Advice for Buying a Linux-Compatible Laptop
This question is a loaded issue in the portable Linux community. When you build a standard desktop the issue doesn't arise. You buy each component independently, so there is no Microsoft-enslaved reseller watching over you. Due to the general proprietary nature of laptops, however, in many cases you have no choice but to deal with a reseller (as most major manufacturers are resellers) and, in turn, purchase a Microsoft-based OS. Stories are going around that you can call the laptop manufacturer itself and specifically request to have them ship you a system free of Microsoft OSes. In turn, you save the cost of the licensing fee. I personally have tried this tactic and to no avail; both IBM and Dell turned down the idea. This may be a major issue for the die-hard users, but I think most people don't get hung up on the idea of buying something they are never going to use. Keep in mind that the resellers are selling Windows at their discounted rate. In some cases the rate is as cheap as $15. So unless you can't stand the thought of Redmond getting your undeserved cash, I wouldn't put much thought into the issue. Yes, it sucks, but unfortunately its a necessary evil.
You found it, and now you're trying to find it for the best price. This is the final hurdle to your life in portable-Linux nirvana. You have four main choices, a walk-in retail store, an on-line retail store, the laptop manufacturer itself or an auction site. Browse the auction sites to get a ball-park figure of what people are willing to spend. If the system you want is going for over retail cost, you can be sure it is a high quality product and in demand. In my experience, though, I wouldn't recommend making that final purchase through an auction site. Not only is your purchase not warrantied in any way, there is a good chance that you could be paying too much. For example, I recently purchased a laptop directly from its manufacturer for $1,500. Later that evening the same exact laptop was sold on eBay for $2,100. People often get caught up in the frenzy of bidding and don't take the time to research where the best buy can be found. If it's available, I suggest purchasing directly from the manufacturer. Some manufacturers, such as HP/Compaq, do not sell certain lines of laptops through their site and refer you to an outside retail store. The biggest advantage of a walk-in store is the immediate satisfaction. Or, if you have any initial problems with the laptop, you can return it without having to worry about RMAs and extra shipping costs.
The last major item of concern is one that can be easily overlooked—return policies. The return policy is your safety net to protect you from spending your days with an ugly stepson of a laptop. Let's say you finally get your laptop in hand and installed. Then, for some reason beyond your control, you find that whenever you close the lid X crashes. You've checked the newsgroups and forums, but no one can help you. This may be a good time to cut your losses, make the return and go back to the drawing board. Many manufacturers have 30-day, ”satisfaction guaranteed", money-back return policies. It's common place that retail outlets, whether walk-in or on-line, have 14-day return policies. An eBay purchase, for the most part, has no warranty. Be sure to take this all into account when dropping that last coin.
Remember, as with any purchase, knowledge is your friend. A hasty purchase could lead you to hours of headaches down the road. A big issue I had when making my recent laptop purchase was the overall cost. I went into it wanting to spend $500 and in the end spent $1,500. I paid for those extra nine yards to be sure that my purchase was money well spent on a machine that I could rely on for years to come. I was fortunate enough to have a flexible budget, but if you're stuck with a certain dollar amount, be sure to do plenty of research. And don't forget to have fun!