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Brier Dudley's blog

Brier Dudley offers a critical look at technology and business issues affecting the Northwest.

August 11, 2008 at 9:56 AM

More tips, tricks and deals for buying a laptop

After hearing from people wanting help shopping for laptops, I put together a list of 10 tips, tricks and deals.

Do you have any other tips you’d like to share?

Here are the first three from today’s column, plus explanatory links and a few more tidbits based on today’s news from Intel:

1. Core confusion. The trickiest thing nowadays is deciphering the brands and lingo used to describe processors.

Intel really muddled things with its “dual-core” offerings. You’ll see Pentium brand “dual-core” systems, but I’d stick with its “Core 2 Duo” brand to be sure you’re getting the latest hardware.

Misleading labels are partly why Windows Vista was a disappointment early on – a lot of people bought Vista PCs that used underpowered hardware from the Windows XP era.

A simple reference point is Apple. It uses newer chips from Intel, so you can refer to the specifications of a Mac when you’re trying to sift through options in the Windows world.

The latest laptop processors from AMD are branded Turion X2 Ultra, with “Ultra” being the key word for new chips that debuted in June.

2. Check the paper. This may sound self-serving, but ads in the Sunday paper really are the best place to get a quick overview of the latest computer deals. That’s where the big stores will push their best deals, especially during the back-to-school season.

The paper won’t list every available system. Go to the stores or online for an exhaustive search. But it’s the easiest and most efficient way to compare and peruse what’s on sale — the perfect starting point for a computer hunt.

3. Touch the machines. Unless you’re buying from a place that has no-questions-asked returns, I’d be sure to check out a laptop before you buy it. There are big differences in how they look and feel. If you haven’t shopped for a computer in a few years, you’ll be surprised by the different colors, textures and graphic designs available now. Even Dell machines are in stores, so you can look even if you plan to buy online.

The column also mentioned Apple’s free iPod deal and cautioned that new Macs are just around the corner. Here’s a story we ran about the usual speculation about the new Macs.

On the processor front, Intel just announced details of its next line of processors, branded “Core i7,” which will probably be the guts of the new desktop Macs coming later this year. But it will take awhile before they’re available on the mid-range laptops that most people buy – laptop versions of the i7 aren’t expected until the second half of 2009.

I also mentioned the solid-state drives that are starting to appear on higher-end laptops. Here’s a piece Computerworld published last week on drive-maker Samsung and Microsoft working to improve the performance of those drives on Windows Vista.

Boise-based Micron’s also pushing ahead with SSDs and last week announced plans for new laptop drives holding to 256 gigabytes. It said they’ll enter mass production in the fourth quarter.

One reader has already written to question my assertion that Macs are more expensive than Windows PCs. He referred to a May Popular Mechanics piece comparing a desktop Mac to a Gateway all-in-one PC.

Another interesting reference article is the Joe Wilcox blog item last week citing NPD data that consumers on average pay twice as much for Mac laptops vs. Windows machines, but generalizations don’t get into what you’re getting for your money.

The Mac vs Windows debate is fertile, but it’s a little out of range for people shopping for $700 to $1,000 laptops, since Mac laptops start at $1,100 for a pretty basic machine or $1,300 for one with 2 gigs of RAM and a DVD writer.

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