Laptop Questions
March 30, 2011 7:54 AM   Subscribe

I want to upgrade to windows 7 laptop.

Right now I using a HP G60 Pentium dual core 2 GHz and 3 GB of Ram. I am currently running Vista.

I have been thinking about getting a new laptop with windows 7 on it, but I am not sure exactly what I need. I would like to be able to use this laptop to surfing the web, word processing, do some video editing, watching netflix and other movies, and do some gaming. The gaming is not really too big a deal, but I would love to play the new shogun total war game.

I have been looking at the Sager NP5160 from Xotic PC. From everything I read the new Intel i-7 processors are recommended right now. If I order from Xotic I would upgrade it a little bit. I think I want a Blue Ray player. I am not sure how much Ram I would really need. Most laptops seem to come with 4GB, would 6GB be a noticeable difference?

My budget is anything up to $1200. I am just really confused as to what I really need. I would love some suggestions on possible other laptops that would work for me.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Gaming: what will matter is your graphics card. I'm not so familiar with Nvidia cards but a cursory googling shows that you'll have a decent midrange card on the Sager NP5160, so you should be alright to run it (although you won't likely be able to max out graphics). Check the minimum requirements for Shogun: Total War and compare them against the laptop specs to be sure, though. 4GB RAM will definitely be sufficient for gaming.

Video editing: I have never done any video editing, but my understanding is that what matters here is hard drive space (for rendering) and maybe RAM and graphics RAM too, but someone else undoubtedly knows more about this than I do.

As for hardware ...

The i7 processors are indeed awesome, but they're at the absolute top of the range and unless you upgrade the rest of your system to match, you won't be using its full potential. It'll be bottlenecked by something else.

If you do upgrade the RAM, I'd upgrade to 8GB rather than 6GB, because that way you can dual-channel your RAM sticks for best performance. Bear in mind you'll need 64-bit Windows 7 to utilize it all (which you might like to get anyway, just to give yourself the option). But I don't think it'd be that big a difference - my gaming desktop has 4GB and I've rarely, if ever, maxed out memory utilization. RAM is also one of those things that you can very easily upgrade if the need arises.
posted by Xany at 4:47 PM on March 30, 2011

You're not likely to be able to use an i7 very well in a laptop; they have extra virtual cores, which is nice in some very heavily multithreaded applications, but unless you already know you need them, you don't. An i5 is perfectly fine.

Under Win7 64-bit, the more RAM you can toss in the system, the better. You don't need this for running programs; 4 gigs is adequate to run absolutely anything that's out. Rather, Win7 uses the extra RAM as a drive cache, and given the slow drives that are in most laptops, this can give you a fairly significant performance boost.

For gaming, any decently-clocked i5 (or even i3) is fine; you're going to be bottlenecked on the graphics chip. Graphics are tough on a laptop, because the power budget is so limited. On desktops, good solid cards will typically pull about 200 watts, just for the graphics, and then the CPU, motherboard, and RAM will pull another 120-170, depending on what you choose. A laptop typically has a power budget of 75 to 90 watts to cover absolutely everything. Exceeding this will result in poor battery life and a machine that will cook your lap, and because laptops don't have much room for cooling, it would be loud as hell while gaming. Further, and this is true even in the regular 75-to-90 watt range, it's quite common for manufacturers to tolerate a lot of internal heat before boosting the fan speed, which results in shortened chip life. It gets HOT in there, and that's not good for chips.

So, your primary focus is going to be on finding the fastest GPU you can within a reasonable power budget. has a nice list of mobile graphics benchmarks here. What you're trying to do is go as fast as you can within your budget and a reasonable power profile. Beware buying too high-end; notebook graphics move quickly, so buying something cheap but competent now, and then a new cheap-but-competent machine in a couple of years, will give you better performance overall than buying something very expensive in the present. You'll end up with a marginally faster system for two years, and then a noticeably slower one for two more.

Further, laptops tend not to be built very well, with a few exceptions (Apple and Thinkpads, mostly), and the ones that ARE built well usually don't have very good graphic chips, because that keeps the heat down and improves system longevity.

You may also want to look for utilities to spin the fans up sooner than the manufacturer defaults. This will typically result in poorer battery life, because the fans suck power, but will improve system longevity.

So, overall:
  1. i3 or i5 at 2.4 to 2.8Ghz. Faster is nice, but not necessary.
  2. 4 gigs of RAM, possibly 8. Aftermarket RAM is often so much cheaper that it makes fiscal sense to simply pull out the default RAM and replace it completely. In other words, buying 8 gigs aftermarket is often cheaper than upgrading from 4 to 8 from the manufacturer. This is very stupid, but VERY common.
  3. The fastest graphic card you can find that still fits in your budget. Trade down on screen size if you need to; pushing fewer pixels will let games run faster.
posted by Malor at 9:26 PM on March 30, 2011

Oh, I'm not sure if the Sandy Bridge notebook parts are out yet, but if you can find one of those, they're noticeably faster, clock for clock, typically 10 to 20%, and they have some new features that games may start to use in the next year or two. It's not at all necessary, because you're usually GPU-choked anyway, but if you spot Sandy Bridge mobile parts, and the price delta isn't too bad, it can be a nice boost.
posted by Malor at 9:32 PM on March 30, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks, I think the Sager is a Sandy Bridge. Would the i-5 be Sandy Bridge or only the i-7? The i-7 was only a $30 upgrade for this machine. So I thought it would be worth it, but if it won't make a difference I might reconsider.
posted by Dick Laurent is Dead at 9:40 PM on March 30, 2011

I'm honestly not sure on what the mobile Sandy Bridge parts are. I focus mostly on desktops, and don't follow laptops at all closely. If they say it's Sandy Bridge, you're good.

What you're getting with the i7 is four more 'virtual' cores, where the four actual cores are split into eight that can't all run at the same time. (this is called 'hyperthreading'.) This means that threads can share resources, but they can also contend with one another if they're trying to do the same thing at the same time. Per-thread performance becomes less deterministic, because you never know when you're going to get contention for the same resources, but total throughput improves about 25%.

For games, I prefer just turning that off; games aren't usually about throughput, and are generally happiest with deterministic processor speeds. I'm not aware of any games at all that will benefit by seeing eight cores instead of four. So I'd just stick with i5, unless the i7 has some other notable advantage you're interested in. (faster clocks, perhaps.)
posted by Malor at 4:35 AM on March 31, 2011

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