Rules for Buying a Laptop (Savings Tips)

My sister-in-law wants advice on buying a new laptop. For what they’re worth, here are my pearls of wisdom for saving money and headaches, and for getting the most bang for the buck.

  1. Check The Consumerist ( for specific tips on saving money when buying certain brands from particular vendors. For example, I remember reading an article written by a Dell insider with tips like the best day of the week to shop on-line, because you can “straddle” when the on-line specials change and either stick to a special you reserved from the old week, or switch to a better special for the new week (“22 Confessions Of A Former Dell Sales Manager”).
  2. Always buy the 3-year extended warranty for a laptop, even if you normally don’t believe in buying extended warranties for consumer electronics. Keep renewing the warranty for as long as you own the laptop.
  3. Unless you have a specific need for horsepower, skip the processor upgrade. Just get the one that normally comes with the machine. Reasons you might need more horsepower include graphics-intense work like video editing and gaming, but then you’re probably not shopping for a laptop.
  4. Instead, put your money into extra memory. Having enough memory to avoid “paging” makes 100x more difference in speed than any slight increase in the MHz rating of the processor.
  5. Unless you are getting a special deal, don’t get a memory upgrade from the laptop vendor. It’s usually a much better deal to buy memory elsewhere (e.g. or If you do go that route, know that you’ll probably end up throwing out whatever memory comes with the laptop and replacing it with all new memory (because of how the memory is packaged and the fact that laptops usually only have two memory slots, as opposed to desktops that usually have four or eight). So, if there’s an option to downgrade the original laptop specs to less memory than usual, or no memory at all, you should probably take it.
  6. If you wait until the laptop arrives to order the memory upgrade, both of the sites mentioned above have utility software you can use to automatically order the exact memory required for your machine. (Of course, if you went with the zero-memory option, then you won’t be able to run the laptop until you buy some memory, so using the utility software is not an option.)
  7. You probably want to buy the biggest capacity hard drive that the vendor offers. Unlike with memory, going the after-market upgrade route on hard disks doesn’t usually mean enough savings to make it worth the hassle, but certainly crunch the numbers.

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  1. Regarding #3 there’s another reason you might want to upgrade the processor. I don’t know if it’s still the case, but some laptops used to come with processors designed for desktops instead of for laptops. Of course, these were cheaper, but lacked some features like lower power usage. If you have the option to upgrade to a processor made for laptops you might want to consider that option.

  2. Nice tips,

    in point 5, you recommended to buy memory elsewhere. Is it easy to install memory in laptops by oneself ?

  3. Rahul, Yes, installing a memory upgrade is easy. The only tool you need is a #0 Phillips screwdriver and it only takes a few minutes (in my experience with Dell and Apple laptops, at least). You should be able to find the instructions online, either on the laptop manufacturer’s website, or on the site that sells you the memory. Just be certain to read and follow all warnings about ways you could potentially damage the memory if you are not careful (e.g. from static electricity).

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