September 21, 2014


computer breakdown
No matter which computer you buy, or how carefully you take care of it, you can’t prevent technical problems. Over the years, I've had machines from ALR, Compaq, Dell, IBM, Lenovo, NEC, Toshiba.  In addition, I've had high performance computers custom-made and even assembled two mini-towers.

In recent years, I switched to notebooks because they’re portable, quiet and sufficiently powerful.

The most problematic was a pricey customized Lenovo workstation notebook optimized for video editing. During the latest repairs, the technician said malfunctions are most likely with CTO. That means something like Customized To Order. When you get a computer specially made, there's less quality control and delivery takes longer.

Lesson learned: buy computers "off the shelf" with no customization.


In addition, problems arise when updating operating systems. I no longer bother, preferring to using the computer with whatever was pre-installed. Replacing the whole machine is faster and less aggravating.

Saving Money

Price doesn’t ensure reliability and the technology keeps improving, That’s why I've started buying less expensive computers --- closer to $1,000 than $2,000. They last about two years before getting cascaded to secondary uses.

The Biggest Woes

The biggest problems occur with
  • enhanced graphics cards: the standard video card in a notebook computer is weak for video editing (and gaming). I usually opt for an second more powerful graphics card. The computer switches between the two as required.

    A better and cheaper solution is to get a powerful desktop computer for video editing. You can then upgrade components and worry less about overheating. Either way, the big problem is with video drivers (software which communicates with the hardware). Count on more trouble if you're upgrading your operating system, since the new drivers may have bugs.
  • hard drives: you need backups of your data. I use an external hard drive and online backup, both via CrashPlan. For additional safety, I put key files in the cloud with Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive. You may think SSD hard drives are better because they have no moving parts and cost much more. I've had two fail …

Extended warranties

I'm not a fan of extended warranties but with computers (especially laptops), they can be useful. Even then, repairs take time and you're stuck while waiting. That's why keeping an older computer as a backup is wise. For instance, I have three year next business day service but on Friday, that means Monday. You might have to spend hours on the phone with the help desk first.

Currently, my Dell isn't working. Windows 8 isn't starting. There are no hardware errors. The problem seems to be with the enhanced video card drivers. The recovery options in Windows 8 didn't work. I was sent DVDs to reinstall Windows but drivers for the hard drive couldn’t be found. I was then sent a USB key with Windows 8 and the drivers. The hard drive isn't being detected. Dell is sending a new hard drive which they want me to install under their guidance. Since it's currently the weekend, the shipment won't take place until Monday, which means delivery won’t be until Tuesday or Wednesday. That's nearly a week without a working computer.

While inconvenient, I've continued working with a two generation old Lenovo Windows tablet.
As with risks based on your health (disability, morbidity, mortality, longevity), you can't tell when problems will arise. You can take steps to reduce the financial harm.


PS You can use other devices like tablets and smartphones while awaiting repairs.