Advice on buying a new computer system?
February 1, 2004 2:00 PM   Subscribe

My computer guy, who has rebuilt and destroyed my system for the past year, has given up. He's handed me a $500 refund check, and this week I've got to get a new system. I'm stuck between a HP, Compaq, and an Emachine, all at about $600 with exact same features. Question 1 is, which brand is better in the long run? [Question 2 inside]

Question 2 is this: He says my old hard drive, which worked fine until he put it in a new system yesterday, is f***ed, and that he's not sure he'll be able to get any data off of it (it was only 6 mos. old). Despite his claim of lifetime warantee and 'guaranteed data,' he said I could pay a thousand bucks if I wanted to and send it off to some professional extraction place. What I have on there is definately worth that much, but I think he's juat trying to scare me. How do I deal with this guy?
posted by moonbird to Computers & Internet (27 answers total)
 
Define 'computer guy'. Is this the officially appointed computer technician for your employer, or just a local person at a nearby shop whom you go to for computer repairs?

It's very, VERY difficult for hard drives to be truly f***ed beyond repair to the point that data recovery is impossible, and in most cases it's even something so simple as an overwritten MBR (master boot record) or screwy partition tables.

I guess what it boils down to is, is this 'computer guy' someone who's only used Windows and went to a 2-year tech school for his MCSE, or does he actually know what he's doing? (Note, I'm not saying that *all* Windows-only techies are incompetent, just that most people who fulfill the above stereotype are generally not worth the money you pay 'em for anything more involved than installing Win2K)

However, it's possible that if something went wrong electrically and the drive was fried or the platters badly scratched by being dropped...or if some other component is broken...then it *would* indeed require a $1000 session to repair it. But the chances of that are fairly slim, especially if it was "f***ed" simply by being thrown into a new computer.

And to answer your first question, from my personal experience and 2nd-hand opinion--which isn't *superb* as I haven't had the benefit of working in a repair shop for, like, 10 years--I'd say to go with the HP or Compaq, and avoid the eMachine (there've been a few other AxMe threads about eMachines, I think...).
posted by cyrusdogstar at 2:27 PM on February 1, 2004


moonbird: Check out this Ask MeFi thread about online bargain sites, and specifically Ben's Bargains. They frequently list offers from Dell Business with good quality machines for surprisingly low prices. They may not be the fasted or most feature-loaded machines in the world, but they're solid.
posted by Danelope at 2:38 PM on February 1, 2004


I'd get a dell as well, or a system with the least-proprietary innards possible so that in the future you're not scraping for obscure drivers or run into compatibility problems.
posted by mecran01 at 2:58 PM on February 1, 2004


Another thing to consider is building your own. You won't save money over buying a Dell, but you'll learn a hell of a lot.
posted by kindall at 3:06 PM on February 1, 2004


Computer guy: (n) Fellow with storefront and unknown educational background who attempted to repair previous PC, which failed. Guy offers to build new system for $550 and lifetime warranty, moonbird accepts. Moonbird visits shop every three months after major hardware crashes.

Moonbird: (n) Not very tech savvy on the hardware end, but knows how to take care of a computer. Tired of continuous snowjob and bad attitude from Computer Guy.

Thanks all.
posted by moonbird at 3:34 PM on February 1, 2004


Before sending the HD away try SpinRite. Personally I have not used it, but the description of what it does sounds OK. Browse Steve Gibson's web site for more info.
posted by MzB at 3:48 PM on February 1, 2004


moonbird: That's what I figured, based on what you'd been saying :/ If I were you I would see if there are any other small (or large) computer shops nearby and see if any of them would be willing to try recovering the hard drive; without more detail (and I don't blame you for not having it, I'd have to talk to the computer guy for that) it's hard to tell whether the drive *is* totally hosed or if the guy is talking out of his arse. But definitely try to get a second opinion, or a third, even.

And yes...if you'd consider a Dell, they are good machines and the support is legendary (although I hear it's worse than it was, it's still considered to be among the best out there) and their prices are fair as well.

Building your own is fun--but it's only worth your time to learn how if you find a joy in understanding how these things work.
posted by cyrusdogstar at 4:01 PM on February 1, 2004


Make sure you check around to some other local computer stores to see if they can build you one for less than $600, too. You'll get standard hardware and if it breaks, you can drive directly to the store.
posted by cmonkey at 4:24 PM on February 1, 2004


Get a quote from someone on the hard drive recovery. I had one done in a local computer repair shop for $150 last year, including the cost of the DVDs full of my data that they gave me. My drive was OK, it just needed to be extracted from a broken laptop, but $1000 for yours sounds steep to me.
posted by fuzz at 4:50 PM on February 1, 2004


For $600 you can get a local computer store to build you a better computer than either HP, Compaq or eMachines, and you would be supporting small business. Seriously consider it, I urge you.
posted by Hildago at 5:02 PM on February 1, 2004


Hildago: believe me, I totally want to, but with this experience, I'm a bit wary of it. But, you've given me fuel for thought, I'll shop around and see who else is out there and what I can get for 600-650 clams.
posted by moonbird at 5:10 PM on February 1, 2004


...sadly, Dell is way past my price range, even the refurbished. But you've all given great recommendations. Thanks!
posted by moonbird at 5:34 PM on February 1, 2004


Dell is way past my price range, even the refurbished

Huh? Going to the Dell Outlet, it looks like $500 will get you any of several P4/2400's with 256M RAM and a 40 or 80 gig hard drive. $600 doesn't seem to get you much more, and $750 will get you a P4/2800, or various optical drive, graphics, or sound upgrades.

I'd post a link, but suspect it won't work. Go to dell.com, select home-and-home-office, go down to shopping alternatives where there's a link to the outlet.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:01 PM on February 1, 2004


Double huh? I just bought a refurb Dell P4 2.53GHz 2400 for $250 shipped (thanks to a $75 off Fatwallet coupon that unfortunately is no longer valid).
posted by MegoSteve at 7:01 PM on February 1, 2004


K, maybe I wasn't looking in the right place. I'll keep poking.
posted by moonbird at 8:11 PM on February 1, 2004


As others have said, try taking it to a local PC shop to see if they can get your drive to work. If the HD truly is physically toast, then, yes, you can pay a data recovery place like Ontrack to actually take the drive apart in a clean room and get your stuff off of it. The thousand dollar rate is really what these guys charge--data recovery is serious business.

Also, HP and Compaq are the same company; you may get better service with a "real" HP when they finally phase out the Compaq brand.
posted by zsazsa at 8:41 PM on February 1, 2004


I totally overlooked Ebay. Cheap Dells galore. Yay!

About the HD, though; he guaranteed all his parts, so I'm not sure that he can legally say that I'll have to pay to retrieve my data. Advice?
posted by moonbird at 10:19 PM on February 1, 2004


I suggest you not get a compaq. The case on the last one I dealth with (5-6 years old? Maybe more) was closed with rivets.
posted by Yelling At Nothing at 11:50 PM on February 1, 2004


Moonbird, there is a distribution of Linux called Knoppix that I have used to extract data from a hard drive that will no longer boot. You might want to look for local techs with more skill. There's a wide variance in quality with storefront operations.

I referred someone to these guys a couple years ago, and she was able to get her photos off a dead drive. The tips look pretty useful.

Are you keeping the hard drive and other components? The RAM could go into a refurb. pc to save a few $. Good luck.
posted by theora55 at 6:30 AM on February 2, 2004


I'd get a dell as well, or a system with the least-proprietary innards possible...

If you want a system with the least-proprietary innards possible, you don't want a dell. I'm having the damndest time upgrading friends' machines because of dell's proprietary bullshit.
posted by jpoulos at 6:35 AM on February 2, 2004


Also, HP and Compaq are the same company; you may get better service with a "real" HP when they finally phase out the Compaq brand.

And now so is eMachines.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:29 AM on February 2, 2004


Err, eMachines and Gateway. Disregard.
posted by IshmaelGraves at 9:30 AM on February 2, 2004


I have a Dell. The support sucks nowadays. Also I believe they have proprietary power supply units (though I can't confirm mine does ... as I've only ever seen one: the one in my Dell.)
posted by Blue Stone at 11:11 AM on February 2, 2004


if you want to check and see if the harddrive is fubar before going all out, get a new drive and install it and put a basic os on it. plug in the old drive as a slave and see if you can access it. Make sure you use new, unbent drive cables and that your power cables are in good health, and that you have the drive jumpers set correctly (use cable select as a default). Or, if you do buy a new computer, do this anyway and see if you can get at your data before you head to a drive recovery shop.
posted by Hackworth at 11:51 AM on February 2, 2004


Beware of HP -- they don't include a system restore CD-ROM, so if you need to rebuild your system, you're hosed. I don't know if the same is true about Compaq or not. This is an absolute deal-breaker for me.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:46 PM on February 2, 2004


Beware of HP -- they don't include a system restore CD-ROM, so if you need to rebuild your system, you might be hosed. I don't know if the same is true about Compaq or not. This is an absolute deal-breaker for me.
posted by pmurray63 at 11:46 PM on February 2, 2004


Resolution: For the $500 refund, I scored a great Dell 4600c off of eBay. I would've liked to have gone for a local build, but prices for what I need just didn't beat the Dell, which is brand new, not refubed, and has the warranty. I'm tracking it on UPS now, and can't wait. Your suggestions steered me in the right direction, I do declare!

Thanks All!
posted by moonbird at 4:04 PM on February 5, 2004


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