Can you help my little sister find a laptop?
August 12, 2012 3:37 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a laptop recommendation on behalf of my little sister. She has a budget of $700 and is looking for something in the 15" class that plays Blu-Ray movies.

My little sister is getting a new laptop for her birthday and is trying to figure out what exactly she should get. Her requirements are fairly standard -- word proccessing, web browsing, nothing fancy -- with the exception that she wants to be able to watch her Blu-Ray movies on it. She wants something in the 15" size, and the budget is $700.

The main consideration that I had was that most of the 15" laptops with Blu-Ray drives in her price range seem to have screens with only 1363x768 resolution which isn't enough to display 1080p video. She says that she's not terribly concerned about getting the maximum resolution out of her movies as long as they play, but I feel like 1363x768 would probably be a bit cramped on a 15.6" screen even in day-to-day use and that a higher resolution such as 1600x900 would be desirable if it could be managed. (I know that even a 1600x900 screen can't quite display 1080p, but higher resolutions are probably out of her price range.)

Is this a reasonable assessment? Are there other considerations that we should bear in mind? (For instance, I assume that pretty much any laptop out there nowadays can handle the processing load of HD video, but if I'm wrong then that would be good to know.) Does anybody have any specific recommendations for a 15" laptop with a blu-ray drive and a good screen for around $700 or under? Any advice that you can give would be appreciated.
posted by Scientist to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
If it has to be 15" then I'd suggest this Toshiba Satellite. Stay away from Sony Vaio.
posted by axiom at 4:40 PM on August 12, 2012

Is this a reasonable assessment?

Watching Blu-ray movies on a laptop is not all it is cracked up to be. Even assuming you are watching from a ripped disc image (thus eliminating optical drive noise), you're still dealing with fan noise, close distance viewing, awkward postures, and noticeable flickering if your playback software and display are not configured to sensible video renderer settings.

If I had to do it again, I'd buy a laptop with no Blu-ray and buy a cheap Blu-ray device to plug into my TV.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 4:41 PM on August 12, 2012

I wouldn't worry about the fact that a 1363x768 laptop isn't going to be able to display blueray disks a full-resolution. On the other hand, I agree that the resolution is too low for regular use on a 15+ inch screen.

Unfortunately, it doesn't look like a higher resolution screen + blue ray is an option anywhere near that price range, at least not among current machines from major vendors. Perhaps she can find something on sale, or get a factory refurbished machine, or an older machine on clearance.

The best option might be to get a laptop with suitable resolution, an external BlueRay drive and, optionally, some blueray ripping software, but that is likely to exceed her budget as well.

(and can I just say, the user experience of shopping for a Windows laptop is terrible)
posted by Good Brain at 5:27 PM on August 12, 2012

On 15" screen there will be absolutely no noticeable difference between a blu-ray and a regular DVD. On a 50" screen, yes. She should save her money.
posted by Dasein at 5:27 PM on August 12, 2012

Thats a hard price point to get both of those premium-ish features. The closest I can find is this sony vaio for 750$. *However* like axiom I havent had been terribly impressed with the Sony laptops, so ymmv. On the other hand, the next cheapest non-Sony that I found is this lenovo. That Lenovo is a pretty serious laptop though, so the extra price for the fancy processor/graphics card/extra memory may not be worth it. The closest dell/hp/asus that I can find are a bit more than the lenovo.

You could also look for a HD+/1080p laptop and then add in an aftermarket Blue-Ray player for those two requirements. Something like this Asus, or, this refurbished lenovo (or this much cheaper lenovo for 1600x900).
posted by McSwaggers at 5:31 PM on August 12, 2012

If it has to be 15" then I'd suggest this Toshiba Satellite. Stay away from Sony Vaio.

I have three Sony VAIO's and love them. I bought an i3 two years ago that is holding up very well indeed, a little Z series with an AMD chip that I use for meetings, and a new i5 that I use as a backup.

On the other hand, I bought an Acer i3 that died about a month after the end of warranty. I am a big fan of Sony.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:59 PM on August 12, 2012

You may want to try Reddit's /r/suggestalaptop. They even have a form for detailing your requirements.
posted by zombieflanders at 6:25 AM on August 13, 2012

Yea, I'd have to second what the others have said about saving on the laptop and going for something that's not Bluray focused.

My advice would be to get a beater/used/nearly new Thinkpad (I've had great luck with the guys here, ping me if you want me to name names) and spend the remainder of her budget on something else AV related.

Full disclosure: I'm a bit of a Thinkpad fanboi, the (admittedly slightly older generation) Thinkpads I purchased for myself, and later my family [about 6-8 in total], have all performed like champs and a few of those met with a lot of abuse from being in transit and or spills. My T61 from five years ago is still running, if a bit hot, and provides great service on a daily basis.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:19 AM on August 13, 2012

I'd second the recommendation of a used ThinkPad. You can get something used that's still under warranty coverage for well within your budget -- a used T520 should be under that, no sweat -- and get a Blu-Ray drive to replace whatever it comes with. The upgrade is as simple as sliding one latch, pull out the existing drive, and swapping in a new one. You don't even have to use any particular brand of BR drive -- any old SATA drive that's the right size will do. Feel free to ping me here if you'd like instructions or details if you decide to go this route.

Oh, and as a fellow forum member, I agree with RolandOfEld: it's a GREAT place to get a used ThinkPad.
posted by -1 at 11:32 AM on August 13, 2012

My bad experiences with sony's laptops were a number of years ago where several friends/family picked up sony's over the course of a few years that had chronic hinge problems. Breaking/loosening up/poor design based around some cylindrical hinge that never stood up to any abuse - it looked pretty and failed rapidly. So, comparing with KokoRyu's experience, sounds like maybe this has been rectified in more recent models? It certainly does look like the current hinges are a much more sane design upon closer inspection.
posted by McSwaggers at 12:29 PM on August 13, 2012

Some of you are not understanding the question. She already owns blu-rays, she wants to be able to watch the movies she already owns on her laptop. It doesn't matter if it is the perfect home theater experience.
posted by zebraantelope at 7:07 PM on August 13, 2012

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