Basic laptop recommendations
October 13, 2011 9:02 AM   Subscribe

I need a latop - and more.

I am living/working in MD, but come back to NY on the occasional weekend to take care of the house. I have a desktop PC there, and don't want to move it, so having a laptop would be good. So... what do I plan to use it for? Nothing very "intensive"; web surf, email, watch youtube videos, play a few flash games, etc. So I was thinking of something as cheap as possible - Gateway and Asus have models around $300. Any recommendations? Models to avoid? Should I go to Best Buy or order from Newegg? Max out the RAM? Most come with 2-3GB. Any other things I need to consider?

And what about after? Any recommendations for anti-virus or anti-malware? FYI, I will be downloading Firefox. I already have MailWasher for the desktop, and will probably use it on the laptop as well.

Also, I am a WiFi neophyte, so any recommendations on books/websites to learn from would be appreciated. I've found a few articles about "safe computing", but realize there is a LOT I don't know. Thanks!
posted by ObscureReferenceMan to Shopping (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Why not a tablet instead of a laptop? Doesn't seem like you'd be using it for anything beyond tablet-y stuff.
posted by empath at 9:28 AM on October 13, 2011

The HP netbooks at CostCo are decent. $300 - $350 I think, reasonably well made, reasonable specs.
posted by zippy at 9:31 AM on October 13, 2011

(also a no-questions-asked 90 day return policy if you find you don't like them)
posted by zippy at 9:32 AM on October 13, 2011

I like both ASUS and Samsung low end systems. The HPs and Dells are ok, but feel less well put together. I'd avoid Acer if at all possible.

Tablets are a nice option if you'll primarily be viewing/playing media. Text entry isn't fabulous, but it is usable for short messages. The iPad can't play Flash at all, and the Android ones don't work great for flash games (too many assume you have a keyboard and mouse), though publishers like Kongregate are trying to fix that.

Top upgrades for me would be: decent amount of system memory (4G+) and an SSD if the budget allows. Solid-state drives are a huge win for system performance. Discrete graphics are nice, but probably not critical for your usage.

To configure, run PCDecrapifier, removing all of the demoware that comes with the system. In particular, remove the trial versions of the anti-virus software that come with all new computers.

Use Ninite to install those programs that you want. In particular, install Microsoft Security Essentials, a very good, free anti-virus and anti-malware product. It's the first item in the "Security" box of their list. I usually also install Firefox/Chrome (as you prefer), VLC (videos), a PDF reader, CutePDF (to print to PDFs), the Flash plug-ins, and 7-zip (to handle .zip and other archive files).

Ninite has lots of other things that you can play with too, as fit your needs. Just be aware that many of the choices on their list are exclusive: you shouldn't install multiple anti-virus programs for example. They tend to fight with each other.

Finally, open the Windows Security Center and make sure that: 1) the windows firewall is enabled; 2) MSE is enabled and does regular scans (~1/week is fine); 3) windows update is checking for and installing at least the highest priority updates.
posted by bonehead at 10:00 AM on October 13, 2011 [7 favorites]

If you're just using the laptop for entertainment, a tablet might work for you. If you decide on a laptop instead of a tablet, how about the $299 Lenovo for sale on right now? It should do everything that you want it to do and the price is right.
posted by golden at 11:10 AM on October 13, 2011

I have an iPad and an 9" Asus eee netbook running Ubuntu (and a desktop). I really like the netbook and use it every day for the sort of stuff you describe. The iPad is fun, but essentially it's a toy. If I had to give up one, it would be that without a shadow of a doubt even though the Asus is three years old.
posted by rhymer at 11:15 AM on October 13, 2011

One last trick: Set up two users, an admin (with a password) and your own personal account (with or without a password, as your personal risk tolerance prefers). The admin account gets full administrator rights, your own account gets limited user rights.

Log into your user account. When you want to install something, right click and "Run as..." the admin account. Simple. You pretty much never need to actualy use the admin account, but this stops all sorts of nasty things from doing stuff without your permission.
posted by bonehead at 11:30 AM on October 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love my Asus - really well designed cases, keyboards. The screen and speakers aren't very good - they are really more about the hard-hardware (also known for good motherboards) than the media stuff.

Don't shop from New Egg unless you know EXACTLY what you want -- they have a bad return policy - and also, not all of their specs on the website are accurate. I got my laptop from New Egg because they have good prices, but I had someone check everything out before hitting the "buy" button.
posted by jb at 12:10 PM on October 13, 2011

Computers around $300 are the ones that make people come into computer threads and rant and rail about "BrandX sucks." They're bottom of the line because the components are of lesser quality (and therefore lesser reliability/longevity) than what you'll find in a mid-range or higher model from the same manufacturer. Essentially, $300 machines are sold so families can get the kids off the parents' machines. You might do fine in this price range, especially given your modest requirements, but if you're expecting it to log 7 or so troublefree years of slogging it around, you could be disappointed.
posted by sageleaf at 2:37 PM on October 13, 2011

Cool! Some good stuff.

Any recommendations on learning about wifi?
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 9:20 AM on October 15, 2011

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