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A good-graphics lappy that's cheap but not crappy?
August 12, 2011 9:09 PM   Subscribe

Help set me up: I am looking to buy my son a laptop. An inexpensive laptop. It should have a strong enough graphics card to run, say, MineCraft and other games/video smoothly; should have a webcam. Otherwise, it will be used for general schoolwork and internetting, and maybe some light music recording. Screen size is not important, so small displays are OK. So: new or used? Or buy a cheap one and upgrade the graphics card? What specs should I aim for? Any sources/sites that are better for finding good deals? I am wishing to find something for $200--am I wishing too hard? Thanks!!
posted by not_on_display to Computers & Internet (21 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
 
Upgrading the graphics card is often difficult or impossible with laptops, and especially so on the lower-end models, as they're generally soldered onto the motherboard, or even directly integrated into the motherboard chipset. Hard drives and memory can probably be upgraded, but with just about everything else, you're stuck with whatever it has (this is a major difference between laptops and desktops, which are usually much easier to upgrade).

Minecraft isn't especially demanding, though, nor are web browsers or word processors, so in that respect you're in luck in that you won't need an especially beefy machine. At that price point, you'll almost certainly have to go used; even netbooks (cheap, low-power, slow mini-laptops) are generally not that cheap new. The used market can be a little sketchy, especially if you go for buying machines directly from the previous owners (via, say, Craigslist), but you might have some luck buying a factory-recertified used machine, or one that was opened and returned. Several major vendors, like Newegg, for example, sell machines like that, and you may be able to find a price that low if you look hard and are patient. Good luck!
posted by andrewpendleton at 9:21 PM on August 12, 2011


I am not sure about graphic cards but if you look for an old used IBM on ebay the thinkpad series either 'x' or 'r' series, that might work. Specifically, find out about the x40 series and the r60 series.

Finally, when you do the search on ebay, look for "returns accepted".

Compare minecraft requirements with the ibm machine specifications and you should be good.
posted by blueshok at 9:22 PM on August 12, 2011


An inexpensive laptop. It should have a strong enough graphics card to run, say, MineCraft and other games/video smoothly; should have a webcam. Otherwise, it will be used for general schoolwork and internetting, and maybe some light music recording.

You need to take out 3 of those qualifications, and you will get what you want.

Otherwise, you're dreaming.

$200 laptops cost $200 because that is how much they are worth.
posted by hal_c_on at 9:44 PM on August 12, 2011


random data point. i have a year old lenovo t410 with maxed out everything and it still has occasional problems with minecraft. admittedly i have not looked into what i can do to resolve the issues because i don't play minecraft all that much.
posted by phil at 10:10 PM on August 12, 2011


Looks like there are a few laptops at Newegg between $200-300. This one meets most of yours basic requirements, though if it were me I'd be wanting to check it out in the store just to make sure it did everything okay. A webcam is $20-30 so it might be worth getting one separately and not waiting to find one that has everything.
posted by jessamyn at 10:32 PM on August 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm running an old Latitude D430- used, refurbished from Dell.. It was <>
It's perfectly fine for using the internet and word processing, it's got a great keyboard, it's light and just the right size for what I want.

So, maybe I could have found a better deal- I had to buy this one in a rush, my last one died during school- but this is basically what you'll get for under $300.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:37 PM on August 12, 2011


It should have a strong enough graphics card to run, say, MineCraft and other games/video smoothly

Minecraft will run okay (not great) on crappy integrated graphics (which is almost certainly what you'll get with the pricepoint you're aiming for), but it's important to know what you have in mind for "other games" here. Are we talking Bejeweled or Crysis 2 here? "Casual" games are likely to run fine, but any major graphics-intensive title from the last several years will probably run so poorly (or not at all) as to be unplayable.

OTOH, smooth video is basically a solved problem these days. eg, my $350 (purchased new) bottom-of-the-line laptop from 2 years ago streams Netflix full-screen just fine.

If the graphics spec for the laptop says something like "Intel graphics", that means that it's a type of chip I described above as "crappy integrated graphics". If it says something like "AMD Radeon" or "nVidia GeForce", the situation becomes more complex, because it could still be a very low-end model that will perform similarly to an Intel graphics chip, or it could be very high-end, and there's no sane way to tell from the model number alone. I'd suggest looking up the chipset on Notebook Check to see some benchmarks if you're wondering how a particular GPU will perform.

Also, "netbooks" (those tiny laptops with the 10" screens or so) tend to be poorer performers in the graphics and video area, and they're not necessarily cheaper, so unless you need the smaller size or longer battery life, you might want to consider a standard-sized laptop first.

I am wishing to find something for $200--am I wishing too hard?

Pretty much, yeah. The low end for new laptops right now is about $300-$400. In my experience, laptops tend to have more hardware problems than desktops, so I'd be a little leery of buying used from an individual, but that might just be me. (I've never bought a laptop used, so I'm not speaking from direct experience, just general paranoia.)
posted by jcreigh at 10:38 PM on August 12, 2011


My kingdom for an edit button.

I'm running an old Latitude D430- used, refurbished from Dell.. It was <$300. It has a 60 gigabyte hard drive (pretty small). It can sort of run Minecraft cruddily at the lowest settings, but it doesn't have anything really resembling a graphics card. Minecraft is pretty hard to get running perfectly in general; I can play internet Flash games and well-made older 3D games just fine on it. Oh, and its mono speaker just died completely.

It's perfectly fine for using the internet and word processing, it's got a great keyboard, it's light and just the right size for what I want.

So, maybe I could have found a better deal- I had to buy this one in a rush, my last one died during school- but this is basically what you'll get for under $300.
posted by BungaDunga at 10:38 PM on August 12, 2011


My X40 could never in a million years run minecraft well. The T60 can barely manage it with the settings turned all the way down. You should be able to find a used Toshiba for about $300 with decent specs. Toshibas have marginal build quality but tend to make up for it in features.
posted by tmt at 11:19 PM on August 12, 2011


for a big slice of awesome, check out the hp tm2t...i managed to pick one up fully loaded for $600 on ebay (4gb ram, 500gb hdd, dual graphics cards, fingerprint reader, etc...plus, that was a year ago...you could prob. find the exact same model (core 2 duo) for less, or one even more tricked out(core i3/i5))...the awesome part? it's a convertible tablet (the screen flips around and it becomes a tablet) with a screen that's both a touchscreen AND a pressure-sensitive active digitizer by wacom (which means you can use the included stylus to draw directly on the screen...a must for graphics programs (the pressure sensitive part means you can actually make brushstrokes, not just lines)...i highly recommend artrage try searching for 'artrage' on youtube and you'll see what i'm talking about)
it's got a 12.1" screen (right between big and small...small enough to be really portable, not so small it feels cramped), built-in webcam with stereo mics, altec lansing speakers (the audio is pretty damn good, but if he's doing music stuff, he'll probably be using headphones anyway...), and hdmi for output to hdtv. it can def handle games, internet, schoolwork, video editing, etc.
plus, windows 7 has a bunch of features that work great on it, particularly the handwriting recognition...it just works.
video review here
posted by sexyrobot at 11:41 PM on August 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


In my experience, laptops tend to have more hardware problems than desktops, so I'd be a little leery of buying used from an individual, but that might just be me. (I've never bought a laptop used, so I'm not speaking from direct experience, just general paranoia.)

i've bought my last 2 laptops off of ebay with no problems...just make sure they have their OWN pictures posted (the most typical scam is using mfg's photos and sending you nothing...much more info on ebay's safe buying tips page)...look for 'low mileage' (often people get computers they don't need as gifts, from work, etc)...both computers (the tm2 i mentioned as well as my old ibook) were still under warantee, original reciepts, etc...decide what you want first and then stalk ebay regularly...the best time to buy is reeeally late at night on a weekday, and often the best deals are recently listed 'buy it now' options, but be prepared to actually 'buy it now'...a good deal can vanish quickly.
posted by sexyrobot at 12:24 AM on August 13, 2011


The big issue is that "and other video games" in your question. What other video games. Without that information nobody can help you adequately. Because it could turn the answer into "you can't do that" rather easily. Or it might not.
posted by Justinian at 1:09 AM on August 13, 2011


Data point here - My laptop is a toshiba and definately cost more than your budget (three years ago though), and still struggles to play minecraft without so much lag it spoils the game for me. You'd definitely want to be buying something in the top end of your budget, at least
posted by stillnocturnal at 3:22 AM on August 13, 2011


$200 is too low. $300 - $350 is doable:

Check the HP refurbished site:

WZ297UTR#ABA Refurbished HP 6450b W7P i3 370M 2.4GHz 320GB 2GB(1DM) DDR3 1333 DVDRW(LS) 14.0HD(1366x768) WLAN Cam Rmkt NB PC $349.00

LM829AAR#ABA-DJNF Value NB HP Pavilion dm1z-3200 W7HP-64 AMD Fusion E-350 1.6GHz 250GB 3GB 11.6HD(1366x768) BV NIC WLAN BT Media Card Reader Entertainment Rmkt NB PC $309.00

are possible. Minecraft is very CPU intensive, the first computer here might do better with it as a result. even though the second one has discrete graphics that are better than intel integrated: it's cpu is probably equivalent to a 1st generation macbook air.

Graphics cards for laptops are basically never replaceable (technically untrue but for all intents and purposes.)
posted by ennui.bz at 6:26 AM on August 13, 2011


minecraft is actually notoriously hard to run well. do some research online and see what kinds of frameratres people are getting and go from there. to save you some painful trouble : Intel integrated graphics cards (the most common integrated graphics card, by the way) are largely incapable of running the game at all (as in "won't launch the game", not "bad framerate") and framerates on low end non-integrated graphics cards can be low enough to make it an unenjoyable experience (as in "shortest draw distance and i'm still only getting 5-9 FPS").

it only looks like a crude game. it's actually asking a lot of your hardware.
posted by radiosilents at 6:49 AM on August 13, 2011


The old adage is: Fast, Cheap and Good. Pick two.

IMHO, you're gonna be better off in the long run spending an additional $100-200+ and get something new and under warranty. Personally, I'm not a big fan of Ebay, because of the scamming and fraud, but YMMV.

Back to school is a wonderful time to get laptops, there are usually some real deals to be had. Hell, I tell people I know who haven't been in school for decades that now is a great time to buy.

Here's one from Newegg, but the deal expires tomorrow.

Officemax.

That being said, from what I undrstand about Minecraft is that while it's not super graphically intensive, it takes a bunch of 'horsepower' to run. Keep in mind that getting a cheap laptop to run it might be really tough. Like not worth $200 of your time tough.

Good luck!
posted by Sphinx at 8:45 AM on August 13, 2011


Thanks or the advice, everyone. I'll definitely be digging through the forums to look at framerates and recommended specs for Minecraft.

As for other video games, I'm not really worrying about that. I understood Minecraft was hard to run, but didn't know it was a CPU issue rather than a graphics card issue.
posted by not_on_display at 11:46 AM on August 13, 2011


I think part of the question here is how long you want the laptop to last. $200 laptops are already quite obsolete and tend to have terrible build quality (laptops being some of the most unreliable electronic devices anyway). A $200 laptop might get your son through a year or so, but it's probably going to break or he'll need more horsepower soon enough. For example, anything beyond the most incredibly basic of music recording will require a faster CPU and hard disk than the laptop Jessamyn linked above.

Laptops, by in large, aren't very upgradable, and the cost of the upgrades will pretty quickly exceed the value of the machine when you started at $200 new. It's a lot cheaper to buy a $400 laptop then a new $200 laptop every year.
posted by zachlipton at 4:09 PM on August 13, 2011


I buy laptops on craigslist all the time and just resell them---I realize this question is old now, but you can often find late-model systems cheap when people need cash. This isn't necessarily ideal if you're not savvy---but the deals are there.
posted by TomMelee at 9:18 AM on August 15, 2011


If you really want to hit near that price point and don't want to buy used:

Via a slickdeals post from yesterday, Target has an 11.6" Acer netbook with an AMD C-50 APU (good integrated graphics and CPU combined into one chip) for $249, and you get a $30 Target gift card with purchase as well, bringing it to $219 + tax if you count that gift card as a discount. They are, however, probably sold out already. A few posters in the slickdeals thread did mention that it will play minecraft and other less-intensive games. Performance isn't stellar, though; this is essentially a half-step above an Atom-based netbook (with maybe a full-step up for graphics capability). Some people in the thread have gotten lucky and received a model with the C-60 chip instead; it has the AMD flavor of "TurboBoost" or whatever it is, where it will dynamically overclock the processor by ~33%

Better would be to wait for a deal on a notebook with the AMD E-350 APU. It's much more capable. Prices are ranging from $300-350 right now, so sales may soon start dipping them into sub-$300 territory. Here's one at $300 (after rebate) from TigerDirect.

Keep an eye on sites like LogicBuy (here's their laptop section) and slickdeals. You may get lucky.
posted by XcentricOrbit at 9:49 AM on August 15, 2011


Resolved! We were out getting strings for the guitar and he saw a ukelele on the wall, and started playing it. I asked him: hey, do you want this for your birthday? It's the most excited I've seen him in a while.

It's like a laptop guitar. Again, thanks for all y'all's input!
posted by not_on_display at 1:59 PM on August 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


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