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In search of the perfect laptop – found

By: Luke Gilman | Other Posts by
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As recounted in my previous post In search of the perfect laptop I’ve been on a quest to find the perfect laptop (at least for me) before law school starts on May 30. In the previous post I detailed the first step of my buying process – deciding on what I needed, then setting out for the hunt. It occurred to me that detailing the experience would be an interesting project and perhaps provide some guidance for someone considering a next major purchase.

1. List out your requirements

If you’re completely clueless, ask someone tech-savvy to help you. If you live a sad, pitiful, geekless existence, e-mail me and I’ll help you out. Shining happy geeked out people. What else is the internet for anyway? Here’s what I was looking for as outlined in my first post – In search of the perfect laptop

  1. Windows XP Pro or Media Center [both run IIS (personal web server), unlike Windows Home; this proved to be a big limitation]
  2. Embedded wireless, preferably G
  3. 512 MB or more RAM
  4. 80 GB plus hard drive
  5. CD/DVD Burning
  6. built-in memory card reader
  7. Approximate Budget: $1000

2. See the thing in person

The first thing I did was set off to the big-box electronics retailer to see these things up close and I’m glad I did. The Gateway that had impressive specs online was considerably underwhelming in person, the ergonomics were terrible and it looked like a throwback from 2000. The Sony was slick, very well put together, but white, which through experience with white things of all types is typically a bad thing past the first month of ownership. The screen quality was also unexpectedly poor and Sony is too in love with their own MemoryStick format to include SD or CompactFlash. The Toshibas were nice, but a bit pricey for the specs, the Acers were alright, though a little sketchy. If there are any Mac-heads out there, sorry but the economics of proprietary hardware mean I’m priced out of that game, though I agree, a far superior product in most respects. The middle ground I found were the HP laptops which had great screens and terrific ergonomics. They appeared very well put together and everything seemed to be located exactly where I would expect it to be. The pricing was generally little higher than what I wanted to pay, but not out of the ballpark.

The other thing I discovered was that I just did not like wide format (17″) laptops. Some I saw had the image skewed horizontally, which I think is just a configuration mistake, but even the ones that looked great seemed awkward. I just like the regular old golden mean 4:3 aspect ratio. The $3,000 laptops we just got at the office have huge, beautiful screens, but the way most websites are designed, they only take up half the screen and introduced resolution issues. Anyway, I don’t like them. Good to know before paying the premium for something that sounds good in theory.

3. WAIT & WATCH

This may be the hardest part, particularly if you just saw the thing in person and really liked it, but it pays dividends. Wandering through I noticed distinct personality differences among the sales cultures at different stores. At Fry’s the sales people circle in chum(p) filled waters with the taste of blood in their noses. If you know what you want and wish to shop in peace you might want to bring a can of mace. Sales people at CompUSA are like rare birds, an elusive sighting can bring a stampede of customers. I made the mistake of wearing a red polo and was asked three times if I worked there, though twice by the same lady. I believe I could stand in front of a laptop for half an hour counting money and never be bothered. Best Buy seem to have had the best-trained and most courteous salespeople. The ones I spoke to seemed knowledgeable and would do a walk-by to see if you needed help but didn’t hover.

None of this matters of course, because I ended up buying online and probably will for almost every tech purchase I make from now on, simply because the web is really good at step #4 –

4. FIND THE DEAL

Computer makers are in an endless cycle of innovation. New better goodies are created every day, which makes last years best and shiniest a little less best and shiny. Since you, if you were selling computers, don’t want to carry inventory on last year’s best and shiniest, yet you still want to get rid of whatever you have left, you typically sell them very cheaply on the web.

While doing research on the Outpost (Fry’s) website, I saw a great deal on the HP dv5030us that matched virtually all of my requirements for $949 less a $50 rebate. Since there was one nearby and the website was going to charge me sales tax anyway, I drove down to Fry’s hoping to pick one up. No such luck. It was a discontinued model. Back to the batcave to order it online. It should arrive Tuesday. Let’s do a comparison just for shits and giggles –

What I Wanted What I Got
Windows XP Pro or Media Center [both run IIS (personal web server), unlike Windows Home; this proved to be a big limitation] Windows XP Media Center
Embedded wireless, preferably G 54g integrated 802.11b/g wireless LAN
512 MB or more RAM 1 GB (1024MB) DDR SDRAM
80 GB plus hard drive 100GB hard drive
CD/DVD Burning Double-layer DVD+-R/RW and CD-RW combo drive with LightScribe
built-in memory card reader 6-in-1 digital media card reader
Approximate Budget: $1000 Grand total: $1057.83 with $50 rebate

To give you an example of the price difference, CompUSA was selling this same computer at the beginning of April for $1249

I’ll put up some follow-up info when I actually get the laptop and put it through it’s paces.

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Category: life hacking, technology

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