Christmas come late
January 23, 2008 4:33 PM   Subscribe

What laptop should I buy for $2K? What should it come with?

I have $2K to get a new laptop. I want to get something that will last me for 5+ years, that is quick, dependable, easy to use and pretty. I will use it mostly for work, writing, e-mailing, occasional movie watching, as a blogging device and a depository of songs and photos. In the past I had a Compaq (which I loved very much). I understand that Compaqs are out of production now (for the most part). I have been looking at the HP Pavillion dv2700t series - I like the look of it - but is it any good? Do you have any other suggestions for other solid, lasting, pretty laptops?

Also, what should this come with in terms of memory, processor, other add-ons? Is Vista as horrible as they say? Anything I should know/think about before I buy? Thanks.
posted by barrakuda to Computers & Internet (34 answers total)
Why not switch to a Macbook or Macbook Pro? They are quite friendly for all the activities you mention, and very dependable and sturdy. Plus you can run Windows if you need to. Just my 2 cents.
posted by ISeemToBeAVerb at 4:37 PM on January 23, 2008 [3 favorites]

The HPs are nice machines, but like any major brand it might need some tweaking and cleanup once you get it (eg. the HP assistant software usually isn't that helpful and I usually remove it). I recently picked up a HP tx1219us which is a great 12" convertable laptop, although I rarely use it in tablet mode. It's sturdy feeling though, and doesn't feel very plasticy.

My recommendation is to head to your local Best Buy or Circuit City and see if you can get some hands-on with the dv-2700t. Most of my experience with them has been breif, but they are popular. (During student checkin I see a lot on campus that we work on to remove spyware/viruses so they can connect to our network....the HPs stood out and made me decide to go with the tx1219)
posted by samsara at 4:41 PM on January 23, 2008

I recently bought an HP laptop, not certain the model number since it's at home, but I haven't been entirely happy with it's screen. I'd go with an equivalent dell over the HP.
posted by nomisxid at 4:43 PM on January 23, 2008

I'm happy to give the Dell Inspiron line my endorsement. I bought an Inspiron e1405 last March for $800 or so (with a coupon; it was $1,100 or so before the savings) and that got me a pretty good system, but one that might need to be upgraded in a year or two. For $2,000 you ought to be able to get something that will last you a while.

As for Vista, I've had much fewer problems with it than I ever had with XP. Take what you hear about it with a grain of salt. A lot of the criticism comes from users who upgraded their existing machine to Vista--which is fine, but not ideal. You'll be buying a new notebook, and if you choose to go the Vista route, you will be buying a machine that was intended to run Vista, which seems to make a world of difference. Also keep in mind that service pack 1 is due to be released very soon, and that is expected to bring a big performance boost.

I'd recommend 2 GB RAM and a big hard drive (I think Dell offers up to 160 GB for Inspiron) for your music, movies, and photos. DVD burner is a smart choice as well. The 2 GB RAM is probably a must if you want this machine to last 5 years. Good luck!
posted by kjackelen05 at 4:49 PM on January 23, 2008

I'm a Mac user, so I'm also inclined to recommend a Mac. The Macbook is a great value and will do everything you want it to.

That said, I was pleasantly surprised by the Dell my fiancee recently bought. She was just going for the cheapest machine out there, and picked up a 15" Dell Inspiron 1520-series Athlon 64 notebook for just over $600 Canadian. It's a decent computer that will do what you need it to, although I can't say anything about anything about its durability or quality in the long-term. What I really want to say though is, Vista is not bad, but may feel like you're not getting your money's worth compared to XP. Poking around a little bit on the Dell, it feels much less responsive than you'd expect, and my fiancee was disappointed in the level of improvement in responsiveness over her Pentium 3 XP notebook. (The Dell came pre-installed with Vista Home Basic. I compare this to my 3-year-old Powerbook, which I upgraded to Leopard this past weekend. Even if it's no faster, it certainly feels no slower than it did with the previous operating system.)
posted by mariokrat at 4:51 PM on January 23, 2008

i love my macbook. for 2k, you can get a high end macbook with 3 years of applecare. it's a competitively priced machine (for the power/features), with the best os in the biz. and you can run windows. it may also be possible to not purchase the applecare at first, since there's a year of free service coverage. then just before the free year is up, buy the 3 years of extended coverage, for a total of 4 years coverage.
posted by ncc1701d at 4:53 PM on January 23, 2008

I just got a macbook pro with 3 years of applecare for 2K. I love it. The main reason i switched from PC to Mac was Vista, which a LOT of my friends have described as a steaming pile of shit...i messed around a bit with vista and mac osx and the GUI of the macs won me over completely. YMMV.
posted by schyler523 at 4:58 PM on January 23, 2008

Any new laptop can do what you want and more with good speed. You can get a laptop that will last you for 2-3 years without feeling slow in the areas you are concerned about for around 600$, why spend 2000$? Just get a laptop with a big hard drive.
posted by zephyr_words at 5:01 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

Compaq was bought by HP, so HP laptops are the descendants of Compaq laptops.

I've IBM/Lenovo laptops for a while and they are well made and rugged. I travel 20+ times a year and they haven't failed. They are not the prettiest, but they will last. I have an x61 and with the extended battery, I get 6 hours off of a full charge.

My parent's have MacBooks and enjoy them. They are powerful, pretty, and easy to use. I can't speak to their ruggedness, since my parents never take them out the front door.

In general, max out the RAM to help compensate for the CPU limitations. Also, get a service plan to protect in case of something breaking.

Good luck!
posted by Argyle at 5:02 PM on January 23, 2008

Get a 1K laptop this year, and get another one in 2-3 years. And get a Wii with the spare change. In 2-3 years a new laptop will be much better than what you get now.
posted by sien at 5:12 PM on January 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

If you're looking for a 5-year life, you might want to go for a (formerly IBM, currently Lenovo) ThinkPad. Generally, they cost more than similarly-spec'ed HPs and Dells, but there's a reason they have a dedicated following. They're definitely not as cool-looking as the HP you cited, but they withstand day-to-day wear exceptionally well over the long term. In terms of size and shape, it looks like the ThinkPad R or T series are closest to the HP you were looking at.

With a 5 year timeline, you'll definitely want to get the fastest processor you can afford and max out the memory. It may seem like overkill now (actually, with Vista, the memory probably won't) but by year 3, you'll be glad you did.

The rest is mostly optional. I'm sure someone will make a good case for something I've forgotten, but when you can't have everything, you make trade-offs. I will always get the largest battery they offer with any future notebook purchases. I'd look hard at a Blu-ray drive, too (with a DVD burner as the bare minimum).
posted by willpie at 5:19 PM on January 23, 2008

ncc1701d, if you buy AppleCare at the end of the first year of ownership, you still only get the extra 2 years, not 3 more years. Just FYI...
posted by dbiedny at 5:38 PM on January 23, 2008

Another vote for a Macbook Pro - even though the receipt from the store will have a higher price than that of a windows-based laptop, think about all the software you won't have to buy (especially if you buy iWork '08 for another $80) - like Anti-virus + subscription, for example.

I've had my macbook for about 6 months now and I wouldn't dream of using anything else (except perhaps a MB Pro ;). You could also go with the regular macbook for quite a bit less (make sure to upgrade the RAM to 2gb if appropriate) and use the rest on a set of golf clubs or something!
posted by inkedmn at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2008

I just bought a new Macbook. The Macbook (actually the Ibook, the G4 white one) it replaced over SIX YEARS AGO for $1500. I never had a single problem.
posted by kosem at 5:58 PM on January 23, 2008

Has no one suggested the Macbook Air? It is a bit unusual, and I'm holding off buying it myself (though I love the 13" widescreen and the 3 lb weight) until I hear more about its quirks, but it is a pretty stellar buy for $2k.

Caveats: no video card, no cd drive, max gHz 1.8 (and that for an extra $300) and in order to get a decent hard drive (solid state oooooooh) you need to throw in an extra 1k. Also no firewire (!) or ethernet jack. However, it is able to use any cd drive within bluetoothing distance as its own cd drive so you're not entirely screwed in that department. Truly a special laptop for a special person.
posted by arnicae at 6:21 PM on January 23, 2008

I just bought a new Macbook. I purchased tThe Macbook (actually the Ibook, the G4 white one) it replaced over SIX YEARS AGO for $1500. I never had a single problem.

Fixed that for me.
posted by kosem at 6:48 PM on January 23, 2008

I am happy, as always, to recommend that you take a look at Fujitsu notebooks. They are not the first brand you think of, but I loved my P1510 (until I accidentally left it on a plane over the holiday, ugh!) and will be replacing it with a P1620. I also bought an A6025 recently as a Web/mail server and it struck me as a fine machine. They are not exactly stylish, I would call them more classic in appearance, but if you're planning to keep it for a while that won't matter anyway, as anything you buy that is stylish today will be out of style long before you consider getting a new machine. As a bonus, it looks like if you get an A6110 with Vista Business ($100 upgrade from Vista Home Premium), they will include XP downgrade disks for free, so if you get fed up with Vista you can always fall back! (HP will not support XP on their current line.)

You can get a Fujitsu LifeBook A6110 pretty much loaded with every feature, including a 3-year warranty, for your price point. (Except the full 4 GB memory -- $230 is too much to go from 3 to 4 when you can get a pair 2 GB DIMMs for $70 from NewEgg and then eBay off the old ones.)

If you are prone to dropping your machines, a Panasonic Toughbook may also be worth a look. They also offer an XP downgrade option.
posted by kindall at 7:12 PM on January 23, 2008

I obsessively love my Macbook, so another vote here.
posted by meerkatty at 7:20 PM on January 23, 2008

My last Macbook Pro lasted for six years, and I only replaced it then because I dropped it and broke the screen, and that was finally the incentive I needed to upgrade for the speed and memory benefits; still, I suspect it would have gone on working wonderfully for even longer. The replacement Pro is my new best friend. If you're willing to go Mac, it's the best computer you can buy (I used to work tech support - believe me on that one).
posted by you're a kitty! at 7:59 PM on January 23, 2008

Well if that 2 grand is burning a hole in your pocket, I have to suggest a Panasonic Toughbook, especially the "business rugged" models. I've got an old CF-W2 that I can't replace because I just can't kill it! It's been all over the world (usually stuffed loosely into a backpack) and has had all kinds of crap spilled on it, but it's still powering up every morning after almost 5 years.

The new models sport magnesium alloy cases and shock resistant hard drives, are spill resistant and have insanely long battery life. Oh, and it weighs a lot less than the Air and has a built in DVD multi-drive to boot.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:08 PM on January 23, 2008

Two grand is a lot of money for a laptop. Really, anything more than a grand and you're getting into "built-in webcam" and "carbon-fiber shell" land--which is to say, fancy-shmancy, but totally unnecessary.

What you need is a sickeningly fast processor, metric assloads of RAM, and the highest resolution screen you can possibly cram into the form-factor of your liking (I'm partial to ~14"-15" screens... anything bigger and it starts to feel like a mini-desktop, but YMMV).

Everything else you should assume will have to be replaced at some point. That means the battery, the optical drives, the mouse/input device, etc. All that stuff can be easily connected via USB, which means there's absolutely no point paying twice as much for the same feature set for a built-in version.

IBM/Lenovo Thinkpads will outlive the technologies inside them, which is more than I can say for any other notebook. They are built like tanks, and come with everything. Additionally, their keyboards are unequivocally the best you can find from any laptop manufacturer. That's not just subjective hyperbole, either. Take a look at the keyboards of any of the notebooks mentioned in this thread and see if they have the INS/DEL HOME/END PGUP/PGDOWN group of keys in the same patten that you'd find on any standard keyboard. Most don't. The IBM/Lenovo does.

Furthermore, Thinkpads are the easiest to get Linux on, if you were so inclined. Personally, if I had 2-Large to drop on a laptop, I would insist that it support WUXGA+ screen resolutions (1920x1200 to you and me, kids). As far as I know, IBM is the only laptop manufacturer to make a 15" screen with WUXGA+ resolutions--everyone else puts them in their 17" monsters.

Is Vista as horrible as they say?

Yes, absolutely.

Anything I should know/think about before I buy?

Don't let Vista stop you from getting a top-of-the-line notebook. Most manufacturers had to drink the Kool-Aid, but that doesn't mean you can't install XP or XP 64-bit on your laptop afterwards.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:24 PM on January 23, 2008

If you do decide to buy a Dell, you might want to consider buying it through their business division rather than their consumer line. You might get better customer service.

I bought the Inspiron 5100 I'm typing this on from them about six years ago. The laptop was stolen from DHL while in transit to me, and Dell refused to ship me a replacement until DHL finished their internal investigation. They knew it was never delivered, but didn't seem to care. Took me ten weeks to get the replacement, with no apologies or upgrades thrown in despite me repeatedly calling their unbelievably horrible customer service reps in India to ask what the hell was going on. I'll never buy from them again.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 8:53 PM on January 23, 2008

$1299 MacBook if you want to do a Mac (I'd at least take a look at it - the $1299 box is a pretty good machine for the money) or a similarly priced IBM/Lenovo Thinkpad. if you go for a PC, I'd look at downgrading - there was something about being able to downgrade to XP from Vista if you had Vista, so you might look into that. it depends on the manufacturer. be very careful about that though, there are some laptops (Sony Vaios in particular) that come with Vista but the manufacturers don't provide XP drivers.
posted by mrg at 9:31 PM on January 23, 2008

I'm a Windows user, and can heartily recommend a Macbook or a Lenovo Thinkpad at the $2000 price range. Any machine in that range will also run Vista just fine -- never mind the skeptics, it's a completely fine operating system. OS X on Macs is also an excellent OS, too, of course.
posted by anildash at 10:01 PM on January 23, 2008

Don't set your budget then buy the laptop with features to that budget; set your features and find one that's reliable with a good warranty and fits within the budget.

For that kind of money, you'd have to work hard to hit the limit anyway...and at the same time, having to last five years is a bit of a stretch for any computer anywhere unless you don't mind not being cutting edge.

Based on my own experience with laptops, and the benefits of being as flexible as possible, I'd recommend a MacBook Pro plus a Windows XP License and a copy of Parallels. Depending on your needs at any given time, you'll be able to run Windows apps when you need 'em, or even throw out OSx and run Windows or Linux natively. That, plus Macs handle sleep mode and other laptop-specific power saving/status stuff much more gracefully than a PC laptop.
posted by davejay at 10:27 PM on January 23, 2008

Most manufacturers had to drink the Kool-Aid, but that doesn't mean you can't install XP or XP 64-bit on your laptop afterwards.

Unless it's an HP laptop with features that they've only written Vista drivers for, like the built-in webcam. I'm sure there are other manufacturers who've done this as well. So do your research on downgrading support before you plunk down the cash.
posted by davejay at 10:28 PM on January 23, 2008

I am a "switcher". Now I've moved to Mac, I couldn't bring myself to go back to Windows. So I'm going to agree with those who say you should get a MacBook.

If it's for word processing, browsing, and movie watching, there's no need to get a Pro.

And for those tasks, there's no reason to spend your whole budget on the machine, either. Use some of the spare cash to buy a decent bag, software (like the Office suite), maybe a bluetooth mouse, that kind of thing.
posted by robcorr at 10:39 PM on January 23, 2008

Oh, and if you must spend more money, you'll want to max out the RAM before you do anything else.
posted by robcorr at 10:41 PM on January 23, 2008

I'm going to nth Mac recommendation as I own a macbook pro I love dearly, and Apple machines are the gold standard in terms of pretty. However, it's the only laptop I've ever owned, and I'm sure you could get a more powerful machine for the same amount of money. But OSX is a great operating system, and the overall quality of the machine is wonderful. It's really the little things that make the laptop shine, like the Magsafe adapter, the battery meter which simply but clearly shows how much charge you have without turning on or removing the battery, and the little feet on the bottom that cannot be removed for love or money. Plus, the aluminum case gives it a real solid feel, and probably shields the components quite a bit, too, and a motion detector stops the hard drive if the machine suddenly moves, as when dropped or thrown (!). I think it could probably handle a few drops or so (I don't want to find out, but I feel confident) and the fact that it backs up to an external hard drive every hour in addition to that really makes me feel comfortable using my laptop and taking it out with me.

I'd recommend getting a copy of Windows XP with the machine (I tried Vista, didn't like it, downgraded) and then using boot camp to install it. I mostly use XP for games, as pretty much all the software but games that I use works on OSX. Speaking of which, if you aren't into gaming/video editing, or anything else that takes a lot of resources or a video card, look into a regular MacBook. It's a lot cheaper, and gives you room to buy a warranty, Office, and any other accessories you might want (Hint: Get a portable USB hub! Apple laptops have 2 USB ports, which gets to be annoying if you have more than a couple devices you hook up to at home. A Time Capsule is a good deal, too, if you're also in the market for an external drive (Which you should get for Time Machine) and/or a N router).
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:17 PM on January 23, 2008

PS: I recommend you buy and install your own RAM for the MacBook if you think 1 GB isn't enough (I think it's okay for most things). It's also easy to install your own hard drive on a MacBook (not a MacBook pro, though) and a whole lot cheaper than getting the upgrade from Apple. Assuming you don't want the extra .2 gigahertz (Probably unnoticeable in the tasks you describe) a DVD burner (just a CD/RW + DVD reader), you could go for the cheapest MacBook, pop in those two upgrades, and have one just like the machine next up the ladder but for over $100 less. These are simple upgrades that are well documented by both Mac enthusiasts and Apple alike and can be done in under 30 minutes (Plus the time it takes to copy over the files onto the new hard drive, but that's a task you don't need to linger over).
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:23 PM on January 23, 2008

PPS: When you're buying those parts from the site of your choice (I like, get a copy of Windows XP OEM. It'll be $120ish rather than $250 at the office store. Plus, those parts should get you around any license details when it comes to buying OEM software. You could also just get the laptop along with the copy of OSX from Newegg and skip the upgrades, since they also sell Apple laptops.
posted by mccarty.tim at 11:28 PM on January 23, 2008

The MacBook Air is Sexy.

I would get an Air with AppleCare and never look back.

Having to look at that thing every day when I connect to the internets is such a tease.
posted by clearly at 1:21 AM on January 24, 2008

While the MacBook Air is awfully cool and very interesting from a design and packaging standpoint I don't think it would be a good choice for the OP, given that it's even less upgradable than most laptops. Plus it's a brand new model and from what I've seen of Apple's new product releases I wouldn't want to be essentially a beta-tester while they iron out the kinks like, say, overheating. And the reports I've read, and I've read a lot, keep saying it'll be someone's secondary computer. Something I'll want to wait to see how people are actually using them because my laptop is my primary computer.

So, for the Apple side, I think a regular MacBook would suit the OP just fine. But there are other good computers, like Thinkpads, out there.
posted by 6550 at 8:22 AM on January 24, 2008

I just bought a MacBook Pro, and was given an education discount of $200 even though I haven't even registered for the classes I start in February. Sometimes it helps to go into the store as the discount allowed me to feel better about upgrading to the 2.4 GHz. I was a hardcore Windows user until this week, and so far and I can't possibly imagine going back.
posted by anthropoid at 11:01 PM on January 30, 2008

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