Time for a laptop
January 1, 2006 10:43 PM   Subscribe

I need to buy a laptop to study overseas for sixth months. All of my previous computers have been desktops which I've assembled, so I have little experience buying pre-built machines. Requirements inside.

Basically I'd like to spend as little as possible while meeting my needs, with the upper limit of $1000. I'll use the computer for internet, music notation (Finale), and multitrack recording/mixing (mostly demos), as well as possibly doing some synth stuff in a program like Reason. All I require in the way of sound hardware is a line-in jack; I've got the mics and preamp. I'd like to be able to play games (I'm into FPSes), but I know it's difficult to get enough horsepower for that in a laptop without spending a lot. Recommendations for specific models, product lines, or companies are appreciated.
posted by ludwig_van to Computers & Internet (15 answers total)
You could part one together there for much more bank for the buck and then sell it when you leave. Alternatively, I wouldn't recommend other than an IBM T-series, though it's above your price range.
posted by kcm at 10:46 PM on January 1, 2006

You can usually find good deals and coupon codes at Ben's Bargains. I can't recommend a brand or model, as my only laptops to date have been pieces of shit.

One note: portability is more important than you realize until you've used a laptop extensively. My current laptop is an 11lb behemoth, and I cannot stand it. I'm going to buy a 12" ibook next.
posted by charmston at 11:00 PM on January 1, 2006

Do not get a screen over 12". You will absolutely regret it if you're going to be moving around a lot.
posted by mr.dan at 11:04 PM on January 1, 2006

12" iBook, $999 (with free shipping) from Apple. Finale and Reason have OS X versions, and DOOM 3 runs pretty well if you turn down the graphics a bit. Add $120 for a Maya 44 USB if you want better sound in/out.
posted by nicwolff at 11:05 PM on January 1, 2006

I've never had a problem carrying various 14" x86 and a 15" Powerbook around - walking to work, biking, etc, every day. The screen real estate you give up makes this a hard decision to limit yourself to, in my opinion. I always just throw it in a laptop sleeve (Tumi's been my favorite) and then throw that in a messenger-type bag of various sorts.
posted by kcm at 11:14 PM on January 1, 2006

If you look hard enough, you can find an IBM EPP code and pick up a T42 for $1100 or an X41 for $1000.

I think I answer a similar question here every three months or so, but I'll condense, and say that I've never met anyone who regretted his Thinkpad purchase. Honest.
posted by Kwantsar at 11:29 PM on January 1, 2006

I've had a T30, T40, and T41, and know a ton of people with T43p Thinkpads. I second AND third what he said and what I said.
posted by kcm at 11:42 PM on January 1, 2006

I used to have an iBook 12" (the girlfriend has it now, she loves it!) and loved the portability.. but now I have a PowerBook 17", I really don't find it that much more cumbersome. Of course, we're not talking about $1000 here, and I'd severely doubt you can get anything over 15" for $1000 anyway.
posted by wackybrit at 12:42 AM on January 2, 2006

You're going to want to test the audio quality of any laptop before you buy it. Even top of the line laptops typically have more noise in their audio system than you'll want -- unless you can get a good USB2 or PCMCIA audio device that's specifically designed to reduce noise.

I'd recommend Fujitsu, but mine's only got optical OUT.
posted by krisjohn at 12:50 AM on January 2, 2006

I've been quite happy with my gateway nx200s I got doing one of those sign up for aol 25 times scams. 5lbs, wide screen, 3 hour battery, sd card reader, ethernet, dvd/cdrw, extra vga out, (no tv out tho) 3xusb2, a little firewire port and one pcmcia (used for wifi). I tossed in an extra gig of off the shelf ram and its been quite good, accually its annoying because its as fast as my desktop. Ive used the mic in (slight background noise which I used a filter in audacity to get rid of) and the only complaints are the midi sounds lame compared to a creative soundcard, sometimes crap will get under the keys, and although the speakers sound great for a laptop its still a little quiet. the nx200x would probably suit without any upgrades.
posted by psychobum at 1:36 AM on January 2, 2006

I've had a thinkpad and currently have an ibook, and my perfect laptop would be an ibook with the durability and speed of a thinkpad, and that great ibm keyboard. That said, I still like my ibook a lot.
posted by craniac at 8:04 AM on January 2, 2006

I like my Averatec - a nice cheap brand. You can get the 12" at around 2 kg for well under $1000, although the Intel models are slightly more expensive than the AMD ones. Nice alloy cases, very light. There is a more expensive table/notebook hybrid version, and a less expensive 10" ultracompact. If there is a rebate offer going, then you can get the price for the 12" down to $600-$700 in the big box stores.

And the Dell 700 series is nice. Usually $1400, but every so often Dell seems to need to quickly clear inventory and runs a big coupon/rebate that brings the price well below $1000.
posted by meehawl at 8:38 AM on January 2, 2006

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses so far. Let me throw in a little follow-up question: someone mentioned adding RAM to a laptop. Is this possible/easy with most laptops? I know how to install RAM on a desktop, but I know laptops tend not to be so easily upgradeable. Do I just buy the right type (are there different RAM sticks for laptops?) and pop it in?
posted by ludwig_van at 9:31 AM on January 2, 2006

On my T42, all I have to do is unscrew one screw on the bottom of the machine, and slide the RAM in. I upgraded 512MB to 1GB for $70, courtesy of Crucial.com.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:46 AM on January 2, 2006

Yes, by the way, there are different sticks. Check out crucial.com (I must be a shill!) for what goes where.
posted by Kwantsar at 9:49 AM on January 2, 2006

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