Being able to identify a quality computer is an important skill to develop over a lifetime of computer buying. Unfortunately, it is also a difficult skill to develop. Fortunately, there are some key features of quality computers. Most of these are more important to look for in laptops, because desktop computers tend to stay put and have more replaceable components:
Fortunately, all but the last item on the list are discussed in detailed reviews of the most numerous laptop models by several professional reviewers--like those at notebookcheck.net. In fact, this is how you identify what is and is not a thorough review. The last item on the list is much more difficult to ascertain, and anyway would most likely only be possible to determine after you have already bought the computer--assuming that you were even able to identify things like quality soldering (hint: shiny solder joints).
Luckily there are some organizations that occasionally rank laptop manufactures according to how long their products actually last in the real world in the hands of actual consumers. I assume this is much to the ire of certain laptop manufacturers whose products don't measure up well against their competitors. One of these ranking organizations is Laptop Magazine. See for example this article. It is important to find the latest ratings, because the rankings do change over the years. However, Apple and Dell tend to stay near the top. And HP (Hewlett Packer) has made enormous progress over he last few years. I remember not too long ago that I absolutely refused to buy any HP product, especially their laptops, because their quality was so poor. They were especially bad at cooling their laptops--which led to an awful lot of prematurely dead laptops. Happily, this is no longer the case, and HP is now near the top of the rankings. In fact, I actually purchased an HP Elitebook 8570p used a year ago. I really like it, and I notice no significant heating.
Another thing that I should mention is that certain categories of laptops fare better than others in terms of longevity in the real world. The class that I consider to be most important is business laptops versus consumer laptops. Business laptops tend to be significantly higher quality (and more costly too) than consumer laptops. I think the reason is that companies have professional IT people who understand what makes a quality laptop. And since they understand everything I've said above about quality and the reasons it is important, they are willing to spend more to get it. Laptop manufactures know this and provide them with what they want if they want their business. Consumers, on the other hand, are relatively ignorant. They often buy whatever a manufacturer will toss at them (often as if from the window of a moving train), regardless of it's lack of quality. And these manufacturers are usually no where to be found when the laptop stops working. In fact, don't expect a significant amount of support from most companies, including most of the best, because you're just not going to get it. The reason is that support is expensive, so profit margins would have to be higher than they are for companies to be able to provide it. This is another reason that you should learn as much as you can about computers: after you buy one, you are on your own. Picture yourself standing out in the desert next to a cactus and a cow skull, because this is what it will be like.
Another category of laptop that I would avoid, unless you're certain that you want it is the 2-in-1's. These are laptops that separate into a tablet and keyboard. The reason to avoid them is that the connecting mechanisms seem to wear out rather quickly compared to the hinges of clamshell laptops.
And while I'm on this topic, one thing I'd also like to say about tablets is that I don't see how you can travel with them without worrying that you're going to crack the screen. When you shove a tablet into a bag, unlike a laptop that folds shut, the screen is directly exposed to the other contents of your bag. And it is nearly impossible to find a hard case that will not dent in under the slightest pressure. I really don't see why people have such faith in neoprene sleeves. Essentially all of the pressure goes right through them and into the glass of the tablet's screen. The only thing that neoprene can really protect against is scratching. So, I would also avoid tablets, unless you don't plan on traveling with them, which to me is the major point of owning one.
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