What laptop brand won't break?
September 29, 2006 4:56 PM   Subscribe

[laptop filter] My girlfriend is looking for a new laptop, that will stand up to all the abuse she gives computers.

I've dug through the archives of laptop questions, but I haven't found anything specifically related to durability.

My girlfriend is a game designer and grad student, and her computer goes everywhere with her. Unfortunately, this means it gets banged around a fair bit. Her Toshiba Techra, now two years old, has been in the shop pretty consistently every six months, for a week or two at a time.

Her main requirements are small size and weight, combined with good physical durability and quick turn around when it does break. Because of the game design side of things, she needs a PC rather than a Mac. Overall budget is about $2000, but various student discounts she gets with several companies could make that effectively $2500.
posted by Maastrictian to Shopping (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Lenovo Thinkpad X60 weighs less than 3lbs (highly mobile), uses a titanium composite material in the case and has room for lots of ram.
posted by furtive at 5:01 PM on September 29, 2006

Thinkpad and nothing else.
posted by kcm at 5:12 PM on September 29, 2006

Just how rugged? Thinkpad rugged or Panasonic Toughbook rugged?
posted by nathan_teske at 5:29 PM on September 29, 2006

What the previous posters said. Thinkpads are amazingly durable in regular use, and, if you anticipate dropping it and spilling things on it and so forth, Toughbooks are about as durable as you can get before you hit the kind of purpose-built devices made for combat soldiers and frozen-foods warehouses and whatnot.

And, before anybody else says it, you can use Basecamp or Parallels to run Windows on your Intel Mac. Did I get those names right? Anyway, you get the gist.
posted by box at 5:48 PM on September 29, 2006

Certain thinkpads are even designed to let water run through them, rather than destroying them.
posted by bonaldi at 5:54 PM on September 29, 2006

It's all about the Thinkpad.
posted by amery at 6:30 PM on September 29, 2006

Man, I wish I had $2000 for a Thinkpad. I'd look at the "X" (portability series), "T" (balanced specs series), and "Z" notebooks (multimedia series; can be quite heavy), in that order.

Avoid the budget "R" notebooks. Lenovo uses slightly inferior components to get the price down, making the R's somewhat less rugged than their cousins.
posted by Iridic at 6:47 PM on September 29, 2006 [3 favorites]

Iridic just gave the best one line summary of Thinkpad notebooks I've seen.
posted by furtive at 8:13 PM on September 29, 2006

i saw an advertisement recently for panasonic's new toughbook elite. don't know how well it works but the durability part seems to be their main selling point.
posted by pinksoftsoap at 9:06 PM on September 29, 2006

Thinkpads are solid. However most of the thinkpads I know have the OS on a hidden partition and dont give you an XP cd. What this means in practice: Any minor problem with the registry or OS, and it means a full wipe of the drive and rebuilding your OS and applications from scratch. Biggest pain in the ass on earth. If you had the XP CD, all you have to do is a 'repair' of the OS (which only refreshes the system files and doesnt touch any of the data or apps). This option is therefore not available on most thinkpads. I might vary by model, but you might want to keep this in mind.
Many Sony VAIO's tend to be the same way, by the way, in terms of foregoing the CD for a hidden OS cab file partition.
I'm surprised you're having trouble with Toshiba. I'm on my second satellite (I too am a grad student). My first one lasted 9 years; my second one is on its 3rd year and running strong. I've found them tough, durable, and easy/cheap/intuitive to fix the few times the need arose.

If you insist on a 'rugged notebook', Fujitsu makes a model too, as does Panasonic. They're pricey tho.

Maybe you should consider investing in a good laptop case instead. Most notebooks are pretty rugged to begin with so long as you're not travelling through Baghdad with them. Or invest in a good backpack with a solid cushioned laptop compartment (which is what I have). Spend more than 40 or 50 bucks on a decent backpack and you'll get an excellent laptop compartment in it. That would be cheaper than shelling out 2000 bucks for a laptop. You're lucky if you have that kind of cash to spend on a laptop as a grad student. Most students I know are grateful to get a 700 dollar celeron at Best Buy. If not something on ebay.
posted by jak68 at 12:14 AM on September 30, 2006

posted by exlotuseater at 12:59 AM on September 30, 2006

Any minor problem with the registry or OS, and it means a full wipe of the drive and rebuilding your OS and applications from scratch. Biggest pain in the ass on earth.

Yeah, but who doesn't have a friend with an XP CD?

If you want a military-spec laptop, you can try Itronix. Their GoBook XR-1 will stand up to:

* Temperature: Boot and General Operating: -10°F to 140°F (-23°C to 60°C)
* Vibration (MIL-STD 810F 514.5 C-17 & C-18)
* Water and dust intrusion (exceeds MIL-STD 810F 506.4)
* Drop/Shock (MIL-STD 810F 516.5): 26 3-foot drops
* Altitude/Low Pressure (MIL-STD 810F 500.4)
* Humidity (MIL-STD 810F 507.4)

Don't actually know anyone who was one though.
posted by grouse at 1:42 AM on September 30, 2006

I have a Thinkpad T42. I love it. I've thrown it across the room (by accident) while it was in use. The only damage was a small crack and slightly bent metal where on the side where the ports are located. It hit the floor on that side. It still works fine over one year later. I also use it for gaming and it works well.
posted by Juicylicious at 1:45 AM on September 30, 2006

I beg to differ about Thinkpads.

I've had a T23 for the last five years. I bought the then top-of-the-line model, so it still holds its own against current-day laptops in terms of performance and features.

In terms of reliability, however, it's been horrendous. The mainboard has had to be replaced three times. The screen twice. The hard drive twice. I do not abuse my computer -- on the contrary I am very gentle with it. Fortunately it came with a three-year full warranty (remember those?), and I extended it with a further two-year service plan, so all servicing has been covered.

And I haven't heard the greatest endorsements about Thinkpad reliability from my sysadmin friends who manage corporate laptop fleets.
posted by randomstriker at 2:05 AM on September 30, 2006

The low-end Panasonic Toughbooks are not in the same league of toughness as the really expensive ones, but seem to be reasonably rugged. I also like their light weight -- great for anyone who has to carry other stuff as well as a laptop -- and their general usability.
posted by Idcoytco at 2:55 AM on September 30, 2006

I once had an old Acer laptop (can't remember now but it ran Windows 95) that stood up to all sorts of abuse. It fell off my bed twice, had a broken screen hinge, a loose keyboard, peeling things all over, and who knows what else happened to it. Only needed to get it fixed once (software issue). That thing lasted me for about 4 years - it eventually died of old age.

I currently have an Acer TravelMate 290 that's pretty abuse-proof too - it's been bumped around and fallen here and there but it's still working strong.
posted by divabat at 3:17 AM on September 30, 2006

Thinkpad - used mine working offhore on oil rigs. Very reliable and will cope with abuse.
We now use Dell, but only because IBM (at the time) refused to do custom configerations that my company wanted and Dell would.
I've had 2 x Dell with various - fan, motherboard, HD, screen issues over the years. Not saying Dells are bad per se, but I do miss the build quality and reliability of my old Thinkpad.
posted by arcticseal at 7:04 AM on September 30, 2006

Nth-ing the Thinkpad recommendation.
  • The prices are decent (and used Thinkpads are cheap as dirt).
  • They're tough. The screen hinges aren't on the corners (if you've ever dropped a laptop, you'll know why this is important).
  • They're just about the most-widely supported laptop for Linux distros to play friendly with.

posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:13 AM on September 30, 2006

We use Thinkpads (T21s followed by T40s) for field work (think construction-type work). We've never had a problem with them. One of our people has a ruggedized Toshiba that has also held-up well.

In general, though: rugged, cheap, light: pick two (unless you buy used).
posted by bonehead at 8:16 AM on September 30, 2006

echoing arcticseal: over the same timeframe, we've busted two or three Dells. They don't seem to last more than a year for our field work.
posted by bonehead at 8:18 AM on September 30, 2006

Pay for the best support plan on offer. Consider buying an older model, and leaving budget for spare parts. Learn to swap out components, which is what laptop repair means.

I've always thought it would be a smart thing to make rubber corner bumpers and cushioned buttons for laptops. Even minor bumps can cause severe damage.
posted by theora55 at 10:16 AM on September 30, 2006

Love my Thinkpad T41.
posted by radioamy at 11:20 AM on September 30, 2006

Allow me to be vague, and say that I work for one of the companies above that makes ruggedized laptops. (it's a big company, I'm very very far removed from the laptop division) The higher-ups have started to allow the choice between Dells and Our laptops, and an overwhelming amount of people have switched over to Dells. Our laptops are great for construction workers, field engineers, people using laptops in the Great Outdoors TM, but though our people travel a lot, Dells seem to be preferred.

Bottom line, ruggedized computers can be worth their weight in gold, IF you are actually that hard on computers. I have a feeling that if they started offering up Thinkpads as an option for a corporate laptop, everyone would switch in a heartbeat.
posted by hatsix at 2:14 PM on September 30, 2006

posted by xammerboy at 4:47 PM on September 30, 2006

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