Saturday, April 15, 2006

1. Company Overviews

From Notebookreview
by Lowlymarine

Another common question is, "Which is better, company X or company Y?" Usually, the answer is "whichever is more cost effective." But it's not very cost effective if your new computer falls apart in a week, is it? So here are brief overviews of the major companies (I define "major" as "has released several models over the last couple of years"):

Acer makes some good budget computers (namely, the Aspire series) and some hideously overpriced "gaming" models (*cough*Ferrari*cough*). If you need a a good business PC on a budget, Acer is definitely the way to go.

Alienware makes ridiculously expensive but equally powerful gaming machines. That's the sole point of buying an Alienware: gaming. And they do excel at that. However, their computers are heavy (as much as 12-15 lbs.) and get almost no battery life due to the use of desktop processors. That's okay; they weren't meant to be taken with you anyways, at usually well over $3000.

Apple makes a variety of user-friendly, well-built, compact computers with a moderate level of performance. It's almost impossible to break one, due to the incredibly simple OS and the nigh-indestructible aluminum casing. They're terrific for first time users and know-it-all geeks alike. The downside? They're quite pricey and will run almost nothing due to the Mac OSX operating system.

ASUS, renowned in the past for initially cheap components (every ASUS component I've owned from before 2003 has broken down or been in dire need of replacement) and later some high-quality motherboards, makes high quality, lightweight, and powerful computers. Of course quality comes at a huge price. ASUS computers tend to be very pricey and are not readily available at retail stores.

AVERATEC makes inexpensive, lightweight computers. The downside is that AVERATECs are poorly constructed and use mainly integrated components. If you need a thin & light to take to school or work, look to AVERATEC. If you want an HD mobile theater or gaming powerhouse, look elsewhere.

Dell offers a wide variety of computers, ranging from very low-end desktops and notebooks to insanely powerful gaming rigs. Not surprisingly, it's these extremes that are the least cost-effective. Their Inspiron 6000 and 9300 series are among some of the most popular notebooks available today. Dells are seemingly very expensive, but be sure to check the coupons at the top of the site; you can get some incredible deals with them.

eMachines makes a few series of notebooks. The M6000 is based on the same blueprint as the popular Gateway 7000 series, but usually has less RAM. They also have a newer M5000 series with Turion and Mobile Sempron processors that can be found at Wal-Marts nationwide. eMachines computers are cost effective performance-wise but poorly constructed. To add insult to injury, their tech support is atrocious.
Note: It would appear eMachines no longer officially acknowledges its notebooks on their website (much as you won't find the 7000 series on Gateway's website). Rest assured, they do exist, and can be found at most major computer retailors.

Falcon Northwest:
Falcon makes computers even more expensive than Alienwares, though they're basically identical on the inside. Where do you pay the difference? Falcon Northwest has better tech support (Alienware is infamous for ignoring you if you have a problem) and does custom paint jobs. For a mere $5000! Wow, the XPS2 is beginning to look like a bargain.

Fujitsu makes powerful, stylish, lightweight, durable, reliable computers that will run forever. Which is good, because once you pay the exorbitant mortgage-your-house price, you'll never be able to afford another computer. They're also extremely hard to get your hands on, especially in the US.

Gateway used to be a very respectable company, with quality made-in-the-USA products. Then they bough eMachines and all of their problems. Now Gateways are shoddily constructed, made in Malaysia, and have zero tech support and warranty behind them. Irregardless, they are very cost-effective computers while they last, especially for a casual gamer or professional-on-the-go. The 7000 series is by far their most popular model, and is available at Best Buy at good prices. Watch out for the 90-day warranty, though.

HP and and it's subsidiary Compaq maintain separate lines of computers, but they're identical except that Compaq's are silver rather than black and usually are cheaper. (Maybe silver is considered a cheaper color.) Anyway you go about it, HPs are fairly powerful and inexpensive, and they'll also run forever ?€“ unless one of the highly-integrated components dies. Then the whole thing is usually shot. Fortunately they come with good warranties and friendly, knowledgeable tech support. Watch out for desktop processors, though, if battery life means anything to you. HPs are very user-friendly and are perfect for the common user, say that aunt or parent that can barely turn one on without a step-by-step guide and a 100-minute call to tech support.

IBM has been in business since the dawn of the computer age, so you'd think they'd know how to build a computer. And that they do ?€“ but not inexpensively. IBMs are reliable and well-built, using top-quality parts, but the standard T series starts at $1299 for a barebones model. Truly powerful ones can quickly reach prices of nearly $3000. To make matters worse, they have recently sold their computer manufacturing division to Chinese company Lenovo. Time will tell if quality declines significantly.

LG, manufacturer of everything from phones to refrigerators to stereos, makes a handful of notebooks. They're high-quality, powerful machines, but they're expensive and almost impossible to get anywhere outside of mythical LG-land. Check eBay.

Medion is a new company, just getting their start in the notebook business. They make very inexpenpensive, light, and decently powerful computers, but the build quality is still questionable. They aren't yet a well-established company, so I'm hesitant to reccomend them, but they seem like a soid choice for those on a tight budget.

Panasonic's Toughbook line is among the most rugged of laptop computers. They're designed for use in extreme environments, with ultra durable cases and water-resistant interioirs. They're an expensive, niche-market product, but worthwhile if you need the endurance.

Sager makes high-end gaming machines that bear striking similarities to those of Alienware and Falcon Northwest, with one major exception: Sagers are much cheaper (and slightly ahead on the technology curve, in some cases). Sager is an established company, noted for quality computers. If you need the jaw-dropping power of an Alienware, but haven't got the jaw-dropping budget to go with it (or even if you do - no one should waste money), give Sager a look.

Sony makes high-quality, lightweight and ultra portable laptops. The VAIO series is powerful and reliable, but comes at a high price. Sony's strong suit is their new ultra portable notebooks, weighing less than 4 pounds and equipped with powerful Centrino processors.

Toshiba used to be the premier source of quality notebook computers with their Satellite series of laptops. In recent years, however, build quality has declined a bit and the internal components have moved more towards integrated ones for cost reasons. No longer cost effective, newer Satellites and the new Qosmo series leave much to be desired.

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