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Best & Worst Big-Box Laptop Retailers

Undercover testing at notebook retailers like Best Buy, Wal-Mart, and others proves that not all shopping experiences are the same.


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by Jeffrey L. Wilson on December 17, 2009

retailers_sh3.jpgBuying a new notebook is a personal and important decision that shouldn't be made on a whim. Even if you wind up purchasing your laptop online, the hands-on experience at a retail outletcould be an invaluable part of the shopping process. Ideally, you should be able to gauge a prospective system's weight, checkthe display'sviewing angles, hear the speakers, inspect the design, and test the keyboard and touchpad. Product reviews and image galleriesare a necessary start, but they don't alwaysgive you the complete picture.

That makes brick-and-mortar retailers potentially invaluable to the consumer. Not only should you find a location that will let you test drive a potential purchase, but the sales team should be able to answer your most important questions, such as, "Do I need an optical drive?" or "What is HDMI?"

To keep you from striking out on your next notebook hunting trip, we went undercover at the biggest national chains where laptops are sold, including the Apple Store, Best Buy, Costco, Staples, and Wal-Mart. The goal? To find a haven where we could lift a machine to gauge weight, type on the keyboard, see the screen and its viewing angles, and connect a flash drive full of documents and media to test the speakers. We visited two locations of each chain, quizzing the staff along the way to test their knowledge of the following topics:

The differences between netbooks and notebooks
The relevance of optical drives
The definition of HDMI
The benefits of discrete graphics

Read on to find out which brick-and-mortar stores soared and which ones sank.

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