Where to Buy a New Laptop

Let’s say that you are in the market to buy a new laptop or ultra book to replace that old clunker that you have been suffering with. You want to be able to check out a number of different brands and models, hands on, and you want to see some better quality hardware than you will see at somewhere like Best Buy, Staples, or Office Depot. Where are you supposed to go to do this?

One place that I suggest you check out is the local Microsoft Store. There are 23 locations, soon to be 27 locations around the United States and Puerto Rico. This is a very small number compared to Apple, which has 363 stores worldwide, (according to Wikipedia), but the number is starting to grow a little more quickly, which I think is a good thing. I hate to see Microsoft completely concede the retail and consumer market to Apple without a fight. Having a retail presence, where Microsoft can show off their latest stuff, on good hardware, with a knowledgeable staff to support it seems like a good strategy to me.

Assuming that one of these few Microsoft Stores is close to you, you will find that they carry a pretty decent selection of higher quality laptops and ultra books compared to other brick and mortar stores. All of their machines are configured with Microsoft SIgnature, which means that they do not have any of the standard “bloatware” that you will find when you buy a Windows PC from somewhere else. They also are not covered with stupid product logo stickers, and the display models actually have their battery installed (so you can feel how much they really weigh).  Right now, they have laptops from $499-$1899, but they have quite few models in the $799-$1299 range, many with Intel “Ivy Bridge” processors, SSDs, and greater than 1366 x 768 screen resolution. These are good, mid-range laptops, which are much nicer than the $399-$599 plastic wonders that you will find at Best Buy.

It really pains me to have watched this “race to the bottom” for Windows laptops over the last two-three years. Due to price competition from netbooks a couple of years ago, and more recently from tablets, the Average Selling Price (ASP) for laptops has been steadily going down, leaving very small margins for the system vendors. Because of this, you will find most low-end laptops have terrible quality 1366 x 768 LCD screens, many will have very slow 5400rpm magnetic hard drives, and many will have only 4GB of RAM. They will also be loaded up with performance sapping bloatware, and they will be covered in those annoying product logo stickers (since the system vendors can make some extra money by polluting their systems with that stuff). When questioned about this, the system vendors used to claim that all most of their customers cared about was the price, and that they were willing to live with lower quality components (probably because they did not really know any better). Now, probably because of Apple and its infamous Retina Display, we are beginning to see some of the PC system vendors such as Samsung start to offer a larger selection of better machines that have very nice 1600 x 900 or 1920 x 1080 LCD displays which is a step in the right direction.

If you are in the market for a very high-end mobile workstation, with four memory slots, multiple drive bays, etc., so you can run a complete SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn Availability Group infrastructure on multiple virtual machines, the Microsoft Store is not going to have what you are looking for. You will have to order a beast like that directly from your system vendor of choice. If you are looking for a good quality, mid to upper range machine, the Microsoft Store might have what you are looking for.

If you do not live near a Microsoft Store, another decent brick and mortar alternative is Micro Center, which also has 23 locations.  They carry a pretty wide range of laptops starting from the cheapest netbook to a few big, expensive 17” gaming laptops. Their machines are straight from the system vendor, loaded with all of the standard bloatware, but they do have a wider selection than the typical Best Buy. Their sales people are also more knowledgeable than the kids at Best Buy, but they are equally as aggressive about selling extended warranties. One thing I like to do whenever I am in a Best Buy or in a Micro Center is to listen to some of the tall tales that sales people tell to their credulous customers. It is quite entertaining for me!

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10 Responses to Where to Buy a New Laptop

  1. Chuck Rummel says:

    I did exactly that (visit my local Microsoft Store) almost 2 months ago. Originally I went there just to see a couple items in person. Another benefit they provided was keeping the samples logged in and connected to wifi – with which I did some quick comparison shopping to confirm their sale price for the model I was interested in was actually a pretty good deal. So far I’ve been quite happy with the model I chose, then again upgrading from an almost 5yo laptop (which still works pretty well except for the degraded battery capacity) was guaranteed to be an improvement.

  2. If you are looking to buy a laptop in which you want to “run a complete SQL Server 2012 AlwaysOn Availability Group infrastructure on multiple virtual machines”, is Lenovo ThinkPad W530 a machine you’re interested in?

  3. Pingback: Something for the Weekend - SQL Server Links 13/07/12

  4. cteveret says:

    Glenn – really appreciate your posts on hardware as it relates to DBMS. I’m a big fan of these posts as well as your great diagnostic queries. I, like Marlon, am considering the W530 for the ability to run multiple virtual machines. Two key things I’m wondering is if you think it will be cost effective to buy the w530 from Lenovo with only 1 4Gig DIMM and then upgrade to 16Gig using after market memory and to give up the optical drive (a DVD writer) to get a second HD – 500GB 7200 RPM spinning? Thanks for any thoughts you may have!

    • Glenn Berry says:

      That is a pretty good strategy to save a significant amount of money and have more storage space

    • I admit that the memory upgrade was a mistake :-( I would have saved $200-$300 If I did an after market upgrade (I was just too excited to get W530 to have thought of going down that route I guess).

      I wanted an SSD on both primary bay and ultrabay. I just didn’t have the extra dollars to upgrade to SSD. I got the optical drive for now but I will put an SSD on that later (and also on the primary bay).

      • cteveret says:

        I understand where you are coming from Marlon – I’m itching to get the W530 as well! It is a lot of money though so sounds like putting in the SSD later is the way to go.

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