PC warranties abound, but feds debate the value

Is a long-term PC warranty a jewel in the crown of the government buyer or just another
extra that drives up overall cost?


Four of the largest indefinite-delivery, indefinite-quantity contracts have five-year
or longer warranties.


Some buyers say this helps them better manage desktop ownership costs, but skeptics
criticize the extra cost and added paperwork.


On the Army's PC-2 contract, BTG Inc. of Fairfax, Va., offers a lifetime warranty.
Competing PC-2 contractor Sysorex Information Systems Inc., also of Fairfax, gives five
years.


Five-year warranties are available on many large IDIQs:


Responsibility for honoring long warranties lies with the contract holder, said Anthony
Battista, team leader in the Army's Small Computer Program at Fort Monmouth, N.J.


For example, if GTSI supplier Everex Systems Inc. of Fremont, Calif., were to go out of
business, GTSI would somehow have to repair or replace any broken Everex notebook bought
through Portable-2, Battista said.


Long-term warranties show "some confidence by manufacturers and resellers that the
stuff is going to work," Battista said.


Most of the Army's recent requests for proposals have mandated a minimum of three years
of vendor support, he said, and bidders "are coming back with at least five
years."


In contrast, General Services Administration schedule contract holders offer anywhere
from 90 days to one or two years of product support. "It's a hell of a lot cheaper to
buy a product and have no [support] cost over five years," Battista said.


GTSI's Portable-2 buyers have no extra warranty paperwork, said Patty Bortz, the
contractor's Portable-2 program manager. She said a notebook user calls GTSI and simply
reads off the serial number to get service under what she called a hot-swappable warranty,
which means the company sends a new notebook to replace an ailing one.


But an official of Dell Computer Corp., the leading GSA Schedule 70 B/C contract
seller, said long-term warranties drive up the costs of all desktop products sold under a
contract, regardless of whether buyers want the support.


"Long-term warranties sound attractive in theory, but I'm not sure how well they
would work for us," said Bill Underwood, IRM director at the Federal Transit
Administration.


Underwood said FTA tries to replace its desktop PCs every three years, so a long-term
warranty would have limited usefulness. FTA usually buys PCs with one- or two-year
warranties from a company affiliated with the Small Business Administration's 8(a)
program, he said.


Long-term warranties encourage obsolescence, said Manual Perez, network administrator
at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Port Hueneme, Calif. "By the time you buy a
product, it's going to be obsolete in three to four years," Perez said.


He said his department of 200 tries to replace desktop PCs within two years. The
department has a dozen users with 90-MHz PCs at the low end and has gotten rid of its last
486s, he said.


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