Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Tue 17th Oct, 2006

Notebook hassles and I haven't even got one!

I've realised now that, when it comes to spending money, I'm a coward. Except for brief moments of irrationality (such as buying the Nissan NX, which I did when I was sleep-deprived) and small-purchase madness, I tend to be near paranoid. I check out the options, look around, and read lots of reviews, all in the hope that one product will be obviously superior in price and performance. It doesn't mean I'm well-educated, because anything that gets in my way of evaluating the options in the simplest manner possible is too much like hard work. I end up confused and pick the one that's easiest to buy.

I finally rationalised that I could buy myself a notebook after Steve Walsh pointed out the salary sacrifice options available at ANU. While it still doesn't mean that I necessarily need a notebook, it does mean that I don't have to grab the money from the home loan in one big lump. But do you think there's an easy way to compare the different makes and models of notebook computers? A way to find all the notebooks with various qualifications - e.g. processor, screen dimensions and price range - and compare them? Even when you might only be considering models by one manufacturer?

Bwah-ha-ha-ha-ha! and other side-splitting hilarity.

Most notebook makers assume you know the exact model that you want by an obscure number-and-letter code that is absolutely meaningless to all but the cognoscenti. How is a W7P-v different from an AC6? Who knows! Most notebook makers don't actually sell their wares to you directly, so they don't quote prices at all. Most of them assume you know what their self-imposed categories mean. What's the difference between 'Ultralord' and 'Lightyear' models? We're not going to tell you! In order to compare notebooks, you often have to resort to opening the various pages - or, worse, PDFs - up in separate windows and tabbing between them trying to remember whether it was the PDQ-T or the LV4-M that had the wider screen. Most of them don't tell you their weight except buried in the 'technical specifications'.

Theoretically, you can use sites like ShopBot to find which outlets have which notebooks at which prices. Of course, you can't shop by features, so you have to search for specific model numbers or by general price range and evaluate what you get from there. Then, once you've found a supplier for the notebook you've chosen, you have to actually try to buy it through them, incurring a whole new area of risk. Other, more Linux friendly sites like Emperor Linux are good - as long as you're in the USA, because that's where their notebook come from. Good luck getting support in Australia for that.

So at the moment my leanings are toward Dell. Their range, while not extravagantly large in Australia, still covers most needs. You pick a rough area of utility and then the notebooks are displayed for you, side by side. Once you choose a basic model, you then customise it to your tastes (rather than knowing that, if you did want the 1440x900 screen, that's model number FYT-B - but it doesn't come with Bluetooth). Some things get thrown in for free, seemingly at random, and they have lots of lovely "Free upgrade to 80GB hard disk if you buy within the next 37 minutes!" style push-alongs. But overall, it's absolutely streets ahead of every other notebook manufacturer I looked at - Lenovo, NEC, Toshiba, Acer, ASUS... All of those seem uninterested in making it easy for you to buy the thing; they just want to have a page that the retailers can point at to give the full specs - in other words, making you go through an extra two or three clicks to get enough information to know what you're buying.

Add another note to the great pile of "Good Ideas I'd Make My Fame And Fortune If I Ever Implemented": make a site that allows people to search for notebooks by features and compare them side by side. Include a variety of different manufacturers and an average price (or price range) for each model based on the online stores we're currently monitoring. Allow people to build systems and see what models suit their criteria (or near by it - sometimes you want to know that if you didn't need the Firewire port you could get something $300 cheaper). Also have a model suggestor which leads them through a simple set of questions (e.g. "Which is more important, weight or screen width in inches?"). Finally have links to the Linux On Laptops database to show you what Operating Systems had been tried and tested on your potential purchase.

*sigh*. Too many ideas, not enough time.

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