Memo to prospective Mac Pro customers: Don’t forget the ‘no returns’ policy

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
August 9th, 2006 • 2:12 pm

If you are contemplating the purchase of a brand new Mac Pro computer, I suggest you read the Apple Store’s “Sales and Refunds Policy” document very carefully.

Why is that? First, because the new Mac Pro only comes in one standard configuration, and if your desired machine differs in any way from that standard configuration, you’ll have to buy a built-to-order machine.

And second, because, in the U.S. and in Canada (and possibly elsewhere), built-to-order machines cannot be returned for refund or exchange unless they are “DOA” (dead on arrival). Here’s the quote from the policy:

Configure-to-order, personalized or other customized product may not be returned for refund or exchange under any circumstances unless DOA.

If you have been reading this blog in the past couple of months, you know that I discovered this particular policy only after I had bought a “built-to-order” MacBook (with some extra RAM added) and decided that I had to return the machine because its constant “with spec” mooing made it unusable.

When I tried to return the machine and get a refund, I was first told this wasn’t an option at all. Then, after much infuriated complaining (this was just a standard MacBook with some RAM added!), I finally convinced the Apple sales representative I was talking to to let me return the machine, albeit with a 10% restocking fee. But he made it quite clear that he was making an “exception” for me, and that this was not standard policy in Canada (or in the U.S.).

And only after sending a lengthy letter/e-mail to the “powers that be” at Apple and spending much, much more time on the phone with various people did I finally manage to convince someone that I should get a full refund and not have to pay the restocking fee either. (I also got a $100 credit on my next Apple Store purchase—so personally I cannot complain, although the whole experience was very time consuming and traumatizing just the same.)

Now that the Mac Pro only comes in one standard configuration, there are probably going to me even more people ordering built-to-order machines. And since this is the very first version of a new generation of machines, I will not be surprised, based on my own experience with the MacBook, if some users find themselves with a machine that has some pretty obvious flaws that Apple considers “within spec” and refuses to consider valid reasons for a return/refund.

Now, of course, there is a fair amount of customizing that you can do yourself with a standard configuration. You can add extra RAM from a third vendor, you can buy your own AirPort card separately and add it yourself (presumably the slot is fairly accessible)—although the price of a stand-alone AirPort card might be higher than what Apple charges for the built-to-order option.

But if you want the 3 GHz Mac Pro model, or Bluetooth support, you probably will have no choice but to purchase a built-to-order configuration from Apple and, if you do, then the “no returns” policy quoted above will apply to your purchase.

Personally, if I was considering the purchase of a new Mac Pro right now, I would find this a rather significant issue. Fortunately, I bought a brand new Quad G5 last November and I am therefore all set for a few years. By the time I need a new machine, maybe Apple will have changed its “no refunds” policy for built-to-order machines, or the product will be mature enough that there is little risk in buying a built-to-order machine because no major hardware issue such as the mooing in the MacBook will be outstanding.

Another issue I would find rather problematic right now is the new type of RAM required by these new Mac Pro machines. As Macworld explains, the new RAM is “FB-DIMM,” and each module comes with its own heat sink (!). This means that third-party RAM manufacturers are going to have adapt to this new situation. I won’t be surprised if the new type of RAM turns out to be significantly more expensive, or if new compatibility issues with third-party RAM modules crop up over the next few months. I suspect it’s a new situation that will take a while to stabilize.

6 Responses to “Memo to prospective Mac Pro customers: Don’t forget the ‘no returns’ policy”

  1. danridley says:

    FB-DIMM is an Intel-backed standard and, unlike Rambus, is actually enough better than the competition that it’s very likely to take hold. It should be a smidgeon cheaper to manufacture when volumes are up, because it has simpler logic and PCB layout (69 pins vs. DDR2’s 240). Just like with DDR2 today, I suspect the higher-end modules will have heatsinks but the lower-end ones won’t.

  2. Pierre Igot says:

    Thanks for the additional information, Dan. I am sure that things will settle down eventually, but right now the prices at Other World Computing, for example, are pretty high. I bought 4 GB of RAM for my G5 Quad last November for $600 CDN. As far as I can tell, the price for 4 GB for the Mac Pro right now is over $1,100 US.

  3. Mike Lauder says:

    Just so that you know, you can’t actually just add an Airport card to the Mac Pro – it can only be added by an Apple Authorised Technician. I’ve also read that the 2 to 4 week delay on orders of Mac Pros with a built-in Airport ‘card’ is due to the ‘cards’ not actually being ready. Could there be some new tech coming?

  4. Pierre Igot says:

    Mmm, more headaches for prospective buyers! Thanks for the clarification.

  5. danridley says:

    AnandTech did a great overview of FB-DIMMs, with more information than I had about them. Looks like the heat sinks are here to stay — but it’s still the future, since bandwidth and capacity are both improved over parallel RAM.

    They have a processor that plain old DDR doesn’t have, but it’s simple logic and should be commodity soon enough. I still expect the price premium to mostly evaporate within a year or so.

    (Yes, that doesn’t help if you’re buying a Mac Pro and need lots of RAM right now, but early adoption always stings in the pocketbook.)

  6. danridley says:

    One more FB-DIMM pointer: Ars Technica’s review has this to say:

    First off, it uses different paths for transmitting and receiving data, in contrast to standard DDR, which does both over the same pathway. This leads to better memory subsystem performance.

    FB-DIMMs also use serial communication as opposed to the parallel communication of regular DIMMs. It’s similar to how ATA (parallel) and SATA work on hard drives. Serial communication makes for fewer wires, more channels, and ultimately faster speed.

    The result is up to 24x greater capacity, four times the bandwidth, and a lower pin count. Oh, and it’s more expensive. But you probably already guessed that.

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