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Extend the life of your notebook computer

The first step in ensuring that your new laptop will outlast the software that comes with it is buying from a vendor with a reputation for reliability.

The motherboard on my HP laptop fried 18 months after I bought it—and six months after its warranty expired. Even though it uses the same overheating NVidia chip that convinced HP and several other notebook vendors to extend the warranty for machines using the faulty GPU, my make and model isn't covered.

When I asked the HP case manager to confirm or deny that my dead notebook shipped with the faulty part—the documentation that shipped with the machine indicates that it does—he said I had "no right" to that information because it was an "engineering decision." HP Way, my butt!

Well, bad PC tech-support experiences are nothing new, especially among HP customers, as I found out recently. But when you've bought as many PCs as I have over the years, you have to expect one or two to be duds. Live and learn; move on.

What I wish I had done before I bought a lemon HP Pavilion TX1100
Many days late and many dollars short, I visited several sites that rate the reliability of laptop manufacturers. I wasn't surprised to see Apple's name at the top of nearly every list. Unfortunately, it was also not a surprise to find HP's name at the bottom of most of the reliability ratings.

Nor was I surprised to find forum after forum at which people in my very same situation were griping about their burned-out HP laptops. My favorite thread of such posts was begun just a few weeks ago on a forum at SierraSnowboard, of all places.

Several of the posters noted that they would simply junk the old machine and buy a replacement. Even though I recycle my old PCs, I can't help but think these premature disposals are bad for everybody except PC vendors. (They certainly aren't good from an environmental perspective.)

Here are some ways to improve the chances that your laptop will last longer than the average network sitcom.

Buy from a reliable vendor.
Apple continues to score the highest reliability ratings of all major notebook manufacturers. Some people balk at the price-performance ratio of MacBooks, but there's no denying the quality of the support that you buy along with the hardware. Among Windows laptop vendors, Lenovo tends to rate highest for reliability and service.

I would usually link to the reliability ratings themselves, but the ones I rely on require a subscription. You'll find some useful advice in the CNET Laptop Forum and Laptop Buying Guide.

The cheaper the machine, the more you need an extended warranty.
Most notebook buying guides recommend against purchasing an extended warranty. (The same goes for accidental-damage protection.) I usually agree because the price of the extended warranty is often comparable to the cost of the average repair. However, if you're serious about getting all the mileage you can out of a low-cost laptop, the extended warranty can stretch your mean time between notebook purchases.

Several years ago, James A. Martin's Mobile Computing blog took at look at the extended warranties offered by various notebook vendors. Some of the information in the post is outdated, but most of James' tips still apply. Also a bit dated but still useful is NotebookReview.com's Notebook Warranty Guide.

Handle your laptop PC with kid gloves.
Just a few weeks after I bought it I noticed that my now-defunct HP notebook ran hot. I placed the machine on a cooling pad whenever I used it for an extended period. To show how mainstream laptop cooling pads have become, even Microsoft now sells one for $30. I've been using an Antec model, but you'll find several laptop cooling products among the CNET reviews by searching the site for "laptop cooling pads."

I always transported the bum HP notebook in a padded case, though I admit the device took a lot of bumpy plane rides with me. CNET Senior Editor Dan Ackerman provides a review of several laptop cases. Notebook.Review.com also offers a buyers' guide to notebook cases, although the information focuses more on the various bags' style than on their ability to protect your machine from damage. (Remember to deter thieves by using a laptop bag that doesn't look too much like a laptop bag.)

Don't give up on tech support entirely (just because I have).
Some people know exactly what to say—and how to say it—to get even the most hardened, cantankerous support-line staffer to do whatever they want the rep to do. Unfortunately, that's a skill I have yet to develop. I can't remember the last time I found my time spent on a tech-support line worthwhile. In fact, before my recent encounter with the HP case manager from hell, I couldn't recall the last time I called a tech-support line, period.

But that's me. I hear that many, many people actually come away from their laptop tech-support experience completely satisfied with the outcome. And some people win millions of dollars in the lottery. Regrettably, I'm not a member of either group. You can improve your chances of a positive tech-support result by following the advice in two articles I found on the Associated Content site: How to Deal with Customer Service and Technical Support by Ryan Christopher DeVault and 10 Rules of Thumb to Deal with Technical Support by Ray H.

I certainly can't vouch for all the advice these articles offer—"Be Assertive" hasn't worked well for me to date—but maybe you'll have better results.