What's a good warranty?
These days, the average hardware warranty--at least for desktop and notebook PCs--is one year, and it includes coverage for parts and labor. Only a year or two ago, three-year warranties were standard, but such coverage was quickly slashed when the economy started to nose-dive, taking PC makers' fortunes with it. Nowadays, most companies include, or should include, onsite service for at least a full year--and we think that's somewhat stingy, depending on the life of a product.
A one-year warranty isn't abysmal if it's partnered with toll-free tech support or onsite service throughout, but you can reasonably expect a computer to last you at least three years, and warranties should do the same. We regularly ding Apple for its warranty coverage; it offers a standard one-year warranty but a penny-pinching 90 days of free technical support. Apple skimps on software support, too, and won't even cover its own software.
Obviously, an ideal warranty is an unlimited one, lasting for the life of the PC or the notebook and including 24/7 phone support. But such a warranty is rarer than a white buffalo. The best policies we've found seem to come from Dell, which, for example, offers a three-year parts-and-labor warranty on the Latitude D400 series, including lifetime 24/7 phone support, and next-business-day onsite service. That's as good a package as you're likely to find anywhere.
At the very least, especially if you're an inexperienced user, you should look for a company that offers a three-year warranty, but make sure to check the fine print: Polywell, for example, offers an excellent warranty on PCs such as the Poly 880NF3-3200--three years of coverage for parts and five years for labor--but the company charges quite a bit extra for onsite service. IBM backs notebooks such as the IBM ThinkPad T40 with a generous three-year warranty, but the battery is covered for just one year.
We prefer onsite, of course, but if we have to settle for return-to-depot service, we expect the company to pay for shipping (hopefully, by providing shipping labels in advance). In addition, a superior warranty would include free international service, and the company would ship you a replacement unit while yours is being repaired.
If you're planning to pay a lot for a luxury gaming PC, expect--nay, demand--a generous warranty. For example, Alienware backs its Area-51 PC and its Area-51m notebook with short, one-year warranties, even though both machines cost roughly $3,000. (You can always shell out more for various extended warranties, of course; see more on this on the next page.) By comparison, the nearly $5,000 Falcon Northwest Mach V includes three years of parts-and-labor coverage, toll-free support, and for the first year of the warranty, the company will pay for overnight service to and from a repair facility.