Mac Musings

The New AppleCare

Daniel Knight - 1999.10.27 -

The Old AppleCare

At Baker Book House, were I work days as an information systems manager, we used AppleCare for years, generally until Apple stopped offering coverage for a particular model.

We stopped that earlier this year. I did a cost analysis and discovered that with over 70 Macs, we could toss broken ones in the trash and replace them with brand new units for less than AppleCare was costing us. Of course, most of the time we repair them, sometimes we replace them with newer used machines, and once in a while we do buy a new replacement unit.

But due to Apple's overall reliability, we're far ahead paying for repairs as we go instead of paying for AppleCare.

The New AppleCare

But Apple's changed AppleCare. Under the old program, we might pay $13 per month to cover a Quadra 650, then another $10 per month for the attached monitor. At $276 per year while the Quadra's value dropped below $200 on the used market, it just didn't make sense.

PowerBooks were pretty costly. The b&w PowerBook 540 was $25 per month, or $300 per year. The color 540c was significantly more expensive.

Today you can add two years coverage to Apple's one year warranty, get a copy of TechTool, and have three years of technical support for $149 to $299.

AppleCare for the iMac is only $149. One year of Quadra 650 coverage used to be more than that.

The iBook can be covered for just $229, a good deal less than a single year of the old AppleCare coverage on a b&w PowerBook 540. In fact, the PowerBook G3, at $299 for the additional two years, is half as expensive to cover as that old PowerBook 540.

And on the desktop side, a Power Mac G3 or G4 plus any Apple display purchased with it can have three full years of protection for just $249. That's less than it cost to cover a Quadra 650 and Apple monitor for one year in the old days.

AppleCare Value

The question: is the new AppleCare a good value?

If you buy refurbished equipment, which usually comes with a 90 day warranty and a significant price discount, you can buy a computer with three years of protection for about the same as a non-refurbished unit with one year of coverage. Considering that the unit has already been refurbished once and the typical price of refurbished Apple hardware, I'd say it's a no brainer - go for AppleCare when buying a refurb.

With factory new hardware, it's harder to say. Electronics tend to be robust. If they last the first 24 hours of use without a failure, they will probably keep running for years and years without a problem. That's the argument against AppleCare.

The argument for AppleCare is different. Hard drives are remarkable, but also the part most likely to fail. To buy a replacement drive and pay a technician to install it may be as costly as an AppleCare contract.

From another perspective, repair is automatic for three years. The dealer doesn't have to diagnose the problem, provide an estimate, get your blessing to spend the money, order the part(s), etc. They find the problem, get the part, and fix it with no need for delay.

Further, AppleCare has traditionally been very profitable for the dealer, so there was always a tendency to treat AppleCare customers as priority customers. If that's still true with the new AppleCare, it's another argument in favor of spending the $149 to $299 for the additional two years of coverage.

Will I recommend AppleCare at work? Probably not for the desktops, since there are so many and failure is relatively unlikely. There we can play the odds and fix them as we go along.

But I will probably recommend AppleCare for the iBook and PowerBook G3. We only have a few, so we can't play the odds. They receive rougher handling than desktops, simply because they are portable, and when a laptop does need repair, it's costly.

For home use, I'd probably buy AppleCare. Although I have a nice collection of older Macs at home, they're mostly so old that it's cheaper to replace them than repair them. That would not be true for a new iMac, iBook, Power Mac, or PowerBook.

Further, because these would be productivity tools, not just game machines or fun web surfing toys, I wouldn't want to be without them any longer than necessary should they need repair.

The Details

You can buy an AppleCare Protection Plan with any new Apple computer, or any time during the one-year warranty period. If you buy a Power Mac G3 or G4 with an Apple display, the display will automatically be covered. If the display is purchased separately, it will not be covered by the Power Mac AppleCare plan, but you should be able to purchase AppleCare coverage for the monitor.

After you purchase AppleCare, you will receive a bootable TechTool diagnostic CD, have technical support on the phone for the entire period of the contract, and have access to a special web site for AppleCare customers.

If you're buying an Apple computer, AppleCare merits consideration.

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Dan Knight has been using Macs since 1986, sold Macs for several years, supported them for many more years, and has been publishing Low End Mac since April 1997. If you find Dan's articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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