Help me find an awesome laptop within my budget, please.
August 26, 2011 11:32 AM   Subscribe

LaptopFilter: What is the best value laptop I can get with a $500 budget? Bonus: Graphic Design capabilities.

My 2005 MacBook Pro (2,2; Core2Duo; 2.16 GHz; 1.667 GB RAM), is on its last legs. I'm a student and I use it for everything (desktop replacement), so before it finally dies, I want to replace it. (Hooray student loans!) I'd love to get another Mac, but my budget is limited to $500 this time around.

I'd like to have a 15 inch screen, but that's not a hard requirement. This is the only computer I will have, so I don't think a netbook is going to cut it. It will mostly be used for browsing the internet, writing papers, taking notes, and editing documents, which is my side business.

However, I'm taking a class this semester on Photoshop and InDesign, and I'm planning to begin using these programs in my work, so it would be bonus if this laptop could manage to run them, although not necessarily required.

I want to get the best damn laptop I can for $500. Halp?
posted by woodvine to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Given how cheap and capable netbooks are and how cheap and capable 22-24" monitors are, I thought I should note that you could get one of each for under $500 and have a better graphic design experience at home, if a worse one on the go.
posted by Zed at 11:45 AM on August 26, 2011

I would recommend you monitor the laptop section at Ben's Bargains for a few weeks. Got my wife a really nice Asus Laptop for $400 there. You can decide which specs apeal more to you.
posted by pyro979 at 11:46 AM on August 26, 2011

Engadget has just published their back-to-school recommended list for laptops. Their "on the cheap" options seem to fit most of your criteria.
posted by bonehead at 12:04 PM on August 26, 2011

Just a word of advice that Adobe Creative Suite programs take a considerable amount of RAM, especially if you are doing complicated many-layered files. Check your specs carefully.
posted by radioamy at 12:38 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

pyro979's link to Ben's Bargains shows an ASUS a53e that looks pretty decent, especially for $429. It has an i3-2310 processor and 4GB of RAM, so it'll do everything you ask including Photoshop and InDesign with plenty of speed.

The Engadget list doesn't really get good unless you're wanting to spend more than $600 unfortunately. The budget AMD chips in those Dells can't begin to compete with the i3 chip in the Asus I mentioned, so I would go with the Asus were it me. The Toshiba mentioned in the Engadget article with the A6 chip is OK on the specs, but overpriced compared to the Asus.
posted by barc0001 at 1:51 PM on August 26, 2011

Best answer: Get on TigerDirect's mailing list. They had an amazing (refurb, but with warranty) laptop deal last month -- something like $399 for a very nice $699-new laptop.

Check out the current deals here. Plenty of these would fit your budget and run Photoshop just fine.

This one looks good. It won't win any awards for battery life, but that's some kind of processor in such a cheap laptop. With the added 1-year warranty, you're at $500.
posted by coolguymichael at 6:51 PM on August 26, 2011 [1 favorite]

(What kind of last legs is your Powerbook on? It might be more fixable / upgradeable than you know ...)
posted by krilli at 7:52 AM on August 27, 2011

Best answer: Echoing Krilli in a way... what kind of last legs are we talking about? Because a "2,2; Core2Duo; 2.16 GHz; 1.667 GB RAM" MacBook is STILL worth more than $500, used, today.

Sell it on eBay, and turn your budget into $1000+?
posted by rokusan at 8:38 AM on August 27, 2011

Response by poster: I just upgraded the MBPro to Snow Leopard from Tiger, literally yesterday, and I'm noticing a significant increase in performance.

My concern has previously been the whine of the fan; other people comment on how loud it is, in public places, and at home, and it gets hot enough to burn my fingers. There had been a slowdown in performance as well, and a few times where I couldn't get it to boot.

I'm no computer expert, so I had figured that after six years it was about time to bid it adieu. Is there a better option for me as far as upgrades than buying a whole new machine?
posted by woodvine at 9:57 AM on August 27, 2011

I'd Clean the fan out first and see if it A> stops the noise, B>lowers the CPU temprature and C>Increases the perfomance (Because the OS has been throttling the CPU to keep the temp down below boil-the-rest-of-the-laptop temp)
posted by Orb2069 at 10:26 AM on August 27, 2011

Best answer: +1 on Orb2069's prediction of results of fan cleaning.

Also note that every GB of extra RAM you put in that machine is going to make it go MUCH faster. Significant bottleneck; Cheap to fix.

I work in Photoshop, InDesign, Final Cut Pro and lots of other pretty weighty stuff, and I have a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Powerbook. I have 6GB but with 3-4GB of RAM in it, it would meet my needs absolutely well enough.

For $30-60 or so worth of RAM, you'd stand a chance of having a very usable machine, and one that is easier to sell too.

If you can sell this one off, for a recommendation: I'd strongly consider a used 15" Macbook Pro. Especially of the ones with the nice battery chemistry that arrived in model MacBookPro3,3.

As for a cheap Windows laptop recommendation, check out Toshiba. Dad bought a dirt-cheap Toshiba laptop which is generally excellent. The shape and feel is that of a Macbook Pro, but in cheaper plastic. I think they cut the right corners, it's very usable. They come with a lot of Windows crud on them that slows down the machine and you'd have to clean out.
posted by krilli at 11:27 AM on August 27, 2011

(Sorry, typo, the nice battery chemistry arrived in Macbook5,3. Don't know what they're going for used though ...)
posted by krilli at 11:28 AM on August 27, 2011

(OK another thing that came to mind: An upgrade to any newer model of Macbook Pro is a surprisingly significant improvement. Mostly that the MacBookPro3,x series can use a full 6GB of RAM.

A MacbookPro3,1 with a newish battery and 4GB of ram is going to be very solid workhorse machine. Add 6GB and it's on the verge of being a luxury good. Get an SSD in it and you've got a screamer.)
posted by krilli at 11:37 AM on August 27, 2011

Response by poster: As far as I can tell, this machine can only take up to 2GB of ram. Do you know whether the extra .34GB going to be a significant upgrade? It seems like I'd be better off upgrading to a 3,1 like you're saying. Hmmm.
posted by woodvine at 11:57 AM on August 27, 2011

Yeah, upgrading the RAM in the first generations of Core 2 Duo takes some research. Most models can easily handle more RAM than Apple specifies! If you have this one, it goes to 3GB according to Apple spec.

... and kind of a little higher but not really.
posted by krilli at 12:33 PM on August 27, 2011

argh typo; it should read "in the first generation of Core 2 Duo Apple laptops"
posted by krilli at 12:33 PM on August 27, 2011

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