We are frequently asked which laptop we recommend and what our opinion is on the best laptop. Since all laptops use similar components, the real difference in laptops is how the manufacturer handles warranty replacement of parts.
When purchasing a laptop, we recommend buying the extended warranty but only when it is directly from the manufacturer and not from the retail store. Buying an HP or Dell computer directly from their web-site offers the advantage of selecting the longer manufacturer warranty, although the web-sites offer a bewildering array of options and upgrades.
Many retail stores will sell new laptops with only a 90-day warranty so that the store can sell the extended warranty. These after-market retail warranties have consistently proven problematic, where the store will be unable to service the laptop or get replacement parts.
With laptops, only the LCD panel, hard drive and memory are standard and interchangeable; every other part is customized and specific to the laptop model. None of the laptop manufacturers provide replacement parts for sale, so some parts can be impossible to replace.
Another issue when purchasing laptops is selecting the operating system version. Microsoft sells Windows in Home and Professional versions. The Professional versions include support for Windows office network servers that require domain login. Most retail laptops are sold with the Home version of Windows. Ordering online offers the option of selecting the Pro version of Windows for network server compatibility. While laptops with the Home version of Windows can be upgraded to Pro, it incurs an additional expense.
When choosing a new laptop, avoid anything with a Celeron label on it. This is the entry level processor from Intel and it rarely provides adequate performance. Look for laptops with an LED LCD, which is thinner, lighter, brighter and uses less battery power than a traditional CCFL LCD. When choosing a laptop size, think twice before buying a laptop with a 16″ or 17″ wide screen LCD. We frequently get complaints from users that have these and consider them too big and too heavy to carry.
Dell is always our first choice and best recommendation. Dell laptops are easiest to diagnose and repair; they are designed to be field serviceable with only a screwdriver. Dell parts are widely available and easiest to order. Dell offers the option of purchasing an extended warranty up to 4 years. We highly recommend buying the 3 or 4 year warranty on a Dell laptop.
For warranty repairs, Dell will directly ship replacement parts overnight, and they rarely require returning the laptop for service. New Dell laptops are available both on-line at the Dell web-site and in retail stores, including Wal-Mart.
Our second choice after Dell is HP/Hewlett-Packard. HP computers are also easy to service and repair like Dell, and spare parts are available. HP sells both directly from their web-site and in retail stores. Avoid buying the extended warranty from the retail store for the reasons described above.
Fujitsu, Toshiba, Sony and IBM are also available both direct and in retail stores. We do not recommend buying these brands. These brands are not designed to be field serviceable, so they require more time and are more difficult to repair. Toshiba does not send out any replacement parts. Instead, they require returning any laptop to them for repair, which can take weeks.
Apple laptops are the most difficult to service. Replacing the hard drive on most Apple laptops requires removing 20 or more screws and completely disassembling the laptop; on a Dell or HP, the hard drive is readily accessible with only 2 screws. Apple laptops do use standard LCD panels, RAM and hard drives, but other replacement parts are nearly impossible to buy or are priced exorbitantly. We highly recommend buying the longest available warranty directly from Apple when purchasing an Apple laptop.