Help me buy my next laptop
December 1, 2014 7:45 AM   Subscribe

My current laptop, a Thinkpad SL510 bought in March 2010, is starting to blue-screen a lot, and the diagnostics are saying I have disk problems, so I am looking for a replacement. Please help me choose a new one, and possibly get over some unreasonable fears.

I (a former IBMer) have always had Thinkpads, and I really like two things about them: the track-point, and the fact that I can drop them. The track-point is not a fetish. I'd prefer to use a mouse, but one doesn't always have space, and I HATE track-pads. And I'm clumsy. It's a fact of life that, no matter how hard I try, I will eventually drop my laptop. It will most likely be in a cushioned backpack when that happens, but still. I need something that can take a lickin' and keep on tickin'.

I initially started looking for another Thinkpad with a track-point, but found that limits my choices considerably. So I have two questions:
  • If I get a touch-screen, can I pretty much forget about alternative ways to move the mouse?
  • Are there other brands as tough and durable as the Thinkpad?
If you want to make specific recommendations, I'll also note that I'd like a largish screen (15" or better), and that my main applications are internet browsing, office apps (quicken, excel, word) and watching videos. Price is (more or less) no object.
posted by ubiquity to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Apart from the disk problems, is it still fast enough to suit your needs? The hard drive on an SL510 is relatively easy to replace, and you could even get a performance boost by swapping in an SSD.
posted by fifthrider at 7:54 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by a lungful of dragon at 8:01 AM on December 1, 2014

While re-installing the OS and getting the old data over would be a pain, the mechanical aspect of replacing the hard drive in a Thinkpad is typically trivial (see here, note I haven't). Hard drives are cheap as chips, and a suitable SSD is far from prohibitively expensive AND will give a competent computer a huge boost. I'd strongly consider it if you are otherwise happy with your laptop.

Touch screen aren't a replacement for other pointing devices. I really like having a touchscreen laptop - there are times when it makes the most sense to reach out an touch the screen, especially for faffing about on the web and other recreational computer use. But for things like business use, a trackpoint or trackpad is mandatory.
posted by wotsac at 8:07 AM on December 1, 2014

Related to SSDs: Anecdotal, but I have a 6-year-old Dell XPS desktop that was running Vista. A while back the HD crashed and I couldn't fix it. It had gotten pretty slow and wasn't great for my programming needs anyway, so I planned to buy a new machine. On a whim I bought a $180 Intel SSD and made that the main HD, then stuck a fresh copy of Windows 7 on there. It is now WAY faster than my fancy work programming box. SSDs seem to have eclipsed adding memory as the go-to cheap way to beef up your computer.

I'd get your data off, make a list of your important installed apps, then try the SSD thing!
posted by freecellwizard at 8:18 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Save your money, replace the hard drive and make sure the new one is backed up with CrashPlanBackBlaze/Etc.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:33 AM on December 1, 2014

I can't speak as much to the other points, but touch-only for a regular laptop is a horrible experience 99% of the time. Among other problems, touch accuracy is low (your finger is big and squishy and is covering the contact point), so unless your OS and applications/web sites are designed with touch in mind, it super-sucks. Plus arm fatigue. Plus screen grease. Etc., etc.
posted by introp at 8:40 AM on December 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Toughbooks are a waste of money, ime. We use them extensively at work, and they are very overpriced for what you get. Toughpads are ok(ish)---we had someone drop one into the surf on a beach, but still, you pay a buttload for not a lot. They're also very big and very heavy.

Right now for people who go into the field (trucks, boats, airplanes), we're speccing Lenovo T440S laptops with an SSD. They're milspec rated for drops and splash resistance. So far, they've held up well for up to two week trips. They seem to be even better than the old T60 series from a few years back. People are very happy with them.

We've had a lot of trouble, by contrast with Toshiba Porteges, which are supposed to be similar. Right now we're at a 40% failure rate for those system in similar rough environments.
posted by bonehead at 9:12 AM on December 1, 2014

We've had a lot of trouble, by contrast with Toshiba Porteges

As a working PC fixit guy, I wish people would just stop buying Toshiba notebook computers. They are the nastiest things to work on.
posted by flabdablet at 9:41 AM on December 1, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm not sure there's such a thing as a touch-only laptop. All or almost all of them have at least one alternative form of moving the mouse. Touch is an extra, not a requirement. Touch is an outstanding extra way to navigate things like scrolling and zooming. Arm fatigue is not an issue because you're not only using touch, and the screen isn't far from the the touchpoint or trackpad in the first place. And every laptop has at least one USB port, so I wouldn't worry about having no options at all.

On a quick look, the Lenovo E540 meets your criteria.

Finally, I'd also recommend just buying an SSD. Unless you're doing something CPU intensive like Photoshop, video editing or compiling code, the old laptop will probably be fine, especially with an SSD.
posted by cnc at 1:27 PM on December 1, 2014

if price is no object, just go out and get yourself a T540. With a large screen, having 'touch' doesn't have a whole lot of utility. However, you can configure a T440 or T440S to have a touch screen and the pointer. It has a 14" screen which really isn't much smaller than the 15.6 panel on the T540.

The T series really is the gold standard for thinkpads, the 'E' and 'S' have inferior engineering and build quality.
posted by at 5:05 PM on December 1, 2014

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