TELA Laptops: HP vs Toshiba

Many schools in NZ are taking advantage of the Ministry of Education’s TELA laptop leasing program which pays about two thirds of the costs of the lease and also provides mobility insurance and pickup or onsite service. Our school has been using these laptops for several years since the program was extended to include primary schools, and now is onto our second round of leases for both teachers and the principal (the latter being on the Leadspace program). There have always been three brands available: HP/Compaq, Toshiba and Apple. As a PC site we use the first two only. In our first round of leases, we predominated with Toshiba but experimentally tried two Compaq NX5000s. Although the hardware quality was comparable, the service arrangements were less satisfactory falling below the standard provided by the Toshiba agent. In the new round of leases that we signed up for in 2008, HP offers the Compaq 6710b laptop (and the 8510p in the Leadspace program) with an onsite service warranty, which is the first time this has been available to my knowledge for any TELA laptops. Basically the previous return system used by both Toshiba and HP is to require you to either deliver the laptop yourself to the service centre or have it collected by a courier. This requires the school to have additional resources to make a backup of user files, and perhaps another laptop to loan to the affected teacher while their laptop is away for repair. This could easily take a week or more, and the time required by the school IT staff to copy the user’s files back and forth, packing up the laptop and finding a convenient time to exchange it is a major consideration.

So it was with considerable interest that I noted that HP has now started to offer on-site service of their laptops starting late in 2007 or possibly earlier. We took out a lease at the end of 2007 for one Compaq 6710b laptop as this model at the time was considerably cheaper to lease than the Toshiba S200 model. As it now turns out, Toshiba has also reduced their prices, but doesn’t differentiate on the question of the level of warranty service from before. The 6710b was the earlier GX785PC submodel, and overall I found its performance compared well with the Toshibas. Based on satisfactory experience of this Compaq laptop, we placed an order recently for eleven more of the same type, although they are now the KM361PC submodel. We have had occasion to call on the service of HP for site visits twice, which has proved convenient both times. However, I would be a little concerned about having two laptops out of 11 having faults from new. The Toshiba S200 is broadly similar to other Toshiba models in the past; the main enhancement that the user notices is when switching displays with an external display connected. The laptop now displays a popup menu when Fn and F5 are pressed, and this includes the very convenient option of enabling extended desktop. The Compaq doesn’t have the exact same functionality when using its Fn and F4 key combination, but it does have a special Presenter button which gives the same options. This button along with others for information, wireless mode and sound levels, is placed on a strip of convenient touch sensitive buttons above the keyboard. The 6710b also has a better placement of the sound jacks on the side rather than the front.

Overall I would say these two models are much of a muchness, but HP’s onsite warranty service is much more convenient as long as the fault can be repaired at the school. One of the laptop repairs we had done involved taking the whole laptop apart and completely replacing the system board, which was completed in about half an hour or so, so I suspect it would be a rare fault that would require the laptop to go back to base. With the laptops being so new we haven’t had any indemnity repairs yet, so I don’t know if the process for these is different. I also haven’t yet encountered a situation where the repair couldn’t be diagnosed on the basis of the initial support query, i.e. where the serviceperson would need to perform additional testing at a service centre to determine the fault. Those types of situations might result in the laptop needing to be sent to the service centre and resulting inconvenience for the school. So my comments about onsite service really only apply to the situations we have seen so far in our case. One interesting technical difference between these model laptops and older ones is that the earth pin of the power supply cord is connected to external metal surfaces on the laptop itself. The older generation of laptops (Toshiba anyway) had 2 core mains leads so obviously the mains earth could not be connected in this way. I’m not sure why these laptops are electrically connected that way but it means they are now a Class 1 appliance instead of Class 2. It may be this is necessary for adequate RF noise shielding, always a problem with plastic cased devices.