Please help me find a laptop
June 25, 2009 6:10 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to purchase a cheap (~$400-$500) laptop with certain requirements. The more I look, the more confused I get. Please help me.

I just want a cheap but relatively fast laptop to do some occasional out-of-the-house work in a coffee shop or library. I'll most likely only be using internet (wifi), Word, Excel, and iTunes. That's it. I do want a webcam so that I can Skype. I'll be doing a lot of typing so I don't want a netbook - the keyboard needs to big enough to comfortably type on, and the screen should be anywhere from 12"-15". I want it to be relatively fast and have a reasonable amount of space, but I don't need to do anything fancy like game playing or video editing. At the same time, I also don't want it to operate slowly and I don't want to have to plug in an external drive. Battery life would preferably be decent.

I've checked out the Dell Outlet, but they don't really seem to have the great deals that people say they do - e.g., in an old AskMe post someone said they recently purchased a 15" Inspiron with 3GB RAM and 250GB hard drive with webcam and other accessories for a little over $400. But now, you can't get anything under $500 that has more than 1GB RAM and 80GB hard drive. Am I missing something?

Also, I've gone to Best Buy and checked out their computers and some of them are nice. I come home and check out the computers online and they seem to be more expensive than in Best Buy. Again, I feel like I'm doing something wrong.

Please help this laptop noob. I've always just bought Macs but this time I just want to go the el cheapo route while still getting a good deal. So, anybody have good recommendations? Any models or brands to stay away from? And where should I look to get the best deal? Thanks to all.
posted by billysumday to Computers & Internet (26 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here are nine laptops that seem to fit the bill.
posted by Grither at 6:15 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Eee, so cheap, webcam, good sound, cant be beat.
posted by mattoxic at 6:16 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

In particular, this one looks like a good deal. 2.16GHZ dual core, 3GB RAM, 250GB harddrive, 15.4" screen, dual layer DVD burner for $450. (On sale from $550)
posted by Grither at 6:19 AM on June 25, 2009

I've had good luck at office supply stores in the past six months, for both a laptop and a desktop in that range. Check the Sunday circulars.
posted by Sweetie Darling at 6:23 AM on June 25, 2009

If you're usually a mac guy, then why don't you buy a cheap 2nd hand iBook? I saw end of line new ones going for about $400 a year or so ago, I guess there will be quite a few on the 2nd hand market. That would fit the bill nicely. Also durable and compact.
posted by singingfish at 6:56 AM on June 25, 2009

I've had good luck at local laptop repair companies, often finding laptops a year or two old with twice my requirements for less than half of what I wanted to pay. If they offer a warranty, it's almost golden. It's local too, so if/when something happens, you can just drop in.
posted by foooooogasm at 7:00 AM on June 25, 2009

Lil smaller screen but pretty nice
posted by stratastar at 7:09 AM on June 25, 2009

Just stick to your "no netbooks" preference, which already cuts out some of the suggestions in this thread. Netbooks absolutely do not provide "relatively fast" performance, and the latest study out of NPD says that the majority of netbook buyers had no idea what they were getting themselves into. Granted, your majority usage and price range do land your ideal computer into the netbook range, but you don't mention being particularly attached to the idea of "portability" (i.e. size and weight) so you have a bit more flexibility.

Grither's first Newegg link offers a good idea about the current laptops in that range. Look at warranty and return/exchange terms, of course.

Basically, when buying electronics like this, the pickier you are, the better off you'll be.
posted by Ky at 7:28 AM on June 25, 2009

whats wrong with the dell inspiron 15? 15.6" screen. 2GB ram, 160GB hard drive, DVD burner, wifi, new from dell for $349? at that price i picked 3GB of RAM, and the better screen with LED backlighting which improves battery life, plus the $70 9 cell battery for huge battery life and the total was still $494.

From Dells Website
posted by chasles at 7:35 AM on June 25, 2009

I come home and check out the computers online and they seem to be more expensive than in Best Buy.

Best Buy is notorious for the undisclosed price discrepancies between their online and physical stores.
posted by zsazsa at 7:56 AM on June 25, 2009

Just spend the extra $250 for a refurbished MacBook ($750). Seriously, if you're a long-time Mac user, you'll be pleased. And it's faster and lighter than anything else you'll find, without the spyware/malware worries.
posted by The Michael The at 8:16 AM on June 25, 2009

You said "no netbooks" but your requirements all say "netbook". the EEE 1000HE I got would fit all of your needs, have about 7 hours of battery life, and cost $350. I have huge hands (XXXL gloves) and have no trouble with the keyboard. Try it out sometime.

Otherwise follow KY's advice, especially the be picky part.
posted by anti social order at 8:22 AM on June 25, 2009

You said "no netbooks" but your requirements all say "netbook"

I'll be doing a lot of typing so I don't want a netbook - the keyboard needs to big enough to comfortably type on.

Netbooks are great and they certainly fill a niche, especially for surfing the web. But I have to type for several hours a day and I can't imagine doing that on such a small keyboard. Unless your huge hands have incredibly pointy fingertips.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 8:33 AM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thinkpads! The red nub. Check out the Lenovo Outlet. There are new, redistributed and refurbished laptops aplenty, many well within your specs and price range. I've purchased a 'refurb' from that site before - it was indistinguishable from new. YMMV.
posted by tristero at 8:33 AM on June 25, 2009

I had virtually all of your requirements, except that I also needed light weight and exceptional battery life.

I chose the Samsung N10. True, it's a Netbook, but the keyboard is nearly full size and more comfortable to type on that many larger keyboards. It comes in under your price constraints too.
posted by wfrgms at 8:50 AM on June 25, 2009

Grither's link in the very first response includes some Lenovo G530 models. These cannot be beat: they fit every requirement you've listed, plus they're durable as hell and cheap to boot. You will not be disappointed.
posted by nushustu at 9:12 AM on June 25, 2009

I agree with those suggesting you consider spending more on a refurb macbook directly from Apple. It should be plenty quick for what you want to do with it. Sure, it is more expensive, than your budget, but if you are already a Mac user, I think you may find that the extra cost pales against the frustration of moving to windows. Plus, if you already have Macs, you won't have to buy a Windows version of Microsoft Office.
posted by Good Brain at 9:37 AM on June 25, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses, everyone. I'll be looking through all these links eventually but so far, Grither's first link has been a big help.
posted by billysumday at 9:39 AM on June 25, 2009

Netbooks aren't all tiny, y'know. You do mention:

and the screen should be anywhere from 12"-15".

The keyboard is typically proportional to screen size and there are definitely 12" netbooks around. For instance the Dell Mini 12 or the Samsung NC20.

I'm not recommending either of those, btw, because I haven't used them, but they exist.
posted by juv3nal at 10:02 AM on June 25, 2009

Refurbished Thinkpads, specifically T series.
posted by fief at 10:23 AM on June 25, 2009

I have to echo the EEE 1000HE. I could type on it for hours no problem. It is actually faster than the cheap Dell I have. It's the nicest laptop I've ever had. I wouldn't trade it for a Macbook or anything else.

I seriously think you should try one because it seems to fit all of the things you are looking for. It is legitimately awesome. The commenter above who says it is too slow maybe hasn't used the EEE 1000HE because it's actually quite zippy. I don't run photoshop or anything like that, but word, excel, powerpoint, no problems. Only thing is playing DVDs, can't do that without an external drive and you probably wouldn't want to anyway.
posted by sully75 at 11:34 AM on June 25, 2009

My gf just bought this $500 Acer from Tiger Direct after lots of shopping around -- I'm very impressed.
posted by coolguymichael at 11:45 AM on June 25, 2009

CompUSA has some super-cheap deals including some in the $300 range.
posted by That takes balls. at 12:12 PM on June 25, 2009

If you're still a uni student or know someone who is or works at one, then many college bookstores often discount the previous generation macbooks so you wouldn't have to go down the refurbished route. Do you check deal sites like slickdeals and notebookreview? They will usually have a laptop that fits your criteria if you wait a bit.
posted by palionex at 12:39 PM on June 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Check out the laptop on today:
Acer Aspire Core2 Duo 16" Notebook
$499.99 + $5 shipping
Condition: Refurbished
Product: Acer Aspire AS6930-6067 or AS6935-6194 Core2 Duo 2GHz 4GB DDR2 320GB DVDRW 16” LCD Vista Home Prem
posted by exogenous at 3:28 AM on June 26, 2009

seconding slickdeals -- especially if you are willing to wait a while/shop around.
posted by knockoutking at 6:06 AM on June 26, 2009

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