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September 2, 2014 3:47 AM   Subscribe

Talk me through buying a new laptop like I'm 5...

I buy a new laptop every five years and the time has come to purchase a new one. However, I had a particularly crappy experience at a computer retailer and would like help on getting a machine that'll last the next 5 years.

I'm trying to balance budget with performance/longevity. I'm looking at 15" Windows machines that have 1TB hard drive and 8GB RAM, mostly used for browsing, essay writing and the odd game of Minecraft (wherein great graphics would be a plus, but once the game runs nicely then I'm happy).

At a retailer the other day, I specified the above and was met with a lot of hand-waving and the sales person gushing about how I should be focusing on *processor* spec, above anything else. I don't know anything about processors and all the various advice on 3.1's and Athalons just felt really confusing.

So, if you were in my position with a budget of €500-600 (I know, I know), what would the spec of your new laptop actually look like?
posted by Chorus to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Your memory and storage specs are both exactly right, so no problems there.

Unfortunately the price bracket you're looking at is popular so there are a lot of very crappy machines to service it.

There are two chip manufacturers, Intel and AMD. Intel are better all across the board but are a little more expensive. Basically an intel core i5 is the best option right now; an i7 is wasted power and an i3 might not have enough grunt for you. It might stretch your budget, unfortunately.

Whatever you do don't get one of the AMD E1 1200 processors - they're very weak; I'd probably recommend steering clear of AMD altogether.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:32 AM on September 2


Whatever laptop you get, make sure you sign up for an online, automatic backup service.
posted by Wild_Eep at 4:44 AM on September 2


I just got a new laptop for work. I set aside the complaints I was hearing about Windows 8. The machine I chose runs Windows 8.1 and I have installed Classic Shell which feels like the old Windows and it is great.

The machine also has a touchscreen which I love MUCH more than I thought I would...
posted by maya at 6:02 AM on September 2


I just bought a similar machine for $550 at Costco. A Dell Inspiron 3542, it came with 1TB hard drive, 8 GB ram, an Intel core i5 processor, and Windows 7 with the option to upgrade to Windows 8.1. It's not a rugged build, however.

For the record, it works well with debian wheezy as long as you install the kernel from wheezy-backports for the wifi driver.
posted by Radiophonic Oddity at 6:34 AM on September 2


The question you are asking is stupidly difficult to answer, which is why you're getting piecemeal responses.

The good news is, it doesn't actually matter much. Pretty much any Windows machine you buy with a TB hard drive and 8GB RAM will be fast enough to run Minecraft and do web stuff. You could spend some time trying to find the ideal point on the price/performance curve, or you could just try to get some durability. Which is itself pretty difficult - it's hard to tell what the lifetime of a laptop will be without trying it, and everything changes much faster than that.

About the best you can do is look at historical reliability by brand: Lifehacker has a nice writeup that is only 5 years old.

Last advice: unless the tax/regulatory situation where you are is way different than where I am, buy online. The salesperson at the retailer doesn't know very much, but they sure add overhead.

Were it me, I would buy a Mac. If I really wanted a windows machine because reasons, I would get the cheapest toshiba/sony/Asus/Thinkpad (not any of the other lenovo models...) laptop I could find that met my requirements. Probably from Amazon, or the laptop manufacturer directly. Oh, and I would absolutely look for refurbs - save some money, and afaik reliability isn't any worse.
posted by contrarian at 7:11 AM on September 2 [1 favorite]


Have you reviewed The Wirecutter's recommendation? That's where I usually start when I'm considering a new purchase.
posted by andythebean at 8:45 AM on September 2 [3 favorites]


I'd probably recommend steering clear of AMD altogether.

The OP wants to be able to play Minecraft. Graphics is the one area where AMD's laptop chipsets are without question a better option than an Intel based machine, unless you buy one with a discrete AMD or NVidia mobile graphics chip.

You'll get better framerates for your £/$ going with an intergrated AMD based laptop than an Intel one.
posted by pharm at 9:57 AM on September 2


the wirecutter recommendation lenovo ideapad flex 2 will do everything you want...it's in your price range at amazon uk

the processor is less important than the screen resolution and other components and the quality of construction. what the lenovo ideapad flex 2 has going for it is a "1080p" screen and discete (albeit low powered) graphics (it should be ok for minecraft.) it also has an i5 processor which should be good for everything you want. there are cheaper models that are still called "ideapad flex 2" but they have much slower processors, lower resolution, etc. unfortunately, 15 inch laptops tend to have mediocre to terrible construction, but it's a crapshoot. basically, don't buy a 15 inch laptop if you want it to last and can't treat it gently.
posted by ennui.bz at 10:58 AM on September 2


I have a fairly new (as in a couple months old) Toshiba L55 I got from Microcenter. Love it to death. It is an Intel though, and from answers above it seems like you might to want to lean toward AMD. It has a 1 TB HD and 8 GB RAM.

Someone asked a previous AskMe about the same topic and linked to a Toshiba that was identical to mine but AMD. It should be in my posting history. Sorry, can't link right now.
posted by kathrynm at 4:50 PM on September 2


My priorities are ruggedness, lighted keyboard, adequate processing power and memory to have far too many Firefox tabs open, play Netflix. I got an off-lease, reconditioned Lenovo Thinkpad for @ 500US. outlet.lenovo.com
posted by theora55 at 9:24 PM on September 2


Guys, thanks so much for the demistification around processors!

Upon some more research and realising an extra 100-150 put me in reach of a drastically better machine, I decided to expand my budget.

The suggestion to order online was key, too. It's one thing to 'want to speak to a human', but I found in this case it was better to go onto a website, check a few boxes re: what I knew I absolutely wanted, then to have all results displayed. Much props.

I no longer make The Scream face now when considering processors, so thanks!
posted by Chorus at 8:29 AM on September 3


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