My Recent Shopping Trip

The Computer Corner
By Charles Miller

Every couple of years I go shopping for a new laptop PC, and that usually tends to come around in November when so many stores have their “Black Friday” sales. This year was time for me to go shopping again, so I thought I would share with readers some of my experiences and observations. I am going to focus here on some of the things that were different from my last buying experience.

The first thing to understand about my shopping trip is that I was looking for a low-end consumer PC laptop. I set my sites on models available for less than US$500 and was pleased to find a reasonably good selection from which to choose.

The most conspicuous change from two years ago is Microsoft Windows version 8. Anyone like me who is looking for Windows 7 is not going to find it available at the big chain stores, however, I did find a selection at MicroCenter. Windows 8 is scheduled to be superseded with a new version in 2015, and that is going to tempt some buyers to wait and see what that is like. Along with Windows 8 comes the need for a touch-screen. There are now many budget-priced laptops with touch-screens, as well as models with screens that fold 180 degrees to be used as a tablet.

Almost all laptops today feature keyboard layouts with a numeric keypad, and that is the last thing I want. I never use those number keys, and having them there makes the keyboard off-center. If your laptop sits on a table this might not be a problem for you, but I spend a lot of time using my laptop (gasp) in my lap, so an important ergonomic consideration is how it fits in my lap.

Optical drives (CD-ROMs and DVD drives) as well as RJ45 Ethernet ports are in the processes of doing a disappearing act. A sizable percentage of the slimmed-down laptop designs omit these, so if you need either you might need to head over to the accessories aisle to get an external CD/DVD writer that can be connected to a USB port or an Ethernet-to-USB dongle. Many users find there is not as much need today for an optical drive because most software is now distributed by download rather than on disks. Lamentably, all of the laptop manufacturers have discontinued providing consumers with a recovery CD that could be used to recover the computer in the event of a major problem. Laptops now rely exclusively on a “recovery partition” on the hard disk to recover from a major problem such as a hard disk failure. This means this recovery partition is subject to the same failure and is sure to leave a lot of buyers with no way to fix their laptop if it breaks down.

A conspicuous difference (to me) is the smooth one-piece bottom of today’s laptops. Gone is the little access door that made it easy to change out the hard disk or memory chips. This is because on some of today’s laptops there is no way to replace or upgrade RAM, so who needs the door? The same goes for the battery, which in some models is no longer a replaceable item. Since most laptop batteries are candidates for replacement after a couple of years, that tells you how long the manufacturer intended for that laptop to last. Lastly, the big chain stores really push buyers to add on pricy antivirus and anti-malware programs that are really unnecessary. Microsoft Windows now includes a highly rated antivirus program that is free, and that is what I use.

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981 and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 044 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8 (at)

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