Acceptable specs for a decent, cheap, refurbished laptop?
March 25, 2020 9:35 AM   Subscribe

My son is in fifth grade and needs to use a laptop for his homework now his school is closed. My old ACER V5-122P (specs) has been doing the job, just barely, but it can't cope with him using the internet and talking to the class on Zoom as well, it's very much either/or.

I'd like to find a refurbished laptop that will be able to handle Zoom + web browser. It doesn't need to be brilliant. For cost reasons I was thinking of an old Lenovo Thinkpad X220 (Intel Core i5-2540M, 8GB RAM 500GB HDD). Would that be a waste of time? If it can do the job for six months I'll be happy; it would only see about one or two hours of use each weekday. Knowledgeable opinions appreciated!
posted by rubbish bin night to Computers & Internet (8 answers total)
 
Chromebooks are popular in education in the U.S. and a good, cheap choice if you just need access to a web browser, though they are also surprisingly capable in other ways too. I'd consider one of those instead of an ancient used laptop. See for example "The best Chromebooks of 2020" from TechRadar, and also this Zoom help page for Chrome OS, which is what Chromebooks use.
posted by bright flowers at 9:45 AM on March 25 [2 favorites]


Chromebooks are great and yes, a lot of schools use them. I bought a real basic one new for $100. a few months ago, it's a Lenovo 100 e. It has amazing battery life, like 15 hours. It's android compatible, so I just download apps like I would on a phone. I just checked and I can get Zoom on it.
posted by mareli at 10:35 AM on March 25


The X220's CPU and memory are a big step up from your old ACER, so it should do a much better job with Zoom + browser. It also has a battery that's very easy to replace and a spectacular keyboard. But the X220 is focused on business users, not designed for entertainment, so it has weak, tinny speakers and a display that was mediocre even for its day. Something like a modern Chromebook will look and sound better, but before going that route, I would check with the teacher to see if anyone else in the class is successfully using them.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 11:25 AM on March 25


I came to say oldish business lenovo. I'm typing this on a Lenovo T420s (Intel Core i5-2520M CPU @ 2.50GHz, 8G ram). Running Linux Mint FWIW. Plenty fast for browsing. Go for a cheap SSD, I'd say, otherwise it's fine.
posted by Thug at 11:30 AM on March 25 [1 favorite]


What's your budget?

I have an x220 and before that I had a T420s and will affirm that both have poor speakers and not-great displays, but speakers might not be an issue if your son would/should be using headphones anyway. Thinkpads with IPS displays are said to have better image quality (sometimes a particular model had versions made with IPS displays and versions made with a regular display and it can take some digging to find out if one for sale on ebay has an IPS display or not.)

If you need the laptop to be able to hold a charge for two hours rather than being plugged in all the time, you will probably have to buy a new battery.

The thing I like about old Thinkpads is that I can replace parts myself fairly easily (there are manuals online), but also the x220 and T420 are from 2011 and stuff wears out - you might need to replace stuff. (Swapping out the battery does not require any tools, though everything else needs a small screwdriver.) If replacing stuff (if needed) sounds overwhelming or frustrating rather than kinda fun, I'm not sure I'd suggest one.
posted by needs more cowbell at 3:34 PM on March 25


It may depend where you're shopping, but on eBay a t450 isn't that much more expensive, and it's possible to find one with an SSD and a somewhat better screen for a reasonable price.
posted by wotsac at 6:50 PM on March 25 [1 favorite]


Buying refurbished laptops is good idea, but you must be aware of the config and it's performance before buying refurbished. if you buy laptop with 4 gb ram 500 gb hdd combination of windows 10 will be slow I would suggest any laptop with minimum of 8 gb ram and 256 gb ssd minimum will be good you can use 500 gb ssd. nowadays people selling laptops with options you can choose config as you want you can customize the config while purchasing as you can see in ebay. Buying lenovo thinkpad x220 is not bad idea it's decent config. insead of x220 you can add some $100 you will get x250 itself. i5 5th gen.
posted by feroz at 5:14 AM on April 28


I've been using my T420 for a lot of Zoom meetings. It probably has similar specs to the model you're looking at (mine is i5-2520M, 8 GB ram, SSD instead of HDD). It works fine. I'm sure the camera has a lower resolution than the latest and greatest thing, and the display isn't awesome, but it works fine. Thinkpads are notoriously durable, so I'm sure it'll last for six months.

I also use a USB headset for all my Zoom meetings, just to keep the feedback from built-in speakers at bay.

Two things you may not have thought about:
1) I can't use custom backgrounds on Zoom. I tried to rig up a green screen by hanging up a scarf behind me and it didn't work well. I disappeared when I tried to put the Golden Gate Bridge behind me.
2) These models are so old that battery life will likely be poor. Third-party batteries have a bad rep, and OEM batteries probably cost more than the laptop at this point.
posted by invokeuse at 1:34 PM on April 30


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