My eight year old is dying! (Laptop that is..)
October 28, 2013 8:36 AM   Subscribe

My eight year old laptop is about ready to bite the dust. For the last year and a half it has had permanent residence on my desk as it cannot function if it is not plugged in. The screen must be at the correct angle or it completely cuts out. It struggles to download documents and music. She has been good to me, but it is time to begin thinking about purchasing a new computer. Problem is, I’m fairly out of touch with the market now. Here are my needs with regards to a laptop. You tell me what I should be looking for.

What I think I need is a reliable, portable business laptop. Most of what I do for work is research and writing based, so I don’t have any need for any specialized programs. I will be purchasing Microsoft 365 University, probably separately because I am also a student and can get a pretty substantial discount. I don’t do any gaming, but I do watch quite a bit of video. I have a 1 terabyte external hard drive that I keep most of my work on, so I’m not sure I really need anything with substantial space.

Durability/Portability – I am not sure I am any harder on electronics than anyone else, but my Dell Latitude had to have the power supply cable replaced twice and no longer holds a charge in the battery. The screen must be at the correct angle or else it shorts out. I need something that has a reputation for good durability for daily wear and tear.

Battery Life – As mentioned, I currently can’t use my laptop unless it is plugged in. Four or five hours worth of battery life doesn’t seem like it is too much to ask for, right?

Solid reputable hardware: I’ve typically held out for an Intel processor. What is the status on AMD processors? I used to hear about them overheating fairly easily. I don’t even know what I should be looking for quite frankly…

Connectivity – I spend a lot of time going through public records, real estate transactions, Lexis Nexis and WestLaw for my job and school work. Internet access is key, so WIFI connectivity should be good.
Windows 7 or Windows 8 – I will have this
computer for a while. It is my workhorse. Thus, should I be looking at Windows 8 or Windows 7?

Le Price Range: And here is the kicker. I don’t want to spend more than $700 on the whole kit and caboodle. Preferably, I would like to spend less than that.

What I’ve been looking at:
Lenovo Ideapads/ Thinkpads
Samsung Ativ
Dell Latitude and Inspiron

Suggestions? Advice? Oh great and wonderful hivemind, do provide me with guidance!
posted by Driven to Computers & Internet (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Windows 7 is my current favorite. I don't like the tiles on Windows 8. As far as your cost requirement, I suggest you check out for cheap laptop/netbook deals. They consistently have fantastic service and low prices. The user reviews are in-depth and usually right on the money, too.
posted by domo at 8:53 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

May I recommend against Windows 8 based on the few times I have used it. My testing Windows 8 was the reason my boss saw me give the finger to my monitor at work.
posted by theredpen at 8:54 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I just bought a Lenovo Ideapad S510 touch (8gb ram, 1tb storage, $599) that I like a lot so far. I don't mind Windows 8 because it allows me to separate work/play. I use the new start screen for my casual entertainment stuff and go to the desktop when I'm ready to work. But I also switched from a long history of using Apple computers. I think longtime Windows users are more likely to be frustrated by Windows 8.
posted by perhapses at 9:02 AM on October 28, 2013

Don't hold the worn-out items against the Dell; I've never gotten more than 3 years from a battery, and replace my power supplies every couple of years for cord damage.

My advice is to get one of the corporate fleet models, like a Thinkpad or a Latitude. Parts are cheap and plentiful, and they are generally tougher than consumer models like Ideapad and Inspiron.

There have also been a lot of them issued to middle managers who played Solitaire on them for three years then got an upgrade. Those are what show up as refurbs, especially on the Dell Outlet website.

In fact, I'm headed there to buy a refurb 15" E-series with Windows 7 Professional.
posted by Kakkerlak at 9:05 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have a ThinkPad at work and love it.
posted by Aizkolari at 9:06 AM on October 28, 2013

Response by poster: I have been leaning towards Lenovo. I have a couple friends who recommend them for the quality. I had looked at this on earlier in the month

I could care less about the touch screen, but the rest of the specs looked decent (maybe?).

I think maybe I need to play with Windows 8 some. Do you think it will hinder me that much if I ended up with a Windows 7 machine?
posted by Driven at 9:30 AM on October 28, 2013

I am very pleased with my ThinkPad, and at least all the T- and W-series ones I've seen have been very sturdy (I haven't played with any of the IdeaPads yet). They have a deserved reputation. I would keep an eye on the Lenovo outlet for bargains, and read the notebookcheck review (if there is one) for anything under consideration.
posted by pont at 10:13 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

So I just bought a new laptop; here's some of what I've learned so that two can benefit from my research.

Durability/Portability – I've found that three years is a long time for a battery to hold a charge well, and that the power supply connection goes around that mark as well. Eight years is a really long time in laptops, so you may want to adjust your expectations downward a little here.

Battery Life –

Solid reputable hardware: So the way that Intel numbers its chips now are in the form Core iA-BXXX (e.g. core i5-4200). The A is either 3, 5, or 7 -- 3 is a low-end budget CPU, 5 is mass market and 7 is for high-end computation tasks. The B is the generation of the processor; 1, 2, 3 or 4. Here is where you have either really great or really bad timing. The fourth generation of chips ("Haswell") are just starting to come out into the mass market. The big improvements they made over the third generation ("Ivy Bridge") is in battery life -- they aren't much more powerful, but they use half as much power. But older laptops still have pretty good battery lives -- the Haswell bump is either into extreme 8+ hour battery life, or into laptops that are superthin and thus don't have very big batteries. So this is a really good time to pick up the still-good 3rd generation chip based laptops right as the prices are getting dropped.

Connectivity – Everything should have wifi; the new superthin laptops are now starting to get rid of the LAN port in favour of wifi if that tells you anything.

Windows 7 or Windows 8 – I would get Windows 7 probably. The new stuff on 8 seems like frustrating cruft to me, and there will be a solid userbase on 7 for years. (I got 8 on mine, but it is a convertible tablet where the "features" added in 8 might be actually useful.)

I have had good experience in the past with Lenovo, although I've never owned a computer for eight years in usable form. Two sources to check out are Laptop Magazine, who have the ThinkPad Edge E431 as their best bet for a value laptop, and The Wirecutter, whose HP pick for cheap laptop is now discontinued but who describe key features in some detail.

But yeah, sounds like you should check out the Lenovo outlet.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 10:18 AM on October 28, 2013

I am not super up-to-date on Windows machines, but I want to chime in to say that batteries typically wear out way before the computer does. Case in point: AppleCare doesn't cover them past a year.

Everyone I know who uses Windows 8 hates it (and I hear them bitch about it every day!). 8.1 is supposed to be better, but I would personally get 7 even if you have to pay a little more for it.

I had a Thinkpad T41 (last of the IBM models) from about 2004-2008 and it was a good, solid machine. It was fairly light and very durable. I actually have an old T410 at work and it's pretty sturdy although it's super heavy.

The one thing I know about buying computers is that if you upgrade anything you'll get the most bang for your buck on RAM. It's cheap (you could even buy it aftermarket if you want and get it cheaper) and really speeds things up. If it's not in the cards right now, almost all computers are upgradeable (except my freakin new MacBook, which is why I ordered it with 16gb).
posted by radioamy at 10:26 AM on October 28, 2013

Thinkpads are excellent; you can beat them up for years. Lenovo will build them to order for you at a substantial discount. However, their fulfillment operation is terrible. Do not order direct from Lenovo unless you are prepared to wait weeks for shipment, all with crappy customer service and no real-time data on when your system will actually ship. Their outlet might be better (assuming those laptops are actually in inventory); otherwise, find a reseller if you get a Lenovo.

Avoid Windows 8 at all costs. You should be able to find a PC, especially a corporate line, with Windows 7. If you cannot avoid Windows 8 on a new PC, then find a used one on eBay, or get a Mac or a Chromebook. Windows 8 is that bad.
posted by massysett at 11:20 AM on October 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Driven: Four or five hours worth of battery life doesn’t seem like it is too much to ask for, right?

I think that's a pretty standard, or maybe even low-end rating for battery life for standard sized laptops. Video watching is the only thing you mentioned that would drain the battery faster than normal (word processing doesn't require much battery power, and browsing the 'net requires a bit more, but not like a computer-intensive application).

As for Windows 8 vs Windows 7: if you find a better deal in Windows 8, you can always modify Windows 8 to look like Windows 7. Most apps suggested are free, though a couple apps are $5 each. This was just the first (of many) articles I came across on the topic.

Regarding the over-all price, do some research on the models you like, then check local stores for their weekly deals. You can regularly get $100-200 or more off laptops, and if you don't like what's on sale this week at any local stores, look again next week. You can sign up for e-newsletters and get the weekly ads mailed out in advance, so you can figure out what you might like. If you go this route, go as soon as the store opens on the first day of the sale, because some stores only stock a few of the sales items, and the really good deals don't stay stocked long.

Otherwise, you can look into student discounts, as that can also cut a few hundred dollars off of the MSRP.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:29 AM on October 28, 2013

I have 3 Sony VAIO laptops I use for work (median price $500) and I love them to bits.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:36 PM on October 28, 2013

Make sure you buy a touch screen. You don't have to use it today, but you're likely to want to use it in two or three years when applications are more touch-friendly than not.

Also make sure you get an Intel Haswell processor, if you're getting a full-sized laptop. These have significant increases in both performance and battery life.
posted by cnc at 12:43 PM on October 28, 2013

I totally disagree about getting a touch screen. Don't get one - having a laptop screen full of smudged fingerprints is never going to be a good idea. It's an answer looking for a question.

I do agree with getting a Haswell chipset if possible for good battery life, but those may not be in the low-enough price range yet. No personal experience with your laptop requirements otherwise.
posted by RedOrGreen at 1:36 PM on October 28, 2013

I have lenovos for both work and home and love them; my home laptop has been a tank and has survived lots and lots of abuse.
posted by craven_morhead at 8:08 AM on October 29, 2013

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