Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Beware the €449 Notebook

A lot of our customers are excited by advertisements that they see for Inspiron notebooks priced at €449 from Dell and similar priced offers from PC World and Harvey Norman. The good news is that, yes, you can buy a new notebook PC for less than €500. The bad news is that you'll probably regret it almost straight away as the performance of such a notebook will be very disappointing.

Question: How do you get a notebook down to €449? Answer: By cutting back on the hardware. The following are things you should note when assessing a potential purchase.

The Processor:
Most bargain basement notebooks use an Intel Celeron or AMD Semperon processor which come from their manufacturer's "value range" of processors. This means that they are cheaper but significantly slower than full-priced processors such as the Pentium and Athlon/Turion processors. Also, you will find that these are generally single-core processors rather than the now standard dual-core processors offered in higher priced models. Dual core processors beat single core processors every time when it comes to speed.

We see bargain basement notebooks fitted with 1 GB RAM trying to run Vista Home Premium Edition. Yes, it will run, but like a snail. You cannot get a meaningful experience running Vista Premium on machines with less than 2GB of RAM and for Vista Basic you need 1 GB RAM. Saving money on memory is just mean in our book as memory was never as cheap as it is currently.

Hard Disc:
Budget machines will have budget hard discs, typically 80GB discs running at 5400rpm. In this day and age 80 GB will fill up fast if you have a digital camera or are interested in music and you won't get the performance form a 5400 rpm disc that you would from a 7200 rpm one.

Many customers who purchased a PC 5 or 6 years ago are horrified to discover that Microsoft Office is no longer bundled "for free" with current models and baulk at the fact that they have to pay extra for it (about €120 for the Home and Student edition which cannot be used in a commercial environment). But pay you must if you want Office.

When you include a faster dual core processor and add extra RAM and a bigger, faster hard disk, Microsoft Office, plus include some of the other options that aren't standard on the budget-priced model, such as built-in webcam, or coloured lid cover then you are looking at closer to €800 to €1000. However, spending this amount gets you a notebook that you will be happy with for some years, rather than a lemon that will leave a sour taste in your mouth.

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