Jen asked me a few questions about my longarm machine - or longarm machines in general. This is a photo of my Gammill classic taken a couple of years ago at our last home.
My machine is non-stitch regulated which means that I control the stitch length by how fast or slow I move the machine. One of these days (I keep telling myself) I'll invest in having the stitch regulator added, but after almost 8 years of quilting with this machine, I'm pretty comfortable with it the way it is.
It sits on a 14 foot track table, but you can also buy them in a 12 foot length and even have them customized to fit your space. The Classic is the midrange longarm in length in the Gammill line. They make one smaller - the Premier, and 1 larger - the Optimum. My Classic has a throat space of 26" wide x 10" high. That gives me about 21" of quilting area. I don't believe you can buy a non-stitch regulated machine from Gammill except for the Premier now. I find my machine easy to move and it quilts smoothly without vibration. I think it's really easy to use.
You can buy machines that are computerized and in it's simplist form, you push a button and the machine quilts without any hand guiding from you. I've never test drove a computerized machine, so I can't give you much more info on them that this.
Before I bought my Gammill, I test-drove all the major brands on the market at that time. I had done research on the internet, received materials from all the major companies and poured over all the info for several months before decided which brand I wanted. When I went out and test drove the machines, I found I wanted the Gammill which wasn't the machine I had in mind to begin with. They all work basically the same, but they do feel different when you are quilting with them. My DH went with me when I tried out machines and he favored the Gammill Classic, too. Not that he does any quilting, but he did try out all the machines with me.
I suggest contacting all the companies that make longarm machines and ask them to send you out their brochures, DVD's, price lists, and whatever else they supply to potentional customers. Study all the info, then go out and test-drive as many machines as you can. I was lucky in that I found that the Gammill Headquarters was fairly near to me and had all the different brands of machines set up in their showroom. You can also find a major quilt show near you like the International Quilt Show in Houston, Paducah, MQX, MQS, etc., and test drive the machines there. Some quilt shops and longarm machine quilters are also dealers. Most longarm companies websites will list where they are vending during the year. While you are looking at their websites, see if they have a dealer close to where you live and make a visit. Ask lots of questions about service, maintenance, warrantees, etc. Some local quilt shops that have longarm machines will rent them out to customers, too. That's a great way to test out a machine.
Whatever machine a quilter choses, she/he finds it's the perfect one for her/him.
Here is a list of websites to visit: