Common Tech Myths That Cost You Money

Ever scoff at someone for buying refurbished? Or found yourself spending $50 on an HDMI cable? We all hear (and spread) tech myths, but in some cases those myths end up costing you a lot of money. It's time to debunk the myths that drain your hard-earned cash from your wallet.

Title image remixed from silver tiger (Shutterstock)

Myth #1: Refurbished Products Aren't As Good As New Ones

Refurbished products get a bad rap because a lot of people equate refurbished with "used". However, "refurbished" and "used" are not identical. Refurbished gadgets come from a variety of sources:

  • A product with damage to the unit itself or its packaging which has been returned and fixed.
  • A demo unit from a retailer.
  • An open box item that was returned by someone who decided not to keep it.
  • A defective product that has been returned and fixed.

Once a product is returned, it's inspected and deemed ready for sale again, but it can't be sold as new, so it's sold as refurbished for a fraction of the cost. That means being a refurbished item can be a great way to save money. Check product descriptions carefully to ensure you know what you're getting into. Under Australian consumer law, products sold still have to be fit for purpose even if they are seconds or refurbished items, but you can't ask for a refund based on a flaw that has been clearly identified at the time of purchase. When in doubt, ask. Photo by dwstucke

Myth #2: Extended Warranties Are Worth The Money

It's almost impossible to buy from an electronics retailer without someone trying to upsell you an extended warranty. In most cases, extended warranties are not worth the extra cost.

As we've discussed before, extended warranties are a contentious issue. In many cases, it's cheaper to just set up your own "extented warranty" fund. Remember that retailers can't impose an arbitrary period on when warranty support is available; there aren't set legal guidelines in Australia, but goods are expected to operate for a reasonable length of time. A particular case in point: if you buy a phone on contract for 24 months, that phone is covered for the life of the contract.

Consumer law issues aside, if you're even remotely technically savvy, you can do most repairs yourself, including iPhone screen replacements, laptop repairs and general software fixes. Learning to do basic tech repairs isn't just good for saving you money; it also saves you from being without favourite gadgets for weeks on end waiting for warranty repairs. If all else fails you can always try and get free repairs without a valid warranty. The fact of the matter is that most extended warranties will go unused, so think carefully before buying. Photo by trenttsd.

Myth #3: More Expensive Cables Offer Better Quality

Electronics stores offer lots of high-priced cables, and the salesperson will invariably try and steer you towards the more expensive option. When it comes to digital cables, there's no point: they either work or they don't. Spending more makes no difference to quality. You won't see a difference between cables that transfer digital data, such as HDMI or DVI. In our experience, the cheapest source for HDMI cables remains ordering from a Hong Kong supplier via eBay.

Analogue audio cables are the partial exception, and the main reason this myth has survived. Analogue cables will cause a change in the quality of sound, but unless you're a hardcore audiophile obsessing over every aspect of sound quality, you still won't notice the differencePhoto by alx_chief.

Myth #4: Better Processors Make For Better All-Around Speed

In the early days of the personal computer revolution, processor speed was incredibly important. The difference between a 1GHz processor and a 1.5GHz processor was noticeable, even to novices, and the importance of clock speed became ingrained in our minds. But nowadays things are a little different. As Ars Technica points out, comparing clock speeds between processors isn't as important as it was 10 years ago:

In a nutshell, the Pentium 4 took many more clock cycles to do the same amount of work as the original Pentium, so its clockspeed was much higher for the equivalent amount of work. This is one core reason why there's little point in comparing clockspeeds across different processor architectures and families — the amount of work done per clock cycle is different for each architecture, so the relationship between clockspeed and performance (measured in instructions per second) is different.

For the most part, we've reached the point of diminishing returns for clock speed on desktop computers. Unless you're editing a lot of video or buying a laptop, you don't need to spend the extra money on more processor speed. For speed improvements, your money is best spent elsewhere: If you want to speed up your rig for gaming, buying a better video card makes more sense, and if you want to just speed up general performance, a solid state drive will boost your speed more than a new processor.

When you're looking to buy a new computer, or if you're interested in upgrading yours, the processor is generally the last thing you need to consider unless you have special, processor-intensive needs such as video editing.

Myth #5: DIY Isn't As Good As Store-Bought

The myth that DIY options aren't as good as products from a store goes far beyond tech purchases, but the idea that you'll get a better product from a chain store than something you can make yourself is just absurd.

Of course, making something on your own takes a little technical skill, but doing so can save you lots of money. One of the most obvious examples of this accessories. A laptop stand can cost $30 or more in a store, but you can easily make one yourself . The other benefit? You'll probably actually like what you make more than what you purchase.

There are exceptions. The most obvious is DIY phone stands for your car: while these can be tempting, and they're certainly cheap, they're illegal in most states of Australia


The bottom line? When investing money in technology, you need the facts. It's not just about being frugal; it's about not wasting money needlessly.


Comments

    disagree with number 3.... i bought a charging and data cable for my galaxy s3 from ebay..... it works fine... however it charges at a far slower rate.... and data transfers are ridiculously slower....

    For example... when using this 3rd party cable for chargin my phone from the wall.... if i have bluetooth on and am playing music it will only keep the battery level at the same level (no increase or decrease in percentage)... however if i switch to the original cable.... it will charge and increase the battery level. Similar for when transferring data.... if i use the 3rd party cable it takes a long time to transfer files to the phone.... however the original cable is what i would consider normal speeds

      He clearly stated it was about digital cables. Not power cables which can be different. A $3 dollar HDMI cable will perform as well as a $100 one.

        For most phones the cables are the same, usually a USB that charges via the (5v I think?) power that USB medium is based around.

        ... as long as both HDMI cables are the same version. $3 ones often won't specify which version or HDMI they are, and can be older versions. The current standard is v1.4, older versions can't handle the same speeds, picture depth, resolution, or in some cases carry audio.

          But the older version could still handle 1080p, so if that's what you're watching, then they'll be fine for that.

          I'd say that's false. It only depends on the devices you're plugging the cable into, not the cable itself which is just two standard male plugs and a bunch of dumb wires. As long as the wires are thick enough, properly insulated, and correctly connected to their plugs they'll do the job.

            Try running a 3D 1080P signal through a cheap HDMI even one that claims to be v1.4.

          Rubbish! A cable is dumb, it just carries information. What version of HDMI your device supports is completely and utterly irrelevant to the cable. HDMI 1.4 uses the previously unallocated pin 14 to provide ethernet. But the pin has always been there, so any HDMI cable will support it. And HDMI without audio is DVI, which is a whole different cable.

            Completely true. Well said sir!

              Completely incorrect. Differing HDMI revisions change the bandwidth requirements. 1.4a is the current standard to support 1080p with 3D. 1.4 supports 1080p, earlier versions do not. They MAY work, but Ive encountered many situations where they dont and the ones that do work, the picture actually lacks definition.
              I dont like using the word "expensive" to describe digital cables as its not entirely accurate. There are "expensive" cable manufactures such as Monster cable, whom do make utter crap. There are others out there, such as Transparent or QED, that dont.
              There is an actual difference in performance from these types of digital cables (and this is the same for TosLink/Coax audio cables as for HDMI). For instance, HDMI isnt a "connection" orientated digital signal like TCP over Ethernet is. On your data network, if a packet is lost, TCP will attempt to resend it, hence the end result is the same as what is transmitted. If there is a lot of environmental interference, or signal loss over the length of the cable, it just keeps trying until the message gets there.
              Case in point, CAT5 cable isn't rated to run 1GB Full Duplex on your data network. It may still transmit data, but you wont be getting the full benefit of Gigabit speeds.
              If those same conditions are experienced on a HDMI cable then there is signal loss. If there is signal loss, that means the Digital to Analog Converter in your TV has less signal to rebuild the image out of (or audio) and therefore there is degradation of what you are watching. The signal strength also matters as a binary transmission on a data cable is based on a square waveform. Interference can cause the square wave to become rounded and the DAC might confuse what is meant to be a 1 as a 0 or vice versa.
              There is a lot of knowledge in the veterans of the analog cable world that does translate to the digital world and it does enhance what your are looking at (or hearing).
              What Motormouth said is correct to a point.. a cable is dumb. But that doesnt mean because a 1 went in at one end of it, that a 1 is going to come out the other.

                Whoops.. obviously there are no DAC's in a digital screen [LCD/Plasma etc], I had the whole conversion process in reference to audio my head whilst I was writing the above, I meant to say the "the decoding process in your TV" and "the decoder might confuse what is meant to be a 1 as a 0"..

      I had a similar problem and it came up in a discussion of the same myth, my friend does a fair bit of soldering on audio cables and concluded that the soldered connection was poorly done, so technically nothing is wrong with the cable. Also if you amp up to the $5-7 cable the soldering will be better and you won't have that problem. But its not worth paying $70 at your phone retailer for a new charger that won't work any better than a $7 cable, as long as its not broken like your cheap one is.

      power cables generally work like water pipes - the thicker the pipe the more water you can transfer through it. or the thicker the cable, the more amperage you can pump through which determines fast your battery charges up. also the power adapter has to be capable of pumping out higher amperage too. my samsung galaxy S (i9000) has a charger that does 700 milliamps per hour and a very flat cable, my samsung galaxy note 2 however has as significantly thicker cable and the adapter puts out 2amps per hour (2000 milliamps).

    I have to disagree with #2 - I bought a Sony laptop and just under the 2-year extended warranty period, my disc drive started malfunctioning. I took it in after backing it all up and erasing any personal data, they sent it away, and then informed me that it would be more than the cost of the laptop to fix. So they refunded me my original purchase price direct to my bank account within 48 hours. In that case, with something you use every day or expect to have for long periods of time, I think you NEED the extended warranty.

      Good point, but most warranties don't offer refunds especially after almost two years. Also, the repair work on warranty repairs can take much longer than just going out and buying a new one.

      Actually I think this is where understanding the new laws is important. The warranty is no longer just 1 year. It's for the expected life of the item. You can expect a laptop to work for at least 2 years regardless of what their paperwork says. As such you would be entitled to exactly what you got even without the extended warranty.

      I think the difference would be that in this case it was a fairly simple process - if you were to try without it you'd likely have to escalate it through Fair Trading before it got over the line.

      In short I think extended warranties are useful - but only for easing the burden when trying to get issues resolved.

        Have you ever tackled anything through fair trading? I have. It's by no means a sure thing. At all. They really can't do anything.

        I mean, they can help, a bit, if you get a good person on your case, but you really want to keep them as a last resort and be resigned to getting nothing back,

        What are these new laws that you're talking about though? So my 3 year warranty on my hard drive isn't 3 years anymore? Are these laws retroactive? I didn't even know there were new laws.

          I'm always amazed at consumers who don't know their rights given buying stuff is probably the most common thing we do.

          1. A warranty is an offer on behalf of the seller. It is not binding on the consumer. The law in relation to warranties (in NSW... But similar in all states) is an item should be expected to function for a reasonable period of time based on price and function. So it differs item to item. Fridges should last years, computer mouse a lot less. It is a grey area but before a court you would be asked to demonstrate what a reasonable life span is for the product.

          2. The law in relation to warranties has not changed. Sellers are now required to inform you of specific consumer rights at the time of purchase. That is the recent change.

          3. Fair Trading is very effective but if you don't get satisfaction then go to the CTTT (Consumer Trade and Tenancy Tribunal). It costs about $30 to register for a hearing but I assure you that it is very effective.

          Extended warranties are a crock and the recent changes to consumer law are designed to undermine them by ensuring sellers communicate your statutory entitlements before conning you into paying for a service you are already guaranteed under consumer law.

            I'm always amazed at people who are amazed that people don't know stuff that the average person does not know.

            Does it amaze you that I'm not amazing at everything? That's amazing.

            But thanks for answering my queries. Good luck with the monocle appreciation society.

            Oh and 3. Not true. At all. Even in the slightest. They have no powers beyond hassling companies by phone until they do the right thing.

              @rowan - Actually Fair Trading aren't a toothless tiger - dealt with them a few times to get things sorted - here's their advice for businesses - http://www.fairtrading.nsw.gov.au/Businesses/Acceptable_business_conduct/Complaints_about_your_business.html

              Note Fair Trade is step 3
              CTTT is step 4
              Finally you also have recourse to take the business to court - usually though the first 2 alone are enough to get action because if they are in breach of the law Fair Trade are obliged to act.

                Well, everytime I've dealt with them (i run a small business) they've told me that they have no special powers and can't take anything further.

      Plus, one example does not disprove the argument..
      If you buy a TV ($150), DVD player ($30), Laptop ($100), external Hard Drive ($15), Microwave ($50), Washing Machine ($150) etc etc, and buy Extended Warranties (approximate prices in brackets) for all of them, then you'll have spent more on Warranties ($500 total from my examples) than it would cost to replace the one item from that list that MAY break down earlier than expected.
      Overall, you're better off "insuring" yourself.
      That's ignoring Awnshegh's response which is also an important new factor under Australian Law.

      You are better off investing in the free ACCC phone app that tells you your consumer rights. Knowing your rights will offer way more protection than any extended warranty ever will. If any retailer disputes your rights, then just show then the official details from the ACCC. If they still dispute then get their name, contact details, and even take a photo of the service person and any signage that contradicts consumer rights e.g. "no refunds on sale items" and let them know they will be contacted by the ACCC and lodge a complaint. It rarely gets to that as retailers know the ACCC has teeth and doesn't hesitate to prosecute, no matter how big they are.

    I purchased a refurbished apple Airbook last year and i can't say i've ever had a problem with the machine.

    the Dell outlet is the best thing to use.

    I got my wife a "brand new" XPS 14z (the one with the dvd drive - still the best small laptop there is EVER!) for just over a $1,000 as opposed to over $1,700+ new
    It has i7, 250gb SSD, 8 GB RAM - seriously the best you could buy about a year ago.

    No damage, it was new...best idea ever

    I did no.5, it was alright, the biggest bulldog clip was too small for my old old original SGS1.

    BUT they are illegal to use is VIC, must be store bought for mobiles in cars

    I disagree with #2 & #3..

    #2. Whilst we do now have an 'expected' warranty in relation to purchase price, I can guarantee you that the 60" LED screen that I bought 2 months ago, has a manufacturers warranty of 1 year, even if after 18 months it fails, I'd have an uphill battle trying to convince samsung to fix it. Or the Electrolux washing machine that I bought 2 years ago would still be considered to be in warranty even tho the manufacturers warranty ran out a year ago. Yes, I could probably go plead my case, but more often than not, it'd be escalated to consumer affairs and then all the to-ing and fro-ing that goes with that. For my own piece of mind, I've bought extended warranties just so if it does develop a fault, that'll it'll be covered, and that I won't have to get nasty to get things repaired. The real tip is tho, don't ever pay the first quote on an extended warranty, always haggle that price and don't ever pay more than 10% of the purchase price for the warranty. ie, if a TV is $1500, don't ever go over $150 for another 2 years..

    #3..
    Yes, all cables make look the same and function the same, however, the devil is always in the details. Cheap HDMI cables can introduce 'sparkles', which is usually caused by low quality cabling which doesn't have enough bandwidth to handle the signal. Network cables can also be effected by the same issue. While I do agree that cheap cables are good, going for a $2 ebay special HDMI cable might not be worth it.

      Just a slight clarification on your disagreement on #2: It probably wouldn't be Samsung you'd have to convince - the consumer guarantee puts the obligation on the seller, not the manufacturer. Unless you bought the 60" LED screen direct from Samsung, the manufacturer's warranty wouldn't apply. You'd be surprised how effective an iPad and the ACCC's Repair, Replace, Refund website can be (http://www.accc.gov.au/content/index.phtml/itemId/3863).

      I recently had trouble with an Alienware m14x I bought from JB Hi-Fi. The first person I spoke to spouted the usual "have to take it up with Dell" line. That took up about 3 minutes. But, after I showed them the site and asked to speak to their supervisor (who, to be fair, was one of the most helpful JB staff I've ever encountered - thanks, Jason!), they refunded me no problems.

        Just get the free ACCC phone app for Android or iPhone. I agree though that knowing your rights and being prepared to make a little noise can get the matter resolved pretty quickly. You don't have to shout or get aggro, just talk in a calm voice at a louder volume so that others can hear. They won't be able to fix your problem quick enough just to get you out of their store.

        Also don't underestimate how prepared the manufacturers are to help out conumers being stonewalled by a retailer. I had problems in the past with a Samsung TV that was being repired under warranty but I was being made to wait on "parts" from overseas. After several weeks of waiting I sent an email to Samsung Australia and they flew the part over from the Eastern States to Perth the next day. A lot of retailers do not care about a specific brands reputation as long as they can blame some supplier problem but usually the supplier cares a great deal as the spend a lot of money to promote and maintain their reputation.

      WRT #3, Can you provide evidence to this fact? I buy nothing by the cheapes cables conforming to to standard. Never seen anyhthing you refer to as Sparkels. While video is a big part of HDMI signals, BluRay's have lossless audio, and i would think you would pick up distortion in the audio quicker than a few "sparkels" on the screen.

      I think the reality of #3 is that, if you are getting "sparkles" or pixelation or some other kind of problem with the picture, then you have a defective cable. It either works, or it doesn't.

      I have seen problems with cheap longer cables that don't work well at all (probably due to cheap cable not being shielded properly I'm thinking), but in that case the cable is defective, and you should ask for a refund.

        Yeah, that's weird. I've never heard of it or seen it and I have at least 7 cheap hdmi cables that I've used.

        If I was going to buy a special 10m long hdmi that was going to sit in a wall cavity for a home theatre setup, I would pay more though, because it needs to last for years. But for my tv to ps3, anything will do.

          This is what I've heard essentially, that if the cable is under the 5 - 10m mark for a hdmi, cheap as hell cables will do, there's little to no difference. It's only when you get up to big distances that it can become an issue.

        it happens but its pretty rare...usually appears when cable is made from complete rubbish...as long as you buy from someone who sells a fair amount of cables you probably wont seen it

        Yes, you're correct in that it is a defective cable rather than a quality issue with the cable. All I'm saying is that those cheap $2 cables inclusive of postage on ebay would be a lot more perceptible to being defective than say a $10 cable. For me, I'd rather buy something once, than twice or three times. I'd never go to Reject Shop and buy the cheapest possible drill and then go back and complain because it broke the first time I used it.

        Here's an example....
        http://news.cnet.com/8301-17938_105-20056502-1/why-all-hdmi-cables-are-the-same/

        Last edited 04/01/13 8:53 pm

          That $10 cable... incidentally, probably cost the exact same 50c to make as the $2 cable, it's just had a lot more markup applied to it. It's usually the case online and offline. Can't tell you how many times as an employee in 2000 working at DSE that we saw stuff of the same crappy quality marked up differently...

    I'll put my vote in for refurb gear, especially Apple... have bought many items over the years and it's all identical to buying new (barring the out retail packaging) Same condition, same inner packaging, same accessories, same warranty.

    I've heard people argue that expensive cables make no discernible difference. I agree that spending wads on money of cables / interconnects is pointless BUT there is a price point below which you just end up with junk. A work mate bought some Ipad charging cables for about 50cents each - he got them in the mail, went to take them out of their packaging and they fell apart in his hands. Yes, be sensible when purchasing but don't be so frugal as to end up with junk!

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