SO close to buying a new laptop, befuddled by technical details. Help?
February 9, 2014 7:43 PM   Subscribe

I posted a question here about this last year, but since then my old laptop went belly-up and now I need to find a good replacement in kind of a hurry. I am looking for a few features and I don't have a lot to spend, but I have a big bunch of Amazon gift certificates I went to use on this. I am not a tech-head and trying to find the right laptop is confusing the heck out of me. Please, won't some kind soul help me?

TLDR for my previous question: I make Youtube cartoons, and I really want to try the animation program Muvizu. Muvizu says you need the following specs:

Windows XP or newer.
2.4 GHz processor
Graphics card with “Shader model 3”
2.3 GB of free hard disk space

I also do some video editing. Nothing too huge, but I want the best machine I can afford for graphics and video stuff. I'm trying to implement the advice I got last time, but it's tricky. I get really confused about cores, speeds, RAM, et al. Using my Amazon certificates and a little bit of savings, I can spend as much as $490, or so. Cheaper is, of course, better. I'd prefer something new-ish, ideally from the manufacturer or at least from a trustworthy seller. I'd also prefer to have Windows 7 or a previous OS, but I'm willing to bite the Windows 8 bullet if need be.

Here are some models I've got my eyes on. Can anybody tell me if any of these would do the trick, or if there's something better I should go for?

If anybody can help me actually find the right laptop, I'd love to pay you back somehow. You do not know how this question has plagued my days!
posted by Ursula Hitler to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
posted by theora55 at 8:19 PM on February 9, 2014

Processor: Anything in the Core iX Series (i3, i5, i7) should be plenty. I would lean towards i5/i7 if it's in your budget because it will definitely make a difference in video editing and animation. Many of those programs use the processor for a lot of their work.

RAM: 4GB or more recommended. 8GB would be maybe slight overkill, but would speed up working with video, and is more than enough for anything else.

Graphics: Most laptops have this as their Achilles heel. All of the ones you linked have low to midrange graphics cards, and that's going to be the case unless your budget goes much higher. So, I wouldn't worry about this too much at this price point. Intel HD 4000 is okay as is the Radeon 8xxx integrated series. They're still low-to-mid range, but are probably the best you'll get in the sub-$500 range. I would compensate by getting a high-end CPU (i7 if possible).

Shader Model: The machines you posted (specifically the ones with HD 4000 or 8450G Radeon graphics) both support Shader Model 5.0 so you're covered there.

Win 7 vs Win 8 is not that big of a deal at this point, it's more about your preference, as long as the machine is very new. Performance won't differ all that much. They both have their strong points and weaknesses. There are ways to tweak Win 8 to make it more like Win 7 if necessary.

The Lenovo G500 looks like it's one of the best out of your list. It has a decent i5 processor and the HD4000 graphics. You'll get more performance out of the i5 than you will out of the A6 AMD processor in some of the other options. At this budget, you will be somewhat limited, bottom line. It looks like you might be able to get slightly newer/better versions in this series, such as the G510- which has the newest i5 (Haswell) and a step up in graphics (HD4600) for about the same price. Better performance all-around.

Don't worry about the "Ghz" rating on processors anymore. It's starting to become meaningless, because a 2.4Ghz processor released in 2013 will be faster than a 3.0Ghz processor from 2011 in some cases. As long as you go with a recent/new i-series, you'll be good.
posted by kup0 at 8:55 PM on February 9, 2014

Typing up a response, and then on preview, saw kup0's and I totally agree.

Try to get an i5 or i7 if you can. You also want a lot of ram (especially for video editing's sake, where 4GB is a pretty tiny amount), but laptops are pretty limited in terms of graphics capabilities no matter what.

Your issue is not going to be that Muvizu software, where pretty much any new laptop out these days will work fine- it will be video editing. If you want to do substantial HD video editing, you may have a rough time with a cheap laptop in the $500 range. Of course, it just depends on what kind of editing, what kind of video, and how robust of software you're planning to use.

Agreed that the Lenovo G500 looks like a nice choice on that list as a starter.

Last thing: I would always suggest buying new, rather than refurbed when it comes to laptops.
posted by Old Man McKay at 9:07 PM on February 9, 2014

Thirding kup0.

Very glad to see no Toshiba or HP/Compaq machines listed amongst your options - you're more clueful than you give yourself credit for. Acer and Lenovo both make good solid machines these days (Lenovo Thinkpads are the perennial AskMe favourite for good and sufficient reasons, and Acer has really cleaned up its act in the last decade).

If you do get to choose between Windows 7 and Windows 8/8.1, you're quite right that picking 7 is a less-hassle option, all other things being equal, so more clue points there. But if all other things are not equal, and it doesn't look like the suggested G500/G510 does come with 7, then StartMenu8 (free) and StartIsBack ($3) both do a decent job of dealing with the more visible parts of the Windows 8 craziness.

Very first thing you should do on acquiring a new Windows box of any stripe is uninstall whichever of the Big Three (Norton, McAfee, Trend) trial version antivirus packages comes bundled with it, and install Panda Cloud Antivirus Free instead. Early on in the Panda installation process you'll see a screen including three checkboxes related to something called the Panda Security Toolbar. Turn all those options off before clicking Next on that screen or it will screw up your browsers. Resist its attempts to upsell you to the Pro version as well - free is all you need. Aside from those minor catches it's really good; certainly better and faster than the inbuilt Windows Defender, which I recommend turning off entirely.

Install the free version of Malwarebytes' Anti-Malware as well, then use its options settings to turn all its resident protections off - MBAM is a really excellent cleanup tool for the occasional nasty that Cloud Antivirus might have trouble removing, but Cloud Antivirus does really good work at blocking stuff before it gets to the point of needing removal, and I don't believe having both of them sniff at every file you open is worth the slowdown.

Next thing you should do when you get some funds is max out the RAM in your machine. You might not need more than 4GB now, but by the time the machine is starting to show its age a little and a bump up to 8GB might be all it needs to deal with inevitable software and video format bloat, RAM will have moved on a generation or two and what your now-new machine needs will by then be old, incompatible and relatively expensive. You don't need to do that when you buy the machine; RAM upgrades are something you can fit yourself, with the aid of a small Philips head screwdriver and YouTube. Just pay attention to not touching the gold edge connectors with your fingers and you'll be fine.
posted by flabdablet at 10:21 PM on February 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

Muvizu's requirements are so out of date as to be meaningless at this point. Anything with an Intel i Series processor you can buy new far exceed them.

You want something with an i5 (or i7) from this list. These are better but newer and thus more expensive.

Do not buy a 2 year old used laptop. Do not buy anything older than 3 years old period. Ideally it should be less than a year old and either new or factory refurbished with a full year's warranty. Ideally it should come with 8GB RAM.
posted by Candleman at 10:31 PM on February 9, 2014

Thanks so much to everybody who offered advice! I know this thread is probably dead by now, but any and every bit of advice is useful.

At this point I've pretty much settled on a Lenovo of some sort, but I still get confused about the pros and cons of buying something new vs. something refurbished or "new" from a secondary vendor. It's really tricky to figure out the return policies and so on.

For instance, this one is new from Amazon, right? I think? This computer is available "new" from various vendors, but is it worth paying the extra $20 to get it from Amazon instead of another vendor I've never heard of? And would it even really be from Amazon? And then there's this baby. which is a year older and only available used/refurbished, but for 500 bucks I can get it with twice the ram of the other computer, from a seller with a 99% rating.

I've tried to look up the return policies on this stuff, and Amazon makes it sound like you can only return computers in an unopened box. Surely that can't be right. If you open the box and the computer doesn't work, there HAS to be some way to send it back! (Believe me, I am trying to figure this all out, I'm not just trying to foist the heavy lifting on you guys!)

(Also, is the Lenovo IdeaPad G510 really NEWER than the G580? Why number it like that? Argh!)
posted by Ursula Hitler at 6:36 PM on February 10, 2014

Amazon makes it sound like you can only return computers in an unopened box. Surely that can't be right. Return Policy: You may return any new computer purchased from that is "dead on arrival," arrives in damaged condition, or is still in unopened boxes, for a full refund within 30 days of purchase.
(emphasis mine)

Lenovo's G series computers are their "budget" line; Z series is "mainstream". A factory-refurb Z series with twice as much RAM as an otherwise similarly-spec'd G series for about the same money strikes me as good value.
posted by flabdablet at 10:22 PM on February 10, 2014

OK, so, just in case anybody ever digs up this old thread...

I finally bought this sucker.

I got it refurbished, with a year warranty, for $499. It has the 4600M card, apparently. It's annoying, because I was willing to spend a bit more to get something better... but this kept being the best I was finding in this price range. (More than once I found something else I liked, and then it was gone like two hours later!) Lenovo actually has workers ready to chat with you online seemingly 24/7 (I know because during this process I kept hopping on there to ask them about stuff) and that impressed me too.

So, that's done. I sure hope I don't end up regretting this!

Thanks to everybody who offered advice.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 4:36 AM on March 10, 2014

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