I want a laptop, not a craptop.
October 22, 2008 10:32 AM   Subscribe

Laptop Battel! Help me decide which manufacturer deserves my hard-earned money. I've narrowed it down to Dell vs. Toshiba vs. Lenovo. Also, RAM: 2gb or 3?

So I'm shopping for a laptop. I have read the other posts on the topic.

I know what I basically want: 14" screen, 2/3gb RAM, 100+gb HDD, nice screen, reasonably portable, less than $1K. I have narrowed it down to three choices: Dell Inspiron 1420 or Toshiba Satellite Pro S300M or Lenovo ThinkPad R400

These all meet my basic requirements and ballpark around the same price. Since they're all about the same price, my main concern is quality, durability and reliability - I want it to work well as a secondary/travel computer for 5+ years. I have read that Toshibas are prone to overheating problems. Any recommendations or warning on these specific brands?

And regarding RAM... I understand that Vista is hungry for it, but it doesn't really use more than 2gb anyway. I won't be doing anything particularly intensive with the machine. Still, I'd like my computer to run well and continue to run well 5 years from now. Will spending a little extra money on another gb of RAM actually make a difference?
posted by gnutron to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
A guy I work with just upgraded from 2 gigs of RAM to 6 gigs and said that he noticed a huge speed boost in Vista. Everything I've heard points to Vista using just about as much RAM as you'll give it. That said, you can very easily add RAM after you get the computer from the manufacturer for much cheaper, so I would go that way.

Oh, and just based on my personal opinion I'd say get the Toshiba.
posted by carfullofpandas at 10:54 AM on October 22, 2008

Big ups to the Thinkpad. I've owned a T23 (IBM) and a T61 (Lenovo) and both are rock solid. The T23, 7-8 years old, is still performing its duties admirably without any hardware problems, ever. Just check that the screen is sufficiently bright for your purposes.
posted by Hildago at 11:00 AM on October 22, 2008

If it counts for anything, Thinkpad's are widely considered to have the best laptop keyboards.
posted by sharkfu at 11:00 AM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Vista will "use" pretty much all the RAM available, but will give it back to you when you need to use it for something else. There isn't really any advantage to letting memory sit around idle. Still, in general, the more of it you have the better.
posted by Hildago at 11:08 AM on October 22, 2008

I love thinkpads. After using them, everything else feels like cheap plastic crap. FWIW I have always owned a T-Series.
posted by milqman at 11:16 AM on October 22, 2008

I have a Toshiba and I love it. I use it for casual gaming (Team Fortress LAN parties at my friend's house) and also for homework when I'm on the go. It's never failed me yet.

Go for the 3 gigs of RAM, the more you have, the better.
posted by Verdandi at 11:27 AM on October 22, 2008

Thinkpad. And as much RAM as possible. If you get more than 3GB, make sure you're running the 64-bit version of Vista.
posted by zsazsa at 11:28 AM on October 22, 2008

Thinkpad > Dell > Toshiba

I just switched from a Toshiba (which suffered from much crapitude) to a Thinkpad, and it's immediately obvious that this is a better designed, higher quality laptop. If you look around on the deals sites, you can often find 10-20% off on Thinkpads.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:44 AM on October 22, 2008

5 years? That's asking a lot of technology. I would get the 3 gigs but also be mindful that at around year three youre going to want to replace this. Heck, in 18-24 months the cheapest clearance laptop will be twice as fast as your $1,000 machine.

What determines how well your computer runs in a few years time really has little to do with hardware. Ive seen old xp machines with slow processors and minimal ram run quite fine because the owner recently re-installed windows or kept his computer clean: no unnecessary applications, doesnt run torrents 24/7, doesnt install pirated software full of trojans, etc.

Personally, I think almost all laptops are a quality crapshoot. The only rule of thumb I have is that business-quality machines are built slightly better than residential class machines. For instance, I wouldnt buy that Inspiron. I would move up to a Lattitude. Even a slightly slower lattitude for the same money is going to be a better machine.

Lastly, if you want your install to last a long time then you should consider running as limited user, not as local admin. There are a lot of resources on the web that explain this. Good luck!
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:47 AM on October 22, 2008

Seconding Thinkpads, although Im partial to Sony for high-end PC laptops. In fact Sony has some low end VAIOs on sale right now. You can find more laptop sales at dealcatcher.com.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:50 AM on October 22, 2008

I just configured a Dell Inspiron 1420 at $999 that I think would be a great laptop. I went with 3GB of RAM and bumped the graphics card from the integrated Intel to the GeForce chip. I think this is one of the most overlooked upgrades one can get for a Vista laptop, and one I think you should do.

I have worked as a computer technician for the last three years or so, and I have found Toshiba to be pretty hit-or-miss, but in the last year or so Dell has really stepped up to the plate with some real quality machines at lower prices. Go with the Dell. MeFiMail me if you want the full specs I configured, but I'm sure you can figure it out on your own.
posted by joshrholloway at 11:51 AM on October 22, 2008

My six-year-old Thinkpad is still beating strong at six-year-old tasks. It's made from rocks or something. The contrast between it and my year-old MacBook is frightening, actually.
posted by bonaldi at 11:53 AM on October 22, 2008

Also, carfullofpandas, all 32-bit versions of Vista will only recognize and use up to 4GB of RAM, so your co-workers upgrade to 6GB was overkill. Just so you know.
posted by joshrholloway at 11:54 AM on October 22, 2008

Also, see this discussion on RAM earlier. 3 is nice, but 2 is very doable. Like joshrholloway suggested above, its better to get the nvidia or ati video card than more ram, especially if you plan to play the occasional game. The real downside of laptop purchasing is that you cannot upgrade the video, so its best to get something slightly better than the integrated intel graphics from the get-go.
posted by damn dirty ape at 11:56 AM on October 22, 2008

Seconding qxntpqbbbqxl
Thinkpad > Dell > Toshiba

The Toshiba won't make it 5 years even with a warranty.
The Dell will make it 5 years, but you'd want to get the $300 warranty.
The Lenovo has the best chance of making it to the 5 year mark.

Disclaimer: I do a lot of Dell hardware repairs on systems are in the 4-5 year old category. However, systems that are rolling off the assembly line are even better engineered than they were 5 years ago.

Also, heed what joshrholloway said about 4GB of RAM. A 32-bit OS (which you're almost certain to get) can't even use 6 gigs of RAM. A 2GB->4GB upgrade would be indistinguishable from a 2GB->6GB upgrade.
posted by mysterious1der at 11:58 AM on October 22, 2008

I've used both Lenovo (previously IBM) and Toshiba laptops. The Thinkpads are much better built than the Toshibas, and, in particular, have much, much better keyboards. We've got many Thinkpads at work going strong after 5 years. The T-series are the best lasting of the bunch. The Rs are nice too though.

Support on the Thinkpads (drivers, parts, etc...) is much better than the Toshibas.
posted by bonehead at 12:08 PM on October 22, 2008

Business Models > Home Models.

Lenovo Txx/Xxx models > Dell Latitudes && HP Business Notebooks > Home notebook (below)

Lenovo's Value Models (home) is probably > Dell Inspiron && HP Home Notebooks > Toshiba Notebooks.

Definitely get 4GB, or atleast 2GB in a single DIMM. 6GB will be the norm in laptops someday; but for Vista a laptop shouldn't need more than 4GB.
posted by SirStan at 12:08 PM on October 22, 2008

I am a long time IBM fan so I was really worried about Lenovo ... but they put out a kick ass product. I currently own 2 lenovo laptops and am super happy with them both (I require redundancy). 5 years on a thinkpad isn't unheard of, although its pushing it especially if you can't change the hard drive around year 3. Get as much ram as you can afford .... but not more than your OS will use! 4g for 32 bit.

(Vista has x64 versions, so 6g might well be used.... )
posted by shownomercy at 12:11 PM on October 22, 2008

Also; everyone loves IBM ThinkPads, they are tanks and last forver.

Lenovo ThinkPads are NOT IBM ThinkPads. Even the new T6x series has less of a "tank" reputation than the T40's do. There is a feeling that Lenovo is lowering quality on the new business thinkpads in some arena's.
posted by SirStan at 12:13 PM on October 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Based on my experiences, don't get a Toshiba.

I've had several friends/clients who have had them, and somewhere down the line I've had to attend to them for overheating. Older and newer models.

Since the ones you listed are all pretty much in the same price range, I'd echo the crowd so far and say Lenovo. I hear the quality has dipped slightly since the IBM days but it's still better than Dell.
posted by gkhewitt at 12:27 PM on October 22, 2008

As a long, long-time Dell customer it was difficult for me to look at other options last month when I got two laptops. But I went with HP (vista 64, 4gb ram) and have been very, very happy with the choice*.

Not saying HP is better than the options you are looking at. Just saying that for years I would only buy and recommend Dells but no longer. Dell will have to work hard to win me back.

*the hardware, at least
posted by trinity8-director at 1:15 PM on October 22, 2008

n-thing the ThinkPad > Dell > Toshiba
posted by qvtqht at 3:43 PM on October 22, 2008

Lenovos are fine machines. Mine's at least 5 years old and I keep it on all day in the living room. Even with Linux, it still has functioned reliably and consistently since first purchasing it. The keyboard cannot be overstated. The most important part of this is the INS/DEL, HOME/END, PG UP/PG DOWN key group and the arrow keys in 'T' formation. You need those things, and most keyboards simply don't do this right.

Sony's are sexy when they're young and new, but quickly age and fall apart. Not to mention their stupid keyboards.

If I was forced to get a laptop that wasn't a ThinkPad--and you would have to force me--then I would go for the Toshiba Portege R500 (aka RX2). It's not cheap. Personally, though, there's nothing more beautiful than the ThinkPad X61 tablet with integrated Wacom touchscreen. That plus Photoshop equals an infinite sketchpad. Drool. And look at that keyboard, man! That's on a 12" sub-notebook! That's how you make a keyboard!
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:02 PM on October 22, 2008

Thinkpad, 3 gb.
posted by MikeMc at 5:11 PM on October 22, 2008

I bought a Dell 1420N (the N means it was sold with Ubuntu instead of Windows) during the summer of 2007. I carry it around in my backpack almost daily and it's held up fine. I upgraded the RAM from 1GB to 4GB after the purchase; that's very easy to do and costs around $50 now. Sometimes I wish I'd upgraded to a 1440x900 screen instead of the default 1280x800.
posted by PueExMachina at 5:15 PM on October 22, 2008

Fuck Dell (Although they do seem to have improved, but still something's not right). 'Shibas are generally really good. Never used/been inside the other one, so I'm neutral there. (And double fuck Sony/Vaio. Across the board they use the same shoddy components they sell to other companies. Wtf...?? Where's the logic? Don't do it to yourself!!)

My thoughts on ram are why limit yourself? It's exciting to install bigger cards or fill an empty slot. (...well it is!)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 7:56 PM on October 22, 2008

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