Choosing a laptop and caring for it

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It’s back-to-school time, and laptops are on sale. I keep seeing some commercial for laptops as low as $179. These laptops are garbage, of course, not even worth using to do your homework. However. If you must have a laptop for Internet usage and writing and you can’t afford something over $300, you may be able to get along with a super-cheap laptop if you carefully research the one you’re considering and read reviews. Do not expect this laptop to last more than a year. You will be lucky if it lasts nine months. Sorry to be such a downer, but I fell victim to the “holiday season laptop sale” thing one year, spent $300, and got a piece of junk that overheated and then died.

My craptop always ran hot. It got to the point that, within a few months, I was using it with a small fan aimed directly at it. I could hear the fans inside it running at high speed nonstop, a constant, shrill, painful to the ears sound. I sent it back for repair during the one year warranty period. It came back with the same problem, but I had waited so long to send it back for repair because I needed it that when the problem recurred, it was out of warranty and I was out of luck. I kept using it, and one day I hit the power button and all the buttons flashed and I heard the sounds coming from inside that indicated the laptop was powering up, but the screen was black. Not blue, not the Blue Screen of Death, just black.

I got on my iPod and googled the issue and tried every troubleshooting suggestion and nothing worked. At the time I didn’t have the money for repairs, so I went back to using my old Sony Vaio that has issues BUT STILL WORKS. Just not well. The failure of my cheapo laptop wasn’t disastrous BECAUSE I HAD THE CHEAP LAPTOP BACKED UP. I had it backed up to an external hard drive, and I had Carbonite online backup. I didn’t lose any data.

Now, one of the issues that contributed to my cheap laptop overheating (I say contributed to because, when I got it back from the company after the “repair,” the paperwork reflected that improperly soldered elements caused it to overheat out of the box) was the fact that I was running Carbonite. CARBONITE IS NOT A BAD THING. IT IS A VERY GOOD THING. But it runs constantly in the background while you’re using your laptop and that makes your laptop work harder, and if you have a craptop, a program like Carbonite can push the machine past its limits.

So I used the old Sony for another year and a half, maybe a bit longer, until I had saved the money to buy a GOOD laptop. I did all the research again, and I thought I had found the ideal laptop, but once bitten twice shy so I called the company. By then I was also using an antivirus program that also ran constantly in the background. I talked to the rep and she explained to me exactly why the processor in the laptop I had picked out didn’t have the power to run Carbonite, my antivirus, Firefox, iTunes, Word 2007, and everything else. I needed the next processor up the ladder. I checked this out for myself, and she was right, so I saved some more money and spent about $150 more than I had planned. $650 instead of $500.

I love this laptop. It’s almost two years old. It runs all my programs smoothly. The only issue I’ve had was that the original battery only lasted about 15 months, which is not unreasonable. Reviews told me that this was a common issue. I bought a generic battery. It performs fantastically. When I switch to power saver mode, I easily get four hours of battery life.

As I wrote this post, I decided to make the “Caring for Your Laptop” a separate post, hopefully to be written tomorrow. I think that this post, Choosing Your Laptop, is important and people like me, and parents looking at laptops for their kids, need to know this: that craptop will cost you monetarily and it will cost you in terms of frustration and worry. Don’t put your faith in a craptop. You can’t get a good laptop for less than $300 in my experience. You NEED to be able to run antivirus and an online backup and Office without your hands sweating on the keyboard. And you should be able to watch a DVD while you’re writing. I do it frequently. No, not everyone can afford a $650 laptop. But you can get the best laptop you can afford. Don’t skimp. Don’t have unrealistic expectations like I did. If you don’t understand processors and their limitations, learn. Don’t just take the word of the salesperson at the big box store, even if it’s a big box electronics store. Do call the company and tell them how you use or plan to use your computer. Do read reviews. Honestly, you can get a better deal buying a refurbished laptop from a local computer store. You can get an older laptop for $100 if all you need is a computer to use for writing and Internet.

The most important thing to consider when buying a laptop is . . . spend $80 on an external hard drive. That can be the most important investment that you make when buying a laptop. Laptops can be replaced. Your data is priceless. When considering a back-to-school laptop, add an extra $80 for the external hard drive. Back up your entire computer twice a month. Back up every changed file or folder every day. Yes. Every day. Don’t be lazy.

Mull that over while I think of ways that people mistreat, mishandle, and don’t maintain their laptops.

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