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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. any real technician has 2nd level support phone numbers. they skip all the troubleshooting and just ask you what problem youre having. im on the phone for maybe 10 minutes and i receive a case number(for the record) with an overnighted part order. if youre saying spending 2000 on a probook is a better deal then spending even 1500 on an HP then we can agree to disagree. if both hp and apple laptops are under warranty its solely shipping costs and installation time and apple loses in both categories, also if there is no warranty the apple HD costs a lot more.

  2. Funny, I have just the opposite experience. Apple tech was crappy. Couldn’t verify address, since it had been a gift…etc. And a hard drive on a Dell is wayyyyyy easier to replace than in an apple notebook. Troll a little?

  3. George

    It’s a night & day difference between Apple & Dell with regard to business support for tech people. I support a small business and we have mostly Dell Optiplex & Latitudes. We also have a 1 Macbook Pro. Something on a Dell breaks and I can either web-chat or call them. Usually pretty quickly they have a part shipping next day air to me. They’ve done that even with things like laptop keyboard modules. If it’s something I can’t fix, they send a tech out next day who fixes it on-site while I’m watching. A motherboard swap takes about 30 minutes and is usually completed within 24 hours of when I first call in the problem. Now compare that to Apple. The ethernet port on the Macbook Pro went out. We are not near a retail store so the only option was mailing it in with a 7-10 day turnaround. On top of that, I didn’t want to send the hard drive in because we have confidential information on it. They almost turned my repair down (despite having Apple Care and being within warranty). I finally convinced them to make a note that the hard drive wouldn’t accompany the laptop. They said there are no guarantees that they’ll actually fix the hardware problem without the hard drive installed. Unbelievable. Here’s hoping they fix the hardware without the drive. I think we’ll stick with Dell from now on.

  4. How about a story about an Apple iMac hard drive that fails 1-1/2 yrs after purchase. Not sure what the typical Dell warranty is, but I don’t want to be paying Apple to replace their crap hard drive have that short a period.

    Big fan of Apple in general, but very unhappy w/my current situation. They were going to charge me $370 (parts and labor). They tell me hard ware fails. Well, stand behind your product. Take out the bad drive, and push it back to the manufacturer. These things can’t be breaking after 1-1/2 yrs.!!

    I ended up buying a hard drive from Newegg for $80. I’ll try to install myself. If I fail, the Geek Squad at BestBuy will do it for $50. Saved myself the difference, the a little bit of pride not padding Apple’s pockets for their crap drive.

  5. I can not believe the bullshit from this guys article. I’m in Tech support for a very large company and I get a great response from Dell.

    I have used apple support and it took 1 week to replace the DVD drive on an imac. On top of that they lost my appointment and I had to wait for hours.

    this article is a lot of progaganda just like the apple commericals.

  6. Subhajit DasGupta

    Why should I pay $1000 more just so I can get a $75 drive replaced in a day (shipping time from Apple to customer) instead of just put down the $75 and buy a new hard drive myself? For the extra $1000 I pay for an Apple, I can buy…let me see…13 (yes, that’s THIRTEEN) hard drives. Not worth the extra $1000, Apple, thanks.

  7. Not even close to my experience. I have a Dell laptop and a Mac, and both are good products, in my opinion. When I had problems with a Dell (my 3rd Dell and the only one I’ve had problems with, my 5 year old laptop still runs fine) they shipped me a new hard drive right away and sent me a pre-packaged label to return the old one.

    In fact, my only beef about either of these products is the rabid excessive loyalty that people have about them.

  8. uwgandalf

    So the dell client:
    greedy, and bought it’s laptop on company name, now it’s dell’s fault they checked the shipping address, (probably verifying authenticity of the customer)?
    The dell client had lost it’s recovery cd, which was an inconvenience, and again dell’s problem?
    The apple client did not lose his leopard cd, so apple wins?

    you’re logic is flawed

  9. I’ve had really good experience with Dell. We call, or chat them, and usually within about 10 minutes, hard drive issues and other simple, obvious issues are resolved. We also buy the Optiplex, Precision, and Lattitude lines, not the lower end crud, which of course affects the overall experience as well.

  10. I can’t help but laugh at this. Dell sells more computers in a day than Apple sells in a year. As result, you will hear more about Dell’s failing and poor support than Apples. About the poor support, I am not sure what you were doing wrong. I do computer work on the side for friends and family and have had to contact dell a couple dozen times over the years to get replacement parts. Never had an issue, but I was smart and made sure to collect the information about the purchase ahead of time should I need it.

    I will share with you my one experience with Apple. My sister brought me her non working Ipod Nano (2nd gen). Several months before it got stepped on, and made a crack on the screen in the corner, about half an inch long. So several months go by, and the Ipod continued to work like normal. One day, it stopped turning on. I tried various tips I found online, tried different chargers, cables and such to attempt to get it working again. I ended up taking it to the local Apple store because it was still under warranty. Apple said because of the crack, the Ipod was damaged and cannot be covered under warranty. They wanted $250 to repair it. Of course we told them to shove it, and she bought a Zune to replace it.

  11. CR’s surveys have Apple far ahead in tech support and customer service. IN other words the data backs this anecdote up.

    And Apple has their call centers here in the US. Call Dell etc and you’re talking to people in India.

    Also I find Apple’s paperwork and processes much more straightforward.

    That being said, they aren’t perfect. And the other guys are perfectly bad either.

    It’s more of a good to excellent comparison.

    • “And Apple has their call centers here in the US. Call Dell etc and you’re talking to people in India.”

      Please get your facts straight. Dell has several call centers across the globe. They also have about half a dozen centers in the US, including Texas, Tennessee, and Ohio.

  12. I was eight months pregnant when my bosses hard drive failed in his macbook pro, took it to the authorised repair centre, they fixed it plus replaced the screen (which had a slight dent which I didn’t report). Three weeks later my step daughter dell laptop hard drive failed. Dell sent a replacement hard drive but the technician failed to arrive. Twenty phone calls later still no tech. Step daughter asks me to fix it. By this time I had the baby, all my tools were still at work. Hysterical from lack of sleep, I took the laptop, replacement hard drive and baby to the apple reseller. The tech said “I thought you could do this yourself” baby started crying. He then spoke to his boss then fixed it for me and refused to charge me.

  13. The difference in service appears to be the user and their consultant. One had the CD, the other did not. One couldn’t prove ownership of the laptop, and the other could. Dell has similar support via their website.

    I blame the consultant in particular. I have not had such difficulties with Dell tech support.

  14. astonerii

    Yeah, apple = god, PC = devil. Gee, be creative or something. I run PCs, I build my own, I have problems, I replace failed parts. Apple is really really nice if you are computer illiterate and only want to have access to 3% of the software market. Yeah, go team.

  15. To those who know what they’re doing, no the expense is not worth it. To those who don’t, putting a premium on support can be the smartest thing they can do. Which, I would argue, both of those clients did since they went to a computer professional to fix the problem. Nothing like DIY-ers who don’t know what to do.

  16. fasteddie on November 25th, 2009 at 1:30 pm wrote

    Apple support is certainly better – no question. However, a macbook with a 13 inch screen is $999. I can find a comparable compaq ( 2GB ram, 250GB hd 14″ screen ) for $529. Is the service worth $471?

    No viruses, no crapware, installed software that actually has value, elegant design, elegant OS, generally above average service. As pointed out, the average nerd who would frequent a site like this, is able to assemble a computer, both hard and soft ware from scratch for low $$. Got news for you all, you are a tiny niche. The average person, like at least 90% of the computing public, cannot or does not want to do so, no matter how easy you seem to view things. BTW, the Macbook cost less than list on Black Friday and you should be able to order a refurbished model from Apple at any time for similar savings.

  17. So, both companies use the same hard drive? Why the huge price difference?

    I’d rather save $800+ and deal with an hour on the phone when something eventually does break than pay an upfront cost for shorter phone times in the future.

    OR… If you truly want superior customer service buy from Dell’s Small Business line. As with most companies, when you buy from the business side (not consumer) you get a better deal and better service.

  18. I noticed the writer is comparing an Apple customer who was the purchaser and had the product disk to a Dell customer who was a third party and did not have a disk. He had already run the disk test before he even called Apple. Sounds like apples and oranges to me, no pun intended. I’m typing this on my Dell XPS laptop. The fingerprint reader died after about 18mths. I had purchased discounted extended warranty. Used online support. Foreign tech guy took over computer, confirmed issue and sent tech to my office. (Apple does not offer on site support in my area.) Turned out to be more serious hardware issue. Dell sent prepaid box and I had it back in a few days. I’ve bought a number of Dells, and some have come new with defects (bad screen on laptop, dead cd drive on desktop). All replaced quickly with no hassle.

  19. John Smith

    If you pay an extra couple of hundred USD for the laptop from dell you can get next day on site support and the laptops will still cost half of what a mac costs. This article is bias since you don’t take that options into consideration. Also most hard drives last 3 to 5 years and by then you will most likely look to get an other laptop anyway.

  20. If anybody is stupid enough to believe this cock-and-bull story, they would be stupid enough to pay $2500 for a Linux machine with an Apple logo and think they are getting a great deal because they have a warranty on a $50 hard drive. I can have 2 Wintel rigs for that kind of money with RAID. Suck on that, MacBoys!!

    • If anyone is stupid enough to buy a Mercedes when they could get 4 souped up Civics for the same price, they are probably just lame hipsters with no jobs that hang out at Starbucks all day with the other sheeple. Irony.

  21. i also repair computers. i can tell immediately that the laptop must have been an inspiron or vostro. had it been a latitude you have been connected to a different person when you requested tech. support(the team you are transferred to has to do with the service tag you give) the optiplex.latitude support is outstanding with prompt knowledgeable help and quick parts delivery. the support for consumer models is handled by a different team your experience is typical.

    • Just like how AT&T sends iPhone customers to AT&T Business support and not the normal support queues.

      I worked for a contracted company, supporting Honeywell’s battalion of Dell notebooks. On the off chance we had to call into Dell support, usually for off-model problems (we worked with about 5 diff models, max), we got their corporate support. Fantastic people. If Apple Support does any poaching, that’s probably a gold-mine.

    • And you win the prize Tom. Yup this was an Inspiron. The tech support for “business” class customers is awesome. Kinda like flying coach vs first class. With Apple it’s always first class.

      Also I’ve noticed that like Apple, the Optiplex support doesn’t really care who is listed as the owner because that’s not really needed to replace the part.

      I love it when you tell them the diagnostic code that indicates the hard drive has failed and they ask if you ran a virus scan :-)

      Oh, and for the record, neither customer was charged for my time: though I had hoped the Dell assistance went as quick as the Apple one

  22. P.S. It’s worth noting that the $5,000 I’ve spent on Apple computers since 2005 is on 2 laptops, a PowerBook in ’05 and a Macbook in ’07.

    Both are still alive. Both are still kicking a$$ and taking names. Both will be around for years to come.

    I <3 Apple.

  23. That’s been my experience. In fact, Dell still owes me around $1,300… in 2005, 30 days after I bought my new Dell laptop, it crashed. Hard drive failure. After countless hours on the phone, Dell Support said that because it was within 30 days they’d issue me a full refund if I mailed them my laptop. Did just that. Once Dell received it, they said they’d only let me do an exchange, not get the refund they promised. I said screw you for the bait + switch, send me back my computer and I’ll replace the hard drive myself. They said they had already refurbished it and sold it to someone else. @#$&$!

    What’d I do? Based on my customer service experience, I refused to take a replacement, and they refused to issue the refund check they promised me.

    Dell got to keep my $1,300, but lost my business forever.

    Apple gets my business for the next XX years, however many thousands of dollars that’ll add up to. ($5k and running since 2005)… and I’m an anti-Dell evangelist, and have talked many a friend out of buying a Dell.

    I lose $1,300. Dell loses xx,000. Eat it, Dell.

  24. “you get what you pay for”–Right, Mac customers pay more for the brand name, nothing more. Not just the hard drive, but nvidia graphic cards and similar brand ram is used in macs. It always amuses me that macs “just work”, of course they do. Any company that only supports one monitor, one motherboard, one graphic card etc can claim they “just work”. They only have provide support/drivers(kexts) for one model of each component.

    I would rather have the choice of which components go in my pc. These days, there is no excuse to not know how to replace something like a hard drive or ram. Google is the best do it yourself remail manual. Most people who have owned a few computers over the years know that when you buy a store warranty, nine times out of ten you don’t use it. The warranty usually runs out and then the pc begins having problems. You already have a one year warranty with any purchase and you can bet that for most people if you put that three or four hundred aside it can be spent later on repairs you can do yourself if need be.

    • “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.”

      To get online chat support, I you have to enter the S/N. AFAIK

  25. You mentioned that the Dell pc was one of the cheaper, under $1000 pcs, and that macbook has to be worth more than twice that (here in Argentina it’s exactly 4 times more expensive than in US), so the service is what I would expect.

    The mac owner should be glad she’s not a smoker, or else that whole repair process would have taken 2 minutes, and she would have gotten her laptop back with a faulty disk and no warranty.

  26. your first client was smart to buy a pc but dumb to not get a warranty, especially if they don’t know how to repair it them self. Obviously, you can’t repair a mac yourself so you are forced to buy the warranty.

  27. Granted this was with Dell Latin America and not Dell US, but I’ve actually had great support from Dell. I have an Inspiron 1420 that’s been generally working well, but has had a few issues. When my power supply died, a new one arrived 24 hours later. When my computer was overheating, a support tech came to my house two days later and replaced the heatsink. When it kept overheating, another support tech came two days after that and replaced my entire motherboard. Most calls were quick and there were barely any hassles.

    One of the reasons I buy Dell is because it has great support. I’m from Colombia and Apple computers aren’t directly distributed by Apple, so support tends to be through awful third parties. Dell has the best support of any manufacturer in my country. After seeing friends and family suffer through HP and Vaio support, I wouldn’t buy any other brand.

  28. fasteddie

    Apple support is certainly better – no question. However, a macbook with a 13 inch screen is $999. I can find a comparable compaq ( 2GB ram, 250GB hd 14″ screen ) for $529. Is the service worth $471?