Need a new laptop; too many choices!
July 19, 2010 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Hoping to get some input on a new laptop decision – are the ones I’m honing in on good options? What might differentiate them?

My Dell Inspiron just crapped out on me for the last time, so I’ve been exploring my options for a new notebook. After my experiences with the Dell (two keyboard replacements, one fan replacement, one a/c jack replacement, loose/wobbly screen, ridiculous noise levels, etc etc etc) I’m eager to be sure my next machine is at least somewhat durable as well as reliable. Beyond this, as a more-or-less "basic" user (MS Office products, web surfing, video watching – often simultaneously) and occasional gamer (nothing cutting edge – I was playing the original Fallout when my laptop died), I’m interested in getting something reasonably peppy that can handle multi-tasking well and has at least decent graphics and viewing angles ... ideally for less than $900.

Thanks to PC Magazine’s Service & Reliability Survey, and Square Trade’s reliability study, I’m zeroing in on an Asus right now. Looking at Newegg, I’ve found a few that I think look promising (A, B) along with a Toshiba (C)– but I was hoping to get a sanity check from someone more in the know than me. Do the specs on these machines look good for the prices? Is there a better place than Newegg to get a good deal on them? I think I want something with a Core i5 processor in the hopes of keeping it peppy for a long time to come; is the difference between an i3 and i5 enough to really matter? If you, the in-the-know laptop buyer, were to pick between these machines, which one would (or wouldn't) you get?

Finally, are there other brands I really should consider? I realize that Lenovo ThinkPads are often recommended for durability (and having had a ThinkPad before I wouldn’t disagree!) but it looks like Asus is more budget-friendly; I’ve also been considering the Toshiba Portege R705 (this thing is ridiculously light!) but Asus’ 2-year limited warranty and 1-year accidental damage warranty is making it difficult to pass up.

Thanks in advance for any help you can provide in getting me past this "overwhelmed by options" stage of laptop buying!
posted by DingoMutt to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Lenovo!! I just bought a new ThinkPad SL510 (Jan) and I love it. My work requirements are about the same as yours and doing my research beforehand, I can say I have zero regrets buying this delightful machine. Budget friendly too, came in at under $850 with free shipping.
posted by Carlotta Bananas at 11:39 AM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: ... is the difference between an i3 and i5 enough to really matter?

The only real difference between the i3 and i5 processors is that i5 CPUs have Turbo Boost, which means they can push themselves a bit faster in some situations (if there is only one thread using the CPU, pretty much). The i5 450M can boost itself from 2.4GHz up to 2.66GHz, a 10% improvement. You will not notice unless you are timing some long-running computation.

The two Asus models you linked to have discrete video cards (Geforce 310M and Radeon HD 5145); you won't need a discrete video card for the kind of gaming it sounds like you do. The graphics processor built into the i3/i5 CPUs (and used in the Toshiba) will be more than sufficient. On the other hand, you might find some use for the better video card in the future (Google Earth, now with accurate depictions of every single tree on the planet? Or maybe just deciding you want to play a recent game?), and getting one now would hedge against that. I have no use for a discrete video card right now, but I'm leaning toward getting one in my new laptop for this just-in-case reason. The trend is for them to become more general purpose and for more software to take advantage of them.

Between those machines, I'd pick, well, the Core i3 version of the Toshiba. Save $100, get a slightly slower processor (it won't make a difference for you) and a smaller hard drive (do you think you'll fill 320GB?).

For prices, check Bing shopping. It has good store coverage, and it offers cash back at some stores (included in the prices listed in your search results), though the program is up at the end of July. Right now, you can get the i3 version of the Toshiba for under $600 after cash back. For about $100 more, you can find a similarly-spec'd Asus, if you want to go with them.

There are some things you might want to check out in person in a store. The viewing angles of the screen, for example, can only be seen there. Also, you might check out the keyboard and touchpad to see if they feel good to you, personally.

Then, go forth and support the economy!
posted by whatnotever at 4:47 PM on July 19, 2010

Best answer: Speaking as someone who purchased an Asus K61I last November (I'd bet that the K52s are fairly similar), the touchpad is in general still uncomfortable to use and its rows of mini indentations gives me calluses, about three months into owning the thing, the screen started intermittently flashing colors/going briefly blank (I suspect it might be something with the connection between the video card/screen/motherboard), the DVD multidrive opens on a hairpin trigger (very occasionally, I'll sit it down somewhere and a solid minute later, the drive will open for no discernible reason), and the mostly up-to-date power of this particular model comes at the expense of having a battery life greater than about an hour and 45 minutes.

On the other hand, I've got a very capable laptop that handles virtually anything that I throw at it in Photoshop CS3 without breaking a sweat, and it only cost me about $700. If I had it to do over again, I'd probably either buy one of Asus' models that's a little weaker but that (in theory) has 10-hour battery life, or just go to another manufacturer completely (I had mixed results in 2003-2005 with a similarly powerful Toshiba Satellite and mostly-reliable but still troublesome results with a then-already kind of obsolete ThinkPad for 2005-2009).

My general M.O. with durability and reliability at this point is "get a desktop." My interim solution has been "get a capable laptop for as little money as possible since they all seem to break in 1-3 years anyway, and get a portable hard drive as backup storage, because virtually every laptop still seems to be neither durable, nor reliable". I'm not totally delighted with it, but the Asus seems to be filling the void until I have the money to spend on a desktop, for whatever that's worth.
posted by stleric at 5:34 PM on July 19, 2010

(And FWIW, my 320GB hard drive -- only 283GB is usable out of the box -- is already down to 81.4GB left at this point, milage may vary, etc. etc.)
posted by stleric at 5:37 PM on July 19, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks very much for the input - whatnotever, I'd not been aware of that Bing cashback program so I'm really glad you pointed it out! Looks like just about any model I'm wanting will be cheaper if I go through that, which is pretty exciting =) Stleric, your reminder that just about any laptop will only last 1-3 years was much needed, too - sometimes I get so caught up in details that I forget that the decision isn't between something that'll last me one year and something that'll last me ten ... best if I just chill out and pick something

I'm going to head down to Best Buy tonight to try out my top contenders in person, then go from there. Thanks again for the help!
posted by DingoMutt at 8:10 AM on July 21, 2010

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