Laptop Blues.
May 5, 2014 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Yet another laptop question. I only need a laptop for surfing the web, downloading, watching DVDs and streaming Netflix for around $500. Unfortunately, I don't know much about laptops. I do know that I want a terabyte hard drive and I don't care about touch screen. I found this and this both from Toshiba, both very similar. Will I be happy with either of them? Will Windows 8.1 piss me off? I am also open to other suggestions.
posted by MaryDellamorte to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I can't speak for your hardware needs but I can say that if you're coming from any other Windows, yes, Windows 8 will piss you off. It's held in such low regard that HP started selling computers with Windows 7 again.
posted by johnofjack at 1:59 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

From my experience I can recommend against buying a Toshiba computer. If you need any support, their helpdesk will plead ignorance of the problem you are experiencing and refuse to assist unless you purchase an enhanced support package. Another of my tech support friends also ran into this scenario, and we both found our first and only Toshiba purchases to have unreliable wireless networking, right out of the box.

HP is my first pick whenever I can get it. $500 is a bit high for a basic-use laptop nowadays. I'd look at this option instead: A Gateway NE laptop for $399.99. It should do all the things you want and even has Windows 7 preinstalled.

Windows 8 on a laptop can be annoying but most of the annoyance can be circumvented by installing Classic Shell for free.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 2:12 PM on May 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

Not sure about exact machines, but I'd caution against thinking streaming Netflix is an "easy" requirement any basic machine can do.

I once thought I could get by with a Netbook and it just wasn't up to playing high-quality video. It couldn't even "surf the web" if you include watching videos on Youtube or Vimeo in HD as "the web." You need at least some processor power and possibly a decent video card.
posted by drjimmy11 at 2:28 PM on May 5, 2014

I've had a Toshiba in the L50 series for going on four years now and it's still running fine. This is my second Toshiba laptop and the only reason I got rid of the first one when I did is because a cat decided it looked thirsty and dumped a glass of water on it. Toshiba is still selling--via their website--customizable laptops with Windows 7 installed (although maybe not in the L50 series).

found our first and only Toshiba purchases to have unreliable wireless networking, right out of the box.

As mentioned above, I'm on my second Toshiba. Problems with the wireless has not been my experience and I stream video on it fairly regularly. The only thing I will fault it for is coming pre-installed with a lot of garbage software but I guess that may be standard practice across vendors. Most of the crap can be uninstalled or disabled.
posted by fuse theorem at 2:39 PM on May 5, 2014

#1. It is unlikely you need a terabyte of hard drive space - unless you have a huge personal video collection. With that said, its sort of hard to get less - but don't make this a make or break.

#2. I made the conversion to Windows 8.1 on the home machines. I run it on an ASUS Transformer tablet/laptop sort of thingy with a touch screen, as well as on a regular desktop, which uses a TV as a monitor. I can unequivocally state: Win 8.1 is freaking awesome with a touchscreen. It is only slightly annoying without one. Ultimately on the desktop, I drop to "desktop" mode and run most of my apps from there - identical to Win 7 - except that the windows key works a little differently. If I didn't need to watch DVDs on it, the Transformer is pretty excellent for $399.99

#3. Touch screens are approaching defacto interface - with developers moving to the paradigm. While you may not be in to them right now, plan on whatever basic app you used to use with a mouse making things a lot more user friendly with a touchscreen.

#4. I've never experienced a computer that couldn't run YouTube. I've had laptops that overheated when I asked them to render anything in 3D with whatever built in graphics card they had in them. I've had laptops that couldn't play a game because they didn't have a Radeon 591845604i compatible card (standard faked - don't insist on it). I've used internet service at my in-laws through Dish and been appalled by what felt like dial-up speeds with my video... Just make sure the screen is 1080p. I guess you could get into trouble with youtube if you were only playing HD videos and you didn't have the ability to run 1080p...

#5. With that said, Netflix will favor higher speed connections with video, and will drop quality to keep the buffering appropriate. A poor wireless signal can impact your connection speed - which means that if you have really old equipment on your network (like a really old wireless router that you purchased 10 years ago) that will have a negative impact on your connection speed. In addition, bloatware that reports your every move will impact your connection speed. Also, putting your phone on your wifi will impact your connection speed (as generally that means you've got another device talking on the network AND downloading updates automatically by default).

With fiber to the house, at our house, I routinely run a laptop (work) checking mail, a desktop serving videos or music to in-house devices, two laptops surfing the web, two phones with auto updates, a tablet streaming video, and two different TVs streaming video.... not all at once - but that's everything that could be conflicting with each other.

#6. Sub $500 is good. What I recommend is getting what I call a "Craptop" - a machine that if it dies after a year, you don't mind replacing it because you've got the full value out of it... Brand is nigh irrelevant. Basically figure out if you drag your thumb across the touchpad while you type and if that makes you want to murder the UI engineer that built the form factor... that's my criteria for a laptop.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:25 PM on May 5, 2014

The HP Windows 7 thing is a myth.

That being said, please do yourself a favor and buy a touchscreen whether you think you need one or not. Windows 8 is really annoying without one and really nice with one. If you find you don't need it, you won't have to use it. If you find Windows 8 annoying without one, you're stuck.

The bonus is that touchscreens tend to use IPS-based screen technology, which works leaps and bounds better than the TN-film screens used on laptops a few years ago. I don't have a specific recommendation, other than going with The Wirecutter's discussion on this.
posted by cnc at 4:17 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you're happy getting your head around a new interface then win 8.1 is acceptable, but if that sounds annoying then Win 7 is a better choice - it's an excellent OS. My (not that computer-savvy) wife spent a lot of time being enraged by win 8 before I caved and put win 7 back on her laptop.
posted by Sebmojo at 4:21 PM on May 5, 2014

Lenovo outlet.

This meets all of your stated requirements for $350. You get a larger display with a higher resolution, but lose some memory(and 4gb is TOTALLY enough to do everything you describe quite smoothly) and drive space.

If you want more space later, buy a 1tb external drive the next time they're on sale for $50-60(or less sometimes!) on slickdeals. I searched around, and it's just not worth paying the price premium to get a machine with an internal 1tb drive compared to what you get with that one with a 500gb. There is also a price premium on windows 7 machines now, and the only machines still offered with it are generally several generations back models showing their age that are just not competitive with what you can get bang for your buck wise if you just cave and get windows 8.

I also, unlike a lot of people on here don't think the touchscreen is such a big deal with windows 8. I own a macbook pro, and an HP tablet with a touchscreen. I never miss the touchscreen running windows on the mac, and only find myself using it for the sake of it on the tablet occasionally and mostly just use the trackpad and keyboard. Some of it is fun/intuitive with the touch screen, but nothing is crap without it once you figure out what the new shortcuts are(which took me an afternoon, essentially). It's also worth noting that windows 8 is faster, both interface wise and at handling a number of things until you get up to super system intensive stuff like gaming.

Oh, and don't ever buy HP. They make the worst laptops. This is objectively true(see page 6). I only have one because i got it for peanuts, and it's cracked in several places from normal backpack carrying and the fan is failing. It's a newer, top of the line core i7 model as well. The cheap ones are MUCH worse.

On preview, this machine is literally 1000x nicer than anything else in the price range if you're willing to sacrifice having an internal optical drive. a USB one costs under $30 now. Seriously, that is REALLY nice. Like, out of the league of anything you can generally ever get under $500.
posted by emptythought at 4:39 PM on May 5, 2014 [3 favorites]

I would recommend trying to get somewhere to put your hands on a machine physically. There are subtle differences in keyboards and trackpads that will make or break one laptop over another imho.
posted by joecacti at 5:19 PM on May 5, 2014 [1 favorite]

The review site The Wirecutter has a helpful guide on budget laptops. They include a recommendation for the Acer Aspire E1-572-6870 for $480 on Amazon (only 500 GB hard drive though).

I also recently bought a new laptop for under $500. I really really didn't want Windows 8 and I didn't care about a touchscreen, so I ended up with an Acer Travelmate with Windows 7 for around $420 which I've been really happy with.

For around $100 you can get a 1 TB external hard drive if that's an option for you.
posted by forkisbetter at 8:48 AM on May 6, 2014

I find Windows 8 fine, and certainly don't feel I'm missing out or struggling by not having a touchscreen.

Nowadays nearly every laptop will be powerful enough, so I chose based on form factor, keyboard/trackpad quality and battery life.

I ended up with a Lenovo U400 which I love, but it doesn't have a DVD drive if that is a dealbreaker for you?
posted by chrispy108 at 2:19 PM on May 6, 2014

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