Should You Splurge or Go Frugal on a Laptop?

Whenever it comes time to buy a laptop, I always have to do a little pre-buying decision dance in my head.  How much do I want to spend?  Do I really need to spend that much? Or can I get away with some lesser specs and spend half of that amount?

Buying a computer definitely feels like a major purchasing decision. After all, unless you have money spewing out of your water faucet at home, you usually won’t be buying a computer everyday (or even every year).

So, to splurge or not to splurge, that is the question.  To make a smart consumer buying decision like this a little bit easier, let’s use two real-life laptop options from opposite ends of the price spectrum:  the premium HP Envy 14 and the budget-friendly HP dm1z.

The Price Difference: ~$500

The high-end, premium HP Envy 14 usually runs about $900, depending on your preferred configuration.  Conversely, the cheaper HP dm1z would usually be in the lower end of the $400 to $500 range.  Price tag difference?  A cool four or five Benjamins.

Let’s be honest. Both of these laptops can handle basic computing tasks without issues.  And you’d be surprised what “basic” entails these days.  Not just browsing the web, sending email, listening to music, and editing documents or spreadsheets.  We’re talking streaming 1080p HD movies from the laptop to an external monitor or HDTV, transferring files through gigabit networks, even playing 3D graphics games that would have required a $2,000 desktop tank of a machine only five years ago.

Because of this, sometimes I think it’s odd to even consider buying something more expensive than a little dm1z when it will do most everything I’d need.

The newly refreshed HP dm1z after coupon, is now available for $370 to $400 depending on the configuration option you choose.

The Performance Difference

So if both of these computers at vastly different prices will cover the basics, why would anyone splurge on the pricier option?

Good question, young grasshopper.  The thing is, although computing power has significantly advanced through the years, some of the more sophisticated software programs have also grown to require more power to run them well.  Video and photo editing takes as long as ever (if not longer) due to upgrades to higher resolution images and video.  Modern computer games with more detailed graphics also require stronger, dedicated graphic cards.  And with our habit of running so many of these things, it’s nice to have a new multi-core processor, or one that can scale up its speed when necessary.

Whether the performance difference should factor into your buying decision basically boils down to this — Do you just consume content? Or do you produce or manipulate it, or play a lot of video games?

If all you do is watch Youtube, talk on Facebook, check your email, and occasionally write papers or make presentation slides for school or work, then lower-end option like the HP dm1z can be a great fit for you while being kind to your budget.

On the other hand, if you handle video/photo editing (or you plan to in your next classes or job) and other computing intensive tasks (such as CAD work), you probably should move up to something like an HP Envy 14.

The Style and Look Difference

One bonus of splurging on a more expensive laptop is that you usually get a “nicer looking” machine in addition to the better internal hardware.  Design and style is of course always subjective, but most people will agree that the HP Envy line of laptops are pretty slick, thanks to their clean lines and the smooth silvery or black finishes.

Other nice (and functional) eye-candy includes a red LED-backlit keyboard on the Envy 14 Beats edition, letting you know exactly where you’re typing — while looking like a hotshot as you’re composing the next literary masterpiece at the local cafe shop.

Finally, lets not forget screen size.  Budget netbook-class laptops are usually around 10 to 12 inches.  Premium laptops are rarely in the 11-inch size (although the mighty expensive Macbook Air is one of the few exceptions).

The Bottom Line on Splurging

When you “splurge” on a laptop, do it because its features are exactly what you need, whether that’s more RAM, faster processor, bigger hard drive, a better graphics card, or all of the above. And if you do that, you probably aren’t splurging at all.  You’re buying a laptop that will fulfill your needs and last for several years to come (after all, laptop performance across the board is far advanced from just a half-decade ago).  Like every big ticket purchase, your best bet is to first consider your budget, and then consider how much of your needs can be met with the finite budget you have.

This is a guest post by Dave at Dealzon.com, thanks to the folks from HP.

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4 Responses to “Should You Splurge or Go Frugal on a Laptop?”

  1. Big-D |  Oct 09, 2011 at 3:14 pm

    I think you have to just be cognizant of what you want from a laptop. If you want a laptop to last for a long time, or if you want something just to do an immediate task and in a couple years you are going to get a new one. When family members ask me for help picking a laptop, I ask the following.

    1) How long do you want the laptop to be relevant? If you want it to last 3 years or so and you don’t mind picking up a new one then? Then a 2-300 dollar laptop is fine for you.

    2) What do you plan to do with it? If you want to just do freecell and basic excel or web/email browsing, with minor video or something like that. A 2-300 dollar laptop is fine for you.

    3) What is your upgrade schedule? Do you use the laptop purchase to get the latest software? If you use the laptop to get new software, then a cheaper one will work as you will have to buy a new one in a few years.

    4) Are you looking to keep this for 5-6 years, and want to upgrade along the line? Then you have to look at a more expensive laptop. A 5-600 dollar laptop is minimum of what I would get. That will be the minimum of what you will be able to run future technologies.

    5) Are you looking to do video editing, play 1080p videos, want a bluray player, etc. Then you have to look at the 800-1000 dollar laptops.

    6) Do you want to play the latest video games, want a 17 inch screen, want to run at full resolution, etc. Then you are looking more than $1000 bucks.

    All of these questions come down to what you want, and what you are willing to pay for. I am looking for a laptop as my mine is over a decade old. I almost pulled the trigger on one last night. It was a laptop I could upgrade and do everything that I could want for the next 5 years. I could add RAM and upgrade components if I want to do it. It was $449 at Frys. It will do anything I could ask for it except extreme gaming. I don’t game on a laptop, that is desktop material for me, but it can do anything except gaming .. thus why should I not pull the trigger? Well I just will wait for the holidays so that I can maybe get a better deal.

  2. Financial Independence |  Oct 11, 2011 at 6:13 am

    I calculated the items we have in household and average time it takes to replace it.

    Look at like – if you buy a $2000 laptop, it will last 4 years max. So you need to put away 500 just to replace it.

    The only difference is reliability – how much do you put on your data and laptop? What if will crashes? If there is no price tag…well try to save some money and do not forget to do regular back ups.

    Every little helps on your way to financial independence.

  3. Darcy |  Oct 14, 2011 at 1:07 pm

    With the way technology changes laptops lose value way to fast to buy the most expensive model. Also laptops are meant to be portable the high end big screen uber powered laptops are not portable.

    My advice get a cheap laptop and if you need a powerful computer go with a PC, they are cheaper and more scalable.

    Today I use a iPAD for travel and have my PC command center at home :). Combined they were cheaper than the high powered laptop I bought a few years before and use as a Boxee box today.

  4. DAvid |  Oct 15, 2011 at 11:53 pm

    I chose SPLURGE! I’ve had a series of lower priced laptops (Dell, ASUS, HP) and have been disappointed with them in some fashion in short order. Last March I splurged and bought a Macbook Pro 13″. Even with the learning curve of moving from Windows to Mac, I have to say I’ve not enjoyed a computer as much as this one. I don’t game on my computer, so that has not been an issue. The portability, long battery life, ease of setup when travelling, ready connectivity through wifi or 3G, and especially the trackpad interface has made this purchase one of the best values in a computing device I have made.

    DAvid