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I need to pick up a laptop next week, likely from Best Buy. This is to replace my failing laptop Dell. I've had Dells the last three years and none of them have lasted past a year. I'm not buying another Dell laptop under any circumstances. But the problem is, now I don't know what to buy.

I'm willing to go from good specs to moderate specs for this, as my school is buying me a Powerbook in February. What I care about right now is hardware quality, and that it stays around or under $800. This is being bought for me, so I'd rather not push the price to all get-out. I need a laptop that will be rugged enough to survive high-travel and high-impact but have a decent size monitor and a standard keyboard (not one of those tiny keys or anti-crumb keys or other special features). I have fibromyalgia, as well as other neuropathic disorders, and they demand both of these. It also needs to not weigh like a brick.

I am not buying a netbook and I haven't bought outside of Dell in a long time, so I post here. Does anyone have any advice, ideas or experience on this? :/

Thank you so much!
I love Gateway and that's all I'll ever own again. I've had my latest one for a year and a half and it's been dropped twice with nothing breaking. I have a wide screen and while the keyboard is close to the same size as a standard keyboard. I got this as a warranty replacement and I think the retail on it at the time was around $650.
I second the Gateway. I got one in 2008 and never had an issue (what I'm going through with my hard drive is some idiot pc tech who thought he was knew what he was doing actually didn't)

Mine cost me around 900$ Cdn at the time.
In the summer of 2009 I bought an Acer laptop which I loved. It had a standard size keyboard (but no numeric keypad), it weighed about 5 lbs, and had an 8 hour battery life. It was around $750. I was in grad school, so portability and the long battery life were what sold me on that particular one.

Unfortunately it disappeared during finals week that December, so I didn't have it for long and can't tell you any of the details about it (I'm not a tech person). However, if you can figure out what it was from that description I highly recommend it!
My Toshiba Satellite is tough as hell and almost three years old. I think it cost $455 brand new (from newegg.com)
Buy from Newegg. Sony, Toshiba, Sager, or Asus.

Edited at 2010-11-07 11:32 pm (UTC)
I don't have a credit card so I'm not sure that I can order online? Also, I have never heard of Sager, can I ask about that?

Thank you!
Lenovos tend to be sturdy. Their website has links specifically to Less than $500 and $500 to $799. The only problem might be the trackpoint, which I seem to remember trying to hit instead of the B key half the time.
I wouldn't go with Acer - everyone I know who had one has had exactly the same problems: first, the motherboard needing to be replaced within two years of ownership; secondly, the power cable needing to be replaced within two to three years of ownership; and finally, the screen breaking/cracking/going black unless positioned at a certain angle within two years of ownership.
I'll never, ever, ever own another HP. The HP laptop I used to have was a total piece of crap. I had to have it serviced a couple times within three or four months of buying it. The warranty finally replaced it when the motherboard died.

I have a Toshiba Satellite that's... ok. It's survived a couple overseas journeys and being dropped a few times. But mine is about three years old now and the plastic parts of the body, around the vent on the side are completely broken off. There are other parts where they're coming off, as well. Also, the touchpad is dying.

I'd recommend that if you do decide to buy from Best Buy don't fall for the scammy Geek Squad add ons, and don't take it to them for repairs.
HP wasn't good for us. We had problems. ASUS laptops have been very serviceable, reasonable in price and so far the two we have run well.
I had been curious about ASUS but I only ever saw netbooks from them so I thought that was all they made.
I'd go with Toshiba. Make sure the battery life is extended though. The first month that we had a Toshiba laptop, the battery went and we used the warranty to get a better longer life one. So far it's going strong after 4 years.
I bought a Toshiba almost 4 years ago and it's still kicking. I think mine was just around $900 after the extra storage and a new copy of Microsoft Office Home. I only replaced it this month with a MacBook Air because it was finally starting to slow down and I wanted something ultra-light to travel with. And okay. . .because it looks cool.
The Toshiba does look cool XD That's why I noticed my last one and I kept coming back to it because of that reason in the store. I like that it's more subtle than Sony (which I notice nobody is recommending, haha) but still has pretty features. I did not buy a Sony simply because I cannot work with the LCD lit keyboards!

Also, it coming with Microsoft Office is a good bonus. It seems like they usually don't.

Thank you!
Let me add a third HP counter-recommendation. They all over-heat. We've had three in the household and all three died of overheating issues (2 burnt video cards, one burnt motherboard.)
My last HP desktop overheated within ten minutes of booting. It sucked! Yeah, HPs can be hit-or-miss, again, depending on quality of parts...
As a fellow sufferer from fibromyalgia, I'd suggest a full size keyboard in addition to whatever laptop you get. Laptop keyboards kill me, no matter what size they are. (with the only exception being on some of the newer mac laptops, which are definitely not a poor skill to buy.)
I had been considering that but I hadn't been sure if it was unwieldy to use an outside keyboard or not. But since I've passed over several brands in the past because of keyboard alone, it's worth thinking about. Thank you so much!

Yeah, I think Mac hates us. I tend to accidentally hit two or three keys at a time on the affordable ones. XD;
I bought THIS ONE a few months ago and it runs like a dream. Sony is an excellent brand that's not crazy expensive.
I'm typing this on a Vaio. Mine is a fancier gaming-friendly model, but I've had it for at least three years (don't recall exactly when I got it) and it's still pretty darn good.

Edited at 2010-11-07 11:21 pm (UTC)
Sometimes you get what you pay for, and Acers don't last. What happened with your laptop?

My friend had a Toshiba which worked GREAT... until the video card died within six months. It was under warranty. She called and spent HOURS on the phone trying to get it replaced. FINALLY they let her send it back to depot for replacement, and what did they say? "We're not going to replace it because there's moisture damage. You must have spilled something in it."

Except that she has never had it outside of her living room, and she doesn't get drinks anywhere near the thing. Ever. No kids to blame it on either. NO ONE touches or can even access that computer but her. As a tech for another company, I pulled it open for her to look. No evidence of water damage of any kind. They were just BSing to get her to upgrade to newer parts!

As for Dell: what was wrong with the computer, and did you have the India contract or the American service? It really makes a difference.

If you get Indian service, they are usually the cause of chronic problems. They send wrong parts for damn near everything, and the depot people are often just as incompetent. They had me send my old Dell to depot for two missing keys when I COULD have replaced the keyboard myself. What did I get back three weeks later? Two broken keys and a fucktonne of software I didn't ask for loaded onto my hard drive. And they had rifled through my files. Don't ever send your hard drive to depot with your computer, no matter what company it's for! (That was before I did tech support...)

With American/Canadian support, they have to answer within 20 minutes on average. They have way better training and more options for sending stuff. We actually have badge numbers and you get an e-mail after every call with that info. Three major part replacements and you get your system exchanged is the policy, I think, provided that the damage to those parts was not intentional. There is even accident protection. If you get a new laptop and don't like it for whatever reason in 30 days, return or exchange it. And if you get in-home contract, whatever they're calling it now, I recommend you do. Like I said, RTD SUCKS. With in-home, the parts get shipping within 24 hours and a guy calls you for an appointment time to fix and test the computer in front of you. If it doesn't work, they call us right then and there. There have been instances where a tech screws up, but if that happens, JUST CALL- trust us, if WE have to hear about it, we call their managers and let THEM hear about it.

I don't know if other companies offer those options, but if they do, look into them.
So, as you've said "I need a new computer, what do you have for recommendations on specifics?" and everybody (for the most part) said "buy some other brand), I'm not going to recommend anything specific, as I've seen a wide variety of notebooks go through the university department I work at, and have seen where two people will get identical computers, and it will work just fine for one person and the other one will go through three motherboards, four hard drives, and a keyboard in the first year, even though both computers only sit on their desks and don't travel. Whether or not a given notebook works for somebody really seems to vary widely, and for no obvious reason.

Does your campus (or somewhere in town) have a showroom where you can actually use the hardware you're thinking of buying? Take a look at the models and brands they recommend, pick out two or three that you like and that work for you, then go and read the reviews and ask us again, but working from the ones you've already picked out.

If your school is buying you a powerbook, can't you use that as your computer? Or, won't they let you take it home? If they let you carry it around as if it were your computer, you might want to use your money to invest in a good monitor and keyboard for home so that you don't have to carry one back and forth or have to use the built-in keyboard most of the time. That will leverage your money, and allow you to save some of it for later in life when you've graduated and need to buy one of your own. It will also give you some time to use the powerbook and decide whether or not MacOS is the thing for you or if you're going to set it up as a windows machine.
That's because it entirely depends on what factory and when the parts came from. Case in point, when I worked for tech support, one customer got two identical computers purchased at the same time. One went to hell, the other worked GREAT!

Why was one so messed up?

Because the motherboard came from a bad lot, causing other parts to fail before giving error codes or definitive issues pointing to the motherboard. RAM would keep frying, or a video card would go... until we realised that they're all connected to the same MOBO. Replaced THAT, even though no diags showed anything wrong with it, and the issue was fixed for good! The bad mobo went on record as such, and after so many pop up from the same lot that are bad, we can recall the whole batch. But it takes REPORTING IT to COMPETENT people for that to happen! We can't fix something if we don't know that it's broken!

Oh, and absolutely DO NOT BUY the Best Buy tech support. All they do when they get your computer is overcharge you for EVERY LITTLE THING, and then whatever they can't fix, they call US on anyways! Just go straight to the source.
I have a Compaq Presario (secretly an HP) and it's going strong after more than a year. It has a full-size keyboard but isn't too big. Best, I got it on a special sale/rebate at Staples for $350. I don't take it places very often, though, so I can't speak to its durability.
i had a toshiba for a couple of years and i HATED it. part of the problem was that it came with vista, but even after vista was taken off it was awful. it used to freeze in the middle of class when i was taking notes, and it was very heavy and bulky.
I have an HP. We're an HP family, and haven't had any major problems with. I had an error with playing video but that was the program itself, and not the computer. I switched from Cyberlink (which is shit) and used Windows Media Player and haven't had a problem since.

My only MAJOR MAJOR problem with it is that it gets warm, easily. Really warm. And I chew through fans with that problem.
HP was having problems with NVidia cards not being at spec and causing overheating, ultimately frying things. You may want to see if yours was part of that, I think they were offering some sort of replacements/repairs to correct the issue.
My husband has had IBM Thinkpads for the last 10 years...he's on his second one in that time and the first one only just gave up the ghost last week (it was the first one he had and bought, we figure, at LEAST 10 years ago).

I've had my own Thinkpad for two years now (after being wooed over after my secondhand Sony Vaio died) and I love it...I wouldn't own any other type now. :) (They're reliable AND sturdy...titanium hinges! Mine has taken some nasty falls and never even hiccuped afterwards.)

Ours are both refurbished and ran for $300- 400...but I've seen them new for not all that much more.

I hope that helps! Good luck!

(Edited multiple times because I'm tired...sorry. Duhhh...) :)

Edited at 2010-11-08 04:16 am (UTC)
That does help a lot, thank you. My Dad had one of the first Thinkpads and it survived for years, so IBM always stuck in my mind as sturdy. I'd just somehow thought they stopped making non-commercial laptops.

And no worries on the edit, man! You're taking the time to help so a few edits is no bother at all <3
My husband builds high performance computers. We don't own any name brand PCs, they're all DH originals.

With that said, if you're excluding Netbooks, DH sticks to HP and Compac for laptops.

I was gifted an Acer one year, and it performed moderately well. DH's older HP is still working where as my Acer is not, but the Acer outlived my prior 2 Dells by several years.

If you're definitely shopping Best Buy, make sure you sign up for their rewards program. For every $250 you spend you get a $5 off certificate. You can give them your card in store or you can enter the receipt on the website for credit to your account.
I haven't looked into their programs before but I really should, thank you for mentioning that.

And it is really awesome that he can build them. Does that help on price, too?
Can I ask - what are the perceived downsides of netbooks?

Because I was sceptical until I was caught in the middle of no-where, nowhereshire with a dead thinkpad and a live deadline, and the only machine I could find to finish my work was a Samsung NC10.

I've been in love with it every since - it does every the thinkpad did, and when I have really hefty files to work with I actually transfer them from the MacBook Pro to the Samsung because it is faster and more reliable.

Plus it fits in to a padded pocket in my handbag.
I need a computer that can run Photoshop and Illustrator, a wacom tablet and music editing programs, at least until February. If a netbook can run any of that decently, it is actually a good viable option, especially with those size benefits!
I am typing this from a 650 dollar Vaio from BB. Best computer I ever had! I previously only had HPs before and they're horrible. A friend of mine does laptop repair and he recommended the Sony. If that is too much money, get a Toshiba or Asus (They do make full-size laptops!). The others, basically Dell, HP, Gateway, Lenovo and Acer just don't have the same quality of parts and they often need to be replaced sooner.

I know my HPs have all died of overheating.
I am so glad you replied because I have been planning on the $650 Vaio from Best Buy and now I know for sure that's a good choice. I figured that since my Playstations tend to last a ridiculously long time, the laptops probably would too. Thank you!

Can I ask about monitor/graphics quality? I'm a freelance artist so that's a big part of it for me.
I have an Asus laptop that I absolutely love! I've had it for more than 2 years already with no problems whatsoever, and it only cost me around $600. It runs like a champ and outlasted my husband's much more expensive Gateway.