hard drive with? The online manual for the “early 2006” models says 200GB but then discloses “(at the time of this printing).” At the time, Mac didn’t have a larger drive available. Does this mean that it can support a larger drive or is that meant to be the largest. I’ve seen on other forums and in the Newegg comments for larger hard drives that 320GB and even 500GB are working fine. I’ve also seen others say that once they get past 250GB they experience various problems. And yet others say that as long as the drive is partitioned off into not larger than 250GB partitions, there’s no problem.

    Any clue?

    Also, can I up move up to 7200RPM or is it best to stick to 5400RPM?

    Any advice would be appreciated. Thanks

    • @Morti Mouse: there is no limit to the size of the HD, AFAIK.
      I’ve upgraded some MB with a 320GB with no problem.
      As for the speed, I can’t see a lot of difference between the two, so I usually stick to 5400RPM. I’ve had a few nasty crashes with 7200s in old iBooks, but the technologies have changed in the meantime: modern HDDs should be quieter and cooler.

  15. I had a dell laptop and the hard drive crashed after 10 months erasing all my data that I forgtot to back up( never again). After spending a good three hours on the phone with someone who barely spoke english, they did ascertain that my hard drive was broken and needed a new one. Thanks to my warranty, they had somebody come over and install a new hard drive…that was it. I had to reload all of my software and drivers back on to the computer, and was never able to get the drivers for my bluetooth card or for my memory card reader. I wasted about 15 hours of my life trying to get Dell to restore my computer to when I first took it out of the box, but they would not budge, and was left with a computer that was about 75% effective as when I bought it, a year later. Dell has horrific customer service and was extremely unhelpful. Even after hours of complaining, and moved up the customer service food chain to the few americans who worked in the department, they still sent me disks that did not contain the necessary drivers. I will never buy Dell again. Cheap prices equals cheap parts and cheap service, I hope anyone who buys Dell does not have a broken part.

  16. My macbook pro failed while I was visiting greece and I got a replacement from apple in one day from an authorized dealer. It was just a small shop in the middle of northern greece. They looked at it, checked the serial number to see if its under apple care or warranty still and got me a new one. Blew my mind how easy it was even 5k miles away from home.

  17. Scarywebguy

    Great article. Apple has had great Customer service for a long time. You wrote “The PC client has no physical store she could go to unless she bought that PC at a store that also offered warranty repair.” Well, when I bought my G3 desktop there were no Apple stores either. I had an issue with a drive not being connected, no internal cable. I called Apple and told them my situation, they dispatched a local tech to come to my house and repair my new G3. C’mon who else does that?

  18. As someone already noted you get what you pay for. If you happen to own a Thinkpad and want to pay slightly more for a full warranty than what Apple charges for their warranty, you can have a tech show up at your door at an appointed time just about anywhere in the world you happen to be and replace a broken part for you.

  19. Simon George

    I must be unlucky then… aside from having to make a warranty claim on every item of Apple hardware I own (except a Magic Mouse which is only a fortnight old… give it another week or two), every claim has been objected to in some way. An iPhone that Apple claimed had been submerged despite there being no evidence to other than their red tell-tale tab, a MacBook Pro battery that wouldn’t hold charge after 150 cycles AND was covered by an online recall but STILL they argued that mine wasn’t covered… etc. etc.

    I love my MBP but I think I’d have to replace about 20 HDDs on my Dell XPS M1330 at full cost before it started to look as expensive as the Apple. And I’m not onvinced that Apple’s customer service is really any better than Dell’s (which is awful). Not in the UK, anyway.

    • LargeFormat

      You are unlucky. I have owned dozens of Macs over the years and can only think of one time where I had to get service. I had a HD fail on a laptop and took it to the Apple store and received my fixed Mac in a couple of days. Couldn’t have been easier. Apple customer care is second to none in the US.

  20. You have handle Dell techs like you know what the hell is going on.

    Dell: “This Dell, how can I help you?”

    Me: “I have a insert-model-number-here. The express code is ######. I cannot boot off the hard drive. The hard drive is clicking. The hard drive is dead. It does not show up in CMOS. When I boot off the OS CD that ships with the system, it cannot find the drive. This machine is under warranty. Ship me a new hard drive.”

    Dictate the call and steer it in the direction you want it to go to.

  21. Interesting article, but my experiences with HP and Lenovo support were very different…

    With HP, I talked to a technician who did speak poor English but was able to send out a new hard drive after only 10 minutes, which I recieved about 2 days later with excellent instructions, funny thing though, I received a second HDD about 1 week later.

    Lenovo was amazing, I again was only on the phone for about 10 minutes and had a new HDD in hand exactly 14 hrs after the call.

    I love my Macbook and have found Apple’s support consistently above par as well, as you point out the greatest benefit is the ability to take it into a store and talk to a real person who usually understands and go out of their way to solve the problem. (Replaced my Macbook screen, keyboard, battery all before AppleCare expired and FREE iPhone screen replacement!)

  22. That’s why I just bought new Apple Care for my Macbook Pro. It means total peace of mind and you can also call Apple support for help with questions on the OS, iLife and iWorks.

    Apple Is not the cheap option, but I think people should re-evaluate what the real cost of losing you system for 2 weeks due to poor customer service.

    • Have a friend w/a Macbook where the Nvidia chip is bad. It is covered under Applecare, but it has been 2+ weeks and he still doesn’t have the machine back or a due date. How does one operate a business with this kind of support?

  23. Nice article.
    But this story happend in US. In Poland, where I live, Apple support is’t better than others. Whats more, sometimes it’s worst… Probably it is because we don’t have real Apple Store, only “Premium reselers” and “Authorized Services”… I hope some day we’ll have so good Apple support like You in US.

    • Agreed. The Malaysia’s Apple premium reseller won’t fix my battery problem for my Macbook. One of the staff even suggest that I had overcharged the battery. WTF?

      And they just keep suggesting me to buy a new one, which cost about half a Netbook…

      Why can’t they upgrade the service of premium reseller? Or properly the staffs are on commission based salary, it wouldn’t help the customer with problem.

    • Exactly,
      A few weeks ago my Dell laptop started display strange “noise” pixels on screen. So I’ve called Dell in the evening to report the problem, I have to give service tag (from sticker on a laptop) and after 5 min talk I have scheduled repair on next day morning (Dell has NBD (Next Business Day) guarantee). The next day the screen was replaced with new one without any problems (this took 20 minutes).

      On a next day I’ve asked in Apple reseller what if I had problem like this in MacBook Pro – and the answer was: you give us the laptop, and we have 14 days to repair it (sending it somewhere).

      So sorry… but till now I will stay with my Dell.

    • Same in Australia – I have seen Apple take MONTHS to fix problems that could be fixed on a PC in a few hours at any computer store.

      Dell is not so much better.

      You don’t get what you pay for – ASUS is cheaper, more reliable and even in Australia will courier the part to and from you.

  24. Maybe it’s a country thing, but i had a dell laptop a few years ago and the dvd drive failed and wouldn’t read any disks etc. Called up the dell support line in UK, within 10 minutes some irish guy worked out that there was something wrong (can’t remember the problem faulty eye or something). Called up dell, the next day a replacement arrived at my office, i pulled my old one out the laptop, put it in the courier box and he took it back to dell for me. This was back in the 1 year onsite plus 2 years off site support days tho, but have to say Dell have never disappointed me.

    • Their call center for North America is no longer in North America. When you call them, you usually get someone whose English you can barely comprehend.

      Outsourcing programmers in this way is one thing, but it doesn’t work for call support.

  25. “Ironically, it was the same brand and size of hard drive as was in the Dell.”

    Sorry, but had to pick this up. It’s a pet peeve of mine… Please learn what irony is. :) That is a coincidence, not ironic.

    Otherwise, good article though :)

  26. Great article! Very interesting to read the comparison between the two different types of support.

    I feel bad for that Dell customer. Let’s hope she chooses to become a Switcher in the future!

    • Agreed. Thankfully, I have 3 PCs (because I am a computer guy, not a pompous twit). I have never gotten a warranty on any of them, and in a total of 9 years of ownership (5 for one, 3 for one, and one for the latest), have performed only two repairs – one failed hard drive, and one failed USB card. Total cost: $150 (including upgrading to a 1TB hard drive).

      And both fixed in under 2 days — newegg can’t ship until you order — with no hassle, no warranty, and no wasting my time going to an Apple store.

    • If this is about anecdotal experience, then here’s mine: I’m a student at UCSD, and every student I know with a Mac laptop has had to take it in for service, AND has had to pay a lot to fix it, usually around $300, regardless of the Apple service plan they assumed they were under — Apple considers many, many repairs as outside the bounds of their service contract, and charge FAR more than a white box PC shop. This is not the case with any of the Dells, Sonys and HPs around, except for one that had a GPU fry the motherboard. But that’s one example vs. so many Macs going in for expensive repairs, it’s almost a running joke on campus — among PC folks, that is. The Mac folks are not finding it quite as funny….

    • I have consulted at Motorola, Cisco, and Oracle over the last few years and all of them provide thousands of Mac laptops for their employees. They could not be happier.

      Roger your comments are simply not credible. Go spin it on some PC kiddie site because it won’t wash here.

    • Sum Buddy

      Nice to hear that Apple has their support ducks in a row. It didn’t always use to be that way. When I worked the Apple Support 800# many years back (think SE30) the customer experience was more like the Dell scenario you describe above, and perhaps even worse.

    • I dont buy it. Dell’s business support is amazing. As admin for a dell shop I call them quite often. The phone is answered instantly everytime and has been for 5 yrs. In the last 3 yrs I have gotten a North American english as a first language person. I give them the error code I get from running the dell diagnostics that says the drive failed, they say fine and the next day the drive is in my hands. They always offer to send some to come do the work and if it’s a motherboard replacement I usually let them but they don’t force me. And only once did that person NOT come the next day. Every Dell laptop we have used has some weird issue with it, but their Business support borders on perfect. Chat works great too but calling is the much easier way to convince them you did your due dilligence and get them to send the drive without jumping thru hoops. DELL HOME support, well that is a different monkey altogether. 2 hours on the phone taking to Kevin (really hajjib) and you might get what you want.

    • I don’t buy this either and agree with Roger. I too have anecdotal evidence to suggest that Dell service rocks. I’ve got two Dell laptops under warranty and I’ve had to replace the lcd screen and keypad on one and just the keypad on the other and I got it done within 2 days – 15 minutes on the phone on one day and I had a service engineer over at my house the next day. Furthermore, I own a PC (and an unbranded assembled one at that), in it’s 4 years of service to me, has only required a replacement of the power box and nothing else. None of this means anything unless the author’s hypothesis is verified by some hard statistical evidence. Throwing opinions in the air based on a single point example is hardly a good idea.

    • You cannot use the words dell and pc interchangeably. I have had and loved my PC’s for years. I have so few problems with them and at a fraction of the cost my PC is considerably faster than the more expensive often freezing Macs that I use at work. The fact Dell sells sub par equipment and has poor customer service does not make the rest of the PC world this way. Honestly, If I paid as much as my job did for their Macs I would EXPECT same day on site repairs. I have saved a lot of money by buying PCs

    • yeah this review wasn’t biased at all… I mean exaggerate much? Also this guy called with a “I’m getting what I want and that’s all I’m interested in” He should have asked the customer to try and find the disks before (or maybe while supposedly spending 20 minutes guessing, ha!) calling. I’m sure he fought the tech every step of the way that didn’t involve him getting a hard drive sent out asap. Although I will admit I hate calling CS for any company.

    • Yeah. Here are my daughter’s experiences with Apple.Daughter #1 loses hard drive in Scotland. Rides a bus for an hour to get to an Apple store. They tell her to reformat and reinstall. Two days later it’s dead. They order a new one. It takes a week. Has another hour bus ride (one way) to get it replaced. Daughter #2 loses hard drive in US. Goes to Apple store (fortunately close by). They replace hard drive. She goes home and the notebook can’t find the hard drive. Goes back. They screw around for an hour and conclude that the new drive is dead (duh!). But now it’s too late to order a new one because Apple doesn’t work after dark. So now she’s waiting at least two days to get the new one.

      Now for mine. Have my IT staff send in notebook for screen replacement because white is dirty gray (out of warranty) and new hard drive. The nearest Apple store is 1.5 hrs away. They send it back, saying it’s just a little dim and a new screen would cost $600. And they kindly reformat the hard drive and reinstall the OS to fix the hard drive. The drive is so flakey I can’t even restore from backup. I send it out for repair myself to 3rd party, get new screen for $300 and a hard drive that works.

      Six months later I have to dump it anyway, because running the fans at 3000RPM no longer cools it down enough to keep it going.

      Dell hard drive replacement: I call them, tell them the problem, and they ship one immediately. I pull out the old one, stick in the new one, and I’m fine. Incidentally, you don’t have to dismantle the machine to replace the hard drive (duh!).

      The bottom line is, Dell and Apple both make crap hardware for notebooks. Dell’s support isn’t great overall, but at least they’re open 24/7, and if you online chat instead of calling you can even understand them. You get better help if you call their Linux support line – they’re in the US.

      Incidentally, I only run Windows under duress, and only in VMs, so don’t give me crap about PC kiddie sites.