Addicted to novelty since 2001

Buying a Laptop

It’s reader solicitation week around here. I recently received an email from a reader who’s in the market for the laptop. He writes:

I know that you have being using laptops for some time. Thought you might be a good person to ask advice on buying a laptop. These are the obvious questions in my mind: Should I buy used or brand new?, Any reliable second hand stores that you recommend? Should I go to a online store (Dell) or visit a store (London Drugs, FutureShop)? Which stores to visit and which one to avoid? How do I find the best deal?, Centrino vs Pentium 4? What brand is better (Dell, IBM, Toshiba, MDG, etc.)? Do I need extra warranty? I know, I will be using this laptop primary at school, work and home. At some point I need to install Oracle, which means I need minimum 512 RAM.

I am not a hardware expert. My recent laptops which I’ve bought for my business have both been Apple PowerBooks. They’re exceptional, but they may not cut it for your requirements. Plus, I dig their gorgeous design.

My meagre advice runs as follows, and I make no guarantees against being totally wrong. In my experience, London Drugs has the best tech support, while FutureShop has the worst. The same goes for competent staff. A FutureShop employee (who was Russian–why are they all Russian?) once tried to convince me that a software firewall was adequate. Yeah, thanks for that. Support from Dell is probably all right as well, but at least with LD you can go somewhere local instead of shipping off your computer.

Unless you’re a total PC guru (which I suspect you’re not, if you’re asking me), I would recommend against buying a used computer. You have no idea how it’s been treated. Most of the PC laptops I’ve used have been Toshibas, and they’ve been pretty decent. That’s all I’ve got…does anybody else have opinions (I know you do)?

8 Responses to “Buying a Laptop”

  1. Jeremy C. Wright

    These days the price on used computers (including laptops) are such that the price difference doesn’t really make things worthwhile… Especially with the ‘free upgrade’ deals that constantly happen with the big manufacturers.

    Personally I recommend people do their research at FutureShop type stores as it allows them to get a real feel for the laptop… Which is especially important with a laptop (as it goes with you).

    I won’t comment on where to buy from (manufacturer or retailer), but for makes and models, generally Dells, Sony’s and Toshiba’s get consistently high marks (in different areas).

  2. Jorunn

    I regularly work with two different IBM Thinkpads (T40, X31), and I have to say that to the extent that I can love a computer, I love them both. The battery life is really impressive (particularly on the X31), they have nifty features like the ThinkLight, and the casing is solid – they are generally great when you actually drag your computer around quite a bit. As far as Dell laptops are concerned, I was not crazy about the one I used for a couple of months, and I think I have yet to hear a rave review from a Dell laptop user in person.

  3. Sue

    I bought from Dell last November and found their entire process of purchasing to be EXTREMELY frustrating, and their customer service was even WORSE. It actually made me CRY. And I’m not a wuss… except at the dentist’s.

    My experience with my Toshiba laptop was less than satisfactory. It just didn’t seem to have the kind of staying power necessary for a student’s lifestyle – constantly packing up and moving around, occasionally knocking it over in the bag, and lots of boots and shutdowns. I wouldn’t recommend one of those.

    My Dell laptop, on the other hand, has been quite satisfactory (now that it’s here and the parts are all installed properly), but I still don’t recommend buying from Dell if you’re not a big fan of sitting on hold with TERRIBLE music and less-than-pleasant customer reps.

    I think your reader was asking about “Celeron vs. Pentium” as a Centrino is, I think, a wireless network thing. For students, I’d say a Celeron is a more budget-friendly way to go, but then again my Toshiba had a Celeron and look what happened to it. I think with a Pentium you’re just buying a slightly heavier-duty processor – they’re both made by Intel.

    I’ve never heard any complaints from anyone who bought their computer (laptop or desktop) at London Drugs, and their whole computer department is backed by a rather large privately-owned software development firm so it’s not going to disappear on you anytime soon.

    Definitely buy the extra warranty, and get the “complete care” or “idiot warranty” if you can, because it is inevitable that SOMETHING will get spilled on your keyboard, and that renders a laptop totally inoperable, usually just about three days before a major assignment is due.

    Oh, and you might try an Asus or Acer laptop from a place like Generic Computers, because they will cost a little less and be just as good without the brand name.

  4. 'nee

    Since the IBM Thinkpad T40s have earned the everlasting love and adoration of my department’s truly brilliant and trustworthy network administrator, I’d say that’s what you should get. He’s simply never wrong. I have a Compaq that has served me well, although I did have to take out the motherboard and solder in a new connector jack after four years of constant unplugging, and it was just not as good as any of the older Thinkpads we have at my office. I use an R381 and it’s a good little trucker. IBM just does good laptops, it seems.

    Heavy duty processor shouldn’t really be necessary in a laptop, unless you’re using it as a replacement for your desktop and running lots of big Adobe products or the like.

  5. Christine

    I’ll never buy a Sony again, because Sony wants to charge me an outrageous amount of money just to make the screen on my year-old Sony Vaio work as it should. Nuts to that!

    I’ve had decent luck with various Toshibas, and could introduce you to several extremely happy Dell customers. I’ll probably get a Dell laptop next time, just because I like the way one can customize those systems so much.

  6. Chris

    The original question probably DID mean “Centrino”, not Celeron. Centrino is a new technology line (including a processor) from Intel. Basically, it allows better battery life and such. For Intel processors, a laptop can have either a Pentium M processor (that’s Centrino), a Celeron M processor (that’s also Centrino), a Mobile Pentium 4 (which is what he/she meant by Pentium 4), and a Mobile Celeron. For more detail see the Intel website.

  7. CT

    Centrino and Pentium 4, Centrino comprises of the Pentium M processor, a specific intel chipset and an intel integrated wireless component. The other posters were incorrect when mentioning that Celeron M is Centrino, Celeron M is designed from the same manufacturing process, but does not perform as well as Pentium M nor have the battery efficiencies you can expect.

    If you will be doing some database design (with Oracle) and doing some programming, I suggest you look at notebooks with Pentium-M or Centrino inside. IBM makes a fantastic T-Series notebook, if you want to learn more about those go to thinkpads.com. HP/Compaq also have a decent model going around with Centrino built in, has G wireless too. Not a big fan of Dell notebooks, great value but you always don’t get the best price or quality you hope for.

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