Need a new laptop
August 26, 2007 12:22 PM   Subscribe

Another what-kind-of-laptop-should-I-get question.

I know these questions probably piss people off, but I really know nothing about computers and there are so many specs that I don't understand that I figure I'd go on the advice of you lovely people who seem to know what you're talking about.
I just started a grad program in social work, so I need to be able to have word, excel, powerpoint, etc. I definitely need some serious mobility, so very light with a strong wireless capability. This will mostly be used for email, papers, projects, and the frequent youtube video and itunes/ipod usage (side note, I now have a pc-- if I switch to mac will it totally suck to have to transition my ipod?). I don't have video editing or gaming needs. Mostly I just want something light and quick and ideally cheap-ish that will be compatible with a university setting. No more than about $1300. I'm up for both mac and pc suggestions.
Please help! Also let me know what kind of specs I should ask for and know about. Talk to me like I've never seen a computer before.
Thanks all!
posted by greta simone to Computers & Internet (16 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
You shouldn't have a problem with the iPod. PC formatted iPods work with Macs, it just might be a little slower to transfer the songs.
posted by betafilter at 12:31 PM on August 26, 2007


I've had good luck with acer's lately. They tend have rather large hard drives for laptops and a good price. The one i'm on now has 160gb hd, 2gb ram and the 64 bit intel processor and cost 750 bucks. It's definitely the best bang for your buck out there. (now here come the apple fans)
posted by muddylemon at 12:34 PM on August 26, 2007


Since you're not doing gaming, finding a <$1300 computer is going to be very, very easy. I use a 4-year old Dell M50 ($500 used in 2005), and I do everything on it except gaming and still have no inclination to upgrade. So at your price points I would be shopping for durability and ruggedness, something that is woefully underevaluated, and possibly weight and screen size. You are definitely not a power user and I'd be the first to argue that you don't need to spend $1500 or even buy new. I think you'd be able to find a smashing laptop at $700 or so if you are comfortable buying from eBay.
posted by calhound at 12:39 PM on August 26, 2007


I imagine any new laptop you buy today should be able to handle your applications, so I'm going to focus mainly on size.

The Thinkpad X61s is a tiny 2.7 pounds, and costs $1,320 from Lenovo. It doesn't have an optical drive, though, and only a 12" screen.

The Thinkpad T61 is 5 lb, costs $964 and has a 14.1" widescreen and CD-RW/DVD-ROM drive. It probably handles being jostled a bit better than the ultraportable. Thinkpads are well-known for being robust, and come with a 1-year warranty, which you can extend to three years on this model by paying $119.
posted by grouse at 12:47 PM on August 26, 2007 [1 favorite]


The sort of things you want to do are right up the Mac's street, and though it's still obviously a tech-filled computer, in lots of places it does a better job of abstracting that away and letting you get stuff done. If you don't know computers, they're a really good choice.

There's a range of them, but just get the cheapest MacBook you can. There are good educational deals on Apple's website, to boot, including a free iPod Nano. It's just under 5lbs, and I can't recommend it highly enough for the sort of stuff you're doing.
posted by bonaldi at 2:01 PM on August 26, 2007


As I mentioned in the last thread about this, I would not recommend buying a Thinkpad right now, as their order queue is ridiculously backed up—and they won't tell you that when you order it. You'll think everything is OK, 'cause they said it'd arrive in two weeks...and then two weeks will go by and they'll tell you another two weeks. And so on, x3 or so. And the hard drives they ship with it are slow slow slow...

Go with a low-end MacBook.
posted by limeonaire at 2:12 PM on August 26, 2007


If you are at all unsure about what kind of laptop you should get, I can in all seriousness recommend a basic MacBook with perhaps the addition of either Office software, or something like Parallels if you absolutely must run Windows-only software.

As tiring as it gets reading the "what laptop?" questions, I'm sure it must be equally tiring to hear "MacBook" as a frequent response, but it's really a very, very great machine.
posted by odinsdream at 2:31 PM on August 26, 2007


Macbook seconded. It's an easy transition. The Mac's designed to be easier to use.
ThinkPad's a great Windows-based choice if you feel like you can't handle the change.
I've had horrible luck with Acer and Gateway.
posted by willpie at 2:47 PM on August 26, 2007


You need to decide if you want an ultraportable (typically anything < 14 screen) or not. they're more expensive (but, as grouse's mention of the x61 indicates, still more or less within your price range), but lighter. you need to decide how much serious mobility and very light is enough for you vs. price/screen size/presence of an internal optical drive.br>
If you go with a pc, as opposed to a mac, try to avoid vista. Especially if you decide to go with an ultraportable since they tend to have less power.
posted by juv3nal at 3:05 PM on August 26, 2007


oh weird. forgot to use the entity code for < and it tossed a weird br thing in there.
posted by juv3nal at 3:06 PM on August 26, 2007


I would not recommend buying a Thinkpad right now, as their order queue is ridiculously backed up—and they won't tell you that when you order it.

This is true; I'd advise against ordering a Thinkpad unless you can wait, and have the patience to deal with Lenovo's inefficient system. I ordered one in July. Lenovo suddenly cancelled my order after 2 weeks, with no reason given, just that they'd reserved a right to cancel. (Probably didn't want to honor their sale+rebate offer they had.)

I re-ordered a different model in the beginning of August. Not only is an exact ship date NOT given even when prompted, with every status check their estimated ship time frame gets pushed further and further. (from '2 weeks' when I ordered, to end of August, to now mid September.)

I tried to expedite by upgrading to an expedited shipping(at ~$50 extra cost) after waiting 3 weeks, but Lenovo's system is inefficient. I was told that even though my order is still just waiting in queue, any changes would merely reset the queue. So I'm either stuck waiting until ??, or cancel.
posted by MD06 at 3:20 PM on August 26, 2007


I went through this two years ago when I bought a new laptop for grad school. Here are some general thoughts and advice:

1) Does your university have a computer store? The store at my school was very helpful, and the academic discounts from some manufacturers were substantial: my computer was $100 off retail, and I bought the MS Office suite for $79 (though you could probably find these online as well);
2) Make sure the graphics capabilities are good enough that you can power an external projector when giving presentations. It's also nice when your laptop is your main machine to be able to hook up an external monitor and extend your desktop to a second screen;
3) Pay for the extended warranty / service plan;
4) You might check to see if any classes you'll need to take require using specific software.

I've been pretty happy with the Mac I bought. I personally like OS X better than Windows; in my experience it's easier to use/setup/figure out how to change settings and do things. The free apps, like iPhoto and iDVD, that come with OS X are useful.

Apple's service is really good too. If you get a Mac Book definitely pay for the extended warranty so you can get phone support for 3 years, and be able to take your computer to an Apple Store 'Genius'. My experience with both has been exceptional.

Good luck!
posted by lorenzism at 3:35 PM on August 26, 2007


Thanks all. Seems I will be getting a good deal on a Macbook through my Student Stores.
posted by greta simone at 3:58 PM on August 26, 2007


Nothing against the Mac, and if you get one I hope you love it happily ever after, but it's a paradigm shift, and depending on the nature of your self-described "know-nothingness" about computers you may find the learning curve frustrating. I think this is especially true if you're basically competent on a PC but got that way kicking and screaming and feeling anxious. Some of that will repeat as you get the hang of the Mac.

Also keep in mind to budget for the MS Office applications you'll need to purchase for the Mac -- the ones you already own for the PC won't work there.

My trusty old ThinkPad refuses to die. If I needed to buy a laptop right this minute, though, and had a grad student's budget, I would simply buy the very cheapest laptop I could find -- that's like $499 at Best Buy or something. The functional difference between the very low end and the $1,300ish middle range is insignificant, and the money you save can make a much bigger difference elsewhere in your grad student lifestyle.
posted by gum at 5:55 PM on August 26, 2007


Agreeing on the low-end laptop idea. Buy one for around $500-$600 in the plethora of sales/rebates that are available right now (check SlickDeals or FatWallet). If you are really worried about downtime, don't get an extended warranty... bank the difference between $600 and $1300 into a high-yield account or short-term CD and use it to buy yourself *another* laptop if some long PC-free duration looms. If in two or three years you haven't spent it, then treat yourself to a much nicer laptop using the proceeds.
posted by meehawl at 7:14 PM on August 26, 2007


I have had great luck with Gateway. I have had my Gateway for neary 3 years with 0 problems. I have recommended them to many friends and family and they have loved them, too. Here is one that looks good.

But, any new PC needs to be reformatted because of all the crap that comes with the computer. The Macbook is as clean as a whistle, and should be good to go out of the box. If you really know nothing about computers and you by a PC then find a friend to format and reinstall Windows for you. If you buy a Macbook you may need a friend to help you with your iPod.
posted by mjger at 8:07 PM on August 26, 2007


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