Please help a friend choose the right laptop
August 15, 2006 7:45 PM   Subscribe

Please help recommend a solid, mid-range laptop for a friend with excellent tech support options and good longevity.

A friend is considering buying a laptop; his price range is around $450-750, and he'll likely purchase from Best Buy. He's heard that Dell laptops have the best support. He'll need a computer that won't require costly upgrades or become obsolete in the next few years. He needs the Microsoft Office suite included and will mostly use the laptop for Internet research, word processing, and possibly music storage.

Thanks in advance for your help!
posted by hamster to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Keep your eyes on for a good Dell deal.

And anything in the $450-750 price range will be a bit out of date in the next few years.

He should expect to buy a $500 laptop again in the next 3 years.
posted by k8t at 7:49 PM on August 15, 2006

excellent tech support


posted by evariste at 7:50 PM on August 15, 2006

He's heard wrong. Unless he's a corporation, he's going to get inaudible tech support from India, over crackly VOIP lines.

Microsoft Office included for under 750? That's unrealistic, but Student and Teacher Edition is available for about $150 retail.
posted by evariste at 7:52 PM on August 15, 2006

My Grandma speaks highly of Dell tech support.
posted by dobie at 7:59 PM on August 15, 2006

Dell tech support is the pits lately, but honestly, for $750 Dell's support is FAR above anyone elses. I would buy an Apple or an IBM for better support and a better quality machine, but good luck at that price point.

I buy all Dell laptops (Latitudes though) and have great luck with them.
posted by SirStan at 8:03 PM on August 15, 2006

I haven't heard that Dell's support is the best, but have no anecdotal experience. I bought a Latitude D620 a few months ago and haven't had any problems except I may have to deal with this...

Checked here and the 520 starts at $700. Pretty good review: here.

And does he really need Microsoft Office? Would Open Office suffice? It opens slower, but it's free.

Oh, and when I was researching laptops, the consensus seemed to be avoid Dell's Inspiron line like the plague.
posted by moonshine at 8:11 PM on August 15, 2006

Moonshine: Does your D620 make a inverter whine? If you make it brigher or darker it makes a different high pitched tone? Mine does :(

I own 3 current Dell laptops, and none were effected by the recall :( I wanted new batteries.
posted by SirStan at 8:13 PM on August 15, 2006

Actually, MS Office Student Edition runs about $75 from your local university.

And I'd like to also say what everyone else is pointing at. Anything under $1000 is a low-end laptop. $1000-$2000 is mid-range, and $2000 + is high-end.

In Desktops, $750 might be mid-range, but not laptops.

Also, Tech Support/Warranty Service costs anywhere between $50 and $150 per year, depending on the options. For 3 years, that's between $150 and $450, which is a HUGE chunk of what your friend is willing to pay.

I own a Dell. I've had to get my Dell fixed several times. Each time was a pain-in-the-ass. But, it got fixed, every time, which is more than what I can say for my brother's gateway or my Aunt's Sony. (The Sony laptop had the same issues, and my aunt had the best warranty she could get with Sony, but unfortunately, it didn't cover the issues, while Dell's warranty covered my issues... LCDs don't get much warranty coverage)
posted by hatsix at 8:15 PM on August 15, 2006

SirStan, no whining here, yet (knock on wood).

The top of the keyboard/bottom of the lcd screen gets pretty hot if set at brightest. So I usually have it three notches down.

Okay, so I just spent the last minute feeling up my machine...
and just noticed the back (where the motherboard is) is still pretty hot.

posted by moonshine at 9:34 PM on August 15, 2006

for Internet research, word processing, and possibly music storage.

Does he really need the portability of a laptop or does he just want one? At the $450-$750 price point including Microsoft Office and tech support for a few years, there just aren't any good laptops. If he doesn't really need a portable laptop, $750 would get him a great desktop machine with tech support and long-term viability.
posted by junesix at 10:09 PM on August 15, 2006

(scroll down) Apple Certified Refurbished PowerBook G4 15-inch
Price: $349.00
Comes with an AppleCare extended plan
posted by doctor_negative at 10:33 PM on August 15, 2006

whoops never mind, thats the price for just the Applecared (duh)
posted by doctor_negative at 10:35 PM on August 15, 2006

I've bought refurbed units from Ubid for several iterations - here is the laptop link. There is an extended warranty available but I've never had call to use it - but that's insurance for you. I've been on and off researching this same question because my Vaio is coming to the end of its 3 year cycle and I will either buy a Lenovo or an Apple depending on how I feel at the moment of truth.
posted by ptm at 1:31 AM on August 16, 2006

If you want good service stay away from:


and depending on who you ask


I had great dealings with Fujitsu support in Australia. When my Lifebook's hard drive failed early they gave me the option of them just sending me a replacement hard drive to swap with the faulty one. No credit cards, no mortaging the house -- they just sent me a good one, I used ghost to copy my data and I sent back the bad one.

They would have willingly have done it all for me, but I needed less downtime. Their flexibility was staggering.

See what your friend can find in a Fujitsu in that price range.
posted by krisjohn at 2:06 AM on August 16, 2006

Laptops are products of ambitious engineering, and they get a lot of abuse, so customer service is paramount to a good experience.

Apple techs seem better trained and smarter than any of the PC mills, and they have OVER-HONORED my service agreements on more than one occasion. Once, they completely refunding the purchase price on a laptop that I had already sold on ebay because the LCD that I broke was covered by a recall, and they overlooked it. That's over $1000. I actually made money on the deal.

If there is any way at all, I'd point that feller at the Apple store and tell him to scrape up a few bux more.

Also, as a newbie, he'll find them more usable faster. My take, anyway. (I use IBM Thinkpads at work... wife uses Powerbook. My next personal laptop will be a Mac.)
posted by FauxScot at 4:27 AM on August 16, 2006

My laptop buying logic would be to get the brand that's least-likely to break down in the first place. And when it does, I'd like to have the brand most techies use themselves, so I could get help online without having to resort to Customer I Don't Care. Thus, I'd suggest an IBM Thinkpad.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:41 AM on August 16, 2006

Just a quick amendment: if your friend's primary concern is support (dealing with the problem after it's happened, versus avoiding the problem to begin with) I'd also second (or third) the Apple recommendation. And this is from a PC fanboy.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:43 AM on August 16, 2006

Dell sucked me in with promises of tech support with all the extras. I won't go into details here, but suffice to say that actually trying to access and benefit from their tech support, even for relatively simple problems, was a time-consuming pointless nightmare that has soured me on the company forever. And I'm not the only one. The price would indeed be nice, if you actually got what you were told you were paying for.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:12 AM on August 16, 2006

Addendum- my sister has had good experiences with IBM (she wisely bought a thinkpad).
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 5:12 AM on August 16, 2006

Laptop magazine published an article reviewing the tech support, both online and via phone, of 9 of the major manufactours. Included were things like wait times, ability to quickly solve the problem, ect. Long story short Lenovo and Apple were on top, as was Fujitsu. In the middle was Gateway, Dell, HP and Sony. The bottom of the pack found Toshiba and Acer.

The informative article can be found HERE.
posted by ASM at 5:25 AM on August 16, 2006

I bought a used thinkpad, and have found all the thinkpad hype to be justified.
posted by drezdn at 7:06 AM on August 16, 2006

I can personally vouch for the quality of both IBM and Apple machines. You can probably pick up a second-hand T-series on Ebay for what you're looking for, but honestly its probably in your best interest in the long run to just suck it up and spring for the lowest-end Apple laptop you can find.

My whole family has iBooks and I have a Thinkpad. I love Apple because their machines are good and it means I don't have to support Windows. NeoOffice is OpenOffice for OSX and is more than enough unless you know you really need some Office-specific feature. Besides, the new MacBooks can run Windows too :)

I have had + heard nothing but bad experiences with Toshiba. A friend has a Sony now and he doesn't complain too loudly, but I don't like Sony as a company so I have no personal experience with them.

Seriously, buy quality and only cry once.
posted by Skorgu at 7:43 AM on August 16, 2006

I got a Dell Latitude D600 after doing shitloads of research, and I came to the conclusion that it was the best deal for me, seeing as I wanted something with good tech specs and that wouldn't kill my shoulder (it's only a few pounds).

I also got a Complete Care Package, which means they will fix or replace just about any physical damage.

If you ask me, it's the best warranty out there for portable electronics. Man... If ONLY they made DSLRs of the same calibre as Canon/Nikon, I'd be in heaven.

For the past 2 years, I've only ever had to call Dell Support once (a screen hinge was starting to break off) and they sent a tech to my house the next day to get it fixed. Didn't speak to India. Though I am in Canada, and I believe the support guy was in Toronto.

I've had friends with Apple and HP laptops who have been ass-raped by lack of support. But everyone's experience is different, judging from the responses here.
posted by Menomena at 7:50 AM on August 16, 2006

Response by poster: What basic notebook computer would you recommend for a first-year college student? Many of the students I work with have similar questions. I'd like to recommend something affordable, durable, reliable but easy enough to fix if necessary, and relevant for four to five years. What's the best basic (non-Apple) machine?
posted by hamster at 8:43 AM on August 16, 2006

Menomena is right; you'll hear horror stories about every computer company's support. I've seen reprints of the list that ASM links to elsewhere, and it pretty much jibes with my experience supporting laptops, and it's from a reliable source.

I've had to work the most with Dell, Apple and IBM support, but that's because they are what I usually buy for my office (or my home for that matter), and I've never had a bad enough experience that I've stopped buying their products.

For those who are taking shots at Dell, look at the way they are handling this battery recall. Pulling in 4 million batteries can't be cheap, but they're doing in a very public way--to address something that has been a problem for (liberally) a few hundred customers. That's a remarkably small segment--hundredth of a percent?-- of their customers. You could say that Dell's going so far only to protect their rep, but that's what good companies do.

Unless Best Buy has some crazy rebate deal, you'll find a better price online where you can avoid the big-box markup and hard sell. But as others have said, for that price range, you're not getting something thats going to be future-proofed very much. If demands are light, though, it could last several years.

Get the best warranty you can afford that covers accidental damage. Laptops are harder to service for the end user than desktops are, and the most expensive parts of the laptop to replace are also the most fragile. Bouncing around in a backpack can be hard on a computer. Rough treatment will shorten the life of your laptop faster than any limitations of your budget.

When it was me in this situation, I bought a gently used 2 yr old Thinkpad (for about your price), or saved up a little extra for a new Apple.

Final note: careful about buying a computer from a "deals" site. Many times, those computers have already been registered, and transferring ownership of the warranty is sometimes a problem. Make sure you're clear on who is providing what coverage--the dealer or the manufacturer. I think you're better with Manufacturer Refurbished if you buy used.
posted by wejones at 8:53 AM on August 16, 2006

A used IBM Thinkpad would be a good choice - I am writing this on one that is 6 years old (600e model) and it has been rock solid all this time - if and when this one ever dies - I won't hesitate to get another Thinkpad.
posted by DonM at 6:13 PM on August 16, 2006 [1 favorite]

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