Help me buy a friend a laptop!
November 15, 2006 3:52 PM   Subscribe

My friend's laptop just died completely, and she is (like me) currently writing her masters thesis, and desperately needs a new one. With a budget of 700-800, what can we get, especially in this holiday season?

I haven't bought a laptop in a while, and i'm unsure of what brands are known for reliability.

Here's a list of what I have in mind (she isnt too computer savvy)

* 5-6 pounds weight.
* Good battery life. (2.5 hours at least?)
*1 gig RAM
* 80 gig+ hard drive
* DVDRW drive
* Windows XP (any version is fine) - upgrading to Windows Vista isnt that important.
* Software suite unimportant.
* Video card not important (no gaming, just office productivity apps and some DVD watching)
*Disk drive optional
* RELIABILITY (this is what i'm not sure about and need the most advice on)
And obviously, built-in wireless, more than 2 USB ports, etc)
posted by jare2003 to Computers & Internet (20 answers total)
I've always liked Dell and IBM, my sister likes her armored Toshiba, but they're out of your price range.

Black Friday deals can be great, but to get the best deals means getting in line with looneys at 4am.

Does your school have a discount deal? You might save some cash.
posted by Marky at 4:03 PM on November 15, 2006

For the best price, I would suggest a refurbished laptop from a major manufacturer. Dell Outlet or Gateway Remanufactured are good places to start. It looks like both of them come with full warranties, and there's little reason to think that they'll be less reliable than one that's brand new. Also, as Marky said, ask your school about discounts; many manufacturers have special pricing for students and educational institutions.

As for the reliability of one brand over another, it's harder to say: Different models have different failure points. I'd look for a company that has a good service record, high customer satisfaction ratings, and a comprehensive and convenient warranty (i.e. it's easy to get your laptop repaired when it breaks).

Does that help you out?
posted by ad_hominem at 4:13 PM on November 15, 2006

Here is a chart from PC World showing their results of a survey about reliability of various laptops, and here is a link to the larger article.

Surprisingly, to me at least, Dell leads the pack. Personally, I've had to send back my laptop 4-5 times for various repairs. They are quick about the repairs though.
posted by jourman2 at 4:18 PM on November 15, 2006

Honestly, at that price range I think it's likely to be a wash regarding reliability. You're pretty much dealing with the bottom of the barrel at that point, and everyone's going to be cheaping out on components and build quality. Furthermore, it's hard to get accurate stats on reliability because the manufacturers are the only ones who know for sure, and they're not talking.

Your best bet, I think, is to buy from the company with the best customer service rankings. According to PC World, that's IBM and Gateway. With your budget, Gateway would then seem to be the way to go. But note that the report card is three years old; in that time a number of other companies have entered the mass consumer market, most notably Acer and Lenovo (who make the IBM Thinkpad line, but also offer low-end laptops without the IBM branding and service).
posted by chrominance at 4:32 PM on November 15, 2006

I've had really good luck my Thinkpad - not just schepping it back and forth to Morocco, but through rough rides in 4x4s, getting it wet, dropping it, etc...

Here's one currently on eBay.
posted by Liosliath at 4:34 PM on November 15, 2006

with my Thinkpad, argh.
posted by Liosliath at 4:35 PM on November 15, 2006

I would NOT recommend the cheap Dell laptops. I got one (b1330?) for around $600. It is as huge as a brick, loaded with bloatware, had a whopping two hours of battery life, and came with 256MB of memory, aka not enough to run Windows XP properly. (I didnt even bother to look at the specs b/c I only wanted it to browse the web, play music and write, and I figured they wouldnt even sell a computer anymore that would choke on such simple tasks)

I think Dell has gone way downhill in the last few years, and I assume their customer service is as awful as it's ever been. i hear good things about Toshiba, although I haven't yet owned one personally.
posted by drjimmy11 at 4:43 PM on November 15, 2006

Dell's are fine. You can find a nice E1505 or E1405 (core duo) for around your price range *NEW*. You may be able to get a core 2.

Battery life is all in the size of the battery. Budget laptops often come with smaller batteries, just upgrade to an 8 or even 12 cell.

drjimmy: You probably got a non centrino/pentium m with a small battery. That and it's your fault you only bought it with 256mb of ram.
posted by mphuie at 4:59 PM on November 15, 2006

This is a good rundown of the Black Friday ("holiday") laptop deals. You'll see that all of them are pretty well under $500. For writing a thesis I can't see how any of these wouldn't meet your needs.
posted by fishfucker at 5:03 PM on November 15, 2006

BTW, theres a great deal that ends today on a Dell. (Don't worry though, they happen all the time).

Inspiron 6400
1.6Ghz Intel Core Duo T2050
15.4" TrueLife WXGA TFT
120GB HD
8x DVD+/-RW
802.11b/g Wireless
(comes with a 6 cell battery, +$45 for a 9 cell)

$669 (links directly to dell)
posted by mphuie at 5:06 PM on November 15, 2006

Go to your school's computer department and ask what they do with old equipment. Mine auctions things off, and the auction is a great place to get good computers cheap.
posted by carmen at 5:10 PM on November 15, 2006

wow! thanks for the critique!

No one should sell any computer in this day and age with 256MB of RAM because it's not enough to run Windows properly. Of course it was silly of me not to even pay attention, but I had faith that they wouldn't sell me a borderline-unusable product.

The E1505 is $720 before taxes and shipping, so you will end up going a bit over your budget to get a decent Dell. And it will be full of bloatware and if/when it breaks (usually the motherboard with Dells), you will have to deal with their abysmal customer service.
posted by drjimmy11 at 5:11 PM on November 15, 2006

I got a Dell 630m for a sweet deal earlier this year that meets all of your needs except just has the DVD ROM drive, not a burner. I paid $650. I wasn't ready to buy, but I saw the super sweet deal they were having a plunked down the cash right away.

It's one of a long line of Dells I've had for the last 7 years. I've had exactly one (knock wood) problem and that was a hard drive failure that Dell had a technician out to replace.
posted by FlamingBore at 5:13 PM on November 15, 2006

I watch for deals - they often pop up - on -- many of these meet your friend's needs.
posted by k8t at 5:41 PM on November 15, 2006

*plays The Price Is Right loser-music*

No, you don't get that laptop for $700-800.
*picture of laptop* Not yours.

Checking on newegg, laptops with 1GB RAM, 80+GB hard drive, DVDRW start at ~$1100.

For $700, you're not going to get something reliable. That doesn't mean it'll break in 10 minutes. Odds are it'll be fine for several years -- the $599 Acer I'm writing this on right now has done good service for a couple years now. But it does mean that you can't rely on it -- you gotta back up religiously if this is your work machine, and you gotta consider it a fundamentally disposable object.

Personally, I wouldn't use a cheap laptop as a base machine. Ours gets dragged to conferences and such, and around the house it links to files stored on the desktop machines or operates off thumbdrives; basically it's a terminal. There's never anything critical that lives only on the laptop, and it's not something I'd trust with information I really give a damn about.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:22 PM on November 15, 2006

Here's a Gateway that matches your specs.

Good processor, DVDRW, 1GB RAM, 100GB HDD, 4 USB ports, 6.3 lbs.

Did you know that some credit cards offer an additional year or more on products purchased with the card? I recently got American Express to cover the cost ($400, because of the no-corners-cut way of going about things) of fixing my just-out-of-warranty laptop (DVDRW drive died and had to be replaced). Might be worth checking your cardmember benefits brochure.
posted by roomwithaview at 7:51 PM on November 15, 2006

P.S. The laptop in my link above is part of a Wednesday sale so it may not be $699 tomorrow.
posted by roomwithaview at 7:53 PM on November 15, 2006

Avoid Dell or Gateway, they have no quality control. You may be fine, you may never get a working computer.

Consistently, the best value for money cheap laptops I've found are the Toshiba Techa A2/A3/A4/A5 family.
posted by krisjohn at 8:08 PM on November 15, 2006

IBM, Toshiba, or Acer. Buy an older refurbished model and add more ram.
posted by sophist at 10:33 PM on November 15, 2006

I second all the recommendations for the Dell Outlet - I bought an E1405 for around $700 four months ago and have been very happy. They allow you to sort the available computers by component, so if you're looking for a particular size of hard drive or RAM configuration you can find it easily.
posted by deliriouscool at 8:58 AM on November 16, 2006

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