I am seeing news items about several retailers that are selling laptop computers for under $400…are these systems any good?
This question was answered on November 17, 2006. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.
The value of a computer system is primarily determined by the needs of the user and less by the price A great “deal” on the initial purchase is irrelevant if the system doesn’t have the horsepower to perform the desired tasks or if the after the sale service is less than helpful.
The biggest problem that the computer industry faces with low cost product is the inability to provide any meaningful support for a product that they make little to no money on.
There are lots of casual computer users that will likely buy these devices and feel good about the initial purchase, but the likelihood of getting “world-class” service after the purchase is pretty slim, so be sure to manage your own expectations.
The real value discussion comes after you own the device for a while and more importantly, what you have to go through when it has a problem.
Since no one has figured out how to manufacture a computer that never has a problem, this issue of service after the sale over just about everything else will determine the long-term value of the device.
How many times have you heard someone say “If I had known that I was going to have all of these problems, I would have spent more money to get a better system”? This segment of computers has the highest likelihood of generating that sentiment.
If you really think about the reason that these devices are coming to market, it’s mostly marketing and PR that is driving it, not a need by computer users.
Anyone that has been using computers for more than a year would probably be very disappointed in the performance of these low-priced laptops, especially once they loaded all of their programs on
The best way for these manufacturers to get the price down is to strip out as much as possible, so you are buying the bare minimum in performance They will included impressive sounding numbers and hard drive sizes, but the stuff that really counts is rarely discussed.
For instance, the battery in most low-end laptops (even up to $800) is often a very light duty battery that will only last for 20 to 30 minutes, so be sure to factor in an extra battery if you decide to buy one (And don’t expect the clerk at the big-box discounter to even know what they are selling!)
Don’t count on the next generation of Windows (Vista, which will launch in January) to run very well or at all on these low-end systems either.
The best fit for these devices is for a first time computer user that has not used many other "faster" computers or a younger child that has very basic needs (older kids want to play games that require much more processing and video power).
The good news about these “price driven” events is that it will often bring the higher performing products down in price as well, which is where most folks should be looking when making the purchase.
Between performance issues and lower quality components, if you get more than a year or so out of one of these low-end laptops, consider yourself lucky!
About the author
Ken Colburn of Data Doctors on November 17, 2006