need computer to live
August 27, 2007 6:33 AM   Subscribe

I need to get a laptop. Two constraints: I can spend probably no more than 900$ US, although I'm ever so slightly flexible about that, and I'm probably going to end up buying it in Kampala, Uganda.

So really, my question is a general one about the reliability or quality of various makes. Am I better off with a Toshiba, Acer, Dell, or HP? I'm going to use it almost exclusively for writing documents and communicating via e-mail, so I don't need many upgraded or peripheral accoutrements (although I will probably want to do some simple still graphics work, so a decent card and screen would be great). I want something small, light, with generous battery capacity. Suggestions?
posted by clockzero to Computers & Internet (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I dont know about prices in Uganda but here in Sweden I have recently been looking for something similar and came up short. Most computers in this price range are quite big with 15" screens and have bad battery capacity.

It sounds contradictory but with laptops price seems to be inverse to screen size. The only good budget alternative i found was the dell vostro 1400 and dell had a 4 week delay in deliveries.
posted by ilike at 6:53 AM on August 27, 2007

I think Thinkpads are very reliable based on my own experience and everyone I know with one.

Laptops with larger screens will be cheaper because they are heavier.

There was a laptop thread just yesterday, please read it.
posted by grouse at 6:57 AM on August 27, 2007

Also, is there any appreciable difference between processors like celeron, pentium, whatever AMD makes, and whatever else is on the market these days?
posted by clockzero at 8:49 AM on August 27, 2007

Yes there is a large diffrence. I recommend you head to and read the guides in the forums.
posted by ilike at 8:52 AM on August 27, 2007

First, America is just about the cheapest place in the world to buy a laptop, due to VATs, import duties, higher markup resellers, and/or shipping anywhere else. Also, since hardware support will be much more difficult to find in Uganda, and many problems occur within 30 days of purchase, you may want to purchase it a while before you leave

That other thread had the Macbook as the 'best answer' but that's over your budget and I can't see any Apple support info for Uganda. I'd personally avoid it. Apple's market share, and thus ease of finding support, is much lower overseas.

What I'd recommend is going down to the local BestBuy, CompUSA, etc., sending the salesman away and looking at the real low-end models for a somewhat compact one with a 14" screen. The only caveat is that if it only comes with 512MB (or even 1 GB), be prepared to upgrade that to 1 or 2GB. Windows Vista is painfully slow with only 512MB.

Among the el-cheapo models I've seen (which is quite limited), the Gateway ones with the 14" screens seemed the most compact, and they had a good trackpad to boot. This model, currently $399 at BestBuy, is pretty underpowered, but, once you upgrade the memory, may be perfect for what you're doing. Other Gateways with the same form factor but more powerful processors are also available.

Finally, if you're traveling, buy an extra power adapter. They're easy to accidentally leave behind, and there's enough variation in the plug types that they can be tricky to replace.
posted by boaz at 9:32 AM on August 27, 2007

I said it in the other thread, I'll repeat: if you go with windows, avoid vista if at all possible.
posted by juv3nal at 10:19 AM on August 27, 2007

I have very good experience with Samsung und IBMs / Lenovos. If you are doing only basic office work I would recommend an 'older' machine - maybe last years hot models. You save loads of money and still get enough power to work with.

A mobile celeron is more then enough for you - when you run your machine with Windows XP or W2K.

I prefer smaller machines (12") displays, they are a charm for travelling and usually eat less power because of the smaller display. For work at home you can always buy later a bigger monitor and extra keyboard.

Always check in advance battery time and you can usually half the vendors time by half. Although I must say that my Samsung machine almost makes 4 hours as advertised.
posted by homodigitalis at 11:07 AM on August 27, 2007

Small and light? Get a used Toughbook CF-M34. I've used one as my everyday knockabout machine for several years and couldn't be happier. The 800x600 screen might not please Photoshop nuts, but everything else meets your specs. Mine has a P3m-700, 256 meg, and I replaced the drive with a 60-gig. I get 3 hours on a rebuilt battery, but since the machine's so small, sticking a Valence N-charge to the back would bring it to 12 hours plus, and it still wouldn't be as bulky as a regular laptop. They can be had for $300-ish depending on specs. The biggest caveat is that many older motherboard revisions have low RAM limits.

In general, the Toughbook CF-series are fairly serious machines. Any model with a handle is appropriate for outdoor use. The handle-less "business" models are still fairly sturdy but I wouldn't use 'em as wheel chocks as I've done with my m34. The T- R- Y- and W- series are more durable than other slim-pretty fashion statement laptops, but they expect to be in protective "laptop bag" style accomodations when picked up.

Besides, a laptop with a handle is a fashion statement. Especially when it'll stop some small-arms fire.
posted by Myself at 11:39 AM on August 27, 2007

I've bought several refurbished gateways via No problems so far.

For $900.00, you can do pretty well.
posted by notyou at 12:46 PM on August 27, 2007

Seconding homodigitalis - a 12" ultraportable from a generation or two ago would suit you well. An old ThinkPad X-series would work, if you don't need to play CD/DVDs. For something with an optical drive, check the Dell outlet or eBay for an old Latitude D4xx series. HP's business outlet has some good deals on refurbished nc2400s (12" with optical drive). These are all business laptops which will be more durable than most consumer models. Buying an outlet refurb also gives you at least a year warranty.

If you want to buy new, consider the 12" HP tx1000 series. You can get the base model for $900 at Best Buy right now. I think that's the cheapest 12" out there.

As ilike says, is a great resource.
posted by schweik at 12:27 PM on August 28, 2007

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