Build quality of laptops.
February 5, 2010 5:37 PM   Subscribe

What laptop manufacturers are the best when it comes to build quality and which should be avoided?

I should point out that I'm open to Macs, though I'll be running Windows 7 on it.
posted by nam3d to Computers & Internet (46 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
I bought a Lenovo ThinkPad based partly on the recommendation of a friend who runs the IT department at a flooring manufacturer. His sales guys all have ThinkPads and take them all over the country and abuse the hell out of them. I've had it for nearly a year now and it still "feels" like it's just out-of-the-box.
posted by cooker girl at 5:46 PM on February 5, 2010

I've owned 5 or 6 mac laptops over the years, I have NEVER had to have one repaired, I've never run virus software, I've never had a virus.

disclaimer: this is one person's experience...
posted by HuronBob at 5:49 PM on February 5, 2010

Reputation: IBM/Lenovo has very good workmanship.

Anecdata: IBM/Lenovo is very good; Acer is shoddy. I bought a Thinkpad because of what I'd heard, and haven't been at all disappointed (after two years, it is in the same shape as ever). Both hinges and adjoining screen casing on my Aspire, on the other hand, had fallen apart after a year of moderate usage.
posted by astrochimp at 5:52 PM on February 5, 2010

I did well with Toshiba, but not well enough to stop me from switching to Mac and thanking the sweet lord.
posted by Beardman at 5:52 PM on February 5, 2010

I've owned 5 or 6 mac laptops over the years, I have NEVER had to have one repaired, I've never run virus software, I've never had a virus.

How do you know if you've never had a virus if you've never run virus software? Anyway, a mac laptop won't run windows 7 any differently then any other laptop.

You could always get a Panasonic toughbook if you really want sturdy.
posted by delmoi at 5:55 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: Lenovo # for PC, MacBook Pro #2 , then a far distant HP, then Gateway, then Dell, then ...everything else.

If you buy a machine at best buy, you will find that it is not a best buy, but a worst buy, because they sell the dregs of consumer level machines.

If you are looking at Dell HP or Gateway, look at their business or "professional" lines, not the "home store" lines. The pro lines tend to be of a higher build quality.

I really like Lenovos, you can basically drop the things. The frame is really strong and the things just feel tough. The MBP is more flexy than the Lenovo but it is very definitely a good quality frame and the components are pretty consistently high quality.
posted by disclaimer at 5:56 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Squaretrade, an extended warranty provider, released this study a while back; you may want to take a look at it. It is based on what they had to fix, so the data should be pretty reliable.
posted by CMcKinnon at 5:56 PM on February 5, 2010 [5 favorites]

I've found there's a correlation between how much you pay for a notebook and the build quality. If you spend $400 on a notebook, you'll get shoddier build quality than if you spend more. I've been happy with my Powerbooks and MacBook Pros over the years but they're $2000 a pop. And the $2000 windows-based notebooks I've had at work have good build quality. No matter which PC OEM, the $1400+ priced ones are going to be solid in build quality.
posted by birdherder at 5:56 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: The major vendors all do OK. IBM(Lenovo) is the best, I think.

Dell and Toshiba hold up pretty well, in my experience, but.... YMMV. It seems like certain of their lines or "batches" are more reliable than others. Others I know (and trust) really like Sony, and the two Gateways I have personally owned have held up really well.

Apple does well, most times. I haven't had the greatest luck with them (worse than Dell in fact, but again, YMMV) but I know others who think Apple can do no wrong.

It's worth pointing out that Apple's windows drivers suck. I have a 17" MBP and the trackpad is all but unusable in windows.

There are so many other factors that determine your experience that it's hard to say how any particular event may play out. In my 15 years of doing IT stuff, I have horror stories (and tales of AWESOME) from pretty much all vendors.

I know this seems like a non-answer, but... when my mom bought her last laptop, I told her to just find one she likes and buy it; we'd deal with it. It's been three years and her Dell has been running well.

In all cases however, I HIGHLY recommend the extended (2-3 year) warranty. If you can get accident protection (Dell and IBM both offer it, Apple doesnt) do it.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 6:06 PM on February 5, 2010

I've heard the same thing about Thinkpads and recommended them myself, but in the past five years, I've run through two of them -- a T41 in three years, after admittedly a lot of hard use, two years of hard, 10 hours a day use despite being thrown into bookbags with textbooks and dumped into corners and even after I accidentally dumped about a liter of pulpy orange juice into it. In contrast, the T61 only lasted two years, and I spent the last nine months dealing with one failing component (keyboard, DVD drive, and now it just beeps when I try to boot it) after the other.

I've heard similar stories about sometimes getting a warhorse and sometimes getting a bit of a screwup.
posted by joyceanmachine at 6:09 PM on February 5, 2010

Oh, I should add that I have a ThinkPad T400; it's been to London and back; and goes through daily use by me, my nine-year-old daughter and my 12-year-old son (who is, admittedly, rougher on it that the nine-year-old), including treks to and from activities and work.
posted by cooker girl at 6:16 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: Regardless of which laptop brand you chose, make sure you have a reliable data backup, as laptop hard drives are very prone to fail.
posted by mhuckaba at 6:18 PM on February 5, 2010

I had a Dell Inspiron that continued to work even after I dropped it hard enough to break the battery charger connection. I mean, it had to be run plugged in after that, but it still worked. then it continued to still work after my two year old packed the keyboard with chunky peanut butter. (Daddy was in big trouble for that one; it happened on his watch.) (We did have to replace the keyboard, but that's a five minute fix.) What finally killed it was that the wires in the AC adapter frayed and shorted out, and the magic smoke came out of it.

I bought another one. The AC adapter is much, much more robust this time.
posted by KathrynT at 6:20 PM on February 5, 2010

Lenovo, but stick with the Thinkpad line. Their other lines are garbage.
posted by porpoise at 6:38 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: HuronBob wrote: I've owned 5 or 6 mac laptops over the years, I have NEVER had to have one repaired...

I, too, have owned 5 or 6 Mac laptops over the years, and I have always had to repair every one of them. No joke. I'm not an especially careless user; these were all run-of-the-mill hardware failures. Mac laptops are things of beauty, but I find them very frustrating from a hardware perspective.

As with HuronBob's disclaimer, this is just the experience of one user. My current Mac laptop and my wife's current Mac laptop have not yet had woe, but they're both less than a year old. Any surprise I'm an avid supporter of AppleCare?
posted by jdroth at 6:44 PM on February 5, 2010

I adore my Lenovo IdeaPad Y710, and it is built like a tank. cooker girl's point about the computer still feeling brand new (well over a year later in my case) holds up as well. Highly recommended.
posted by mintcake! at 6:45 PM on February 5, 2010

Three years ago I got a Toshiba laptop with Vista pre-installed. Which is probably the best money I ever spent: or it's certainly the only money I've spent on it.

It has never blue screened or crashed. I don't push it hard because I use it mainly for everyday things: email, surfing, spreadsheets, wp and sometimes adventure games.

Six times I've travelled halfway around the world and back carrying it with me on every trip. It's worked flawlessly: train stations, libraries, airports, hotels, condos, my house and beaches.

I've used it probably, on average, 8hours a day for those 3 years. It has cost me $0 since I bought it: no replacement parts, no maintenance, nothing: the only thing it needs now is a new battery because the old one doesn't hold a charge well.

I'm pretty sure, when I finally get bored and buy a replacement, I'll have to take it into the garden and set it alight.
posted by selton at 6:49 PM on February 5, 2010

I'm typing on a yum-cha brand laptop that I believe is marketed in the US as 'eMachines'. Steer clear of these.
posted by pompomtom at 6:54 PM on February 5, 2010

I also have a Thinkpad that is about a year and a half old and it runs beautifully, looks beautiful, etc. No problems whatsoever. I abuse it a little... I don't stick it in a case and I put it in my trunk or on the seat of my car then I make a sudden stop and it goes flying.. Yet it still works perfectly.
posted by tweedle at 7:03 PM on February 5, 2010

Thinkpads are solid but ugly.

Do you like buying new motherboards every six months? Then be sure to get a Dell. HP/Compaq/whatever they're called now have always made mediocre-to-terrible computers.

My Toshiba was OK except the fan failed after a year or so.
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:04 PM on February 5, 2010

Agree with the thinkpad recommendations. Solid machines.
posted by sanko at 7:30 PM on February 5, 2010

Thinkpads are solid and beautiful. My T61 has held up magnificently for two years now. I would not buy any other brand of laptop with my money.
posted by roomwithaview at 7:34 PM on February 5, 2010

I have a Thinkpad X200, which despite being pretty tiny has the best keyboard of any laptop I've owned.
posted by swift at 7:54 PM on February 5, 2010

I'll pile on with the thinkpad recommendation. I've been using them 10+ hours a day almost every day for the last 7 years. I have a t40 from 7 years ago that is still perfectly usable. The t60 series wasn't as great for me and was kind of big and klunky.

I now have an x301 which is my most favoritist computer EVAR. Small, fast, and light, but just big enough to be comfortably usable. The solid state drive is amazing.

Thinkpads are the standard laptop where I work and I've never seen one with the hinge broken. They don't look flashy but they tend to be reliable.
posted by DrumsIntheDeep at 7:55 PM on February 5, 2010

Nthing the Thinkpad or MacBook Pro recommendations. I've actively used one or the other for almost 15 years the world over. You've got to work hard to damage them and even harder to break them.
posted by michswiss at 8:19 PM on February 5, 2010

I am typing this on a 5 year old Dell Latitude D610, which has worked flawlessly and taken lots of business-traveler abuse. I'm only now thinking of replacing it, but only because I need a bit more horsepower. I also had a Thinkpad T60 a couple of jobs ago and had no real problems with it, but make damn good and sure to avoid the Lenovo Ideapad, which look similar enough to Thinkpads but are in fact great big turds.
posted by deadmessenger at 8:35 PM on February 5, 2010

I know everyone on here hates on Dells but I had one for 3+ years that worked just fine until it was stolen. I currently use a Sony Vaio VGN-NS140E and whilst one of the MeFites above said that you will get crap at Best Buy...that is exactly where I purchased it a couple of years ago and have had no problems whatsoever.
posted by fieldtrip at 8:36 PM on February 5, 2010

My Thinkpad X40 has held up really well and never needed a repair. In the past at work we had the Compaq business line of laptops, and they were pretty sturdy. The HP-Compaqs are a definite step down in quality. If Apple laptop build quality is similar to the iPod, I wouldn't trust them at all. My SX-64 still works, too.
posted by rfs at 9:10 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: Just $0.02: try Asus, stay away from Dell.

I have a 3 going on 4 year old Asus laptop (Sep 2006), the 12", 4 pound one made of carbon fiber... although the frame is hideously cracked and the battery has failed, it works almost as well as it did the day I bought it sans battery. Apparently, this model is still being manufactured except now it comes with Vista. I was hardly gentle with it - it's cracked in at least 7 places, with the 3 longest cracks averaging an inch, and is missing a hinge, but works great still. It was a buy after looking at the hardware - Fujitsu hard drive and 667mhz RAM which was great at the time, though I paid about $1600.

I "upgraded" to a Dell Latitude E4300 in May 2009, and have had to bring it back for servicing twice. The keyboard failed in Switzerland, although it briefly revived on Zermatt, so they replaced the keyboard; the touchpad would freeze, so I'd have to plug in a USB mouse or restart, so they uninstalled the driver; there was some problem with the graphical temperature (yellows became greys, forest greens turquoise, other funky things), so they replaced the screen. Now, a month after the last servicing, the fan comes on, powers up to maximum for about 5 seconds, and then shuts off again. Although the frame is full metal, the keyboard is cheap plastic and the screen is very flex-y. This line's failures are well documented on Google, but I got it for about $1000 with a 3 year warranty and original XP Pro and Vista, so at least it seems I got what I paid for.

In general I would really advise against getting the current generation of Latitudes, I hear the E6500 is not reliable as well. I imagine that the CRAPPIEST OEM software on earth (with Sony a close second) does not factor into your decision as you've already decided on an OS, but if it is then stay away from Dell.
posted by selvaria at 10:19 PM on February 5, 2010

I have a 8-year old Dell, a 5-year old Dell, and a 3-year old Mac. I would recommend any of these brands. The Dells are great.
posted by fifilaru at 10:20 PM on February 5, 2010

I totally abuse my Thinkpad (R61i) and also leave it on/use it for most of the day, and it's held up well. I've had to replace the keyboard twice, but the first time was because I spilled coffee on it, and I replaced it with a used keyboard, which had a key fail after six months.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:29 PM on February 5, 2010

Best answer: Every one of these questions gets the same answers: thinkpads and macbooks pros, and since all you're doing is trying to play the odds, that's where I'd stick. You might get a dell that last 5 years; the chances are you won't.

For what it's worth (being one person), I have an original macbook (non wide screen) going on 6 years. It's been dropped 4 feet onto concrete, and it has never needed a repair. It's a rock.

I then bought a white macbook (plastic) and the build was awful. It lasted the 3 years I needed it, but it was cracked just about everywhere.

I now have a macbook pro (solid body) and it's the nicest laptop I've used. It feels rock solid, but only time will tell.

How do you know if you've never had a virus if you've never run virus software?
posted by delmoi

I don't care if I have heart disease if it never shows up. I'm not sure of your point. As of 2010 macs don't have to worry about getting viruses, at least compared to windows (for whatever the reason). Claiming anything different is nonsense.
posted by justgary at 10:53 PM on February 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

As a counterpoint to all the Thinkpad love, I have to say my Lenovo SL400 has been a big disappointment. I've had it for about 14 months and in that time,

- The piece that takes power from the power cord had to be replaced (and apparently this was a big, unexpected problem with this model and so they had the part on backorder and it took over a month to get my computer back),

- The hard drive crashed, and

- the monitor has now started to become detached from the keyboard, exposing wires underneath which are now fraying. Of course this started right after my warranty expired!

But I did only pay $450 for it, so I guess you get what you pay for.
posted by lunasol at 11:28 PM on February 5, 2010

Nthing careful questioning of the ThinkPad mythos. While historically ThinkPads were indeed indestructible (and scarily expensive), the cheap end of the ThinkPad range in year 5 of Lenovo does not magically include the strengths of a 2000 dollar notebook for a quarter of the price just because of its name (slightly grouchy owner of two great IBM ThinkPads and one not so great (though still expensive) Lenovo ThinkPad here).
posted by themel at 12:28 AM on February 6, 2010

Best answer: My Lenovo IdeaPad (just a 10" netbook) is built like a tank; I've had it about a year and it's just a delightful machine to use. My MacBook Pro is likewise very nice in feel, but I did have to have a logic board swapped out recently due to a known issue with the GPU.

That being said, getting AppleCare will pretty much cover you on an MBP-- I've gotten a new battery (mine was old and died a natural death), the new logic board (a manufacturing problem on nVidia's end), and a new AirPort card and antenna (an attempt to fix something that wasn't actually a hardware issue), no questions asked and no bullshit.

The "drop the machine off at the Apple Store" repair experience is also really nice; I have a NewEgg-supplied warranty plan on my netbook and I'm kind of afraid of ever having to invoke it, compared to just driving over to Northridge and handing my MBP off to some nice college kid to get back in a week or less.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 12:41 AM on February 6, 2010

Get a top-end Thinkpad. I've had two and I've never had a problem. After heavily using my first Thinkpad for 5 years it was essentially as good as new.

On the other hand, I had a Apple PowerBook, and it was very flimsy. The aluminium shell deformed easily. The keys wore out. The power supply developed an intermittent fault, then the replacement cracked and its LEDs started popping. Finally, when it came time to replace the hard drive, the (30!) steel screws were fused into the aluminium shell, resulting in hours of fun and lots of minor damage.

So, get a Thinkpad.
posted by mr. strange at 2:31 AM on February 6, 2010

I've seen a 40% or higher rate of repair on T6xs in the last year. Overall I don't think the Lenovo build quality is as good as it used to be.

My experience with Apple laptops would put the rate of repair below 40% by a decent margin (pre unibody). So, we're heading away from Lenovo and toward Apple.

Other major brands are hit or miss with your luck. You can get a great laptop from other brands.. but you're less likely to.
posted by joelr at 2:39 AM on February 6, 2010

If you have an apple store within a half hours drive i would say go with an apple.

You can install windows 7 on it and use that as your main OS if you dont like osx . Plus it rocks being able to go down to the apple store and say get your screen replaced while you wait .
posted by majortom1981 at 5:05 AM on February 6, 2010

Best answer: ThinkPad or MacBook, but Toshiba are equally as good and you get more for your money than both a ThinkPad and MacBook, (you'll be able to play games and have a higher spec for under £1000). Dell are also excellent and they look the best generally. Samsung and Fujitsu are well worth a look too, and unless you drop your laptop daily the "build quality" on these is excellent too. Avoid Acer, Compaq, Medion.
posted by samengland at 5:24 AM on February 6, 2010

The clear lesson is that it takes a bunch of compromises to make a laptop, let alone to make one cost-competitive. If it's going to be fulfilling a mission-critical role (my coursework, business, games will be adversely affected), seriously consider extended warranties and on-site service.
I've covered all of my laptops (a prehistoric Toshiba, an antique IBM, a merely old Dell, and a recent Macbook) and two iMacs. I needed the onsite twice on one of the machines (Dell). On the others, it bought peace of mind. All of those machines are still functional, though most are retired; the Dell was handed down and is in active use. I'd reconsider the extended coverage for the iMacs (even Apple-refurbed ones); I'd still cover any laptop if its failure would inconvenience me.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 5:57 AM on February 6, 2010

(Oops - all that, and I didn't answer your question).
What laptop manufacturers are the best [...]

The answers are all over the map. It really comes down to price, the price & convenience of available service options, keyboard feel (my personal bias - YMMV), and looks (who doesn't fall for a pretty face?). Don't drop it or dump your beer in it, and know that an unpredictable few of them will just ... stop; most times they're fixable.
posted by TruncatedTiller at 6:07 AM on February 6, 2010

Best answer: Some more anecdata for you:

I've got a Thinkpad T61 that I've had for about two and a half years and I've had to take it in for repairs a few times. Twice the CPU fan needed replacing; once the battery died; and once it wouldn't power up (loose connection internally, nothing replaced).

I'm glad I got the 3 year warranty. That said, my next laptop will probably be another Thinkpad. This machine has been subjected to a lot of travel, and generally run into the ground. For a good part of its life it's been used more than twelve hours a day.

Physically, it's holding up great. The hinges are fine; keyboard is still great (best keyboard ever); no wiggle on the power connector. As someone mentioned above, it still feels nice to use, just like new. If the fan doesn't go out on it again I expect it to last another couple years.

It's a nicely built machine. I pick it up by the top of the screen/lid (when it's open) all the time and don't even worry about it. I don't think I'd want to do that with too many other laptops.

I had an Asus before the Thinkpad and it lasted almost exactly two years before it died completely (probably due to the motherboard flexing). It was a good deal and I was always happy with until it died. I have a couple other friends who have Asus machines and they have been pleased with them as well.
posted by benign at 8:55 AM on February 6, 2010

I just replaced a lenovo ThinkPad T43 that I had for 4 years with basically no problems. I wasn't a particularly hard user, but it held up very well. In fact, it still works, I just realized it was too slow for even the web surfing I wanted to do with it. So I got a new lenovo ThinkPad T510, which is so far so good. I've been very happy with their products.
posted by ch1x0r at 11:54 AM on February 6, 2010

Best answer: The best-built, best-designed laptop I've ever owned is a Fujitsu Lifebook P1120 from 2001. I still have it, although it doesn't get much use anymore. It has spent hundreds of hours in a backpack, accompanied me to different continents, and I even carried it to the top of Mt. Adams with a GPS dongle attached (because I'm a nerd).

My two year-old Thinkpad X61 is very solid, although I did manage to crack the plastic part of the case in a gravity-related incident. Both my girlfriend and I have had very bad experiences with Toshiba (multiple warranty repairs, weeks of downtime and frustration). I've owned two Dells, and they never failed spectacularly but both had some annoying cosmetic problems by the end. Sony's higher end machines are also pretty good.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 12:34 PM on February 6, 2010

Ya know...they make computers that are pretty much disposable commodities now. I have an Acer Aspire One netbook that cost me 299.00 It's light, solid, beautifully made and has never given me a problem and unless I was editing film or playing graphic intensive games (which is not what I use laptops for and why would you?), it runs right and everything opens and closes immediately. Granted I know how to optimize an OS. You could buy ten of these for the cost of a higher end Thinkpad. Sorry. I'm just not 'getting' 3000 dollar laptops that by design, are going to be abused anyway. What great advantage justifies the 2700.00 additional cost? Put that money in your desktop. I treat my Acer roughly but its as light in weight as a medium sized paperback. That outweighs just about everything else. I throw it around but ultimately take care of it because apparently it can can take a little abuse so has earned my respect. I Don't even put it in a case and after two years doesnt have a scratch. I carry it around and USE it. I can hold it in one hand and type on it with the other. I can walk around the house and out in the yard on SKYPE (wireless internet) and just set it down on the kitchen counter and work and talk on cam. Its a beautiful tool that does pretty much everything a 3000 dollar Thinkpad does for 299 dollars and when it breaks I'll buy another without thinking about it too much. Dont be conned into buying something for the status of price. I wouldnt trade my netbook for my friends flimsy Macbook Air for anything.
posted by Muirwylde at 11:19 PM on February 6, 2010 [1 favorite]

Lots of folks have recommended the ThinkPads.. and they can be kinda spendy. If you decide to go that route, they have an outlet store site where you can find some seriously discounted machines. I'm been trying to narrow down my search, too, as yesterday I discovered what a piece of shit my new Acer Timeline is.
posted by bejesus at 12:08 AM on February 7, 2010

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