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Getting a new computer? Already have one?

by TONI H / January 27, 2005 1:55 AM PST

Now that I have piqued your curiosity, I'll post this also into Grif's Tips thread......

Vendor-built Computers pitfalls

If you order a computer built by a vendor such as Dell or Gateway or HP (or if you purchase one off the shelf from Wal-Mart), you are getting pretty good systems for the money, and I don't fault you for getting your systems that way rather than custom home-built or custom built at a local shop where you can tell the vendor exactly what you want and expect to get.

However, there are pitfalls to those systems that you need to be aware of and protect yourself from. Here are a few of things you can expect and not be able to change.

1. Vendors will create their own installation disk called a Master/Restore/Recovery disk and it will include everything on one cd.......your Windows version, all drivers for the computer built, special programs as a 'bonus', propaganda advertising hidden as tours, tutorials, a lite versions of programs that are limited in function in the hopes that you will upgrade to full-featured programs for more money, spam/spyware that phone home behind your back when you're on the net that track your surfing, antivirus programs that are trial/demo versions only but unless you read this carefully you will be under the assumption that you don't ever have to upgrade/renew and that you got this 'bonus' as a freebie just because they like you, and more than likely you will have an extra partition created that holds restore/recovery information with a shortcut icon to it on your desktop so if you need to reinstall a file, you can use that shortcut to do so. The reason for this is that if you can use the shortcut to replace/restore a file or add a component, you won't have to use the Master/Restore/Recovery disk which normally will automatically format the drive and start you back all over to where the system was the day you got it (and wipe out all the stuff on the harddrive in the process causing you to lose all your files before you have backed them up).

2. Many vendor's disks are PROPRIETARY to the computer built at that time. If you replace ANY of the hardware (including getting a new harddrive or adding ram), the cd will NOT work to restore/format the drive to start over on a clean install because the hardware has changed from what the cd expects it to be. In that case, you are stuck in a dark and scary place knowing you have a system that has been formatted without any way to get it back up and running again. You have the option of saving your old hardware and temporarily putting it back in (or removing extra ram you installed), getting the system back up and running, then removing the old hardware again or adding your ram back in and going from there.......this is a huge pain in the butt and inconvenient and unfair as all get out. But it also means that you may panic and take the machine back to where it came from (ship to Dell/Gateway/local vendor but never Wal-Mart) and paying somebody else to 'fix' it for you when you shouldn't have to do this.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Here are a few ideas.

1. First and soon as you get your system home and set up, pop in a blank cd and burn two or three copies of the vendor cd immediately. If you should EVER lose that original, you will be S-O-L trying to get a new one from the vendor or you will have to wait a long time to get it or you will pay for it dearly, when you've already paid for it once. ALWAYS WRITE DOWN THE PRODUCT CODE KEY FOR THE WINDOWS INSTALLATION....TAPE IT TO YOUR COMPUTER, WRITE IT ON THE CD ITSELF, WRITE IT ON THE CD JEWEL CASE. Cover your butt because if you take it back to a shop somewhere and forget to bring your own cd and code key, they will use an OEM cd from the shop and the product code key will be THEIRS and not yours. You might not be able to activate XP if they use a temporary setup at their shop and it expires after 30 days.

2. Always assume that vendors and ISP providers are going to LIE to you. They figure if you don't know enough about computers that you brought the system to them to fix it in the first place, they can get away with telling you/selling you anything....and if your modem can't connect, it will ALWAYS be your fault and not a problem with their servers at their end. You must have messed with the settings or got hijacked is what you will be told, in addition to being told to 'bring it in and we'll set it back up for you'.......and it will cost you a minimum of $50 for that 'service'.

3. Insist when ordering your computer to be built that they give you SEPARATE installation disks for everything they are going to install. That means a Windows install disk, drivers disks for each piece of hardware, and install cd's for all programs they have installed. It costs them 20 cents for a cd and about two minutes to burn each one....tell them you will pay an extra $25 to get separate cd's. Most will do this for you.....but people don't realize they have the right to demand it so the subject never comes up.

4. Insist that they give you a MOTHERBOARD manual, not just a crappy user manual that gives you a tutorial about hooking up your speakers/monitor/keyboard/mouse to the case when you bring it home. A motherboard manual will tell you everything you need to know about that board and what it is capable of being upgraded to later on, and if you have on-board sound or graphics rather than separate cards inside the case. Also insist on getting the motherboard drivers cd so you will have them handy should you format the drive to start over.

5. Burn two or three copies of every cd you get and use the COPIES to do your installations with later on. Save the originals in a safe place so if the copy goes bad/gets scratched, you can burn more copies from the original.

6. If you have the extra money to spend while ordering your computer, and if the vendor says he can't give you separate disks for everything, tell him you want an OEM full or update install version of the Windows at the very least. This may cost you an extra hundred or so, but with it you will have the choice later on of downloading newest drivers for all of your hardware and burning it all to a cd including motherboard drivers, and then if you want to start from scratch without using the vendor specific cd, you can install everything separately yourself....and save money in the long run. The update cd has exactly the same information on it as the full version and will only ask you to prove via the installation that you have another version of windows that makes you eligible for the update. Inserting an old W98/ME cd into the drive when asked for it gives you that proof. The rule has always been that if you buy a piece of hardware from a vendor (and a system qualifies), you can get an OEM version of get one....and make sure they give you the Product Code Key that goes with it.

7. Now that you have protected yourself and become more knowledgeable about your rights as a buyer, have a good time with the new toy.


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(NT) (NT) Very good advice
by MarkFlax Forum moderator / January 27, 2005 7:33 PM PST
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Vostro 1000 Function Key
by rwpalmer100 / May 4, 2008 11:29 AM PDT
In reply to: (NT) Very good advice

I cannot type without holding the FN key down or I get the blue numbers and instead of the do i shut this thing off.

Thanks, Bob

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Turn Number Lock Off
by ChewyNet1 / May 10, 2008 1:25 AM PDT

IF you have laptop turn your Num(Number) Lock off.

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RE: windows updates in 09 for xp
by parrotluver1 / September 20, 2008 1:54 AM PDT

OK I WANNA GET another p.c i don,t want vista! if i buy a used /refurb
will i be able to find any sites that will do windows updates? h.p told me in 09 no more windows updates for x.p if so please email me at with links thanks parrotluver1

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I think this was answered...
by glenn30 / September 21, 2008 10:31 AM PDT

elsewhere for you. Misinformation! XP to still receive updates... so stop worrying Wink


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Are you sure Dell falls in this category?
by cuccureddu / January 27, 2005 8:49 PM PST


I bought a Dell Dimension a couple of years ago and I had none of the problems you mention above.

I got a full OEM copy of XP Pro on CD, and separate Cds for Video Drivers, Sound Drivers, Modem, and Dell utilities, as well as additonal programs bundled with the optional Firewire controller such as MGI Video Wave III.

The pre-installed system had no spyware or promo programs in it, except for Real Player, which I consider to have spyware. I have since upgraded the RAM, changed both hard drives, and added a DVD burner without going through Dell, and with no problems.

I'm sure that everything you mention above happens with some vendors, but my experience with Dell has been different from what you write.


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That great news to know
by TONI H / January 27, 2005 9:23 PM PST

There may have been some changes done at Dell over the last couple of years that I didn't know about because some friends of mine had purchased Dells longer ago than that and ran into the problems I mentioned. I guess if enough customers holler loudly enough and often enough, the big boys actually do listen. Thanks for this update about Dell, and I'll add that information to my warning.

Now....a question....have you made copies of those disks and written down the install keys for anything that needs them? If you have, and you need to do a reinstall of anything, always use the copy you made to save wear and tear on the originals.


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More info re: Dell
by TONI H / January 28, 2005 1:18 AM PST

Just got off the phone with Dell. Had to make believe I wanted to buy a computer, but got the salesman to check with the technical people. Clearly for the Home systems one gets the restore CD. No OEM as an option.

The other CD is possibly an option in some of the business systems, but I didn't pursue that. I was taking enough of the guy's time with no plans to buy.

It's is so totally variable with Dell that it will definitely have to be addressed by model number.


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More Dell information
by kinnear3 / January 28, 2005 6:46 AM PST
In reply to: More info re: Dell

I have to agree with Roberto. I have a Dell Dimension that I purchased in 1998. I have added RAM and, last summer, I replaced the original 13 GB hard drive with an 80 GB drive. I used the CD that came with the machine and had no trouble installing Windows 98 on the new hard drive. I did not have any of the problems that your original post described. Please do not disparage manufacturers unless you are very certain of their guilt.

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That's a seven year old system
by TONI H / January 28, 2005 7:09 AM PST
In reply to: More Dell information

and many companies have changed their tactics heavily in how you get your recovery information. I've posted an update further in this thread about talking with Dell today and what the responses to questions asked about their vendor disks were.

I always check my information to make sure it's as accurate as possible, and I wasn't just pointing to Dell for this warning.


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Seven year-old system
by kinnear3 / January 30, 2005 9:18 AM PST


Yes, the system I wrote about is seven years old. I discussed it because you surmised, in one of your posts, that Dell had recently changed their policy. Not true, at least in my case. Dell has been providing system restore CDs for many years.

Now, the HP that I bought a couple of years ago, did not come with a system disk, but with instructions to make my own set of restore CDs. Why I could not use the DVD drive instead of burning nine CDs is a mystery. Buying that system was a mistake on several levels, though.


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Dell no longer provides hardcopy of their manuals
by ackmondual / October 25, 2005 7:28 AM PDT
In reply to: Seven year-old system

It's all electronic. Try to print it out.... it's possible, but around 100 or so pages. Those who don't do this are in trouble, as u can read up on troubleshooting tips when you're at a 'blue screen of death'.

I (to say my dad) bought my Dell Dimension 8300 at the end of '03. It came with a winXP CD. Not sure if it was the actual winXP CD but with Dell's labelling on it (Dell's been putting its name on EVERYTHING nowadays... mice, speakers, et all) or some form of recovery disc. I'm guessing the former. Also, all my drivers and such aren't on seperate discs, but still spread out across 5 or 6. Modem, monitor, and sound card have their own CDs, while USB, video, NIC, are combined on a Dell Dimension Resource CD.

I'd have to agree with others in saying Dell isn't nearly as bad as you portrayed in your first post (I kno that post was meant for prebuilts in general, not just Dell). However, their tech support and standard options are worse than before. And Dell still uses proprietary mobos, PSUs, and cases

Of course for my PC uses, I don't do major upgrades ofetn (mobo, proc, vid card), so this isn't a big concern for me. While I use the PC as is from factory after removing some of the "bonus" junk. I eventually end up clean installing, and will end up with a regular PC almost like everyone else

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Re: 100 or so pages
by caktus / April 8, 2007 10:11 AM PDT

That's a lot of paper, ink, time, ware and tear. When I have to obtain large documents online, I usually download it to the Hard drive and copy it to a CD. Doc's usually include indexes and links.

Hope this helps.


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Branded PC? no way...
by mikefaraone / November 1, 2009 3:46 PM PST
In reply to: Re: 100 or so pages

While my recent job stint at india, i had purchased a desktop called HCL busybee from there, after two years when i came back and i wanted to upgrade it.. i couldnt find anything on the net about it. even the drivers are so tough to get. while i was there i was advised by the local vendors to get it assembled by them, i didnt trust them, now the machine is waste, and i have been trying to get in touch with HCL guys, they have not replied so far

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More Dell Information
by AngelaE8654 / October 28, 2008 2:57 PM PDT
In reply to: More Dell information

I agree. We were just discussing this morning that our five year old Dell is one of the best purchases we ever made. Just because some people have some trouble doesn't mean that the product itself is faulty.

Note: This post was edited by forum moderator on 03/17/2011 on 9:34 AM PT

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good info
by mikelinley / December 6, 2008 12:09 PM PST
In reply to: More Dell Information

thanks for the info..I dont think I will buy a custom made computer now!

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Glad I didn't
by stick joe / January 13, 2009 1:05 AM PST
In reply to: More Dell Information

Glad I returned my HP made-to-order Notebook.

Good, cause I could see pains coming.


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I have a Dell
by Landover123 / March 17, 2009 1:47 PM PDT
In reply to: More Dell Information

I have Dell now; after my Gateway crashed after having it for only one year. How disappointing, huh? Sad

<a href="">Landover Baptist Church</a>

<a href="">Angela</a>

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More Dell Information
by diazed129 / May 12, 2009 1:45 PM PDT
In reply to: More Dell Information

Yeah, it is also concerned with the using method!

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I love dell
by golfclubsets / September 19, 2009 4:18 AM PDT
In reply to: More Dell Information

I don't know why people do hate dell - i really love them! I'm using their products like 10 years or so and never had any problems..

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by Sonya W. / October 12, 2009 6:45 PM PDT
In reply to: More Dell Information

I adore Dell brand. I Have Dell laptop and i am very satisfied with it. Unfortunately my battery becomes dead too quickly! Could anyone recommend me anything? May be the ways to lengthen the battery life or someting like that? The model is Dell Latitude E4300, Processor Type is Intel Core 2 Duo P9400, Processor Speed is 2.4 GHz


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Better try a new post in one of our ...
by Kees Bakker / October 12, 2009 7:18 PM PDT
In reply to: NEED ADVICE!

laptops forum. And please be more specific on your use of the battery.


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I had heard some talk
by Dragon / March 17, 2007 12:14 PM PDT
In reply to: More info re: Dell

from someone at work who had complained about proprietary connections and so forth. Other than that, no complaints.

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It's odd...
by Me, Myself and You / February 8, 2008 9:27 PM PST
In reply to: More info re: Dell

With my Medion laptop, I got a full blown Windows XP SP2 CD.

Not an OEM junk CD which preinstalls all of their rubbish again, but a full Windows XP CD.

And I've used it many times. :o)

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Dell service
by 2Cold Scorpio / September 16, 2007 8:51 AM PDT

I had ought an Inspiron 8100 from Dell in 2001, and I had seperate disks for Windows XP, Dell's Installed Programs & Drivers (and I kept the updated drivers backed up to), Roxio Easy CD Creator 6 Basic, and I believe there was one other (I think the drivers disk was seperate). As far as I can tell, too, the WinXP Home disk is an OEM disk with a different label on it. So I wonder about your friends' "service"; Dell has always been good to me over the years (I've used phone tech support *years* after my warrenty was up with no troubles or cost. The most recent was 2 months ago about if I can connect my old harddrive to a newer machine for bacjup reasons if I didn't get it running again. For those interested, the answer was "No"; the connections were different...). As another sidenote to their service, that Inspiron 8100 lasted nearly 6 years before the batteries and power cable went out. And the Dell system with a Pentium 2 my folks got in '98 lasted even longer (with the only upgrade being a new CD burner 2 years later). Happy THAT'S good craftmanship. For new PCs, I suggest Dell or building your own. If you have money to blow, maybe Alienware (which I think is owned by Dell). I just thought I'd tell my own story of their excellent service.

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best laptop from intel
by canas88 / December 19, 2007 11:17 AM PST

I want to buy a laptop from intel any reccomendations

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My experience too
by d_adams / August 23, 2009 3:48 AM PDT

I bought a refurbished Inspiron 1501 from the Dell Refurbished site three years ago, and it was very clean. No trial programs at all. I got full re-install DVD for Vista, one for Works 8, and one for Roxio Creator, and the full drivers CD. Plus, I got an extra Vista home premium OEM key for free.

Just like you, I upgraded the hard drive (80GB to 320GB) and upgraded the memory (1GB to 3GBs). I did not buy the new parts from Dell, but from for a much better price, yet they worked just fine. In fact, the Inspiron 1501 is not even supposed to support 3GBs of memory, only two, but it worked. And, I didn't even have to put the Vista key back in when I re-installed after the HDD upgrade. It somehow saved it.

Now, that said, my sister just bought a brand new Compaq laptop from Wal-Mart, and it had the biggest mess of trail software I've ever seen. I worked for two hours to remove it all. I had to remove Norton, office trial, some weird pack of games, a trial of roxio creator, and a bunch of other stuff I can't remember. Then, I realized it didn't include ANY re-install media, only instructions on how to create re-install disks. I was about ready to send it back to the store, but my sister didn't want to because it only cost $300 (some kind of sale or something).

Anyway, my point is, this isn't the way it used to be. You used to get the computer, open the box, and use it. Computer manufacturers need to either put full programs, or none at all. If they want to advertise for the companies who make the software, then they should put paper ads in the computer box or something, not install a program that's going to be worse than worthless in 30 days.

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Good Advice
by D.G.Snype / January 27, 2005 9:54 PM PST

This is why I come to c|net, good advice.
I totally agree with the advice given on this one.
Working on vendor builts is a real hassle and they intend it to be that way. They want to make money on service/support and selling over priced upgrades.

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Great advice, but there is more
by afdiaz / January 27, 2005 10:11 PM PST

As an IT tech, I work on many different PCs and I have to say. Vendor machines can be a nightmare to work on. The price is low but it is reflected in the components used.

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Stay away from HP
by danterio / January 27, 2005 11:40 PM PST

Even though I know better and have a custom built system, I bought a used HP pavillion for my daughter for $250 including monitor, the works. I should have but didn't ask enough questions. I bought extra ram for $20 at Best Buy. Guess what? Won't work. HP wanted $129 for the same RAM. I eventually got it for $89, nice huh. On board video RAM only went to about 11MB, not good if the kid wants to play games, oh excuse me but did I mention no AGP and PCI cards are getting more difficult to find. They didn't have the setup disc, but said since I had the CD key, I could use any ME disc, if I could get one. HP couldn't supply me with a disc because they didn't make them anymore. Wanted to upgrade to XP but HP said I would need a driver disc for it to work, at additional cost. Proprietary system discs must have their own version of Windows, because an OEM won't work with the key code on the computer. HP was no help at all. Stick with custom builts. They cost a little more to start but can be upgraded at a fracion of the cost with off the shelf, not hard to find expensive parts.

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