New laptop? Here’s how to tell if you should return it

So you just bought a shiny new laptop and took it out of the box. You’re dying to fire it up and play around with it – I still have that feeling even after unboxing over 200 different machines. Each one is new and different, and this appeals to the part of our brain that craves novelty.

But there’s no worse feeling than realizing there’s a problem with it after your return period has expired. There’s no good reason to hold on to a machine with a major fault when an easy return is possible. Here are a few things to look out for so you don’t get stuck with a lemon or spend hours on warranty support.

Apple MacBook Air 14

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Check it out physically

The first thing you need to make sure is that all of the physical components are working and built the way they should be. By that I mean the ones that you can easily check without breaking open the laptop. Incidentally, that’s a step I won’t recommend in this guide – you don’t want to break open the case and risk violating your seller’s return policy.

Step 1: Examine the laptop case from top to bottom and around each side. Look for misaligned components, gaps that shouldn’t be there, and dents and dents. A new laptop shouldn’t have either of these, and gaps and misalignments can not only be unsightly, but also allow dust and dirt to seep into the case and wreak havoc.

Make sure all parts that should be present, such as rubber feet and case screws, are present and securely fastened. All screws should be installed correctly and flush with the chassis.

Open and close the hinge. Make sure it’s a smooth movement with no issues or sticking points, but remember that some hinges are just better engineered than others. Don’t expect a $300 Chromebook’s hinge to open as smoothly as a $2,500 MacBook Pro 16. If there’s an actual problem, it should be obvious. Also ensure that the hinge is straight and that the display lip rests on the case as intended.

hp specter x360 13 5 review right side

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 2: Next, check the ad. Use solid white, black, and different colors to ensure there are no dead pixels or hot pixels (that get stuck on one color regardless of the image). Different manufacturers have different warranty coverage standards for pixel issues, but a dead or hot pixel is a good reason for a quick return. If it’s past your return deadline and the warranty doesn’t cover it, see our guide on how to fix a dead pixel. Also look out for other image quality issues such as: B. Banding, unusual color temperatures in different parts of the display or a general lack of consistency.

If your laptop uses an IPS, VA, or TN display, you should look for light bleeding around the sides of the screen when the laptop is on but nothing is showing on the screen – the best time to check is when that laptop boots. You can also switch to a completely black picture and turn down the ambient lighting. OLED displays do not suffer from this problem. Note that all non-OLED laptops can have some light bleeding. The question is, is the light bleed strong enough to spoil the image in your eyes? If so, then return it.

Your display should be perfect, or as close as you expect it to be. Like the keyboard, it’s a component you use every time you open your laptop.

A MacBook Pro 14 display.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 3: Then check the keyboard. Make sure each key is working properly and there are no loose or stuck keys. Be sure to check the default and toggle mode keys, including the use of function key toggles. If the keyboard is backlit, make sure the backlight is uniform across all keys, and if it’s per-key RGB lighting, make sure it looks good and responds to the right commands.

Keyboards vary in how consistent they feel across all keys, and some keys (like the spacebar) are louder than others and require more force to press. Technically, these aren’t always flaws, but they could be attributes that make you unhappy with the laptop. So in general, make sure that the feel of the keyboard works for you, as this is one of the components that you will be using the most.

Apple MacBook Pro 14 top view with keyboard and touchpad.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Step 4: Also check the touchpad. Make sure it’s secure and doesn’t wobble and the button clicks work as they should. The entire surface should respond to swipes and taps consistently and precisely, so check that out too. When pressing the touchpad, make sure there are no large gaps between the touchpad surface and the case. As mentioned above, this allows dust and dirt to get inside the case.

Dell Latitude 9330 top down view with touchpad LED buttons.

Mark Coppock?Digital trends

Step 5: You should also check your sound quality. Launch your favorite music player or YouTube and play various content. Check for crackling or hissing in the audio and turn up the volume to make sure there is no distortion. Again, this is one of those things where different laptops have different audio quality, but there shouldn’t be any obvious flaws in playback.

Close-up of the right speaker on the Dell XPS 15 OLED laptop.

Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Screenshot of the Windows 10 update interface.

Update your laptop

The first thing you need to do is update your laptop. Once the operating system is fully installed, whether it’s Windows 11, macOS, or Chrome OS, run the update utility in System Preferences until all updates are applied. If the laptop comes with a separate update utility, run that next to ensure all vendor-supplied drivers and firmware are up to date. Finally, if an Nvidia or AMD utility is installed, check it to make sure you’re running the most up-to-date drivers.

You’ll be surprised how many initial issues are resolved simply by making sure the laptop is fully updated.

broarwell e processor cinebench test

Run some benchmarks

If your laptop has inherent CPU issues, you should run it through a quick stress test to find out. One tool to use is Cinebench, which walks the CPU through the process of rendering a complex image. Run both the multi-core and single-core tests, and if the laptop crashes, it’s a sign that something might be wrong.

You’ll likely notice the fans spinning while the benchmark is running, and if you don’t, there may be a problem. Once the fans spin, check the sound for oddities. Loud or quiet, low or high, fan noise should be consistent and not grating. If you hear something that sounds like an odd hum or whirr — or something similar to inserting a playing card into the spokes of your bike — then these could be signs of a problem.

To test the GPU as well, you can use Unigene Heaven. It will stress both components and let you know if there are any obvious problems.

There are other applications you can run to stress test your laptop, but these are beyond the scope of this guide.

A huge browser window fills the entire view.

Use your laptop as much as you can

Use your laptop as much as possible before your return period ends. Use all your favorite apps, surf the web and run speed tests to make sure your Wi-Fi is up to date. Play some games if that’s what you’re into and generally make sure everything is going as you expect. If something seems slower than it should or you encounter crashes, take a note.

Not every problem shows up immediately. Some don’t show up until well past the return policy (even if you’re buying from Costco with their 90-day return policy). Some only appear after the warranty has expired. That’s inevitable, and that’s partly why reviews often don’t identify the underlying issues that are flocking to forums. We reviewers rarely have the opportunity to use a laptop long enough to identify issues that don’t show up right away.

That’s why it’s so important to use your new notebook as much as possible within the return period to ensure you want to keep it.

Please investigate

Before you take the final step of returning a faulty laptop, it’s a good idea to do some research to make sure you’re unaware of the problems you’re encountering. Perhaps someone has already spotted fixes, or the vendor has promised to fix an issue. But at least then you’ll know if your machine is unusual or the norm, and you can make the most informed decision.

During your research, you may discover common issues that are unlikely to show up in your first test and require warranty service work. That might be enough to convince you to choose another laptop that doesn’t have the same issues.

All of these steps should be completed before your laptop’s return period has expired. It’s up to you whether a problem found is worth returning – after all, a minor blemish on an otherwise perfect laptop might not matter to you. And every return and new purchase means another chance at getting a problem laptop.

But that’s a lot of money to spend, and it’s worth taking some time to ensure your laptop looks and performs as it should. Of course, once your return period has passed, you’ll need to resort to warranty support, and that’s okay too. But nipping things in the bud is always the best option.

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