Please help me transition from a 2004 desktop to a 2012 laptop
August 7, 2012 3:59 PM   Subscribe

My parents just gave me a birthday cheque that I am supposed to use to buy a new computer. Yay! But I've never bought a brand new computer and would like some advice as to what I should buy and where.

Some specifications:

- I've got $500 to spend, can go a little higher but would like to keep it to that or less.
- I'd like a laptop.
- I don't need to do anything out of the ordinary with my computer, just use the net, do word processing, play DVDs/CDs, and connect my scanner, printer and digital camera as needed.
- I'm open to buying new or reconditioned.
- I'm currently using Windows XP and Microsoft Office 2003. I'm assuming I'll want to upgrade, but what OS and programs should I move to?
- What kind of security systems should I use? At present I have Symantec and run a full scan and check for updates once a week, which is working well. Will I be able to copy Symantec over to my new computer or must I/should I get some other kind of antivirus program?

Any advice? Suggestions? I really know very little about computers, so please go easy on the technical wording and/or scorn in your answers.
posted by orange swan to Computers & Internet (24 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I really enjoy newegg for it's prices, reviews and free shipping on all the computers I've bought.

They have a lot of different kinds of laptops from netbooks, ultrabooks, chromebooks, etc.
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 4:11 PM on August 7, 2012

If you're interested in a Windows machine, consider waiting a few months for Windows 8 and getting a lower-end new machine that would meet your needs then. I wonder if Microsoft's Surface will allow a hookup for an external DVD drive, and if so, whether it might be a good choice for you when it comes out.

As for security, deezil, the Mefi resident expert, recommends just using Microsoft's built-in Security Essentials.
posted by Dasein at 4:18 PM on August 7, 2012 [1 favorite]

For a new Antivirus, get Microsoft Security Essentials. Fast and FREE, and works like a charm.

ON PREVIEW: Well, looky there.
posted by deezil at 4:19 PM on August 7, 2012 [5 favorites]

Having tried one for a few years, I recommend staying far away from Netbooks. Even for "just surfing the net" they are inadequate. You won't be able to play HD videos on Youtube and Vimeo for example. It was a pretty miserable computing experience all around.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:26 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

My wife just got a Lenovo from Newegg and loves it. The one she got is out of stock but this looks pretty good for 500 bucks.
posted by merocet at 4:32 PM on August 7, 2012

Response by poster: Forgot to add: I'm in Toronto, so any place you're recommending has to either be located in Toronto or be willing to ship there.
posted by orange swan at 4:32 PM on August 7, 2012

Dasein, not sure I'd agree about waiting for Windows 8. Laptops are plenty cheap right now. And Windows 7 is an excellent operating system, while 8... has issues (/derail)

Orange Swan, there are some technical specs you should be aware of, but given what you want the answers are all pretty straightforward.

OS: Windows 7 is what you want. It's excellent. It comes in 32 bit and 64 bit flavours, the only real difference is you get to use more memory with 64 bit.

Memory: 2 gigabytes is absolutely fine for windows 7, but I'd go for 4 to give yourself some headroom. Go up to 8 if it's terribly cheap (and you have win 7 64 bit), but you're unlikely to notice the difference.

Processor: Processors come in two brands Intel and AMD. For your purposes, there's no real difference. As long as it is at least dual core then you'll be fine.

Screen: This is worth enquiring into more carefully, as you'll be looking at it a lot - can't be of much help here. But some combination of big and bright that fits how much you're going to be carting it around is the idea.

Hard drive: Get a big one because eventually you will fill it. 1 terabye is great, 512 gig is ok, 340 gig is minimum.

Brand: Dell are cheap and decent but a little fragile. HP are good, I think.

New/Used: I'd go new, though I understand you can get good reconditioned Mac laptops from Apple. You definitely want a good guarantee and support; laptops are commodity products these days, and quality often gets skimped for price. But we've had a cheap Dell for 4 and a half years and it's still going, though bits have started falling off...
posted by Sebmojo at 4:41 PM on August 7, 2012 [2 favorites]

Ditch Symantec for Microsoft Security essentials. Proper web use is the most crucial factor when it comes to viruses and such, no reason to spend additional money there (exceptions would be if you're a corporation with very sensitive customer data or something).
posted by Patbon at 4:54 PM on August 7, 2012

What you want to do is possible on just about any modern PC or laptop without an issue. Sebmojo gave you a good, simple rundown of specs you should ensure you're getting, but aside from that what you really want is good support, build quality, and comfort (keyboard to your liking, nice screen/resolution, etc). Lenovo, Samsung, some HP and a few Dell and ASUS are decent choices. Go to a physical store and try some out. Then look online for better deals.
posted by asciident at 5:07 PM on August 7, 2012

If there is really no commercial software you need--the only one you listed was Office, which is easily replaceable with free alternatives--you might consider an OpenBook. It runs Ubuntu rather than Windows, which might take some getting used to, but also means you don't have to spend a cent on security.

Their basic model is $375.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:29 PM on August 7, 2012

Also, if you want to skim some more detailed recommendations, Something Awful forums have a very good roundup post here.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:35 PM on August 7, 2012

There is a Canadian version of Newegg (, but for Toronto computers. I'd recommend Canada Computers on College at Augusta and a couple of other locations in town. They can also ship to you if you find a great computer but no local store has it in stock. I got an Asus laptop from them that I'm pretty happy with.

Here's a CC search for Asus laptops under $599. This one looks interesting (it's a netbook, but it seems decent) and it's in stock on College right now. Weirdly enough, it's actually slightly cheaper at Future Shop and Best Buy right now, and has good customer ratings.
posted by maudlin at 5:37 PM on August 7, 2012

That said, that Asus barely makes your minimum specs. This one has a larger hard drive and slightly slower processor, although i3 is certainly good enough for the kind of use you're looking at. It also has a 2 year warranty.

You can also look for specials at if you're willing to wait a bit for delivery. They run really good sales on a regular basis: sign up for notices and see what you can get.
posted by maudlin at 5:42 PM on August 7, 2012

At that price point, you have sorta 2 options - a 14-15.6" screen laptop which will have a larger lcd and be more powerful but also kind of heavy, or a high-end netbook/super-cheap ultraportable which will probably have a smaler 11.6-12.1" screen and be a fair bit less powerful. I would also try to get at least 4 gigs of ram, ideally 8 if you like lots of internet tabs +microsoft word+some music playing in the background, etc. You may want to add this in yourself afterwards, it is cheap and easy to do.

If you can find and extra 70$ I would reccomend trying to find a Lenovo Thinkpad x130e, like this one at It has an Intel Core i3 with support for up to 8gigs of ram so performance wise it will be competitive but slightly slower than cheap 14-15inch laptops but in a more portable form (and fine power wise for you), and it is their 'educational' model which means that it has been ruggedized to hell and back so that it is *extremely* durable. IE, it should be able to take years of being carried around in a backpack ad being dropped from small heights. They are coming out with new x131e soon so the x130e should be around on sale. Also, Lenovo Thinkpads are pretty well known for their good build quality. and Note - I have no idea if this store is legit as I am not canadian, so it might be worth a google search, but their price is pretty in line with what I would expect.
posted by McSwaggers at 7:32 PM on August 7, 2012

IBM Thinkpads were AWESOMESAUCE. Lenovo Thinkpads are still pretty awesome. Lenovo Ideapads are pretty allright.

I bought a Z-series Ideapad for my folks recently and I was pleasantly surprised by the build-quality/value for the price. There are Ideapads in the $500 range, some of which are the small and light variety.

Win7 is a perfectly ok operating system. It'll take you a week or so, but you'll like it better than XP, especially if you can figure out how to give yourself admin and turn off annoying aspects of the UAV.

If you want a Lenovo, sign up for their newsletter. Sometimes get 30% off "employee discount" in addition to 10-15% (random)discount PLUS non-advertised old-model discount. Buy directly from Lenovo; their shipping isn't bad and isn't too slow and you get to customize your laptop (dunno if this applies to the Ideapad line). Warranty is expedited, too.

Personally, I'm currently on a T410s with an i5, 6GB ram, a SSD as the main drive and a 500TB traditional HDD in the optical drive bay (and the DVD drive is in an external case I bought off of eBay for, like, $3, which I've used maybe twice in the last couple of years). I wished I had splurged on an i7 (despite the heat), but this thing is *still* a great machine. It might be possible to buy one of these second hand for about your price range. If getting second hand, anything less than paying an additional $100 for the dock is a great deal especially if you're mostly using the laptop as a desktop replacement.

I gave my old X-series (Core2Duo processor) to my sister and she's absolutely fine using it. Not the newest of or the bestest, but it's small, light, still decent battery, and fast-ish (despite my being spoiled by i-series processors and, more importantly, SSD boot drive).
posted by porpoise at 8:32 PM on August 7, 2012

Oh, also, yeah, you will have to use a new version of windows but I wouldn't worry aout Windows 7 vs waiting on Windows 8. Windows 7 is very good (better than Win XP for modern machines), and if you buy a Windows 7 PC now, and decide that you want Win 8 later you can upgrade to Windows 8 for 15$ through a special program that microsoft is putting on.

If you don't need to read the new Office standard with XML markup, that is .docx,.pptx,.xlsx, etc, you could actually probably keep using your current office products (or switch to LibreOffice/OpenOffice/Open Source office of your choosing).

And yeah, n-thing Microsoft Security Essentials.
posted by McSwaggers at 8:59 PM on August 7, 2012

Seconding Canada Computers. And as to models, I recently got a Thinkpad X120e from them (which fits your price range) partly based on comments here on Ask Me, and I'm very happy with it.
posted by wdenton at 9:14 PM on August 7, 2012

It looks like a decent price point is a 15", 2430M i5 CPU, 4GB RAM and whatever hard drive. Depending on availability there, the Asus K53 or Lenovo G570.
posted by rhizome at 11:56 PM on August 7, 2012

Get yourself to eBay. I recently bought a Lenovo X220, which a year ago was selling as a top-end ultraportable for over £1000 (one of the best reviewed laptops of all time). I bought it for £440, with an extra 4gb of RAM (total 8gb) and an extra battery. I would recommend bidding on the versions with an SSD drive, rather than a HDD - really really good deals.

Basically, a lot of the Sandy Bridge processor laptops from last year are going cheap on eBay at the moment because the Ivy Bridge upgrade has just been released. Go get yourself a deal!
posted by 0bvious at 4:05 AM on August 8, 2012

There's and also (In Toronto, tigerdirect has several real stores, also).

I bought a refurb ASUS notebook from a few years ago, and it's been wonderful. I like ASUS. In the past, for desktops, their motherboards have been the top of the line.
posted by mbarryf at 5:19 AM on August 8, 2012

I've always had good luck talking to someone at Dell. Also, I've been able to leverage either people I know or partnership deals through my company, so I get a bit of a discount.

What I like about Dell is that I can ask questions and the person at the other end can tell me yes or no, that's a good thing.

It's going to sound stupid, but for my last computer I needed a specific media card to run Sims 3. That informed the models I can use. I got great service and the damn thing came overnight.

I got MS Office for $10 through my job as a download, so look around for deals like that.

posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:40 AM on August 8, 2012

Great points in the answer above.

I will just say one thing that I learned after my first laptop: if you're actually going to be lugging it around school or whatever, weight is way more important than you think. Size is important too, to a bit of a lesser extent.

For me, because my usage needs necessitate lugging it around, I probably wouldn't ever buy a 15" laptop or bigger ever again, unless it was the ultrabook/MacBook Air type. YMMV.
posted by demagogue at 9:41 AM on August 8, 2012

Are you a student? you can often get discounts for msft and office type products with a student card or from the bookstore.
I also second CanadaComputers
posted by captaincrouton at 3:28 PM on August 8, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, so I've read everyone's advice and taken notes, and I'm going to head off to Best Buy armed with those notes and do some initial browsing, and once I've narrowed the options down to a few models, shop around for the best price. Thanks, everyone. I'm hopeless at learning about computer specs, but I actually feel I've got a grasp on what I need to know now.

I'm not in school. My laptop will mostly just be moved around to various locations within my house, and taken to my parents' house (via public transit) when I make weekend visits there. Maybe sometimes I'll go to a coffee shop with it. It's hard to say what I'll do given that these kind of things have simply not been an option before.

I would like to get the laptop bought and my data transferred to it ASAP as my current computer is so old it's running on prayer — and people, I'm an agnostic. Well, I am exaggerating. Though my computer is maddeningly slow it is otherwise completely and amazingly problem-free, though my CRT monitor (which is even older than the 2004 hard drive) is blinking a lot and isn't going to last much longer.
posted by orange swan at 9:15 AM on August 9, 2012

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