An email about laptop selection & purchase

Posted: June 8, 2008 by ralliart12 in 1-hour notebook
Tags: , , , , ,

I recently wrote an email to an acquaintance of me asking me for advice on an upcoming purchase of a laptop. I suppose he’ll be committing this purchase at the PC Show 2008 & tailored my response to him accordingly. Since I invested some due effort in composing the email, I figure why not post the contents up here, to act as a reference for those who’re trekking the same path soon too? As follows (in blue):

Hi uncle T,

I hope you still remember me. I recalled you mentioning to me that you’re going to purchase a laptop and you asked me for some pointers. The PC Show is at Suntec from 12th – 15th Jun (next week) and before I can recommend you any models that I come across there, I hope you can answer some of the questions below, so that I roughly know what you want (please include the replies in your email response):

Budget: common budgets include $1800, $2500, but just like me know how much u willing to fork out.
Purpose: a general computer for everyone in the family to use at home, or for one for your kids to bring to & fro school?
Misc: any gaming to be done? You intending to pair it with a LCD monitor? etc

Actually, if this computer is never intended to leave the house, I will really suggest you buy a desktop PC instead, as the same budget, when used to purchase a desktop PC, can afford significantly better specs as compared to buying a laptop.

So do let me know your requirements for above, so if I notice anything tailored more towards your needs I can point it out to you.

Now, for the general guideline:

Avoid Acer and Samsung, Sony. Acer laptops have a very very bad reputation of using components that fail very easily and frequently. As for Samsung laptops, well, I personally use their laptop and cellphones and both product sport extremely lousy battery life. I guess the only things you can buy from Samsung are monitors. Then unless you have money to throw, Sony’s laptop are beautiful BUT extremely overpriced (you can just compared a Sony laptop and another brand’s of similar spec, the Sony one will be way more expensive). But if you are prepared to splurge, Sony laptops’re beautiful. If you’re going for Apple MacBooks, erm, buy any time also no problem, Apple DUN give discount at shows, at most they throw in freebies.

I will always advise against buying anything on the 1st day, personally I will go down on the 1st and 3rd day. 1st day I go down to do recon, see the intital prices and what models’re available, 3rd day I do the actual buying. I dun wanna wait till the 4th day (last day) as the things I wan may actually be sold out, and the crowd on the last day is a lot worse than the 3rd day. If u wanna go on 3rd day, it is better if u already know what you wan, and just check, buy and go. Very hectic and chaotic to do shopping on 3rd day. So I always use my information collected online, or from the 1st day, where all the potential buyers’re still working.

As for more laptop-specific details to note:

For processor, choose those with the processor number T7xxx, T8xxx, T9xxx. Anything lower than T7xxx, i.e. T5xxx, is meant for more prolonged battery life as opposed to performance. Then the T2xxx is the older “Core Duo”, not “Core 2 Duo”. T9xxx is highest end, most performance oriented, and also price-est, so if your laptop never leaves the house and is permanently plugged into AC, you can use this. For all other general purpose, T8xxx is the sweet spot, between battery life and performance. Note: these denominations’re a class range of processor, they’re NOT the exact speed, so it’s “correct” to see the processor specs written as “T8xxx x.xGHZ”.

Then dun settle for anything less than 1GB of RAM, better if they offer to double it to 2GB for free, or if it’s within ur budget, go for it. And personally, if it’s down to 2 almost similar systems, if one of them offers Windows XP Professional, take it. Windows Vista is, to put it gently, “issue-matic”. It’s my personal preference to stick with XP, but I tink most systems out there is forced by Microsoft to come with Windows Vista. If u getting a Windows Vista system, 2GB of RAM will be really really really “needed” for acceptable performance.

Ask how many cells the laptop battery has, dun go for anything less than a 4-cell battery if you or your kids intend to bring the laptop out. The part-time promotors may not know this, get them to ask their senior staff.

Other things include weight: if u intend to bring it out, this is important to prevent neck and back strain (nowadays I also lazy to carry mine out). 2.4kg is just barely carry-able every day. But if got 2.1kg, even better. Why I stop at 2.1kg mark? Cos those that’re around 1.x kg, are likely to be ultra-portable laptops with emphasis on battery life and portability and offered marked DOWN performance. Do check when you lift the laptop up, is it with battery inserted or not.

As for screen size, if bringing around, 13.3″ widescreen is good (sweet spot for laptops you wanna bring around frequently), 14.1″ widescreen is mine, but then again, it means a physically bigger laptop = heavier slightly. Unless you intend to leave it at home, dun go for anything above 15″. Then there’s the question of reflective (glossy) versus matte screen, this one is your personal preference lah, glossy looks nicer but once out in bright daylight/sunny day, you gonna turn on the LCD brightness to view your screen properly. Matte is okay but “boring”. This one you have to see for yourself, At the booths, ask them to dim the LCD brightness a bit, for glossy screen, this slightly dimmed LCD brightness level is what you will see if you use your laptop out in a bright sunny day, but hey I’m not advocating glossy or matte, YOUR personal preference.

Before payment, ask if they can let your power up the laptop to inspect the screen for dead/bright pixels. If they dun, enquire if go home laptop got bright/dead pixel what’s the exchange policy. Also, if certain brands got offer extended warranty, do factor that as a good point within your consideration. How to inspect for bright pixels? Launch Microsoft Paint, fill the canvas with black color, save it on the desktop, as black.bmp/black.jpg, launch it, then zoom in on the picture. This more or less makes the pure black picture fill up the bulk of the screen, inspect for pixels that look NOT lit up, or flickering. As for dead pixels, use the same technique, but dun fill it with any color, just a white picture file. Then inspect for the same. You are looking for pixels that seems to be different from the neighboring pixels, pixels that flicker, pixels that always remain lit up even on a pure black picture. Think you get the drift. Of course, dun try this on every prospective model lah, try on the booth and the model you decided to buy, that way they more willing to let you play around, cos you preparing to pay already mah, if they really dun allow, ask about exchange policy, and at the very least when the promotor bring you one side to inspect the items in the retail packaging, power it up and manually use your eyes to spot lor. Get any accompanying family member to spot too. Though, frankly speaking, my method of using Microsoft Paint allows you to feel if the system is “zippy” enough for use or not…

Also open and close the lid, see if the model you are about to pay for, has properly working hinges or not.

That’s about it. Remember to ask about warranty/exchange policy. Keep ALL receipts. Note down the company and promotor’s name who served you. In case any issue, you still have a fourth day and a staff’s name to refer to, should you need to make exchanges. Oh btw, there may be many booths(actual companies, NOT the laptop brands) selling the same brands of laptops, so if the freebies/price bundled with a specific model is not to your liking, walk around, and see if other company got better freebies/or can give you better price. Case in point: when I bought my Samsung laptop last last show, 2 companies were selling Samsung laptops, in the end I bought from the one that throws in a Brother printer instead of the other which throws in a HP printer.

So do let me know your requirements (those that I mentioned at the top of the email), and once the price lists start flowing in, I’ll try my best to update you.

If you in the mood to read some more, check this 3 links out(1st link is a preview of the PCShow):

(Preview of the PCShow next week)
(Guide to laptop processors, scroll down to the portion about Core 2 Duo)
(8 Factors to Consider Before Buying a Laptop)

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