Looking for a good, used "travel" laptop
April 11, 2007 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Help me select the best cheap, lightweight, "travel" laptop for my needs, please.

I work from home, and will soon be doing a lot of traveling, so I need a laptop so I can continue my work while on the road.

I'd like to buy used, spending less than $500. Primary use: word processing and Internet browsing. Internal wireless is a must. I'd like something durable, small, and light. Screen size is not an issue.

I've heard good things about IBM/Lenovo's ThinkPad series, though I know nothing about their older models. If I were to buy new, I'd probably go with their X Series ThinkPad. Is there something comparable in their older family of notebooks?

However, I'm not stuck on any particular brand.

posted by nitsuj to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If you aren't stuck on Windows, I think you could get a decent Mac for $500 or cheaper. If you look on either ebay or craigslist you can probably get a G4 iBook or maybe even Powerbook. It has built in WiFi, dvd reader, cd burner, and is very fun.

I'm posting this comment from a 12" Powerbook G4 I bought for $500 bucks. I tend to use this more than my AMD 3700+ desktop lately.
posted by Industrial PhD at 6:14 PM on April 11, 2007

ibook g4. At your price point, there's nothing better in the ruggedness department. I think I saw apple selling the last of these new with a three year waranty for less than $500. Works for me™ (although after 2.5 years I need to get a new keyboard).
posted by singingfish at 6:26 PM on April 11, 2007

Response by poster: I think I saw apple selling the last of these new with a three year waranty for less than $500.

Where did you see this?

I'm not completely against getting a Mac, though I'd rather have a Winders machine, just because I'm familiar working with them, and I can easily fix/find parts while on the road.
posted by nitsuj at 6:33 PM on April 11, 2007

There's something called the ThinkPad tabook that lists all their existing models. Also, you could post this question and possibly find more info here: http://forum.thinkpads.com/ $500 isn't much for a ThinkPad, I would search ebay or look for used / refurbished items. Go to ibm.com and look at IBM refurbished items to see what old ThinkPads they are selling. You should find something around that price there.
posted by xammerboy at 7:03 PM on April 11, 2007

I always used Thinkpads when going back and forth to Morocco, all were under $500, usually the 600 series. Pretty light, very durable. Only flaw...no internal wireless.
posted by Liosliath at 7:49 PM on April 11, 2007

I am a very happy user of an older ThinkPad X40. I have seen good deals on manufacturer-reconditioned ones on eBay, which included warranty. I don't know if you can get into the $500 range.

However, ThinkPads have always been great, so just look for the right size and weight.
posted by qvtqht at 8:20 PM on April 11, 2007

Thinkpad Thinkpad Thinkpad, if you can get one for under $500. I've seen too many old iBooks fail for a variety of reasons to believe they're all that robust.
posted by chrominance at 9:21 PM on April 11, 2007

Around $500 and lightweight? I happen to be looking for exactly that myself. Just the other day I asked here for people's experience with 12" displays, in fact. Go skim that and convince yourself that you want a 12" for traveling.

What I'm finding in that range is 1.2-1.6GHz Pentium M (the processor in a "Centrino" laptop), ~512MB RAM, 30-40GB disk. Sometimes the external DVD/CD-RW is included, sometimes not. Avoid any Pentium 4Ms you might run across. They're cheap for a reason (hot and slow).

Models to look into: Thinkpad X30, Thinkpad X31. I don't think you can find an X40 in your price range. Note that the X-series of that era was trackpoint-only, which might bug you if you're a touchpad person.

Dell Latitude X1 (widescreen and tiny, but on the slow end), X300 (very lightweight and thin), D400 (quite large considering). There's also the Inspiron 700M, which might push the top end of your price range a bit but has a glossy widescreen and a DVD drive built-in, which is unusual in that segment. (It's also quite thick compared to the others, basically the size of a hardcover book.)

HP nc4000, 4010 -- cheaper for what you get than the Dells or Thinkpads but not as easy to come by, and not as easy to come by parts. I nearly bought a refurb 1.4GHz nc4000 yesterday for under $500 Canadian but they were sold out.
posted by mendel at 9:36 PM on April 11, 2007

I got my ThinkPad R51 (1.5 Ghz., internal 802.11b/g wi-fi, dvd/cd-rw, 512MB RAM, 60GB HD, 14.1" screen) for $350. The only thing I could possibly want to upgrade would be the processor or the graphics (UXGA makes me drooly). Other than that, it is perfect in every way.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 10:32 PM on April 11, 2007

Powerbookguy.com is where to get the best deals on (really well-refurbished) old Mac portables. Sometimes Small Dog Electronics has good deals too.
posted by sparrows at 11:49 PM on April 11, 2007

You can run Windows natively on a MacBook y'know..
posted by wackybrit at 5:50 AM on April 12, 2007

Seconding a G4 iBook. They're about as small as a usable notebook gets, and have terrific battery life (esp considering the batteries were all replaced just six months ago). Most have wireless, and some might have Bluetooth too.

Apple equipment can be unreliable, but if the iBook has lasted this long then it's in good shape. Watch out for early model iBooks, however, because they had design flaws—you should be looking to get a 1.2 or 1.3GHz model from 2005/06. I'm about to sell my old iBook and it still works absolutely fine.
posted by humblepigeon at 9:16 AM on April 12, 2007

I just got an acer aspire 3680 for 400 bucks (counting a 50 buck rebate). intel celeron m 420 (1.6ghz), 120 gb (it's advertised as 80 but mine came with 120 *shrugs*), 512mb (again, advertised as 2x256, mine was 1x512, i spent another 80 bucks and got an additional 1 gb ram elsewhere), integrated wireless, dvd-rom/cd rw, 5in1 card reader, 14" screen, a little over 5 pounds.

The only downside was that it came with useless Vista Home Basic so I nuked from orbit and installed XP pro instead. (yeah, i know, like XP is sooo great... but i need it for law school, and it beats vista *shudder*)

It's a great size - big enough to allow good typing and enough screen real estate, small and light enough to carry around.

The 50 dollar MIR is only available if you buy through microcenter.

I've had it since February (when the price was still 50 bucks higher, but I price-matched), and I heart my acer... it handles everything I do with it (mostly internet, word processing, some spreadsheets, some photo stuff) just fine.
posted by yggdrasil at 12:36 PM on April 12, 2007

oh, and the advantage of buying new: one year manufacturer's warranty, plus one year credit card warranty extension. might not be a bad thing for a travel laptop.
posted by yggdrasil at 12:39 PM on April 12, 2007

search boddit.com for 'notebooks'. Some decent deals on core duos for around 600 bucks and refurbished thinkpads from ibm from around 300 bucks, including the x40 if I recall. You'll see them all right away in the search results.
posted by jak68 at 10:36 PM on April 15, 2007

Response by poster: Update: I ended up getting a Dell 640m/e1405 .. 14", ~5lbs, Core2Duo, 2GB RAM, for $870 taxed and shipped.
posted by nitsuj at 10:23 AM on April 23, 2007

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