Help me pick the right PC laptop.
September 5, 2009 12:16 PM   Subscribe

I think it's time to replace my laptop and although I love using it, I’ve never known much about specifications. I’ve read the other computer buying threads, but I’m hoping you’ll help this special snowflake out and point me towards a good machine, be it off-the-shelf or a custom build.

Here’s the rundown:
My current computer is a 4 year old Dell Latitude D620. It doesn’t run unless it’s plugged in to outlet power. It’s slow and crashes about 3-4 times a day (sometimes just a Windows crash, sometimes full-tilt blue-screen-of-death). Sometimes it freezes and the screen goes berserk- all flashing colors and rolling pictures. It overheats a lot. The trackpad doesn’t respond intermittently and the sound started constantly skipping so everything sounds like the DJ remix. I’ve tried reinstalling Windows and blowing it out, but it hasn’t really helped. If you think it can be saved, let me know, but if not- read on…

I’m an entertainment designer who shockingly prefers a PC. I use AutoCAD and Vectorworks regularly (and sometimes concurrently if it doesn’t bring everything to a screeching halt). I also use Photoshop and Lightroom along with the usual suspects- iTunes, the whole Microsoft Office suite- Powerpoint, Excel, etc. I’d like this computer to run these programs quickly and allow me to store lots of photos and drawings without needing external storage since I tend to reference old files all the time. I travel and work from a lot of weird temporary set ups so lightweight is good, as is an intuitive way to access the internet. I love that my current computer is rather sensitive to wireless networks and can frequently pick up signals that other computers can’t.

What I’d love to avoid is all of the crap software that comes pre-installed on most PCs (although I’m willing to uninstall if necessary) but I’d like it to include Microsoft Office. When I bought my last computer I was surprised to find out it came with Word Perfect and a bunch of other programs I didn’t like as opposed to Word and the usual Office suite. Fortunately at that time I qualified for a student version of Office, but that’s a shock I’d like to avoid this time around. I’m a pretty casual Adobe user, so things like super-awesome monitors are probably a waste of money. I’m also not into gaming. As far as price goes, let’s say under $2000.

So to summarize: What minimum requirements should I look for in a machine? Where should I buy it? How much should it cost?

Thanks in advance!
posted by Thin Lizzy to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
IF I were you and you can wait, I would wait another month or two wait for the new mobile core i5 notebooks to be released first.
posted by majortom1981 at 12:32 PM on September 5, 2009

Obligatory: Macbook or Thinkpad.

You should definitely not rule out a Macbook because hardware-wise, it's the same as a PC. Once you install Windows on it with BootCamp (a very simple procedure, provided you have a Windows installation disc) you'll have a completely normal Windows experience. Apple supplies all of the hardware drivers necessary and there's absolutely no difference once you're running Windows.

If you go this route, you'll have no problem with "bundled" software because you're starting fresh from a bare installation of Windows. Add in what you need on your own. This is much easier than starting from, for example, what Dell includes in the base installation.
posted by odinsdream at 1:42 PM on September 5, 2009

I'd have to say a Macbook Pro is probably one of the nicest, most well-built machines you could buy right now, even if you're afraid of OS X and decide to put Windows on it. And you basically can't go wrong, they're all fast and high-end.
posted by floam at 2:57 PM on September 5, 2009

nth Macbook Pro.
15 years after using poorly built pc laptops, I have finally joined the civilized world.
posted by special-k at 4:54 PM on September 5, 2009

If you're going PC give it a month, windows 7 comes out on 10/22. Many Vista notebooks purchased now do qualify for a free upgrade, but not all (what gets it depends on the specific manufacturer- for instance, the Toshiba I got for my birthday does not qualify, since it has Home Basic on it)

Upgrades can be dodgy, though. You would be better off just getting a machine with a full install of it.
posted by Kellydamnit at 8:01 PM on September 5, 2009

Learning how to get rid of crapware can help you maintain your computer in the long run. Learning how to tweak Windows will also help loads. Don't let the name sway you, but Blackviper is a great resource.

If you want to stick with a PC, go with a Lenovo Thinkpad. Avoid their Lifebook (?) line. Make sure it's a Thinkpad. They're still really really solid laptops, hardware-wise. They're supposed to have pretty good warranty service, but I've not heard of anyone who've needed to use it. Their external LCD monitors are also seriously, seriously, solid, but you pay a bit of a premium.

T series are great desktop replacements.
R series are their budget line, but still fine computers.
X series for portability.

If you don't want to deal with installing Win7, wait until the end of October. Then again, if the free upgrade to Wn7 is a full install rather than a 'recovery disc' then that will give you a 'fresh' install without any crapware.
posted by porpoise at 9:21 PM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

I would go for a Lenovo Thinkpad or a Macbook Pro with Windows installed on it. I have been using Thinkpads for around 8 years and they are the best. Also, their on-site extended warranty is outstanding and probably the best warranty service of any product I've owned. I have had a repairman come to my apartment several times to replace screens, hard drives, and motherboards. My last Thinkpad was purchased around 4 years ago and is still going strong due to this maintenance.
posted by lsemel at 9:44 PM on September 5, 2009 [1 favorite]

Also, if you use a Macbook Pro and install Windows in a virtual machine, you can copy, restore and backup your whole VM easily, to recover from viruses and other glitches. All of your documents can be saved via the shared drive in OSX (with the exception of a few programs that don't like to read documents over a network share)
posted by lsemel at 9:47 PM on September 5, 2009

I am currently weighing my options between a MacBook Pro and Lenovo (the huge, workstation-class) or an extreme gamer-class laptop.

ThinkPads are not sexy, they are blocky but well built and will stand-up to abuse. MacBooks, while they can run Windows they are known to run hotter and have less battery life until Apple updates its' bootcamp drivers... Yet, that magnetic power connector and backlit keyboard are very very attactive to me...

Anectdotally I've seen many blogs of Windows folks who 2-3 years ago went with a MacBook and have switched back due to the nearly yearly maintenance/hardware failures that occured. But, I've heard to many people who have no issues for years.
posted by jkaczor at 11:10 AM on September 6, 2009

MacBooks are well built and look lovely but if you're just going to run Windows on it then that's an expensive solution. You can generally get more bank for your buck with other vendors and the build quality isn't as bad as others have made out. I've got a HP Elitebook (from work) and, despite the small screen, I rather like it.

Regarding crapware, search for the "decrapifier", it's a piece of software that uninstalls most of the preloaded junk whilst you make a cup of tea.
posted by mr_silver at 12:36 AM on September 7, 2009

You can also get a Windows CD/DVD and install it from scratch, obliterating whatever comes on the laptop. Just make sure you download all the drivers first so you have them on your hard drive, ready to add to your fresh installation.
posted by lsemel at 3:35 AM on September 7, 2009

Regarding lsemel's suggestion, just use Double Driver which will backup all your drivers into a folder. Once you're reinstalled, point Windows at that folder when it finds the hardware and all your peripherals will come back to life.

I wish I'd found it about 5 years ago.
posted by mr_silver at 4:35 AM on September 7, 2009 [2 favorites]

The suggestions of thinkpads above isn't bad - they have a well-deserved reputation for quality, but you'll pay for it. I usually stick with computers from Dell, for two major reasons:

- Low prices - by using the Dell Outlet and snagging a returned or refurbished computer, you can save a ton of money. Don't pay much attention to the inevitable few bad stories - given the volume that they ship and the failure rate of electronics, there are always going to be a few bad hard drives. I've had probably 6 or 7 computers from the outlet with no problems. (also: is a mac really worth an extra grand? I can think of a lot of better ways to spend that money...)

- Because they're so ubiquitous, they're easy to find parts for and easy to get repaired. I've always found their service dept to be great, and even out of warranty, replacement parts and service are readily available.

They've even got some computers that are pretty slick and lightweight, if you look at their higher-end models. We have several inspirons in my lab that have been solid workhorses.
posted by chrisamiller at 2:19 PM on September 13, 2009

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