Knowing when to protect your tech

The name-brand players in the consumer-electronics game pretty much have their assembly work wired.

Buy a clock radio - or a PC, or a VCR - today and it's likely to run until you're tired of looking at it.

Or, more likely, until the Next Big Thing renders it obsolete.

And most manufacturers protect buyers from the occasional flawed specimen by offering warranties that are generally good whether or not you mail in the card tucked into the Styrofoam packaging.

So who needs more protection?

I asked myself that question about six months ago while waiting in line at one of those so-called "big box" retailers, clutching a new Philips CD burner and a stack of recordable compact discs.

The burner was built by the firm that claims to have invented CD technology. Still, something about the complexity - at least to me - of "burning" digital signals onto shiny plastic discs got me wondering about the potential for problems.

At the register, I sprung for the $50 service contract. It meant that for four years I'd be covered for labor, parts - even cleanings.

(With only the manufacturer's agreement, I'd have been covered for 90 days and labor, leaving me paying for parts and shipping to who knows where.)

Back home, my new component worked well - for months. I stopped having to use the manual. "Compilation" CDs were piling up for use in the car.

Then it happened.

One day my Philips couldn't read CDs. It jumped and skipped, failing to function even as a simple player.

It felt good to dump it at the counter where I'd bought it. And in about a week, I was burning again.

In today's lead story, learn how to know when such deals can pay.

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