Monday, August 20, 2007

On buying laptops

I posted the following in the LinkedIn Answers section earlier today while I was taking a little break. Maybe it will be useful to someone...
Since we work on laptops that are both in and out of warranty at my job, my first concern is usually how easy a laptop is to work on.

With that in mind, whatever you do, don't buy Dell. Dell's primary business goals appear to a) lock people in, and b) make sure systems self-destruct in a relatively short time so that the customer buys another computer.

Avoid any laptop that has a power cord that doesn't have a normal round plug with the opening for a center pin. That rules out Dell, half the Toshiba laptops, and various others. One of the most common repairs on a laptop is a broken power jack, and the round ones tend to be easier to fix. Plus replacement power adapters tend to be easier to find (and cheaper).

For most people, Lenovo laptops (especially the Thinkpads) would be my first choice... They're reasonably priced, solid, and fairly easy to work on. (I thought that even before our shop was set up as an authorized service center, although that certainly helps with our customers.) For some of the higher-end models, especially gaming laptops, we usually recommend MSI and Asus. If you want really small and light, Averatec usually has some really nice models, although be sure to shop around a bit if you want to go that route. Often you can get an identical laptop from MSI or another company either with better specs or a bit cheaper.

The one exception to my normal rules is the MacBooks. They have a weird power adapter, they aren't terribly easy to repair, and it looks like most of the engineering effort on them went to making them pretty, not providing good airflow, etc. Still, they are nice to look at, they are light, and they're pleasant to use. Just be prepared for them to be a bit more disposable than your average laptop.

A lot of the bigger name-brand laptops (Lenovo, Acer, etc.) will let you buy an extended warranty (Acer will go to 3 years, but I think Lenovo will go up to 5) that covers accidental damage. If you travel a lot, or you are at all worried about accidents, it is well worth the extra money. Not to mention the odds of needing a warranty in 3-5 years is much higher than in the first year.

Oh, and one last thing... Make sure you have good backups of anything on your laptop. Laptop hard drives get much more abuse than desktop drives, so they tend to fail faster than desktop drives. Unfortunately, they tend to be a lot harder to recover data from than desktop drives too.


seawolf said...

Thanks for writing this, I'm thinking of getting a laptop - Thinkpads and Acers would be my first choices but it's more from a feauture point of view.
What did surprise me from your information was that the Toshiba ones are a bit bad with regards to the power systems. The ones I've had experience with (yeah, that's three) seem standard but thanks for the head's up!

Steven Pritchard said...

Toshiba seems to use standard power connectors on around half of their laptops. The rest use a weird square-ish plug. Replacement power adapters for those are expensive.

My main gripe with Toshiba is that the last time I worked on a new one, it came pre-loaded with some spyware. Luckily it was all easy to remove.