Internets, help me choose a laptop.
August 7, 2009 1:54 PM   Subscribe

Internets, help me choose a laptop.

Having offspring means that the hinge on my laptops display has mysteriously broken, and keys have gone missing. Which means its time to shop for a new laptop. Yay!

I think the main requirement for me is screen real estate but without too huge a form factor. (I'm planning to use it primarily for general surfing and secondly for coding, so the extra screen space will be useful for running an IDE). Oh and I'm in the UK.

So I'm thinking a 15.4" screen with WUXGA 1920 x 1200 resolution.

But I'm struggling to find these kind of specs outside of Dell (not that I mind Dell, I just want to see what else is out there!). Can anyone recommend a laptop meeting these specs?
posted by blacksky to Computers & Internet (18 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Are you opposed to a Mac?
posted by olinerd at 2:08 PM on August 7, 2009

Response by poster: No, I'm not opposed to a Mac, but I'd struggle to justify the expense.
posted by blacksky at 2:18 PM on August 7, 2009

1920x1200 is usually found on 24" screens. You're talking some tiny, tiny pixels.
posted by chairface at 2:54 PM on August 7, 2009

Lenovo makes a nice W series laptop with 15.4 WUXGA, but you're still dropping around US$1600 for it. The T series has WSXGA - 1650 x 1050 resolution - for about US$1400. I think both come with and option for that tough roll-cage that makes it a little tougher than your usual laptop. (Sorry, I don't know the UK prices.)
posted by jabberjaw at 4:52 PM on August 7, 2009

I own a Lenovo/IBM T60p 15" IPS running native 1600x1200. It's fucking awesome.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:20 PM on August 7, 2009

FYI, there aren't too many notebook manufacturers that produce IPS displays any more, because they realized they could make a lot more money producing 32" television sets and the like.

But if you want to know why IPS is the shit and everything else is just shit, take a look at this.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:22 PM on August 7, 2009

I've been pleased with the HP elitebook 8530w (note the "w" after the number, that's the version I'd reccommend) after about 4 month of of use -- coding and surfing, and Hulu . I would say that the aluminum case is too-easily marred, though. Has the power and screen-res you're looking for. Can be pricey depending on options.
posted by chocolate_butch at 5:55 PM on August 7, 2009

I asked nearly this same question on AskMe before. I got a Lenovo Thinkpad, and I am extremely pleased with the decision.
posted by gnutron at 7:30 PM on August 7, 2009

Heh... I'm in a similar boat - after dealing with a 13" Dell POS, I want a bigger, better screen... hell - I want two frickin' screens, I'm thinking Lenovo w700ds...
posted by jkaczor at 8:05 PM on August 7, 2009

Generally if you ask the Internets what kind of laptop to buy, you will get a chorus of "Thinkpad!" and that's because they are indeed a good, solid machine. But I have never seen anybody but Dell put a truly excellent screen in a laptop. So if the screen is your main thing, and you're prepared to deal with being on hold for a long time and then talking to script monkeys every time anything goes wrong, get the Dell.

Dell's 15.4" 1920x1200 laptop screen is indeed a thing of beauty. But don't get one with pixels that small if Windows is what you intend to run on it; that way lies only heartbreak. Ubuntu looks lovely on it.
posted by flabdablet at 8:56 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]

Ditto Chocolate_black on the 8530w 1920x1200 is the awesome...

check hp's refurb section for a deal on the computer...
posted by stratastar at 11:55 PM on August 7, 2009

I would buy a Mac. A quick comparison shows that Mac has competitive prices for your specification.
posted by zaxour at 11:58 PM on August 7, 2009

I have a Dell with a 1680x1050 15" screen, and Windows deals with it just fine. The native DPI is just a little too small for me, so I have the DPI kicked up a little bigger. No problems at all, if I set it to "use XP style resizing" or something like that. Not Windows' problem, just a problem with improperly coded (or older) applications.

(But changing the DPI was the only way to make it bigger- trying to adjust font sizes in the OS and individual applications, while maintaining the native DPI, was indeed an exercise in heartbreak.)

And indeed, it is a beautiful screen. It's almost CRT like in that the individual pixels are almost completely invisible; it's just a big beautiful sheet of color. Firing up a true HD video file is glorious.

Lenovos are also nice, but I find that they are a little more fiddly and/or expensive to fix. They are fine machines, but seem to be a little more flimsy of late. (and what's the deal with that silly drive-bay release mechanism? flip a switch that reveals a tiny plastic puller that is guaranteed to break? Weirdness.) Still among the best, mind you.
posted by gjc at 6:20 AM on August 8, 2009

I would buy a Mac. A quick comparison shows that Mac has competitive prices for your specification.

There is always one in every laptop thread. It is good though, because I enjoy giving this little lecture :)
Basically.. Dell accepts that some customers are unwilling to buy from them at their regular prices. They believe that, as long as they are still making money, it is in their interest to try and make those sales anyway. Hence Dell has occasional, but spectacularly good, one day only specials. On the other hand, Apple believes that maintaining the perceived brand value is more important than catering to customers with low willingness to pay.

You can see very clearly in this thread that they are both right. They both understand exactly what markets they are catering to, and do a very good job of marketing and pricing to attract customers that suit their own business models.
Kind of makes me sick, to be honest :)

Whether you prefer paying for "perceived brand value", or patiently waiting for discounts, which have the consequence of feeding the beast, is completely up to you, of course.
Also, you should really consider replacing the keyboard in your old laptop and milking it for a little longer. Modern laptops have keyboards that are very easy to replace, and very inexpensive. Basically, $20 shipped on Ebay and it will work perfectly. On the other hand, repairing the hinge with anything other than duct tape probably isn't worthwhile--I'd love to hear otherwise though.
posted by Chuckles at 4:51 PM on August 8, 2009

Oh, I should also keep spreading the word about Dell's recent horrible decision about laptop power supplies. Dell cripples consumer laptops such that only Dell power supplies with ID chips will work properly. Business oriented laptops appear to be relatively unaffected.
posted by Chuckles at 5:01 PM on August 8, 2009

Not Windows' problem, just a problem with improperly coded (or older) applications

...which when (not if) you hit one you're relying on, gives you nothing but pain.

At 1600x1050 on a 15" screen, apps that refuse to behave at anything other than 96dpi are usually just about tolerable. At 1920x1200 15", they're really not.

However, as you've pointed out, the pixels on these screens really are tiny, and running them at non-native resolutions is not as unbelievably hideous as doing the same thing with, say, a 1280x800 screen the same size. But it still doesn't look as good as the 1280x800 run at native resolution, though.

I forgot to mention a video fault I've seen on a new 1920x1200 15.4" Dell laptop screen: every second blue subpixel in every row was not working (always black). The overall effect was quite surprisingly subtle for most material (a faintly yellowish cast to the display, and a faint vertical "scan lines" effect) and for a while I wondered if that was just the way Dell's 1920x1200 panels were designed. Of course it's not - though persuading the technician who turned up to replace the screen that his journey wasn't wasted required showing him this image displayed at native resolution.
posted by flabdablet at 5:29 PM on August 8, 2009

Blacksky, have you considered going for a laptop with a more conventional screen and attaching it to a large, high-resolution monitor when at your desk? Any business-class laptop ought to have some way to get at least single-link DVI output (be it via a dock, dongle, or what have you) onto a secondary display. This would open you up to a much wider variety of laptops, and could be a good way to go if you do your surfing around the house but most of your serious coding in one location.

A quick comparison shows that Mac has competitive prices for your specification.

Unfortunately, Apple does not make a 15" laptop with a screen above 1440x900, so they do not seem to have what blacksky is looking for. If blacksky were looking at 17" models with 1920x1200 screens, that would be a different story entirely, but the footprint requirements seem to rule that out.

I enjoy giving this little lecture

Not to hijack the thread, but Apple is substantially more flexible on pricing than your lecture would lead one to believe. Third-party outlets like MacMall sometimes have brand new machines available for several hundred dollars off list price. Mac buying can be just as strategic as PC buying—it just takes a different strategy.
posted by Ptrin at 5:51 PM on August 10, 2009

If you're willing to drop an inch to a 14" screen and can manage without an optical drive, I think it would be pretty difficult to find something as portable (and powerful) as the new Dell 14z. You can have a screen resolution up to 1600x900 if you're willing to upgrade to the 900p screen.
posted by MyDocuments at 11:40 PM on August 12, 2009

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