Laptop shopping online for idiots
July 30, 2020 7:22 PM   Subscribe

I need a new laptop. Normally I go to Best Buy and talk to someone, but I can't now. I am a total idiot who doesn't understand computer statistics.

All I care about is:
(a) $1200 or under
(b) Must be able to use Zoom green screen, which has become a life requirement.
(c) Doesn't weigh an enormous amount, but it's not like I'll be traveling any more anyway.
(d) That I don't totally fill up the memory with pics/music.
(e) I need to order and get a new one preferably within the next week or so (will need a Zoom green screen capable machine by mid-August). I want it shipped to where I live. I don't want to go anywhere to pick one up.

Mostly I just watch videos, surf the net, multitask, type documents, nothing exciting. Not using it for the day job. I do multitask a lot and tend to have a lot of browser tabs open. I don't care at all about gaming capability. Windows is fine. Maybe someday I might edit videos.

I have an 17 inches across in size Acer that has had more problems of late than anything else, so I don't want another one of those. I have vague memories of thinking I'd like to get a Lenovo laptop from other people saying good things about them. I like what I see of the Think Pads but all the statistics are confusing me. Literally, I read all of those numbers and have NO IDEA what they mean on the processing power or memory or whatever.

Anyway: I'm an idiot, I just need a basic machine with Zoom green screen and good memory and won't go all to hell quickly like the one I am using it. Can someone tell me what to buy like I'm an idiot at Best Buy?
posted by jenfullmoon to Computers & Internet (9 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have a lot of recent firsthand laptop buying experience, but I can at least help you search.

According to Zoom's website, their minimum specs for a physical green screen are an Intel i5, i7, or i9 processor, at least 6th generation. I don't know specifically what the fine-grained differences are, nor does it really matter for the casual user, but a quick look at shows me a bunch of machines between $750-1000 that would fit the bill (starting with 8th gen Intel processors to keep it a little future-proof). Lenovo is indeed a solid brand, as is ASUS, so if you go with either of those you probably can't go wrong for what you need.

Honestly, for your lax requirements (not a judgment, just saying you're not using the machine for heavy gaming or graphic design/video editing, so you don't need a beefy machine), any of the ones on the newegg page I linked to would be fine, and it'll come down to personal preference of screen size/shape/color. 8GB of RAM should be your minimum and may be fine, but 16 would be better (the more browser tabs you have open, the handier it is to have more RAM); don't worry so much about hard disk size, unless you're storing a lot of videos or music on your machine. 512 GB is probably plenty. So, to sum up:

- Lenovo or ASUS
- 512GB HD or so
- at least 8GB of RAM, 16 ideally

other than that, it comes down to screen size and price.
posted by pdb at 8:16 PM on July 30 [4 favorites]

Because you mentioned video editing maybe:

I don't have one and haven't seen one, so obvs I can't actually recommend one, but I *do* recommend looking for reviews of the new Lenovos in the thinkpad e and ideapad range that have the most recent AMD chips. They offer more cores for less money. So if you just start a video render going and walk away, it'll take less time, and if you start a video render while you're trying to do something else at the same time your experience shouldn't be as choppy. IF they make it all work right, hence the reviews. Between the two, lenovo's longstanding reputation is that the build and quality of stuff they call "thinkpads" is better than their other lines, which might be summarized as "not good enough to be thinkpads."

The integrated gpus will probably also be loads better than intel's, so if you decide you want to play games from 2010-2015 you'd probably have a good experience.

If you want to future-proof for video work, you'd probably want the "ryzen 7," which as the number implies has 8 cores *shrug emoji* The 6-core "ryzen 5" will probably be fine buuuuuut amortizing the cost over a few years makes the 2 cores seem pretty cheap to me.

If you were to get the thinkpad e15, there are two fanciness-levels worth looking at. The fanciest one is $1300 and you're done; eventually you'd probably want to add a second sata ssd but eh. The next one down is only like $900 but you'd want to spring for another 8gb dimm of ram and an about 1tb sata ssd to throw into the empty bay. This will mean opening the machine up, which will make for a shitty afternoon because laptops aren't engineered for ease of upgrade, but you shouldn't need to do it more than that one time and it would only take you to like $1050 total.

Again tho, haven't seen one. I've only seen reviews of various machines focusing on the cpus, which have generally been glowing.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 8:27 PM on July 30

This does not directly answer your question, but we bought a lenovo laptop last week through their site (not our first, have always had good experiences). We changed one thing to the stock machine (a larger hdd), hit buy, and then realized that the customization meant that we wouldn't get the laptop until Halloween.

So, just be careful before hitting buy. Alternatively, if you want to buy from a 3rd party, I've always had a great experience using newegg.
posted by lownote at 8:33 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]

Check out the Wirecutter guide on laptops.
posted by airmail at 8:51 PM on July 30 [2 favorites]

One thing that I recommend is getting a USB-c powered laptop. Basically, any newer laptops have ditched the proprietary chargers and finally use a common connector. YOU WANT THIS, trust me.

I recently bought a Dell XPS, and I am quite happy with it. I bought it directly from Dell with an i5, 8GB RAM, and 256GB, and it cost about $970. This tier of machine is a middle of the road that should suffice for general purpose usage.

I am not a fan of Lenovos - I was provided a Lenovo for work and it has been quite a disappointment.

Consider buying the Laptop from Costco.
posted by coberh at 10:52 PM on July 30 [3 favorites]

This will mean opening the machine up, which will make for a shitty afternoon because laptops aren't engineered for ease of upgrade,

Let me amend that: ... because not all laptops are engineered for ease of upgrade,

I've fixed a fan in a Lenovo Thinkpad sitting on a bed in a small room in a London hotel, with just a set of cheap-ass mini screwdrivers I bought from a corner shop. At the other end of the spectrum, the best way to take apart an Acer is by using a large axe and not bothering with reassembly.

Lenovo is quite good at providing hardware service manuals for their Thinkpad line; I haven't looked at the availability and quality for Ideapads.
Those hardware manuals go pretty deep, but you might want one even if it's just for showing which screws to undo to swap the disk or upgrade the memory. There's also for all kinds of useful notes, tips and tricks.

I was provided a Lenovo for work and it has been quite a disappointment.

Thinkpad or Ideapad?
posted by Stoneshop at 12:53 AM on July 31 [2 favorites]

Let me amend that: ... because not all laptops are engineered for ease of upgrade,

The relevant thinkpad is not. Lots of clips.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 4:01 AM on July 31

Another vote for the Dell XPS laptop line- in my mind it is a great rival to Apple's Air laptop. I like the keyboard, the screen is excellent. As others noted get one with a larger storage disk and 8 GB of RAM is fine.

I would also take a good look at the Lenovo ThinkPad X1 line. Lenovo is selling some Gen 7 devices for an absolute steal on their ebay page and for 880$ it would be difficult to match the overall performance and quality of this unit. However - it has small local storage. But if I were buying a Windows laptop today this would be the one I would get and then use the money in my pocket to pay for proper storage off device.

The Lenovo's warranty is second only to apple's, love the keyboard, second only to apple in build quality, the Gen 6 was just a lovely machine to use, a gen 7 or the gen 8 will be the same.
posted by zenon at 7:23 AM on July 31

I am a fan of Thinkpads, possibly Ideapads, and I buy used from ebay, though newegg is an option and Lenovo has an outlet. Many businesses lease them and return them after a year, maybe two, and they have many years of life in them. They are bought up, cleaned, reinstalled, and you can buy from many sellers. These are Business-class computers, and use better components. Consumer-grade computers are not well built, in my experience.

It will be a while before I have USB-c powered laptop and it's one thing I would so love to have. Waiting on a replacement lenovo power adapter as we speak, grarr.
posted by theora55 at 3:18 PM on August 1

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