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Notebook Computers: IBM, Dell, Sony, Gateway, or Compaq?

I'm planning to buy a notebook computer for both study and entertainment.
any suggestions on brands and models?

my budget size is around $3000.

a lot of people suggested IBM for its performance, reliability, academic support, etc.

an equal number of people suggested Dell and said Dell is the best brand for Intel processors.

I like Sony Vaio for its shape and look, but not sure if they perform equally well with the same configurations as an IBM or Dell.

Gateway and Compaq have a lot of cheap and good stuff and usually offer a better price with identical configurations, but I'm not sure if they perform as good as the rest, and it looks to me that Dell has the best post-sale services (as advertised - not sure about the reality).

any suggestions on the processors? which is best? Pentium 4 (with or without HT)? Pentium M? Athlon XP mobile?

at the same time, some people suggested me to buy a dual-mode notebook - a tablet PC with a docking station. would that be good? which way is better, notebook PC or tablet PC?
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3 Solutions
I have had a Gateway 600yg2 for about a year and a half with 64mb radeon 60gb hdd cdrw\dvd combo 512 mb ram adn ahve no problems with it at all great performance for the price.

and gateway offered me a "accidental damage warranty"
for not a lot more it covers breakage of the lcd or entire system if it were say dropped or liquid spilled into it. no of the other vendors offered this at the time i ordered it.
Sony Vaio's have amazing screens, nice and crisp, performance is sub-par compared to IBM and Dell in my opinion.

IBM is apparently the pinnacle of performance, though I've ran only on a T42 which was okay and was better suited with the Dell notebooks.

Dell is probably the most scalable computer and if you have a budget of $3000 you can easily get the top of the line maxed out Dell (Latitude, Inspiron or whatever).

Compaq and Gateway aren't necessarily sub-par notebooks per se, but if you want performance and service look for the IBMs and Dells.

On the other hand, like you said tablet PC combos are kind of cool now. If you can, go mess with a tablet first, then decide to buy it if you like it. You want to try it first if you're going to spend $3000.
Oh yea, battery life = mobile processors Pentium M's 2.0GHz. Athlon XP has this nice feature that underclocks it for you when you unplug it (well it is kind of a double-edged sword, it sucks too because it cuts performance in half, but it does save battery life). But since you have quite a budget, just buy a system with two batteries and buy a few backup batteries hehe. If you get the Pentium 4s then you're just looking to eat up battery life.
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Dell also offers accidental damage protection, it's called "completecare"...don't buy a notebook without it.
That question is going to be hugh. There are many many many opinions about that and I'm afraid to say it but, It all depends on what you want to do , any brand should be fine as long as you check into the specs and they support what you wish to do.  I would highly recommend researching the warranty on those brands before beggning to even worry about the rest.  I would say if you found a PC with the specs you'd like with a great warranty , go for it. Warranty is what makes it worth it.

<<any suggestions on the processors? which is best? Pentium 4 (with or without HT)? Pentium M? Athlon XP mobile?>>

There are low voltage P4's (I forget the name) that allow the laptop to have a better battery life and run cooler.  I'd look into that if I were you as far as CPU goes.
I have used a dell P100 laptop since 1996 or 1997.  It is still working and going strong.

It is not as speedy as anything out there now of course, it is regulated to running a program 24/7 in my basement but is still happily chugging along.

I've used Dells since 1996 and have never had a real problem that Dell was not able to fix within a day.

At one point I was ordering 600+ pc's a year for the company I worked for.  So many each year all without problems.

I just ordered a new server 10 min ago  :)
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Everyone has personal experiences with the companies you mentioned - some will be very pro, some very con.  Ultimately, you have to realize that EVERY PC maker is going to have a failure rate.  And it just may be that you're the unlucky one who gets the bad notebook from the otherwise most/best recommended company.  Doesn't mean they make a bad product.

In my opinion, you need to consider these factors:
1.  Warranty - Get a MINIMUM of 3 years - AND accidental damage insurance of some form - notebooks tend to be highly specialized devices.  DVD/CD-ROM/Writers drives have gotton almost generic for them, as have hard drives and RAM.  But everything else is usally pretty propriety.  If something goes wrong, you want it replaced by the manufacturer ASAP, not having to spend hundreds of dollars fixing it yourself or by calling a computer tech or bringing it to your local compusa.
2.  Support Reputation - You don't want to be waiting on hold for 2 hours before someone picks up and then spend another hour trying to convince them the screen really is damaged when there's a pen sticking through it (extreme example, but hopefully, you get the point).
3.  Name Brand - What good's the 3 year warranty if Azuza Notebooks and Tire manufacturer goes out of business in 3 months?  Stick with the name brands, Dell, Toshiba, Compaq/HP, IBM, Sony, Fujitsu, Gateway (I'd be a little wary of gateway right now - their financials haven't been so great in the past few years and all you need to hear is "accounting scandal" and you're screwed.

Now, my take on the brands:

Toshiba - haven't had much experience with them or their support - can't really say good things or bad.  Last I heard - which was a few years ago - contacting support was a pain.
Dell - Cheapest major brand when you compare all the features of what you are gettinig and what others offer.  Maybe on occasion this proves false, but generally, it's hard to overpay (on the whole) when buying a Dell.  Good support (used to be great).  EXCELLENT turn-around time - even with return to depot service, I've never had to wait more than 48 hours for my notebooks to be repaired (I've had 2 dells and used to work as a Tech working with MANY of them).
Compaq/HP - Don't like them.  Whenever I've had to deal with Compaq/HP regarding their computers, if I'm not running the EXACT SAME CONFIG as I was when I bought the machine, they want me to reset it to factory defaults and see if the problem still exists.  AWFUL.  The generic user out there will loose all their data and, for example, if you buy a Compaq now and in a year Microsoft releases Windows XP New Edition (or whatever they call it), Compaq will likely refuse to help you unless you restore your system to XP.  (Now, maybe that's changed in the last 18 months or so - but that's how it used to be - and for a long time.  Trying to get them to provide drivers or other info on their hardware if the hardware was sold running the specific OS was impossible.
IBM - GREAT reputation.  Great products.  AWFUL price.  That's the only downside to me.  Of course, if you're willing to spend $3000 on a notebook, then most IBMs are within your price range, so go for it.
Sony - Three things - 1 - I hate the keyboard layout, especially, the CTRL, Shift, and ALT key locations on the right side of the keyboard (test it at a store before you buy it).  2 - 90 day warranty - UNLESS you REMEMBER to register the computer with SONY.  AWEFUL practice.  3 - Support sucks - I had to return a notebook to them for repair and it took 3 days to convince them it needed to be sent in, then a MONTH to get it repaired and sent back to me.  They do have nice multimedia capabilities... but hardly worth the headaches they otherwise give.
Fujitsu - haven't dealt with them much.  Know a guy with one and he likes it... can't say much more about the company/support.
Gateway - Used to be very good.  Then they declined.  Now?  Don't know - the decline turned me off to them.  Dell used to be SUPERB.  Now dell is probably the way gateway used to in terms of being very good.  

And for those who say, I've had three gateways/sonys/compaqs/etc and they are fantastic - I say, sure.  Just as I said before everyone has a failure rate.  No one's failure rate is 50% though, so it's not shocking if you got a decent system several times in a row from a company I otherwise don't like...
freshairAuthor Commented:
any other suggestions? is there anywhere I can find a lot of reviews for various brands?
I agree almost hundred percent with the last comment. Have had similar experiances.
Do know that Toshiba has awful support but they are used in high schools
with laptop programs because they are hardy machines-by laptop standards.
But mostly....start with the warranty..it is essential for a laptop. Onsite is the best
and if you are using it for study, you can't afford to waste time waiting for things to be fixed etc.

For a truly unbiased review, try subscribing to a non-commercial consumer magazine such as Which magazine in the UK
The contents of the report at this link is listed as follows:
"An easy-to-understand glossary of the jargon
What you'll need to consider in terms of processor, weight, screen size, servicing and hard disk space
Recommendations of laptops for the budget buyer
Models to suit those looking for a replacement for their desktop PC
Best Buys if you need an ultra portable laptop
And our verdict on laptops from Toshiba, Sony, IBM, Apple, Dell, Evesham, HP and Fujitsu"

Maybe this is what you need? Also look up the US equivalent. Not sure what it is.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
US Equivalent would probably be Consumer's Union/Consumer Reports (non-profit org/publication). http://www.consumerreports.org/main/home.jsp?bhfv=7&bhqs=1
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Sorry, didn't previously address the tablet question.  Honestly, can't say much about them - I'd like to get one myself, but I've been told by a couple of colleagues that they don't work nearly as well as the manufacturers and Microsoft would like you to believe (the handwriting recognition part).  I'd say, if you can, go down to a local store and check them out.  See if they are something you might find useful and effective (my info, incidently, on the abilities of tablets is about 1.5 years old).
freshairAuthor Commented:
I'm narrowing it down to Dell, IBM, and Sony, and going to get a notebook PC.
I'll use it for school, work, and entertainment.
both computing and multimedia operations are going to be intensive, and reliability is also important.
I'd prefer one with a big screen and a lot of peripheral ports but still light.
battery life doesn't matter - I plan to have at least 2 good batteries and mostly plug it when in use.
any suggestions? what brand and model would be a nice choice?
I put my money on a Dell, They have the best customer support.
compaq is the best. I use their latest R3050 series laptop and its excellent.
Well I'll warn you not to go with an IBM   all the ones i've worked with are poorly constructed.

My personal preference is Toshiba.  I have yet to every have a problem with a toshiba laptop and i have bouth 10 of them for my office already adn they get drug around everywhere and banged around.  Its the only laptop I would  consider now.

P25  if you want something powerful and expandable this is probably a very good choice  large screen P4 with HT
freshairAuthor Commented:
a bit too heavy. any light & good ones? I want a poweful notebook PC that can do massive processing and IO, but still very light and has a large screen. maybe none of the any model under 4 lbs might fit this requirement, but at least less than 7 lbs. the 10-lb toshiba is too heavy. I'm a tiny little girl though :-> ^_^;;
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
In my last employer, being with them for 9.5 years and leaving this past summer, we had several dozen IBM notebooks and rarely a complaint.  Most sales people I spoke with in person or at seminars were using either IBM or Dell.  I have very little experience with Toshiba products but have heard their support is HORRIBLE (although again, dated info).  Even IF my experiences were different and they are constructed poorly, that's why you get the 3 year warranty - they then fix it for you.

If you go to IBM, they have a nice little "Notebook Finder" that lets you narrow down your choices based on what you want in the notebook - including weight and screen size.  Though it's important to note: Screen size is relative.  If you don't mind "small text", then you could get a HIGH RES low size screen.

Here's the IBM Notebook finder:

Here' a page for selecting a Dell Laptop:

I would suggest the 600m or the 700m as they are both under 5lbs (base weight).  The 8600 is heavier, but with larger screens.
freshairAuthor Commented:
most people recommend either Dell or IBM, but I haven't been touching them and playing with them yet. I played with Sony, Toshiba, HP, Compaq, Gateway, etc. and it turns out Sony looks and feels cuties :)

so how is Dell and IBM? are they very fast and reliable, and looks/feels cool also? could someone point out some stores to look into? I live in New York City.
Lee W, MVPTechnology and Business Process AdvisorCommented:
Dell generally only sells direct.  But you should be able to do downtown to J&R Electronics  - I believe they have IBMs.  For Dells, your best bet is to find some people with them and have a look.  You can also call Dell (visit the website for their number) they might be able to suggest a place where you can demo their notebooks.  In some states (NY is not one) they have kiosks in malls where you can see their products.
freshairAuthor Commented:
oops hahaha!!!

actually i still didn't buy one yet. but thanks a lot for all the useful information.

~ freshair

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