which ibm laptop should i get?
August 17, 2010 5:05 PM   Subscribe

Which new IBM laptop should I get?

I need to replace my 6-year old ibook G4. It served me well but is about to bite the dust.

My needs: Browsing the internet, uploading photos, playing dvds/watching hulu, downloading music, word processing. I'm going back to school for nursing so I'll be doing some paper writing and may need to use some course-related software. I'm (obviously) not a techie.

I was happy with my mac, but I'm going to buy an IBM laptop because my family gets a very good discount through my dad's employer, roughly 40%. I'd like to spend around $700-800.

So it looks like my options are the ideapad, the essential, and the thinkpad.

1. I know that thinkpads have the best reputation. Should I even look at the other two?

2. Out of the thinkpads, there are a bunch more series.. The L, SL, Edge, T and X Series are all within my price range. Of these I've heard that the T series is the best, but it's also more expensive than the others. And THEN there's T410 and T510! Any first-hand experience with any of these?

3. And then there are the little things. An i3, i5 or 17 processor? 2, 3, 4, or 8 GB memory? I'm not sure where to put the extra moola I can spend. I'd like it to be fast but it doesn't need to break the speed of light or anything.

Since I can spend a bit more money than I had planned, into what aspects of the computer should I invest it?
posted by pintapicasso to Computers & Internet (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Will this be your main computer, or in addition to a desktop computer?

If the latter, I really like the Thinkpad X series; the smaller size makes them so much more convenient than larger, heavier laptops. However, the smaller screen is a little on the small side if this will be your only machine.
posted by enn at 5:22 PM on August 17, 2010

I love my T400. It's a big blocky bundle of awesome. Fast, sturdy, dependable, nice screen. I've used Toshibas, Dells, but nothing near as good as my ol' T400. I'm running linux on it, which works great, but it was good with Windows 7 too.

FYI, IBM no longer owns the Thinkpad - IBM sold their laptop division to Lenovo...don't know if that matters for you.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:23 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Whatever you do, purchase from the Lenovo Outlet.

I got a brand new, unopened, ~$1600 Thinkpad X200 for $700 which turned out to be perfect for me. I needed a portable yet powerful system to serve a desktop replacement for me within my $750 budget. It has the great Thinkpad keyboard, the superior trackpoint, a 9-cell battery for over 9 hours of battery life, doesn't get hot, IBM's Thinkpad great hardware reliability and durability, great Linux capability, and so on.
posted by SollosQ at 5:23 PM on August 17, 2010 [2 favorites]

If you plan on carrying it around a lot, I (as well) cannot recommend the Thinkpad X-series enough: the portability alone is worth its weight in gold. When I got one, I was worried at first that it would be too tiny for most purposes--I'd downgraded from a 15.6" to a 12.1" LCD--but I end up using it for pretty much everything while my desktop collects dust.
posted by astrochimp at 5:32 PM on August 17, 2010

Best answer: First, congrats on getting a new machine! I'm a techie, and it's always fun having cash to spend. Now, to the details...

The ideapads are crap. Don't waste your money. If you can afford a thinkpad, go for it and don't look back. I haven't dealt with the essential line before, but it looks similarly cheap and plastic-y like the ideapads, so I wouldn't recommend it either.

Of the thinkpad line, I would recommend the T or X series, depending on which one offers the specs you want. As far as I can recall, the major difference is that the X is lighter and more portable, but you shouldn't have any troubles carrying around a T series machine (thousands of students on our college campus do it every day, in fact). It's absolutely worth the added cost. "You get what you pay for" could not be a more appropriate statement here.

Biggest difference between the T410 and 510 that you (a non-technical person) will notice is the 410 has a 14" screen and the 510 has a 15" screen. Fun fact: this is a great time to buy a T-series Thinkpad because they just refreshed the line within the last few months.

About the processor: i3, i5, or i7... unless you're planning on doing heavy-duty audio/video editing, playing video games it doesn't really matter that much. I would recommend getting whichever fits in your budget and is available on the models that have all the other features you want. Given your list of planned uses, this is one of the less important choices you have to make.

Memory (aka RAM): realistically, you don't need more than 4GB for what you're doing. But if you're looking to get 6 years out of it like you did with your ibook (and if you get a thinkpad and treat it right, it will last you that long), you might get 8GB just to future-proof it. But only if it's a marginal cost increase. That is to say, if you have to cut another feature you want in order to add more than 4GB of RAM, it's not worth adding more RAM.

Also, I would HIGHLY recommend an extended warranty (4 years) with the accidental damage coverage (on the thinkpads they call it 'Thinkpad Protection Plan'). You would be amazed at how many computers I've seen that have been absolutely destroyed that they just replaced under that coverage. It also covers spills, getting knocked off tables, dropped in the pool and just about any other kind of accidental damage you can think of.

Oh, and don't bother with the on-site warranty coverage unless you won't be able to live/function without the system... Lenovo's typically good about the depot (aka mail-in) repairs and as long as they have the parts in stock, they usually have systems back to their owners within 3-6 business days (even though they say 1-2 weeks).

I know it must sound like I'm a shill for IBM, but I swear I'm not. I am, however, a Lenovo Certified Warranty technician at the university I work for and I've seen hundreds of Thinkpads from various series and a fair number of ideapads as well.

Anything else you want to know, let me know. I <3 sharing my knowledge with the less technical people in the world. Knowledge is power! And good luck with your decision!
posted by wxguychris at 5:32 PM on August 17, 2010 [6 favorites]

Seconding X- and T-series ThinkPads. The X's are wonderfully portable, although you do sacrifice screen size; the T's are solid, durable performers whose design has been age-tested by this point. I'd not heard of the Lenovo Outlet before that SoliosQ recommends, but checking it out, there are T400s and X200s on saleā€”but the former is the older, not new refresh with i-series processors, model.
Best of luck, and enjoy.
posted by alexandermatheson at 5:48 PM on August 17, 2010

Best answer: I would invest my extra $ in: getting to 4 GB RAM, then weight, then battery life.

I'm a grad student, and am very happy with my X200 Tablet with the 8 cell battery. Why? Mainly because it's less than 3.5 lbs, it can run pretty much all day without needing an outlet, and I can take notes directly on the class handouts (via OneNote) using a pen.

To the X200: I carry it around everywhere, so the weight is a big deal for me. I'm also moving quite a lot between classrooms, study rooms, common areas, and coffee shops and it's very nice to not be hung up on finding a nearby outlet everywhere I go.

To the Tablet: I find that being able to take notes digitally (including drawing graphs and arrows and things) helps me to stay organized and minimizes what would otherwise be a huge volume of paper notebooks and printouts. Not having the screen between me and the professor also helps my concentration and irritates them less. Finally, reading digital documents in tablet mode is sometimes nicer than reading in "normal laptop" mode. Plus, it's neat.

In general, my spec recommendations are:

* as close to 3lbs (or less) as possible
* at least 4 GB memory
* 64 bit version of Windows 7
* Cheapest CPU you can get
* Reasonable sized hard-drive
* Biggest battery you can get
* Think about getting a tablet

A couple other notes:

* You're going to want 3 GB of RAM at a minimum. 4 is better. More than that is a bonus, but you won't need it unless you're dealing with big files (e.g. data analysis tools or photoshop) or intensive programs (e.g. some games). To use more than 3GB you will need a 64 bit operating system.

* For what it sounds like you'll be doing, the least powerful CPU they offer should still be more than good enough. Again, you really only need a faster CPU for "intense number crunching" (e.g. video games, modeling tools). One caveat: I would strongly consider any "low electricity" CPU options even if they are more expensive - anything to extend battery life.

* If you get the X200, you are also going to want the docking station because the laptop itself doesn't have an on-board DVD drive. Most of what I do (download software, use Netflix) is online so this isn't a big deal for me. When I do need the DVD drive, to install software or watch an occasional movie, I dock the computer and am good to go.

Anyway, that's my $0.02. Hope it helps.
posted by MrKase at 5:57 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

Definitely go for the ThinkPad - I'd say T or X series. I went from a T42 to an X61s and loved both. The X is definitely more portable if you're going to take it to school, but it really depends on how much you care about weight vs screen size. I don't mind the smaller screen, and even though I'm not carrying it around all the time, I still love the lighter weight.

I went from the 15" T42 screen (and a 19" desktop I had) to just the 12" screen when I got the X61s. I bought it thinking I would get an external monitor and keyboard for working at home, but it's been almost three years now and I've never bothered.
posted by clerestory at 6:00 PM on August 17, 2010

Oh, I forgot to mention outlet vs discount program - I bought the X through the outlet, but my previous T was via a discount program that sounds similar to yours. The prices were very similar, the main difference was that the outlet models were fixed, whereas you could customize the machine you got through the discount program.

I had good experiences with both - I got the T through the discount program because I could add one minor feature that was a bit newer at the time (bluetooth) and still get a great price. By the time I purchased my X I didn't have access to the discount any more, but I found a great model already available at a really good price. I'd happily recommend either.

(Also, I was just at the Lenovo page and now I really want a red X100e. Starts at just $450, but I don't need another laptop ....)
posted by clerestory at 6:15 PM on August 17, 2010

I've been using a Y Series ideapad for about 18 months now and haven't had a single problem and, IMHO, the ideapad build quality is head and shoulders above that of Dell and HP models in the same price range (My previous laptop was a pre-Lenovo Thinkpad which was great as well).
posted by MikeMc at 6:44 PM on August 17, 2010

Best answer: Worth noting: If you're looking to shave off a few $$$, RAM is stupidly easy to upgrade in the future, and generally gets cheaper over time. I'd pay more attention to the *maximum* amount of RAM that the system can eventually hold, rather than what it has now.

That said, I'd recommend 3-4GB. Modern web browsers are hungry beasts.

Otherwise, pay the most attention to the form factor (and possibly battery life if that's important to you). I suspect that your iBook has served you well largely because of its light weight, small size, and rugged design, rather than the actual tech specs. Thinkpads are the only machines that are consistently competitive with Apple in terms of portability and durability.
posted by schmod at 6:56 PM on August 17, 2010

Thinkpads have nothing to do with IBM anymore. And they are no longer the rock-solid notebooks they used to be. They are among the best laptops, but are no better than Dell Latitude or Apple or maybe Toshiba and the higher end HP units.

The T400 seems like a good machine.
posted by gjc at 6:59 PM on August 17, 2010

nthing, ThinkPads are Lenovo (a Chinese company) laptops. Nothing wrong with that, but it's not IBM. I also recommend the Outlet on the site.
posted by xammerboy at 7:09 PM on August 17, 2010

I would highly recommend TSeries and ThinkPads. Those are the ones with IBM engineering. Don't get anything else.
posted by xammerboy at 7:12 PM on August 17, 2010

X200 Tablet. I mentioned it here.
posted by chinabound at 7:45 PM on August 17, 2010 [1 favorite]

1) Get the ThinkPad T or X series, and let the size and weight be your guide about which you prefer.
2) Get the extended warranty with accident protection. You may be a very careful person who would never have an accident with your notebook, but can you say that about everyone around you on campus?
3) Lenovo outlet prices are great, but you cannot extend the warranty on items purchased from the outlet.
4) Check with your school as they may have a discount purchase program as well as dedicated service and support on campus. If not, check for discount codes and sales on Lenovo's site.
5) If your school does not have service and support on campus, consider getting on-site support. Depot service is all very well and good until you need to finish a paper or assignment.
6) Backup your date regularly.
posted by JaneL at 5:33 AM on August 18, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks for all of the answers!

I will not be purchasing through the outlet or another school discount purchase program. As stated in my question, I'm able to pay 40% off of the price of a new computer through my dad's employer.

All the rest is really helpful advice.

PS. I do realize that Lenovo now makes these laptops, but I still refer to them as IBM because that's who I'm getting the discount through.
posted by pintapicasso at 5:50 AM on August 18, 2010

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