Mobile Computing: More Notebook Buying Tips
Feature: More Notebook Buying Tips
A few weeks ago, I shared some notebook buying tips. Not long after, it was time for me to take my own advice--and I learned a few things along the way. So here's a look at the new notebook I purchased: what I bought, why I bought it, how I paid for it, and so on.
Next week, I'll offer tips on migrating from an old notebook to a new one.
Why I Needed a New Notebook
Since 2000, I've used a notebook as my one and only PC. I love the convenience of having all my files with me in the office and on the road.
I bought my last notebook, a Dell Inspiron 8100, in February 2002. Ordinarily, I upgrade every two years. To save money, though, I postponed upgrading as long as possible. But in the last year, it's been increasingly inconvenient using the aging portable. My Inspiron lacks many conveniences that are often standard in today's notebooks: USB 2.0 ports, built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, a flash-memory card reader, a DVD burner, and other features. And with a weight of nearly 10 pounds with AC adapter and batteries, the Inspiron has been a burdensome traveling partner.
Finally, in December 2004, my Inspiron developed some serious technical problems, and I had some extra cash. It was time to take the plunge.
Tip: Computer technology changes rapidly. So if you use a notebook as your only computer, and you use it frequently, you may want to consider an upgrade every 24 to 36 months. Otherwise, you're likely to end up with an aging, persnickety, slow system, and your productivity will suffer.
What I Bought
I knew what I wanted: Hewlett-Packard's Pavilion Dv1000. One look at the portable's gorgeous high-contrast screen in a Best Buy store and I was hooked. The Dv1000 also meets my other criteria:
- At about 6.4 pounds with battery and power adapter, it doesn't weigh too much.
- It has a graphics chip (Intel Extreme Graphics 2 for Mobile) that's capable of wide-aspect, high resolution and of supporting extended desktop mode in which the notebook screen and an external monitor form one big desktop.
- Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are built in.
- It's got USB 2.0 and FireWire ports, and a built-in flash-memory reader.
Despite being smitten almost immediately with the Dv1000, I still did my homework. I discovered that the HP notebook was receiving great reviews for its compelling features, which include a terrific screen; clever multimedia touches such as the QuickPlay mode, which lets you play DVDs and audio CDs without booting up in Windows; and comfortable keyboard.
For one professional's opinion, read Carla Thornton's PC World review of the Dv1000 (she gave it 4.5 out of 5 stars). Also see my "Vibrant Notebook Screens" story for info about the Dv1000's screen technology.
Tip: Exhaustively research any computer before you buy it, no matter how right for you it seems at first blush. Also, even if you're loyal to one brand or already have your mind made up on a particular model, go to an electronics retailer and check out the competing models. You might be surprised by what you find. For instance, I've bought nothing but Dell computers since 1997 and had intended to do so again. But after seeing the Dv1000 and comparing it to Dell's current notebook offerings, I decided to give HP a try.
The Must-Have Accessory
I also wanted a docking station, and HP sells a pretty cool one. The HP Xb2000 Notebook Expansion Base ($250) elevates your notebook's screen to an ergonomically correct eye level, comes with a wireless keyboard and mouse, includes above-average Harman Kardon speakers, and has a bay for an optional 160GB hard drive. The hard drive is $200 if bought separately, but HP is currently offering a $50 "instant" rebate, for a total of $400 if you buy the self-descriptive HP Xb2000 Notebook Expansion Base with 160GB Hard Drive Kit.
Tip: If you use a notebook as your only computer, get a docking station. Connecting peripherals, such as a printer and external monitor, to the docking station instead of directly to the notebook makes it easy to disconnect your notebook and go.
How I Bought It
Rather than buying a preconfigured system, I configured a Dv1000 at HP's Web site. If I'm going to live with a notebook for two or more years, I want it to be exactly what I want. The system I chose included a 1.8-GHz Intel Pentium M 745 processor, the fastest chip offered in the Dv1000 when I ordered.
Tip: To boost performance, buy as much memory as you can afford. I chose 1GB of DDR SDRAM, consisting of two 512MB memory modules, which added $150 to the system's cost. I could have chosen 1GB of memory on a single module, leaving one slot open for future upgrades; this would have added $275 to the total price. But for me, the convenience of one module wasn't worth the extra expense. The Dv1000 can also be configured with 2GB of memory in two modules, which would be $625 over the base system price.
Tip: Consider buying the fastest, though not necessarily the largest, hard drive available. Though I could have had an 80GB hard drive installed, 60GB seemed ample for my needs. But instead of selecting the lower-priced 4200-rotations-per-minute drive, I chose a 5400-rpm drive. The faster your hard drive, the faster you can open files and run applications. Some applications, such as video editing, benefit from ultra-fast hard drive speeds like 7200 rpm--but those drives aren't typically available in notebooks.
How I Paid for It
In November, I compared the pros and cons of leasing vs. buying a notebook.
I considered leasing my next notebook, but HP offers leasing for its business notebooks only, not for consumer portables like the Dv1000. I could have bought it using an HP credit card without paying any interest for 12 months, however. Ultimately, I decided I didn't want yet another monthly payment. So I charged the Dv1000 on my American Express card, earning Membership Miles points that I can trade in for air travel or other perks. (I pay off the card's balance every month, so I don't pay interest.)
The Bottom Line
So far, I've had only one minor complaint about my new notebook.
Originally, I opted for the 12-cell battery that promises more than 5 hours of battery life instead of the 6-cell battery that runs for about 3 to 4 hours. But the 12-cell battery protrudes noticeably from the notebook's bottom and puts the keyboard at a downward tilt when the computer is laid flat, which isn't as comfortable as a level keyboard, in my opinion.
Even though I contacted HP within the 30-day return period, the customer service rep told me I couldn't exchange the 12-cell battery for the slimmer 6-cell unit. The battery was part of my system configuration, I was told, and to change it would alter that configuration. The customer service agent's solution: Buy a 6-cell battery for $129. (Opting for the 12-cell battery had added $25 to the notebook's price.)
An HP spokesperson later confirmed that the company's policy on customer-configured systems does not allow returns or exchanges on nondefective components. Such returns and exchanges are allowed, however, for customers who purchased preconfigured, off-the-shelf computers.
Ultimately, I decided to live with the bulky battery--and I was glad to have the extra power during a subsequent cross-country plane flight, in which I watched several DVD movies.
Incidentally, the total cost of my Dv1000 was $2042, including California sales tax. By comparison, I paid $2727 for my Inspiron 8100 nearly three years ago. You've got to love those numbers.