Laptop purchase advice: optimizing for hw durability and performance
February 11, 2016 11:31 AM   Subscribe

I'm in the market for a new laptop and want to buy one that will last. I'm OS flexible (PC or Mac) but want something that will last 5 years min.

I'd like advice on the following:

-Laptop manufacturers known for longevity of their products (I currently have a Samsung Ultrabook from 2013 and it's falling apart). This question indicates ThinkPad is a contender. Is that still the case?
-My impression is that a MacBook Pro would last significantly longer than a PC laptop - has that been people's experience?

I guess that's pretty much it. My use of my laptop is mostly 20+ tab web browsing, multiple word doc and excel workbooks going, occasional photoshop, streaming media, and sometimes pdf authoring. Nothing extreme. I don't do pc gaming so that's not a concern. I just need something that can keep up with me forever (or 5 years).

I'm leaning towards Mac unless there's a pc manufacturer I should also consider.
posted by toomanycurls to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
How do you treat your laptops? Do you travel a lot? Do they get dropped? Or do they just sit around the house and get used on the couch? Physical durability against abuse, and technical future-proofing are kind of different things, and may lead to different answers. FWIW I have a few 5+ year old Mac laptops laying around, and for the most part they still work fine (I have one whose optical drive died). But they also have lived within the house for the vast majority of their existence. Laptops that travel tend to see more wear and tear, and if you're really rough on them ("falling apart" in 2-3 years worries me a little), I'm not sure 5 years is a realistic target.
posted by primethyme at 11:42 AM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: For a PC, a professional-grade laptop, preferably NOT ultra-light or touchscreen, is your best bet. ThinkPad is probably the top of my list.

Over the years my MacBooks have held up slightly better than my best Dells (my previous favorite were thunderously large Dell Precisions and Latitudes, only recently usurped by ThinkPads), but to be fair I hauled those Dells back and forth daily to the office and client sites and through airports and in the passenger floorboard of my car, and I maybe took the MacBook to the living room occasionally and on vacation once a year.

Though I have always liked my Macs, the decision point for me might be display size. I want the hugest display, I don't care if it means the laptop weighs as much as a bowling ball, and that is no longer an option with MacBook. As it is, I think I've got the last of the 14" displays and I think this ends the years of me taking my husband's hand-me-down MacBooks when he upgrades, because it is tolerable but the lowest end of tolerable.

(My current work laptop is a Lenovo Yoga and it is loathsome, particularly its 13" display and Windows/Lenovo-Driver inability to display some things on an external monitor so I'm stuck there. When doing streaming sessions with customers on it, I sometimes have to have them read things to me because I can't see them.)
posted by Lyn Never at 11:46 AM on February 11, 2016

Response by poster: Mostly I'm future-proofing. My current laptop went through the abuse of grad school (traveling to and fro, being dropped, used for long hours). Now I only use my laptop for long periods and sometimes drop it from the couch. Any travel would be infrequent (two times per year) and taking it out of the house at all would be a few times a month.
posted by toomanycurls at 11:46 AM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: The build quality of the MacBooks are second to none currently, although Dell has made some decent strides since they went private. I currently still use a 2011 13' MacBook Pro and a 2013 Air, both are still solid performers. There's a reason Wirecutter still calls the MacBook Air the best laptop. Just get the most RAM you can, and you'll be golden for five years at least.

I'd wait until next month though: Looks like Apple's going to release a new batch.
posted by General Malaise at 12:05 PM on February 11, 2016

I drag my macbook to and from work every day, and I've dropped it on tile floors twice, and it has one tiny dent in the metal on the corner of the screen. They're seriously tough. I wouldn't get the air, though, I'd get the pro. Definitely don't get the macbook, it's optimized for thinness, with a ton of compromises.

As much as people talk about Apple's planned obsolescence, (and I've run into it myself on occasion), you can use their computers for years and years and then sell them for a decent price, because they're still usable.
posted by Huck500 at 12:32 PM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: How to (mostly) future-proof:
  1. Get as much RAM as you can.
I have last year's 13" Retina MacBook Pro, after stretching out a Core2Duo-based MacBook Air for four years (it desperately needed replacement after three, but I was holding out for a Retina Air, and such hardware was not forthcoming). The biggest problem with the Air was that it only had 2GB of RAM. 8GB is really a practical minimum these days, and 16GB wouldn't hurt.

The Core2Duo processor was a problem by the end, but much less of one than the RAM was. Apple is generally keeping pace with Intel's Core line, but the advantages of newer processors shifted from performance to power a generation or two ago. So you could get an i7 model and maybe buy a little bit of future-proofing (compared to the i5) but it won't be as worthwhile as a RAM upgrade.

Other than that: battery chemistry is improved these days, so instead of being rated for 200 cycles they're rated for 1000, which should help you get to five years. That said, the battery would be the first thing I'd expect to go bad.

Also, SSD storage is awesome these days. If you get the 15" MacBook Pro you can get four channel PCIe, which may or may not be faster (the observed advantage may also just be a function of the actual storage connected over the bus). There are potential issues with SSD longevity, or at least there used to be, but I'd expect an SSD to hold up better than the battery unless your disk usage is way outside the norm.

I don't think I'd buy a non-Retina Mac, and the Retina MacBook (non-Air, non-Pro) probably isn't future-proof enough, but a Retina MacBook Pro in either size should serve you well, especially if you put 16GB of RAM in it.
posted by fedward at 12:34 PM on February 11, 2016

My ancient G4 Powerbook works perfectly. It is as good as new. It has a small dent in one corner from the time I dropped it on the floor.

The problem became software, not hardware. I gave it to a friend, who gave it to their daughter who surfs the web with TenFourFox.

Then I got a black, original Macbook which served me well and also still works. But the RAM requirements of applications was just getting too large. It sits on a shelf. Again, it was obsoleted by software, not hardware.
posted by vacapinta at 12:38 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

Macs have definitely slipped a bit in the build quality in the last couple of years. I still have a 2008 unibody MacBook that has been upgraded to twice the official amount of RAM and an SSD, and it runs the latest OS, browsers and MS programs well — just not very fast.

I'm typing this on a mid-2013 MacBook Air. It's been a surprising decent machine, but its non-upgradeable 4 GB RAM will make it a liability soon. It's not as nicely finished as the older MacBook, and is very skittish about USB devices, sometimes needing a hard reset to remember it has a USB bus at all.

I think I have the same Samsung Ultrabook as the OP (Chronos 7). Its keyboard looks like it has a dreaded skin disease. The DVD drive quit within minutes of the warranty running out. It's heavy, and the only reason I keep it around is its still-grunty quad-core processor, 12 GB RAM and fast SSD.

Whatever you buy, it needs to be able to take far more memory than you thought feasible. I'm half-considering one of the Thinkpad X-series that can take 16 GB as a portable indestructible computer.
posted by scruss at 2:17 PM on February 11, 2016

In my experience Apple laptops hold up better than others. I’d get a MacBook Pro, though what they are now calling just “MacBook” is fine for many people. I would not buy any computer without a high-DPI screen.

If you can wait, it’s rumored that updated versions of the MacBook Air with a Retina display will be released in March, updated MacBook Pros possibly as late as June, and i expect sometime in those months the MacBook will be updated (which would be the first updated versions in the new case design which came out last year).
posted by D.C. at 3:47 PM on February 11, 2016

Best answer: Often, people who claim Macs last longer are comparing a bottom-of-the-line $600 15" Best Buy special to a 13" $1200 MacBook Pro. If you spend for the 'enterprise' models of laptops (which is what the MBP is and why it costs so much), everything seems pretty reliable.

The major problem with the current MBPs is that you can't upgrade anything on them, which means you have to buy now what you think you'll need in five years. Guess wrong - you'll be eyeing an equally expensive replacement.

Check out the Wirecutter's Best Business Laptop page, which concentrates on laptops which are easy to repair and upgrade. Myself I'd go with Dell over Lenovo as the latter has been slowly diluting the Thinkpad brand.
posted by meowzilla at 10:08 PM on February 11, 2016 [1 favorite]

I got a MacBook Pro in 2009 (reconditioned from the Apple site) and carried it with me as I backpacked through Europe in 2010. It was getting sluggish recently, but it was the coffee spill on the keyboard that killed it last month. Over all those years, I only took it for servicing twice (new battery, minor stuff)
posted by Surfurrus at 7:24 AM on February 12, 2016

BTW if Dell still has their fairly reasonable on-site service warranty (the one I got my parents was on-site w/in 4 days, but they kind of lived in the boonies and I couldn't get them the 1-day or 4-hour warranties), that might tip me back to Dell. It's a mighty fine thing to be able to call them and say "it's not working" and have them roll up to your house and replace your keyboard or display while you drink a cup of coffee and dick around on your phone.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:50 AM on February 12, 2016

So - typically my "spend" is about $5k and I get about 5-years... Currently on a Lenovo ThinkPad W530, it has 32gb RAM, dual 1TB Samsung SSD's in RAID0, an Intel Core i7 and I have had it 2.5 years.

Prior to that was the one of the last of the Apple 17" MacBook Pro (Feb 2011) - maxed out with 16GB RAM and dual SSD's... That machine is still going strong, just in the hands of someone else.

So - in my experience, either Lenovo or Apple - or... a ruggedized machine (although those do not have typically the best current specs)...

Myself - if I could buy something today, it would be a Lenovo "Thinkstation" P70 - Xeon, up-to 64gb RAM, but... My current machine has at least another 2 years in it...
posted by jkaczor at 12:45 PM on February 19, 2016

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