What do you do when you’re right in the middle of an important project and your hardware suddenly quits?
If you work for a big company or a school with thousands of Macs, the answer is easy: You call Microcomputer Support (or whatever that department is called at your site), and get help. Help is usually quick and efficient and comes with loaner equipment to tide you over. If you’re on a network, as is increasingly common, the bulk of your working data probably resides on a server and is backed up daily or even more frequently, says the Storage Network Industry Foundation’s Data Management Forum. Even if your site doesn’t consolidate data on a server, it may provide remote automated backups. The odds are that you’re covered for both hardware and data.
Personal Mac users are rarely so lucky. Far too few of us back up monthly, much less daily. Say the word loaner to your dealer, and you may be asked to provide a cash loan. But the situation, at least as far as your hardware goes, isn’t completely grim. You’ve got some options, and I’m going to tell you about all of them. (As for the safety of your data, that’s entirely up to you. Back it up faithfully.)
The first place most people turn when their Macintosh fails is their dealer. Go to the Apple website, and that’s the advice you’ll get.
Turning to a dealer first may be the wrong thing to do, unless the item is under warranty or the equipment is covered by AppleCare (Apple’s pricey extended warranty). Instead, you should start by asking yourself whether it wouldn’t be more cost-effective just to replace the dead equipment. Remember to factor into the equation that new equipment is generally more powerful (making you more productive), is less expensive, and avoids costly downtime. Prices of computer equipment always fall over time, so last year’s $500 SuperWidget might cost $250 to insure and/or repair whereas a much better SuperWidget Plus costs only $300 today.
There’s another reason you should consider replacement. Repairs take time, often measured in weeks. You usually don’t have that sort of schedule. New equipment can be acquired much more quickly, generally by tomorrow morning.
If you do decide to have someone make the repair, you have two choices: an Apple dealer or an independent repair shop. Apple dealers are a mixed lot. The best are wonderful, but great dealerships are rare. Three that deserve special note are New York City’s J&R ComputerWorld, the Milwaukee area’s North Shore Computers, and the San Francisco area’s ComputerWare chain.
You can go to the dealer where you bought the equipment or to any dealer. As long as your Apple equipment has a serial number and is less than a year old (or is AppleCare-covered) and is not obviously abused, the dealer should provide warranty service. The you-didn’t-buy-it-here excuse holds no water.
If you bought your Mac through mail order, then you bought it from a dealer Apple says wasn’t authorized to sell it. As long as the Mac has a serial number and you have a valid receipt, however, that doesn’t matter in terms of warranty repair. Unfortunately, many mail-order resellers remove the serial number, in which case you’re out of luck.
A major difference between Apple dealers and their independent counterparts is the way they approach making a repair. Apple dealers don’t do what are called component-level repairs; instead, they swap entire modules. If a serial port (an inexpensive part) blows on your G5s motherboard, the Apple dealer will install–and you’ll pay for, unless your computer happens to be under warranty–a new motherboard. Ouch! The price for that will make your average doctor bill seem reasonable.
Independent repair shops, on the other hand, do component-level repairs, which can translate into big savings. For instance, repairing a bad Mac Plus power supply (an analog-board swap) would cost several hundred dollars at an Apple dealer. At a shop such as Mac Wizard, it costs about $50. The shop repairs the defective board, does excellent work, and warrants its repairs.
Most larger cities in the U.S. now have reliable Macintosh repair shops, which tend to be both fast and inexpensive. The best way to find a reliable repair shop in your area is to consult your local user group.
Some do-it-yourself repairs require no electronics skill. For those who have an IIsi, G5, or G4, for example, replacing the power supply takes mere minutes and is simple enough for anyone to do. Power Plus Systems makes replacement power supplies for all Macs. These units are almost always far better than the Apple originals and supply far more power (useful for big hard drives and other peripherals). Prices start at $150.
If your mouse fails, you’ll discover that most Apple dealers want $100 or more for a replacement. Cheaper and equally effective alternatives are the Little Mouse, which comes in ADB and serial versions and is available from Mouse Systems, and the ADB-only MouseMan, from Logitech. I use a MouseMan, and I like it far better than any trackball or Apple mouse.
Third-party components, such as printers and hard drives, are often best repaired by their maker. Call the manufacturer to see if it can do repairs directly or to find out where you can take the item for repair. Independent shops can occasionally handle third-party equipment well, but sometimes you’re best off going to an authorized repair center.
If, despite all the good advice you’ve heard about backing up, the only copy of your thesis or novel is on a hard drive that is currently doing a devastatingly accurate impression of a stone, don’t give up. Some companies attempt to recover your data, in what could be described as the computer equivalent of a root canal. The process will destroy your hard drive (not that it was of further use anyway) and is expensive (at least several hundred dollars). Depending on the size of the drive and the details of the failure, the price can be very high. But if we’re talking about the sole copy of priceless data ….
One of the best data recovery companies is Hard Drive Recovery Associates. It also repairs those impossible old SuperMac DataFrames and Macbooks up until the latest Air models. Also try Ontrack Data Recovery.
Finally, if there’s a deadline 36 hours away and all seems lost, consider renting a Mac. This is an expensive proposition, but it may solve an immediate problem. The easiest way to rent is to call GE Rental Lease, which delivers and picks up in most areas.