What to Look For in a New Desktop

Warranties: Check Out the Differences

Warranties are complicated beasts, and it's not ideal to recommend spending several hundred dollars extra for "24-hour business day" service when that can actually be interpreted in different ways by different companies.

For on-site repair, you'll typically see a service technician wearing a company tag just for that visit; they work for firms that contract out the local work. If you have a problem that's beyond their ability to repair on the spot, they may lack spare parts, and you may still be out of commission for a day or two or over a weekend.

Visit the official support forums on a manufacturer's site--Apple and Dell seem to delete few, if any, of the complaints that aren't abusive or obscene. (If they're removing the worst stuff, I'd be scared to see it.) Find out what each warranty option means in practice, and ask around in your area to see whether the local service techs who might appear for any maker's model you buy are up to the task.

Our verdict: You almost certainly will want to spend the few hundred dollars to get improved warranty over the included offer, but research to find out what level is worthwhile.

Preinstalled Programs: Remove the Bloatware

Every computer maker should offer the option to provide a computer with no comarketed, preinstalled software packages that generally serve more to slow down your new system's performance than to enhance your computing experience. Yes, antivirus and firewall software trials can make sure you're safe out of the box, but this is also a lock-in strategy with marketing dollars involved, not something that has your interests directly at heart.

It's surprising that PC makers haven't embraced such an option, despite the potential revenue loss from business partners supplying the trial apps. After all, Sony recently endured a public embarrassment when it briefly attempted to charge for removing all the trial software and Sony applications not needed for a system's operation on one of its ultramobile PCs. (The Sony people quickly changed their minds, and you can now get the "Fresh Start" option--shades of 1984 doublespeak--on applicable laptops at no cost.)

None of the major makers, including Sony, offer this option for desktops except Apple, which doesn't install trial software from other firms, and has just one inducement for a service--its .Mac subscription hosting option--during the setup process.

Our verdict: Manufacturers should offer this software-free option, and removing bloatware should be one of your first tasks after buying a computer.

Glenn Fleishman writes the blog Glenn Fleishman on Hardware on PCWorld.com, and edits his own site, Wi-Fi Networking News.

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