Best choices for a web developer's Windows 7 laptop
April 21, 2010 9:34 PM   Subscribe

Web designer-person looking for a new computer by the end of next week (definitely Windows 7, probably 64bit, probably on a laptop). I want a machine that should serve me well as my home office mainstay for the next 5 years, I want to pay as little as reasonably possible, and I have to get this done before the end of next week. My big question: how do I get the best bang for the buck when it comes to choosing the kind of chip, RAM, hard drive speed, dedicated video memory, and any other factors I've failed to list?

I've been meaning to upgrade my 5 year old desktop and either upgrade or replace my 6 year old laptop (both XP SP3), but I now have to move a little faster because for the next few weeks, I'll be working with a client who really needs me to run Windows 7 (getting screen caps of an app, understanding how it works in that environment, etc.)

I'm running a lot of CS4 apps, often 2-3 at once, and I need something that can also handle CS5 when it comes out in the fall. Flash and Captivate are especially big resource hogs. I have to open and run some pretty big FLA files. I don't do any video editing yet, but who knows?

Immediately ruled out: any Macs (I understand the allure, but it doesn't fit current client needs) and any Dells (I can't wait for configuration and delivery). One great, relatively cheap solution would be a new SSD for a clean install of Windows 7 (32 bit), but that would be almost as expensive as the laptops I'm looking at and would take up at least a day of my time, plus it probably wouldn't result in a computer that would carry me through the next 5 years.

Oh, and I'm in Toronto. I'll be checking out the College St. stores to see if anyone has reasonably priced laptops, but first web searches aren't showing up much.

I'm also tracking deals via Gazaro.

My top few choices right now are HP laptops with mediocre to adequate battery life (expected and tolerated, since this will be mostly a home office machine). And yes, they're full of bloatware, which I'll clean up as best as I can for now and will probably deal with in a few weeks by nuking from orbit and starting with a clean install of Windows.

1. An i3 machine like the HP Pavilion G62-134CA (i3-330, 2.13 Ghz, $749 at Future Shop).
- Advantages: relatively cheap; large (500 Gb) and fast (7200) drive; 4 GB DDR3 expandable to 8.
- Potential disadvantages: Doesn't have dedicated video memory (but do I really need that?).
- Mystery to me: Processor cache is 3 Mb L3: is this significantly inferior to the HP DV6-2150CA specs (512 Kb L2 cache + 4Mb shared L3 cache) listed below?

2. An i5 machine like any of these:

a) HP G62-154CA (i5-430M 2.26/2.53 Ghz, $849 at Future Shop)
- Advantages: 500 Gb/7200 drive; 4 Gb RAM (up to 8)
- Disadvantages: No dedicated video memory.
- Same processor cache specs as i3 machine above.

b) HP DV6-2154CA (i5-430M 2.26/2.53, $999 at Future Shop)
- Advantages: 4 Gb DDR3 RAM (up to 8). 1 Gb dedicated video memory.
- Disadvantages: Drive is larger (640 Gb) but slower (5400). No processor cache.

So when comparing these two, is the cheaper one actually better value, or is dedicated video memory more important than HD speed or a processor cache?

c) I also found this HP DV6-2150CA (i5-430M) at Staples (which is almost identical to the American DV6-2170, I think, except for having a 6 cell instead of a 12 cell battery), but it's currently $1000 after being $800 earlier this week (ARGH!!)
- Advantages: 500Gb/7200 rpm drive; 512 Kb dedicated video memory; 4 expandable to 8 DDR3.
- Disadvantages: it's killing me that I missed the deal earlier this week, so it's hard for me to assess whether the current price is justified, or if I would be overbuying if I went for this. No processor cache is mentioned, so I presume it doesn't have one.

My one non-laptop contender is this HP HPE-140F with an i5-650 chip, 8 Gb DDR3 expandable to 16, NVIDIA GeForce GT230 card, 1.5 Gb video memory and 512 Kb L2 cache + 4Mb shared L3 cache. Apart from the price ($1099), I'm really torn about getting another desktop instead of a more versatile laptop. It's more powerful than any of the laptops, but do I need that much power?

So if you help me figure out which of these machines seem to offer best value, or if there are any others you would recommend, or if you can clarify how I should rank the importance of conflicting specs, that would be awesome!
posted by maudlin to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I'd go with as much RAM as you can get. Having a bunch of programs running in the background, waiting for you to do something really only takes up RAM, not much CPU.

The other nice thing about a desktop is that you can put in an SSD to boot and run programs from, then add a second multi-terabyte to store all your files. That gives you the flexibility of having both fast storage (SSD) and Huge storage (3.5" disk). And quad core is better then dual core, but all your systems are dual core.

Have you thought about AMD? Their quad core chips are pretty cheap. A quad core AMD chip will be better then a dual core Intel chip, IMO.

Honestly I don't think the chip/video card matters that much these days unless you're doing 3D gaming or something.

Oh, and doing some comparison shopping in newegg would be a good idea before you buy anything retail This HP Laptop has a dual core 2.3ghz CPU, 4g Ram (only 1M cache) and it's only $599. this one has 6G of ram and just costs $899. Too bad you need it by the end of the week.


Disadvantages: ... No processor cache.

The core i5-430M does have 3M of cache. The cache is embedded in the CPU, it's not a separate component. Not having cache would slow your machine WAY down.
posted by delmoi at 10:32 PM on April 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Get an ASUS machine from CanadaComputers they are here. Try some other stores in the area. Much better than any crap from futureshop, asus has much higher reliability numbers than HP. (no affiliation with any, just happy customer)
posted by defcom1 at 11:36 PM on April 21, 2010

Seconding defcom1. I wouldn't touch HP.
posted by sockpup at 11:58 PM on April 21, 2010

What's wrong with a MacBook Pro running Windows 7 in virtualization? You get the best of both worlds that way, but you do pay a premium for the Apple hardware.
posted by camworld at 5:48 AM on April 22, 2010

I'd go with as much RAM as you can get. Having a bunch of programs running in the background, waiting for you to do something really only takes up RAM, not much CPU.

If you're comfortable installing memory, it can be cheaper (sometimes much cheaper) to buy a machine with the bare-minimum amount of RAM offered for that particular model, and upgrade it yourself. This usually won't void any warranties, and is typically quite easy to do. Some manufacturers are known for gouging on RAM.
posted by schmod at 6:13 AM on April 22, 2010

Thanks for the advice so far. I wish I'd written more concisely last night, so I'll try to sum up here.

- I'm trying to stay under $1000 (Canadian prices are somewhat higher than American prices, but I will be haunting Gazaro and sales flyers). $800 feels like the sweet spot so far.
- I need something that works right away with a minimum of fuss. Ideally, I'd like to have a new machine up and running by Monday.
- At the same time, I'm not making a disposable purchase now and a near-ideal purchase later, unless someone can convince me that spending, say, $500-600 on a barebones Windows 7 laptop now for this one project, re-selling it on Craigslist for maybe $300, then buying a new computer at my leisure makes sense. I'm halfway talking myself into it, but it just feels redundant and wasteful.

Balancing out the specs: assuming I stay with the original plan of the best possible mid-priced computer, to get the best performance out of multitasking a bunch of Adobe apps, should I hold out for:

- 7200 rpm HD. I see a lot of Asus and Toshiba in my price range with 5400 rpm drives, which is why they didn't make the list above.
- The largest processor cache I can get (and I'll have to poke around to find out what chips have an integrated cache). Are there any real differences re L2 versus L3 cache?
- DDR3 instead of DDR2, at least 4 Gb expandable to 8.
- Any reasonably recent Intel or AMD dual or quad core. If I'm looking at the newest Intel chips, i3 is quite fine and there's no need to hold out for i5.

Ideally, I'd love to get a Windows 7 OEM disk instead of a bloatware infested recovery disk, but even Asus doesn't seem to offer that.
posted by maudlin at 6:27 AM on April 22, 2010

I concur with the other posters — cram the RAM, as much as you can stuff into the box.

One thing you may want to do on the "eventual" side is to add a second, triflingly-sized hard disk into the mix. It ought to be fast as possible. Given that Photoshop loves its scratch space and recommends that it be on a different disk, that seems a natural. Bonus, put your pagefile.sys there, too.
posted by adipocere at 6:44 AM on April 22, 2010

OK, RAM-lovers, I hear you, and I have been craving as much memory as possible all along. But I'm talking tradeoffs now. If I max out RAM (most laptops seem to get to 8 Gb), does that mean I can accept a slower HD or smaller processor cache if it means keeping the price relatively low or getting a laptop with a better rep? I can't seem to get an ASUS or Toshiba in my price range with a 7200 rpm drive.
posted by maudlin at 6:52 AM on April 22, 2010

Are you going to be traveling with the laptop a lot? If so, consider brands with a reputation for being tough (IBM/Lenovo, Toshiba).
posted by craven_morhead at 7:05 AM on April 22, 2010

In general with laptops, 2 things can be upgraded: RAM and Hard Drives. The CPU and graphics chips generally can't. If you want to keep the laptop for a while, buy a laptop that meets your needs now in the non-upgradeable areas, and plan to add ram and storage space (or move to an ssd) down the road to increase performance.

If you have budget, you could also try refurbished. You'll save a lot of money, even with overnight shipping.
posted by blue_beetle at 12:05 PM on April 22, 2010

None of the machines you've been looking at are actually quad core. Unfortunately Intel's new naming scheme and marketing are making the core count quite difficult to figure out. Of the Core i5 chips, only the i5-7XX chips have four cores, and of the Core i7 chips the i7-6XX chips only have two cores.
posted by Chuckles at 4:33 PM on April 22, 2010

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