Which laptop should I buy from Costco?
January 4, 2010 5:13 PM   Subscribe

Of these two laptops available at Costco, should I go for the Dell, the Toshiba, or some other one available there?

I'm really unable to figure out which of these is best for my needs. I use it as a desktop replacement, and rarely need to transport it much, so size isn't an issue, though of course smaller is better. I tend to keep my computers for 4 or more years, so I'd like something that will last. I have used Dell almost exclusively and have been happy with them; I did test out the keyboard on the Toshiba and am fine with it. I use computers for internet stuff, watching videos (quite a lot, mostly while in my bed), and some gaming.

I won't buy an HP, and am uninterested in getting a Mac. These two points are not up for debate. I am willing to purchase elsewhere or from a different maker if prices are comparable. 1300 is about my top price: note that this includes 2 years warranty at Costco, which has historically been good for warranty service. I do not think I need more than 2 years.

I am located in Montreal.
posted by jeather to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
Anecdotal: I have had a few toshibas without problems, but I know two people who have had problems with their dells.
posted by davejay at 5:21 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

My first instinct is the Dell because the Toshiba's harddrive only spins at 5400 RPM. Your seek and run times off the hard drive are going to be longer (you might see this with lag in your video). It's also only got a 6 cell battery.

The dell costs more because it's packing a lot more power then the Toshiba and a bigger battery. This will be good for gaming (as a matter of fact I thought it would be a decent gaming machine before i read your post)

If you're watching a dvd on the toshiba, the battery might not make it through the full movie.

Just an FYI: Your battery is going to go poof in 1.5-2 years. It'll probably still work, but you will still notice a degrade in charge length. So expect to pay for another battery at some point during the life of the laptop.
posted by royalsong at 5:28 PM on January 4, 2010

I'd go with the Dell. Specs are much better. The Toshiba also doesn't have a firewire port which is deal breaker for me. YMMV.
posted by sockpup at 5:48 PM on January 4, 2010

Give this a read: http://www.squaretrade.com/pages/laptop-reliability-1109 (summary here)
Asus, Toshiba, Have lower warranty repair rates than others.
posted by defcom1 at 6:25 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

my experience: had a Toshiba for four years and it was awesome. bought a Dell last year and it is EVIL. I hate it. It's probably going to crash now.
posted by smalls at 6:35 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: This isn't about the specific models here, but some relevant notes.

Most laptops drives are going to spin at 5400, for a few reasons. 5400 RPM drives are cheaper, quieter, and use less energy. The trade off is, of course, performance. With that said, I haven't found the speed difference to be a concern when it comes to notebooks.

The Dell machine you linked has an i7 processor, which is on the high end of Intel's chips. It's usually found in desktops due to the power draw and heat, but if you're going to be using this mostly as a desktop replacement that isn't an issue.

What are you planning on using your machine for? If we're talking the latest games and intensive applications (Photoshop, database work, compiling, that sort of thing) then the Dell is the clear winner, although you'll definitely be paying for that victory. Otherwise, the i7 processor and 6 GB of RAM might be a bit of overkill.
posted by truex at 6:48 PM on January 4, 2010

For all the stuff you've described (gaming, videos, and internet), the Dell is way more machine than you'll need for the foreseeable future. For that reason, I'd go with the Toshiba, and save the 500 bucks.
posted by chrisamiller at 7:00 PM on January 4, 2010

Have you had a laptop with that large a screen before? If desktop replacement means you'll almost always be using it in one spot this isn't an issue but I found my 15" MacBook Pro was clunky and cumbersome just moving it around my home, like from the desk to the couch. I'd probably get one of those Dells with a 14" screen and get a 20"+ monitor to leave on my desk. But the ones available there may not be adequate for gaming, depending on what kind of gaming you do.
posted by 6550 at 7:13 PM on January 4, 2010

Be very wary of the advertised delivery schedule for an i7 based Dell laptop. I originally ordered one back at the end of September and my delivery ended on getting pushed into early Jan 2010. I canceled and bought this ASUS model and have been very happy with it as a desktop replacement.
posted by white_devil at 7:16 PM on January 4, 2010

Response by poster: My concern about the Toshiba is that although it's fine right now, I'm not sure how fine it will be in 2 years from now. I'm unlikely to start playing incredibly processor intensive games, or doing the level of database work or compiling that would -- now -- require the best specs, but I don't want to find myself irritated that I can't do something fairly common in 2 years. I don't know what that will be, but my current computer has balks at any flash at all, its video processing sucks.

The Dell is actually only 200$ more at the moment, which is why it's in the running.

Right now I have a 17" screen, which I rather like the size of -- it's nice to watch things on a screen of this size. The weight isn't ideal, but mostly I use it on a table or in my bed.
posted by jeather at 7:24 PM on January 4, 2010

Anecdotal: I have had a few toshibas without problems, but I know two people who have had problems with their dells.

my experience: had a Toshiba for four years and it was awesome. bought a Dell last year and it is EVIL. I hate it. It's probably going to crash now.

after my own woeful, unhappy experience with a Dell PC under warranty, and Dell's woeful, unhappy customer support, I never pass up the opportunity to advise people against buying anything with the word "Dell" on it.

Dell - "Just say no".
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 7:33 PM on January 4, 2010

I've been thinking about this some more, and with that instant coupon thing factored in I would probably go for the Dell.

If you get the Toshiba (which will age well, don't get me wrong) you could upgrade the memory to match the Dell yourself. It's easy, even on laptops, and will run $150ish, at which point you might as well just pay the extra $200 to buy the Dell and get the desktop-grade processor, faster hard drive, etc., too.

(Note that the Dell model doesn't have integrated Bluetooth, unlike the Toshiba. There are adapters barely bigger than the USB connector itself for $15 to $25, so it's a negligible difference. The Dell also doesn't have a dial-up modem, but I don't really think that's important.)
posted by truex at 7:42 PM on January 4, 2010

Best answer: I don't want to find myself irritated that I can't do something fairly common in 2 years.

I'll reassure you that in two years, 4GB of RAM and a Core Duo processor will very likely still be adequate for the kinds of activities you describe.

It's almost never worth buying top-of-the line computer hardware unless you're really going to need that much power (for say, video editing, or crunching large datasets). You pay a huge premium and waste a lot of money trying to stay ahead of the technology curve.

That 500 bucks you save will buy you much more bang for your buck in a few years. Sock it away in savings and get a new laptop when this one doesn't meet your needs any more. I'll wager that you get three or four solid years out of it.
posted by chrisamiller at 8:01 PM on January 4, 2010

Okay, lots of people are in here downing the Dell because of the manufacturer.

My desktop is Dell. My laptop (and it's predecessor) is Dell. I use Dells at work, I've known people who own Dells. I've never run into a major problem or issue or any horror stories. The times I've run into any negative issues at all were all user error or deity action.

Just showing the other side of the coin.
posted by royalsong at 8:58 PM on January 4, 2010

What you need to understand is that most hardware manufacturers break their lines down into machines targeted to consumers, and those targeted to corporate users. They might share some common components, but they really are by and large different machines.

Consumer-grade Dells are absolute SHIT - they have lowered the bar with regard to quality control about as far as I'm willing to tolerate. The corporate models, which you will pay more for, naturally, are far better. I'm typing this on a 4-year-old Dell Latitude D610, which, aside from the battery, still works like a champ.

That having been said, if I were to pick from the two there, I would say get the Toshiba. This Dell replaced a 5-year-old Toshiba which was also running flawlessly at the time.
posted by deadmessenger at 9:34 PM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're not going to travel much with the laptop, its pretty ridiculous to pay $1000+ for something that will just sit on your desk.

Get a high clocked C2D desktop which will run you around $400 w/ large monitor, and if you really need it, a cheap laptop.
posted by wongcorgi at 9:59 PM on January 4, 2010

Another vote for Dell here. I've never had a problem with their service ever. I've purchased computers directly from them five times (two laptops and three desktops). I've always bought the three-year service plan (one laptop with in-home service and one laptop without it) with each computer and only had to use it on the laptops.

1.) Laptop 1 - I broke the battery release clip on the bottom casing plate of the laptop during the last year of the warranty. Called them, explained the problem, they sent me a box, I shipped it to them and they replaced the bottom case plate and shipped it back. Total repair time of less than a week, fully covered by warranty. That repair was in 2005.

2.) Laptop 2 (an XPS 1330). Four days before I had to fly to Germany on a personal trip, the motherboard on my laptop died (this happened during the first year of the warranty). Called Dell and explained the problem and the need for a quick repair - they sent a tech out to my workplace (the most convenient place to meet for me) the very next day who replaced the motherboard with a new one in 20 minutes as I watched. Did not have to argue with them for a repair - they just said "it sounds like the motherboard has died, you're fully covered, when can we send a tech out". It was the best warranty experience I've had for any product ever and it's why I will always buy Dells whenever I'm buying a computer I don't have the time or inclination to buy myself.

But if you buy a laptop I'd go with a three-year service plan. It's been my experience that I always end up using laptops a little longer than I had anticipated (3-4 years before I feel the need to upgrade). My Dad is now using Laptop 1 - still running without problems for six years.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:11 AM on January 5, 2010

Oops, forgot to add - the second repair was in September of 2008.
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:12 AM on January 5, 2010

And that should have been "whenever I'm buying a computer I don't have the time or inclination to build myself."

*wanders off to find coffee*
posted by longdaysjourney at 5:13 AM on January 5, 2010

I actually just bought a Dell Studio XPS 16 with the i7 820QM processor a few months ago and while I have been overall very pleased with the purchase, I can't -- in good faith -- recommend that anyone buy Dell. It seems that all of their laptops have been intentionally handicapped in an effort to reduce heat and possible damage to the unit... that seems all well and good at initial glance, but really it's more a means of cutting corners and reducing overhead on Q/A.

Rather than focus on a better built product (e.g. cooling system design, etc.), they cut the system's potential off at a knees without telling consumers. As a result, systems with high end components wind up falling far short of their actual capability.

Case in point: the Dell Studio XPS 16, which, despite stellar specifications on paper, can't run games from five years ago without stuttering and slowing to a crawl. Look up Clock Modulation and Throttling if you're interested in a move complete explanation. The short of it is that Dell is providing a 90W adapter for a system that requires more juice than that, but using the BIOS to artificially throttle down the CPU and GPU to operate within the 90W limit. As a result, the system actually performs better on battery, where the restriction is lifted. Crazy!

Dell has been dragging their feet for months and apparently this is a issue that affects a huge set of their systems, including all i7 models and some Core 2 Duo ones. As a non-gamer, the issue presents itself less often in my day-to-day work, but it's definitely obvious when I'm compiling under a VM or doing intensive photo editing or video de/encoding.

Luckily for us, a third party developer has put out a utility that acts as band-aid for owners with a Dell 130W adapter, but Dell has been extremely shady about this entire issue, choosing rather to avoid discussing it openly and dragging their feet. Keeping in mind the recent "ThrottleGate" news afflicting their business line (Latitudes), I have a lot of doubt that they'd treat consumer customers any better.

Again, I say this as a customer who actually really likes the system (when using the third party utility and a 130W adapter). What irks me is Dell's gross mishandling of the issue thus far.
posted by Raze2k at 12:27 PM on January 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

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