Advise me regarding my expensive laptop purchase.
January 22, 2008 1:09 PM   Subscribe

I'm going to buy a really expensive laptop, and I'm scared. I would love it if some experienced MeFi computer experts held my hand a little bit.

So, I have set my mind on this: Sager NP9262. All the reviews I read tell me it is the super excellentest most powerful laptop I can get, and that makes me happy.

I need to be able to edit and produce movies, use photoshop, play the newest games, etc. As I am fairly mobile, this is to be my one main machine.

Here are the things I would really like someone more experienced with computers to advise me on:

1. Heat issues. The laptop I have now was also a "newest, bestest" type machine when I bought it (Acer Aspire 1800) and it ended up being a real disappointment. It constantly overheats and shuts down - I guess the higher end graphics / processor just weren't meant for the chassis it was crammed into. The reviews for the Sager say this isn't an issue, but I intend to buy the newest bestest processor (quad 6700 2.66gHz) which is desktop hardware, and the dual SLi nVidia 8800Gtx, which is also the biggest / newest, and not even available yet. This is freaking me out, because if I get another expensive disappointing white elephant that has constant heat issues I'll be so super choked. Please reassure me this will all be OK?

2. Vista. If I want to get 4GB ram, I need 64bit Vista. I am sure I don't have to do it like this, but I want an out of the box solution, I am not proficient enough to hunt down XP 64 bit drivers, etc, etc. But I swore I wouldn't get a machine with Vista, and it still seems like the wrong thing to do... But if I do make the plunge, won't it get ongoing service packs, and just get better and better while XP gradually becomes less serviced? DX10 is only for Vista, am I just getting sucked into Microsoft hype thinking to have this OS on my super excellent new machine?

3. The dual SLi graphics cards. They are supposedly "user upgradeable", so I can get the machine now and later put the second one in myself. The current delay is due to issues creating the new SLi drivers for the nVidia 8800gtx. Am I retarded to just trust that this will all work out, and that this SLi setup will indeed become available, and that I'll be able to upgrade myself?

Sorry for the length. I hope any of you out there can offer me some useful guidance.

And if you see issues / red flags I haven't considered, I am all ears. thanks in advance.
posted by Meatbomb to Computers & Internet (22 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, one other thing: I was thinking 3X 250GB 5400rpm, in raid 5 configuration. The 7200rpm disks seem significantly more expensive, are they really worth it?
posted by Meatbomb at 1:11 PM on January 22, 2008

If I want to get 4GB ram, I need 64bit Vista.

If you want to use 4 GB of RAM, you need 64-bit RAM. Get the 4 GB RAM and have WinXP Pro SP2 installed instead. You'll only be able to use 3 GB, but that may be better than having to deal with Vista.
posted by grouse at 1:17 PM on January 22, 2008

RAID5 makes no sense for video editing. RAID1 is the only way to go for speed *and* enhanced reliability. You can use RAID10 if you need more capacity, but that's generally a 4+ drive setup. I'd probably go RAID1 onboard with two drives and get a huge NAS at home for offline storage/backups.

I can't imagine how heavy this thing is going to be.
posted by kcm at 1:19 PM on January 22, 2008

I don't mean to spread FUD, but my roommate has a 64 bit Vista machine at his office and there are a bunch of engineering-related apps that just don't have 64 bit drivers yet. Engineering software can be pretty obscure, though, so I don't know if you'll run into this problem. My advice would be to make a list of software you're sure you're going to need often and check the internets to make sure that it all runs on 64 bit Vista. It may also be the case that you can keep your old laptop around for those applications, and it's not an impediment to upgrading at all.

Also, is it possible to dual boot? I have no idea, but if you could shave off 30 gig for an XP partition, maybe that would work as a backup option until Vista support is broader?

AFAIK, higher rpm disks do represent a noticeable speed bump in all sorts of I/O bound operations. Plus if you end up with 2 gig of RAM, you'll be more likely to be swapping VM off the disk which is much nicer when the disks are fast.
posted by heresiarch at 1:20 PM on January 22, 2008

Get the 4 GB RAM and have WinXP Pro SP2 installed instead. You'll only be able to use 3 GB, but that may be better than having to deal with Vista.

Some of the newest games he might want to play don't run on XP
posted by lilkeith07 at 1:24 PM on January 22, 2008

The biggest red flag I see here is that you're setting out to buy the absolute best piece of hardware you can find, when you could probably get satisfactory performance for your video and gaming needs without blowing the corresponding wad.

Vista reportedly does quite a bit to suck system resources even when it's not doing anything obvious to the user. I'd recommend a 64-bit version of XP, which will support your RAM and is generally a better-liked and better-proven OS.

An 80 GB hard-drive is just silly if you want to edit video. Bigger! Bigger!

I'm not going to recommend a different brand or anything, but I would strongly recommend taking all your options and getting the 2nd or 3rd best one instead of the first. you probably will never notice the performance difference, and you'll save money you can use for upgrades later on.
posted by chudmonkey at 1:26 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Some of the newest games he might want to play don't run on XP

When (or if) that happens, he can always "upgrade" to Vista. The longer he delays upgrading, the more likely it is that Vista SP1 will be out.
posted by grouse at 1:29 PM on January 22, 2008

1. The Quad CPU's are actually pretty good at energy efficiency (as is the whole Core2Duo line) so that shouldn't be a real issue. The video card, however, will pump out a decent amount of heat and that might be a concern. If the reviews don't list heat as an issue then I'm not sure how concerned you should be - but then again they might not have tested with the exact setup you'll be using.

2. XP64 isn't really a good solution no matter how you cut it, so it really is a decision of Vista with 4GB or XP with 2GB. The support period for XP has been extended so you can expect it to be updated for quite some time. If you really want 4GB or you really want DX10, then go Vista. Otherwise, I'd recommend XP. You can always upgrade to Vista later.

3. I'm not sure about this one. The MXM technology looks good, but you'll need to make sure your notebook has enough size for the card you'll want to get. This site seems to have a list of notebooks and the MXM sizes they're capable of but it doesn't list your Sager. I also can't seem to find any 8800GTX MXM cards available, but I didn't look too hard. You might have a hard time finding one.

Other notes: I'm not sure if you listed the exact build that you're going to get, but I concur with chudmonkey that a 80GB hard drive is way too small. Unless you've got a huge external hard drive thing going on.
posted by escher at 1:41 PM on January 22, 2008

Echoing the 3gigs and stay the hell away from Vista comments.

Also, raid seems ridiculous for a laptop due to the increased amount of heat/weight/power necessary to run two physical drives. I would get a single high speed drive rather.
posted by morallybass at 1:42 PM on January 22, 2008

Speaking as someone who is hitting F5 like crazy on the "Order Status" page for a new Inspiron XPS M1730, I have to recommend that. The SLI driver issues won't be there, the dual 8700s will be more than adequate for any of today's games (plus you won't need to sell your liver to pay for the dual 8800's), and you can get 400-600GB of hard drive space inside of it. Oh, and it comes with 4GB of RAM, too. I know that people will probably hate on Dell after my saying this, but I've owned the original XPS, the XPS Gen 2, and now I'll have the M1730 by the end of the week, and I've been nothing but happy with how they perform, and the level of support I get from paying that extra cash for the "XPS" name. (My dad also owns four(!) XPS laptops, and he loves them all and hasn't had issues with any of them.)

(Seriously. They have a dedicated support queue that speaks actual english and lives in America, they have next-day at home service included, and when you say that something's wrong with the computer, they don't argue or lead you through a ton of scripts; they just fix it.)

That's my advice, FWIW. I have to say, though, other than the potential driver issues, that does look like a nice laptop! :)
posted by omnipotentq at 1:47 PM on January 22, 2008

Regarding RAM, you've got countervailing specs. The more video RAM you have, the more of your 4Gig space has to be addressed to those video cards. My advice: get 4gigs of RAM, and a couple 512 or less video cards. You'll lose the top gig of RAM no matter what, but with 4gigs, you'll at least be using full DDR mode.
posted by notsnot at 1:47 PM on January 22, 2008

My old employer once purchased a Sager laptop. Until he told us that he was serious about us dragging it through airports to client sites and such, I just assumed it was a weapon to bludgeon office intruders to death with. That thing had some serious fricking mass. Nasty, ugly machine that was.
posted by fusinski at 1:48 PM on January 22, 2008

Why do you want such a machine? Laptops are best when they're small and light. You might want to rethink having a laptop that has three hard drives in it.

Also, SLI is a marginal idea even for desktops: in my experience the improvement in performance has not been worth the drop in stability. For a laptop it is going to be a terrible idea. Your battery will be drained quickly and heat buildup will be very high.

For Vista, I've had no problem with it and I miss the new searchable start menu when I have to go back to a XP machine.
posted by demiurge at 1:59 PM on January 22, 2008

I've been using Vista since the beginning of November. The scare stories you've heard about it are much overblown. It's a different use experience than XP, but not really any worse. There are a few minor things about it that annoy me, but there are also things I like better. I think the most important thing you can do here is to discard the vistaphobia and buy a machine with Vista preinstalled. Then use it. (The version of Vista I have is "Home Premium".)

My new machine is a notebook but not really "portable" as such because it's large and heavy. It's intended to primarily be a desktop computer (which is how I'm using it) but much easier to move for LAN parties than a classic tower+monitor+detached-keyboard. I don't do LAN parties, but it had the specs I wanted, so I went with it. It was an ASUS G2S.

The biggest headache with Vista was that some of my older software was incompatible, and I had to buy upgrades. But the teething problems are all done now, and I've settled in. I figure that if I stop cursing at a new OS within a month of starting to use it, it's good -- and that's about how long it took with Vista.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 2:14 PM on January 22, 2008 [1 favorite]


Some people (like myself and, presumably, the OP) like to have laptops that are basically portable desktops. When I got my first XPS laptop, I had a choice between that and an ultra-light, ultra-thin laptop. I can't tell you how glad I am that I got the powerful laptop. My current one clocks in at around 12-13 pounds including the AC adapter, but I love the thing to death. I would like a thin-and-light, too, but having all of my apps, games and everything that I want with me all of the time is more appealing to me than having a desktop and a thin-and-light laptop.

To bring this to bear on the original question, it's not really up to us to judge the OP for getting a massive laptop. Bear in mind, though, that we might have to answer some questions about back pain a few months from now. ;)
posted by omnipotentq at 2:21 PM on January 22, 2008

This laptop has a desktop processor in it. Stay far, far away from laptops with desktop processors. Mobile processors are not that much slower than their desktop counterparts, but run way cooler. It looks like some versions of the Acer Aspire 1800 also had a desktop processor, which is probably why you had such bad overheating problems.
posted by zsazsa at 2:38 PM on January 22, 2008


Good point. Every person I've met who has a desktop processor inside of their computer invariably has problems and issues with it. Better to sacrifice a tiny bit of speed and not have the rubber feet on the laptop melt.
posted by omnipotentq at 3:26 PM on January 22, 2008

Remember back when the Voodoo 5 was the biggest awesomest video card ever? It doesn't remotely compare to what's out today, but back then it was a HUGE card and needed two power adapters to fuel its (now ridiculously underwhelming) gpu's. Oh and a year after buying said card for half a grand the company went out of business...

I had a Sager once, it was a high performance brick for its time (I'd guess almost 11lbs), and eventually the hinges broke on it, and I had to buy a lap cooler because it got so hot it would singe my legs...seriously. From what I remember, Sager doesn't really design their laptops, but rather uses pre-made designs that are sold through manufacturers (Alienware used to use the same designs on some of their PCs...I think Casio and Olympia have done the same for some of their consumer electronics as well like keyboards etc).

Honestly, I wouldn't do laptops are a dead end for gaming. Sure you'll have a sweet system for it that'll handle the technology of the next 3-4 years...but you'll eventually be stuck with a huge piece of electronics that you can't upgrade easily or transfer parts out of for a new model (plus in 3-4 years there will be slick small form factor laptops that'll be cheaper and more powerful than the one you just plopped a wad of cash on). If money wasn't an object I'd say go for it and use it as a desktop until you need something more powerful...but if you take out the bleeding edge gaming part you could get away with a sleeker and cheaper system for way less money (from a more mainstream manufacturer even).

My last two laptops have been a tiny ~3lb Averatec and more recently a HP tx1219us...much lighter, mobile, and handy to have on hand. (not to mention only $1k or less and have lasted/will last years). Sure, I can't play COD4 or any of the more recent games on the HP...but it handles slightly older games and less GPU hungry ones like a champ (highly recommend peggle...not all games need SSAO, SM4, or any of the latest shader technologies)
posted by samsara at 3:41 PM on January 22, 2008

I would also suggest you drop the RAID and think of a portable NAS, especially if you are serious about motion graphics work. The gigs add up so fast, you want old projects off onto a backup asap, even if you rely on timecoded tapes for recapturing the raw footage.

SLI is crazy unless you want to play Crysis at full tilt, if you do, then go for it. It has always had limited applicability on the cutting edge ever since it was created for the Voodoo 2 series of cards.
posted by prostyle at 3:42 PM on January 22, 2008

how mobile are you? The ODM's specification page lists weight at 5.4 kg with a depth of 54-60mm; that's roughly 12 pounds of laptop, before anything else gets strapped to your back.

I'd also stay way away from desktop quad-cores in a laptop form factor; they draw something like three times as much power as a mobile processor and produce substantially more heat. It also means there'll be very little battery life - combined with the above weight concerns, I don't see it being very useful if you're in a compute-anywhere kind of mode as you end up tied to a power outlet at all times. Outlets are pretty much ubiquitous, but it's nice to have the option to work wire-free, in my experience.

In any case, I think you should examine your portability needs before going any farther.
posted by heeeraldo at 8:57 PM on January 22, 2008

I've used laptops as my preferred machine since 2001 and I seriously understand your desire to have the best, the fastest ... "the super excellentest most powerful laptop I can get".

I have the same desire, but, what I've learned is that when you buy a laptop you gain mobility and sacrifice power. Or you buy power, speed and graphics and sacrifice cooling and comfort.

Laptops are built for mobility. Desktops are built for speed. The fastest, most expensive laptop won't go anywhere near a well set up gaming desktop. Even a nicely set up shuttle system will hugely out perform the fastest available laptop.

Also, Vista. I've been using Vista since before it was released properly (sometime technician) and my advice is that with new hardware and software it's great. Go for it. If it's set up properly it's a pleasure to work on. If it's set up badly ... well ... XP performs badly when set up badly.

Horses for courses and all that.
posted by chairish at 11:02 PM on January 22, 2008

I purchased a Sager laptop several years ago. Fast? yeah sure. But so is a desktop. They are not meant to travel as they are built very poorly. I had the motherboard replaced twice as things became unsoldered and after the third unexplainable failure I just gave up. Shipping these beasts to get their inevitable repairs is costly as well. The only recommendation I can honestly make is to buy a Mac. You want to use your computer to get things done, one of those things being making movies a Mac has to be the way to go. If you need to play PC games you have bootcamp or virtualization software. A Mac would definitely be the best PC laptop you can buy.
posted by seanaes at 10:28 AM on January 23, 2008

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