Those Tricky PC makers (a hunt for a laptop)

I'm in the market for a decent Windows 7 laptop. We're getting enough Win7-related f.lux bugs that I want a machine that works to test and develop on. I'm mostly using XP now, and have a junky Win7 Best Buy Special laptop I got for $400. It wasn't worth it.

After a ton of shopping, I realized what everyone else has realized: probably the best PC laptop on the market is called a "Macbook". I had to think for a minute about why I will spend $1700 on a Mac laptop, and I'll hesitate whenever a PC laptop costs over $1100.

This $1100 effect...I wanted to put it into words, and I figured out what it was: "They're trying to trick me." If you pay the PC makers more money, they give you more junk. They have no taste and no guide for quality.

Lenovo thinks they can put a screen in their expensive T410 business laptop that has a backlight so dim that you can barely use it in a bright room. Their users complain for years, but they don't make a better one (except on their enormous models). The Macbook's is 2x brighter. The Macbook Air's is 2x brighter. Lenovo's has a contrast ratio a ton worse than my 1998 Dell (that's 1/6 the contrast of a Macbook). The display on my thinkpad inverts intensities if you tilt it upwards by 40 degrees. And their mouse/trackpoint thing has worse drivers now, after 15 years of being great. It's worse than Windows 3.1 again.

HP makes a super-high-end machine called the "envy", and then crams it with crapware, and makes trackpad drivers that are almost unusable. And then to make me extra-happy, kills their highest-end screen, to replace it with a lower-resolution one with worse specs. But the retail price is a bit lower.

Dell still has some of the same designs from 1998 (including the keyboard and battery life). I'm scared of their awful keyboards, or I'd spend more time looking.

Norton. McAfee. TRIAL. Slow.

And so literally, 10 years of shaving $5 here and there, and there's no PC laptop that has a moderate weight, a great screen, a ton of battery life, and doesn't ship with software you don't want. I actually miss spending $2500 on a laptop that tried to get some of this right. Because there is just no way to do it.

You can buy a 17" Desktop Replacement that has a pretty good screen and has 45 minutes of battery life. Or a Sony. Maybe a Sony.

Better screens cost more. So, no PC maker is willing to ship them, even as an option. Unless you're talking about a really heavy big model where battery life doesn't matter.

But the most interesting thing is that I can at least quantify my own Apple Effect.

I will pay 50% more if you don't trick me: if you have a product line that consistently gets better as I pay more, not just heavier. Battery life should get longer, screens should get better, in resolution and quality, and you should have some sense about why a laptop shouldn't have a full-size keypad and weigh 14 pounds. I don't want 8 cores or a 60W video card. But I do want a decent display and a great keyboard.

And you shouldn't ship anything, ever, with "trackpad gestures" that don't work.

The road to a good product cannot be about squeezing costs without actual engineering. It doesn't mean making make-believe "Adamos" and "Envys" that still have the same problems as the lower-end models, but nicer cases. It means a core promise: we are not going to trick you. We care about making the best thing we know how to, and we'll give you some cheaper options if you want that.

I would love to see a PC OEM say, "This model is $100 off because we filled your computer with craplets." Because that's why you're getting a deal. But on the high-end model, why?

Or "$50 cheaper because this screen can't be viewed at all if you tilt your monitor 20 degrees too far."

Or "Congratulations! You've saved $10 on a keyboard that sways around as you type!"

Or, if there were a retail presence for PCs that cost more than $600...then I could just look for myself. But retail is something only Apple is doing well, too.

I know everyone wants a useful computer for $400. But where is the one that lets you get actual work done?


  1. I'm very happy with my X201. $853 after tax and shipping.

  2. I wish that Apple's Windows drivers were better. The trackpad isn't awful in Windows but it's not very good. It is very much worse than the way it behaves in OSX.

    If this is the pinnacle of my complaints, though, I count myself content with the MacBook. I do not think I overspent for it.

  3. HP EliteBooks are pretty expensive (mostly for military grade durability), but highly usable.

    I personally use Sony VAIO FW490 for production. The thing boasts P8900 CPU, 1GB video card, actually beautiful full hd display and awesome keyboard.

    Pretty much like this from here

  4. Acer makes good laptops that fit all the needs you specified except battery life -- and you can find nice deals for them. However, I stay with my macbook.

  5. Seconding the Acer suggestion. I got a great one that I use for gaming for ~$800 off of Newegg, and while it was kind of glitchy (the display would freeze up), a quick BIOS update fixed the problem and it's been perfect ever since.

  6. You haven't tried a Panasonic toughbook CF-F9 or F-10. It's an indestructable macbook air. 100% made in japan, 3 year warranty to boot. It's badass. I hope Panasonic doesn't stop manufacturing them. They are primarily sold to businesses and don't come with the crapware