PowerBook vs. ThinkPad: Warranty Service

Discussion in 'Buying Tips, Advice and Discussion (archive)' started by gentryunderwood, Feb 17, 2004.

  1. gentryunderwood macrumors newbie

    Feb 17, 2004
    I’m a ‘switcher’, a recent convert to the Mac way. Last month I purchased my first PowerBook, a replacement for the last of a long line of IBM ThinkPads. They’re great machines, and hard to say goodbye to in some ways, but as I have no warm feelings for Microsoft and OS X seems so far ahead of the Windows world, the change seemed inevitable.

    Recently I had my first chance to try out Apple’s warranty service on my three-week-old 17” PowerBook G4, though the experience wasn't something I went looking for. In a way, though, I was eager to see how the service would compare to that of IBM. I’ve got some fairly substantial experience with ThinkPads and the service offered when something goes wrong (and with laptops and any kind of serious usage, something eventually goes wrong). IBM has proven themselves again and again in the past to offer best-of-class service when something needs to be repaired.

    Apple is turning out to be not quite as tasty in this arena. In fact, After 9 days I’m still waiting to hear anything conclusive about my computer, and in the mean time the comparison between big blue and those insanely great folks over in Cupertino is starting to leave me sour. So, in an effort to turn my exacerbation into something a bit more fruitful, I offer the following: one person’s comparison of warranty service for ThinkPads and PowerBooks.

    The initial Call

    I know a fairly good deal about computers, which is to say that if I go the trouble of calling tech support, it’s a safe bet that the computer is going to need some sort of hardware repair. Of course, the tech on the other end of the phone doesn’t know that, and there’s always the initial round of lets-make-sure-this-guy-isn’t-a-bozo.

    I’m pleased to say I’ve never had an IBM rep know less about the problem than me. I don’t know where they get these guys (and how they manage to be perenially happy to help, even at 3:00 in the morning), but they’re amazing. Extremely good people skills, very knowledgeable technologically, and they usually have the same machine as you sitting in front of them. When calling, I’ve never had a hold time of longer than 2 minutes, and they usually get a handle on the problem very quickly.

    I found Apple to be a bit different. My first call was late on a Sunday night, and no one was there to take it. I can understand that: this isn’t a Fortune 100 company, after all, and they certainly don’t have the customer base to justify that kind of support. I retried on Monday and had to listen to a recording for 15 minutes. Again, not the hugest problem, but not IBM, either.

    Finally a technician answered my call and spent the first few minutes trying to muscle me into purchasing AppleCare and extending my warranty. I politely declined and said that right now I would like to focus on the fact that my 3-week old laptop had started making noise out of the speakers and earphone jack only intermittently, and that it took inserting and removing the earphones to jar it back into functioning when it dropped out, as if there were some sort of short.

    “Is it playing sound now?” the tech asked. Just minutes before it had played nothing. I started iTunes. It worked. “Yes, but it wasn't a minute ago, and it probaly won't work again in a couple of minutes. It's going off and on,” I replied. “Well, sir," he responded, "I’m afraid there’s nothing I can do. Have you tried reinstalling your operating system?”

    I informed him that I was fairly certain that the problem was hardware related, and I reminded him that it seemed to be fixed by inserting and removing the earphones repeatedly. “Well, it could be software,” he said, “and anyway, since it’s playing now there’s nothing I can do. Reinstall OS X and if it still misbehaves I would suggest you take it to an apple retail store.”

    I asked him if he had ever seen a problem like this (with an emphasis, once more, on the earphone-jack thing) be caused by software. He said “uh, well, uh, yes. I have.” I didn't believe him, but what could I do? I asked for a case number for the call. “I could give you one but I haven’t put anything in. There’s nothing to report yet.”

    Frustrated, I got off the phone, backed up my hard disk to a LaCie d2, and reinstalled Panther. Surprise, surprise: no sound. Immediately, I packed up my machine, headed to the Apple store in Palo Alto, and waited another 15 minutes until a much more helpful employee at the Genius Bar could see me. I explained the situation, and he immediately said “Is it less than 10 days old? If so we’ll get you a brand new one today.” Unfortunately I didn’t quite make the cut, so he began to fill out a service order. “Oh,” he asked, “do you have the case number for the guy you talked to on the phone? It will really help speed this up.” Ugh...

    The Turn Around

    With IBM, if the hardware can be easily replaced (i.e. a new TrackPoint or keyboard), they ship you the parts immediately. In 24 hours or less you find a box on your doorstep that has exactly what you need and a sheet with instructions on how to switch out, say, the keyboard (Of course with the 17” PowerBook the keyboard has been soldered onto the aluminum case, so I don’t think that will ever be an option). If the machine has bigger problems, they send you a box, and if you catch the Airborne Express rep when he delivers it, he’ll take the machine then and there. In all my history with IBM I’ve had to do this twice, and in both cases the machine has come back, fully repaired, in under 48 hours.

    The genius at the Apple Store said I would have to wait a week, which sounded bad enough, but I left my computer at the store 9 days ago, and there’s really no telling when I’m going to get it back. The web site says nothing other than the fact that the repair depot received it three days after I dropped it off. When I call AppleCare they tell me that apparently the good folks in Houston are waiting for a new logic board. It’s not really clear when they’ll actually get the part and be able to start working on fixing my machine. Meanwhile, there’s no way to waive a signature for return shipping, so you can either have it sent back to an Apple Store or risk picking it up at UPS if you’re not around when they come by.

    The Bottom Line

    I don’t really know yet how the story ends. Hopefully it won’t endure much longer. In the meantime I’m back on my old ThinkPad, tolerating the aesthetic banality of Windows 2000 with a tad bit of nostalgia. I certainly don’t miss Microsoft, but it’s nice to sit in front of an object of reliability again. ThinkPads are like little tanks, and when they do break down, you can bet your butt, or your business, that they’ll be up again in no time. As much as I love my PowerBook, that’s something I just can’t say when it comes to Apple.
  2. drjekyl macrumors newbie

    Jul 20, 2003
    I must agree with you that Apple does have some room for improvement as far as repairs are concerned. I too have had to send in my new powerbook, but my experience was a bit better, so it seems.
    I called Apple and told them of the probelm, Screenspots, and they issued me a case # and said that they would overnight me a box. Since it wasn't an issue preventing me from using my powerbook and since I was in the thick of things with school, I requested to wait. So when the time came, 2 months later, I called them. The next morning a box had been delivered. I placed my machine in the box, called airborne and they came and got it. 3 days later I left a note attached to my front door authorizing the drop-off of my machine if it were delivered when I wasn't home. (singned of cours) and When I arrived, my Powerbook was there waiting for me and it was even around the back where I asked them to leave it. The note was gone from the door.
    One thing I did notice is that Apple didn't update the on-line status too often. In fact it was back in my hands before it even was updated from "received" to "in-repair"
  3. gentryunderwood thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 17, 2004
    great to know about the note-leaving tip. thanks.

    I've had the same trouble with the web site, and it does seem like there's a lot more information available to the AppleCare tech folks than what shows when you go to info.apple.com. Not sure why they can't get a clean update to work...
  4. Macmaniac macrumors 68040


    Just for your info Apple had a problem with their AppleCare system on Saturday, our Tech at our store was having problems with lost orders, this is very rare, but that could be holding up your repair. My best advice is to look for an independent apple authorized repair center, they are far more knowledgeable, and will probably sit with and try to figure out your problem. They are also less likely to pressure you into silly things etc..
    Although with laptops my best advice is to get AppleCare, anything that is carried around a lot has a much higher potential for breaking and laptop parts are very expensive for PBs if they are out of warranty.
  5. 603 macrumors member

    Jan 27, 2004
    great post!

    this is a great post - good info to know, very detailed and non-partisan. good to see another person out there who's not squarely in the Switcher camp too - a lot of us have to use two or three (or more) operating systems for various reasons. in this case, i'm back to using Windows 2000 myself, for similar reasons to those that you've described above.

    my personal story about returns: the hard drive was about to die in my 12" Powerbook (bought in October 2003). it was beeping and clicking and two separate techs ok'd the return. my latch was also not catching properly, and they said they'd fix it. so i got the box and shipped it back, not eager to part with it, but since i can't replace the hard drive DIY-style without voiding my expensive AppleCare plan, i didn't have much choice.

    so, i got it back in less than 48 hours, which was incredible. my elation was short-lived, though: there were two scracthes on the lid, and it looked like someone had tried to pry the battery slot open with a clawhammer. i always joked that Microsoft, with their relentless patches, would fix one thing and break another.... so it seemed a bit ironic to me that the same statement held up for Apple as well.

    i called Apple Care immediately after getting home from work, and the guy was incredibly understanding and friendly. i got another box the next day and sent it back to the Service Center in Tennessee.

    i got it back today (it took 6 days this time, including the weekend) and they replaced the battery enclosure and the lid, but now there are two long scratches on the LCD itself! the latch still isn't fixed, after two returns... so i called Apple Care yet again and got another very friendly tech on the line. he said, "that's definitely not the experience we want you to have." after talking to me for a few minutes, he actually transferred me to a manager so i could explain everything. the manager was also very friendly and apologized profusely for "what you and your computer have had to go through." so i'm expecting another box tomorrow, and my Powerbook will be going back to Tennessee for the third time in about 10 days.

    so there are two parts to this story, one good, and one bad. the good: the people on the phone at Apple have been extremely helpful and understanding. the bad: the techs at the TN Service Center have manhandled my laptop and it's come back to me in worse condition than it was when i sent it off, so i will now be without my laptop for almost two weeks.... yuck.

    so, make what you will of this post... i'm sure that most people have no problems with their returns, and while my actual experience has been pretty rotten, i'm glad that the guys on the phone have at least been patient and understanding when i've called. if you get a real jerk on the line that's treating you like an idiot, there's no harm in just hanging up and calling back to get someone else. you might have to wait another 10 minutes, but it could be worth your time.

    *edited for speeling [sic]
  6. gentryunderwood thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 17, 2004
    And I thought I had it bad...

    Man, that's a tough story. You've got me worrying about problems I hadn't even imagined! I hope when my machine finally makes its way home (as of this morning I'm hoping to get it back by the two-week mark) it doesn't have to turn around and go back again.

    Anyone out there have experience with the MacResQ folks? I'm wondering if it makes more sense to use them after the 1-year basic warranty runs out than to purchase two more years of this kind of service through AppleCare.
  7. Naimfan Suspended


    Jan 15, 2003

    Excellent post indeed! And sorry to hear about your problems. I think the correct thing for the Apple store to have done was to replace it even if you were outside the 10 day window.

    My experience is with a Pismo (G3/400 laptop--forerunner to the Ti PB's) which was DOB. I called Apple on a Monday, and had the machine back Thursday. I was delighted--except now the screen was black. so back it went the following Monday, and I received it back on Wednesday. Very fast turnaround and since the second time the computer has been flawless.

    I did purchase Applecare on, literally, the last day I could. And I've heard many people say Applecare owners are much better taken care of. So on a 17" PB I'd suggest thinking about it--as mentioned above, once the 90 day warranty runs out repairs are EXPENSIVE.

    Hope you get good news on yours in a speedy fashion! And you might write to Steve Jobs and tell him your experience.


  8. gentryunderwood thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 17, 2004
    2 Weeks and Counting...

    Unfortunately my story is still going. I dropped off my computer two weeks ago yesterday.

    In two separate incidents I have been assured that the part my machine is waiting for, a new logic board, is "in the next shipment". First it was coming last Tuesday, then it was coming last Friday, then it came but unfortunately it must have come late in the day and the depot doesn't do work on the weekends, and now it never came and they're not sure when it will.

    Meanwhile, the web never seems to be up-to-date, and the automated lady never says anything except that "sorry, the information you gave me doesn't seem to match my records", so every time I want to know what's going on with my very belated service call I have to wait on hold for 10-15 minutes.

    To be fair, the AppleCare folks do seem to be taking notice now, and have 'escalated' the problem. I'll let this thread know what results.

    In the meantime, anyone who is thinking about making a move from something as stable as ThinkPad service to Apple should take note. I don't mean to be an alarmist: it's clear from other posts and people I've talked to that my experience isn't common, but whenever I talk to AppleCare techs they tell me, ironically in an attempt to re-assure me, that sometimes parts can be hard to get and 'these things happen'. 2+ weeks of downtime? I only owned the computer for 3 weeks before it had to go back... It may be a testament to my reliance upon technology but this seems like an eternity...
  9. Naimfan Suspended


    Jan 15, 2003

    At this point I'd suggest "escalating" the matter within Apple. Losing a brand new machine for 2 weeks plus after 3 weeks of ownership is ludicrous. At this point Apple should swap out your machine for a brand new one. If I may make a suggestion, I'd write or email Apple Corporate and ask what they can do. Politely explain everything included in your first post, including the comparison to IBM and the fact that you switched.

    And for heavens sake, in a worst case scenario they should be able to just FedEx a logic board to the repair center--even if they have to take it out of a new machine.

    In the two problems I had with my Pismo, they were both repaired very quickly and I've had no problems since, which reduced the sting of having the problems in the first place.

    Best of luck!

  10. m4rc macrumors 6502

    Sep 15, 2003
    You really would have thought it would be easier and better all round just to have given you a new machine. As for the first guy who said he couldn't do anything as the sound was working, that is outragous!

    I have a 15" Alu PB I got in October. I have the white spots - well, streaks actually, and 5 of them now! Also, I think my screen may actually fall off, it creaks and cracks as you open and close it, and wobbles like mad - great build quality! Problem is, I can't be without it. In the next fortnight I need to buy 2 new PB's for 2 employees, so I am going to keep one for me, transfer all my files across - how do I do that easily by the way? - and send this broken machine back.. When it comes back (I'm now a little worried that may take a while) the new guy can have it.

    I am also a little nervous it will come back with different problems! Apple really need to look at this aspect of their business - is it a new thing the bad support or have they always had problems? I am wondering if it is because they have obviously got bigger faster, and just can't cope, although that dosn't say so much for their build quality!

  11. Zeke macrumors 6502

    Oct 5, 2002
    Greenville, SC
    I sent my computer in for the white spots issue and got it back within 3 days and it's flawless now.
  12. agreenster macrumors 68000


    Dec 6, 2001
    Walt Disney Animation Studios
    Similar experience

    I've had a few bouts with Apple repair before, and to my recollection, all of them have been negative in at least one way.

    Once, my LCD on my powerbook died. (yep, just died.) and they replaced it for free! (yay!) But when I got it back, the lid they replaced it with was a bit crooked and it never quite closed right. Then, about 6 months later, it got these horrible grey spots all over the screen, and back to repair it went. This time when it returned, the hinges that hold the lid in place looked like they werent tightened all the way, even though the screws were as tight as could be. Plus, there was a scratch I had never noticed before.

    Also, I often notice that techs generally mishandle computers (in general) because they are around them all the time. They forget that many people (especially Apple people) want their computers to be in pristine shape, not only because it looks good, but it makes them resellable. When I picked up my laptop one time, the tech guy came walking out with it, in one hand, clearly warping the casing as he did.

    Also, I must agree that on the PC side, I've never seen such great service. My Compaq Workstation (at work) one time fried the motherboard, and within a day it was fixed by a very polite tech. (parts shipped, everything) 24 hours.

    However, another person where I work needed some work done and the tech was rough on the computer and bent the heatsink in frustration because he couldnt get it off the mobo. Jerk.

    One thing is for sure though....with Apple, if you ever are really displeased with the kind of service you are getting, immediately make the comment that you are sorry you switched, and the next computer you purchase wont be an Apple, they will take care of you right away with a smile on their face. it works, trust me. Its just unfortunate that you have to go to that extreme to get decent service.
  13. engelb15 macrumors member

    Jun 12, 2003
    Another thing that is really great about the IBM Thinkpad repair center is that you can actually send your notebook off by 5 pm and have it back repaired by 10am the next morning for an extra $99. We will do that where I work if it belongs to a "VIP".
  14. numediaman macrumors 6502a

    Jan 5, 2004
    Chicago (by way of SF)
    I've been an Apple customer since 1982-83 (it's been so long I can't remember). In all those years I had very, very few problems with my Macs and pre-Macs. But when I did, my experience with Apple was always positive -- one of the reason I have been such a loyal customer.

    But in the past two years or so, the situation with Apple support has gotten very, very bad. First, Apple is consistently denying that there are problems with their products, then finally announcing a fix. Just this last week they finally admitted that the power supplies in the G5 are creating problems for audio users.

    Second, I'm tired of hearing that customers need to buy AppleCare to be treated like a human being. When someone plonks down two or three grand for a computer they don't expect that the manufacturer will not stand behind their products. Sure, it is a good idea to buy AppleCare, in general -- but why is Apple treating you like a hospital. "Help, I've been stabbed in the chest, help me!" "Sorry sir, first I need your insurance information."

    Which brings me to the final part of this rant: Apple is not alone in this regard -- in fact, Apple is still probably better than most in regards to service. Many tech companies have offshored they service -- something I really hate, not because of anything political, but because my experience has showm me that the level of service and competence declines. Service is about quality, not cost. It's about you feel about your customers and your products.

    Steve Jobs, more than anyone, should realize that Apple users demand superior, sympathetic support. We pay a premium to be part of the Apple family -- most don't complain about this -- but we also expect more from Apple.
  15. maclamb macrumors 6502


    Jan 28, 2002
    Northern California
    I had many such problems with Sony andf their Vaios- weeks turn around for repair.
    Years I ago I realized that if I'm in a situation where I cannot be w/o my machine for more than a couple days, then Dell next day service is the only way to go. period.
  16. engelb15 macrumors member

    Jun 12, 2003
    Believe it or not, chances are that if you havee a dell and a tech comes on site to fix it, he actually works for IBM.
  17. agreenster macrumors 68000


    Dec 6, 2001
    Walt Disney Animation Studios
    This is true. I second your rant about AppleCare. Its good to have, but I shouldnt be treated like a second class citizen if I choose not to buy it.
  18. gentryunderwood thread starter macrumors newbie

    Feb 17, 2004
    Eighteen days after dropping off my PowerBook at the Apple Store in Palo Alto, it’s finally back in my hands. Once the AppleCare folks put in the call for an “allocation” (meaning they start hunting for the missing part in every warehouse in the country) things finally came together.

    I’m very glad to have my computer back in front of me, but the whole experience has certainly left a bitter taste in my mouth. Eighteen days is simply too long to wait for any sort of repair, let alone one as relatively simple as swapping out a single part.

    One interesting tidbit: apparently part orders are backlogged on lots of machines because of the logic-board replacement program for 12” iBooks that Apple recently began.

    At any rate, I thought I’d offer a handful of small suggestions based on my experience. They may be of some use to other newbies like me:

    1. Don’t leave your computer at an Apple Store if it needs service. Either call AppleCare and have them send you a box, or, in the case that someone at the Genius Bar initiates your repair, ask him to have a box sent to your house. It took a full three days before my drop-off made it to the depot.

    2. If things start taking longer than expected, speak to real people when you check your status at AppleCare. Every time you call it’s logged, and towards the end people were very motivated to help me on account of my lengthy case history. The allocation was set up by someone who was talking to me for the second time.

    3. When your machine gets back, give it a close inspection for scratches, etc. Kudos to 603 and his horror stories for this one. It might not be the worst idea in the world to take digital photos of your machine before sending it off. It's a shame this sort of thing has to be thought of: the techs really ought to show respect/care at the level warranted by Apple's level of industrial design...

    Thanks to everyone for their advice and suggestions.

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