What should I look for in a new laptop?

My laptop is nearing its 5th birthday, and I think I should get several more month’s mileage out of it. However, seeing as he’s becoming more and more cantankerous, I need to start considering younger, more subservient replacements.

Here’s what I use my computer for:

  • writing/blogging. Included therein is typing in Chinese and French. I don’t know if this makes a difference, though it may since there are certain frustrations concerning Windows XP involved in swithing between languages. Also, it would be nice to make the language settings (including the keyboard shortcuts I set more universal) more universal. These all could be things that are possible with my current XP, though, and I just don’t know it.

  • Frequent use of wireless internet

  • lots of travel. My computer has been to three continents. It’s been on trains, planes, you name it. So I need a durable computer. That said, I don’t think I have the money for that (is it an IBM?) that you can beat the hell out of.

  • I usually have several programs running at the same time (For instance: one or two windows of firefox, each with several tabs open; skype; yahoo widgets; Word; some sort of music listening/video watching program like Democracy player or realplayer; etc.)

  • I don’t play many games. Rather, I’ve never played a game on this computer, and I don’t plan to play any games on the new one.

  • I watch a lot of videos and movies.

  • I connect a lot of things to my computer (PDA, MP3 player, camera, mouse, etc.) and I don’t have the 2.0 USB (is that still the fastest?)

That’s all I can think of at the moment.

Any advice you can offer as to what I should look for in a computer would be greatly appreciated.

Oh, and money is an object. I can’t really spend more than $1500, and that’s already pushing it.

Here are some additional questions:

  • What brands are the best at the moment? Which offer the best customer service, convenient repair for someone who is all over the place?

  • I need some specs. What sort of video/sound cards should they have? How much RAM is an acceptable minimum? Megahertz?

  • What sort of things do I not want? I know computers come bundled with all sorts of junk. What do I need to tell these guys not to put in my computer?

  • Do I want Vista?


Damnit. Forgot a couple more questions:

What kind of processor do I want? Core Duo?

Also, my inspiron weighs more than a box of bricks, a lighter computer would be nice.

And, the best battery life I can get is necessary.

Most of what you’re going to find in stores these days will be either Core Duo or Core 2 Duo (it’s successor) or AMD’s dual core chip (Turion? I don’t remember offhand) Sometimes in the smaller, more moble ones you’ll find a Core Solo, but the majority are going to be 2 core processors. It’s not going to make a huge difference unless you’re constantly multitasking.

You’re probably not going to find better language support in other OSes, but there’s probably a software solution to your problems. I recommend you start a thread and see if other people have a solution to your problem.

WiFi is ubiquitous in pretty much all laptops. If you’re really, really concerned about “future-proofing” your purchase, look for one with 802.11n… But right now, it’s not common. Stick with G wireless and you’re golden.

Difficult to find a truly rugged or semi-rugged laptop in that price range. Only ones I know with the ‘airbag’ for the hard drive are Lenovo (previously IBM) Thinkpads and Apple’s MacBooks, but that only really makes a difference when it’s doing something and you drop it. A good bag/case protects most laptops.

Get a good amount of RAM. 2 gigs will do nicely.

Good. Laptops aren’t meant for games. If you want to game, build a good desktop.

… Bwah? Any computer you buy nowadays will support USB 2.0, and I can pretty much guarantee your MP3 player and digicams will support it. And don’t worry, all old USB 1 devices are supported by 2.0.

Most manufacturers fill their computer with a lot of unneeded crap in the form of OEM versions of Windows. Some of it’s useful, but in my opinion, most of it’s junk. The only way to really get around it is to purchase an original version of Windows (an extra cost, and even that still has crap on it) I just recommend a good cleaning when you get it.

As far as manufacturers, I’ve been most impressed by Apple’s MacBooks. Quite a few of my friends have become converted. (Not myself though, I use a tablet pc)

They pretty much meet every request you have, the only thing I’m not sure about is the language settings in OSX, though I don’t imagine they don’t support what you want. And if they don’t, you can install XP or (ugh) Vista on the computer.

Decent battery life, small footprint, alll that jazz. The only thing I’ve noticed is that stock their RAM is a little low, and could use an upgrade. With 2 gigs, they’re great and with their initial cost, you can upgrade and still stay well within your budget.

It’s not overloaded with junk you don’t need (the only stuff that’s not free that comes with it is, I think, and Office-style suite)

My girlfriend has a Macbook, and I like it a lot. She’s said, however, that I’m not allowed to get one because “we need at least one PC between the two of us.” Also, I’m so used to all the PC keyboard shortcuts that I hesitate habituating myself to a Mac.

As for the tablet PC, I’m seriously thinking of saving up and getting one. I could really use something like that…or could I? I think I could…

This will do everything you have asked for and you don’t even need to know the particulars of things like USB 1 vs USB 2, or dou-core processors.

It’ll work out of the box, comes with really useful software (full versions not trials) and will likely remain stable for as long as you have it.

Sorry about popping in to continue talking about MacBooks when you are possibly not interested in Apple products…

However, my MacBook Pro is robust, sleek, good to look at, and it is very enjoyable to use. It’s my first Mac, purchased in February.

If needed, you can install Windows on it using Bootcamp (dual boot), or buy Parallels and have your Windows apps running side by side with Mac apps, letting you even copy/paste and limited drag/drop between them.

I use XP in Parallels daily and it is a solid performer.

My Mac is my machine, and it is far more enjoyable to use than the Windows machine provided by my employer.

I originally got mine for use during class. I hate the clickity-clack of keys while the instructor’s speaking. With this, I can keep all my notes in their original format, organized and backed up on the computer and at home.

Plus, if I ever feel like drawing something, I can. And it impressed the hell out of everyone in my class.

They’re not that expensive. I’ve seen plenty for about $1400CAD. Personally, mine’s the bottom-of-the-line Gateway. I’ve seen some nice HP tablets for sale for the same price I paid for my Gateway (who’s price is now down around $1000 CAD).

I really like my tablet, I do highly recommend them. Though they do have their limitations. My screen is a big hunk of glass, and I’m always worried about breaking it. The digitizer also lowers the visual quality of the screen, and lowers viewing angles… It’s less pronounced on the more expensive models, but it’ll always be there.

I also don’t use it as my primary computer. I have a nice desktop that I try to do most of my work on, (plus I’m a gamer, and as I said, laptops are not for games) so it doesn’t take as much wear and tear as other computers which are used every single day.

I can’t really recommend a specific model, as this Gateway is the only one I’ve tried. On the other hand, on reviews, it doesn’t do as well as other computers, so I can imagine the others aren’t going to do worse.

If you’re seriously looking at a tablet, take a look through Tablet PC Review. They review pretty much every tablet out there. Right now their top is the HP tx1000, and it’s small (12.1" screen), and it’s an actual touchscreen (stylus or fingertip. Mine’s stylus only) 2 gigs of RAM, nice processor. And it looks like most places are selling it for about $1100USD.

The guy said that he didn’t want a Mac, leave him alone.

Anyways, the most important thing is to figure out how small of a computer you actually want. I think 14.1" is a good size, but if you do travel a lot you might want to consider going with a 12.1" or 10.6". Even the slowest processor today is going to be more than you need. The best way to go about selecting the laptop is to pick the screen size you want, find the form factor in that size you like, and then just make sure it has a DVD drive on it.

Re: tablet PC issues:

Tablet PCs can be significantly less user-friendly if you are left-handed. Something to keep in mind on the off-chance you are a leftie.

Actually, gitfiddle did not say that:

To me this sounds like the problem is not having a PC. I did apologize for being a Mac “me too” and I specifically mentioned Boot Camp as well as Parallels as perfectly acceptable ways of getting around the “need a PC around” angle. As such, I feel your tone is slightly harsh, treis.

But gitfiddle did mention that the budget was limited to $1,500 and you can get more computer for the money if you stick with a PC.

Fair enough.

I provided my reply because as a PC guy, I had agonized over tablet vs. robust Windows laptop vs. Mac for most of December and January when I was in much the same position as the OP, and the deal maker was when I saw how smoothly Windows runs on Intel-based Macs, without lame emulation layers. I have been very happy with my choice.

That said, I agree that the biggest problem with trying a MacBook Pro would be $$$, though their fit and finish and robustness is second only to those fancy $4K ruggedized machines (imo). I’m going now :).

I love you guys. It’s almost like the scene in Wayne’s World where Chris Farley’s bodyguard character runs into Wayne and Company.

“It’s okay. He’s going to be…okay.”

Just for the record. I didn’t say I wouldn’t buy a Macbook, per se. I love Macs. It’s all my girlfriend will use.

But, I’m just so used to PCs. I’m comfortable with the things I do, the little things: like alt + tab to switch between windows (on a mac, that just switches programs, not windows). Besides, despite the major downsides of a PC (having to get anti-virus software, along with other quirks), all of the PCs I’ve found so far are a lot cheaper than Macs.

All that said, does anyone know good sites for comparing brands? I’ve looked at cnet and found some helpful info, but you have to be a subscriber to see what Consumer Reports has to say.

Try pcmag.com, which is the website for PC Magazine.

I bought a Toshiba Satellite U200 for work. I LOVE this laptop!

It’s a Centrino Duo Core 1.6gHz with a gig of RAM. I actually bought 3 of them, 2 came with XP, 1 with Vista. We ended-up putting XP on the 3rd laptop becuase of performance issues.

I like it because I carry it around a lot, it’s nice and small (just over 4 lbs). It does just have a 12.4" screen, but I don’t miss carrying around a 8lb monster with a 17" display at all.

The screen size helps with the battery life as well, you can tweak it and get just over 3 hours. I’m also getting an external battery that should give me another 3-4 hours as well.

It has built in Wi-Fi (just like any other laptop made in the last 4 years), 3 USB ports, Firewire port, VGA out, RJ-ll modem port, RJ-45 ethernet port and a DVD burner.

It also has a built-in fingerprint scanner.

I’m thinking about buying one of these for personal use. It was ~$1300 CAN as well.

It didn’t have a serial port, so I bought a USB->Serial adapter and it works flawlessly with SecureCRT.


Some I’m looking at the Dell 1420. I’m still not sure what I’m going to buy, but when I go into customizing it, I don’t know exactly what I’m looking for, concerning certain specs:

[li] HD: 160GB SATA or 160GB SATA 7200RPM, is it worth the price difference for your average user?[/li][li]2gb or 4gb of RAM? This isn’t that important, I suppose, since I could easily upgrade[/li][li]Video card: Do I need to upgrade to the GeForce Go 8400 thingy? I don’t play video games, but I watch a lot of movies and use a lot of video applications.[/li][li]burner: do I want/need a blu-ray burner? I want a DVD burner, but what about blu-ray?[/li][/ul]

Remember, you can look in my initial post as to what I use the computer for.