Myths About Voiding Your Warranty

There is a widespread perception that installing third-party upgrades can void your warranty. My consulting clients are sometimes hesitant to use non-Apple memory, or 3rd-party hard drives to upgrade their Macs.

In the United States, federal law protects consumers who want to use 3rd-party parts. Upgrading your computer does not void your warranty. You can buy your RAM, hard drive, or other parts from any third party. Likewise, you are not required to use an authorized service provider to install those upgrades.

The law in question is known as the Magnuson-Moss Warranty Act. Passed in 1975, this federal law prohibits requiring that only branded parts be used. The Federal Trade Commission’s website explains the so-called “tie-in” provision thusly:

Generally, tie-in sales provisions are not allowed. Such a provision would require a purchaser of the warranted product to buy an item or service from a particular company to use with the warranted product in order to be eligible to receive a remedy under the warranty. The following are examples of prohibited tie-in sales provisions.

In order to keep your new Plenum Brand Vacuum Cleaner warranty in effect, you must use genuine Plenum Brand Filter Bags. Failure to have scheduled maintenance performed, at your expense, by the Great American Maintenance Company, Inc., voids this warranty.

So if your Mac or PC  is still covered by the original warranty (or an extended warranty like AppleCare), and you want to upgrade your RAM or hard drive, go ahead. Better yet, pay me to do it for you!

Note: If you accidentally damage your logic board when you’re installing an upgrade, that probably will void your warranty. Accidental damage is usually not covered, and it doesn’t matter if the accident was spilling water in your keyboard or breaking a connector while installing a new hard drive. So if you’re not confident about your skills, you’re probably better off paying someone else to handle it for you.

Disclaimer: Magnuson-Moss is a US law, so of course it doesn’t apply outside of the United States. I’m not familiar with warranty laws in other countries.

Mac Firmware passwords

For many years now Macs have offered what Apple calls a Firmware Password. This special kind of password needs to be entered before you boot the machine, offering an extra layer of security. This password prevents a hacker from simply booting your Mac using an external drive or optical disc to gain access to the files on your internal drive.

Occasionally a client had a Mac with an unknown firmware password, and couldn’t boot it. (This might happen if the password was set by an employee who no longer worked there.)

Fortunately, this was easy. It wasn’t well known, but simply changing the amount of RAM would remove the firmware password. So I’d open the Mac, remove a memory card, and reboot. The firmware password would then be removed. Then I simply replaced the memory and my client would once again be able to use his or her Mac.

Starting last year Apple switched to a much more secure system for firmware passwords. The new system provides no method for independent techs like myself to remove it. These days, if you need a firmware password removed, you must take it to an Apple store or authorized service facility. Resetting it requires retrieving a special code from your Mac, feeding that code into a special app that app generates an unlock code. The code is unique to each Mac, and Apple has kept a very tight grip on the app that generates the unlock code.

I don’t generally recommend using a Firmware password. If you need your data to be secure, your best bet is to turn on FileVault, the Mac’s built-in encryption feature.

For more details about how the new firmware password system works, I recommend Topher Kessler’s CNET article on the subject.

Razors and blades…

There’s a well-known business model whereby a company sells some product (like razors) at or below cost, with the expectation that they’ll make their profit on the supplies (like blades).

Printers and ink follow the same model.

Back in 2003, Apple turned that model on its head when it opened the iTunes music store. Selling songs for just 99 cents, the store didn’t make a profit, but it did fulfill its purpose of promoting iPods sales. In effect, they were selling blades at cost to promote razor sales.

These days Apple sells not just songs, but apps, music, movies, and other content. Their pricing has changed, but not their intent. Except for the songs, all the apps and content play only on Apple devices.

Now Amazon and Google have dived into the tablet market, and both of them have admitted to selling their tablets at cost. Google makes money selling advertising; they hope that Android users will spend more time browsing the web, and clicking on more ads.1

Amazon makes money selling just about everything. And their tablets are designed to encourage users to shop at Amazon buying not just digital media like songs and movies, but physical goods as well.

So we have three different companies selling tablets, each trying with a different revenue model. Google’s model is to profit by selling more ads to their customers.2 Amazon’s model is to profit by selling other things from Amazon.3

Apple’s model is to profit by selling great tablets.

Broadcast TV and basic cable channels give you the content for free, making their money by selling advertising. HBO makes their money by selling their content without advertising. Both have been around for years, and there’s clearly a market for both free and pay TV.

I think there’s going to be a market for both kinds of tablets. Users who care most about price will gravitate toward Google’s Nexus or Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Users who care most about the user experience will gladly pay a little extra for an iPad.

  1. Google pays commissions to browser publishers. If you use Safari to visit Google, then click on an ad, Google gets revenue and shares some with Apple. This money isn’t trivial; last year Google paid over $100 million to Firefox. With own browser, they don’t have to share; they can keep all that advertising revenue for themselves. That’s also why they developed the Chrome browser. []
  2. I don’t know who said it first, but if you’re not paying for a service like the Google search engine, then you’re not their customer; you’re the product. Their customers are advertisers. It’s your attention which is being sold by Google to them. []

  3. And advertising; Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet shows ads on the main screen. []