How does one buy a computer these days?
October 30, 2017 6:23 AM   Subscribe

I will try and keep this as concise as possible. Had a MacBook Pro for the last 10 years which finally made its way to the computer graveyard in the sky. Loved the MacBook. Loved Apple products (I have a Ipod, Ipad, Iphone, etc....)...and their customer service is UNMATCHED! Warranty or No Warranty, they helped me out! Simply can't afford right now to invest in a new MacBook. So I am diving back into the world of PC....

I primarily use my computer for Internet stuff and I am very adamant about still having my Itunes library part of my allocated hard drive space...

I'm on edge of where is the smartest place to buy a computer and the acompanying service plan which I would definitely want to invest in.

I have my eye on a HP 14" from Staples which fits all my criteria. It's even on Sale for $409 right now. They don't provide an in-house service plan, but use a company called Square Trade, where I can buy a 4 year full coverage plan for $299. Cost sounds about right.. What gets me is that there is no retail spot for me to bring it in to get diagnosed. I would have to mail it to them and they promise to have it back within 2-5 days...That doesnt sit well with me....Also, their claim is that if they cannot fix the computer, they refund the full amount of the service plan, but not the cost of the computer ($100 difference).....Their full refund is not even a cash refund, it is a Staples cash card which simply means, I have a store credit....

I could got Best Buy, but I have had issues in the past with their 'Geek Squad' and from the current reviews I have read, it doesn't seem to have gotten any better.

I'm pretty good with my stuff. I take care of things the best I can, but I do need a piece of mind service plan.

What's my best option? Will any retail outlet I goto offer a similar deal to Square Trade? Anyone buy from another retail outlet that offers a more consumer friendly protection plan? Should I buy it off of Amazon? Do they offer any additional protection plans?

With Apple, it was so easy as they are their own universe and I had an Apple Store 40 minutes from me.....With PC, I feel like I am floating in infinite space with no direction....

Help me pull the trigger on a new computer, please.
posted by TwilightKid to Computers & Internet (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Not exactly what you asked, but have you considered a refurb MacBook? They go as low as $809 right now direct from Apple, and lower from other suppliers.
posted by madcaptenor at 6:26 AM on October 30, 2017 [7 favorites]

+1 to buying a refurb from Apple. There is also a pretty good secondhand market in Apple laptops since they keep their value well.
posted by katrielalex at 6:49 AM on October 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

They don't provide an in-house service plan, but use a company called Square Trade, where I can buy a 4 year full coverage plan for $299.

For $300 on a $409 laptop purchase, you would be best served buying the laptop on a credit card that offers warranty extension (maybe taking a 1-2 year warranty to year 3) and establishing a relationship with a local computer repair shop as needed.

3rd party mail-in service plans are generally speaking incredibly bad investments where, if the computer is a lemon, you may end up missing it for weeks on end as it goes back-and-forth from the provider. They're incentivized to keep servicing it rather than refund you your money which means the time they've previously invested in trying to fix it is lost. I know someone who had 8 back-and-forths before the laptop was written off and they ended up with partial store credit.
posted by notorious medium at 7:15 AM on October 30, 2017

I am very adamant about still having my Itunes library part of my allocated hard drive space...

This is an important part of the question and you should talk to people who have recently used itunes for windows, because your answer might be to just do without a laptop until you can afford a new mac. Personally, I would rather have sex with a garbage disposal full of rusty razor blades than use itunes for windows after trying repeatedly to help biscotti unfuck what it had done to her desktop machine, but that was several years ago. Maybe it's not an unholy abortion of a program nowadays.

I would second notorious medium that a local repair shop + your credit card is the plan that makes the most sense. Frankly, at the prices you're looking at, it would make more sense to just throw away your $400 laptop and buy a new one in a year or two than it would to spend $300 to have people keep trying to fix it.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 7:34 AM on October 30, 2017 [7 favorites]


"these days" is what you said in your post. That means you might be willing to re-look or re-consider a few things.

Things have definitely changed in 10 years. For one, almost everything is cloud-based "these days". These days, most people don't store large libraries of music or videos on their computer. I am a very loyal iphone user, but I do not even have itunes installed on my computer. Spotify (or apple music, I've heard) is just so much more convenient and better in every way to having your old itunes library, for countless reasons.

Anyway, agree with me or not, it's better to get good hardware to start with, then google potential problems. My favorite review site for hardware is the Wirecutter, which is like the Americas Test Kitchen of consumer goods. Their page here: recommends the Acer Spin 5 SP513-51-58C2 for low-budget windows laptops.

If you could go without itunes, and most of your work is web-based, I highly recommend a chromebook. You can't do everything you could, but it is very cost-effective and overall good.
posted by bbqturtle at 7:35 AM on October 30, 2017

If you already own an iPad, have you considered trading it in for an iPad Pro so you could use it as your main computer? This guy is using an iPad Pro as a dev machine.
posted by rada at 8:15 AM on October 30, 2017

If you buy a used Lenovo ThinkPad on eBay that is still under warranty you can purchase the 3 year depot warranty for the same price as on a new laptop. Many of the shops that used to repair IBM laptops service the newer Lenovo units as well. There's a searchable list on their website somewhere. You also have the option of mailing it to them if that is more convenient (they'll send you a shipping label unless policy has changed in the past few years) or having them overnight you a part to install yourself if, for example, the hard drive fails. (On most ThinkPads it takes 10 minutes or so with a philips head screwdriver to do the physical replacement, so it's actually a nice option to have for the easy repairs)
posted by wierdo at 8:18 AM on October 30, 2017

I have personally had good experience with Lenovo's warranty service on Thinkpads. They have two options: the depot service (as wierdo explains above), and an on-site service where somebody comes out and fixes it for you. The depot service is cheaper, and unlike what others have said, there was no dithering around: once I had a possible memory problem so they just swapped out all the RAM and hard drives and mailed it back quickly. Another time they weren't sure what it was so they just gave me a new motherboard.

My understanding is that the warranty service is not as good for ideapads, etc, however.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:22 AM on October 30, 2017

If you're at all used to using tools/your hands, an on-site warranty is overkill for a ThinkPad, IMO. The hardware maintenance manuals for all of them are publicly available and tell you exactly what to remove and in what order with illustrations and everything. Short of a motherboard or screen replacement, most things are easily repairable by the end user. Even replacing the heatsink/fan on my T60 only required removing 6 screws to take off the keyboard and palm rest to get at it, followed by the four screws holding it down. Since the replacement came with thermal paste already applied, reassembly was just a matter of cleaning the old paste from the CPU and GPU, popping the new one in, then reversing the previous steps.

OP, if you do end up going for a ThinkPad, download the HMM and browse it a bit to see if the simple stuff (keyboard, hard drive) is within your ability. If it is, the depot warranty will be sufficient in case something that requires more disassembly than you are comfortable with breaks. IIRC you get an extra year over the on site warranty for the same price.

Oh, and just in case it hasn't occurred to you, consider cheap Chromebooks. If they work for your needs, you can replace them yearly (you won't need to) and still come out even money or better vs most new laptops and likely with less frustration than the few new laptops that are cheap enough that the above doesn't apply. Cheap (new) laptops are loaded down with crapware and aren't built to last, so often end up in a drawer in three years or less.

That's why my advice is almost always to buy a used ThinkPad or a Chromebook (or the certain used MacBooks that don't have chronic issues due to overheating like many models do as they age) unless you have at least $1000 to spend on something brand new.
posted by wierdo at 8:47 AM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you are used to the screen in a Mac, you will not be happy with the one that comes with a cheap laptop.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:26 AM on October 30, 2017

Make sure you can get used to the trackpad if you go for a non-Macbook. That's another thing Apple still does better than anyone.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 9:33 AM on October 30, 2017

There are plenty of people who still store music and other media on their computer; the cloud is still optional. And that's a good thing, too, since many people do not have access to fast or unlimited internet, and streaming sources often don't have the music that you want to listen to.

Are you set on using iTunes, or would another media player be fine? There are some good ones out there for Windows, that will play files that are stored on your hard drive. And how big is your music collection? Is it big enough to affect what size hard drive you need? What are your feelings toward storing music in an external drive?
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 10:28 AM on October 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Here's another angle:

If your rating is good, Apple's financing partner Barclay will almost certainly extend you interest-free credit for 6, 12, or 18 months depending on the size of the purchase. That's how I've handled my last several Macs.
It's even on Sale for $409 right now. They don't provide an in-house service plan, but use a company called Square Trade, where I can buy a 4 year full coverage plan for $299
Uh, a service plan that costs 74% of the original purchase seems kinda questionable to me.
posted by uberchet at 11:10 AM on October 30, 2017 [2 favorites]

A heads up about 3rd party service plans, something to double check. They may only provide repairs up to the current market value of the computer. I know this is true of the extended service plan sold through New Egg. So if a (for example) $1000 computer dies a year and a half after purchase and a new motherboard would cost more than the $400 they think it is currently worth (numbers pulled from thin air), they would simply send you the $400 and not repair the computer.

I think that if you love Apple products, the refurbished macbook is probably your best bet.
posted by Hactar at 11:19 AM on October 30, 2017

the cloud is still optional
Seconding this and adding that iTunes on a Win10 machine is not some hyperbolic hellscape - just don't let it organize your library for you. I don't use it to sync media to my phone, but I do use it to upgrade my iOS and to back up my iDevices. For media management, I mostly use Media Monkey and I use the Win10 Pictures app to import photos to my PC.
posted by soelo at 1:41 PM on October 30, 2017

There is nothing wrong with Windows, but I would really discourage you from switching just based on $100 or so. Buy a refurb or a used Macbook with a warranty. If you go this route, make sure that Apple still supports whatever computer you buy, so you don't end up without security updates.

Adding, I don't like Chromebooks or iPads as full on computers, unless you have limited needs.
posted by cnc at 3:40 PM on October 30, 2017

I don’t think iTunes 12.x on Windows is all that bad these days. Never, ever as good as on a Mac, but I haven’t had any problems with it. I have iTunes Match and use it to sync with my iPad Air 2.

Don’t even consider a Chromebook if you want to use iTunes.
posted by lhauser at 8:22 PM on October 30, 2017

Mac of all trades has a selection of refurbished machines under $550, including the MD101LL/A, which is still nice and cheaply upgradable. I'd bump the memory, though.

It's what I use, with 16gb memory and a terabyte hard drive / flash hybrid drive.
posted by Pronoiac at 11:50 PM on October 30, 2017

Everyone else has given good advice. Something else that you should keep in mind: Windows laptop manufacturers *do not have* the same kind of customer service, nor the same kind of longevity, as Macs. Before I switched to Macs, I was regularly wanting to replace my $600 laptop after 2 years; I'm now going on 3.5 years of the same MacBook Air & Pro and I haven't replaced my work laptop yet even though it's free.

So rather than a service plan, what you should do if you're set on switching to a cheaper Windows computing model is:
1) Buy a cheap computer, $400-$600
2) Don't buy a service plan; take your computer to a local repair shop if it has problems, put up with minor problems
3) After 2 years, repeat from step 1.

My personal opinion is that you're better off saving for a Mac or buying refurbished, because switching ecosystems if you're addicted to Apple's longevity/repair services should not be underestimated.
posted by serelliya at 11:27 AM on November 1, 2017

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