Long-lived "lap"-top?

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I'll have been married four years in June.  Over that time, my wife has
gone through three laptops; now we're in the market for another.

Let me explain: she works as a realtor, takes some college classes, and
is at home with our pair of toddlers much of the day.  She uses the laptop
in her lap, on the bed, on the kids' beds, on the sofa, and so on.  It's
plugged in probably 95% of the time, and in active use between 4 and 20
hours a day (perhaps 15 on average), 7 days a week. (Did I mention she's
a very busy person?...)

Her primary form of communication with her (paying) clients is
electronic, so it's a big deal for everyone if she's down even for the
time before I come home from work.  She's also very hard on laptops (as
am I) but not in necessarily conventional ways.  I'd like to be able to
accomodate her use patterns, since I've not been successful changing
them. :)

 * Laptops occasionally (once every few months) dive off the bed, often
   accompanied by a child.  That's about 3 feet.
 * Laptop power cords usually get bent, twisted, and otherwise fall to
   pieces after two months or so.  I can usually get batches of these on
   eBay, though, so that's not the problem.  However,
 * After a few laptop cords, the power jack will break or come loose on
   the mainboard.  I've soldered them, but they seem to be much weaker
   after the repair.
 * The screen gets rotated up and down probably twice or thrice an hour.
   This means the hinges tend to break, or the mount point for the
   hinge breaks off.
 * Stuff gets in the keyboard, but that's easy to fix... when I'm home.
 * The screen buttons and/or catches break off.  Every time.  Usually
   within the hour.
 * The laptops often get picked up by the LCD.

Speed is not a big deal, our laptops tend to lag a few years anyway. (In
fact, each succeeding laptop below is slower than the one before. :)

By way of history, here is the set of laptops in my basement:
 1) Compaq Presario something-like-800MHz, hers before we were married:
 power jack broke in half; I  worked around that, but then the jack
 splintered the PCB where it used to be attached; I put wires from the
 power cable to the PCB, but then  the screen connector tore out; on
 repair, I plugged the hard drive through the mouse cable.  Whoops!  I
 yellow-wired it but it was never quite the same.  Diagnosed dead by
 the time our son was born (our 1 year anniversary). $1200/2 years =
 $600/year, 12 months of wife-use.

 2) IBM Thinkpad A20m: this was mine before we were married, but since I
 was using another computer for work languished after just a few months
 of use.  We went through about 6 power cords on this one.  The power
 jack loosened on the PCB, broke to pieces, and finally came out; I put
 on a docking station (which actually worked much better in that
 respect!).  The (metal) hinge on the right broke the case, and
 eventually itself.  We duct-taped it together.  The hinge on the left
 broke.  I added duct tape.  The (now attached by duct tape) screen
 started to white out.  I added duct tape over the video connector.
 This was pronounced dead just before our daughter was born (our 2.5
 year anniversary). $800/4 years = $200/year, 18 months of wife-use.

 3) Dell Latitude LS: this was my hope for the longest life.  It has
 metal hinges, an aluminum-ish case, a rectangular power connector,
 etc., and is very light so when it gets picked up by the LCD it's not
 awful.  Two weeks after purchase (lightly used, it had a bum hard
 drive) both the hinge covers had fallen off, the hard drive bay was
 loose, and the keyboard was sticking.  I fixed the drive and the
 keyboard.  A few months passed, then a chunk of the case (from the
 back) broke off next to the right hinge.  The hinge was stable enough
 until another chunk broke off.  I screwed the hinge through the
 bottom of the case - apparently a design point since there were holes
 in the bottom of the metal hinge.  This worked fine for a while.  The
 power connector came loose, I tightened the screw, it worked okay
 again. (In fact, it's still working fine; I am very impressed by the
 rectangular connector.) Finally the back of the case broke behind the
 second hinge, which I screwed into the bottom also.  The LCD is a bit
 wobbly, but now unfortunately also goes white when it rocks, since the
 video cable is exposed and probably cracked by now.  As far as I know
 we're not expecting any babies, but... $200/<1 year ~ $230/year, 10
 months of wife-use.

Anyway, I'm now in the market for a new laptop, and I'd like to get
one that lasted longer than, say, a year. :) After my experience with my
hpaq at work, I won't ever buy a Compaq again... but any other
suggestions are welcome.  Price over lifetime is the major factor, but
I'd like the entry cost to be fairly low.  Is my best bet to buy a Dell
or something with a long warranty, or would I wind up losing it for
negligence or abuse?

New or used (>500MHz) is fine, if you know of any particular tanks... or
should I give up and buy a pallet of laptop lease returns? ;)

Sorry for the long post, if you've read this far thanks.


Re: Long-lived "lap"-top?

Tim, this is a great story, deserves to be published in one of
the national geek mags.  There are some wonderfully ruggedized
laptops, such as the Panasonic Toughbook series and the Getac
ultra-ruggeds.  These are military rugged, and can be quite
expensive, well over $3k.  My impression is that you should
treat your laptop needs like those single-use cameras, and go
for a couple of cheapies at a time with a big usb HDD to keep
your data in so you can just transfer files, toss the old PC,
and keep on road-warrioring.


Tim C wrote:
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Re: Long-lived "lap"-top?

Get her a desk-top machine unless you can afford one of those
ruggedized devices.


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Re: Long-lived "lap"-top?

Tim C wrote:

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You are asking for the impossible. Either she changes her
ways or you can be happy that she is making a lot of money
and can afford to replace them often.
My current machine is 6 years old - I have changed the
battery twice and the fan once - cost per day $1.00.

Re: Long-lived "lap"-top?

Bob wrote:
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I actually like the idea of the pallet of lease returns if you can find
it cheaply enough (though I suspect you might have been joking).   Pick
two or three off the bunch and sell the rest on EBAY covering your
original cost.

Re: Long-lived "lap"-top?

you only have one choice.. a rugged laptop. there are a few out there.
PANASONIC makes a great one. and there WARRANTY is very good.. We have some
at work. and I just call an 800 number if  I ever have an issue with one.
(Usually a hard drive crash for some reason) but VERY RARELY .   and they
ship me another one OVERNIGHT. with the OS on it ready to go. and I ship
back the old one. which is a plug in and out part on the CF-18 ToughBook..
they have WIRELESS built in some models. and TOUCH SCREENS if needed..
YOU can pick them up farily inexpensivly on EBAY. for 1200 or less.
Depending on what your looking for. You can spend 2 Grand. for a VERY NICE
ONE.. but if she's beating on them that much. i'd go for the 1200 or LESS
Good Luck

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Re: Long-lived "lap"-top?

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Great story, I take it you want to keep the wife...  8*)

Panasonic ToughBooks come in two flavors, a "residential" version for
a lot of money and an "industrial" model that's really rugged,
drop-proof, waterproof, etc, for a whole ton of money.

You might consider a matched pair of Dell Latitude D510(ish) laptops
with the "drops and spills" mail-in warranty, frequent backups, and
either lessons on swapping the hard drive or D-Bay hard drives.
that'll cost you an awful lot less than the "industrial" ToughBook...

Re: Long-lived "lap"-top?

Tim C wrote:
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I enjoyed your tale of woe immensely.

Go on eBay and get some IBM 600X model machines, preferably the PIII 650MHz.

Should be able to find quite a few in the $200 to $300 range, loaded.

Besides the fact that your wife's machines are a deductible business
expense, these should last her a year or more _each_, even with her heavy
handedness. They're little tanks.

Good luck.


Re: Long-lived "lap"-top?

1. I've generally been able to get warranty repairs from IBM EZServ
for failures of that type with Thinkpads.  I have no experience with
Toughbooks but by all reports they're more rugged in the first place.

2. It's in the nature of laptops to be failure prone.  They always
pack as much performance as possible in a small package, and that
means fragility.  The main exception is certain industrial units that
are ultra-expensive, low-performing, and somewhat difficult to use.

3. Even if you get a very tough, low-tech laptop, and take good care
of it, there is still some chance it will fail and need time-consuming
repairs.  If your wife's real estate business is ultra-vulnerable to
downtime, she has to have backup equipment, just like any other
professional who has to meet deadlines and who has to rely on gear
that spends time in the shop.  Pro photographers will usually have
multiple backup cameras.  Pro performing musicians usually have backup
instruments.  Your wife needs a backup laptop, there's nothing
complicated about it.

Re: Long-lived

I recall toughbooks being well-nigh indestructible compared to most
laptops or notebooks, but given your wife's use habits, I
dunno. IBM Thinkpads
(at least some of the older ones) have always
been pretty durable for me as
well, but that's just my experience and
I could be wrong.

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