Apple Care vs. Dell Support: Dead Hard Drives

by Todd Ogasawara

I had an interesting (ok, that may not be the right word) opportunity to compare Apple and Dell support handling recently. The results may surprise you (I know I was surprised). My Dell Lattitude D600 notebook (about 2.5 years old at the time) had a sudden hard drive failure about 2 months ago. Last night, my 8 month old MacBook hard drive died just as suddenly. But, let's see what happened after that.

Phone call delay: Both Apple and Dell kept me on hold for between 5 to 10 minutes. Not too bad.
Tech Rep: Both tech reps were male and based in the US. Ok, still similar.
Tech Rep Cordialness: Have any of you run into reps that are reading from some bad decision tree script? Fortunately, neither the Apple nor the Dell reps were among this group. Both let me tell them what diagnostics I had already performed and skipped the useless questions in the decision tree.

This is where the similarity ends.

Dell: The tech rep agreed with my assessment that the drive was dead and I had a new hard drive in 48 hours. They provided a label and box for me to ship my dead drive back in. I was up and running before heading home on Friday.
Apple: The Apple tech rep said the drive was probably dead but would not ship a drive to me. Instead, he insisted I go to the Genius Bar at a local Apple Store. Oh boy, I get to fight the crowds just a few days after Christmas. Just what I wanted to do after work (actually I had to leave the office early). He set up an appointment for me at 4:40pm.

Apple Store: The shopping center was packed. Fortunately, I found parking at the top level of the parking structure. The Apple Store was even more packed with a line to the cashier about 12 deep. The Genius Bar had just one iPod Genius and one Mac Genius. The appointment list displayed above them was packed. The harried Mac Genius had three dead or dying Mac notebooks of various types in front of him with a couple of small Firewire external drives. One guy came in after his appointed time and pushed the already delayed Genius' schedule back even further. This fellow had a dying hard drive in his 5 year old PowerBook and a flight to Australia 6am Saturday morning. He ended up pairing up with a sales person and buying a new MacBook (good decision IMHO). The Mac Genius agreed that my hard drive was dead. Unfortunately, the Apple Store didn't have any spare drives. So, I'm faced with a 7 to 10 day wait now.

I asked the Mac Genius if he could have Apple just ship me a drive directly and let me replace the drive (as I did with the Dell notebook). Unfortunately, there is a complete disconnect between the Apple Store Genius Bar and Apple Care. So, no, he could not help with do that.

I must commend Mac Genius Jason at the Ala Moana Apple Store, btw. He was a picture of patience and diagnostic efficiency in the face (literally) of a bunch of annoyed/depressed/anxious customers with Macs in various states of distress. The iPod Genius to my right was a similar picture with the distressed iPod owners he faced. Kudos to those Geniuses for really keeping their cool in a noisy environment with clearly distressed customers in front of them.

I left my MacBook at the Apple Store but am calling Apple Care when they re-open Friday morning to see if they can't speed up this repair process. Surely, Apple's fabled customer service should at least be able to match Dell's? And, no I don't have Pro Care, just the 3 year Apple Care extension. But, I don't have a special Dell support contract either, just their 3 year extension.

One more thing (to borrow Steve J.'s line): The Dell Latitude only requires a single screw to be removed to remove the hard drive. The MacBook requires removing the battery, unscrewing three screws, and removing a metal strip before you can remove the hard drive.


2006-12-29 01:16:39
The US must be lucky in regard to Dell support, as here in the UK all contact with Dell (even Sales) has been shipped out to India.

Having been involved with Dell since 1999, I would not say the change has made the support any worse (as if it could be) but when you are conversing with someone in a second language to them, it is always that much harder...made even worse when you can tell they are working through a script/check list...I have spend an hour just with a new memory problem, with the support person not telling me the reason for the weird noises until the end, when if they had just told me at the beginning it meant the memory was setted wrongly (even though I asked to be told what it meant) I would have fixed it in 2 minutes (Dell seem to like places cables in the way, so it can be a real fight to fit memory correctly).

Glad you got sorted, with Dell, hope Apple sort your HD out quick, shame that Apple after care has suffered in the latter years, although I do see an small improvement as time goes by.

Paul Naro
2006-12-29 05:50:22
Recently lost a hard drive in one of my 17" G4 laptops. Took it to my local non-Apple Apple store here in Colorado Springs. He turned it on, said yep, the hard drive is toast. Not having a drive in stock, he kept it for a couple days (over the weekend) and got it back promptly the beginning of the following week.

While the Apple stores are cool, I don't care to see one here in Colorado Springs. I can go up to Denver to one of the stores there if needed, but the independent support our local guy (Voelker Research) provides is outstanding.

2006-12-29 07:34:51
I am currently in the middle of a terrible apple repair situation myself. A few Fridays ago my 2 month old MacBook got narcoleptic and kept falling asleep every few seconds. I took it to my local apple store, after making an appointment, and the genius thought it was something with the screen closed sensor. He said it should take maybe until Tuesday & I could live with that. Tuesday comes.. Wednesday... finally Thursday I call apple care. Like you noted, they have a complete and total disconnect with the store & the repair process. They put me on hold to call the store & get a status of the repair. The apple care website is equally as worthless as it just tells me when I dropped it off & that it still isn't fixed. So the apple care representative was very nice and told me they had to order a part which should be there that day, Thursday, or Friday. No news ever comes and the following Tuesday (now 10 days after dropping it off) I contact the store manager directly & he has a genius contact me. They still need a part and expect it "today or tomorrow." Now it is Friday, a full 15 days after visiting the genius bar and dropping off the MacBook and I still do not have it back, or even a firm date when they can tell me I will get it back. A few years ago my sister had done SOMETHING to her Dell laptop & dell swooped in to pick it up the next day and had her machine back and running within 2-3 days. This apple care repair is ridiculous. I don't think I would even mind the delay as much if there was some regular and accurate communication from the store. All the status updates I have received are because I have reached out & even then, none have been accurate. Back to waiting...
2006-12-29 08:29:58
Having to fight the crowds and make appointments at the genius bar for repairs has frustrated me repeatedly in the last few years. I know in the recent past you could deal with Apple Care over the phone and they would often do exactly as Dell did with your laptop hard drive. I had an iBook battery go bad and all I had to do was call Apple Care to get a replacement in the mail. With the increasing coverage of the Apple Store they are encouraging or perhaps even forcing repairs to genius bar?

In the spirit of balance I'll relate my recent repair story when my MacBook hard drive died last month as well. I opted for a genius bar appointment to initiate the repair. They had the new drive in and the laptop ready for pick-up later that day, which was a complete surprise.

2006-12-29 08:43:24
Last summer I had the hard drive in my iBook LOST by Flextronics/Apple Repair which they then replaced with a new one (without a system on it!) -- the backups I had created - which I thought were good - turned out to have been corrupted by my iBook somehow (possibly a faulty HD but I'll never find out) and hence useless -- so the most recent backup I have is from February 15 2006...slowly I am trying to rebuild my drive...

word of advice: if you have third party RAM and/or a 3rd party hard drive in a laptop which has gone to Apple Repair, you should indicate *exactly* (on the work order) how you want your 3rd party hardware dealt with when repairing and returning your laptop...

to wit: I had replaced the paltry 40G HD in my G3 iBook with a beefy 100G for working on video and audio files -- both were Hitachi TravelStar hard drives...while in for repair, Apple decided to remove my 100G and install a 40G -- this was to return the unit to its original configuration even though I had told them on the phone to send the laptop back and *not* to replace the hard drive...

its a long involved illogical story - which ended up costing me 4 months of work - but my advice is to be very careful when sending anything into Apple Repair...the 'geniuses' at the Apple Genius Bar aren't always geniuses...and the techs at Flextronics seem to be mostly decision tree monkeys...

the repair company Apple contracts out to - in the USA - (for the heavy lifting sorts of repairs) is a company called Flextronics in Memphis, have no way to contact Flextronics directly about issues concerning your equipment and as a result are buffered by the Apple Repair people...while Apple has come a long way with their customer service they still have a long long way to go still...

the take-away is: I had to reconstruct all my business correspondence from Feb --> mid-July and although I have been lucky with having some of it backed up on servers there are still large gaps remaining...

I have never had a repair on any piece of equipment turn out so badly and cost me so much time...

Tyler McMullen
2006-12-29 10:24:59
My experience is similar with Paul Naro's above. The indepedent stores that deal solely/mostly with Apples tend to be -much- better than the Apple stores. Every single one I've been to has very knowledgeable who care about their jobs... Its an interesting conundrum.

Brown Computers, here in Brattleboro, Vermont is exceptionally good.

Jim Frost
2006-12-29 11:18:45
Your experience is pretty similar to the one I had when I had the optical drive in my Quad go bad. Now, adding and removing those drives is detailed in their manual -- it's something users are supposed to be able to do. Takes about a minute and zero tools. So I pulled it out and took it to the Apple Store to see about getting a replacement.

Nope. Have to lug in the whole (50lb) Quad.

So I do that. They verify that the drive is busted, pull it out, and give me the machine back sans drive. So far so good. But can they just give me the new drive when they get it in? Nope. I have to lug in the whole (50lb) Quad back into the store for them to do the reinsertion.

The store guys were cool about it, but they aren't allowed to let me do the work.

It turns out my Quad is part of the power supply recall so I have to lug it back to the store again for a power supply swap. Happy happy joy joy. I just love dragging that thing a half mile from the mall parking lot to the Apple store.

Regarding the MacBook drive: Removing that drive is not the easiest I've ever seen, but it's about the same as most. That is a huge improvement over the old PowerMacs whose design was such that you had to wonder if they deliberately made it impossible for an end user to get to the drive. So, I give Apple thumbs up for that particular arrangement.

2006-12-29 11:31:31
The hard drive on my 12" PowerBook started showing signs of failure late last week. I went out of town for the holiday, and upon my return I got online and snagged an appointment with a "Genius" at the Apple store 15 minutes from my home. It was VERY busy in the store, lots of holiday shoppers, but I was seen just 5 minutes later than my appointment time and was told I would have a new hard drive in 3-5 days (at no additional cost - I have Apple Care). I went home and received voice mail 2 hours later saying my computer was fixed and ready for pick up. I will be heading over there this afternoon.

Great experience for me - sorry to read about all of the others who haven't had the same level of service. BTW, my husband went through an identical situation 3 weeks ago with his 15" PowerBook. He had his hard drive replaced in record time. Maybe our particular Apple store is just a shining beacon of great customer service. Besides my concerns over both of us almost simultaneously losing our hard drives on 2 and 3-year old machines, I am a definite Mac convert.

BTW, the store where we received such great service is in Phoenix at the Biltmore.

2006-12-29 11:32:34
i've never had any problems myself with support from Apple but i was always under the assumption that their support system was horrible...unless you publicly embaress them ;-)
2006-12-29 11:44:01
I have an iMac G5. The optical drive failed. I went online to Apple's DYI section and answered some simple questions. They authorized the replacement part. It was received via DHL the following day. I opened the back of the iMac and replaced the drive. Put the old drive in the box provided by Apple, called DHL and by 5 PM they had picked up the old part. My experience so far has been excellent with Apple service. I do have AppleCare on everything however, so that might make the difference.
2006-12-29 11:50:27
Interestingly, my Apple Warranty repairs have mostly been horrible, while my out of Warranty have been smooth. I am lucky enough to have 2 independent Mac repair shops in town: YES Computers took almost three weeks to replace a power supply, after calling Apple to find out the issue - Never going there again. The Core Solution Group (with Brown Computer in VT) repaired my PBG4 screen in 24 hours, and found out, after Apple telling me it was out of warranty, that it had 6 days still under warranty.

The Dells I work with, well, 50/50 on those also. One bad keyboard still bad after almost a month, and many tech visits. Another replaced/repaired in 24 hours.

At least the Apple guys were super friendly, the Dell guy was just a drone here to replace parts A, B and C ... nothing more.

Christopher Brown
2006-12-29 12:03:18
I've had good and bad experiences with both Dell and Apple, but I'd like to compare just my most recent. While living in the US about 2 yrs ago, I had problems with a Dell Inspiron (bad video card). I used all the supplied Dell diagnostics and did some differential analysis of my own. The Dell service rep repeatedly asked silly, script-based questions and tried to force me to redo the diagnostics step-by-step, ignoring the data I'd already given him. Finally after about 1.5 hrs on the phone, he agreed that the video card was bad (which it was) and the laptop was shipped off for warranty repair. Contrast that with Apple service in, of all places, Cape Town South Africa. I had a logic board problem on a 15" PowerBook. Local dealer (Project 3) said "ja, covered under AppleCare, but sometimes takes a couple days to get parts from Joburg..." Within a week, I had perfectly repaired notebook.
2006-12-29 12:09:45
Totally opposite of my experience with a G4 iBook dead drive (I bought this 15 months after these were discontinued, at a school store. Warranty began with the sale to me, not manuf. date). FWIW, it's a minor nightmare to get to the drive on this laptop--the MacBook is a doddle in comparison. But I digress. Diagnosed dead drive within 5 minutes of speaking to Apple Care rep. Was offered Genius bar, *or* ship it in for repair. Empty box arrived on my porch the next morning, then was picked up within *15* minutes of my calling DHL. Back in my hands, fully repaired (in Tennessee; I live in California), 60 hours later. I couldn't be happier.

To compare this to Dell's sending a $90 HD in a box; labor = 0; logistics = near zero, is just silly. I can get a cheap HD and jam it in myself at Frys' a 5 minute drive.

Deborah York
2006-12-29 12:12:40
In mid-November my 4-month old MacBook Pro 17" died. It made a beeping sound and would never start up again. I had the same experience others have mentioned in having to take it to a local Apple Store and being told they needed a part, and then another part, and then they didn't know what to do so they sent it away for repair. It is six weeks now and still no communication about what is wrong or when it might be repaired/returned.

My past experience with Apple was fantastic. My old laptop had some keys that stopped working and Apple got it repaired in 1 day by sending me a box and returning it by mail. I was amazed and impressed so I have no clue that this time I would get the service from hell. It's comforting to know that others are experiencing similar problems but distressing to learn that apple customer service has gotten so bad.

I'm a loyal Apple customer since the early 80's. They should really not alienate their core customer base. Wish me luck on getting it back.

Machine Operator
2006-12-29 12:41:24
More proof that Apple, maker of perfect iPods and perfect accessories and perfect fifth-pocket jeans for perfect Steve Jobs isn't perfect.
2006-12-29 13:00:07
In my opinion, if you would have dealt directly with Applecare, you'd have been much better off than if you went to the store. I know that it's annoying that it's not easy to remove the HD on the Macbook, but that's a sacrifice made for size, I believe. That's why for Applecare, you need to send the whole machine in for a hard drive problem. In my experience with Applecare, I always just had them send me the return box and I got things back in a very timely manner.
2006-12-29 13:32:35
Dell is striving to resolve customer issues on the first call if at all possible. We're not yet where we want to be, but it's heartening to read that our efforts are being noticed.
2006-12-29 13:49:50
I've had similar experiences, but I had to fight with Apple care because I used to live in a remote community (7 hour drive to nearest apple store) luckily (for them) I was going to the city in a couple days. In the store I didn't have a problem though. With regards to dell I was the IT guy for a company, and it got to be routine to replace the psu and/or cpu after power surges during a particularly harsh winter and I could have a standard warranty call wrapped up in 30 mins or less and two days later have the parts in hand (gold service took less time on the phone but still same shipping time.) During the battery fiasco it was easy as pie to get replacements, I went to their replacement website, plugged in the serial numbers and in less than a week I had replacements in, none of my macs were affected by the recall though so I cant speak to their side of the recall.
2006-12-29 13:51:29
I had a relatively good experience with repairing something through the apple store. The connection on my Ibook screen was going (it had to be opened at a certain angle for the screen to work). Basically I diagnosed it myself, but went to the genius bar to get a second opinion after looking around for someone to fix it, he tested it agreed with me and gave my my options. I had them send it back to apple to get it fixed though he said it could take a week he said i would probably get it back in 2-3 days. He was right I got it back in 2 days...less than 48 hours. Not only had they fixed it they cleaned it up and replaced the missing little rubber feet, and fixed whatever was wrong with connection to the power cord (that I had long ago learned to live with) without any additional charge.

It was a hassle bringing it to the apple store (but I live where there is one close to work and another close to home so it is not so bad). It was quicker and easier than having to ship it out myself and probably safer and cheaper in the long run. The price on the repair was in line with the places I talked to and with not alot of Apple repair options/parts available without shipping it out or ordering the parts online it was probably just as quick if not quicker.

Scott Schaefer
2006-12-29 13:56:15
Probably would have been better for you to be sent to an authorized service provider. We can turn around repairs in 48 hrs or less - including parts shipments.. but there are less and less of us around. Apricott Associates services most of NY (and NYC), Northeast PA & South Florida
Bill Bradford
2006-12-29 14:17:32
I've had good results so far with AppleCare.

When I had an iMac G5, I had to replace the logic board / midplane due to the faulty capacitors problem. After diagnosis, they shipped me a new board and instructions, I swapped things out, and the faulty part went back to Apple via DHL (with no money out of my pocket).

When the power supply went flaky six months later, the local Apple Store (Houston Galleria) had a new one installed within two hours of me dropping the system off.

So far, I'm crossing my fingers and have had no problems whatsoever on either my Core Duo 20" iMac or my May-2006-manufactured MacBook.

2006-12-29 14:19:55
Yeah, alteast you didn't have an ibook die on you - that requires an almost complete dissasembly of the Laptop to get to the HD.
2006-12-29 14:20:01
Let's hear the excuses Mac fans. Nice read.
Michael Loftis
2006-12-29 14:22:41
I've had similar experiences with Apple support. Including them REFUSING to let me purchase Apple Protection Plan for a PowerBook only a few DAYS after it expired. Nothing wrong with the unit, just wanted to extend the warranty!
2006-12-29 14:24:40
I work at AppleCare. The agent pretty much blew it in referring you to the Apple Store. Call back, ask for a senior-level agent if need be, but really really ask for a hard drive to be sent to you. (Unlike the MacBook Pro, the MacBook has a customer-installable hard drive. Woohoo!) The drive will be delivered overnight. Sorry for the experience--
2006-12-29 14:24:40
I gotta say, they only problem I have ever had with a parts replacement, or any failure with my Macs, has been post-warranty. I have never had any issue with an item still under Applecare, ever.

I had some bad support once when they were temporarily using support in India, and the support staff there told me I had to buy the latest OS to fix the problem (a bad video card driver).

I've been using Macs in their various incarnations since the Apple IIe, and I also used several different PCs for my employer and their software requirements. I'm extremely satisfied with my Apple experiences over the years, but I'm also open to learning more about any service failures.

Happy Hogmanay to you all!

2006-12-29 14:25:35
Apple always ships me replacement hard drives without a question. Maybe I am lucky. The quicker way is to take the machine to a local service provider. They seem to get hard drives faster then I from Apple.
2006-12-29 14:28:32
you COULD just ask them to overnight a box to send your macbook in and you could skip the genius bar altogether. Obviously the macbook/mb pro are not user servicable when it comes to the harddrive. Sure you could...but if you are poking around in there it could void your warranty.

I'm more interested to see if you get a NEW harddrive from apple rather than the refurbished unit dell will send you.

2006-12-29 14:30:18
My Dad lives on Oahu, so when I am out there I go to the Apple store @ Ala Moana Shopping Center and IMHO, the customer support sucks there. My experiences with support on the mainland is usually way better.
2006-12-29 14:30:49
Well i have been a Mac user for 15 plus years and for some reason most of my new macs have been serviced more than all of my older stuff put together. One thing i have learned is you never goto the Apple store to see a Genius for hardware service, because they send out 99% of machines to Flextronics for repair. Find a local Apple Reseller/Service Center for almost immidiate repair. I live in California in Santa Monica and got MACEXPERTS on lincoln. They offer rush service 24 hour turnaround and loaners as well. I got the Apple store if i have time to waste other than that Apple Reseller
Mac Fan
2006-12-29 14:34:49
I gotta say I've had 2 laptops into Apple in the last 6 months and they each had to be shipped back to apple's repair center in Texas 2 more times to get them fixed correctly. So I guess the problem doesn't end when you ship the laptop to apple. However, they were nice over the phone and in person at the apple store.
Hank Muller
2006-12-29 14:36:29
I work network support for a large hospital in New Orleans with around 8,000 users, I have always had excellent response from Dell for everything from parts to complete replacement units.
2006-12-29 14:39:02
Step outside of Steve's reality distortion field, and the realities of Mac ownership hit you in the face. Dude, stick with Dell.
2006-12-29 14:40:38
Neither recommended data recovery?
2006-12-29 14:40:53
I recently had the HDD in my 17" mac book pro go and instead of taking my mac to a mac store they sent me a box to ship the mac to them did so and i get it back in about 3 days witha new HDD in it wasn't to bad for me
2006-12-29 14:42:20
My experience with Dell depends entirely on what time of day I call, and which toll free number I choose to call in with. Sometimes I would get the US call centre, sometimes one in Mexico, and sometimes one in India. The guys in Mexico seemed to be the hardest to convince to move away from the script... It was easier to wait until the other call center took the hand off than to try to fight them.

"I don't need to reformat; I'm getting memory errors using your own diagnostics CD."

2006-12-29 14:43:24
you're writing style is very confusing
2006-12-29 14:44:57
A lot of that sounds like bad timing for Apples system. Any other time of the year in most locations, your repair would have been faster than waiting for the box from Dell, sending your drive back and waiting for them to send the new drive.

Sounds like you hit a lot of unfortunate circumstances, it'd be nice if there was a backup plan but there's not yet.

Alex Kac
2006-12-29 14:54:05
You must push the agent on the phone to repair the machine. They will do it if you push. They are required to. Then its a 3 day wait - one to ship laptop to them, one to ship it back and the middle.
2006-12-29 14:55:28
i had to get the case on my ibook replaced because i cracked it. it took 2 days, shipped overnight to the repair center and back.
I win, you lose.
Scott Jones
2006-12-29 14:57:14
(Houston) Dude I went through the same thing over a freaking power cord(last gen before mag). Assholes had twenty of them for store use and wouldn't sell me one. I offered full price. Genius looked one up on Ebay for me though, that was really cool of him. They need more fundage in lieu of their gay apparel.
2006-12-29 14:57:48
I'm an apple certified technician and I was formally employed at Microcenter. We rarely had an issue with apple. In fact, Apple was one of our preferred vendors when it came to warranty repair. The catch is that Microcenter is an Apple Authorized Service Provider. We don't have to go through the red tape that the average customer does and we usually get parts in about 2 to 3 business days. Customers can usually have their system fixed within a few days. However, we couldn't even talk to Dell.
2006-12-29 15:01:14
I've sidestepped the whole Apple Store deal by insisting on them letting me send my notebook in for repair.
2006-12-29 15:01:48

had the same type of symptom with my macbook, but backlight was also out. agree with everyone who finds apple retail repair experience less than ideal...poor communication, poor turnaround time. i just hope apple's rep for hardware keeps this mess from happening again.

2006-12-29 15:03:45
BTW next time you need to go to the Genius Bar, set your appointment here: Of course, they probably won't meet your appointment time exactly but it is better than walking into the store to setup your appointment.
2006-12-29 15:16:40
Hard Drive problems? Check out - it comes with a 100% money back guarantee and works extremely well. Downside is that you need to plug it into a PC, it doesnt work on a mac.

You can fix your hard drive in your home, without sending it away most times. Check out the site above for testimonials.

PS I do not work for GRC (the company who produce spinrite). The only association that I have with the product is that I have saved several hard drives (including my master backup drive) from imminent failure and data loss!

Scott Andreas
2006-12-29 15:16:42
My experience with Apple was a little more positive. My 3 year-old AlBook caught a nasty case of narcolepsy; it would constantly wake up, go to sleep, wake up, sleep, etc. After some Googling, I traced the problem to a faulty ambient light sensor near the power button.

So, I made a quick backup via Target Disk Mode and set up Genius Bar appt. online through Concierge and dropped by the Apple Store. I told the tech I was an IT professional, showed him a printout of the problem, and he overnighted my laptop to Texas and let me grab a file off of my external hard drive by plugging it into a Mac at the store. Their support depot fixed my PowerBook the next day, and it was back in my hands the day after that.

So, there's my tale. Glad that you got everything fixed, at least!

Chris C
2006-12-29 15:20:24
Anonymous: YOUR spelling is atrocious. :)
2006-12-29 15:20:48
I have an old g3 iBook that was covered under the logic board replacement plan. Every 8 months the motherboard goes out, I call up Apple they send me a box and I ship it out, I get it back in about 3 days at my door. The best part though is that if there are any missing keys or the display hinge is tweaked, they fix it for free. They even replace the little rubber feet on the bottom
2006-12-29 15:21:23
I have had nothing but horror with dell support, and good experiences with Apple support. I think you just got lucky with dell, and with apple I can't say.