Quick question about searching for a new laptop.
April 21, 2021 2:42 PM   Subscribe

Need to make it quick because my much loved Toshiba Satellite finally gave out on me today after many years of service and my not so much loved Lenovo that I'm writing this on is wheezing and groaning, so I need to find a replacement for both, but my preferences are a little bit different than those often emphasized as selling points.

I don't particularly want a light or thin laptop, heavy is fine, sturdy a must, and ease and pleasure of typing a key consideration. A separate number pad and separate right left click pads with the touchpad is also a plus. Beyond that I need a machine that can handle having upwards of thirty tabs open at the same time without lots of slowing and whining and it needs to be able to handle movies and music, so sound and image quality matter, but gaming doesn't matter that much. Most of the other selling points, like cameras and touchscreens aren't a consideration one way or the other. (Oh, other than I have a tough time looking at Dells just out of a rather intense dislike for their brand identity, petty I know, but what can ya do.)

The difficulty is I know nothing about any of the specs beyond the obvious size and weight stuff. I looked into it a while back and found an Acer Aspire E 15 I was happy with, but an unfortunate spill ended that relationship prematurely, and since then the info I used is already out of date again, so I could use some advice in picking a new machine. I read things like get one with AMD Ryzen 5 and nod appreciatively without knowing at all why.

I'm not gonna ask for involved explanation of the different elements, just some opinions on what might be the best bargain for my needs in the price range of $400 - $800 if possible, or just some important things to look for beyond the basics.
posted by gusottertrout to Computers & Internet (11 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
So there are two main companies that make computer CPUs*... Intel and AMD. The latest generation of AMD CPUs are more powerful than their Intel counterpoints.

*Apple also makes its own CPUs... which by most measures are even more powerful than the offerings by Intel and AMD...

When I was doing my own laptop research I found advice from The Wire Cutter and Just Josh helpful. In addition, I learned that some folks swear by shopping at Costco for their laptops. (Moderate selection of decent items + extended warranty when purchased with a Costco credit card).
posted by oceano at 3:30 PM on April 21, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Oh and here is Just Josh's guide to laptops under $800 and guide to laptops in the $500-800 range.
posted by oceano at 4:17 PM on April 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

You may be a good candidate for a Chromebook. I've found excellent deals on factory-renewed models on Amazon...
posted by jmfitch at 4:53 PM on April 21, 2021

Uh, if weight and camera are NOT important factors... why NOT a desktop?

Regarding the keyboard, again, must you have a desktop? Or can you use an external keyboard and thus much better quality than laptop's keyboard?
posted by kschang at 7:00 PM on April 21, 2021

Response by poster: While I don't need to carry a laptop constantly or for long distances, I do still regularly need the portability for different uses.
posted by gusottertrout at 8:51 PM on April 21, 2021

My Toshiba Satellite A300 (a "desktop replacement" laptop at the time) was the best out-of-the-box computer I ever owned and lasted me over a decade of pretty heavy use. Toshiba Satellites are now Dynabook Satellites. If I didn't care about gaming I would get whatever is the most modern equivalent to the A300.
posted by turbid dahlia at 9:13 PM on April 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: If I didn't care about gaming I would get whatever is the most modern equivalent to the A300.

That was my experience with the Satellite too and exactly what I'm looking for, in whatever today's best version of that might be.
posted by gusottertrout at 11:50 PM on April 21, 2021

Is buying used an option? And is the Lenovo you don't like a T, W, or P-series thinkpad? If not, I'd go for a used one of those in (or below) your price range. Alternatively, a used Acer Aspire E 15, since you know you like that model.

Some factors to think about: whether you care about an IPS display, matte vs. glossy, number and types of ports available, battery life, existence of a DVD drive, ability to expand RAM / add a second hard drive, etc. You want a minimum of 8gb of ram, and an SSD will make things faster.

Opening 30 tabs should be a breeze for pretty much anything. On my 12 year old T-series thinkpad with only 6gb of ram, I usually have more like 300 going. (Using adblock and noscript, admittedly, though not because of performance reasons.)
posted by trig at 1:06 AM on April 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: I'd try a Lenovo again since I think a big part of my problem with it was tied to Windows 8 and its Superfetch function that hasn't been an issue with 10.

But I'm leaning towards the HP Laptop - 17z-ca300 for seeming to have all the main features I'd want, including an optical drive which I guess isn't that common anymore, but I'm not sure whether to upgrade the storage from 256 GB PCIe® NVMe™ M.2 SSD to 1 TB 5400 rpm SATA; 128 GB M.2 SSD for $50 bucks more as I use a lot for photoshop, screencapping and the like, but have no idea what "enough" space would be or if I'm missing out on some other issues that are beyond my ken.
posted by gusottertrout at 1:45 AM on April 22, 2021

Best answer: I'd say splurge on the 1080p screen upgrade, and the 1 TB + 256 GB SSD upgrade. 17 inch screen really shouldn't be the resolution of a cheap tablet.

The Bluetooth 5 / MIMO Wifi for $20 is nice. If you want this to last, get WiFi 6 option as well, even if your current router doesn't support it. (+$30)
posted by kschang at 2:02 AM on April 22, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for the help everyone, order made and I'll be eager to see how it works out. I'm really not that hard to please, so I suspect it'll be just dandy.
posted by gusottertrout at 2:54 AM on April 22, 2021

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