How can we buy a fully foreign-language laptop in the US?
February 14, 2011 11:39 AM   Subscribe

My mother is visiting a friend abroad, and wants to bring her an inexpensive windows laptop as a gift. Her friend speaks fluent russian & german, but not english. How can we buy, in the US, a laptop with keyboard and windows localization settings appropriate to one of those languages?

We want a laptop that behaves as much as possible the way a computer purchased in Berlin or Moscow would. That is, windows menus and such should also be in that language - it is not sufficient to simply have US Windows with foreign fonts enabled. For a number of reasons, we'd very strongly prefer to buy here in the US.
posted by kickingtheground to Computers & Internet (6 answers total)
The easiest way to do it would be to get a laptop with Windows 7 Ultimate (or Enterprise) and install a language pack. However, laptops with that OS tend to be expensive.
posted by Memo at 11:55 AM on February 14, 2011

The best bet may be to buy a regular US laptop, install a localized copy of Windows (I believe Windows 7 is best for this), then swap out the keycaps for the different keys. The typical German QWERTZ keyboard layout is not that different from the US English QWERTY layout, so only a few keycaps would have to be changed. The keycaps could be purchased abroad. When picking a manufacturer, check to make sure the same model is sold abroad and that you can get replacement keycaps easily.
posted by jedicus at 11:58 AM on February 14, 2011

If you're lucky you might find a German replacement keyboard on eBay, but finding the right model might be pretty difficult.
posted by jedicus at 12:00 PM on February 14, 2011

The keyboard, you will want to buy a German or Russian keyboard for the laptop you have chosen from, say, eBay Germany and have it shipped to you, and install it in the laptop.

The Windows can be handled one of two ways:
  1. Buy a laptop with Windows 7 Ultimate (or upgrade to Ultimate after buying; you can do this over the Internet without having to download any new bits, as it just needs a new license key to enable the Ultimate features) and download the German or Russian language pack using Windows Update.
  2. Buy a laptop with some other version of Windows, and a German/Russian version of Windows 7, and reformat and install that.
Of course, the warranty may be void for a US laptop outside the US, especially if you go swapping parts out. Check this carefully before purchasing.

The most hassle-free way to do it, of course, would be to buy it from a seller in Germany or Russia and have it shipped to you in the States before departure.
posted by kindall at 12:01 PM on February 14, 2011

There are a few problems with this approach:
1. Keyboard layout. You might have a hard time purchasing a cheap laptop with German or Russian keyboard layout in the US and running German / Russian keyboard mappings with an English layout is somewhat annoying. You might be able to get a laptop with a foreign language layout at some (online) stores, but likely not a cheap one.
2. System Language: Officially language packs for Windows 7 are only available for the Ultimate and Enterprise editions, a cheap machine will most likely come with Home Premium that can only be run with the original language. There are workarounds for that limitation but you'll need to get the language files from other sources.
3. Warranty. Most manufacturers will limit warranty to certain regions (Apple is an exception, at least for mobile computers), so if something breaks during warranty time your friend will not be able to have it repaired / replaced unless she sends it to the US which will be a costly and long-winded process.

If I were you I'd buy the laptop in the country your mother is visiting (preferably in a big chain store) so you can research models online before she leaves, print out the product page and have her pick it up in the store. If she is going to Germany, Mediamarkt or Saturn would be good places to start, they can be found in every bigger city and often have decent offers (compare prices with though). Downside: they don't accept credit cards as far as I know, so she'd have to pay in cash.
posted by starzero at 12:10 PM on February 14, 2011

If your laptop is running Linux (or OSX if what I have been led to believe is correct) then it will be quite easy to have the software environment be entirely in Russian or German. Even if the computer does not come with Linux pre-installed, installing a Linux distribution like Ubuntu is actually quite easy. What this means is that your mother could purchase any cheap laptop she wants and has at least one option for having the software environment be localized to her friend's language.

The keys would be your bog-standard QWERTY layout however and depending on how different that is from a Russian or German keyboard that may require some patience on the part of your friend to adjust. That being said, if the keyboard issue is too troublesome for the friend then they could hook up a USB or bluetooth Russian/German keyboard and then they'd be ready to go.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 2:22 PM on February 14, 2011

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