What kind of notebook shall I buy?
July 8, 2006 10:20 PM   Subscribe

laptopfilter: I'm looking to buy a new laptop (or notebook, whatever they call it these days)! Any help is appreciated.

I am going to buy a new laptop soon, and I was hoping for some advice.

I'm really behind in notebook knowledge because I've been using a desktop for my whole life, so I'm wondering if there is anything I need to know when buying a laptop, like what kind of processors should I get, etc.

Right now, I am considering buying a Macbook Pro, but the price tag is kind of hefty and I've been reading up about overheating problems and mooing noises, so I might just go with an Acer notebook (I don't like the toshiba or hp/compaq laptops). If I don't get a macbook, I'll be buying from http://www.ncix.com in the $1500-$2000 CDN price range.

I will be using the notebook for just about everything, so I don't want a slow bugger designed for word processing or the likes, but I don't want a power-hungry laptop with short battery life. I was thinking of getting a centrino dual processor, but I'm not too sure of how powerful that is and how much power it consumes.

So, should I cough up the extra dough and go for a Macbook Pro, or should I stick with an Acer (or something else)?

Thanks in advance!
posted by veol to Shopping (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I just read this review for this Dell.. and in short if you are not going to be going crazy on gaming.. this seems to be a good / cheap buy.

posted by cowmix at 10:26 PM on July 8, 2006

What are you used to using? Are you a Mac guy/gal or would this be an OS shift as well as desktop to laptop?

Either way, I'd still go with the Macbook. If you don't like Mac, you can run Windows or Linux. That's not something you can do with the Acer.

FWIW, I have an Apple G4 15" Aluminum that gets hot but I very rarely use it on my lap so I don't worry about it (and it sits on an plexiglass dealie that lets air circulate underneath it).
posted by fenriq at 10:28 PM on July 8, 2006

How about just a macbook? Other than a weak video card, which will only hurt you if your trying to play very new pc games, they are very powerful and have good battery life.
posted by meta87 at 10:28 PM on July 8, 2006

You certainly don't need a dual processor. Dual core may or may not be useful. You probably should elaborate on 'just about everything,' though, since there's a huge difference between "I want to render the next Pixar movie" and "I want to play Quake 3."
posted by devilsbrigade at 10:37 PM on July 8, 2006

I wouldn't go with an Acer... If you're using the laptop for everything, I'd go with a Dell with the cover-your-ass warranty. My 4 year warranty is running out this fall, and I have seriously gotten 10x what I paid for the warranty ($400 ish dollars, I think, I've gotten one completely new laptop, two hard drives, replaced wireless card, LCD and RAM). Their tech support is hell, and count on spending 2-3 hours on the phone each time you need something fixed, but it will get fixed.

As far as which Dell laptop, go with the Latitude series (the business series) which are made with a touch better quality components. My work just gave me a M61 to work with, and it's a beautiful machine that gets reasonable battery life (plus you can plug in an extra battery into the Optical Drive slot).
posted by hatsix at 10:37 PM on July 8, 2006

Apple design is peerless and its OSX is unparalleled. The warranty is a must and if you are looking for a general use laptop that is light-weight, nice-looking and pretty much useful for everything, go with a MacBook (not MacBook Pro). So go for the MacBook, upgrade the RAM to 2GB and off you go!

In my experience fixing computers here at Kent State for the past four years, the majority of students purchase Dell laptops. If you MUST buy a PC laptop, get a very hefty warranty--go for the accidental damage one, if available, as well. Don't buy an Inspiron, they are by far the most reliably bad machines that Dell sells, in my experience.
posted by vkxmai at 10:47 PM on July 8, 2006

On second thought, here's what I'd do. Go to a Dell kiosk in your local mall. Pay attention to the trackpad, screen brightness and look and feel of the case. Then visit the nearest Apple Store and look for the same details.
posted by vkxmai at 10:48 PM on July 8, 2006

The biggest thing the Macbook has going for it is customer support—IF the problem you're having with it is acknowledged by Apple. It's a very good laptop at a very good price, and aside from the graphics card it's an outstanding performer. Plus it runs both Windows and OS X. Macbook Pros aren't quite as good a deal, unfortunately, but if you're willing to wait a bit Apple may roll out a new line of MBPs as soon as September. Keep your eyes peeled.

I wouldn't touch a Dell with a ten-foot pole. Having dealt with their customer support people for the MP3 player I bought off them has soured me on the company permanently, and so I can't in good conscience recommend them, unless you get the corporate tech support (which I hear is very good).

Of the rest of the pack, the two laptops I've been considering are the Acer Aspire 5672 and the Asus A8JM. Since you mention NCIX, you're probably in Canada, and can thus buy the Asus laptop locally. It's a sweet laptop, lagging behind the Macbook only in processor speed and equalling/excelling it in all other ways (especially the graphics card, which is awesome for a laptop machine and very good for even a desktop gaming machine). However, I don't think Asus has a major local presence in Canada, and most Asus laptops sold here are actually built-to-order, which complicates the support issue further.

The Acer laptop is cheaper and slightly less stylish. It's also got support personnel in the country, so if something goes wrong at least you won't have to worrk about local coverage. There's also the lower-level Aspire 5612, and the main difference between the 5612 and the 5672 is the 5672 has a much better graphics card, whereas the 5612 has the same card the Macbook has and is about $300 cheaper than the 5672.
posted by chrominance at 10:54 PM on July 8, 2006

Oh, and to add my two cents: I'd buy a Macbook if not for the graphics card issue. I want to be able to play games on my laptop, and at that point (ATi x1400/x1600 or one of the nVidia cards) it's either pay $2300 for a Macbook Pro (which, despite its many good qualities, is still obviously a stopgap measure) or $1400-$1600 for an Acer/Asus/Toshiba.
posted by chrominance at 11:01 PM on July 8, 2006

(sorry, $2199 for the Macbook Pro. All figures Canadian.)
posted by chrominance at 11:01 PM on July 8, 2006

Get a MacBook or get the Pro if you want to play new pc games or do heavy video editing or something. The plain macbook will get better battery life, though. If you really want the best performance, get the Pro and the 7200 rpm harddrive.

The heat problems were in the first run, if you get one now it will still get warm, but not any different from a wintel laptop. I have an HP on my lap right now, and its warmth is just a bit less then the Macbook Pro I use.

You didn't really say what you really do with computers, as in whether you just use office apps and internet, or do programming, or photo editing, etc. A few general things that can be nice to have:
- a good notebook mouse, with 2 goddamn buttons
- an extra battery if you take long flights or are away from outlets for awhile
- the logitech wireless mouse/kbd duo is very nice for using the laptop as a desktop...
- ...as is the iCurve, which raises the laptop off your desk and is awesome if you have an LCD screen to hook up for dual monitor use at home
- the apple 3 yr extended warranty if you want to make the thing last and dont plan on upgrading the minute apple upgrades the line.
posted by rsanheim at 11:02 PM on July 8, 2006

I second vkxmai's suggestion to get hands on before buying anything. Feel out the keyboards and take a look at the screens - you might hate the Mac's keyboard and that could be a deal breaker.
posted by rsanheim at 11:04 PM on July 8, 2006

Response by poster: Wow, so many responses so quickly! Thanks for the great input so far.

For everyone thats telling me to get a dell, I really don't like that company. I bought a desktop from dell, and I must say that the customer service is horrible, and in terms of the parts that they give for the price, I'd rather buy something else. Don't get me wrong, they have some good bargains and a good warranty, but I think i'll take my chances elsewhere.

I forgot to mention that I've been using windows for the most part, and some linux on the side, but very little experience with linux. As for mac os, I haven't tried it, but I hear that you can install windows on it, so if worst comes to worst, I can just fall back on windows (although I've heard many positive things about mac os from my friends). I also like the design of the macbook (it looks the best :))

I'm sorry I didn't elaborate when i said "just about everything." I like to experiment with a lot of things (I'm a university student :)) I play games, I watch a lot of dvds, do some graphics editing (2d and sometimes 3d), edit movie files and whatever I feel like doing when i'm bored. I'm sorry if it's a bit vague.

Anyways, after getting that off my chest, from looking at all the comments, I'm getting the vibe that i don't neccessarily need a macbook pro, and a regular macbook will be fine, and that warranty is an issue. I haven't thought about warranty, but I guess it will be important because i'll be carrying the notebook around with me?
posted by veol at 11:34 PM on July 8, 2006

Response by poster: Err, so should I go with an Acer, or an Asus, or a macbook (pro)?
posted by veol at 11:40 PM on July 8, 2006

just to throw it out there, i have an HP DV1000... not very pleased with it's physical durability.
posted by trinarian at 12:08 AM on July 9, 2006

I have a Gateway and i love it. i got a Mac first but i returned it and got everything and more from Gateway at a better price.
posted by amethysts at 12:17 AM on July 9, 2006

I've seen quite a few Acer laptops and desktops come in due to their shoddy quality... Things may have changed in the last year or so, but from my point of view, if you don't want to take a chance with a Dell, you definitely don't want to take a chance with an Acer.

I would say that the most important part of this laptop will be the warranty you get with it. The macbook you can get a 3 year warranty for $250, and you can probably find something similar with the Asus, depending on where you buy it. I would suggest that if you're screwed if something happens to your computer, spend the extra $150 and try to find the accident coverage warranty. You probably won't find it at any Brick & Mortar store (for the Asus), and Apple definitely doesn't offer it. The warranty is the one reason I still recommend Dell computers, but I understand if you have an aversion to them.

I would look @ other manufacturers to see what their policies are... Ask about Dead Pixel policies, and how long the batteries are warrantied. Ask about shipping to and from the repair center, what the guaranteed turn-around is, and what happens if they are unable to find a replacement part (My video card died, they no longer had an equal or better video card in stock, Dell sent me a new computer). The last part is especially important in the last year of warranty service, when old parts get scarce.
posted by hatsix at 12:32 AM on July 9, 2006

If you're going to be using this thing for any length of time as a desktop replacement, it will hurt you unless you sit it up on blocks or a keyboard garage and use a separate keyboard and mouse.

The top edge of any computer screen should be at your eye level. If it's as low as a laptop screen is when the machine is positioned to let you use the inbuilt keyboard, your neck and shoulders are going to hurt hurt hurt after an hour's use.
posted by flabdablet at 12:54 AM on July 9, 2006

I recommend Toshiba. I've had my new laptop (the p100/R00 model, for anyone who's interested) for a few months, and it's fantastic. You can buy a longer warranty and customise the model.

Why don't you like Toshibas?

Also, you can get some really good advice at this forum.
posted by Lucie at 1:21 AM on July 9, 2006

Just got a Sony SZ2XP as it is known in the uk - very nice. I'd recommend all Viao's
posted by A189Nut at 2:32 AM on July 9, 2006

Keep an eye on www.bensbargains.net -- you can get a good notebook for $500US easily!!!
posted by k8t at 7:48 AM on July 9, 2006

It has occurred to me lately that iBook G4s must be available used and relatively cheap these days. I love my iBook!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:21 AM on July 9, 2006

Go with apple if you can afford it. Go with toshiba or gateway if you enjoy being tortured.
posted by justgary at 9:28 AM on July 9, 2006

This has to be one of the most-asked questions.

Everyone has an opinion as to what company is the worst. I won't buy Gateway again because on my first laptop ever (years ago) I was supposed to get a 10G hard drive and they only gave me a 6G one, and then on my last laptop they gave me USB 1.1 ports instead of 2.0.

Watch those Apples - recent reports are that the white casings on some (don't know if they were Macbooks or Powerbooks) are staining within a few weeks.

I have my eye on the Toshiba P105 series for it's gaming abilities. Hopefully it won't be torture as Justgary said.
posted by IndigoRain at 9:34 AM on July 9, 2006

I'll just chime in that Apple has fixed the mooing and whining problems in the MacBook Pro by redesigning the motherboard. My Week 25 MacBook Pro neither whines nor moos, and it gets reasonably warm but seems cooler than the 12" PowerBook G4 that it has replaced. I do recommend getting a 3-year AppleCare extended service contract, though, if you buy the MacBook or MacBook Pro. And you should upgrade to 2 GB of RAM if you can (third-party RAM is much cheaper than Apple).
posted by brianogilvie at 9:58 AM on July 9, 2006

Winbook offers good value in notebooks, with straight forward ship-it-in support and friendly customer service. Basically, they are vending Taiwanese commodity machines, so you get middle-of-the-road machines with volume chipsets and features. Not cutting edge, but durable machines, at a good value. I've had several Winbooks, and have been pleased in all my dealings with the company.

Lenovo Thinkpads also deserve your consideration. Long the standard of road warriors and the business community, Thinkpads are well engineered machines with solid performance, excellent features, and good support history.
posted by paulsc at 11:19 AM on July 9, 2006

Something to realize when reading complaints about Mac hardware is that Mac people are loyal but _very_ picky.

With laptops more than with desktops it's mostly a matter of sittind down with one and typing on it to see if the keyboard is comfortable and if the screen is easy on the eyes, etc. I would never buy a laptop online without trying one out first. In that kind of head-to-head comparison I'd wager the vanilla MacBook would do very very well against the PC competition.
posted by Space Coyote at 3:36 PM on July 9, 2006

I am absolutely devoted to my iBook and OS X now. They are so much better than the windows alternatives that it's nearly impossible to explain. They just work the way computers should work.

That said, I was never dissatisfied with my Toshiba laptop, though Windows was always, well, Windows. My Toshiba Satellite took a complete shit-kicking and kept on ticking. By the end of its life half the case was built of JB Weld and duct tape, but the core components just kept working. The only reason I ended up with a new laptop was that I — and it was me, not Toshiba, at fault — ballsed up the laptop's LCD display and, several months later, decided I really couldn't bear being tied to a CRT monitor.

I dunno if Toshiba is as good now as it was back then, but were I seeking a new Windows laptop today (ugh!), Toshiba would be at the top of my list.
posted by five fresh fish at 4:10 PM on July 9, 2006

Get a Mac and you won't regret it. Get a Windows machine and regret at length. It's corny but I switched a couple of years ago and will NEVER go back to the ugly mess of Windows.
posted by anadem at 4:27 PM on July 9, 2006

Your relative lack of familiarity with computing of any sort, indicated by the imprecision of the question (with all due respect) suggests that a Macbook is the obvious solution. Macs are still the right computer for people who don't want to know from computers, even as they are the sidearm of choice for some very high-powered purposes. If you need Windows, it runs Windows. I seriously doubt, based on the question, that you need the kind of firepower that the people dissing the MacBook's one area of significant weakness (the video card) are talking about. You don't seem committed to either platform yet, so you might as well make the right choice now. There's no question in my mind what that choice is.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:21 PM on July 9, 2006

I'll put my 0.02 in the Mac camp. The Mac laptop choice is really based on your "power-user" status: if you will do heavey graphics or are a heavy gamer (or *really* want the larger screen), go the MacBook Pro route, otherwise the MacBook (non-pro) will do you just fine.

As for platform preferences go, I won't lie, I am a definite pro-Mac user. I do have my professional tech experience in a mixed environment, and I can tell you that if you're not completely on top of your Windows machine, it can get messy or infected and run poorly, sometimes really poorly - of course if you are on top of things they can be great. Macs, just do what they remind you to do and you're fine.
posted by iTristan at 8:15 PM on July 9, 2006

Response by poster: Alright! I'm going to delay buying the laptop for some time now and consider all the advice that you guys gave me. I'll be shopping around a bit more and looking at a lot of different notebooks. Thanks for the input everybody!
posted by veol at 8:50 PM on July 9, 2006

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