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Confessions of a computer snob


I'm writing this on my mother-in-law's new laptop.  It is a Compaq system running Windows Vista Home Premium.  The laptop is rather run-of-the-mill.  An AMD Sempron with 1GB of RAM, 120GB HD, a DVDRW, decent integrated Nvidia graphics, and a lovely 15" 1280x800 screen.  The most remarkable thing about this system is the price:  It was $449CDN.  After taxes it was $512.  Quite a contrast to the floor-model MacBook I'd picked up a week before.  It had half the RAM, half the disk space, a smaller screen and cost my $850CDN.  To this, I've added a $200 warranty, $120 worth of RAM and will likely throw another $200 at a bigger hard drive.  Despite this, it was the better option for me.

I'd like to thank my sister for pointing out the $449 Compaq.  Not that I would buy it, not that I regret my MacBook purchase, but because it pointed out a sad fact:  I've become a computer snob.  I work in the CS department at Queen's.  As a result, I see the best of the best.  The newest, the smallest, the biggest systems all the time.  For me, the size of the Compaq, the build quality of it, the layout of the keyboard, all of these things rule it out for me.  When it comes to computers, I've only been buying ThinkPads and Macs.  Why?  The Macs are elegant and of extremely high quality and the ThinkPads are tanks that run Linux beautifully.

When my sister, who had been in the market for a laptop for a while, pointed out the Compaq I realized that I was projecting my requirements on her.  Frankly, the $500 Compaq is a hell of a deal and is good enough for most people.  Yes, I find it too noisy, the battery too weak, the size too large, but it turns out that most people don't care about this.  In fact, not everyone wants elegance or a tank.  In fact, lots of people only want a computer that can surf the web, play YouTube and music, lets them get their homework done, and plays back DVDs.  You know what?  If this is what you're looking for, you're not going to do better than this $449 wonder.

I maintain that the MacBook is competitively priced for the money and that if you compare it feature-to-feature with other laptops it fares quite well.  However, it isn't a low-end machine and there are cheaper, better options for people who don't care about Bluetooth, webcams, FireWire and the slickest user experience out there.  Not everyone wants something as small as a 13.3" laptop, lots of people would rather have a 15" screen with the same resolution as my 13" screen, and very few people want to shell out $2000+ for a 15" MacBook Pro.  (Myself included.)

Now, to the point of this little blurb:  Computer People of the world:  Don't let your requirements colour your judgement.  People ask me for advice on what to buy all of the time.  It turns out that, by not keeping my options open, I was doing a disservice to my sister and possibly to other people that ask my opinion.  It turns out that my advice to get an off-lease ThinkPad over a low-end new laptop maybe wasn't the best advice for everyone.  In fact, even though Vista grates on my sensibilities, it runs pretty well on this $449 laptop.  Moreover, my sister seems to quite like it.  So thanks, Gal.