Last updateFri, 13 Feb 2015 3pm

Dropping laptops on the floor: bargain-basement vs. more costly products

The column appearing here a few weeks ago brought several email responses to my inbox.  I hesitate to refer to them as hostile, but it is clear to see that some readers of the Reporter do not agree with my assessment of the quality of computer hardware being sold today.  Obviously there are some people who are kidding themselves into believing they can pay as little as US$300 for a new laptop computer and that it will be equal in quality to one costing US$5,000.  In the real world that kind of wishful thinking only leads to disappointment.  Since one reader went so far as to question my sources I would like to take this opportunity to provide some specific attribution.

In my professional practice I have seen it happen dozens of times that a client experiences this scenario:  For almost the last decade they owned the same laptop computer and used it until it finally wore out.  They were delighted to learn they did not have to spend a thousand dollars or more as they did the last time they bought a computer, and to replace their old computer they bought a new laptop for a few hundred dollars.  For some reason they just blithely assumed the bargain-priced laptop ought to be equal in quality to the one they bought a decade before for much more money.  All too soon the new laptop wears out, and the owners are quite put out that the bargain-priced computer failed to last as many years as the last one.  Those stories are anecdotal evidence, but I am also able to site documented scientific testing from a reputable source.

As do other writers, I rely on source material, and in preparing the earlier column I drew from the results of a test report paper prepared by Principled Technologies, Inc. titled “Dell Latitude Laptops Survived Sudden Drops Better and Had Longer Battery Life than HP Eletebook 8460p or Lenovo Thinkpad T420.”  Anyone can find this online as I did.  The report goes into 26 pages of excruciating detail describing how the testing was done to simulate dropping a laptop several inches onto a carpeted floor while it was running.  The scientific method does not involve randomly dropping laptops on the floor.  A Lansmont Precision Drop Tester was used to give each laptop tested the precise same drop shock, after each laptop had its lid opened at a 120 degree angle exactly.  Four laptops were tested.  The first laptop costing a few hundred dollars was utterly destroyed the first time it was dropped, the other after the third time it was drop tested.  Both of the laptops costing several thousand dollars survived being dropped three times.  Surprise, surprise!

The message I hope all readers will take away from reading this is that as consumers we are more fortunate today than ever to have the choices we do.  Modern technology is amazingly affordable.  Innovations in design and manufacturing techniques, not to mention market demand, have driven the price of computers lower than most experts thought was even possible.  And if you want, you still have the choice of paying more for quality.  If you pay thousands of dollars for a laptop computer you have a right to expect it will be more rugged and will not die on you the first time it is dropped.  Honestly, though, if you choose to buy a bargain-basement laptop you should not be shocked when confronted with the reality that the cheaper computer is not of the same quality as one costing ten times as much.

Earlier I cited a quote attributed to the English author John Ruskin.  What he said a century ago still holds true when you go shopping for a new computer today:  “The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot — it can’t be done.”

Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant with more than 20 years IT experience and a Texan with a lifetime love for Mexico.  The opinions expressed are his own.  He may be contacted through his web site at SMAguru.com.