Ray Richards is founder of Mindspan Consultants and a technology journalist hailing from Ottawa, Canada

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Clones vs. Brand Names PCs

With all the choices availalble in the marketplace, how does one go about making an educated decision when purchasing a new computer for the desktop. A case may be made for either option, but when taking life cycle costing (how much the the the machine is actually going to cost over its lifecycle including repairs, maintenance and support) into account, the choice becomes more apparent.

Benefits of Clones

  • Lower Price.
  • Ease of Upgradability.
  • Availability of Parts.
  • Non-proprietary nature of systems.
  • Widest range of system configuration options at outset.

Clone Drawbacks

  • Multi vendor responsibility for part warranty.
  • Less financial stability of machine vendor; possibly resulting in future service difficulties.
  • Questionable quality of non specified parts (e.g.: power supply, case, floppies etc.)
  • Paper thin vendor profit margins result in lower level of service provided.
  • No on-site warranty coverage.
  • No 24 hour / 7 day a week 1-800 support.
  • No bundled software.
  • No certification (e.g.: Novell, Microsoft NT, 3COM etc.) leading to each vendor blaming the other for incompatibility issues.
  • No compliance with ISO standards.

Benefits of Brand Name Systems

  • Systems engineered by vendor in its entirety; resulting in consistent performance and compatibility.
  • Systems undergo certification process by third party vendors to ensure compatibility.
  • ISO compliance in manufacturing technique, ensuring consistency in product.
  • 1-800 Support 24 hours / 7days
  • On-site service
  • Bundled software (including appropriate drivers for networking / printers etc.)
  • Financial stability of vendor; ensuring continued support.


Drawbacks of Brand Name Systems

  • Higher price.
  • Proprietary nature of systems.
  • Often vendor specific upgrade path.
  • Often higher priced upgrades.
  • Occasional "orphan" systems abandoned by vendor.
  • Less initial configuration options; model number dependent.


Should a service issue never come up, the choice would be obvious in favour of the clone option; however, in light of the unrealistic nature of this expectation, a closer look must be taken at the environment in which the systems are to be utilized. In mission critical situations, our experience has led us to opt for brand name systems; as down time very rapidly exhausts any capital cost benefit realized from a clone purchase at the outset. In less critical environments, clones represent a good low cost alternative to brand names. If you take the Government of Canada's policy for PC acquisition as an example of "Best Practices", you will discover that all departmental systems are to be purchased from vendors who have passed rigorous Benchmarking standards and are ISO 9000 compliant. The reason for this is evidenced by the recent Gartner Group study involving "Total Cost of Ownership" of a PC based LAN.  As capital costs only represent %21 of the total IT expenditure for an organization, it is imperative that the other aspects (see fig. 1) be addressed.


Fig. 1

Cost of PC Ownership

According to Gartner Group's findings, an additional %21 of  the total computer technology budget is associated with technical support. If only %5.69 of  this figure can be recouped annually by the reduced support costs associated with the purchase of brand name hardware over a five year life cycle, you would realize no financial benefit from the purchase of clone hardware. If the percentage proved higher, you would acutally incur a loss.


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