Ah, for the love of laptop computers!

Miss Thrifty6 August 13, 2008


There comes a time in every frugal blogger’s life when a harsh reality must be faced. Yes: it’s new computer time! 

In my case, my current laptop is on its last legs. It has been so well-used that the matte silver mousepad has worn away. Worse still, the damned computer keeps turning itself off. Wordpress causes its innards to combust. The DVD drive doesn’t work and a simple video clip can send the machine whirring and spluttering into meltdown. It makes so much noise, my husband says that being in the same room  as the thing gives him a headache.

I have been putting off the purchase of a replacement for as long as possible, but as is often the way with these things, Fate has muscled in and forced my hand. I have so much work on right now (I’m a freelance writer and blogger) that the problems described above are seriously hampering my productivity.

The rub is that for obvious reasons, a thrifty lifestyle doesn’t really mesh with the contents of PC World or Best Buy.

Also, new computers depreciate in value just as new cars do; as soon as you get them out of the showroom, at least a third of their value disappears into the ether. A case in point: the mother of a friend offered to sell me her little-used laptop for £250. This was significantly less than she had paid for it just a year previously. But when I looked up the model, I found that it is now selling for £250 new.

Also, I’ve come round to thinking that with many of these laptops, you get what you pay for. Cost savings in the short term don’t necessarily lead to long term savings. I can’t help thinking that if I hadn’t been so determined to buy the cheapest laptop I could find that had a half-decent memory/hard drive/etc., I’d have ended up with something a little more steadfast than my current machine. (That said, I think that some of these super new-fangled models, with their flippy tablet screens and wafer-thin dimensions, look pretty flimsy too.)

So what to buy – and how? I’m loathe to purchase a second-hand or “reconditioned” computer – I just don’t trust them – but I’d interested to hear from anyone who has gone down this route. Is it possible to haggle with the PC World bods? I tried this a year ago, but the purple-suited sales assistants just snickered at me. Perhaps the economic downturn has softened them a little?

And is it just me or are Macs absurdly overpriced? I know they look so nice and pretty, with their sleek lines and their whiteness and the glowing apples set into the lid etc. etc., but seriously! They’re twice the price of the equivalent PCs. And if my experiences with iPods are anything to go buy, Apple isn’t the most reliable or robust of brands.  

I have my eye on this little beauty (a Toshiba U400), but ouch! How the pound signs hurt my eyes. Even at this price – the cheapest I have found – it is still half a year’s food shopping budget.

So here, drawn from bitter experience, are my bad-tempered and curmudgeonly tips for laptop shopping:

  • If you can get away with putting it off or exploring alternative options, such as restricting your internet activities to your computer at work, do so. If not, prepare for an assault on your wallet.
  • Looks are important – you’re going to be sitting at this computer for hours at a time, so you might as well like it – but don’t get carried away. The prettiest machines aren’t necessarily the best-performing.
  • When I was browsing in computer shops last week, I noticed that a lot of the current laptops on the market are geared towards those high-def, fast-moving computer games. These set-ups come at a premium, however, so if you aren’t a keen game-player they are best avoided.
  • Cheap is as cheap does. If you can only stretch to the clunky-looking PC with the rock-bottom price label, so be it. But be prepared to replace your ailing model a year or two down the line.
  • Know what you want and what you need. There’s no point opting for an expensive laptop with a built-in webcam and a lightning-fast processor if your primary programs are going to be Microsoft Word and Excel.
  • Shop around! This isn’t difficult to do: once you have identified your laptop of choice, stick its model number into Google. You’ll get a list of prices and discount offers under Google Shops, and you can arrange the results in price order.
  • Sorry to end on a downer – but please, please, please remember that these machines don’t often come with Microsoft Office already installed! A sneaky swindle, I know. Without fail, I forget this; the years that elapse between laptop purchases are just long enough for the anger and irritation to fade. In theory, you’re supposed to spend big on a new copy of Office; in practice, you find a techie friend who will somehow sort it for you.


UPDATE: Read my follow-up post Ah, for the love of laptop computers! Part II, to find out what happened when my old computer imploded and I finally had to bite the bullet!

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6 Responses to “Ah, for the love of laptop computers!

deepali says:

Ah, I am dealing with this current dilemma too. The good news is that I spent big last time and got a laptop that has lasted me 5 years. Will last a bit more too (needs a new battery) but is just too slow for what I need it to do. So the question is, do I spend big again? Or be a bit more frugal? Tough call.

deepalis last blog post..a week long look at my budget: retirement

August 26, 2008 at 9:58 pm

Ahh, I feel your pain.

On the office issue-just download “Open Office” it is a freeware clone of ALL the microsoft office programs-just google it. I’ve been using mine for a couple of years with no problems. You can save files in the Microsoft format so they transfer to other folks computers, and you’ll save a ton of money.

Jenn @ Frugal Upstates last blog post..Flip Video Camera Contest

August 30, 2008 at 8:09 pm

Mrs. Micah says:

Replacing your particular computer is entirely worthwhile. It’s not livable. Micah lived with it for 4 years and he dealt with things like having it freeze 75% of the time and randomly shut down and be altogether very loud. Horrible.

Still, we also had a hard time finding a good, thrifty replacement until we started looking 2nd hand. One of my readers lives in DC and her boyfriend was selling his “homemade”one. $350 and works just fine! Glad you found something too.

September 15, 2008 at 5:52 pm

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