Laptop Funeral

My laptop saga is almost at the point of closure. I didn’t bother mentioning the latest trip to Best Buy for service. I picked up the Toshiba from the previous round of repairs on March 6 and installed a few essential apps via download almost immediately, but didn’t get around to installing any of the programs I normally travel with until preparing to leave for Portland on March 14. At that point, I found out the $330 replacement DVD drive didn’t work any better than its predecessor. Most CDs placed in the drive did nothing at all. The few that attempted to work would quit part way through install operations or error out while browsing in Windows Explorer, which probably has something to do with a bad connection somewhere between the drive and the motherboard. One of the USB connections seemed to be flaking too. I went with a much leaner set of applications on the Portland trip and returned the laptop to Best Buy on March 17.
For those keeping score, this would be the fourth trip for repairs, which by Best Buy repair standards qualifies the laptop as a lemon. A few days waiting for confirmation from lemon qualifying school and I found myself making lemonade as I sifted through the available options for a replacement. The brand options at Best Buy retail outlets are limited to Gateway, Sony, Toshiba and the HP/Compaq duo (which are sort of the same but different). After plenty of problems with the Toshiba and word about a class action settlement for a different Toshiba model with heat issues, I didn’t want to trade for a new set of problems. I opted to try my luck with a different brand.
In addition to all the various component failures, the old Toshiba unit was a beast, weighing in at just over 8 pounds. Heavier units allow for things like large screens, faster processors and more features, which may also be part of what made my laptop prone to failure; more components mean more potential points for failure. Lighter weight eliminates a few options, but it also seems like a smart strategy for traveling. During the New York trip at the beginning of the month, I placed my backpack on the airport scales and discovered I was toting almost 20 pounds of stuff, which included the Fujitsu Tablet PC. Had I weighed in with the Toshiba, the total might have been 25 pounds.
This time, I’m giving HP a shot. I used an entry level HP laptop for about two weeks in November with reasonable success. My only complaints about that model were lack of widescreen and maximum resolution of 1024×768 (which are vital to my email consumption strategy). HP puts the Windows key where it belongs which is more important on a laptop to avoid hassling with the mouse trackpad.
Based on all available models at Best Buy, the Pavilion dv1000 won my vote for a variety of reasons. It weighs 5.5 pounds, approximately 3 pounds less than the Toshiba it replaces. The replacement option allowed me to find something with similar specs for $1999 or less. Since the purchase of that laptop things changed enough that nothing matched the specs exactly. My alternative was to choose a laptop and either eat the difference in price between a cheaper model and what I paid or pay extra if I went over budget. I clocked in at $2017 with the fully configured dv1000, which means I ended up paying $18 for what I’m sure will be a more reliable unit.
The processor is a 1.7GHz Centrino, which won’t be as speedy as the 2.4GHz P4 in the Toshiba, but should avoid some of the heat issues plaguing parts of the Toshiba product line (I have no proof, but am suspicious some of my issues may have been heat-related). The DVD burner in the dv1000 burns at 8x compared to the 4x of the Toshiba. Both have 60GB drives. WiFi receives a minor upgrade between the units, moving from 802.11b only to 802.11b/g combo with Bluetooth. A 14″ BrightView widescreen is slightly smaller than the 15.4″ widescreen on the Toshiba, but the 1280×768 max resolution is the same. The biggest change is 2GB of RAM, which should help with my tendency to open massive video and audio files. I also get a second battery, which will add some weight if I carry it with me, but might be worth having for some situations.
One of the more interesting features of the dv1000 series is the ability to play DVD movies without booting Windows, which is particularly useful for watching movies on airplanes or in other situations where battery power is a priority and boot time needs to be minimal. Smart thinking on HPs part, in my opinion; more vendors should adopt this technology.
This is a custom unit that’s ordered to spec, so I won’t see it for about 2 weeks, but at least there’s a good chance I won’t be seeing the same problems crop up repeatedly due to a faulty system. One thing I learned about the Best Buy replacement plan is once the replacement is made the product replacement plan draws to a close. I did opt for the product replacement on this new laptop because after my previous experience, I’m not confident that I won’t need it again. For most products, I’d be inclined to pass, the risk of something failing, compared to the cost of the replacement plan, makes the plans seem silly. But for laptops, where everything tends to be onboard and closely linked, if one thing fails, chances are reasonably likely that something else may fail in the future. While I certainly feel like I got my $250 worth on the previous replacement plan, I’m hopeful that this new plan provides me nothing more than piece of mind.