Help choosing a budget laptop for international work?
April 25, 2014 12:20 PM   Subscribe

I need a new laptop but have no idea where to begin. Reading reviews at CNET and PC Mag only confuses me more. I would really appreciate help from the MeFi community!

I’m currently in graduate school, my career is in international humanitarian and human rights work. I’ll be working in South Asia this summer and likely the MENA region in a year when I graduate, so that factors into some of my ideal-laptop qualities below:

Lightweight (strap it on a bike, carry it on a plane, haul it to my internship every day)
Must run Microsoft Office Suite (PowerPoint rules my life right now and for the foreseeable future)
Inexpensive, in the area of $500 (I know I’m asking for the moon here but I am willing to make compromises in other areas in order to keep costs low)
Ethernet port (some countries I work in have limited/no wireless internet access, I must be able to plug in)
Longevity (would really like it to last at least two years, better yet three – I know this is possible, my old $300 netbook was a champ for 3.5!)
A Kensington lock to secure it while traveling would be nice, but is not a deal breaker

Things I really don’t care about include:
Screen size (netbook size or slightly bigger is good enough for me)
How pretty it is
Keyboard feel/layout (I’ll adjust)

What I will use this computer for:
Watching language-learning DVDs (I have an external optical drive)
Metafilter (this probably should have been first on this list) & general internet surfing
Watching Netflix, if I can afford a computer that’s up for it

My brother says I have to get a new computer because Windows XP is no longer secure, and apparently waiting 45 minutes for my current netbook to start up is "unacceptable." I’ve looked at those new tablet-type things, some older ultrabooks from 2011, and other options but I can’t really tell what’s going to be right for me.

Thanks in advance for your advice!
posted by philotes to Technology (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Check out the Asus Transformer T100 for sub $400. 2 in 1 Tablet/Laptop, Full Windows 8.1, includes Office 2013 (student), 10-11 hour battery time, Quadcore Atom, 2GB Ram, Doesnt have a built in ethernet, but can be added via USB. Pretty amazing stuff, its hard to beat. Heres a review
posted by edman at 12:56 PM on April 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

My brother says I have to get a new computer because Windows XP is no longer secure, and apparently waiting 45 minutes for my current netbook to start up is "unacceptable."

If your present laptop suits your needs apart from these issues, I would not be so keen to replace it.

There are only three likely reasons why it takes 45 minutes to start: one is bad sectors on the hard drive, another is this Windows XP automatic updates bug, and the last is that it's simply bogged down with unintentionally installed adware and toolbars and other such crap (Conduit, MyWebSearch, Ask Toolbar, WizeShoppy, Advanced System Protector, all the usual suspects).

All of these, as well as the fact that it's presently running a past-end-of-life OS, would be fixed if you completely reformatted the hard disk (slow format, not quick, so that all disk sectors get rewritten) and installed Windows 7.

Even paying somebody else to do that for you would cost you less than a new laptop.
posted by flabdablet at 2:14 PM on April 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

My current and recent former workplaces were switching all the consultants (on the road all the time, at least around town, and whiny about hauling a heavy bag) to mid-range Lenovo Thinkpads. But honestly, you can get everything you need if you pick a major brand - Lenovo, Dell, HP, and buy whatever they're offering the best deal on in the $400-500 range. Honestly, it's not worth overthinking.

Dell's got Insprion 15s and 17s for just under $500 in their "home deals" - and that's with the fancier Intel processor. The Celeron option is $299. HP has similar offerings. Avoid ultralights as you won't get an ethernet port.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:25 PM on April 25, 2014

Seconding flabdablet. Computers are not nearly so quick to go obsolete now as they used to be. If you're not interested in gaming, you might be able to go with an OS upgrade and more memory. If it takes 45 minutes to start up, something out of the ordinary is wrong. At the very least you might want to try making backups of important files then restoring your hard drive to factory state, a trick you can do with many many models of computer although the details vary by manufacturer and model. It might be worth Googling for "factory restore" plus your computer's manufacturer or model to see if you can find a secret keypress that will boot to a recovery partition. If doing that makes the problem go away, you can see about upgrading the OS from there.

Of course, the cost of upgraded Windows is not insignificant at around $100, and for a couple hundred dollars more you can get a new computer. New laptops of the class you describe remain inexpensive and can be had for $300 for an okay machine; $100 more can get you something rather better. I'd suggest sticking with a laptop instead of a tablet if running Office is a priority, for Office compatibility is rarely absolute, and to make sure you don't have to worry about file transfer and conversion issues. I'd not get a Windows 8 tablet, even if it runs Office out of the box, just in case those tablets go the way of Zune.
posted by JHarris at 2:44 PM on April 25, 2014

you might be able to go with an OS upgrade and more memory

In my experience, Windows 7 runs about as well as XP on the same hardware. So if you're satisfied with the present performance of XP (or rather, you were satisfied with it before whatever has bunged on this 45 minute startup delay happened) then you probably wouldn't even need more memory to be equally happy with the performance of a 7 upgrade.

I struggle to imagine anybody being happy with Windows 8 at all, though people tell me they have a friend of a friend who doesn't mind it.
posted by flabdablet at 8:20 PM on April 25, 2014

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