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Don’t let False Economy spoil your Christmas laptop purchase

November 17th, 2015


I’ve done laptop buying guides before. The last guide showed you what to look for in a new computer, depending on what you needed it for.

Well, in many ways that advice still stands, though the ‘Core’ processors from Intel are now into their 5th generation. The amount of RAM you need hasn’t really changed either, especially as Windows 10 is meant to be friendly to machines with low amounts of RAM (working memory).

The False Technology Economy

As a PC and Mac repair technician, I’ve seen too many examples of customers getting their hands on a ‘bargain’ laptop, only to call me out days later because its “acting up”. I get there, and the laptop is not acting strangely. It’s merely so underpowered that it’s struggling to run two tabs in the web browser and Microsoft Office at the same time.

In my book, I class this as as useless laptop. Truly useless.

And it angers me to see people taken in by these offers. You should see me waving a fist at the PC World adverts (not to mention QVC. Don’t get me started on QVC’s claims).

So here are my pieces of advice on how to avoid dodgy ‘bargains’ on offer on the High Street.

Pay the right price

Cheap laptops at under £200 are becoming more common. Look at this HP Stream laptop from PC World. It looks like a bargain, and it’s a pretty blue colour to boot.

DollarBut look more closely at the specifications, and you’ll see it’s running a Celeron processor with 2GB RAM. The Celeron range is Intel’s budget one, and blimey, does it show. When I’m called to repair a Celeron processor, I know I’ll be spending the next hour mostly waiting for it to catch up with my keyboard taps. It might run fine when you take it out of the box on Christmas morning, but a couple of Windows Updates later and you’ll be ready to throw the thing out a second storey window. Also watch out for Atom processors. They have their place, but are generally best avoided for your main computer.

And as for 2GB RAM – yes, Windows will run on that thing, but you won’t be checking Twitter while you watch iPlayer. And with a piddly 32 GB hard drive it’s clear they’re trying to drive you towards using Microsoft’s OneCloud online storage, which you gotta pay for monthly!

And don’t fool yourself that it’ll be suitable for ‘gran’ or ‘the kids’. It really won’t be. In laptop land, you really do get what you pay for. Spend at least £350 if you want  laptop that will last.

Don’t buy a tablet when you need a laptop

Loads of people are considering the move from a laptop or desktop computer to a tablet. They’re more portable, slimmer, lighter and cheaper.

But will they do what you want?

Again, if you are really keen on replacing all your PCs and laptops with a tablet, ask yourself:

  • Will the screen be big enough?
  • Do you need Microsoft Office?
  • Do you do many things at once?

Tablets which run Apple’s iOS or Google’s Android system often make mult-tasking complicated, and can’t run standard Microsoft Office software. And if you’re buying a Windows tablet, the rules from the previous section apply. If you buy a £90 Windows 10 tablet don’t be surprised if you need a replacement in 6 months.

The quick way to answer your tablet query is: if you’re phone had a much bigger screen, could you do all your computing on it?

Thought not.


Chromebooks are a class of low powered laptop made by Google and its partners. Like the HP Stream I linked to above, it’s designed to do little but get you online. And again, it’s an attractively cheap option.

Some Chromebooks are pretty powerful, but the problem with all of them is the software. I’ve been called to customers trying to link their new Chromebook to their printer, and I’ve had to tell them it’s impossible. You can connect some printers, but you have to do your research first.

And you can’t run software designed for Windows, such as Office (though there is a reduced online version), Photoshop, Firefox etc.

Treat a Chromebook like a phone: if you can do it on your phone, you can probably do it on a Chromebook, but little more.

Free McAfee Antivirus

Set up a New ComputerFor the love of all that is good and right in the world, do not let anyone put McAfee products on your computer. You will be calling me in January and begging me to tell you what is wrong with your computer. McAfee will be what is wrong.

[If you don’t mind swearing and other Not Safe For Work content, then you can find out what John McAfee, founder but no longer with the company, thinks of the product that carries his name on his YouTube rant.]

Shops must get commission for installing this, as no one in their right mind ever recommends it. It will bring your PC to its knees, especially if it’s a cheap one.

The same goes for other shop-installed antivirus products: just say no. Buy Kaspersky Antivirus or Internet Security, and feel safe and smug.

How to get a bargain laptop

So keep an eye out this Christmas. If you think you’re getting a bargain, it’s probably too good to be true. Follow these simple rules:

  1. Do spend as much as you can. A laptop needs to cost at least £350 to have a chance of being useful. A tablet should cost at least £220.
  2. Do buy a laptop, not a tablet, if you need a proper computer.
  3. Don’t buy a Chromebook as your main computer. You will be disappointed.
  4. Don’t accept anti-virus software from the place you buy the computer. Shop around and get something like Kaspersky or Avast Free Edition.

And if you need any more shopping advice, just give me a call and I’ll be happy to answer any questions.

Or if you’ve fallen for the False Tech Economy, and your new computer’s more of a turkey than the bird on the Christmas dinner table, give Ship Shape a chance to see if something can be done to help.

Image: Sinclair 48K ZX Spectrum computer (1982) by Bill Bertram, released under a Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons license.

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