This February marked my 10th year in the IT industry, not counting years of messing around and writing programs in BASIC on a Tandy 2000. Over those years, I've seen and heard a lot of ways that people get suckered into buying extra services and software that they don't need, by department stores and Mom-and-Pop PC repair shops alike.
If you're planning on buying a new computer, or taking yours in for service anytime soon, watch out for these 4 ways you could be throwing away extra money.
1. "System Setup" and "Optimization Services"
When you buy a computer from most of the big-box electronics and office supply stores, one of the first things they'll ask you is, "would you like us to set it up for you?" This service usually includes:
- Taking the computer out of the box
- Turning the computer on and booting it once or twice
- Performing Windows Updates
- Removing trial software that the manufacturer put on there
- Desktop tweaks
Sure, it sounds convenient, and considerate, but what you won't know is that this service is completely useless, to the tune of $30-50. If you're a reasonably intelligent person (and since you read this blog, I know you are), then you can uninstall trial software yourself, and you can also update Windows too, using the Windows Update application.
Don't fall for any claims of "speeding up your computer by 200%", or anything of the like. They're simply not true - in fact, according to The Consumerist, optimization services made the computer perform worse than non-optimized computers.
The salesperson working with you is going to be a little pushy about the services - after all, most of the big-box stores don't make money off of the computer itself, but the services are nearly 100% profit. Stand your ground, and take your business elsewhere if you have to - they don't want you to leave.
2. Anti-Virus Subscription Plans
Usually part of the "optimization services", Anti-Virus subscription plans promise free virus definition downloads for the Anti-Virus program on your laptop (which likely was already installed as trialware when you bought the laptop).
What's so bad about this? Well, consider that there are plenty of free antivirus programs out there which automatically update themselves at least once a week. The charge for this service seems to run anywhere between $30-70, which is a major rip-off, especially considering that most times this is only for a 6-month subscription; that means you could be shelling out tons of money per year for protection that you could be getting for free, which is just as good as the paid kind.
Also, this is usually NOT part of optimization/setup services - it's a completely seperate, extra charge.
3. "Computer Tune-Up"
Anytime I see this, I want to vomit. It goes along with the silly notion that your computer can be "optimized" to run "200% faster"... if your computer could run that speed, it would run it out of the box.
"Tune-ups" are services that include the following:
- Clearing temporary files
- "Optimizing hard-drive space" (AKA, defragmenting the hard drive)
- Performing Windows Updates
- Creating User Accounts
- Speed up startup and shutdown
To be quite frank, these services are a $50-100 waste of time and money. Any person is capable of cleaning temporary files, defragmenting their hard drive, and performing Windows Updates. Speeding up startup and shutdown is a dubious claim at best - it's possible they could make some tweaks that might help, but it's certainly not worth the money you'd shell out for it.
4. Not Knowing What You Need in a New PC
Arguably, the worst thing you can do when shopping for a new computer, is not knowing what you're going to use it for. Is this for business/work purposes, or for home use? If it's for home use, are you playing SkyRim on it, or are you just browsing the web and using Word?
"Okay, well, that's just being uninformed, it's not really a rip-off."
Well, aren't we a smartypants know-it-all...
Let's say you're in (big-box electronics store), looking for a new computer. Here's the conversation you have with the salesperson that accosts you:
Salesperson: What are you looking for today?
Customer: I'm looking for a new computer, but I don't know which to choose. I have one that's about 5 or 6 years old now...
Now, the next question should be, "well, what are you going to use it for?" Instead, the salesperson will lead you over to the latest and greatest.
Salesperson: This is a quad-core i7 laptop with 8GB of RAM, and a 1TB hard drive, with a 17" UXGA+ screen, and a webcam, a bottle opener, and a 3-head electric razor.
Customer: Do I... need all that?
Salesperson: Wellllll, it's pretty fast, and it's top-of-the-line, so go with this one.
Note that the salesperson has yet to ask, "What are you using this laptop for?" The thing is, these salespeople are in it for the sales - even if they aren't on commission. That said, being in sales doesn't mean they are knowledgable about computers or technology... but they will do their best to fake it, and make you walk out the door with the most laptop you can buy, even if it's not necessary for you.
The general rule is, if the laptop's primary use is for web browsing and Word documents, you don't need the high-end laptop with the blazing fast processor, packed with RAM (memory) with the biggest hard drive imaginable.
This is also the point where they'll really push the services. Remember, the stores make very little profit off of the computer hardware itself - the services are where the big money is made, and it's what the salesperson will be the most pushy about. Stand your ground!
The Bottom Line
Google is your friend - always go into things like laptop purchases and services with as much information as possible. Know for certain what you're going to expect to do on your new laptop, otherwise you're an easy mark for an upsell.
But, it's your money, spend it as you see fit - just do it on your terms, not the big-box store's terms.
Good luck out there!
Always feel free to e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org if you have a question you'd like to have answered in this blog, or if you ever need IT consultation.