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(Jupiterimages, Brand X Pictures/Jupiterimages)
(Jupiterimages, Brand X Pictures/Jupiterimages)

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If there's a laptop hell, I've been there Add to ...

I recently went through an extremely aggravating laptop hassle. To make a long story short, the laptop I purchased a year and three months ago for $529.73 had faltering wireless capability, which started giving me trouble only a few months after I purchased it.

Over the course of my one-year warranty, I had a couple of annoying back-and-forths with the company that were supposed to be repair jobs. But the problem kept recurring, until my warranty ran out and I was stuck with a malfunctioning laptop. I had paid for a computer with wireless capability but that wasn’t what I got.

I recently ended up spending $131.40 at a local computer repair shop to get an external wireless adaptor for my laptop. It isn't really a fix, but at least I won't have to plug in every time I want to read e-mail or do a Google search.

I've been wondering if I might have been wiser to have added an extended two-year warranty for $100 to my original purchase. But with a laptop as cheap as mine, would the extra cost really have been worth it?

According to SmidgenPC.com (a technology blog about laptops, netbooks and other smaller PCs), laptops are generally unreliable. The site points to a Squaretrade reliability report from 2009, which found that 20 per cent of laptops fail after two years of use. And with accidents taken into account, 31 per cent fail within a three-year period. It's a big difference from other electronics: For example, the chance of an HDTV failing is less than 10 per cent, even after three years of use.

According to the Squaretrade report, brands have a lot to do with a laptop's dependability. While ASUS and Toshiba are at the top of the reliability scale, with a 15.6 per cent and 15.7 per cent failure rate, respectively, after three years, HP and Gateway are at the bottom, with 25.6 per cent and 23.5 per cent failure, respectively, after three years (excluding accidents). And my brand is on the lower end of reliability, with a 21.5 per cent failure rate after two years.

“There is a significant difference of laptop reliability ratings between the leader, ASUS, and the loser, HP,” says SmidgenPC. “In fact, it is 40 per cent more likely that you will encounter a failure within three years if you purchase a HP laptop than if you purchase an ASUS laptop. That’s a really, really big gap, and one that many buyers apparently aren’t aware of – HP sold 16 million laptops last year and is currently the world’s largest PC vendor.”

“While an inexpensive laptop from HP or Acer may seem like a good deal, it is substantially more likely that you will experience a failure with that laptop compared to someone who buys a product from ASUS or Toshiba.”

SmidgenPC also points out that there are a handful of laptops that come with a standard two or three-year warranty, something that consumers might want to consider when making a purchase. ASUS, for example, is now shipping a variety of laptops with a two-year standard warranty, and Dell also attaches three-year warranties to some of its higher-end Latitude and Precision laptops. As well, some companies, like Toshiba, for example, will throw in a three-year warranty on laptops that cost over $1,000.

Notebook Review (another site providing advice and information about notebook PCs), suggests that it's a good idea to get an extended warranty if you can afford it, but not to spend a lot of money if the computer wasn't worth that much in the first place. They even have a formula to use as a guideline:

“Don't spend more than 25 per cent of your purchase money on the warranty. For example, if a three-year warranty on a $700 notebook is $250, just skip the warranty upgrade.”

Frankly, I'm skeptical that a longer-term warranty would have guaranteed success. If my laptop’s manufacturer had continued to temporarily fix my problem, another year of sending my laptop back and forth would only have caused me more aggravation.

Whether my computer will continue to give me trouble remains to be seen, but perhaps the conclusion may be that you get what you pay for. Maybe I will have to spend more in the future when choosing a machine that I will be using daily. A little more investment up front will hopefully earn me a more reliable laptop and save myself a lot of hassle later on.

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