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Should I buy a MacBook Notebook Computer?  

Interpreting a Customer Complaint.   Read customer complaints carefully for exaggerated or bogus claims.

You can't trust Reviews from PC World and MacWorld.  Disclaimer:  PCNS reports review findings from PC World Magazine.  PC World's Editor-in-Chief Harry McCracken resigned Tuesday because the magazine's publisher pressured him to 'avoid stories that were critical of major advertisors.'

considerations before buying a new pc notebook computer


Midwest Micro 386sx-20 Laptop First off, this is not a subjective review on Notebook PC's features or performance.  There are many good sites for this, including Cnet Review, notebookreview.com, and laptopmag.com, to name a few.

This write up is focused on what will happen when your notebook breaks.  Your notebook will break sooner or later - what brand you settle on now will have consequences in the future.

Full Disclosure

PCNS has a relationship with the following vendors, and refers customers to these vendors for Warranty Service:  Richards Computer Center in Dallas, Data Applications in Addison, and Parts People in Austin.

Microcenter and Altex Electronics are a major vendors of replacement parts for PCNS.  Microcenter and Altex are not affiliated with PCNS in any way.

Forward

PCNS can handle many common Windows and hardware issues.  Spyware, trojan, and rootkit removal, Windows reinstallation, application troubleshooting, memory and hard drive upgrades.   If your notebook has a catastrophic failure and it's under warranty, PCNS is limited in what service can be performed, because PC Manufacturers have imposed restrictions on who can Service their notebooks.  In some cases, it is protected by geographic territory prohibiting new businesses like PCNS from offering service, in other cases it's a significant cost to the business in getting Manufacturer certifications.   Several vendors, such as Acer don't allow Factory Service by anyone except Acer.   In these cases it becomes critical to find the right notebook not only on features, capabilities, and specifications, but on the strength of its warranty service supply chain.

Getting good service from your PC manufacturer is becoming increasingly difficult.   Are we (the customer) to blame?  As the consumer demands lower and lower prices, something's got to give.  For that low price are we willing to put up with bad, or unresponsive service, long hold times, less reliable components, shorter warranty terms, and manufacturing and outsourcing support in foreign countries where labor is cheap and parts run in short supply?  Would it be worth paying $500 more for a laptop, if we get responsive, knowledgeable help desk calls, state side, and caring customer support?

Trends

Notebooks PC's are getting faster and more complicated.  Windows Vista demands incredibly powerful hardware resources.  Build it fast and build it cheap seems to be a growing trend, as PC Vendors leapfrog one another in features, capability, and price point.  In retrospect, I am dismayed that I paid $1,549 USD for my circa 1992 Midwest Micro 386SX/20 Mhz Laptop, with a blazing 2 megs of memory, Black and White display, 40 megabyte hard drive and DOS 5.0/Windows 3.1.  Sadly, after 15 years, it stopped functioning - not that it was being used a whole lot.  Will your new $549.99 new budget Notebook last this long? - probably not.

High Bright versus Traditional LCD

PCNS sees more display failures (Toshiba, Sony, and Dell) with the new High Bright Screens than the traditional matte LCD.  While high bright screens have richer, deeper, saturated color, I attribute the higher number of display failures to the "newness" of the technology.  From a longevity and reliability standpoint alone, PCNS recommends the more traditional LCD display.  A significant problem with High Bright Screens is glare.

Notebooks in a Nutshell

Dell

Obviously the first thing (since we're in Texas) that comes to mind is Dell.   There is a strong service supply chain, and when you buy your notebook, you can opt for On Site warranty service.  The repair field for Dell is competitive.  Well, not everyone likes Dell, and Dell themselves have produced some lemons - notably the Inspiron 5160 Series, and to a lesser degree, the Inspiron 600m Series and the Inspiron 8500 series with video card problems.  PCNS recommends the Dell Latitude series of Notebooks, despite the fact Dell ignores customers with problem laptops like the 5160.  I'm am starting to see and work on Dell Vostro Notebooks, however since the Vostro line is new, it is too early to predict long term reliability.   With Dell laptops in general, PCNS has seen bad motherboards, video cards with bad memory, cracked power jacks, numerous cracked plastics on the base and on the display, broken plastics with mouse buttons, and bad power bricks.

Acer

Acer Notebooks, like Dell is part direct, and they are part retail.  Acers, in the PC World Reliability Roundup have had generally positive ratings for their Notebook line.  Like Dell, it is direct marketed, and also sold through various retail outlets, including Altex Electronics (throughout Texas) Microcenter, Best Buy, and CompUSA.  For repairs, unlike Dell, nobody can come out to your home or office to affect repairs.  Acer will have you box up your notebook, and ship it to one of their worldwide repair centers.   Being in Dallas we are fortunate, in that one of the repair facilities is located in nearby Temple Texas.  PCNS does not recommend Acer if your business is mission critical and depends on quick turnaround for repairs.  PCNS has seen mostly mechanical problems with Acer Notebooks - cracked case plastics, bad usb ports due to mechanical stress, and sticking display hinges.  PCNS cannot perform warranty work on Acer Notebooks.

About Acer (specifying warranty service location).

Fujitsu Laptops

In general a good quality notebook and a fair service chain.   PCNS cannot perform warranty work on Fujitsu notebooks.  Their parts channel is closed to all but Authorized Service centers.  Fujitsu warranty work locally is available from Richard's Computer Center.  PCNS has a neutral recommendation on Fujitsu Notebooks, and has seen bad optical drives.

Sony Vaio

Sony restricts warranty work to Sony Service Centers (many of which focus on consumer video products such as camcorders, TV's, and display monitors).   They may not work on Notebook PC's - call ahead first.  There are several local warranty service channels, including Data Applications in Addison, Texas.   PCNS has seen bad hard drives, bad LCD displays, broken plastics, and malfunctioning mechanics, and bad cooling fans on Sony Vaio laptops.  Because of their proprietary design and limited service supply channel, PCNS does not recommend Sony Vaio laptops.  Sony Vaios, while stylish, trendy, and perhaps even breathtaking, seem fragile and lacking in durability and ruggedness.

Toshiba Laptops

Toshiba warrants additional explanation, because there's a consumer and corporate line.  PCNS does NOT recommend any Toshiba Consumer Notebook, including the Satellite series.  A spokesman from Richard's Computers states the consumer Satellite series isn't manufactured from Toshiba, and the Satellite Notebooks have had a troubling repair history.  Richard's Computers (as of Dec 2007) can perform limited warranty work on Toshiba Satellite notebooks, call Richards for more information.   PCNS has seen Satellite with bad displays, bad optical drives, cracked plastics, and bad hard drives.

PCNS recommends the business line Toshiba Tecra, and Toshiba Portege.  These notebooks are manufactured by Toshiba and are built to higher quality standards than the Satellite series.  Richard's Computer Center can perform warranty service.  These notebooks are available from Toshiba direct, and when purchasing, most models, except for the price leaders, feature a 3 year factory warranty.  PCNS recommends upgrading to the 3 year warranty (more on this later).  PCNS has several older Portege's, and has seen severe problems with cracked plastics, failing display hinges, and failed hard drives, but it should be noted these Notebooks are well over 7 years old.

Lenovo, formerly IBM

PCNS works with newer Thinkpad Notebooks, but has worked on only a few IBM Notebooks, and doesn't have enough information to offer regarding long time reliability.   Lenovo ranked in the upper half of PC World's Reliability ratings.  In general, there is a loyal following to Lenovo notebook PC's.  You will find Lenovo notebooks priced higher than the competition, as Lenovo sells quality not price.   PCNS has found the X60/X61 to have a solid build quality.

HP, Compaq, and HP/Compaq

It's a mixed bag for HP.  HP, in the PC World Service Reliability survey, had a bad report card.  Once HP had a good rating, but they took a sudden downward turn.  PC World attributed this to their leapfrogging of Dell as being the #1 PC Provider, and didn't anticipate the range of callers they would receive.  HP makes some impressive consumer notebooks, with a lot of features and capabilities.  In general, PCNS has observed the Pavilion consumer notebooks to run fairly well, but they seem vulnerable to the rough and tumble lives laptops often lead.  PCNS has seen broken Ethernet jacks, a damaged DVD Writer (caused by a notebook accident) cost over $400 just to replace the DVD writer, and cracked power jacks.  PCNS hasn't seen enough Consumer Presario Notebooks to render an opinion.

"Would I buy from HP again? The Answer is no. In fact the answer is Hell No!"   George Schwartz, now ex-HP User. PC World Article

HP (or more appropriately HP/Compaq's) business line of Notebooks, such as the NC series, is an entirely different kind of notebook from the Pavilion Series.   They are built conservatively, and built to last, but they have far fewer "bells and whistles."  It's not fair to make a comparison between the consumer and business line, except that the business user will buy the corporate notebook, the home user will buy a Pavilion.

Richard's Computer Center in Dallas is the Factory Authorized Service center for Compaq/HP's Business Line of notebooks.  They can work on HP Pavilion notebooks, but there are significant restrictions as to warranty service.  Call Richard's Computers before making the trip.

Gateway PCNS has seen only a few Gateway notebooks.  The PC World reliability survey rated Gateway notebooks high in customer satisfaction.  Acer will be buying Gateway, so it's good this brand won't fade into the sunset, however since it will be under Acer's fold (and I'm speculating), it's not likely the Service will be any different from Acer - sending it to East Texas for warranty work.

Acer buys Gateway

Asus, Averatec, Cyber Power, Soetech, Winbook

The Service chain is limited to sending the notebooks back to the manufacturer for service and warranty work.  Averatec, according to 60,000 reader responses at PC World magazine, rated last in reliability.  PCNS has worked on several Averatec notebooks - and has seen broken laptop plastics, dead screens, and overheating laptops.  Averatec notebooks must be shipped to their Fremont, California repair facility for warranty work (in the U.S.).

Customer's Averatec notebook taking two months for Averatec to repair: Averatec woes

Extended Warranties - are they Worth it?

In general yes, if the warranty is purchased through the manufacturer.  If you are buying the extended warranty from a retailer, ask questions.  Some retailers farm out extended warranties to third party warranty companies, which makes filing a claim a more difficult process.   It is possible third party companies will fight the consumer hard to deny your warranty claim.  A customer who bought a Toshiba laptop from Frys bought an extended warranty.  When her DVD Drive stopped working, it took Frys 8 weeks to repair the notebook.  Frys evidently sent the notebook out of state to get the laptop repaired.  Frys loaned the customer a laptop, which was a good gesture.  The customer used PCNS and The Computer Wizard to migrate data from the failed laptop to the loaner laptop, and back to the repaired laptop, so the experience wasn't entirely cost free.

After three repairs, Microcenter will replace the laptop with a then current model.   While this may seem like a good idea, initially, the customer will bear the expense of reloading applications on the new notebook PC, and restoring their data files (assuming they made a backup).  According to this report, Microcenter is no longer using Warrantech.

In most cases, extended warranties cover faults from manufacturing defects.  It is not an accident coverage policy, meaning if your kids trip over the power cord, crashing your laptop to the floor and shattering the display, these warranties won't cover it.  Dell, Lenovo, and Toshiba Notebook PC's have optional accident coverage.

Ripoff report on PC Manufacturers and service providers