computers don't like to be dropped
March 4, 2012 1:30 PM   Subscribe

Help me find a cheap and bombproof laptop/netbook/tablet

After dropping my poor laptop for the billionth time, the hard drive has died. My budget for an new machine is miniscule (under $300 would be ideal) but I must have my internets. Are there any rugged laptops or netbooks in that price range, or am I better off with a used Ipad and an otterbox case?
posted by soft and hardcore taters to Computers & Internet (14 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
laptops in the $300 range (that I've seen) are not especially rugged, though the hp mini I got for a relative seems to have survived abuse better than I would have expected.

I'd do a case study of 'what was I doing when I dropped this laptop' and see what I could change (about my bag, my work environment, and my laptop habits) would make dropping the laptop less likely.

Alternately, I'd look into whether an iPad or Android tablet with bluetooth keyboard could handle what I wanted to do.
posted by zippy at 1:38 PM on March 4, 2012

Sorry if this misses the point, but if only the hard drive has died, you can just replace the hard drive for $50 or so. And, if your laptop has withstood being dropped many times, it's more robust than many new ones you could buy, so it might be best to hang on to it.
posted by beniamino at 1:45 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

And building on what beniamino's said, if you put out a little more, there are plenty of solid state drives that would still be within a $300 budget. Lack of moving parts would make things a lot more rugged.
posted by radwolf76 at 1:53 PM on March 4, 2012 [2 favorites]

For your budget, you may be able to get a Solid State Drive to put in your existing laptop. SSD's have no moving parts, and so are basically impervious to falls (unless you drop it so hard as to dent it). They are expensive for the storage space, but worth it if your storage needs are not great. They are also a bazillion times faster than traditional hard drives.
posted by dis_integration at 1:53 PM on March 4, 2012

Response by poster: benamino: doesn't miss the point at all (and I've considered just putting in a new drive) but the screen and screen hinge in the bottom right-hand corner are cracked, the keyboard wasn't working too well (I've been using a bluetooth keyboard instead), the power cord had to be wiggled at lot to get it to charge, the battery is held on with duct tape - - it was a sad, sad machine even before the hard drive failed.

zippy: I've dropped it off my desk. Off the kitchen table. It's fallen off the ledge of my treadmill onto a running belt and smashed into the wall. It was dropped out of bed regularly. Last but not least, the cat threw up on the keyboard a while back and it smelled kinda funky when it heated up.
posted by soft and hardcore taters at 1:53 PM on March 4, 2012 [1 favorite]

three possible options:

1 - $300 for a cheap netbook, and then start saving for a new one when you break it. a full on laptop that's going to be resistant to droppage is either going to be laughably slow at that price or over your budget by a decent amount, especially if it comes with an SSD (which is far more resilient to droppage than regular hard drive is).

2 - iPad + otterbox case. this assumes you're not doing much but browsing websites and maybe creating short documents and stuff and writing short emails and whatnot. (your bluetooth keyboard will probably work with the iPad so you don't have to be dependent on the screen keyboard, which will be nicer if you're writing something of length.)

3 - iPad + iWork apps or OnLive Desktop. this, plus your existing keyboard, will let you more-or-less work with complex office-style documents and all that. (the OnLive Desktop part would actually be the better option, IMHO. it essentially gets you access to a Windows 7 computer that they own, and you can run Word and Excel and whatnot on it and move files to/from your computer and theirs. the basic plan for that, which is just Office and 2GB of storage, is free. you can pay per-month and get more features, including full Internet access through their system, and all that if you want. it seemed pretty fast to me, working over my home Internet.)

really, depends on what you want to use the machine for.
posted by mrg at 2:11 PM on March 4, 2012

Try looking for a Lenovo X60 (or later model also). I have a tablet one (the X60T) that's pretty rugged.

The HD has two rubber sleeves it fits in to protect it from shocks plus they have their airbag protection (the HD lifts the heads and locks them when the laptop is moved).

Plus the body is pretty tough. I had mine in a backpack attached to my dog's leash when I put it down and she took off and dragged the backpack around. Laptop still works perfectly.

You can get them off eBay for not too much.
posted by millerizer at 2:20 PM on March 4, 2012

Craigslist Toronto has several decent looking used laptops for under $300 right now. Look for an XP or Win 7 machine (there are a few Vistas -- avoid!).

$250 HP: 1 Gb RAM, 160 Gb drive, Windows 7.

This dealer at College and Dufferin has a couple of older but decent Dells with Win Xp for $110 and $120.

Try this search: there are several more hits, all listed today, and a bunch more from earlier this week.
posted by maudlin at 2:38 PM on March 4, 2012

You can also limit your search to Lenovos, if you're willing to emphasize sturdiness over performance. Example.
posted by maudlin at 2:42 PM on March 4, 2012 has used but refurbished and guaranteed Lenovo Thinkpad T60 14 inch model with XP Pro for $200. I don't think you could get any other rugged model for the price. It's a bit slower than current models but it's a tank. Review.
posted by caclwmr4 at 2:46 PM on March 4, 2012

2530p is what you should get. Up to 10 hours of battery life, solid as a rock, great keyboard, lightweight etc
posted by Mossy at 3:32 PM on March 4, 2012

As noted, $300 is a low end machine and those are not very durable. It sounds like you've got some problems with keeping it from falling and the only laptops made to be durable cost a pretty penny. They're speciality items for the military, fieldwork, construction crews, etc.

I'd stay with a cheap machine, ideally with an SSD, then drop a some money on Sugru to build some ugly bumpers on it. It probably won't help much but nothing really will.
posted by chairface at 4:34 PM on March 4, 2012

Outside of a Toughbook, I would look at Lenovo/IBM Thinkpads, which can be had used for very reasonable prices. If you don't mind something a little older, like a T61, well those can be had for less than $300. Thinkpads have always lasted the longest for me; I have an 8 year old T42 that is still going strong. Admittedly, I can count on two fingers the times that I have dropped a laptop in the last 15 years that I've had them, so I can't speak so much about drop durabilty. But I will say the one laptop that I fumbled down a flight of stairs is the very T42 that I still have now. The other time a laptop dropped? That was a Macbook Pro that I had. That 24 inch drop onto carpet bent the case and slightly futzed up the hinge. Definitely stick with the Thinkpads.
posted by chosemerveilleux at 4:47 AM on March 5, 2012

I have a Lenovo Thinkpad x120e which is a little 12" ultraportable and I love the heck out of it. I've only had it a few months now but I'm definitely rougher than average (I break my things on an extremely regular basis, and this guy has already suffered a few drops) and it seems pretty darn sturdy for this sort of thing. Cannot recommend it enough, really. You can get 'em for about $300 right now, but expect to pay about $400 if you want the higher-end specs like more RAM and such.
posted by Scientist at 6:58 AM on March 5, 2012

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