I need a new laptop – what should I get?
July 18, 2010 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I need a new laptop – what should I get? I’m an architect - I use a graphics intensive program for design called Envisioneer (PC only so a Mac won’t do), and other design and graphics oriented programs. So my primary needs are: a big sharp screen, a fast processor, as much ram as I can afford and a good graphics card.

I was thinking of a Toshiba Qosimo or an Asus. My budget is around $1,500. I can’t find an Asus configuration that will do the job within my budget. The last two laptops I’ve had have been Toshibas and I haven’t been all that impressed with their durability. I would appreciate any recommendations for a machine that would do the job. Thanks!
posted by danascot to Computers & Internet (12 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered running Windows via Boot Camp on a Macbook Pro? It's smoking fast. If you get a refurb, as I did, you'll have money for RAM.
posted by jgirl at 11:56 AM on July 18, 2010

Sony VAIOs are beautiful machines with some of the best displays on the market. You can get ones with great hardware at a reasonable price--much cheaper than what you'll pay for a Mac. Just make sure you get a decent discrete graphics card.
posted by Aanidaani at 12:00 PM on July 18, 2010

Was going to second using a MacBook Pro exclusively as a PC. Works great and the screen and speed are fantastic.
posted by qwip at 12:52 PM on July 18, 2010

Same: MacBook Pro - runs windows natively (many folks still don't understand that Macs changed to Intel processors and in the process became Windows machines as well as MacOS machines.)
posted by leafwoman at 1:21 PM on July 18, 2010

This looks pretty good.
posted by kickingtheground at 1:52 PM on July 18, 2010

Umm for $1500, the OP can only get a 13" Macbook Pro with an old C2D processor.

I'd recommend the Thinkpad T-series. It looks like the i7 quad 2.66 is on sale for $1350 on Lenovo's site.
posted by wongcorgi at 1:55 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Intel Core i7 720QM(1.60GHz)
17.3" (1920x1080)
8GB Memory
500GB HDD (7200rpm)
DVD Super Multi
ATI Mobility Radeon HD 5870

$1,449 at NewEgg -- free shipping

If that doesn't hit your specs, I'm not sure what's going to at the price point.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 2:11 PM on July 18, 2010

FYI: the i7-620M on the Thinkpad wongcorgi only has two cores (but it does have four threads).
posted by Monday, stony Monday at 2:19 PM on July 18, 2010

As good as Macs are as Windows machines, wongcorgi is correct. Even buying refurb, you're going to have a hard time trying to find anything larger than a 13" unibody macbook pro.

Can you be more specific with defining your needs?

Envisioneer's system requirements are quite pretty minimal, though I assume to have it working well, you want some more oomph. What were the specs of your previous machine? Because the Core 2 Duo may be enough for what you want, despite wongcorgi's misgivings (especially compared to your previous computer).

Second question is how big of a screen do you need? I assume you will need something larger than the 13" Macbook, is 15 inches enough? Is this a computer you plan on using cradled in your arm as you walk around? If so, 17" becomes pretty cumbersome unless you're a giant.

How durable does the computer have to be? As an architect, I assume you're likely carrying the computer out to the construction site. But what sort of stresses will the machine go through? Over the last 6 years, the Sony Viaos have seemed to really deteriorate in build quality, although I haven't played with the higher-end ones in a while, so maybe they've kept quality at higher price points ($1,000+). Thinkpads, on the other hand went down for a while but then have seemed to come back up. They're ugly, but they take a beating.

If you're able to go up to $1,600, then the 15" macbook pros come back into your price range. The nice there here is that the unibody construction works well, my 13" has dropped 4 feet with about 20 pounds on top of it and survived with only a small dent. But I assume not.
posted by thebestsophist at 3:47 PM on July 18, 2010

When the question is "what PC laptop should I buy to do productive work with" the answer is always "the best Thinkpad you can afford." Always.
posted by zjacreman at 3:51 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Thanks to all for the great suggestions - lots to think about. I now have a Toshiba Satellite P35-S6112: Intel p4, 2 gb ram, ATI graphics card, 17" screen. It's been ok but it's dying. 2 of 3 usb ports are dead, cd drive is dead, the screen died (replaced), overheats/shuts down, boots up without the task bar and start button 90% of the time. When you're moving in/around a computer model with a lot going on, or producing a rendered model it bogs way own. Screen size - being used to 17", it would be very hard to go to something smaller. The big screen makes working on it much easier and for presentations the bigger the better. The P35 is pretty heavy and I haven't minded lugging it to client or contractor meetings so weight isn't really an issue for me. If I go to a construction site I'm usually going to a trailer, so it's not a matter of walking around in the dirt with it or dropping it (though a rugged machine would be a nice feature ... surviving a 4' drop is very impressive). I'd like something that isn't going to be obsolete next year and won't fall apart as much as the P35 has. I almost never unplug it, so battery life isn't much of an issue. Of the suggestions so far, the ASUS G73JH-X1 looks appealing. Thanks again to all who've taken the time to respond. It's very helpful.
posted by danascot at 4:30 PM on July 18, 2010

Hmm. I know the MacBook Pros are out of your budget, but I think you ought to stretch up to one of those, or something of similar construction. Here's why: the machine is basically an aluminum torsion box, both the screen and the base. (The "glossy" glass layer over the LCD that some people don't like is a major structural component providing really impressive rigidity.) I have over the past twelve years bought three notebooks, although I've used half a dozen. When I buy a notebook, I give the most priority to structural rigidity and integrity. I've had two Sony Vaios, both magnesium framed tanks. One is 12 years old, the other is 8 years old. They're both running despite numerous shallow drops, hard carriage in lightly padded cases, careless handling, sliding off laps, etc, you get the point. While it doesn't have to be an MBP, it's my firm belief that if you know your notebook is going to do more than sit on a desk and be moved maybe once a month or so, that you must budget for build quality as a separate line item. And metal frames cost money; lots of money. But when your machine is still running when the operating system on it is three generations old, and it's still useful for something, well, that's good value.

Don't cheap out on this. It's not worth the grief.
posted by seanmpuckett at 4:57 PM on July 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

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