Which PC laptop to buy for engineering college that'll last me at least 3-4 years?
September 15, 2012 6:52 AM   Subscribe

Which PC laptop to buy for engineering college that'll last me at least 3-4 years? Coming from Apple Macbook.

Im looking to purchase a new laptop for college. I was looking to purchase macbook before but I compared it to windows laptop and figured why not save money. Later down in my senior year some of my IE classes also require programs that are only supported by windows. My first laptop computer that I purchased was Dell Inspiron E1505 back in 2006. That only lasted me 2 years until it came apart. So then I purchased first gen unibody macbook pro. That lasted me 4 years and it was still going strong but had to sell it due to being slow for my needs. I'll be carrying this around campus everyday so I dont want something thats too heavy. But also on the same side, I want a laptop that will last me at least 3-4 years performance wise and quality wise. Apart from running MathCad, AutoCad, Maple, and Mathematica I really don't do anything that requires a lot of heavy CPU usage. I mainly use it for movies, music, surfing, and typing on my free time. After owning that Dell, I lost trust in PC laptop because they break. Not sure how the quality of laptops have changed over the years. But Im looking for suggestions.

Things Im looking for:

Intel Core i Series Processor
Light weight to carry around campus (Around 5lb or less)
*Build quality that will last few years*
14-15 inch screen
Upgradable Ram and HDD
Replaceable battery

My budget is around $1500 and Im also looking to buy it only from Amazon.com since I have gift cards that I want to use.
posted by Parh6512 to Computers & Internet (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Lenovo (IBM) never break. they also have lightweight models which are within your budget.
posted by Ripper Minnieton at 7:23 AM on September 15, 2012

Which specific model are you talking about?
posted by Parh6512 at 7:29 AM on September 15, 2012

I'm an engineering grad student with very similar specifications (and I also came from a Macbook Pro) - I got a Lenovo T420 with a solid state hard drive about a year ago. It's extremely snappy, runs everything I need it to, and cost about $1100. I bought directly from Lenovo because my school had a discount program, but the same model (with a regular hard drive) is available on Amazon for about $800. A lot of students in my program have Lenovo laptops, and they really do last forever.
posted by permiechickie at 7:47 AM on September 15, 2012

There's also a lighter version, the T420S, which is more expensive but still in your budget. I found the weight for the original T420 to be comparable to my MBP.
posted by permiechickie at 7:50 AM on September 15, 2012

This one has rock-solid reviews, with specifics, but weighs 5.8 lbs.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 7:50 AM on September 15, 2012

Why not just get another MacBook and install either Boot Camp or Parallels on the thing? Runs Windows just fine.
posted by runningdogofcapitalism at 8:32 AM on September 15, 2012

I would get a mac but those are expensive. For the same price, I can get better specs in windows laptop.
posted by Parh6512 at 8:41 AM on September 15, 2012

Get a Lenovo with an i7 processor and splurge for an SSD hard drive. The extra battery life it provides will make it worth the expense.
posted by rocket88 at 8:48 AM on September 15, 2012

You can get (some) better specs in a Windows laptop for the price but you'll probably pay in decreased longevity. Good sturdy Windows laptops like ThinkPads aren't much cheaper than MacBooks.

Btw, don't just get any Lenovo, get a ThinkPad. Other Lenovos aren't any different than any other manufacturer's.
posted by zsazsa at 9:04 AM on September 15, 2012

Work just issued me a Dell Latitude - After two Thinkpads (T40,T61p) it feels and handles like one of those Vtech toys for learning to spell. Agreeing with zsazsa, too - The non-thinkpad Lenovo machines are largely junk.
posted by Orb2069 at 9:08 AM on September 15, 2012

Don't just get any Thinkpad, either. They take the T and X lines very seriously, but the Edges I've played with have been lousy, and I don't have experience with the others.

I have a Thinkpad x120e, which cost less than $400 and is basically a high-end netbook. And it's still built like a tank with a great display and keyboard. The build and design (if not the specs) smoke everything in the sub $700 range, and are basically on par with the $1500 Thinkpad T400 I bought three years ago. They don't make crappy T or X machines, is my point.

Do note that the most current T models are the 430 and 430s, not the 420. The 430s sounds like a good fit for what you need.

The main longevity advantage with Thinkpads, aside from build quality, is that they're stupid easy to work on. Three or four screws to get to the RAM, sometimes just one screw to get to the hard drive. When my T400 took a header on the ice in Reykjavik, I was able to borrow tools and have the whole thing dismantled on a hostel common table in about half an hour. Thinkpads have not gotten harder to work on in the last few years, unlike Macs, which are no longer user-serviceable.

I've written this before on metafilter, but when the question is "what laptop should I get to do productive work on?" the answer is always "the best Thinkpad you can afford."
posted by zjacreman at 9:37 AM on September 15, 2012 [2 favorites]

Plus, if Microsoft is really "over" (hint: it's not), a Thinkpad T-series is guaranteed to get good Linux support.
posted by zjacreman at 9:39 AM on September 15, 2012

[More helping less ranting folks, please don't make this question more difficult than it needs to be.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 9:45 AM on September 15, 2012

An alternative to Lenovo, which are excellent (the T430 is one to look at closely), I'd also check out the Toshiba 930 series. Very similar to Lenovo, very well built. We just bought a bunch at work after closely looking at both.

While the machines are great, out IT guys reported that Lenovo service and post-sales support has been in decline for the past few years, a few days to get part where it used to be same-day, that sort of thing. We had a number of problems with screens and fans in the last generation X60/X61 as well. In contrast, the Toshiba folks are very quick, and the 830/930s we have now seem rock solid.

For your budget and your course requirements, I would absolutely look at an SSD purchase, and at least double the stock ram. If you're going to be doing any modelling or simulation, lots of Ram and fast disc are much more important that whiz-bag graphics or even a upgraded processor.
posted by bonehead at 9:48 AM on September 15, 2012

After doing a bit of searching I realize I need to be more specific: I'd look at the Portege Toshiba line only. That's their top-end equivalents to the Lenovo T-series. Like with the Lenovo, I wouldn't look at their lower consumer-grade lines, particularly if you want 4 year longevity.
posted by bonehead at 10:11 AM on September 15, 2012

I have looked at every laptop you guys mentioned. I have looked at T430s and T530 and they seem to intrest me. They are exactly the same (I think) except the screen 14" vs 15.6". Do you guys think its worth it to spend extra on higher resolution screen. HD+ vs FHD. I'll definitely spending extra on SSD and more memory. Is the weight of 3.96 lbs (T430s) vs 5.46 lbs(T530) much of a difference when carrying it in a backpack? I always had 15" computers so I don't know if I'll be able to adapt to smaller screen.

Toshiba 930 looks great but has 13" screen.
posted by Parh6512 at 10:17 AM on September 15, 2012

IMO, if you've got a location that you'll be working in a lot, like your dorm room, I'd spring for a 24" monitor and a decent keyboard/mouse combo. Much, much easier to work with. Both Lenovo and Toshiba make very good docking stations too.

Save your back, leave the big screen on your desk.

Also if you can, play with one at a store before you buy. Lenovo has a very particular kind of keyboard some people love, but may feel weird coming from a Mac. The Toshiba keyboard is more Mac-like.
posted by bonehead at 10:22 AM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

I was very recently looking for a laptop with pretty similar requirements (and also coming from a macbook) - I ordered a Lenovo X1 Carbon.
posted by kickingtheground at 11:49 AM on September 15, 2012

Lenovo have a business line .. it is the more expensive and chunky looking one.

That is the bullet proof Lenovo

The consumer line is no better than a Dell (which ain't so bad) ... but if you are looking for Apple build quality, then the lenovo business line it is
posted by jannw at 12:36 PM on September 15, 2012

I agree with other commentors about the lousiness of Lenovo's Thinkpad Edge. It's incredibly flimsy. Mine is relatively new, but I'm on my third fan and second keyboard. I've had it serviced literally half a dozen times for big problems, but it still has error messages on bootup about something being disconnected (??), sometimes the keyboard stops working, and my battery occasionally doesn't charge, despite support saying the problem is with my adapter and them sending me a new one twice already.

tl;dr: Don't buy just any Thinkpad. /regret
posted by plaintiff6r at 1:23 PM on September 15, 2012

One more ++++ for Lenovo (IBM). Al little ugly but they work.
posted by cowmix at 1:37 PM on September 15, 2012

Absolutely spring for any resolution upgrade. 1366x768 looks great and is totally appropriate on my 11" (netbook-sized) x120e - now imagine that stretched to a 14" or 15.6" screen. There is a special place in Hell reserved for the industry morons who decided 1366x768 was an acceptable number of pixels for full-size laptops.
posted by zjacreman at 2:02 PM on September 15, 2012 [1 favorite]

You'll never regret a screen upgrade. And the Lenovo T and X series are good choices. If you go Dell, only get a Latitude. Basically, get a business model because they are better made, have better support, and can often be upgraded or at least serviced at home. Don't buy an ultrabook, as you can't even put a new battery into one, much less add memory or switch out the hard drive.
posted by monopas at 6:17 PM on September 15, 2012

I'm going to put in another plug for Thinkpad. In my previous job everyone was on TPs and I used a T series (T61p) and a W series (W400) mainly for their more powerful processors and dedicated GPUs for running Solidworks. If you are going to be doing a lot of 3D work, especially CAD, then having the GPU can make it less frustrating.
posted by highway40 at 7:18 PM on September 15, 2012

That weight difference would make a huge difference to me. YMMV
posted by Salamandrous at 8:02 PM on September 15, 2012

I just got a ~6 lb laptop and hate every day that I have to carry it. And I'm fairly big. Definitely 5.5 lbs is a huge load, you won't want to carry that around every day all day. I'd get a laptop small enough that you can just carry it on "just in case days."
posted by mostly-sp3 at 12:43 AM on September 16, 2012

Yea weight is one of my concern too. Do you think ultrabooks are worth it or better to get like 13-14 inch laptops? I heard those can't be upgraded later in the future.
posted by Parh6512 at 6:58 AM on September 16, 2012

Most ultrabooks have limited user-serviceability and upgrade potential. The T430s is about as lightweight as you can get at that screen size while preserving those features. It also has more powerful specs than most (all?) ultrabooks. So you're definitely going to get fewer years of useful service out of an ultra.
posted by zjacreman at 8:02 AM on September 16, 2012

So, you are budgeting about $400-500/year in depreciation for your laptop, and you are upgrading now becuase your laptop is "slow" for your main uses of watching movies, surfing the web, listening to music, and typing? I'd suggest you look at whether you really need to replace your machine now.

I can see why a 4 year old core two duo would be slow for running engineering simulations, but i can't see why it would be slow for any of the other things you cite. Most of those things don't run much in parallel, single thread performance isn't improving all that fast, AND i know from my own experience that those things arent slow on even older hardware, so long as memory isnt an issue.

How much RAM do you have? That machine should hold 6, maybe 8gb, which would likely help a lot. Add an SSD and you will eliminate a lot of the delays when launching apps or switching between apps. You should be able to do both the RAM and get a 256GB or larger SSD for, ~$250, and I'd bet it lets you get at least a year more happy use of your machine.

I just did the SSD upgrade on my wife's even older pre-unibody macbook pro that i had previously upgraded to 6GB RAM. She uses it for the same primary uses you do, and the upgrade basically got rid of all the suck that had crept in. She had previously been in the habit of quitting apps she wasnt using, annd expecting that launching a new app would take a minute or two. She has had to unlearn those expectations.
Oh and for n
posted by Good Brain at 8:43 AM on September 16, 2012

Oh, never mind, you already sold it. I missed that.

I'll just add that i have had expensive IBM-era X-series thinkpad's crack. I used PC laptops for a decade. I never was as happy with any of them as I have been with unibody-era MacBooks.
posted by Good Brain at 8:47 AM on September 16, 2012

Good Brain - I did an upgrade on that Macbook Pro before I sold it. I upgraded the ram to 8 GB and put in 256 SSD. It did have performance increase but still wasn't as smooth. I also got a good resell value considering it was 4 years old. I will use that money towards the new one and hopefully get something that'll last me another 4 years.
posted by Parh6512 at 8:48 AM on September 16, 2012

Over a year ago, I purchased the Lenovo Thinkpad T420, based on the many Thinkpad recommendations I read on AskMetafilter. It's a pleasure to use and carry around. I like it far better than the heavier Dell Latitude that I use at work. I formerly considered buying a similar Latitude for personal use, but am very glad now I went with the Thinkpad. Better for my budget, too.
posted by apartment dweller at 11:46 AM on September 16, 2012

I got my mom a T420s its a great machine. Ran all the software you mentioned 10 years ago on a pIII 450 and Athlon 1700. You don't naturally need much power unless you hit FEA/FEM type stuff. An HD YouTube video needs more power to decide properly. If I had to carry a laptop around every day, definitely a 13", lighter is better. A cheap 24" monitor in your room will help when you need more space. Higher res is also better, windows 7 does pretty good dpi scaling if you find the text too small. (I have a 13" vaio z at 1080p - fantastic)
posted by defcom1 at 2:37 PM on September 17, 2012

Crap sorry bad autocorrect spelling.
posted by defcom1 at 2:38 PM on September 17, 2012

All of the systems mentioned here will handle multiple displays with multiple scalings with no problem at all. Windows 7 does this pretty neatly, in my experience.
posted by bonehead at 2:54 PM on September 17, 2012


After careful research, I ended up getting Samsung Series 9 Ultrabook. Its the 15' version and after using it for a week now, I couldn't be more happier. Its really light so its very easy to carry around in my bag and runs all my applications.
posted by Parh6512 at 10:19 PM on October 3, 2012

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