Friday, June 29, 2007

When Shopping for a Laptop

I have a few friends thinking of buying a new notebook computer recently and they've come to me for advice. As I find that this is a recurring bit of speech that I give, I thought that I'd just blog about it and refer any future queries to my blog. This blog is my advice to any normal computer user looking for new laptop hardware. As for software, just stay away from Vista and if possible, Windows.

The laptop/notebook market is an ODM market. This means that the vast majority of all the brand (think Apple, IBM, Sony, Toshiba, Dell, HP...) laptops in this world, come from a small number of sources: Quanta, Compal, Wistron. It's okay if you've never heard of them before. They produce generic laptops that are sent to various brands, who slap on a sticker, and charge you a premium for it. Sometimes, you can even find the exact same laptop being sold under different names.

Granted, there are varying qualities in the laptops, but keep in mind that they are all made of the same parts and come from the same few manufacturers. So, there is less separating laptops of different brands than most consumers are led to believe. With regards to Macs, aside from the use of EFI to replace the BIOS, there isn't much else that differentiates a Mac from a standard laptop, internally. That's why you can run Windows inside a Mac, without any problems.

The main differentiating factor between the different brands is customer service, which I define as sales, support and warranty. You're not going to see the sales person after the sale is made but at the point-of-sale, you may be able to get a good bargain if you shop around. Support is largely exported to call centres in India for all the brands. For warranty, like all other machines, laptops will fail. So, shop around for the best warranty package you can get.

All the computer companies make money from warranty and will be more than willing to sell you a suitable warranty package. Warranty is a balance between risk and cost. You will need to figure out how much you're willing to pay for when the laptop fails. As a customer, you'll just need to take note of a few things (read the fine print):

  • International means specific foreign countries and doesn't necessarily mean worldwide coverage.
  • Warranty typically covers parts or labour costs and not both. It rarely includes pickup/return costs.
  • 1st, 2nd, and 3rd year warranties are covered by different policies and prices.
Personally, I don't really care for warranty, as I lack the patience to deal with the hassle. I'm more than happy to take apart my laptop and fix the problem myself. So, that's why I'm intending to go for a laptop that is easily taken apart and serviceable with standard parts. I've had bad experiences with customer service before.

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