Buying A Laptop

I’ve got some spare cash floating around, and it might just be the time for me to buy a laptop instead of upgrading my home PC. But I have some serious apprehension about dropping that much cash into a device that, in my own second-hand experience, is really quirky and liable to break down. Network card dies, hard drive fails, wireless networking or USB shits the bed… I don’t want to drop $1500 on a laptop to have any of that happen.

Any really reliable brands? I’m leaning towards Windows, by the way, but please don’t let that discourage anyone from sharing Apple experiences. They seem like pretty good machines, and I wouldn’t mind knowing more.

Buy a Dell, Compaq, or Gateway.

All are fine machines.

I’m typing this on a ‘WallStreet’, or, more formally, an Apple PowerBook G3 Series '98.

Yeah, it’s almost six years old. While technically I’ve had my 7100 longer, the WallStreet has the longest tenure as primary computer of any computer I’ve owned, beating all the desktop computers I’ve had.

Low-end laptops are usually flimsy, not built with upgrades in mind, and go obsolete quickly, but the upper end of the market is more likely to have solid merchandise built to last as long as a desktop, to perform most tasks within arm’s reach of the performance you get from a desktop, and even give you some decent upgrade options. (I have a significantly faster processor, nearly 4x the original maximum RAM, and a much faster and massively larger drive as well as a large collection of expansion peripherals. There are only two things I’d upgrade if I could, but can’t, as a consequence of laptop corner-cutting: the built-in 10-base-T ethernet and the ATI RagePro video for the LCD screen are part of the motherboard, and there’s no practical way of upgrading these).

Apple’s PowerBook line is generally robust and very well-engineered and will serve you well for half a decade, including keeping up with the latest OS and other software.

Not being a PC person I can’t speak with any authority on PC equipment but I’ve heard favorable rumors about a brand called “AlienWare”.

I don’t own a laptop myself, but a lot of the Mac geeks I know prefer the iBook over the PowerBook for sheer durability. Those things are meant to take a lot of abuse, and now that Apple’s equipping them with G4s, they’ve got enough CPU power to handle anything short of homemade CGI. Only sucky aspect IMO is the 1024 x 768 resolution on the screen.

I have owned, used and sold PC noteooks all the way from the tippy top of the market to entry level units. In contrast to AHunter3’s observation I would say that there is not a tremendous amount of real world difference between the 650-800 dollar range (post rebate) entry level machines and higher end machines.

Under windows XP the difference between a 2.6 - 2.8 Ghz Celeron 256 meg RAM based entry level unit, and a 3,2 Ghz hyperthreading unit with 512 megs RAM is almost neglible perfromance wise for most office suite and net surfing users. The more expensive units do come with nice stuff like firewire ports, larger hard drives, faster video, larger screens, DVD burners and built in card readers. If these items are important to you, look at the higher end units.

Dell, Compaq/HP, Toshiba and Sony are all more or less comparable units quality wise. Sony tends to have more audio video toys onboard, and is generally a bit more pricey for what you get. IBM Thinkpad units are (on average) slicker and slightly better built, but they also command a 20-30% price premium over the aforementioned units.

After rebate you can get very nice machines for less than 1000. As an example [I just sold this on on eBay for 780 new in the box.](

From what I’ve seen, Alienware laptops are heavy and hot. They pack some serious mojo into the thing like 3.4 GHz Pentium Extreme Edition processors and gobs of RAM, but the downside is all that power needs a lot of electricity, so the power supply is large, and makes a lot of heat. If you’re looking for portable gaming, video editing or scientific applications, they’d be a good option. Absurd overkill for writing term papers in the park.

Dell, HP and Gateway are all more or less similar in their offerings. Dell and Gateway are primarily sold online, so you’ll have a hard time getting your hands on one to see if you like how it looks, feels and all that. Not sure about Gateway, but Dell and HP do have different product lines - home/student vs occasional business on the road vs business always on the road and every ounce counts. “Home” models tend to have the entertainment goodies, and sometimes lack connectivity options like Ethernet. Business models tend to skip the fun stuff, but they do just fine at office applications. The “road warrior” ones tend to leave out everything in favor of light weight. LAN jacks, optical drives and such are in a “dock” or “port replicator” so the laptiop itself can be small and light.

IBM Thinkpads are my personal favorite. I’ve seen them fall off desks to concrete floors, bounce and be unaffected. I’ve seen Dell laptops fall off coffee tables to carpet and lose parts. Supposedly, there’s some titanium in the casings, and they have a newish technology that senses free-fall and auto-parks the hard drive to prevent a disk crash before the laptop hits the floor. One of the “major” computer magazines recently gave a “Product of the Decade” type award.

Whatever you get, an extended warranty is worth the price on a laptop, given that it will be bounced, tossed, dropped, bumped, spilled on, and all the other injustices that happen to a portable item. Three years is good - by the end of the warranty, you’ll probably be itching for a new one anyway.

AHunter3, not to hijack the thread, but I recently bought an iBook and I love it to death. I think my next computer will be a PowerBook because they’re so much more upgradable, but I’ve heard they’re not quite as upgradable as the older PowerBooks like yours. Any truth to this, or do you know? You seem to be pretty knowledgeable, too, rjung; what do you think?

Don’t get a Dell, especially the Latitude. It’s my companies standard and an awful lot of people have problems. My piece of shit gave me 6 months of grief, would crash multiple times per day, and finally gave up the ghost. Unfortunately Dell replaced it for free with a newer version (that is developing problems)

Where laptops are concerned, I think it pays to be ultra-cautious. In terms of how often they break down and develop faults, they aren’t as bad as the shaky old days of the early 90s, but there’s still plenty to be wary about.

Processor power, bangs for your buck, upgrade options… all of these are interesting, but irrelevant if the thing doesn’t work, or develops faults all the time, or if they don’t honour the warranty. And remember that with many brands, the company’s face when it tries to SELL you something is very different from its face when you want a refund, an exchange, a repair or some help with a problem. Sales teams are warm smiles all the way. Once they’ve actually got your money, a lot of companies will lose interest in you very quickly.

I think a really smart idea is this: if you are thinking of buying a laptop from Brand X, see what their after-sales care is like. Put yourself in the position of someone who owns one of their machines and wants help with a problem, or reckons they are entitled to a refund, a replacement or a repair under warranty. A good way is to find someone who has a Brand X machine, and get hold of the after-sales numbers you are supposed to call in times of need. See what the company’s customer care is like, what their problem-solving services and returns procedures are like, how they sound on the phone when you are explaining that the darn thing has just packed up for no reason. This can tell you a LOT about which company you want to deal with.

I’ve got an Apple Powerbook G4, the 15" model. I love it. Really. More love than a man should give towards an inanimate object. (No, not that kind of love.) It’s a perfect size – I used to have a 12" but the screen was just small enough to be frustrating. OS X is great, as are the iLife apps included with it.

I didn’t need to buy anything else for it; everything was included. I just use it as my “personal computer” – e-mail, web browsing, photos, music, and a little bit of web development. For games and programming, I still use my Windows desktop, but it’s gotten less and less use ever since I got the Mac. I have a wireless router in my apartment, and it’s nice to be able to just carry the thing around and get on the internet anywhere I happen to be – since the Airport card is built in instead of an external card, it’s super convenient.

It really is the best computer I’ve ever owned. The only downside I can think of is that it’s expensive, and that Apple keeps bleeding money out of its customers through software upgrades.

Plus it comes with stickers!

I gotta say, I hate to be one of those “buy a mac” people, but I’ve had my 15" PowerBook G4 since last August or so and I am truly madly deeply in love. I bought it as a desktop replacement (and made the switch then) and I’ve never regretted it for once (except that it has no forward delete key. Grr.)

I’m not one of those people who uses a laptop like a desktop, either - I haul it around all the time to work and home and everywhere. I even use it as a laptop - even now I’m lying in bed with it pleasantly warming me. (Who needs a man? The laptop don’t talk back.)

It’s a little bigger than most cute little laptop cases, but I find the screen size just about perfect. The best thing, though, is that between its portability and its Macness, it just works. It senses my wireless network and just hops onto it, it feels my printer and just prints, it burns CDs without making a single coaster, it talks to my iPod seamlessly. I know PCs are supposed to do all these things, and I use them at work a lot, but it’s just never as seamless with a PC, in my experience. My Mac never freezes, never blue-screens. Twice since I’ve had it it’s quit an application and said “____ has quit. Other programs have not been affected” or whatever, and that’s it. The Apple browser, Safari, is also sleek, powerful, and beautifully functional. I have not had an obnoxious popup since I switched. You can get Office for the Mac and use all the same programs you’re used to, with total compatibility.

I do like the comfort of having an old XP desktop around in case there’s something I can’t do on the Mac, but I’ve only needed that once. I was a little scared when I made the decision to switch, but I’m so happy I did. No virus scares, either, BTW. It just works.

Oh, and I dropped it once on a concrete parking deck floor. It’s got a widdle scratch on it. It’s fine. I reccomend it with no reservations.

I prefer a laptop. My job mandates I use Mr. Gates’ product, experience makes me actually favor Dell. Good prices and fair support. One caveat though, buy direct from the manufacturer, don’t get the thing at best buy, or one of the other big boxes. You’re better off making that purchase from the people who will be fixing it once it takes a crap.

If I were spending just for myself, i would be buying a Powerbook like a beyotch. But alas, I would not only be subject to much ridicule by Missus Jockey, she’d lay a fit about buying something she thinks is “stupid, and that nobody in the real world uses” Meh. She’s full of it. I may just buy a Mac to spite her.


I have a 14" iBook (G3) that I got new in '02. It’s my primary computer, so I use it constantly. I’ve logged countless hours on this thing and I really have nothing bad to say about it other than some complaints that have more to do with it being a Mac than anything else. I’ve taken it all over the place, tossed it in my backpack, dropped it, dragged it through heat and cold, and it’s stood up to everything. So, yeah, highly reccomended (iBooks and PowerBooks can get a little pricey, though).

I wouldn’t look at buying a laptop for upgradability; it’s hard enough jamming all that stuff in there when it’s first assembled, so IMO it’s unwise to swap stuff in and out several years later. It can be done, but it seems to me more trouble than it’s worth.

Aside from upgrading the memory and tossing in an Airport (WiFi) card, the only upgrading I’d do with an iBook/Powerbook would be to add external peripherals and drives.

What do you actually want to do with the laptop?

Will you be travelling much with it? I didn’t think I would with my desktop-replacement Dell, but the 8+ pound weight doesn’t help much there. I’ve had it for 4 months or so, though (Inspiron 5100, got it as a refurb for ~950 dollars) and everything’s still running great (except wireless network, grr, but that’s the fault of my cheap networking equipment, lol.)

There’s a couple things I’m looking for in a computer. I teach myself to program, so it would be compiling small programs. This little bit is actually why I have shyed away from nonWin machines, I can’t find books that I feel help me learn to make apps for other computers/compilers. But anyway. I listen to music on my computer. And yes, I travel a lot. It’s going to need a regular network card and a wireless network capability (you can never tell what a hotel is going to have). Battery life will probably be quite important to me, airports and airplanes rarely have convenient wall outlets. I’ll probably be running games on it, but not the latest greatest first person shooter, more like CivIII or the Dune strategy games. I’ll definitely be watching movies.

Generally, this computer will become my desktop in all other respects.

(I’ll post this here to avoid opening another thread) I am also going to buy a laptop in the near future, and I’m considering the Toshiba Satellite series. Does anyone have experience with them? Recommendations for a particular model?

Just got an Apple iBook. Great machine.

Sounds like a PowerBook or iBook would do what you need. The programming bit is sketchy; there’s a pretty good development environment (Xcode) included with the lastest version of OS X, but it’s not so good with the C++. If you want to write apps with the native OS X interface (Aqua), you’re stuck with Objective C. For C or C++, you can still write command line/terminal apps, Carbon (the pre-OS X Mac interface) apps, or install X Window and write stuff for that. It also includes a Java development environment.

Most of the more low-key games, including Civ3, have been ported to the Mac. And it should go without saying that iTunes is just about the best music software available.

Fn + Backspace works like Windows Delete key. There. It’s perfect!