So it is the "most wonderful time of the year" and everyone is trying to make their Christmas gift-giving dollar go as far as it can go, myself included. Everyone is running specials on all kinds of merchandise, including computers so let's see if Santa Mike can shed some light on laptops. In order to prevent the influx of e-mail to the contrary, I need to make clear that there are exceptions to every rule so for every "lemon" produced, there may be an equal and opposite "star" produced so the opinions below are mine and mine alone and others may have different experiences and opinions. That is what makes America great!

ACER: Acer makes some of the cheapest laptop computers and generally, the consumer gets their money's worth. The entry level machines are affordable and have the processing power to do nearly anything the normal computer user wants to do. If you are doing online gaming, graphic design and other more RAM intensive things with your computer, you may want to pass Acer by and look for a more high-end manufacturer who can provide more of the tools you will need. For the typical e-mail, web-surfing, word processing type of computer user, an Acer may be a viable option to the more expensive computers but you need to know the life expectancy and durability may be shorter than more expensive models.

Dell: Dell has been one of the leaders in innovation, design, performance and durability for many years whether you choose a laptop or desktop. Like all of the newer computers, their processing power is so much higher than a few years ago and the durability is one of the highest of all manufacturers. While everyone complains about computer support, Dell has better than average support. All told, Dell is one of the top manufacturers. Their prices are competitive with other manufacturers producing a similar product.

eMachine: eMachines are low-cost computers that perform well during their life-cycle. The issue with eMachines, like some of the other low-cost computer manufacturers, they purchase lower grade motherboards. Since every component plugs in to the motherboard, you need the highest quality for processing power, performance and overall durability. As I said, eMachines perform well for over their life-cycle but this duration may be shorter than other, higher end computers.

Fujitsu: Fujitsu computers are the low end of the foreign made laptops. They do not have a very impressive history of longevity and their support is suspect in many cases. They do offer a good machine which may answer some of your computer and/or gift giving needs but overall, they are of lesser quality than some similarly priced computers.

HP/Compaq: I put these two manufacturers together because they are one in the same company. If you call Compaq support, you will speak to someone who also handles HP computers and for all intents and purposes, they are the same company making a very similar product. Both HP and Compaq computers are well built and well engineered machines that provide high end performance, innovation and durability with HP slightly ahead of Compaq. Both computers use a high quality motherboard and components that last if they are well maintained. Even the entry level computers offer such a substantial increase in performance over the computers of just three or four years ago that the average user will be more than pleased with an entry level machine. Their life-cycle is above average with Compaq having a slightly shorter life-cycle than HP along with a correspondingly slightly lower price tag.

Sony: Sony has made a nice laptop for many years and continues to be in the upper echelon of computer manufacturers. Their performance and reliability are equal with other top computer companies, but their price tags are usually a little higher than their competitors for virtually the same models. In my opinion, there is no advantage gained from the name brand or the additional money spent.

Toshiba: Toshiba leads the way in innovative design and reliability along with unsurpassed processing power and performance. Given their history of longevity, error free operation and good technical support, Toshiba laptops are a top pick for foreign manufacturers, in my opinion.

No matter what computer manufacturer you decide to buy from, there is one "must have" and that is RAM. Make sure you max out the RAM of whatever computer you buy. If max RAM is 6 GB, get 6 GB. RAM is cheap and makes the computer run faster and work much better regardless of who built it. All other options are pretty much at your own discretion and do not really affect performance or longevity, for the most part, and are unique to your particular preferences and needs.

Happy Holidays!

Mike Smothers is president of Smothers Computer Services and lives in Ahwatukee Foothills. Send questions to or call (480) 753-7667.


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