Computer Shows, Don't Get Scammed - Just Treasure Hunt 

What's a Computer Show?  These are the computer super sales and such you hear advertised as "This weekend only, at the Slime Center...bla,bla,bla.". They have the appearance of a flea market when you walk in, except it's a bunch of companies that usually own small to medium size shops. They get together by the powers of some marketing agency and hold "shows". Normally, there is an admittance charge of $5-10. The bigger the show, generally the better deals you will find.

The Scoop: Shows can be the place to find unbelievable bargains. They can also "rob you blind". Don't go to a show without a GURU by your side...unless you are only buying software. There are some great deals on software at these shows, most of the programs you've been buying can be had for as low as 20% of the retail cost. Just plan on buying several programs to make the cost of admittance worth the savings. Know before hand what programs you want and their retail prices, this helps greatly in appreciating what a bargain you're getting.

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Bad Thad's Show Rule 1 - Know Thy Prices
Purchasing hardware is a fairly complex task unless you know exactly what you are looking at! You must have a GURU or explicit instructions from a GURU before attempting this ANYWHERE. A good GURU will be able to tell you the wholesale and street prices of specific hardware before you enter a show.
Bad Thad's Show Rule 2 - Know Thy Vendor
There are MANY, MANY "shady" dealers at these shows. If you are close to making a buying decision, talk to SEVERAL of the employees before you buy. Ask them a few questions and, if possible, make 'em tough questions so you can see how they interact with each other. Hang around their tables for a while and see what's going on. You can read a lot about a company by how well their employee's work together. If there is no English being spoken (no offense to anybody), and you don't even know what language they are speaking, walk away. Unfortunately, you will most likely never be able to resolve a problem with these people over the phone. Unless they are speaking clear, easy to understand English, there will likely be several misunderstands of what you say to each other while trying to resolve issues. If you speak their language, well great, they ARE the people you should buy from. Resolving any problems will be a breeze. Next, find out where they're located. Are they 3 state's away? Are they in your city (hopefully). Buy from local people, you can talk to them face to face if necessary. Find out their return policy, is there a dreaded "restocking fee". Some places will charge you up to 20% if you want to return a product.
Bad Thad's Show Rule 3 - Know Thy Hardware
NEVER buy hardware if you are not 100% sure what you are looking at. Don't trust what the salesperson tells you. If you're not sure, look for a person in the crowd that might be able to answer your questions...OR, better yet, follow your GURU's instructions. Low, low prices on boxed hardware is the best way to go. Unfortunately, most of the hardware at shows in known as OEM. These items often come with abbreviated documentation and, sometimes, no drivers and a shorter warranty. The good thing about computer parts is they are electronic. Bad Thad's Electronics' Rule: If it makes it past the first 30-60 days, it will probably last for many years. OEM items are usually safe to buy from a trusted source.
Bad Thad's Show Rule 4 - Buy on Saturday
Shows usually last for 2 days, Saturday and Sunday. If you buy an item on Saturday, and you decide you don't want it or it's JUNK, you can return to the show on Sunday and cram it in their face. Although, at this point, you'd probably want to cram it somewhere else! hehehehe 
Bad Thad's Show Rule 5 - Spend Thy Money Wisely
Comparison shop. Before you buy anything walk around and see what different vendors are charging for an item you want to buy. After you have "surveyed" the market, so to speak, go to the vendor that you feel you can trust for service and ask him to beat the lowest price -- or at least to match it. Most vendors at these shows are willing to come down from the first price they quote. Pay attention to the vendor's attitude when you ask for a lower price -- it tells you a lot about what his attitude will be if you have a problem with the item he sells you. In other words, a rude or nasty response to your request for a lower price is a good sign that you'll get the same response, or worse, if you have to return an item. The best way to learn about prices is to check the web before you go to a show. Visit http://www.killerapp.com/ and you will find what the lowest price is for any hardware you are planning to buy. If you decide to buy over the internet, check out http://www.resellerratings.com/ and see what other customers have to say about the vendor you are thinking of ordering from. 
Bad Thad's Show Rule 6 - Go With the Crowd
One of the best ways to find a good vendor is to look for those that have the biggest crowds at their booths. There's usually a good reason for all the customer interest. While you're there keep your ears open to what the customers are saying. You can learn a lot by tuning into conversations. And hey, don't be afraid to ask questions of your fellow shoppers -- most of gurus are pretty darn friendly.
Bad Thad's Show Rule 7 - Beware Forked Tongues

I have found that about a third of the vendors at a computer show are liars. They will tell you whatever they think you need to hear. Well, if you don't know that much about computers ask the same question from several vendors. And again, look for the vendors with a crowd -- they usually know what they're talking about. The worst possible scam at computer shows is the "mismarked" CPU game. Yep, about 20% of the processor chips sold in this country have had their name plates changed by some very sophisticated criminals. What this means is that an Intel Pentium II 300mhz computer chip will have had its name "erased" and replace with Pentium II 450, or even Pentium III. YOU CAN'T TELL BY LOOKING AT THE CHIPS. The key is, if you don't trust a vendor 100% don't buy a CPU from him. A computer will not be fooled by mismarking, so if you do buy a CPU get it into a PC quickly and see what the computer says when it first boots up. Cyrix and AMD CPUs are easier to remark than Intel chips, so be doubly careful with these. I only buy CPUs from a few reputable Internet suppliers. Also local computer vendors are a good source -- but a few of these have sold mismarked chips unknowingly.

Bad Thad's Show Rule 8 - Don't Get Greedy

IF IT SEEMS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE IT PROBABLY IS!

Don't forget that simple idea. Most scams are based on the offering of something so fantastic that the buyer can't resist. If everyone is selling a Pentium II 450 for about $200 and you see a vendor offering one for $150 you're probably looking at a problem of some sort. Go with the crowd -- but this time a crowd of vendors. All of their prices will normally vary plus or minus 10% around an average on hardware. Anyone offering to beat the crowd by 20% is out of the ordinary and may be hiding something from you. But what the hay, if you find such a deal it may be legitimate -- just make darn sure it is before you hand over your bread. Ask plenty of questions, check out the vendors background and even ask the vendor to prove to you that the product is what it is claimed to be. If he gets ugly and nasty go shop somewhere else. But mostly, convince yourself that you will be able to return the item to the vendor for a FULL refund if it is less than claimed.

Last word on this subject. I have actually gone to another vendor and asked him about the one that I was suspicious of!

Bad Thad's Show Rule 9 - Have Fun
OK, I didn't mean to scare anyone away from computer shows. They are interesting, fun and offer some good concentrated shopping. Prices are usually bargains when compared to Best Buy or Comp USA., and most of the vendors are basically honest. Most of the vendors at your local computer show are full time vendors and will show up at every computer show in your area.
Bad Thad's Show Rule 10 - Beware Used Hardware
A basic rule of thumb when it comes to used hardware. Stay away from anything used and mechanical. If it has gears, wheels, belts, motors or anything else that moves -- don't buy it for more than you can afford to throw away. This includes hard drives, CD drives, floppy drives, power supplies, cooling fans, and Zip Drives(etc.). Moving parts wear out.

Used electronic devices are reasonably safe. In fact, some people prefer used stuff. As I said before, if anything "solid state" survives the first 30 - 60 days of use it is apt to last for many, many years (like 50?). This would include CPUs, ram, cache, modems, motherboards, sound cards, video cards, SCSI and so forth. The main risk with this stuff is that it has been exposed to bad electrical current -- while this is relatively rare it does happen. So again, don't pay more for used stuff unless than you can afford to throw away -- or trust the vendor to replace it for you if it is no good.

Buying a used monitor is an iffy act. My experience is that monitors normally last for a minimum of 5 years -- and mostly much more. I have one that I use when I repair computers that is 7 years old and going strong -- and I have seen 15 year old monitors doing just fine. So here the test is easy. Look at the monitor in operation before you buy it. It either looks good to your eye or it doesn't. There is no other test that I know of. As to how long it will last? Could be 10 more years or just 10 minutes. Certainly a used monitor is not worth more than $25 to $50 unless it is less than 2 years old. One can buy a decent new 15" monitor for $120 or less -- so a used one has to be a real bargain, or an act of desperation. My bro bought a 7 year old used IBM (brand) 15" monitor for $50 a few years ago. It was great. Better than many of the new monitors. In fact, it was better than the new replacement monitor he bought about a year later to replace that crapped out IBM. But hey, at the time he only had $50 to spare for a monitor and that old IBM carried him through.

Used printers. Don't buy one. Well, maybe for 50 cents if it has new ink cartridges in it. If someone gives you one for free without new ink cartridges in it, throw it away. Enough said on this subject.

Used scanners. Read above section on "used printer" but delete references to ink cartridges.

Used mouse. You've got to be kidding. If you don't have $5 for a new one think about shop lifting.

How about a used PC? That's OK. Plug it in and see if it works. Make sure the hard drive works, put a CD in and see if that works, ditto for the floppy drive. But remember, most of the used PCs out there are obsolete -- and not worth much in way of price. On the other hand, if someone is selling a PC that is 2 or 3 years old it may be just what you need. But heck, don't pay more than half of what a new super cheap PC would cost you because the cheapest new PC is far superior to the 2 to 3 year old super deluxe model of yore! In other words, the only reason for buying a used PC is to save a bunch of money -- that is, that's all you can afford. So if the used PC is not super cheap, forget it. In today's market I wouldn't pay more than $300 for ANY computer more than 2 years old (well, unless it had a really great monitor with it). See, people paid 2000 bucks for their old "hardly used" PC and think they should get at least half their money back. Not so. You can buy a new far superior PC today for around $1000.

Some people selling used computers want to get extra bucks because it is loaded with a bunch of software. That is certainly something to consider in pricing. But not unless you get the CDs or original floppies that the software came with. Having software on the hard drive without these backup sources is of no value. Why? Because if the hard drive dies, or some other malfunction corrupts a file, the software is dead in the water unless you have the CD or floppies to reload it. Dead in the water means zero value.

Further, software technology advances about as fast as hardware technology. So the software that comes with a used PC is also most likely obsolete. OK, serviceable -- but of little value in terms of dollars! You're apt to find newer versions of the software at computer shows for super cheap (like $5 each).

Computer technology does not stand still -- just the opposite -- equipment obsoletes in a year or less -- and that is the main draw back to buying used equipment. Unless, that is, it's the path you are following. After all, if you are using an old IBM 286 computer and you upgrade to a 486 you will be extremely happy. Well, you won't be able to run all of the new modern software, but you will perceive a great improvement over what you were used to. And this is not a bad plan if you don't have the cash to buy new. Better old than none.

In fact, Bad Thad recommends this: If you have no computer experience and aren't even sure you want a PC, buy a used one for no more than $300. Play with it for a few months and then throw it away. Then, if you liked using the computer buy a new, or newer, one. If you didn't enjoy your computer experience go play Mike White's Yard Golf or whatever.

If all you want to do is surf the web, do email and type a few letters buy a used PC with a Pentium CPU. Anything of the Pentium 90 or greater will suffice. But you must, must, must, have at least a 28.8 modem and Windows95. Again, were looking at no more than a $300 or so investment here.

And if all you want to do is use a computer as a typewriter, buy a used IBM 486 for $100 (or less) and buy a NEW inkjet printer for another $100. Just make sure the PC has a word processing program loaded on it. Microsoft Word or Works will do just fine. You'll think you're in heaven for a mere $200.

 

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