Saturday, January 31, 2015

Never Buy the $299 Laptop - Laptop Tips from Andrew W. Loniak

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Never Buy the $299 Laptop

Build quality: what is it? It's why your Pro Series laptop still works after it is accidently sat on and dropped, and also why that $299 Holiday Bundle dies 91 days after purchase.
When looking to purchase a desktop, laptop or tablet, there are typically two distinct classes of hardware: the Business Class, and the Consumer Class. Right off the bat you will notice several things about the Business class models; in this case laptops:
  • Metal Hinges and reinforcements - the screen opens and feels stiff, does not wobble, aluminum top and sides for extra protection
  • Tighter fit and finish, less flex on the case, and a reinforced/aluminum top cover to prevent accidental screen damage
  • Features like backlit keyboard, biometric reader & full 10-key keyboard
  • Typically these models have extended warranties and next day on-site service
  • You are running a "Pro" version of the Operating System, giving you business features not available to a Home version
  • There is no "trialware" that bombards you as soon as you power on
Other not so evident engineering enhancements and considerations for a Business model laptop includes:
  • Matte LCD coating, which prevents shine and reflection. Consumer models typically have very shiny screens, which look good in optimal lighting, but can be difficult to use in direct sunlight.
  • VGA ports: many Consumer grade laptops dropped the VGA option, so if you need to hook up quickly to a projector or monitor, it may be a challenge
  • Higher quality fans, more bearings in the fans allowing faster speeds, longer life & less noise
  • More than one fan - many entry level laptops have 1 cooling fan blowing out the bottom, or side. Block that one vent, and you will cause serious damage
  • Reinforced Standoffs on the mainboard- the reason your charging port gets loose and will not charge is there are only one or two pins holding it into the mainboard. Business class machines have four or more. After a few good tugs on the charger cable, a Consumer quality laptop will need a A/C jack repair.
  • Tear-Down time is very important to a technician and ultimately to your repair cost. Business class machines typically come apart in logical order with just a few screws, where Consumer grade laptops typically need to go to a depot to repair due to the complexity of reassembling it correctly.
  • Parts Availability is something that is rarely considered, but it would be nice if 2 years from now they had the mainboard available without a long wait. Consumer products typically have a one year parts availability before the model is retired, where Business models are typically three years, coinciding with your three year warranty
Consumer Class Desktops typically have low end processors, and non-upgradable RAM or limited options preventing you from installing add on cards. When purchasing a Business class machine, you are usually presented with many options to customize to your needs. You can add RAM at the build time to save money as well. Some other considerations to think about when selecting a desktop:
  • Business Class Desktops typically have dual monitor capability where consumer models will need a better video card
  • Consumer Desktops are physically lighter, using more aluminum and less steel and copper. Copper is used to dissipate heat, and aluminum is very ineffective at dissipating heat, but is much cheaper.
  • In many cases, the ultra-cheap desktops are actually low end laptop mainboards mounted in a large and mostly empty case. These desktops are nothing more than netbooks, and are not really designed to do anything but office work.
  • To keep costs down even more, companies allow trialware to be installed, like 60 day antivirus trials.
When it comes to tablets, there is a REAL distinct difference between a Consumer "no name" tablet, and a name brand tablet. Most notably:
  • Active vs Passive & Touch sensitivity on the screen- on low end models, your finger will be hurting by the end of a browsing session. Passive LCDs require pressure to detect a touch, where active detect heat and electric currents in your fingers.
  • Screen Glare & viewing angle- the cheaper the tablet, the more direct you need to look at it to see the colors correctly, and the less sun you can have before you see nothing but glare
  • Battery Life on lower priced tablets suffers greatly as a good Lithium Polymer battery is not cheap, so many cheaper tablets use NiMH which can store much less energy than lithium.
  • Some of the cheapest tablets do not use Google Play, essentially making them absolutely useless except as Internet tablets
When it comes time to purchase new technology, seriously consider the Return on Investment (ROI) you want from the item. If you are satisfied with a year of use from a new computer, many consumer level devices would be a decent choice.Most business would find having to switch PCs, change data, reinstall programs etc., yearly to stay current more trouble than its worth. In the long run, typically your costs to retire the old PC and set up the new PC would exceed the extra you would have spent on the Business Class three year warranty machine.
My rule of thumb is to buy slightly bigger than you need at the current moment, allowing for growth. Having to re-buy larger PCs, or bigger server down the road will cost exponentially more than doing it up front. Technology is an investment in your company, don't go cheap-o!

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