5 Things to AVOID When Shopping for a Laptop
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shopping for a laptopYou’re ready. You’ve read, researched, poked, prodded, and are now armed to the teeth with technical information. It is time to set foot onto the field of battle and claim a great laptop deal for your own. You will buy, you will save, and you will be victorious.

Ah, but not so fast! You may have read a great deal about what to look for when buying a laptop computer, but you may not know what to avoid. This is at least as important, as there are a surprisingly large number of landmines throw in the path of consumers.

Just Say No To Single Core Processors

shopping for a laptop

You opened up the Wal-Mart advertisement and – my God! They have a laptop for just $200. You rush out the door, buy it, and bring it home. All is well until you open Windows Task Manager Customize The Windows Task Manager To Your Liking with Task Manager Modder Customize The Windows Task Manager To Your Liking with Task Manager Modder Read More and see just one graph bobbing along, spiking violently whenever you open a web browser.

Multi-core processors are so common that Intel dropped the “Duo” and “Quad” names from the company’s new processors entirely. Some single-core processors do still exist, however, and they’re built almost exclusively for the $200 and $300 doorbuster deal laptops. Although a single-core processor is adequate for some basic tasks, it will choke on processor intensive tasks like HD video playback The Top Performing Laptop Video Cards For Gaming & HD Video [Technology Explained] The Top Performing Laptop Video Cards For Gaming & HD Video [Technology Explained] Read More . Even flash-heavy webpages could prove challenging.

Laptops with AMD processors almost always boast the number of cores the processor contains with a “X2” or “X4” label. This label is only forgotten when the laptop has a single-core processor. Intel no longer has a quick-and-easy label, but the majority of single-core Intel laptops sold use a processor called the Intel Celeron 900.

Note that netbooks are an exception to this – it’s OK for them to have single core processors. The performance will be poor, but speed isn’t a netbook’s niche.

Watch Out For Big Terrible Displays

buying a laptop computer

Laptops are great, but they have disadvantages compared to desktop computers. For example, you cannot upgrade components that are easily switched out on a desktop. The display, for example, can’t be changed. This means it is important to check a laptop’s display quality before buying.

Open a text document or all-white web page and take a close look at the display. Can you see small lines that appears to cross the display both vertically or horizontally? This is known as the “screen door effect.” It’s surprisingly common on modern laptops, and can be annoying.

Also take a look at the display resolution and compare that to the display size. Most 15.6″ laptops sold today have a resolution of 1366×768. That’s not great, but it’s acceptable. However, there are some laptops now sold with 16″+ displays that have this same  resolution. This often results in large pixels and sub-par image quality.

Don’t Believe Manufacturer Battery Life Claims

buying a laptop computer

If you walk into your local Best Buy you’ll be hard pressed to find laptops that offer less than three hours of battery life 20 Ways To Increase Laptop's Battery Life 20 Ways To Increase Laptop's Battery Life Read More . The only ones that are labeled with two hours or less are gaming laptops. The same is true if you search laptops online. You’ll even run into some laptops that offer ten hours of battery. Sounds great, right?

There’s just one small problem – those claims are exaggerated. There is no agreed-upon industry standard for testing battery life, so laptop manufacturers can advertise anything they manage to obtain, no matter how (un)realistic the conditions were.

My advice? Simply assume that laptops will be able to obtain 75% of the battery life claimed. That’s in light usage – if you’re intending to watch video or run any processor intensive application you can expect battery life to be half the claimed amount.

Leave Extended Warranties On The Sales Floor

buying a laptop computer

The extended warranty plays upon the fear that occurs whenever a person shells out a lot of money for a product. Even a $500 laptop is nothing to sneeze at, and a $1000 laptop may be a substantial portion of a person’s yearly income. It’s easy to succumb to the pressure of the salesperson pitching the warranty to you. “Hey,” they’ll say, “this will protect you if something goes wrong. What if you spill a drink on your laptop?”

It’s true – disasters occur. However, the statistical rate of disasters isn’t high. Warranty company Squaretrade has found that the three-year failure rate of a laptop (including both accidents and hardware failure) was just over 30%. And remember – in three years your laptop will be woefully outdated. You may be wanting a new one anyway.

Extended warranty service isn’t prompt, either. Although some companies are better than others, most companies try very hard to find a reason not to honor an extended warranty. Even if the warranty is honored, your laptop may need to be sent away for repairs, a process that can take weeks. Does that sound like it’s worth $150 to $300 to you?

No, You Don’t Need That Accessory

shopping for a laptop

Another common sales tactic that trips up laptop buyers is the bundled accessory. It’s incredibly common for a store to offer extras as part of a laptop deal. These can include everything from USB and HDMI cables to printers and external hard drives. The store makes these offers attractive buy listing huge discounts of 50% or more.

What the stores don’t tell you, of course, is that the original price of the item was absurd. HDMI cables are the most famous example, and one relevant to laptops now that most come with HDMI-out. Stores often sell HDMI cables for $50 to $100, nevermind the fact that great cables can be purchased online for $5 or less. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out that 50% off a $100 HDMI cable is still a terrible deal.

Conclusion

Buying a laptop computer can be a great experience, but you always need to be careful. It would be nice if manufacturers didn’t exaggerate claims, and it’d be great if sales representatives always directed customers to laptops that are truly the best. This is not the case, however – you need to stay informed to obtain the best deal.

Did we miss anything out?   Is there something else we should bear in mind when buying a laptop computer?   If so, let us know in the comments.

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  1. Mack
    December 27, 2010 at 12:38 am

    when buying a laptop, i do believe the bigger the screen is, the better it is. I hate the smaller 12" laptops. I can't get anything done on that screen. Even the web pages have to scroll so I can see the full page!

    warranties are usually not needed, unless its a newer product, with a new design. if the design is older, then typically the kinks would be worked out already, but there always is the chance of hardware failing. it just is the luck of the draw.

    as far as accessories go, everything can be found online for cheaper. dont be fooled. 10 minutes of online research will save you some money.

  2. Mack
    December 27, 2010 at 1:38 am

    when buying a laptop, i do believe the bigger the screen is, the better it is. I hate the smaller 12" laptops. I can't get anything done on that screen. Even the web pages have to scroll so I can see the full page!

    warranties are usually not needed, unless its a newer product, with a new design. if the design is older, then typically the kinks would be worked out already, but there always is the chance of hardware failing. it just is the luck of the draw.

    as far as accessories go, everything can be found online for cheaper. dont be fooled. 10 minutes of online research will save you some money.

  3. Pam
    December 17, 2010 at 12:14 am

    One thing to look out for on the HP Laptop is the grey keyboards are hard to read and no back light...

  4. Darryl
    December 16, 2010 at 12:03 am

    "In my experience, laptops tend to break soon after the warranty time is over".....Geesh where the heck do you purchase yours from?!? I can understand maybe 1 time it happening but you are saying it happens regularly it sounds like...mine have lasted well past the standard 1 year warranty every time..at any rate I hope you have better luck when you purchase other stuff such as your cars!! LOL

    Darryl.

  5. Trinae Ross
    December 11, 2010 at 3:29 am

    I have to disagree (in part) with the section on battery life. I have an Acer Aspire Timeline (AS4810) and I can easily hit 8hrs between writing and research and another 4-6 watching DVDs and HD content.

  6. hendraware[dot]com
    December 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm

    check this out, more good reviews and tips for buying a cheap laptop!!
    http://hendraware.com

  7. laboratory
    December 8, 2010 at 5:16 pm

    I think there are no easy choices while buying a laptop by the average client. There will always be something wrong with it or there will be something missing. Mostly you will find out about it after you buy it.

    At the end it's not how expensive or fully loaded is your laptop, but how you are going to take care of it and what are you going to do with it.

    If you are buying a laptop for full time job, you have to concider the fact that after 2-3 years you will have to buy a new one. That's the deal:)

    Cheers.

  8. brian linehan
    December 8, 2010 at 4:24 pm

    very good info.will take on board.

  9. Elton Sites
    December 8, 2010 at 11:03 am

    One of the things I consider on buying a laptop is the software that comes with it. Hardware is given and most of us know what we need before coming to the store. But most of us does not know what software comes with it.

  10. vs8
    December 8, 2010 at 6:04 am

    Not too many choices on store shelves only Win7 or Mac, and soon you'll find Chrome OS, you can find great OSs online like Ubuntu or any other Linux distro you like.

  11. Carolina Bang Style dress
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  12. M.S. Smith
    December 8, 2010 at 1:43 am

    There may be some value to buying an extended warranty on an expensive laptop if the price of that warranty does not raise with the price of the laptop. That hasn't been my experience, however. More expensive laptops tend to have more expensive warranties. For example, the Applecare for my MacBook would be $250, but its $350 for the 15" MacBook Pro.

    As far as laptops breaking after warranty goes - no offense, but anecdotal experience doesn't offer much support. Perhaps your laptops have broken after the warranty is up. Mine have lasted at least three years. Neither observation is a very good basis for decision, however - it's a better idea to look at wider surveys, like those of SquareTrade and Consumer Reports.

  13. Tilman
    December 7, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    In my experience, laptops tend to break soon after the warranty time is over :D So a laptop that comes with a one-year warranty by default is probably going to break relatively soon after that one year in normal use :) That's why an extended warranty is so expensive! It is much more likely that you will send your laptop for a warranty repair if you have an extended warranty than if you have the default one-year warranty.

    My rule of thumb is the following: If you are buying a laptop for a price that you could theoretically pay at almost any time without having to save first for a long time, don't take an extended warranty. But if you buy a laptop that you consider to be a significant investment (meaning that you saved for it some time in order to be able to buy it), then do take the extended warranty, unless you start already saving right away for a new laptop so that you have the money ready when the laptop breaks =)

  14. M.S. Smith
    December 7, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    $399 is a lot. But these extended warranties usually cost between $150 and $300. Let's just assume that you snagged one for $150. Even if you had the extended warranty, you're only "saving" $250.

    And what are the chances of a laptop going just after your warranty expires? Very slim. There is always an element of risk - which is why the warranties sell in the first place, as they're basically insurance policies - but the odds are on the side of those who skip the warranty.

  15. Radrick
    December 7, 2010 at 5:36 pm

    I have to disagree regarding Extended Warranties/ Service Agreements. Why because notebook/laptops/netbooks are proprietary hardware. When things go wrong, you can't just buy a part for it at the local computer store as you can with a desktop.

    My son had a problem with a Compaq notebook and it was just outside the 1-year warranty period. HP would do nothing for me other than estimate it would cost $399 to repair it. If I had had a valid extended Warranty, at least, it would have been covered.

    • Anonymous
      December 7, 2010 at 6:04 pm

      i completely agree with you. i think that extended warranties (from the manufacturer) are a must for laptops that cost a significant amount of money. when spending $2,000 or more, the laptop won't be outdated in a couple of years. it should still be able run great, so you don't need a new one. i mean, you won't be able to play the latest games at the native resolution, but that only matters to gamers.

      when buying a $500 laptop, the case for extended warranties is not as strong. they use budget components and are generally lower in quality than more expensive laptops. spending half the cost of the laptop on an extended warranty is a little silly. a 1 or 2 year extended warranty probably will do just fine. by the time the extended warranty is over, it might be time for a new laptop.

      i am a hardcore laptop user and am very careful with my tech stuff. even then i have used extended warranties to replace parts that have died on me all throughout the extended warranty period. i have owned a couple of dells and my current laptop is a lenovo. the extended warranties have more than paid for themselves.

    • M.S. Smith
      December 7, 2010 at 7:10 pm

      $399 is a lot. But these extended warranties usually cost between $150 and $300. Let's just assume that you snagged one for $150. Even if you had the extended warranty, you're only "saving" $250.

      And what are the chances of a laptop going just after your warranty expires? Very slim. There is always an element of risk - which is why the warranties sell in the first place, as they're basically insurance policies - but the odds are on the side of those who skip the warranty.

      • Tilman
        December 7, 2010 at 8:58 pm

        In my experience, laptops tend to break soon after the warranty time is over :D So a laptop that comes with a one-year warranty by default is probably going to break relatively soon after that one year in normal use :) That's why an extended warranty is so expensive! It is much more likely that you will send your laptop for a warranty repair if you have an extended warranty than if you have the default one-year warranty.My rule of thumb is the following: If you are buying a laptop for a price that you could theoretically pay at almost any time without having to save first for a long time, don't take an extended warranty. But if you buy a laptop that you consider to be a significant investment (meaning that you saved for it some time in order to be able to buy it), then do take the extended warranty, unless you start already saving right away for a new laptop so that you have the money ready when the laptop breaks =)

        • M.S. Smith
          December 8, 2010 at 12:43 am

          There may be some value to buying an extended warranty on an expensive laptop if the price of that warranty does not raise with the price of the laptop. That hasn't been my experience, however. More expensive laptops tend to have more expensive warranties. For example, the Applecare for my MacBook would be $250, but its $350 for the 15" MacBook Pro.

          As far as laptops breaking after warranty goes - no offense, but anecdotal experience doesn't offer much support. Perhaps your laptops have broken after the warranty is up. Mine have lasted at least three years. Neither observation is a very good basis for decision, however - it's a better idea to look at wider surveys, like those of SquareTrade and Consumer Reports.

        • Darryl
          December 15, 2010 at 11:03 pm

          "In my experience, laptops tend to break soon after the warranty time is over".....Geesh where the heck do you purchase yours from?!? I can understand maybe 1 time it happening but you are saying it happens regularly it sounds like...mine have lasted well past the standard 1 year warranty every time..at any rate I hope you have better luck when you purchase other stuff such as your cars!! LOL

          Darryl.

        • Hal
          December 16, 2010 at 4:20 pm

          I've owned 2 IBM Thinkpads, a Sony laptop, and an HP laptop. The two Thinkpads broke within two years of purchase (No extended warranty was offered when I bought them at the IBM store). I bought my Sony and HP with extended warranties, and both have been repaired twice under warranty. Every time the repairs were done relatively fast (2 to 4 weeks max), and with my HP they even offered a free loaner laptop while mine was out for repair. None of my computers were mis-used or used outdoors or by kids, they failed through normal use. I consider the extended warranty a worthwhile investment when it is not more than 25% of the cost of the computer.

  16. leoplan2
    December 7, 2010 at 5:07 pm

    What about the Operating System?

    • Anonymous
      December 8, 2010 at 5:04 am

      Not too many choices on store shelves only Win7 or Mac, and soon you'll find Chrome OS, you can find great OSs online like Ubuntu or any other Linux distro you like.

      • M.S. Smith
        December 8, 2010 at 5:56 pm

        Yea, basically this. Take your pick - Windows 7 or OS X. And that's an entirely different article.

  17. diverdan1
    December 7, 2010 at 7:04 pm

    i completely agree with you. i think that extended warranties (from the manufacturer) are a must for laptops that cost a significant amount of money. when spending $2,000 or more, the laptop won't be outdated in a couple of years. it should still be able run great, so you don't need a new one. i mean, you won't be able to play the latest games at the native resolution, but that only matters to gamers.

    when buying a $500 laptop, the case for extended warranties is not as strong. they use budget components and are generally lower in quality than more expensive laptops. spending half the cost of the laptop on an extended warranty is a little silly. a 1 or 2 year extended warranty probably will do just fine. by the time the extended warranty is over, it might be time for a new laptop.

    i am a hardcore laptop user and am very careful with my tech stuff. even then i have used extended warranties to replace parts that have died on me all throughout the extended warranty period. i have owned a couple of dells and my current laptop is a lenovo. the extended warranties have more than paid for themselves.

  18. Radrick
    December 7, 2010 at 6:36 pm

    I have to disagree regarding Extended Warranties/ Service Agreements. Why because notebook/laptops/netbooks are proprietary hardware. When things go wrong, you can't just buy a part for it at the local computer store as you can with a desktop.

    My son had a problem with a Compaq notebook and it was just outside the 1-year warranty period. HP would do nothing for me other than estimate it would cost $399 to repair it. If I had had a valid extended Warranty, at least, it would have been covered.