Are low-end laptops any good?

Question

Are the notebook (computers) that some companies are selling in the $400-$500 range worth pushing and shoving over or ordering online, sight unseen?

- Dean

Answer

This question was answered on December 2, 2005. Much of the information contained herein may have changed since posting.

The holiday season brings out the best (pricing) in retailers and the worst in boorish consumers that will stop at nothing for what is perceived as the “deal of the century” (The Walmart incident in Florida).

As is the case with most consumer goods, buying the lowest price version of anything generally comes with its shortcomings In computers, it requires the manufacturer to cut corners in many areas in order to hit a price point.

When it comes to notebook computers, whether those shortcomings will impact you is determined primarily on what you need it to do and how long you plan on using it.

Most of these low-end units are just fine for basic web surfing, e-mail and simple productivity programs such as word processing and home financing They generally fall short when it comes to working with digital images, gaming or trying to watch an entire DVD movie on a plane trip because of their limited performance capabilities

Units in this price range generally use a very simple battery system (often referred to as a 4-cell Lithium Ion battery) that is good for about an hour or so of active use (An upgraded 8-cell extended life battery is usually available at an additional charge.)

Depending upon the manufacturer, it may not include any form of internal wireless networking capability, which means that an additional device may be required to be purchased and installed for wireless connectivity.

Some come with a very limited warranty (90-days) that can be extended for an additional charge while others have a standard 1-year limited warranty Just as important as the length of the warranty is the process required to get the unit serviced Check to see if the warranty is a carry-in, ship-in or onsite and whether the retailer plays any part in the warranty process or if you must deal with a third-party.

Another of the cost cutting measures is to use shared memory for the video card, which means that it must use the system memory (RAM - which is already very limited) in order to display images.

This means that the typical 256MB of system memory (RAM) is reduced by the amount used by the video card which will make for an even slower performing system.

If you plan on buying any of these low-priced units, be sure to buy additional memory (at least 512MB total), an extended-life battery and some sort of protective carry case in order to improve its usefulness.

On the software side, most install “trial” (60 to 90 day) versions of anti-virus and security software so be sure to check to know what you need to do (and what it will cost) to properly protect yourself for the long haul.

The bottom line with any low-end PC, desktop or laptop is that they are not designed to do anything more than remedial tasks and likely won’t be relevant for more than a couple of years, but they can be useful to some users.

Just be sure to manage your expectations on the performance and think of them as disposable computers (repairing them once the warranty has expired is usually cost prohibitive).

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Author

Posted by Ken of Data Doctors on December 2, 2005