Please help me choose a laptop for school.

I’m starting school again, and with having changed my major to Computer Science, I will need a laptop powerful enough that I can reliably write and compile code on. I’ve searched Consumer Reports, but none of the laptops featured were exactly what I needed.
[li]The laptop would need to be small and/or light enough that I can lug it around without destroying my shoulder. I’m guessing anywhere between 11" and 14". The biggest laptop I can get at the lightest weight would obviously be optimal.[/li][li]An optical drive would be nice, but is not necessary.[/li][li]A numeric keypad on the keyboard would be nice, but is not necessary.[/li][li]Reliability and durability are chief concerns. I need to know this laptop is going to last me a few years without significant issues.[/li][li]I don’t intend to play many games on this laptop; I’ll leave that to my home desktop. Thus, super ultra gee-whiz Crysis-level graphics are unnecessary.[/li][li]I’d ideally like to spend no more than $800, but if the perfect computer shows itself, I may push it to $1000.[/li][/ul]
I’ll admit that for a Computer Science major (and someone who has been tinkering with both hardware and software for 20 years), my knowledge of the latest and greatest hardware is woefully inadequate. I have a decent handle on types of RAM and processors, but the details of graphics cards are beyond me.

I was looking at the Sony Vaio VPCEC25FX/BI. Does anyone have good or bad things to say about this model? My father pushes Toshiba laptops hard, but so far, none of the Toshibas on have impressed me. Which manufacturer is known now for making high-quality laptops?

Thanks for any and all help.

I’ve heard that a number of businesses and business people that travel frequently prefer IBM (now Lenovo) ThinkPads - the packaging isn’t fancy, but holds up like no one’s business. My husband owns his own company and is using our older model Dell laptop for everything right now; when he goes to replace it, I’m going to recommend that he consider Lenovo pretty carefully.

You probably won’t find a laptop with keypad in the “small and light” range; most of these seem to be the 17" behemoths. If you find you really need the keypad, I’d pick up a keyboard later for cheap - I found a Logitech wireless one (the receiver plugs into a USB port) + mouse for like $15 on sale at Target, so it doesn’t need to be expensive.

The Vaio VPCEC25FX/BI is a 7.3-pound 17-inch laptop. You must have got that part number wrong.

Dell laptops are decent and affordable. I’ve also had good experience with IBM/Lenovo and Fujitsu. Toshiba doesn’t seem to be the industry leader they used to be.

There’s no such thing as a laptop with 100% reliability, but there are laptop companies that have much better customer service than others, including on-site service (if you pay for it). If “reliability” is an important factor, this is where you should focus on.

What operating system do you plan to run? Windows, Linux, other?

If he’s going computer science it’ll pretty much have to be Windows. I’m aware there are most certainly compilers for whatever programs he’ll probably be using available for Linux, but for ease of use and compatibility with what the school and instructor are using, Windows all the way. Though having some sort of dual-boot option wouldn’t be a bad idea, but that would be an aftermarket thing he can decide to do on his own.

Plus…where do you even find a commercial laptop that comes with Linux pre-installed?

I’ll second the Thinkpad recommendation. They are designed for corporate/business use. Not as pretty as an HP or Apple, less frills, but decent power for price and reliable as can be expected in a Laptop. The school I attended was one of the first to require all students to have laptops (either bring your own that met certain specs, or buy one of the ones the university offered.) IIRC they started with the class of 2003, so in 1999…I was class of 2004, arrived in 2000. Aside from the first year, they used (and to my knowledge still use) Thinkpads. They were (for the most part) able to handle the compilers for the com sci students, the CAD software for the engineers, and the 3D modeling and image editing software for the graphic design majors. Thinkpads also tend to have less “bloatware” pre-installed on them. And since lots of times new laptops come with “recovery” DVDs rather than a regular version of Windows, it can sometimes be hard to get rid of said bloatware (they bundle all that same crap with the recovery DVD…I don’t want you there, HP Assistant, nagging at me all the time! Go away!)

I don’t have a specific model in mind, but Lenovo’s Thinkpad series has never failed to impress me. They are sturdy, well designed, reliable, and well built. I have never had a problem with any Lenovo hardware, nor a problem with tech support. I have been using a z61m Thinkpad for 3 years as my day to day work machine. It gets a ton of use and it has not gone down once. A year and a half in I added a couple of gigs of ram. Other than that I have just let it do it’s job. For the smaller screen sizes I think you can find ones in your price range.
So, I suggest Lenovo for you or anyone buying a Windows desktop.

Otherwise, it is also hard to go wrong when you buy an Apple laptop. Their hardware lasts forever and usually has some clever design choices that often make you say “Huh! Great idea!” With bootstrap you are able to run windows apps and you can also dual boot into windows.

But, Apple is way out of your budget. So, I go back to Lenovo. They make nice machines. Machines that I think are as reliable as Apple for a cheaper price. That being said, they are higher priced than Dell or Toshiba. I would be interested to see what CR thinks of the Thinkpad line. But, from this one person’s experience I think they are great.

Oops. I started this before any of the replies. Well, I agree with everyone else. Thinkpads rock!

Yep. I went IBM for a while before switching to Dells for the last two.

FWIW, my first laptop 13 years ago was an IBM Inspiron 7K. If it weren’t for the screwed up power feed on the mobo, I would’ve been using it more than 4 years. As it was, I recently disassembled it to get data off the HD and had absolutely no issues with degradation although that might speak more to the HD construction than to the laptop itself…

Laptop after that was a Thinkpad T21, lasted through a ton of abuse with only a small stress crack in the front left corner until I decided I wanted something newer.

As an artist I’m a Mac person but I do have and use PCs. I don’t have a lot of PC buying experience but what I do have says stay away from Dell. These people are still in the stone age. I swear to god they must use the Univac for billing and support.

The Thinkpads are nice. I have one from work - a T41. As others have noted, they are no-frills but very well built. Generally if you want small form-factor/weight you should look for such “business type” models. But, some models may have drawbacks:

rarely have a seen ‘wide-screen’ business models. If you plan to use it as a TV or for extensive media work consider this.

Similarly, audio/video out options may be limited.

I also like the HP DV14 series - small, sturdy, can get them optioned nicely.

This very much depends on the university. I did a bachelor’s in CS from 2003-2008 and I’m quite sure that every programming assignment that I did from second year on was done in Linux. My university’s CS department primarily ran Unix(I believe it was Solaris) so it was far, far easier to do assignments on my own computer if I was running Linux than if I was running Windows. All of the free compilers will run at least as well on Linux as they will on Windows(and most of them are much easier to install and use on Linux), so unless the university is teaching with Visual Studio or something I would not be so sure that Windows is the better option for a CS student.
To answer the OP, you’re really not going to need much of a computer at all. The only upgrade that my desktop got in my 5 years in university was a new hard drive and a new monitor. It was already a bit old in 2003 and by 2008 it was ancient. I think I had something like 512MB of RAM, and it was fine. The simple fact is that the vast majority of your assignments are going to end up being toy programs of a couple hundred lines. You may end up doing a couple of large projects, but even those will be only a few thousand lines. Any computer made this century will compile that in its sleep. If you really feel that you need a laptop, a cheap second-hand one will be plenty.

However, personally I’d question whether you’ll really need a laptop. IMO, a laptop is useless for taking notes during a CS lecture. You’ll find yourself either needing to draw a lot of diagrams or copy down mathematical symbols(yes, there is a lot of math in CS). Doing the first on a laptop is impossible. It may be possible to do the second if you take notes in latex or something, but personally I’d prefer to take the notes by hand.

Where the laptop can come in useful is for doing your assignments. In my program most of the assignments were done on my own, so I just did them at home on my desktop. For group assignments I usually just had the work divided up ahead of time and then I did my part at home. For a couple of assignments I either met my group at the computer lab on campus(not a problem for me because I lived right next to campus) or had my partner come to my place with his laptop.

^^ what he said. IME you really don’t need much of a computer to take CS classes. You’re just writing little toy programs, it’s not like you’ll build a call center application every week. Even when you have to write an operating system … it’ll be a pretty bare-bones operating system. I guess maybe if you take graphics or something then you’ll test your machine’s limits … but it depends, it could turn into a math class, and you might not even take a class like that anyhow.

And everything in our department assumes students work on our network (which is all Linux machines, btw). They can work on their own machine but files and such are posted on our network. In fact I make point to tell students (I’m a grad student) that I grade their code on department machines. It’s their job to copy it over and make sure there’s no compiler/runtime problems, if it runs on their home machine but not on mine then it’s not my job to fix it.

Don’t forget to checkout the outlet areas for Dell, Lenovo and others. You can get brand new, direct from the manufacturer machines at really, really good prices.

Shameless plug for Lenovo. I bought two brand new laptops from Lenovo earlier this year. They had been ordered by customers but never left the factory (customers changed their minds). So they end up on the outlet site. Brand new. Got it for a price you pay for returned and refurbished machines.

Dell Outlet.
Sony Outlet.
HP Outlet.

That hasn’t been my experience. I haven’t had any problem with their billing system, and I think their support is excellent. (Though Lenovo is just as good.)

Thanks, everyone for your responses. There seems to be a lot of love for Lenovo in this thread. I checked them out on Consumer Reports and their laptops received fairly below-average marks. Any idea what accounts for this?

They might be reviewing the Ideapads and their non Thinkpad lines. I don’t have any experience with them, but they look like standard consumer grade machines.

I think that the results for laptop computers in Consumer Reports comes from a survey they do of their online and print subscribers. As I remember, it’s pretty basic. Do you have a notebook computer (they confine this to only ones that are fairly new, like under five years old as I remember)? What brand is it? Have you had any problems with it?

So I don’t think that they differentiate among the various model lines for Lenovo, Dell, HP, etc.