Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Why Does Apple Have Such a Good Rep? This Might Be Part Of It...

It's no secret that Apple usually gets some of the highest marks for customer satisfaction among computer makers in places like Consumer Reports. But why is that? The value proposition is about the same these days, objectively anyway. And Macs certainly are just as capable of having major hardware mishaps as other manufacturer's machines - especially now that the Intel transition is complete and everybody basically uses the same guts.

So why do people love on Apple so much? A pretty GUI and elegant OS architecture don't make Customer Service any better. So what gives?

I offer this anecdote:

A couple weeks ago, my trusty, almost 3-year-old PowerBook G4 started having a few issues. Namely, Kernel Panics, the UNIX-y equivalent of the infamous Blue Screen of Death. Now, if your PC bluescreens, you just cuss Bill Gates (or Steve Ballmer, your pick) and reboot. On a Mac, if things manage to go this wrong... it means there's something wrong!

Long story short, some troubleshooting of my own narrowed it down to the RAM, and specifically, the actual RAM slots in the logicboard (Mac-parlance for laptop motherboard) as opposed to the sticks themselves. Bummer. Fortunately, this problem cropped up two weeks before my extended AppleCare warranty was set to expire. So I made an appointment and brought the machine in to the local Apple Retail Store, where the guy there confirmed the problem, checked with me to make sure I had everything backed up (I did) and shipped the machine off to the nearest Apple repair center. Zero cost to me, because it was all covered under AppleCare.

It was away for about a week, mainly because they don't keep a ton of spare parts for machines as old as mine on hand. The next week, I get a call.

"We have the machine back here... but it's failing our standard diagnostic test. It says here there's a problem with the VRAM. Now, it does boot, so if there's an immediate need for the machine you can come and pick it up, but I'd just as soon send it back and have them re-replace the logic board."
Ok, so that's kind of crazy... but hell, my AppleCare is expiring soon so yeah, by all means send it back until it gets a clean bill of health.

Another week passes, and I get a call.

"Ok, so the machine is still failing the diagnostic. So... there's two options I'm authorized to give you, but I think I know which one you're gonna take..."
I'm listening.
"First, we can order yet another new logic board, have it delivered here to the store, and install it ourselves to make sure it's done right, and hope that fixes whatever the issue is."
"Or... we offer you what's called a CRU Exchange, which would be the closest replacement machine that is not lower spec'ed than your current one."
"You'd get a MacBook Pro."

Needless to say, I went with option 2! So in a nutshell, my computer started acting up, and now - at no cost to me whatsoever, - I'm going from this:
PowerBook G4 15.2-inch
1.67 GHz PowerPC G4
2 GB PC2700 DDR RAM (upgraded from 512 Meg originally)
120 GB ATA hard drive (upgraded from 80 GB originally)
ATI Mobility Radeon 9700 - 128 Meg VRAM
2x DVD Burner

To this:
MacBook Pro 15.4-inch
2.2 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
2 GB PC2-5300 DDR2 RAM
120 GB SATA hard drive
NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT - 128 Meg VRAM
8x DVD Burner

... Sweet. For comparison purposes, this is my current "gaming rig" PC tower:
AMD AthlonXP 3200+ @ 2.2 GHz
160 GB ATA hard drive
NVIDIA GeForce 6800 non-ultra - 128 Meg VRAM
DVD... reader.

In short, once I get this new machine (in a week or so.... whatever, I can wait) I'm going to be very interested in seeing how 3D Mark scores match up once I make a WinXP partition (ah, the convenience of Intel chips!).

In conclusion, if you ever wonder why Apple's customer loyalty is so high - stuff like this is a big part of it. Oh, and if you ever get a Mac, particularly a laptop.... get AppleCare!
Update: Corrected the spelling of "CRU." Apparently it stands for "Customer Replacement Unit." Pretty straightforward.

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