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Becoming A MacBook User

After 25 years of system crashes, dozens of laptops failing under warranty, months of lost productivity in patches, system reboots, and restores I have finally had enough.    You might call it being stubborn.   I call it 25 years of retained knowledge that I refused to let go.   All the Windows shortcuts.  The black magic required to find system files and bend them to my needs.   Navigating system security.   Knowing nearly any app that existed so I could find the right tool for the job.

Then came Windows 8.   Half of that knowledge was now useless.    Even the decades-old F8 key press on system boot to get to safe mode to recover a broken PC was gone.   I learned that last week when my HP laptop went AWOL for the FIFTH TIME since December.    A $2500 high-end enterprise class HP laptop turn out to have been my second all-time productivity killer right behind my $3800 Asus top-of-the-line gaming laptop I bought a few years ago.    Lesson learned: It doesn’t matter how much you spend on a Windows Laptop it will break and the more costly it is the longer it takes to get parts to fix it.

The Camel Surrenders

This weekend was the last straw.    I literally spent nearly every hour of the past 4 days trying to get my primary development system, that HP laptop, back online.    What did I do to break it?   Installed a CRITICAL HP security update from their laptop-specific HP Support Assistant software.    When it rebooted the only thing I got was the Windows 8.1 version of the “Blue Screen of Death” (BSOD)… the inevitable frowny-face which means 2 more auto-reboots to end up at the “Restore Your System” state.    Sadly system restore, system fresh, and even the Factory Restore Disk applications did not work.    That last one, Factory Reset was the best.  The ONE application that is the “nuke it all, restore the system to Day 1 status” did not work.   It could not run because there was a problem with the primary Windows installation.  AWESOME.   Why do you think I wanted to do a Factory Restore?  Because I was bored?  Because I had so much fun installing 5 days of downloaded apps to get my system setup the first time around?    Because I’m a glutton for punishment.

Windows 8 Frowny Face
Windows 8. Yup, 🙁 just about sums it up.

Well, that last statement may be true given my opening remarks in this article… but I digress…

I had now added SIX MORE FULL DAYS of lost productivity to my lifelong count of 1,356.9 days lost trying to restart a broken windows PC.

Midway through day FOUR of lost productivity I had enough.    I called the local Apple Store to see if they had the newest MacBook Pro available.   Sadly they were out of stock, but my favorite online shopping site, Amazon and their Smile charity program, had the laptop I wanted and at a LOWER PRICE even after the $5 overnight Prime shipping!

New Toys

Today the MacBook Pro arrived.

My old HP laptop, that sat their in defiance all weekend with that damned frowny-face on EVERY ONE of the 18 RESTARTS, I wish I was exaggerating, booted up like nothing was ever wrong literally 90 SECONDS after I opened that MacBook Pro box.    I swear I heard a wav file playing from it’s speakers in  whispered-voice that sounded an awful lot like “Oh shit, he wasn’t kidding when he said 25 years of Windows was enough!”.

MacBook Arrives And HP Plays Nice
As soon as I booted up the MacBook and took the HP out to take some size-comparison pics the HP decide to play nice. Too little, too late HP-Z. It was real… and by that I mean a real PITA.

The Apple Package

My brand new MacBook Pro 15″ laptop.    I had forgotten the great job Apple does packing their products.   I remember being impressed the first time I opened my first-generation iPhone some years ago.  I did notice other companies started to copy the “Apple style” for gadgets-in-a-box and I thought the most recent laptops and phones I got from other brands were “just like what Apple was doing”.   Turns out Apple has pushed the envelope even further as they continue to refine the product packaging.    Yes, it is a small thing, but it show how Apple seems to iterate over every element of the customer experience until it is perfect; until tomorrow when they come up with something better.

Apple Packaging
Apple packaging is clean & simple. Others try to mimic but Apple just has that little-something extra.

A Laptop For Laps

Immediately I noticed how THIN this new Apple laptop was.   It has just about the same technical specifications as the HP ZBook 17″ I’ve been lugging around.     Nearly identical processors,  identical RAM, the same video ports, and a 512GB SSD drive (far faster) on the MacBook versus a 768GB SATA on the HP.   The MacBook screen is a touch smaller at 15.4″ to the HP 17″.    But DAMN is this Apple machine so, so, so much smaller and lighter and easier to tote around than that HP.    Even bringing the HP into the living room to hack around was a chore and after 15 minutes on my lap I could feel my legs going numb from the weight and the heat that thing throws off.

Lightweight MacBook Pro versus Heavyweight HP
This MacBook Pro is going to be SOOOOO much nicer to haul around. A true portable PC. It’s been a while. I’m looking forward to it. Come to think of it I just decided I want to travel more…

This Apple is going to be FAR easier to travel with this fall.     I’m going to truly enjoy how much less size and weight I carry around both around town and to the various conferences I hope to get to around the country this year.

External Displays

I must say that the Windows display system is far more flexible than the OS/X system.   However the OS/X display system in this MacBook actually WORKS right out of the box.     Within minutes I had 2 external HP ZR2440W monitors, which are really nice monitors by the way, connected with the proper resolution and display placement.   What did I have to do to get my 3-up display system working on the new MacBook?  Plug them in.    That’s it.    Nothing more.

On that high-end HP laptop that claims “out of the box support for 5 monitors”?   Turns out that is a lie.   It can handle 3 monitors.   Even with the “simple” 2 external monitors + the laptop display, same setup as my new MacBook, it was far from “plug-and-play”.    I had to download and install a new BIOS on the brand new HP laptop.   Then I had to install a new Video BIOS.   Then I had to install new drivers.  Upgrade Windows.   The entire process required 3 reboots and even then it did not work properly.  Any time the system went into sleep mode one of the  monitors, a random one each time, would not come back.    I got a patch from HP 2 months later for that, which required another download and reboot process.

3 Displays No Problem
3 Displays. No driver installs. No BIOS updates. No reboots. Winner? Apple by a mile.

The Out Of The Box Display Support winner is the MacBook Pro 15″ by a mile.

The next display test?   Connecting THREE external IPS displays to the MacBook.   Rumor has it this is “no problem” according to the Apple Store.   When my mini-displayport to display port cable comes in later this week I’ll let you know, but we’re off to a good start.

External USB Ports

The MacBook Pro is a bit shy on USB ports.   It has a couple, but that’s one less than I need and one less than my HP laptop.     Actually 5 less if you count the HP docking station but I’m sure I can buy a $300 Apple accessory that adds more ports if needed.     Instead I tried to do something that NEVER WORKED properly on the HP laptop; use the 4 USB ports that come with EACH ZR2440W monitor.

With my older HP laptop I went through over a DOZEN USB driver updates, monitor driver updates, and even had a full monitor replaced before I could get even HALF the USB ports working that are built into the displays.    Supposedly you can connect a USB cable from the laptop to the monitor and immediately have all 4 ports recognized by the USB bus.    The high-end HP enterprise-class laptop connected to a high-end HP enterprise monitor was a bust.     When the ports did work only half would work properly and any device attached would drop off the USB bus at random intervals.    I could never use my keyboard or mouse with that setup.   I had to buy that HP docking station to give my system 4 additional STABLE USB ports.  The ports in the monitors were useless.

With the MacBook Pro I decided to give it another shot.  I connected a port on the laptop to one of the monitor ports.   I connected my keyboard, Logitech unify dongle, and Wacom table dongle to the monitor.     Everything worked beautifully, perfectly, and with ZERO configuration on my part.     I’ve now written this entire article without a single dropout from the keyboard or mouse.

External USB device support winner?  Apple.  By a mile.

Getting My Stuff

Over the past few days I’ve had my development environment scattered between the Mac Mini, a broken HP laptop, and some USB drives.   Now I need to get tens-of-gigabytes of files, install packages, and data over to my new laptop.

Getting ANYTHING on Windows 8.1 to talk to anything else is a disaster.    It has been since all the way back to Windows 7 when NT server-class security technology crept into the desktop OS.    Getting any Windows PC to share anything is an exercise in patience.    That is why the entire hokey “Homegroup” sharing thing came about.   It work, but it is SLOWWWW.   Somehow Windows managed to find a way to throttle their own Windows-To-Windows network transfers with some fancy restart-where-you-left-off transfer protocol.  The entire thing is FUBAR.

On the MacBook Pro I found that getting anything from my Mac Mini was blissfully easy.    HOLY SHIT why can’t Microsoft make it this easy.     On the MacBook I went to Finder and immediately found my MacBook mini (where I had turned on File Sharing from System Preferences early in the week by checking a box… no driver or security configurations needed).    Click on that MacBook Mini listing and it asks for my username and password on that system.    I turn it on and guess what?   All my shit is there.    Quick, easy, and accessible.

Installing Sonos From Remote Mac
Honestly, I never expected it to work. I guess that is the norm for a shell-shocked Windows user, but installing things from my older Mac Mini downloads folder was quick and painless.

So what did I try next? Something super crazy that just NEVER WORKS RIGHT on Windows systems.   I decided to run the Oracle VirtualBox and Karabiner installs from off that Mac Mini without copying the files over to my MacBook Pro first.    It ran fast as heck and perfectly, just as if I had run it from the local disk.     HOLY CRAP.   I though for sure it would barf all over itself and require a system reboot and restore like so many remote Windows installs I tried over the past 25 years.

Bluetooth Sharing

This is something I tried to do for months with the HP laptop, and several other PCs before that.   Send a file using bluetooth from my Android phone to the laptop.    On the HP I could get the devices paired and the send/accept file started but it NEVER finished the transfer.  It always aborted no matter the file size.

On OS/X Mavericks?   Pair the devices.  Go to sharing in System Preferences and check “Bluetooth sharing”.    Go to the phone and share via bluetooth.    The “accept file” dialog shows up on OS/X and guess what?  The file actually APPEARED in the downloads folder just like it should.    No extra drivers to install.  No security warnings.  It just plain worked.   Nice!

Summary

Yes, this is all little stuff, but in my first HOUR of working with the MacBook Pro I am already impressed.   Yes I’ve used OS/X before but never have I had much interest in getting things DONE quickly and exactly the way I wanted.   My prior forays into OS/X have been purely as a secondary system to my Windows development boxes where OS/X only existed to supported some IOS development as needed.    But this time around I’m going “all in” and thus far I am impressed enough by the “simple little stuff” and how much better it is than the Windows experience that I had to share.

Yes, all things will likely go to hell soon enough.    I have a unique ability to break ALL THINGS that use spinning electrons to do their magic. But so far I’m liking this new toy.  If it holds together for more than a week without my breaking it I will be truly impressed.    We shall see how good this Apple deal really is.

If it doesn’t work out you may find me tending bar somewhere around town in the next few weeks.

If it does work out, on the other hand, Apple may have just converted another Windows user and I could be one of the biggest “Apple Fan Boys” yet.

 

 

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Envy 17 17-3070NR Video Problems When Recording

HP Video Fail Banner

Environment

  • HP Envy 17-3070NR with latest video drivers & BIOS
  • 3x HP ZR2440w Monitors attached, 2 on display port, 1 on HDMI

Problem

Any time I access ANYTHING to do with recording, such as going to the windows sounds interface and clicking on the recording tab, the screen on ONE of the Display Ports flickers to the point of being unusable.

It shows flashing thin 1 or 2- pixels white lines in random patterns on the screen, then the entire display shuts off.  It turns back on and looks fine for 2 seconds, then does it again until I click on the Playback, Sounds, or Communications tab.  This happens with ANY access to “recording” from any app including my Skype call recorder or my Screencast recorder.

This did not happen before I upgraded to the 1920×1200 ZR2440w monitors, which I did after confirming with HP support that the Envy 17-3070NR would indeed support 1920×1200 resolution if I used display port connections.

The problem continues if I swap monitors, so it is not a monitor issue.

The problem continues if I disconnect/disable the 3rd monitor on HDMI, in fact the cycle happens even faster with that display disconnected.

This looks very much like an old-school video memory corruption issue like you would have back in 1996 on  a Windows XP computer with crappy video cards and/or poorly written video drivers.      If I had to guess I would say BIOS and/or AMD drivers need work.

Has any else seen this problem?

Any clues how to fix this besides “don’t use 3 monitors” or “don’t record screen casts”?

Customer Non-Support

The best part is that I am entitled to email or chat or phone support from HP with my extended warranty.  Yet HP completely fails in that regard.    First of all the website the checks to see if you are entitled for support looks up my serial number and product number, shows the right product in the sidebar yet the customer support form only allows for PRINTER options on describing what is wrong.

HP Consumer Division Incompetence A Laptop is Not A Printer
HP Consumer Division Incompetence A Laptop is Not A Printer

HP needs to hire some programmers.

HP Fails At Selling Customer Care Packs

Then, to make things more fun, when I contact HP directly they tell me I do not have a warranty.   I have a dozen emails back & forth from HP stating I DO have a warranty for 3 years.    I can understand why they are confused, however, since THREE HP employees over the past year have screwed up my extended warranty so badly that nobody can figure out what the hell is going on.  Not even their escalation team.

The first person sold me the wrong warranty.

The second person “fixed” the warranty and attached a DIFFERENT, but still incorrect, extended warranty.

The third person, in the HP Escalation Division, fixed the problem again but did not properly attach the extended warranty to my serial number so nobody can find it.

Unfortunately there is no online form or interface available to the mundane every day HP Customer Support people that allows them to “enter the personal email sent from an HP manager ensuring the customer has an extended warranty” box.    Since my case falls completely outside of their scripted responses they are completely baffled.     Customer Support lemmings are not trained to think, just click the boxes, recite the words on the screen like Obama reading a teleprompter, and move on.  No thought required.    Come to think of it, maybe HP is training everyone to be the next POTUS.

 

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HP Care Pack – Buyer Beware

HP Support Assistant

I love HP equipment, especially their servers.   My HP Envy 17 laptop rocks, very “apple-like”.  However I am FURIOUS at HP for blatant mis-representation of product when it comes to the HP Care Pack.

My laptop is my lifeblood.  I use it for home and business EVERY DAY without exception.  It is how I earn a living.   Last time I sent an Asus laptop for repair they lost it for 3 months.  I had to buy a new laptop and when they finally sent mine back I didn’t need it any longer.  That was a $1200 mistake I vowed to never make again.

As such I opted for the $400 on-site extended warranty with accidental damage protection.   The on-site repair has a guaranteed 6-hour turnaround and they send a technician to your house to do the repairs.  Perfect.

From the HP website:

Description
 
Enjoy the convenience of having a technician come right to your home or office, if needed, to help resolve desktop or notebook PC issues with HP Care Pack On-site Service. You’ll also have access to 24×7 technical support and extended security while keeping your PC covered by the manufacturer that knows it best. Extended coverage begins the day you buy your HP PC. You’ll get the most coverage and value if you buy this plan when you purchase your PC. For example: • If you buy the 2-year plan when you purchase your PC, you’ll get coverage for 2 full years. • If you buy the 2-year plan 3 months after you purchase your PC, you’ll get 21 months of coverage only. Multi-year options are available. 
  On-site hardware repair
  24×7 remote support
  Replacement parts and materials
  Monitor coverage
  • Help improve system uptime. Convenient onsite support. Reliable response times.
  • • Reduction of incidents by anticipating issues through real-time monitoring of the environment and case history trend reporting Through the availability to purchase options, Proactive Care helps you by providing:.
  • • Increased accountability and personalization through the assignment of an account support team that will provide support planning and reviews • Maximize return on IT assets through performance and availability analysis.
  • • Simplified operations from fully utilizing management software • Flexible resourcing through access to skills on demand that can help with peak workload and project requirements.
 
 
 
Service and Support provided by:
Hewlett Packard
     
Technical: 800.334.5144

 

Yet today, after having damaged the HP Envy 17 while travelling last week, I had the “opportunity” to exercise the HP Care Pack warranty and see how well it works.  Well, in short IT DOESN’T.    The on site repair does not apply to ANYTHING other than replacing a hard drive or memory.  Period.   Damaged case?  Ship it away for 2 weeks.  Damaged screen?  Ship it away for 2 weeks.    Odd.   HP offers a standard damage protection warranty WITHOUT on-site service for $180.     So I paid a $220 premium to have them ship me a hard drive if it fails so I can replace it or have their tech do it, but I guarantee I can do it faster.   Everything else?  Good Bye Laptop… for 2 weeks.

Wow.   I’ve been had.    I damn well guarantee I’ll never buy an on-site warranty for a consumer product from HP again.   I feel like they completely screwed me out of $220 and NOWHERE is it made clear the on-site service or 6-hour turnaround does not apply to 99.99% of the cases where your laptop would be damaged.

HP just served up a huge helping of fail cake.

Don’t believe it?  Call HP and find out.

HP Customer Care:  1-800-474-6836 (1-800-HP INVENT)

HP Escalation Team: 1-877-917-4380ext. 93.

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How To Buy A Business Laptop

Lesson learned, don’t always go for the latest laptop with the fastest processor, most memory, and biggest screen.   Not that those traits are BAD things to look for.  Making a decision to purchased based on those metrics cross-referenced with the price IS a bad way to buy a laptop.  At least if that laptop is your primary computer, which it is for most of us, and DEFINITELY the wrong way to shop when it is your primary BUSINESS and personal computer.  I admit, I was foolish in how I bought my most recent laptops.  Not just once, but TWICE.    Shame on me.   Luckily I’ve learned my lesson and am sharing that lesson here with you so that you may avoid the same pitfalls and maybe short-circuit your buying research and save a few hours in your day.

Mistake #1: Sony Vaio VGN-AR890U

The first laptop I purchased in a very long time, just over 2 years ago now, was a Sony Vaio.    I knew what features I wanted, a big screen (17″+) with true high definition and a fast CPU.    I wanted to be able to replace my desktop tower that handled HD video editing of my then-2-years-old son with aplomb.   An hour of video rendered, fully edited, in less than 30 minutes.    Not many laptops could do that, but I found a FEW that did.   The Sony Vaio was one of them.    It got rave reviews from the few people that actually purchased them as well as a LOT of editors at places like CNET that get plenty of advertising dollars from companies like Sony.     I figured it was a big company with a lot of resources and I was buying from Newegg, a well-known online retailer.   I even bought the extended 3-year warranty with accidental damage coverage.

Wow, was THAT a mistake.   This $4,000 high-end laptop had virtually NO accessories that make life more bearable with a highly mobile laptop.  No docking stations, no stands, and barely a backpack that would fit this 9-pound guerrilla.  I wound up with a generic Sony USB docking station, that never really worked right.   It NEVER supported the full HD resolution afforded by the HDMI connection even though it had DVI output.   It also never had properly updated drivers that would work with the 32-bit Vista OS that came with the system.     In addition, Sony made NO EFFORT to put forth ANY drivers beyond those initially released, which meant all the bugs, system crashes and other problems where there to stay.   (Interesting side note: The system touts 64-bit all over the place and 4GB of RAM, but ONLY Vista 32-bit is supported so 25% of the RAM is useless and NOTHING is executed 64-bit).

Then the pixels started dropping.   About a year and 1 month into service the pixels started dropping.  Some red, some white.  It was starting to look a bit like Christmas.  Every day.   Then the bad pixels decided to get together and form a band.    A little bad-pixel mosh-pit opened up in the top right quadrant of the screen in a very conspicuous space that you’d never even notice; about 1.5″ down from the top and 2″ in from the right edge.  Perfect.   Just before I sent the Sony out for service to fix the broken door latches and these bad pixels I swear they formed an outline of someone flipping me the bird.

Now came my first lesson in buying a laptop:  DO NOT BUY AN EXTENDED WARRANTY FROM SERVICENET.    After many painful hours on the phone with ServiceNet, which was the only extended warranty option offered because I bought this laptop from Newegg, we finally got an RMA number.   They told me to send in my laptop (sorry, no advanced replacement) and I’d get it back in about a week.  THREE WEEKS later it finally showed up.    We powered it on and it promptly decided to show the full screen with no dead pixels for about 30 seconds and then relegate the screen to a permanent cloak of darknesss, operating at about 25% of the lowest brightness setting.    You couldn’t even see the screen in a dark room.   What a joke.

Lesson #2: DO NOT BELIEVE ANYTHING SERVICENET TELLS YOU. We sent the laptop back in for repair AGAIN.    This time they told us it would be “a couple of weeks”.  By which they mean TWO AN A HALF MONTHS.    Guess they use a different calendar in that part of the country.    After countless calls where we would ask “where is our laptop” and getting a “parts are on order, but we WILL get this back to you next week” we finally gave up.   Then, suddenly, as if by some God-given miracle a beat-up box arrived with our old friend the Sony Vaio laptop inside.    We promptly erased the drive, installed Windows 7 64-bit (after all Sony didn’t support this thing with THEIR drivers), and it’s been running happily for about 5 weeks now.     (Another interesting side note:  Sony stopped selling & supporting this laptop after just 6-8 months on the market.   Good luck getting ANY support on this $4,000 “top-of-the-line-best-we-make” product from Sony).

Lesson #3: The “BIG BRANDS” (Sony) Are NO MORE Helpful Than Smaller Brands. After dealing with this debacle for almost a year I also learned the Sony really had no clue about their laptops.  The supposed “Vaio premium support” was no better than support for any $500 off-the-shelf Taiwanese computer.  They spoke English no better, provided just as horrible after-hours support, and knew nothing about the product.  The read the same cookie-cutter scripts & had us uninstall & re-install the drivers, operating system, power off for 5 minutes, and other routine technical support tricks.  When they finally decided the system was fubar they offered NO ASSISTANCE in getting it repaired.  They simply said “contact the place you bought it from”.   Great.  Nice job Sony.

Mistake #2: Asus G73JH

When I finally realized that there was no way around sending my Vaio out for repair for more than a week I knew I had no choice but to get a replacement laptop & load it up before sending out my Vaio.  This time I played it smart and went with a laptop that came WITH ITS OWN extended warranty & support.   After a bit of searching I found a company that touts its warranty coverage for laptops as “head and shoulders above the competition”.    They claim the fewest laptop defects of any manufacturer (a claim reinforced by their on-hold advertising while waiting for customer support for an RMA claim, how ironic!).      They also are the only company that comes with a 2-year factory warranty with accidental damage “out of the box”.      They do a great job marketing their customer service, their warranty, and their below-normal failure rates on their laptops.

Lesson #4: Don’t believe the marketing hype. Even though I read CONSUMER reviews and avoided any opinions written by paid editors or the company itself, Asus told a good story.  Most early consumer reviews were good.   The marketing hype was better.  I mean, here was a company that truly has fooled itself into believing it’s own hype.  They have GREAT warranties and GREAT support.    Woah, not so fast.     In the 48 hours we’ve been dealing with trying to get my dead screen serviced we’ve spent nearly 20 HOURS combined with two of us trying to hunt down a knowledgeable customer service rep.   My technical support ticket, now 30 hours old, has yet to receive a response of any kind.      This is starting to feel just like any other laptop manufacturer to me.

Lesson #5: Don’t buy new release models. Although the initial reviews of the G73JH were positive, in the months since I purchased this laptop the reviews have turned sour. There are HUNDREDS of people complaining that this gaming laptop cannot run games properly.  There are serious design issues with the ATI video board and how it plays with the Asus BIOS.   Asus blames ATI. ATI blames Asus.  The consumer is caught in the middle.  The bottom line is that graphics don’t render properly in many games.  Even when not gaming many video cards show what has become the infamous “gray screen of death” and the “psychedelic screen of death” (different colored striping on the monitor).    My laptop just suddenly decided not to communicate with the built-in LCD, what has become known as the “black screen of death”.    One laptop, less than a year in production, and so many creative new names all ending with *SOD.   Wonderful.     Problem is, this laptop is the first one Asus has put out on this platform. Clearly all the bugs are NOT worked out.  In fact it appears that Asus has already taken this model out of production (much like Sony did with the VGN-AR890U) and has released a similar G73JH-X5 model.  Guess they are hoping a new suffix will prevent all that bad feedback posted on the old model from following around their new platform.

Preventing Mistake #3

At this point I have realized that I know have to purchase a THIRD laptop to replace my new “bucket of fail” that has been delivered in the form of an Asus laptop.    It is obvious that Asus will not help me with preventing an interruption of work, so it is up to me to fend for myself before sending away the Asus for a service that will take “just a week”.  Even giving them the benefit of the doubt that they will not “pull a Servicenet”, a week is way too long to be unplugged as a computer consultant.  That leaves me on the hunt for a new laptop.    Below is a summary of the brands I’ve reviewed in light of what may be the most important lesson of all:

THE BIG LESSON LEARNED:
When buying a laptop that is your PRIMARY computer for daily business use
make certain you have NEXT DAY SERVICE or ADVANCED REPLACEMENT available.

While that lesson is fairly obvious to some, what I’ve found out is that many – in fact most – laptop manufacturers do NOT consider this an important feature.  In fact I found ONLY ONE manufacturer to provide viable warranty and support services if you simply cannot be offline for more than 48 hours.    Here are some of my findings and who I will be buying my next laptop from.   It may not have all the latest & greatest bells & whistles, but it WILL allow me to stay online and keep my business running without interruption.    I can sacrifice and inch or two of screen real estate and a few Hertz on my CPU cycles as a trade for getting back online quickly should something fail.    First, the systems I WON’T be buying:

Apple

That’s right.   For all the hype about how well built their products are, they are NOT flawless (Google iPhone 4 and the initial launch, Apple makes mistakes too).    While I do like Apple products in general, after all they are shiny and look cool, there are TWO main reasons I won’t be getting one this time around.   The first is price.  You pay a premium for SHINY not for advanced technologies.  You simply do not get what you pay for.  The second and BIGGER reason is that Apple does NOT provide advanced replacement or guaranteed 48-hour turnaround.   If you have a catastrophic failure on a laptop you have to pack it up, ship it out, wait for repair, and hope it comes back soon.   That is at least 4-days before you see this thing again, *if* they have the parts in stock.   Sorry, but for business use that is a deal breaker.

Acer

Consumer brand.  No good extended warranty support and NOTHING close to professional class customer service or support via their website or toll-free numbers.

Asus

Another consumer brand.  Again, no options to get advanced replacement.  Also their much-touted customer service is all based in India from what we can tell and that makes it very hit-or-miss on whether or not you get a qualified support person to assist.

HP

If they have extended service or business service options they are nearly impossible to find via the website.  Also, the business class systems they offer which DO appear to have a premium level of support are LAME.   I guess business  users can’t possibly want anything over a 15″ screen or want to use it as a multimedia system after-hours.     Obviously HP thinks business laptops belong nowhere outside of the boardroom.

Lenovo.

See HP.

Sony

Well, the lessons are pretty well spelled out in the case study above.   Also, they charge as much a premium as Apple… almost.   But you get much LESS service.  No local “Sony Store” around here, and even if there was they are clueless at those places.   At least Apple Store employees have a clue most of the time.  Also, no advanced replacement or 48-hour turnaround.    Sony, much like Apple, is a CONSUMER BRAND.   They are not geared toward business users.

Toshiba

Nope.  Good brand, but the ONLY offer extended warranties through Servicenet.   I’d rather have my head put in a vice and have it tightened slowly for 6 hours straight than deal with another Servicenet support call.   No WAY am I going with a company that only offers Servicenet support.

What Will I Buy?

Dell.

That’s right, Dell.  The same company I stopped buying from 2 years ago because they could NEVER ship a system on time.  They also went through nearly 2 full years of ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE customer service when they outsourced nearly the entire operation to India.    Lately they’ve been cleaning up the mess.   The new Mexico-centric support center is MUCH BETTER at understanding and dealing with support issues.    They also seem to be getting better at at least estimating the delays in shipments BEFORE you buy.    Even though you may have to wait, at least it’s not “wait 10 days” then “wait 10 more days” then “wait another week”.    At least that is what I’ve been told from others in the industry.

More importantly, nearly EVERY high-end laptop and EVERY business laptop comes with NEXT DAY ON SITE SERVICE.   Most for just the first year, but ALL have a 3, 4, or even 5-year extension available.   That’s right, you debug the issue on the phone (to save a useless, “oh just press FN-F7? duh” trip) and if they determine it truly is a problem, a Dell representative will show up the NEXT DAY and fix your laptop.     They also offer damage protection and all the other goodies direct from Dell.   Sure, they may outsource all of that, but you still deal with Dell directly.

Do I know WHICH laptop I’m going to buy?   Nope.  But I can assure you it will not be their latest model.  In fact I’m leaning toward the Precision laptops that have been around for ages.  They even have REAL DOCKING STATIONS based on the same proprietary port that all Latitude & Precision laptops have had for years.     THOSE systems have real drivers that have been fully debugged and tested by thousands of users over the years.

So Dell, here I come.   I’m bringing my business back along with the $100,000 in annual purchases I make and/or recommend for myself and my clients.    Are you ready to do it right this time?   I am.