September 14, 2006

 Navigation

   Home Page

 News & Features

   News

 Columns & Opinions

   Publisher's Note

   Boomers

   Pinings

   Longshots

   Techie

 Pop Culture

   Film

   TV

   Books
   Video Games
   CD Reviews

 Living

   Food

   Wine

   Beer
   Grazing Guide

 Music

   Articles

   Music Roundup

   Live Music/DJs

   MP3 & Podcasts

   Bandmates

 Arts

   Theater

   Art

 Find A Hippo

   Manchester

   Nashua

 Classifieds

   View Classified Ads

   Place a Classified Ad

 Advertising

   Advertising

   Rates

 Contact Us

   Hippo Staff

   How to Reach The Hippo

 Past Issues

   Browse by Cover


Laptops for less
Saving money when a relationship is at stake
By John “jaQ” Andrews  jandrews@hippopress.com

I’m helping a certain significant other shop for a laptop this weekend.

The budget is “under $500” or so, and while new entry-level laptops can be had at that price these days, it’s more fun and ecologically sound to look at the pre-owned market.

As you can well imagine, this excursion will put my reputation on the line far more than any weekly column could, so I’m being extra careful to say things that sound smart this week.

First off, consider the term describing the laptop’s condition.

• Used: The most risky designation, especially if you’re not buying from an actual retailer or dealer. There are probably some cosmetic blemishes, maybe screen scratches, and you’ll be lucky to get the original AC adapter. The battery is probably almost useless. Try the laptop out for yourself if even remotely possible. If you’’re not guaranteed at least a 30-day warranty or return period, walk away.

• Refurbished: Most trustworthy if preceded by the word “Factory,” refurbished laptops can be a pretty good deal. Some vendors sell perfectly good customer returns as refurbished, testing the items a second time to confirm that, yup, the buyer just didn’t know what he’d bought. The battery should be pretty good and all accessories, including the AC adapter and manuals, should be included, but make sure to ask. A 90-day warranty is pretty standard.

• Open box: Some retailers interchange this term and the previous one, but at least in my little world, an open box laptop should be in the best shape of all. It was probably on display somewhere, always plugged in, with most accessories never unpacked.

You should also check, or at least ask about, a few components that are likely to be less-than-mint.

• Battery: Over time, battery life goes down. That’s inevitable, but a reputable dealer will be honest about it. Odds are, you’ll spend most of your laptop time plugged in anyway, but you can always get a replacement battery from the manufacturer or a third-party external battery.

• CD or DVD drive: Lasers die and motors fade away. Bring along a disc you know works and test the optical drive.

• Screen: Look at it with the display off in good light to catch any scratches or persistent smudges. Turn it on to see if there are any “dead pixels” that stay one color or don’t light up at all. Open and close the screen a few times with the display on to see if it flickers or dies; there are cables inside that can be pinched and eventually broken.

• Keyboard and pointing device: Where does coffee go when spilled over a laptop? Yeah.

• Fan: Plug the laptop in and run it as hard as you can — optical drive whirring, some video and audio playing — and the thing’s fan should come on, preventing the processor and memory from cooking themselves.

• Software: Your new-to-you laptop should be restored to its factory settings — operating system and pre-installed software only, maybe with current updates. No experimental shareware, no outdated games and definitely no bloated accounting software with the previous owner’s info in it. You’ll get better performance and at least start off with no viruses or spyware.

Finally, make sure you have accurate contact information from your seller. If you have to return your new toy for any reason, it’d be a shame if the address turned out to be a demolished church on a Superfund site.


09/07/2006 GPS everywhere
08/31/2006 The printer dilemma
08/24/2006 A series of tubes
08/17/2006 More music, more places
08/10/2006 How big is your drive?
08/03/2006 It's a WiFi world
07/27/2006 Fancy a spot of memory?
07/20/2006 Under the sea
07/06/2006 eBaysic training
06/29/2006 You paid money for that?
06/22/2006 Processing ... processing ...
06/15/2006 C:\Run for the border
06/01/2006 The keyboard is mightier
05/25/2006 Geek phone home
05/18/2006 Super highway information
05/11/2006 How to host a site
05/04/2006 If they mated
04/27/2006 Apples to apples
04/20/2006 Flash uber-drives
04/13/2006 Web site, by you
04/06/2006 Ayyy, jaQ's right!
03/30/2006 Choose wirelessly
03/23/2006 Tax programs cometh
03/16/2006 And the Spammie goes to...
03/09/2006 Take in the Vista
03/02/2006 Cheap moviemaking
02/23/2006 Go directly to iJail
02/16/2006 Will you stamp your e-mail?
02/09/2006 War of the machines
02/02/2006 Faster than a speeding packet

01/26/2006 Free software made simple
01/19/2006 The Worst of CES
01/12/2006 Radio you
01/05/2006 Making Movies
A browser is to a car as ...

Behold, the $100 laptop
Beyond VCRs, Part 2
Beyond VCRs
Back-to-school basics
Big Brother is printing
Books without the paper
Essential Gadgets
Get it while it’s hot, used
High-tech garage sale
In touch with the future
Last-minute dork presents
Make your mark
Memory in your pocket
Microsoft must be scratching its head
No strings attached
Plastic junk for Halloween
Power up

Satellite radio showdown

The sound of your voice
There ain’t no such thing as free music
Want to watch cable in every nook and cranny?