Help me pick a new computer?
April 18, 2018 4:49 PM   Subscribe

My eight year old laptop isn't keeping up with what I'm doing now, and I'm worried it won't be able to handle what I'm working on doing in the future. I'm utterly overwhelmed by all the options out there. Help me figure out what I want? Blizzard inside.

What I currently have: Dell Vostro 3300 running Win 7 Home Premium. 4 GB RAM, and I can provide more specs if needed. I don't know what any of it means beyond 4 GB RAM, and 250 GB HDD. It's got a 13" display with anti-glare screen (which I love). It's just so. Freaking. SLOW.

I tend to multi-task like a madwoman. I have an external monitor attached, and when I'm working (from home, on this computer), I'm liable to have 4 windows of Chrome going, with 3-10 tabs open, plus Spotify, plus LibreOffice, plus I watch a lot of Netflix. I've also started doing video calls, via Skype, Facebook, and Zoom, and this poor little laptop just isn't having it. Things lock up enough just with Chrome going. When I add anything else, I'm sitting here reading a book for 5-10 minutes waiting for things to start working again.

I don't particularly have a preference between desktop and laptop, though I'd probably slightly lean towards laptop for times I have to work from bed instead of just from home. I don't care if it's touchscreen. I don't use the trackpad, and I don't use the laptop keyboard; I have a mouse and standard keyboard hooked up. A CD player would be nice, as I have a large collection I haven't ripped to the cloud yet, but I can get around to doing that on this little guy before I put him out to pasture.

I'd like to spend no more than $500. If going a little higher gets me significantly more.... I don't know, more speed, more usefulness, more something, I'll consider going up to $700. I throw myself on the mercy of the HiveMind. Help?
posted by The Almighty Mommy Goddess to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'd like to spend no more than $500. If going a little higher gets me significantly more.... I don't know, more speed, more usefulness, more something, I'll consider going up to $700.

Do not buy a computer in 2018 without SSD. I'm not one of those people who's like "OMG you have to buy the latest divariable veblefertzer!" but as I have previously mentioned, SSD is one of my top 3 compution evolutions in my 30 years of computing. It is amazing, all day every day.

I would recommend this Yoga. They are great laptops and if you ever want, you can fold the screen back and use it as a tablet, which is nice for videos and movies.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:31 PM on April 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

The Wirecutter recommends the Acer Spin 5 SP513-51-53FC
posted by blob at 5:49 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

You might keep this laptop (for ripping and storage, and as a backup) and go for a smaller, newer, faster machine as your daily driver.
posted by nickggully at 6:21 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

The version of the Dell Inspiron 5000 15 inch laptop with the i7-8550 CPU is $500 on the right sale and is really good bang for the buck. It's very fast for everything other than games and drive intensive things, though it's a bit clunky compared to a 13 inch modern laptop.
posted by Candleman at 6:38 PM on April 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

If you have external monitors already, it may be worth it to get something like the Lenovo ThinkCentre. I have an M700 small-form factor desktop PC. It's got an SSD and 16GB of RAM. So it's really fast, and really quiet.

When I bought it I really wanted an SSD since I hate the sound of laptop fans. This cost about half the price of a laptop with similar specs (I already had a keyboard and some external monitors).

I work from home, so I didn't really need a laptop, and I also prefer to type on an ergonomic keyboard.

With the money I saved by not purchasing a Windows or Mac laptop, I bought a higher-end Dell Chromebook I use when I attend meetings on-site, or just want to work at the library or something. I still have a fully-powered computer at my home office to do some light video editing or run Visio or whatever.
posted by JamesBay at 8:52 PM on April 18, 2018

Get something with a SSD, at least 8GB of RAM and ideally you want an i7 processor. An i5 processor would probably be fine as well. You don't mention the kind of processor you have now, but that accounts for the speed of your computer too. Basically, more RAM means less bottlenecking, but a faster processor can do stuff faster. SSD just means accessing your files happens more quickly and less noise because there are no moving parts. You probably don't need too fast of a processor for normal stuff - RAM will matter more - but you might as well get a decent processor that will last for a will. So with those specs in mind, you can just weigh any other features you want and the price. For computers, I like to shop on - the reviews and ratings are more reliable than on a site like Amazon because it's a lot of computer geeks who know what they are talking about.
posted by AppleTurnover at 11:41 PM on April 18, 2018

Joining the chorus saying "get an SSD".

"I tend to multi-task like a madwoman."

So you're working with a lot of data (your documents, the code of the programs you're running, cached webpages...). Probably more than fits in your 4 gigs of RAM at once. That forces the computer to swap out to disk anything that you're not using right now. So when you switch tasks, you're stuck waiting while it reads what it needs back from disk. That can be *very* slow.

Your biggest concerns therefore are: more RAM, so that you have to go to disk less often, and a faster disk, so that when you do, it happens a lot faster.

And we're harping on SSD's because they're a *lot* faster. The differences are too complicated to summarize with a single number, but they can easily be 100 times faster for some uses.

If that means you need to smaller disk to stay in budget, do it. You can buy a big cheap external USB drive for data you use less often.
posted by floppyroofing at 6:05 AM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yes on the SSD. It makes a huge difference. My only recommendation other than that is to think about buying one you can customize (by buying it direct, where you have the option to add a different drive type or more RAM or etc.) rather than settling for a base model. I like to go with as much drive space as possible but that adds up fast with SSDs. For anything without permanently soldered RAM it is often cheaper to upgrade that after the fact rather than during the order. Remember that thinner and lighter often means "less stuff you can replace yourself".

But... buying online is often a crapshoot since you don't know what you are getting. Have a store nearby that has models you can play with? If at all possible, check out the build quality of anything you are considering. Does it feel decent? Do you like the keyboard? How's the display really look? Make sure you are OK with the basics, then order it. You can always upgrade the drive or the memory but you are stuck with the keyboard, trackpad and display until you replace the whole system.
posted by caution live frogs at 8:59 AM on April 19, 2018

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