Building a laptop for DVD, Music, and Photos only - Questions...

I would like to get a used (or maybe new) laptop in the <$500 range (one with a DVDreader/burner, 512 RAM, 60 gig HD, and at least 1.5 GHZ processor.

It will have a netork card for networking to an XP machine, but will never see the inside of the internet. This will be a stable, non-internet, file backup machine (for photos and such) and a portable entertainment system for the children. I want to use it strictly for the children’s software titles, photo viewer, DVD player, and of course music player. That’s it, no photoshop, no video editing, and probably wont even have any of the microsoft office products on it (still thinking about that one).

What OS should I install in this thing? Linux? XP? 2000? 98?

Remember, it has to be able to network to the existing XP machine in the home now.

I can’t install XP without buying a new copy but I do have Win 98 handy and a copy of Knoppix.

If you have any other suggestions as far as software and whatever compatabillity issues I might have with a non-MS OS that would be appreciated.

Acer is selling a fairly nice laptop at CAD699 through Source Electronics in Canada. I think they’re owned by Circuit City so you might be able to find something comparable in the states. Comes with XP home installed, so should fall within what you want (little over, but it is new).

I handle the technology purchasing for a small non-profit and when people ask me about machines for home and personal use, I recommend the IBM Thinkpads if buying used and new Dells with the maximum warranty available if buying new. Right now there are a lot of nice Thinkpads available used in the $250-450 range and you can choose what upgrades you want to do. Fujitsu and Toshiba notebooks are generally good, and as alluded to above, the newer Dell Inspirons are also pretty robust and can make good used machines. If you live near a metro area, check out craigslist for used stuff.

IMHO, if you could go with a DVD/CD-RW combo drive and a 40GB HD, then you could start looking at some decent used machines. With DVD-RW and 60GB you are really limiting yourself to HP/Compaq and off-brands at the $500 price point. While I’m sure you COULD get a good one, I’ve seen way too many of these machines fry a board or need an expensive screen repair to recommend them. YMMV, but every single HP/Compaq we’ve ever purchased has been in the shop at one time or another, some of them 6 or more times. Durability is a big concern, especially if it will be used by the kids.

Also, rather than looking strictly at clock speed and saying you want a 1.5Ghz machine, you might want to be a bit more wholistic and consider the power consumption and what you will actually be using the machine for. I would definitely choose a slower Centrino or Pentium M over a Pentium 4 in a notebook. Spinning up the DVD drive takes a lot of power as well, so if you want Grandma to be able to look through all your photos and then have the DVD to play all the way through on the car ride home while running on battery power, a slower mobile chip might be the way to go.

If you are going to buy a notebook, buy a new one and buy the warranty. I own a PC repair biz and I see lots of dead cause notebooks. Any given part from the manufacturer is probably as much as the whole damn machine and only a small percentage of hardware probelms are easily correctable by most local computer shops.

Toshibas have been most of the dead causes I have seen lately. For a common example electronics shops want $150-$200 to resolder broken power/usb/network jacks back down to the motherboard.

Also of note HP lately has been famous for delivering insufficent power to the USB ports as a power saving measure while on batteries. May not affect you personally but I have heard many people flipping out about poorly functioning cameras and such on those ports.

I don’t even own one I am so disgusted with them nowadays. I am going to need one soon like it or not…but if I do I will be buying a big fat warranty because I don’t want to deal with it, especially when I have the choice of still overpriced used parts or buying a $500 part for a $600 machine.

might also consider this book

geek my ride