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[ The PC Guide | The PC Buyer's Guide | Understanding PC Sources, Vendors and Prices | Researching Vendors and Prices ]

Online Independent Research Resources

There are a host of different resources available online to help you with researching vendors and prices. Most of these represent the accumulation and sharing of the personal experiences of other computer users and shoppers, making them of invaluable assistance in your shopping effort. Just a few short years ago these did not exist, and their presence is one way that the information-sharing properties of the Internet have helped people avoid serious shopping mistakes. This sharing is a powerful tool, and one that I strongly recommend you take advantage of.

Of course, almost everything that is offline today is also online. :^) Magazines, vendors, manufacturers and even consumer affairs agencies have an online presence. What I am talking about here though are independent resources that exist in addition to the "formal" web sites for these companies. Here are some of the more useful ones:

  • ResellerRatings.com: This is a very useful site that was started specifically to let the customers of manufacturers and vendors evaluate them for use as reference by potential customers. The database contains information on over 1,000 companies, provided by tens of thousands of actual customers. Before you buy from a company, go to this site and look for its information on this site. Here's how to use the data you will find:
    • The more responses listed for a vendor, the more valid the scores for that vendor, generally speaking. If over 100 comments are given and 90% of them are positive, this is probably a very good vendor. If there are fewer than 10 comments on the vendor, the sample size is small, so take the data with a grain of salt. Look only for signs of gross dissatisfaction--like most of them being serious complaints.
    • Assess the scores for the vendor; 7 is perfect, 0 is worst. In practice, most vendors with a score of 5 or higher are pretty good. A score of 6 or higher is very good. Don't look at just the overall rating of the vendor, look at the individual ratings for customer service, shipping, pricing and so on.
    • Look at the comments provided for the vendor. Read the testimonials to see what others' experiences have been like. These are in many ways more important than the numerical scores, because they will tell you in more detail what the company's strengths and weaknesses are.
    • If you use the service, contribute by providing feedback yourself after using a vendor, so the next person can benefit from your experience.
  • Deja.com: Deja.com (formerly Dejanews) is an online archive of Usenet articles. Usenet (discussed below) is a world-wide discussion forum where people exchange ideas, opinions and information. Doing a search for a particular company name, or product model number, will show you what people are saying about it--and if there are problems with the company or product, you'll discover this by reading the articles. (Another idea is to search for "<name> and problems", which will return articles where both the "<name>" and the word "problems" occur.) Look for trends: many people either happy or dissatisfied, not just one or two. If the company is very large, you may have to further narrow your search; typing the name of a very big company will probably result in thousands of hits, most of which won't be of relevance to you.
  • Usenet: If you can't find what you are looking for on Deja.com, you may be able to get some useful feedback from Usenet directly (but check Deja.com first, so you don't waste the time of Usenet regulars.. they may have just answered the same question you are about to ask). Choose the forum matching the subject you want to know about, and read it, to see if any current discussions are related to what you want to know. If not, ask a single polite question, such as: "I am considering buying a PC from <X company>. Has anyone had good or bad experiences with them?" See the discussion of vendor reputation for help in interpreting the answers.
  • Independent Sites: Many independent web sites regularly review the hardware of various manufacturers, assessing it for quality and performance. Note that you typically won't find vendor assessments here, just reviews of hardware products, usually components.
  • Forums: The PC Guide has discussion forums where you can discuss all sorts of issues related to PCs; on these forums you will find many PC enthusiasts happy to answer questions about hardware and vendors. There is also a forum specifically dedicated to matters related to buying PCs. (Many of the independent sites referenced above also have discussion forums.) This input is very much worth considering, though again, make sure not to overvalue one or two responses, and recognize that not everyone in these discussion forums is equally knowledgeable.
  • General Search Engines: You will be able to find more information of various sorts by using regular Web search engines.

Note: It's important when doing research, and especially when looking at feedback, to keep your perspective. Every company has the occasional problem--and the occasional difficult customer. Reading comments from customers is very valuable, but you're only seeing one side of the story, so don't conclude that a vendor is bad based just on one or two negative comments. Look for the "big picture".

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