The savings on a great price can be quickly lost if your vendor doesn't offer ways to reduce your after-sale maintenance costs, warns Margevicius. Gartner figures the cost of maintaining a Windows desktop at around $10,000 per year-mostly soft dollars paid in labor and lost productivity. Gartner counsels corporate clients to cut time lost to PC support by buying systems from long-standing vendors who promise component compatibility for the life of that model. Vendor software should let you inventory, troubleshoot and update software and drivers remotely over a LAN or the Internet. (The new technology initiatives help.)
Corporate purchasing managers are counseled to buy the most advanced PCs they can afford. But cash-strapped entrepreneurs can find the same innovations in low-end PCs. "The low end has a lot of computing power now," says Margevicius. "Even the cheapest PCs these days are powerful enough for 75 to 80 percent of office productivity workers."
Close-out models haven't always been a bargain, since they were soon outrun by the next generation of ever-more-demanding desktop software. But the software release cycles have slowed down, while hardware performance continues to race ahead, says Margevicius. Also, with distributed processing over LANs and the Internet taking hold, not everyone needs all their software and processing power in the PC. Reversing a trend, the useful life of today's average system is now 3½ to 4 years.
But always demand a three-year manufacturer's warranty with next-business-day on-site repair, counsels Margevicius. Longer warranties are too expensive; and, while still usable, the average PC has no resale value after 2½ years.
So what do you do when an out-of-warranty PC breaks? Fix It? No way. Says Margevicius. His painful advice: Get rid of it the cheapest way you can and buy a new one. Tough love, but with all the new models coming out, there's no better of year to do it.