Warranties and Service Plans

Is an extended warranty on a computer really worth the extra money? The answer, as usual, is “It depends.”

Why Should You Pay Attention to Warranties?

When you’re buying a computer, a server or another piece of hardware, the manufacturer may try to cut costs by offering a substandard warranty. On home computers and consumer­-grade equipment, a one-year warranty is standard, but you should expect a three-­year warranty on most business­-grade equipment (e.g., servers and workstations). Networking equipment such as routers and switches will often have a 5 year warranty. Furthermore, a good service plan or warranty on your mission-­critical equipment can allow you to recover quickly and gracefully from a hardware failure, rather than waiting for days and weeks for a crucial replacement part.

What’s the Difference Between an Extended Warranty and a Service Plan?

  • An extended warranty simply extends the term of the standard manufacturer’s warranty. In other words, if the original warranty lasts a year, an extended plan might insure your computer during years two and three. Most, but not all, systems administrators we’ve talked to avoid extended warranties on commodity items such as desktop computers, especially when they’re buying business-class computers, which often have a three-­year warranty. However, some sysadmins opt to purchase an extended warranty for mission-critical equipment such as servers.
  • A service plan generally offers you a higher quality of support and service than you’d normally receive. For example, most manufacturers’ warranties don’t cover accidental damage to a computer. However, for an additional fee you can purchase accidental damage protection. Again, many systems administrators avoid this type of enhanced service plan unless the item is mission-critical. For example, you might want 24-­hour parts replacement or top­-tier phone support on your Web server or your Windows domain controller.

Questions to Consider When Evaluating Warranties

  • If you’re buying a lot of computers from the same vendor, can you get an extended warranty or an upgraded service plan thrown in for free?
  • Does your credit card offer an extended warranty? Some cards will extend the manufacturer’s warranty automatically.
  • Is the money better spent elsewhere? Extended warranties typically cost between 10 and 30 percent of the retail price of the item. With desktop PCs, consider putting this money into a repair and replacement fund that you can use when and if your machines break down.
  • How much time do you have to troubleshoot and support your computers? If you don’t have a full­-time systems administrator and you’re tired of fixing your own PCs, a service plan might offer you on­-site repair or premier phone support. If you have more money than time, it might be worth it, but do some Web searches to get a sense of the strengths and weaknesses of the plans you’re looking at.
  • How much expertise do you have? Again, if you don’t have much experience with technology, it might be worth it to pay for top­-tier phone support or on­-site support. However, trial and error is often the best way to learn, so think twice about letting someone else do all your troubleshooting.

Stories from the Field

Typically for the library, you know, the sort of standard warranty that comes with the computers…varies, depending upon the vendor. Most of the time, we don’t do extended warranties. We’ve had pretty good luck with the machines. Part of that is, you know, we’re able to actually replace parts that go bad. If a hard drive goes bad, we’ll just [replace it] and, you know, pay the cost of doing that…individual pieces. Probably the biggest replacement that needed to happen was [after] a lightning strike a few years ago. And essentially, the insurance took care of replacing all of those. So, you know, on a normal basis, no, we typically don’t go with the extended warranties or extended, extended warranties from the vendors.

Brian Heils
Dubuque County Library, IA

We do. Some small stuff we can and do fix here, but the majority of the stuff, Dell, I know, is the only one I’ve had to actually use, they do next-day service, and they’re real good about getting out here and getting us going again for big stuff that we don’t want to tackle. Replacing motherboards and that sort of thing….Until they become OPACs, generally, our computers are all under warranty while they’re in general use. Once we move them down to the OPACs, that usually means they’re out of warranty, so if an OPAC dies, I just grab it. If it can be fixed easily, great; if not, then we switch out another one of the older computers and set it up.

Robin Hastings
Missouri River Regional Library, MO

On warranties, I like the PC to have at least a three- to four-year warranty. Sometimes, depending on the season or the mood of the computer company, getting that extra fourth year can be really expensive. So I don’t always get that. But most of the business machines I buy come standard with a three-year warranty. And sometimes you can save a little bit of money if you shave off things like on-site repair, because a lot of times, they’ll want to sell you the warranty, and it’s an expensive one because they’ll send someone on-site to replace that power supply. And I don’t need them to send someone on-site. I can do that myself. Or a lot of times they have weird gold tech support or they have silver and platinum tech support with different prices, or they like to do things, like for an extra 50 bucks a year, you can keep your hard drive if it fails and we’ll send you a replacement, and then you can swap them out and mail them back. They have little ways you can shave more money off the contracts. But standard, I like three to four years with machines. Printers, I like to have a good five-year warranty; and you can push a printer a lot longer than a PC. And then [with] notebooks, I’ll go with three to four years as well.

Matt Beckstrom
Lewis & Clark Public Library, UT

We do that. We purchase the warranties. That has been a big help to us to have those warranties in place. We don't feel the stress financially if we know we've got warranties on them.

LeeAnn Jesse
Adair County Public Library, KY

Further Resources

For additional articles about computer warranties, check out our Further Resources section.