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- Do Your Homework
- Search the 'Net
- Make a List
- Scout Out Suppliers
- Secure a Direct Connection
- Take Notes
- Don't Sell Yourself Short
- Check the Little Things
- Don't Settle
- Give the Docs a Checkup
- Never on a Friday
- Get Out Your Finetooth

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Buying Tips

Do Your Homework

Before you pick up the phone or hit the mall, do some research. There are plenty of places to go for info. WINDOWS Magazine is the perfect place to start. Each month, you'll find reviews of the latest product introductions, along with features on key product categories and technologies. Then there's our monthly Recommended List, which gives you a complete and current listing of the products we recommend in all the major categories, including systems, hardware and software. Our Web site is a great resource for browsing back issues and searching for specific product or vendor names.

Search the 'Net

Check out vendor home pages on the Web to get the latest product info. Many vendors include detailed product specifications and even photos. While you're online, spin past the vendor support sites to see what kinds of questions and problems current users may be having. The Yahoo site is a good place to start your search. Also check what users are saying about the product on the Usenet news groups by searching them with DejaNews. And don't forget good old word of mouth--ask friends, colleagues and contacts at the local user group for their recommendations.

Make a List

Make a list before you go shopping so you wind up with what you really want. It's easy to be overwhelmed with the spec sheet data, so detail everything you need and bring a checklist of questions. Be open to what a salesperson suggests, but don't compromise on important points. Come prepared with magazine system reviews and make sure the product you're considering comes with the same specs as those in the reviews.

Scout Out Suppliers

Figure out where to shop based on your computing experience, budget and needs. There are several routes to consider:
  • Dealers or value-added resellers offer the highest level of service, usually at higher prices. If you want a local source that can provide a lot of handholding, it may be worth the extra cost.
  • Retail computer chains offer competitive pricing and a certain amount of security with their generous return policies, but you may find less technical know-how and individual attention.
  • Direct marketers-also known as mail order-may be the least expensive route, and many top-name vendors use this marketing approach. But be prepared to spend time on the phone if you need after-sale service or other support.
  • Mass-market chains that carry computers as an ancillary business are a hit-or-miss proposition. In some cases, the product mix is geared more toward the low end or consumer applications, as opposed to more sophisticated business needs. Keep in mind that these are "general stores," so the salespeople may not be computer specialists.

Secure a Direct Connection

There are many good direct vendors, and millions of satisfied customers. Here are some steps to follow to ensure you're one of them.
  • Make sure you're dealing with a reputable vendor. To find reliable suppliers, get references from your friends and colleagues. Bulletin board services and local user groups are likely to be a font of information.
  • Get a detailed quote in writing, and place your order by fax in order to maintain a written record.
  • Use a credit card, so you have some control over disputed charges. Try to deal with vendors who charge your card account on shipment date, not on the date of the order.
  • Ask about restocking fees, shipping charges, state taxes and other "hidden" costs.
  • When you get a quote, make a counter-offer; many direct vendors will negotiate to get your business.
  • Above all, understand the return policies and service warranties-and get them in writing.

Take Notes

Comparison shop carefully and keep notes on competing vendors, their products, pricing, warranty and service policies to help you sort through the possibilities. Look closely at the pricing of any bundles (some systems don't include a monitor or modem, for instance) to be sure you're comparing apples and apples.

Don't Sell Yourself Short

Sure, we're all on a budget, but don't be penny wise, pound foolish. Vendors may offer deep discounts on last year's technology, but if you settle on a product that just barely fills your current needs, odds are you'll outgrow it all too soon. Buy the most system or the latest technology you can comfortably afford. Spend a little more now and you'll be rewarded with a longer useful life for your system--and a better return on your investment. If possible, choose a system that has some upside potential so you can upgrade it rather than trade it in when the time comes to move up in the world.

Check the Little Things

"Little" things like the warranty and return policy contribute to the value of a product, so factor them into the purchase decision. Vendors are becoming more competitive by offering multiyear warranties and same-day exchanges or on-site service. Even the fastest computer is not productive if it's inactive, so make sure you minimize the turnaround time for repairs.

Don't Settle

Some vendors try to economize by cutting corners; for instance, systems vendors may bundle inexpensive mice and keyboards with their systems. A powerful system that's difficult or uncomfortable to use is no bargain at any price, so don't hesitate to order the component you'd prefer. If you want to upgrade beyond the basic package, ask the vendor to give you a credit for the value of the standard equipment.

Give the Docs a Checkup

The quality of a user manual says a lot about a product and its vendor, so try to check this out in advance. Fly-by-night vendors provide minimal documentation, often consisting of photocopied pages and booklets for each component (I/O card, hard disk, motherboard and so on). A single well-illustrated manual indicates a well-planned design and will save you lots of time troubleshooting.

Never on a Friday

Pick up your purchase or try to have it delivered early in the week. If you don't try your system till the weekend, you may have to wait till Monday if you have a cable missing, a disk drive that won't boot or some other insurmountable problem.

Get Out Your Finetooth Comb

When your new system, peripheral or software arrives, do a thorough inventory of every piece, cable, manual and diskette. Don't throw away the packaging; you may need it for any service return. And if you do have to return something, send only the component that needs work-the CPU, monitor or whatever. Don't send cables or any extras along for the ride. And before doing anything, check with the vendor to see if you need a return authorization.

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Copyright © 1997 CMP Media Inc.