I’ve written about AppleCare and related issues before at this site and no doubt some think I’m an insurance salesman. I’m not. I just think AppleCare a good idea. Here’s why.

I have a 2.5 GHz, Intel Core 2 Duo, 15″ MacBook Pro that I bought in 2008. At the time, this machine was near the top of the line on 15″ models (there was a 2.6 GHz option I didn’t go for). I bought it with 4 gigs of memory installed and a 250 gig 5400 RPM hard disk. I also bought AppleCare which I’ve bought on each of my Macs since Apple first started offering it.

Apple has a one year warranty on their computers and they’re quite good about fixing things at no cost within that year. They also have a 14 day store return policy: if you think you got a lemon you can return it to the store (including the online store) and exchange it for another computer. AppleCare extends the one year warranty to two years. Here’s what they say about it in their online store:

AppleCare Protection Plan
For up to three years from your computer’s original purchase date, the AppleCare Protection Plan gives you direct, one-stop access to Apple’s award-winning telephone technical support for questions about Apple hardware, Mac OS X, iLife, and iWork. And you get global repair coverage for your Mac — both parts and labor — through convenient service options.

When you purchase the AppleCare Protection Plan and your computer at the same time, you’ll be automatically registered in the plan.

Currently, for all flavors of 15″ MacBook Pro AppleCare costs $350 and I’m pretty sure it was about that price when I bought it for this computer in 2008. Portables have the highest AppleCare cost, probably because they get the most abuse. AppleCare on a current 27″ iMac is $169.

Here’s a tidbit many people don’t know: when you buy AppleCare for a computer, it covers everything connected to that computer purchased with that computer including displays, AirPort base stations, Time Capsules, etc. And, it covers all Apple software installed on the computer (you can call and get tech support for software issues).

Buying AppleCare (or not) is sort of like backing up your computer (or not): people who buy AppleCare know what it’s like to have something go wrong out of warranty and not have it. People who back up their computers know what it’s like to have something go wrong and not have a backup. I realize that I’m thinking about this and posting it during the great health insurance re-think (or just plain think) where many of us, whether we have health insurance or not might be thinking about what might happen if we got really sick without any insurance.

Case #1: Texas
Many years ago when I did a lot of travel and presentations for a living, I found myself on one of my many extended trips to Texas. in Governor Ann Richards’ day Texas was at the leading edge of assistive technology integration in classrooms and because they had dozens of well connected and financed educational service centers, if I did something in one part of the state another part of the state heard about it fast and wanted me to do something over there. Unlike Connecticut Texas is a big state so it was easy to spend a week there.

I had an early model of PowerBook back then, no doubt running the incredible new System 7.

Even back then I was a fanatic about backing up which in those days was a simple matter of drag/copying the contents of one hard disk to another. As a presenter, I always carried an external hard disk which was a complete clone of my computer (not just a backup of my presentation materials). I’m not sure when I started this but I’ve been doing it for a long time and continue it to this day.

During my first presentation something happened to the PowerBook’s video card and the machine’s screen went blank and it lost video output to the projector. This was rather embarrassing in front of 500 teachers, especially since part of my message to them was that Macs were the best machines for education in part because of their reliability.

The folks at the service center brought out another computer and I started it from my hard disk and continued the presentation. During lunch I called AppleCare, even back then there was a single phone number which if memory serves was something like 800-SOS-APPL.

I told the folks at AppleCare what my situation and itinerary was (they did not know that I was a consultant for Apple corporate and on their education advisory board).

Amazingly, there was a FedEx box at my hotel that night and the FedEx person waited while I packed up the PowerBook. I had my external backup hard disk and had called ahead to my next stop to make sure they had a computer I could use with it. All was well although if the backup hard disk failed I was in trouble; I had no backup of my backup (I do now, by the way).

The next morning I got on a plane for another part of the state, arrived there and checked into the hotel. That evening the local tech person and I set up their computer with my external hard disk and got things working. I went to sleep that night not knowing when my PowerBook might make it back although AppleCare had said it would be no more than 36 hours (which was a rush).

The next morning when I woke up I had a message on the hotel’s phone and FedEx had delivered the repaired computer early that morning.

I swapped out the service center’s computer, got mine set up and I was back in business for the rest of the trip.

That single incident made me a believer. AppleCare saved my bacon and I’ve never bought a Macintosh computer for myself or my wife without it. Had that not happened I might have eventually stopped buying it for lack of use. Why buy insurance if you never use it?

Case #2, the present
About a year ago my current computer started acting a bit odd: I was getting double key strokes at times and occasionally a key seemed to get stuck and I’d get a whole bunch of the last letter typedddddddddddd.

This problem was intermittent and I was worried that if I sent the machine to Apple they might not be able to reproduce it. However, I did call AppleCare and we went through everything I could do short of sending it in: clear PRAM, clear the power manager, new user, clean install of the system, etc.

Because the problem was intermittent when I tried a fix and it seemed to go away I thought it was solved but then, a while later it would reappear. This went on for close to a year.

Also in the last year the fan on this machine has been running a lot and the hard disk didn’t seem to be spinning down when it should have been. I thought the problem might be Safari and Flash but making a new user and keeping flash out of the mix didn’t solve it. Then I thought the problem might be Snow Leopard although I wasn’t about to go back to Leopard.

I back my computer up onto two small, portable external drives usingSuperDuper. My drives have lots of ports on them: USB 2, Firewire 400, Firewire 800, eSATA so in theory I could connect my backups to any current or even older Macs that would boot an Intel system. I do it this way so that in case my machine is stolen or fails I can connect to a new one and be back in business immediately (shades of my Texas experience).

Given that this is my only computer and these days, while I don’t travel and present for a living anymore (thank god) this computer is the center of my life. I feel even more protective about sending it off to AppleCare than I did ten years ago. However, the problem wasn’t going away and was making everyday work near impossible.

I decided to attempt to boot my wife’s unibody MacBook with one of my backups. For those of you who don’t know, the MacBook lacks Firewire so I had to boot the machine with the backup drive and a USB cable. Note, the drive comes with an AC brick and it’s needed when connecting via USB so the combination of MacBook and external is not completely portable as it would be with Firewire.

I did some tests booting my wife’s computer and things worked surprisingly well so I decided to do the AppleCare repair while she was visiting her father in Indiana during her spring break from school so as not to get in her way with her computer.

I called AppleCare, arranged for my MacBook Pro to go in for repair, they sent a box which arrived on a Tuesday. I backed my computer up on Wednesday night (on two different drives), deleted the documents folder on my user account, made a new user account for apple (admin, password 0) and packed up the machine. I included a note with a history of the problem including everything I’d done to solve it although I knew AppleCare had my case number and would refer to their notes as well.

I dropped the boxed computer off at a FedEx pickup point on Thursday as I was driving my wife to the airport. While she was gone I used her machine, booting off my backup extensively and I have to say it worked fine. I even got sort of used to the glossy screen (that’s another post).

I tracked my computer’s progress on Apple’s repair web site and I don’t think it got to the repair facility until Sunday. On Monday the repair tracking page showed that my computer had finally made it to repair. The next time I checked later Monday it was on its way back to me. I had it in hand at 9:30 am on Tuesday morning, the day my wife came home.

The included repair report said that they’d replaced the keypad, the entire top deck including trackpad, the fan and the thermostat. The computer booted perfectly, the keypad worked perfectly, the fan stays off, and all was and is well.

I disconnected the backup drive from my wife’s computer and started this computer up from it, then completely erased this computer’s internal hard disk and used SuperDuper to copy my backup drive onto this drive. I booted this computer and was back in business.

My wife’s MacBook was back on her desk like it was never used (I cleaned the keypad and screen) and this computer was back in my hands completely repaired in a reasonable amount of time.

The only hiccup which I noticed while running from the backup is that iChat/AIM isn’t holding onto my password between restarts but I know I’ll get that sorted at some point.

Is AppleCare worth it? It is to me. I’ve only used it maybe four times in the many years I’ve had it but the alternative in Texas was disaster, the alternative last week was an out of warranty repair which if done by either TekServe, The PowerBook Guy, or Apple would have cost a lot more than the $350 AppleCare cost me.

These days, many of us rely on our computers for a lot more than we did five or ten years ago and as computers and phones merge into iPads and netBooks I think having an extended warranty will be even more important.

Or, you can roll the dice and hope for the best.

I don’t gamble.