Dr. A is disenfranchised with his Dell. Seeing it, I understand why. It frequently interrupts his work with Dell-branded system optimization programs that scour his hard drive for shortcuts to fix and other mundane things that only need to be done once a year, if ever. It does no harm–other than interrupting him of course–but who wants an OCD laptop? So he said he’s considering switching to HP. The only problem with that is that if you’re not careful, you can end up with an HP bundled with similar stuff.
So is there a difference?
Slightly. I trust HP and HP’s suppliers more. They’re more forthcoming about manufacturing defects. And HP (or Compaq–they’re the same company now) computers are easier to work on than Dells. Ideally neither should have to go in for service very much, but the Dell will probably keep the technician tied up 30 minutes longer, which means a higher repair bill. I’ve owned both, and I’ve always been happier with HP hardware.
That said, I know salespeople will sometimes badmouth one brand, but that’s often a tactic to sell you new computer. If you own a Dell, HP is better, but when someone with an HP comes in, the salesperson will tell that person that Dell is better.
Acer is the other company you’re likely to encounter, though you’re more likely to see Acer’s Gateway or Emachines brands rather than their own brand. The Acer I knew in the 1990s is a very different company from the Acer of today, and I’m not enamored with some of Acer’s choices of suppliers. They’re easier to work on than Dell computers, so they do have that going for them. I think their machines would be OK, but not necessarily great.
If you have the option, another question to ask–and one you certainly should bring up–is consumer-grade vs. business-grade. Business-grade machines tend to be built with less variance and with higher quality components, and with a lot less questionable software installed on them. They cost more, because the parts cost more and there aren’t any subsidies coming in from all that bundled software that gets in your way and nags you to pay for it. It could be worth it though; most of the business-class PCs I’ve seen will run for years past their warranty period. Given the choice between a 3-year-old off-lease business PC for a few hundred dollars and a low-end consumer desktop for about the same price, I’ll buy the off-lease business machine. A few years ago, I had an outstanding experience with an off-lease Compaq Evo, and I’d do it again, except I’m really itching to build my next PC.
But if you end up buying a consumer-grade PC, regardless of brand, one of the best things you can do is run PC Decrapifier on it. It essentially does the same thing Best Buy’s $39 optimization service does, but without you having to pay extra for it. The resulting system still isn’t quite as clean and fresh as a completely new Windows reinstall, but most people will probably find it good enough, especially considering it takes a few minutes rather than a few hours.
And that said, I’ll talk next about what I’d do to try to fix the existing computer, because I’m not convinced he really needs a new one.