Thursday, June 02, 2005

Dead Pixels and the Art of Shopping

With the annual PC Show now on in Singapore, it is time to get serious about the acquisition of a laptop. While the show itself is a nightmare because of the poor booth layout, the occasion does stimulate the various vendors to offer "deals". So far, the price of the Acer has dropped S$300 and a bunch of freebies are being offered as well.

The normal way to buy computers in Singapore is to head to Sim Lim Square and bargain your posterior off with the various sharks that inhabit that storied building. The pricing one gets at the PC Show represents what would pass for a decent deal at Sim Lim - probably not the absolute lowest price, but one that beats retail - and with a lot less hassle.

The problem with all computer trade shows in Singapore is the seeming lack of any regulation by the authorities. The booths are arranged so closely together that it is impossible to walk down the corridors. The experience can be quite frightening if you are small, short, or in any way intimidated by crowds. If a fire or other emergency were to occur, people would die, it is that simple.

The dead pixels referred to in the title are not the victims of attending the show, but rather a problem with LCD screens. Unless great care is taken and quality standards are high, one or more pixels in a screen may malfunction. The effect is to have a dot on your screen that is always on, or conversely, black all the time. Depending where the dead pixels end up, this can be enormously irritating. For those doing pixel level graphics work, it is impossible to accept.

The manufacturers of course would have you believe that this is normal, and that they bear no responsibility for bad pixels. The analogy is that you buy a car with a windshield that has random black spots on it.

I don't think so.

As a consumer, you need to exercise discretion before you purchase. Depending on the vendor, you will get little or no sympathy if you try and return a laptop because of dead pixels. My "favorite" vendor, Acer, states on their website that anything up to 7 dead pixels is considered acceptable. Not to me!

So how do you protect yourself before the money is handed over? Clearly, buying online is not going to work unless you can get the vendor to explicitly accept your order subject to no dead pixels. It is worth a shot.

Preferably, you want to be able to test the screen yourself before taking delivery. And for that, some software helps. Over at LaptopShowcase, a program by Chris called Dead Pixel Buddy allows you to run a screen through its paces and determine whether any pixels are defective.

Armed with this little gem on my trusty USB flashdrive, I am off to the PC Show tomorrow to do battle with the forces of commerce.

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