Laptop Shopping Woes

When my laptop died, there was — I admit it — that little voice inside me that said “Goody goody! I get to get a _new_ one!”

That voice is silent now. Weeks later, I still haven’t bought a new laptop. Not because the purchase hasn’t been cleared during spousal deliberations — it has — or because there’s something in particular I’m waiting for. I just can’t find one that fits, one that makes me feel eager to get it after shelling out all that money — at least, not one in my price range.

Laptop shopper, be warned: it may _seem_ as if laptops are surprisingly inexpensive these days, but here, as is the case with computer shopping generally, you always, always get what you pay for. When you see that killer deal for a $800 laptop on the manufacturers’ website, you can be sure that once you get in there and configure it to the point where it’s actually _usable_, instead of with all the barebones options they gave it by default so they could brag about the price, you’ll be up to $1300 or so. And that $1000 notebook that you saw in the Circuit City flyer? You’ll have to do a bit of poking around to discover just what corners they’ve cut on that model. But you can be sure they’ve cut them.

Admittedly, all of these el cheapo laptops _work_. But I’m working from a basic principle of computer buying, which is that, for the same amount of money, I should be able to buy a laptop that’s way, way better than the one I bought two and a half years ago. And that is patently not the case today. I’m having to pay extra to even get more RAM than what my current one has. Screen technology hasn’t appreciably advanced. Video acceleration usually happens via shared memory, which is little better than no acceleration at all. There’s all sorts of cool stuff going on with desktops these days (64 bit architecture, PCI Express) but the laptop market seems to have absorbed almost none of it. They’re stuck in a rut.

Part of the problem lies with me, though. I waffle back and forth between my desire to have a light, portable laptop — under 6 pounds — and to have a powerful one with cool stuff on it. You can’t get both without paying through the nose, and I can’t seem to decide which I want more. So I wait and I watch. What I’m watching for is a deal — a special offer, a new model, something — that, whatever side of that divide it falls on, calls out to me because it has _value_. Bang for the buck. But it ain’t there.

The distinction between this and the desktop couldn’t be sharper. The desktop was going south in minor ways, too — on-board sound giving out, occasional hiccups and freezes. All I had to do was order a new motherboard — $80 — put it in there, and things are groovy again. I even got one (Abit NF7) with onboard video so I could return the replacement video card I bought recently. If I had wanted to I could have upgraded the RAM or processor just as easily, if not as cheaply — but performance is fine, and if I need to do so in the future, it’ll only be cheaper than it is now.

And yet, it’s hard to be without a laptop. Ella finds it easy to get lost in her own activities when I’m sitting on the couch with the laptop — I guess she figures I’m right there should she need me. But as soon she realizes I’m sitting at the desk, she’s right there tugging at my leg — partly because I’m facing away, but probably more because that’s where the _pictures_ are, and if I’m sitting right there, why aren’t we looking at pictures?

I will have to bite the bullet soon. But I never thought I’d think of laptop shopping in terms of bullet-biting.