Minimal laptop for Zoom, Jackbox, and Minecraft
January 9, 2021 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for a fairly minimal laptop that my kids can use for watching videos and some light gaming -- think Jackbox and Minecraft, rather than Cyberpunk 2077. I've read reviews of current laptops but I'm wondering if my best bang-for-the-buck might be a used older model.

A few requirements are mandatory. It has to be able to:
• Run Minecraft
• Host Jackbox while simultaneously running Zoom (so that the kids can play Jackbox games with friends remotely)
• Stream video from Netflix, Youtube, and Disney+.

It's not mandatory, but it would be great if it could also:
• Play older (mostly pre 2016) Windows games from my Steam account
• Run MacOS (because my experience, and my other devices, are mostly in the Apple ecosystem )

All in all, I wonder if my best bet is buying a refurbished or used Intel Macbook. But which one? Where's the sweet spot between old-enough-to-be-cheap and new-enough-to-avoid-headaches? Or am I fool for not buying the new Apple Silicon laptop as a long-term value proposition?

PS: I have some computer savvy but I don't have the time or expertise to put together a hackbook or something similar
posted by yankeefog to Computers & Internet (5 answers total)
These opinions are my own. If you don't like them, I have other opinions I'm willing to trot out.

Pretty much all modern laptops will run Minecraft and stream video. I have a Chromebook from 2015 that does that well. The main issues you want are a decent screen (IPS and not TN technology)

Hackintosh laptops (i.e. taking a generic Intel laptop and making it run MacOS) are a losing proposition. The message boards are full of people with machines that almost, but not quite, work. And it only took 200 hours to figure it out! Even the folks running those message boards have decided that desktops, possibly, but laptops, no.

You want a Apple model made between 2012 and 2015. After 2015 (until 2019/2020) the keyboards sucked, sucked, sucked. All of those can run Windows via BootCamp, which divides the disk up into a Windows and a Macos partition, and makes you reboot into the Windows partition. With that, you get full performance and supported drivers. The newer machines have slightly better performance, much better potential battery life, and perhaps better screens.

The Retina screens are significantly better than the non-Retina screens, but you don't see the absolute crappy TN screens found on cheap Intel laptops.

My personal favorite is the "early 2015 13" Macbook Pro Retina". will sell you one for $649, which seems high to me, but I haven't been tracking prices. In the San Francisco bay area, I see them offered for $500 on Craigslist.

Having said all that... if you want a Windows only machine, get a Thinkpad. They are solid and reliable and you can find plenty off-lease on eBay from responsible sellers (check feedback.)

Good luck
posted by blob at 10:50 AM on January 9

i heartily recommend considering a used thinkpad laptop: i bought a refurbished thinkpad t410 laptop (2010 model) in 2014 and it worked fine for 5 years (by the time i eventually upgraded in 2019, the thinkpad still worked -- the laptop's screen had died at some point but since i had it plugged into an external monitor it didn't really matter).

it had more than enough resources for office-type work, web browsing, streaming video, software development, and some light gaming (turn based games with resource-light 2d graphics worked okay with the laptop's integrated intel graphics).

thinkpads are positioned as windows machines but they also run linux if that's your thing. steam's "proton" mode can run a lot of formerly-windows-only steam games on linux these days. i installed ubuntu on my thinkpad & never touched windows.
posted by are-coral-made at 10:50 AM on January 9

I would get a refurb MacBook of any sort with 16 GB of RAM and at least 256 GB SSD.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:53 AM on January 9

Ah, I see you're in London. Consider MacFinder. They have a Apple MacBook Pro Retina 13 Inch Dual-Core i7 3.10 GHz (2015) with 16GB of RAM and 256GB SSD for £795.00.

I don't remember what's the popular equivalent of Craigslist in the states, but you can search for used laptops that way. Good luck
posted by blob at 10:57 AM on January 9

Thanks, everybody! I really appreciate your help.
posted by yankeefog at 3:25 AM on January 12

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