This article is excerpted from Joshua Feinberg's new book, What Your Computer Consultant Doesn't Want You to Know , available from

If your small business has more than a handful of PCs, in time you'll develop a service history and learn what kinds of hardware items break fairly regularly.

You'll also see how to convince your PC vendor to supply replacement parts under warranty coverage, as well as how to estimate the time for getting the replacement part to your company and installed into the appropriate PC.

A major cost to consider is employee downtime, as well as time spent by your internal guru chasing down the warranty replacement part, perhaps during an inopportune time.

Understanding the Cost of System Downtime

For a quick, back-of-the-napkin calculation of what system downtime might be costing your company, consider:

(A) Projected annual revenue
(B) Business days per year
(C) Hours in a business day

Your hourly cost of system downtime = A / [B x C]

For example, if your company plans to do $4,000,000 in annual sales (A) over 250 business days (B), with 8-hour days (C), your hourly cost of system downtime is $2,000 ($4,000,000 divided by 250 days times 8 hours a day).

Great Spares

Consider a basic mouse, for example. Most PC vendors would be happy to cover such an inexpensive item under the standard warranty. However, given that you could purchase a spare replacement mouse for about $10 to $30, is it really worth one of your employees being without a mouse, or worse yet without a PC, for a day or two while you await the cross-shipped replacement part under your warranty coverage?

Now your internal guru still may want to pursue getting the broken mouse replaced under warranty coverage. But if you have a spare mouse on hand, at least the warranty claim can be deferred a few days, or a few weeks, until time permits. In the interim, you've mitigated the downtime for a very nominal advanced planning expense.

Similarly, keeping a spare keyboard and monitor at your office makes sense. Again, the cost of these items is very inexpensive relative to the potential productivity loss while you're waiting for replacement parts to arrive. These three external items also have a unique appeal: They can all be installed rapidly by a PC beginner, without going near the innards of the PC.

Spare Desktop PCs

As the price of entry-level desktop PCs has plummeted and expectations for zero downtime have risen, we've also seen small businesses purchasing an extra PC, to keep fully-configured and ready to plug in on a moment's notice.

In the old days of expensive PC hardware, small businesses used to routinely spend $100 to upgrade their warranty from one year to three years on-site coverage.

But today, if your standard, fully-configured entry-level desktop PC only costs around $600, an office with as few as six PCs can fully fund the purchase of a spare desktop PC, simply by self-insuring on the warranty coverage for years two and three. At the same time, consider how much the $600 desktop PC really is worth on paper (after depreciation) following years one and two.

The Bottom Line

Again, I'm not advocating that you haul broken desktop PC equipment out to the dumpster. However, I do strongly recommend that you invest some of your technology budget in select spare parts, and a full desktop PC, so that you can handle warranty claims at your leisure, not when your company is swamped and functioning in panic mode. And if you're outsourcing this sort of work to a local computer consultant, keeping spares on hand will lessen the need to pay costly emergency rate premiums.

Follow-Up Questions

  • Do you keep track of each time some piece of PC hardware breaks, so that you can look for trends over time?
  • Have you had much experience in placing PC hardware tech support calls, the general prerequisite for getting a PC vendor to provide related warranty service?
  • Are you aware of the time required to place a warranty service call with a PC hardware vendor, as well as the time it will ultimately take to get the system repaired?
  • Who is responsible for contacting the PC vendor to initiate a warranty service request: the end user, your internal guru or an outside computer consultant?
  • If a PC is unusable while you await vendor repair, what plans do you have in place to mitigate the impact of system downtime on your employee productivity and bottom line?
  • Do you know roughly what it costs your company for every hour or business day that one employee or multiple employees are without access to a critical PC hardware system?
  • Do you keep a spare mouse, monitor or keyboard at your office?
  • Have you considered investing in a spare fully configured desktop PC to mitigate expensive system downtime at inopportune times?

Joshua Feinberg ( helps small businesses save money on computer support costs. His latest book, What Your Computer Consultant Doesn't Want You to Know ($19.99, Small Biz Tech Talk Press), exposes 101 money-saving secrets of expensive techies. To order Joshua's new book, visit or call 866-TECH-EXPERT (866-832-4397).

© Copyright 2003, Joshua Feinberg
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