Laptop replacement needed
May 20, 2011 3:10 PM   Subscribe

My 5.5 year old laptop is about to give up the ghost - can you point me in the right direction for a new one?

My five and a half year old Dell Inspiron 9300 has served me valiantly, but I think it's time to put her down. I've been trying to search through various other opinion and review sites about new laptops, but I haven't found anything that quite matches what I'm looking for.

Thing I use my laptop for:
  • Writing my dissertation
  • Reading & marking up PDFs
  • Watching Netflix movies & DVDs (both on my laptop and hooked up to a TV)
  • Light Photoshop & video editing
  • Playing some older PC games (and MINECRAFT!)
  • Using my laptop as a presentation machine
  • Traveling with my laptop 4 days a week to various places
My current machine is a 7lbs.+ 17 inch behemoth - I don't need something that big or heavy anymore. I teach at different places almost every day of the week, so having something portable enough to move around is important.

I've got a pretty good budget for this, but I'd like to spend less than $1600 or so. I'm unsure about how much computer I'm going to need to do all of this - I have a feeling it isn't much, but I'd still like the option to run a newer game or two that isn't too graphically challenging. I don't need a killer gaming laptop, though.

So, what do I need? My wife just got a new Lenovo, and she seems to like it, but after having a Dell for so long (and having a surprisingly good experience with them), I'm not sure where else to go.
posted by SNWidget to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I'm with your wife, I heart my lenovo. Nothing you're working with eats up that much processing power, so you're in the clear there. They're tough, and have some of the best frames and keyboard feel of any laptop that I've ever used. Put another way, they're one of the few items that I've used from the consumer electronics field that really give me a feeling of quality construction. I've heard similar sentiments regarding some of the Apple laptops, but don't have any personal experience with them.
posted by craven_morhead at 3:15 PM on May 20, 2011

I love my Lenovo thinkpad. Some of their cheap consumer range doesn't feel so sturdy however.
posted by JonB at 3:18 PM on May 20, 2011

I love my (Lenovo) ThinkPad. It's old, and I watch a lot of tv and movies on it so intentionally chose the widescreen behemoth, so I'm not going to recommend a model or anything. It's four years old, has some problems, and I've used it hard--I think lesser computers would have cracked under the pressure. There's no comparison between this and the Dell laptop I was using previously. This thing is a tank.
posted by phunniemee at 3:21 PM on May 20, 2011

I had a surprisingly good experience with a variety of Dells over the years, too. But then I was persuaded to get a Macbook. I've never looked back. You can be in business for what you need for less than $1600. Best part: virtually never having to reboot. Only out of sheer boredom every 3 weeks or so.
posted by beagle at 3:24 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm slightly biased (owned and worked on Dell stuff for many years, and now actually work for the company), but look at the Latitude E6420 - the business systems are the 'sturdier' models, and with your budget you can opt for extended contracts and still get pretty good specs (2nd gen i5, 4GB, upgraded video) and have some cash left over. Smaller and lighter than your current machine, but probably going to be around for a while.
posted by pupdog at 3:33 PM on May 20, 2011

I personally think that the regular 15" size is still a bit too big for portability. 13" is sweet, 11" is kinda small.

The expensive Lenovo ThinkPads are the classic sturdy machines. From what I've heard, the more reasonably priced consumer notebooks they sell are not really all that special. But as student I definitely do not have the budget for a 'proper' ThinkPad (even though I love their sturdy retro look.. IMO it looks better than those scarily thin Apple style machines).
posted by Harry at 3:34 PM on May 20, 2011

$1600 will buy you one hell of a lot of laptop. You can walk into Best Buy tonight and leave with a perfectly serviceable machine from a major, reputable manufacturer (Dell, HP, Acer, Asus, etc.) for $600 or less. I've done that twice--once with a Dell, once with an Acer--and was pleased with the results. For all you're doing, I don't see you running into any problems if you do that.

It's almost to the point that "Get whatever's on sale" is a decent way to buy a laptop these days.
posted by valkyryn at 3:35 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can try asking here: Notebook Review Forum. These guys seem to live and breath laptops.
posted by nooneyouknow at 3:40 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I've had one Acer Aspire and two Thinkpads. Aside from the hinges on the Acer falling utterly apart after about 18 months, it was fine... However, I've had no such trouble from the Thinkpads. The first was powered on for about five years straight before anything [hard drive] started to fail.

...I'd like to spend less than $1600 or so. I'm unsure about how much computer I'm going to need to do all of this.

You'll need about $800 worth of computer to do all that, and then some -- i.e., that'd be more than enough to get the graphics power you mention, and will remain more than enough for a couple years. Wait until then to spend the remaining $800, on what will then be a much more powerful laptop.
posted by matlock expressway at 3:54 PM on May 20, 2011

Sony has some nice and lightweight machines.
posted by J. Wilson at 4:32 PM on May 20, 2011

Here's an Asus on newegg that is overkill for $1000. It's overkill because it has all of the computing power you need with a 15.6" 1080p screen and a Blu-ray player. It does weigh 6.4lbs, I don't know if that's too much.

I've heard only good things about the good Lenovo ThinkPads, Asus and Acer. I hear lots of not-so-friendly things about Dell and HP. I personally would stay away from either of them. Going to Apple is a personal decision that, much like religion, I cannot tell you what to do there. I do know that $1600 would buy quite a bit of Apple.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 4:32 PM on May 20, 2011

Sony has some nice and lightweight machines.

Sweet Jesus don't get a Sony. Get anything else. Why?

- theyre light because they're cheap. My SZ series has suffered 2 broken screens, 1 broken CD tray and a cracked frame in 3 years.

-wonky proprietary drivers. Forget about upgrades and god help you if you ever have to reinstall the OS, which because it's windows and sony includes a metric assload of useless bloatware, you will.

- Unreliable support, intentionally confusing design decisions. Bluetooth will die, wireless randomly stop working, optical drive will read but not write, and as you dive into the forums because you don't want to send it off for a month to maybe get fixed you'll find that each Sony model has pointless little variations making it impossible to troubleshoot on your own.

-Oh yea, there's a great chance they'll one day lose all your credit card information to hackers. Or decide to install a rootkit on your machine without your permission.

Never a Sony. Get anything else.
posted by T.D. Strange at 4:41 PM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

The first thing I tell everyone is "buy a mac" because, well, it'll run Windows just fine if that's what you want/have to use.

Outside of that, I've had a lot of success with Acer's and Lenovo's, decent luck with Dell and would avoid Sony and Toshiba laptops like the plague.
posted by ndfine at 4:58 PM on May 20, 2011

Thanks everyone, so far, for the advice. I asked on the forum that nooneyouknow suggested and got the recommendations of "Dell XPS 15, HP dv6tqe, and Lenovo ThinkPad T." I'll check those out along with other things suggested in this thread. The Asus that Mister Fabulous linked to also looks tempting.

I've known too many people who've had bad experiences with Sony, so I'll be avoiding them. I may end up just going on to Newegg and getting a prebuilt model. Every time I go to Dell or Lenovo's website, I end up customizing myself like crazy and out of my price range. My problem is always overbuying the amount of computer I need.
posted by SNWidget at 5:03 PM on May 20, 2011

Buy a business laptop, not a consumer laptop. Business laptops are usually a little more expensive, but are better made and not filled with junkware. The brand you buy really isn't that important. Most (all?) laptops are made by contract manufacturers. If you're concerned about reliability, buy the three year warranty. Your budget will certainly allow it.
posted by cnc at 5:40 PM on May 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I may end up just going on to Newegg and getting a prebuilt model.

Don't do that. Newegg doesn't have great prices on laptops and they usually have only older models especially for "business" laptops like Thinkpads.

Go to the lenovo website:

Select the cheapest Thinkpad T420 which starts at $749 (you don't need NVIDIA card)

upgrade the processor to i5 --> + $50

upgrade display to 1600x900 --> +$50 (unless having smaller fonts and messing around with fonts annoys you)

upgrade system memory to 4GB --> Free (special offer )

upograde hard drive to 500GB --> Free (special offer)

webcam? --> $30

There, you're done: $880 + tax if applicable.

the only problem with this setup is you may have trouble connecting to your TV.


go to, scroll down to refurbished mac on the left side, get a refurbished macbook pro 13, latest model for $1019
posted by at 6:45 PM on May 20, 2011

I just ordered a Lenovo Thinkpad X220 for just under $1000. i7, incredible battery life, light-weight, IPS display just like an iPad, if you can live with 1366x786.
posted by orthogonality at 7:14 PM on May 20, 2011

I'd go with the recently (as in May 2011) Lenovo X1. Light. Powerful. Sweet!
posted by karizma at 7:19 PM on May 20, 2011

I adore my Asus - bought through New Egg. I was happy with my Dell for years, but the case was not as well constructed as my Asus. It's a solid machine.
posted by jb at 7:59 PM on May 20, 2011

If you do get a ThinkPad, know that not all ThinkPads are equal. People swear by the T and X lines (excluding x100 and x120, which are not true ThinkPads; I know because I am typing this on one), not so much the R and SL. If you want to play games, you need nVidia or ATI; the Intel integrated graphics are worthless for 3D.

The X1 looks intriguing, but wait until early adopters have stress tested it. Lenovo's recent "innovations" with the ThinkPad line have included some really bad decisions and some really good decisions, best to let others discover which category the X1 falls into.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 10:11 PM on May 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

if i wasn't a mac convert, I would get a T-series thinkpad
posted by jander03 at 8:24 AM on May 22, 2011

Hey everyone - I just wanted to let you know where I think I'm heading with this.

I think I'm going to get a ThinkPad like spec'ed, but with the upgrade on the graphics card to the nVidia. I have a friend of a friend that works there, so I have an extra discount as well. That puts the version with the better graphics card at the same price as the one without it minus the discount.

Thanks for all of the help.
posted by SNWidget at 7:18 AM on May 23, 2011

Reporting in from my new ThinkPad! Just gotta figure out how to work Windows 7 now...
posted by SNWidget at 8:40 PM on June 3, 2011

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