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Warranty Length and Coverage Policies
The purpose of a warranty is to protect your PC purchase against defects in manufacture or assembly. It is intended to give you peace of mind during the initial period of time that you have your system, so you can feel that you are protected against hardware failures or similar problems. There are commonly-found standards in how warranties are provided for most PCs, but companies can vary significantly in terms of how they provide warranty coverage.
An important first point about PC warranties is that I am talking here about the warranty provided by the maker of the PC system on the PC itself. As I explained elsewhere, PCs are not monolithic entities: they are made from components that are in many cases industry standard, and may come with their own warranties. However, when you buy a PC, your warranty is not generally from the maker of the components but rather the company that made the PC (see this discussion of OEM and retail components). If a PC maker tries to say that you don't need a warranty because the components have warranties, then they are just rationalizing having no warranty on their systems. This is probably a company you want to avoid, unless you are going the home-building route, getting a "barebones" system, or warranty coverage is not important to you for other, similar reasons.
One-year warranties are common with PCs, but terms of up to three years are also seen fairly often. The importance of warranty length is a matter of some debate (which is why extended warranties are so controversial.) One line of reasoning says that a longer warranty means the company feels more strongly about its products and they are therefore likely to be of higher quality. However, warranty length is often used as a marketing and sales tool, so this isn't strictly accurate.
Of course a longer warranty is better, but it is also true that most problems with electronics occur in the first few weeks that they are used. As such, the first 90 days of the warranty are the most important. While a three-year warranty will provide more security than a one-year, you won't use the extra two years nearly as much as you might think. Certainly, far more than one-third of the problems encountered during a three-year warranty occur in the first year of those three.
Tip: Some companies will let
you pay a small amount extra for a longer warranty period, but perhaps only if you ask;
technically this is an extended warranty; see the discussion of
extended warranties for more.
While most people know to ask about warranty length, many don't realize that the term of the warranty is only one small piece of the puzzle. You also need to find out what the policies of the company are in detail. What is covered and what is not? Are parts and labor covered, or only parts? Labor costs can quickly overwhelm part costs, so watch out. Also find out the details of how the company performs warranty service, as discussed in this section.
You need to specifically watch out for companies that have unreasonable restrictions on what they will "allow" you to do to the PC without voiding the warranty. I can certainly accept that if I abuse the PC then my warranty should be void, but there are some companies that will use almost any excuse to discontinue warranty coverage (which is a pure cost deducted from the bottom line of the manufacturer). Some won't let you open the box to install peripherals, and apparently some won't even let you upgrade the operating system! This is especially problematic with all-in-one PCs sold as "consumer electronics devices". Watch for "warranty void if removed" stickers around the perimeter of the case, and read the warranty policy very carefully. Vote with your feet if you don't like what you see.
Warning: Rarely, you may
encounter a company that tries to sell you a PC with a "prorated" warranty, say
for one year. This means that your warranty coverage slowly decreases over time. If your
PC dies after nine months, the company will only pay 25% of the cost, while you pay 75%.
Be wary, and shop elsewhere unless there are strong advantages to compensate for this
Next: Warranty Service