Help me pick a new laptop and/or desktop!
February 10, 2010 12:57 PM   Subscribe

Please help me pick a new laptop -- or a different computer solution that addresses my aging desktop and laptop issues.

My laptop has outlived its usefulness. Replacing it immediately isn't critical, but I'd like to make the right decision for a tech setup that will keep me happy for some time.

Here are the three things I'd primarily use it for:

1. Internet. I surf the web a lot for research and pleasure. I do not play games, but I do play online poker occasionally.

2. Word processing (or possibly a web editor like Dreamweaver, and a graphics editor like GIMP on occasion)

3. Music and video. I'd like a lot of hard drive space to accommodate lots of music and photos.

I'm also interested in using the machine for audiovisual stuff, like plugging it into my HDTV to play movies -- and I'm woefully ignorant about what hardware to look for in this arena.

Two other things you might want to know: my desktop will probably need to be retired in a year or so, so I'd be open to an answer that involves a laptop and a docking station. But I wouldn't be wedded to that.

Also, it's not imperative I do this right away, so I can afford to wait if there is a compelling reason -- like a price drop, or if the Lenovo U1 is worth waiting for.

Thanks so much!
posted by jeffmshaw to Computers & Internet (12 answers total)
any particular budget concerns? Brand names you love or hate? Mac, Windows, Linux?
posted by royalsong at 1:08 PM on February 10, 2010

Are you looking for Windows machines? Or open to OSX/Un*x?
posted by nightwood at 1:09 PM on February 10, 2010

I can afford to spend some money, so don't let budget be the main driver, although I'd obviously like to get a good deal.

I am open to both Windows and OSX/Un*x. I own a PC now but have owned (and loved) Macs in the past. My favorite PC notebook was an IBM (now Lenovo) ThinkPad, and my friend has a Toshiba he loves.

I've never run Linux, so there'd be a learning curve there. But I like to learn new things, so Ill definitely keep an open mind.
posted by jeffmshaw at 1:21 PM on February 10, 2010

You haven't given us much to work with, because any modern laptop will have the computing power and software to do what you are interested in. The only possible exception will be some extremely low end netbooks.

You should initially focus on size (where is your balance between screen size and portability?) and any features you can't live without (blu ray/dvd drive, hdmi/dvi out, touch screen, etc). Once you know that you can start looking at specific computers.

Don't rule out linux. Ubuntu is a great OS and is easy to learn, plus you get the added bonus of not worrying about viruses. To try it without installing , make yourself a live cd or live usb drive and give it a shot.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 3:30 PM on February 10, 2010

I would get a 13" Macbook Pro from the Apple store's refurbished section. They wake up from sleep instantly and without always nagging you about security or software updates. You can hook up a monitor or HDTV without any fuss and the Macbook takes care of remembering the configuration for each different monitor/TV set up you've used. You can buy a remote so you don't need to get up and down to start/pause disks or downloaded media files. I keep most of my big media files on a separate drive until I need them. My 15" is my work and entertainment machine and I haven't found a docking station necessary (knock on wood).

Whatever you do, don't get an HP Tablet...I curse mine every time I try to use it.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:16 PM on February 10, 2010

Apologies if the question isn't as detailed as it should be. Part of that is my ignorance about what I need to make a laptop an audiovisual machine, or what my options are in terms of foregoing a desktop entirely in favor of a laptop-only setup.

I'd like a screen between 13" and 15.6", because I want something that'll fit in my camera bag's laptop sleeve.

I don't want something super-heavy -- say, 60 percent portability, 40 percent computing power.

Don't care about Blu Ray. Do need DVD drive. Do want High Definition video output, which means I need HDMI. Don't care about touch screen.

I am more than willing to try Linux.

Thanks much for the links, and for taking the time to help me think this out.
posted by jeffmshaw at 4:19 PM on February 10, 2010

Since budget is not a big issue for you, get a 13" or 15" MacBook Pro and the AppleCare warranty. The latest models are great for A/V.
posted by kenliu at 5:10 PM on February 10, 2010

How would I go about constructing a PC or Linux alternative to the MacBook Pro? The MacBook Pro is probably the frontrunner, but I'd like to do some price/performance comparison.
posted by jeffmshaw at 5:11 PM on February 10, 2010

Wanting HD vidio output doesn't necessarily require HDMI. A lot (most? all?) HD tvs have a DVI input as well. DVI doesn't carry audio, so you would need a separate cable for that. I'm not an audio expert so I can't tell you if the standard audio out is good enough for you (it's fine for me).

There are also DVI to HDMI adapters, though it still won't carry audio.

Go to Best Buy and check out the computers there. Grab the specs of the MacBook Pro you are interested in and see what you can get in a pc that is similar. Also try typing on all the keyboards and see which one you like best.

Also compare screens. A lot of people prefer gloss screens, but I prefer matte. Gloss screens have brighter colors but also have a lot more glare. Glare that shows up more in home situations compared to stores.

You can also keep an eye at sites like Deal News for a deal.
posted by thekiltedwonder at 5:38 PM on February 10, 2010

Like thekiltedwonder says, most new TVvs have one DVI port that has an associated mini-jack sound input that hooks up to the laptop's headphone out.
posted by bonobothegreat at 8:44 PM on February 10, 2010

I just purchased a new laptop, using pretty much the same requirements as you. I ended up with an HP Pavillion dm3. It's got a 13.3 inch screen, it's great for surfing the web for both work and pleasure, and word processing is a breeze. Its slim and light (no optical drive, which was not a requirement for me), and came in at a very affordable US$ 550. It's also got an HDMI output to hook up to the television, but I haven't used it yet. Good luck finding the computer that is right for you!
posted by msali at 9:36 AM on February 11, 2010

The MacBook Pro is definitely a "premium" laptop, meaning that you are paying extra for niceties like a slim form factor, nice design, good build quality, and light weight. That said, if you configure a PC with all the same features as a MBP, it's going to be in the same price range, although the PCs usually have slightly better specs for the money (usually more RAM and larger disk).

The HP Envy line is going to be competitive with a MacBook Pro, or possibly something from the ThinkPad X or W series. You can go to the web sites and configure them with similar specs.

You aren't going to find a high end laptop pre-loaded with Linux (although some netbooks are), usually you'll have to install it yourself. If you really want Linux on a laptop you can order one from EmperorLinux.

BTW, the latest Macs can run both Windows and Linux via Boot Camp, although I don't think you'd find much reason to unless you want to play PC games or are very particular about running Linux.

For playing digital media, you might want to consider getting a PS3 or XBox or AppleTV instead of hooking up a laptop, which I personally find to be a bit of a PITA.
posted by kenliu at 10:21 AM on February 11, 2010

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