Laptop Shopping Question Oddities
February 24, 2008 6:23 PM   Subscribe

I am looking to buy my first ever laptop. What I would like to know are the following oddities that I haven't gotten much info on yet: 1) Is there typically a time of year when companies all roll out there new systems? And I might be able to take advantage of sales on new systems, or on year old systems? 2) It doesn't seem like Bluetooth is available on very many midrange systems based on my initial scans, do I really need Bluetooth or just want it (for cell phone interaction now, other components in the future perhaps). 3) Are Intel processors really that much better than AMD, or is the extra money to spend on them not the best value? 4) If all I am concerned about is speed, does Vista really slow a new system down a whole lot to be concerned?

(I have been borrowing a friend's from his business after I lost my desktop, but he needs it back for IT to update on yearly schedule, and is 4 states away, so time to bite the bullet and buy my own). I am not here really to ask which is the best laptop for me, I am familiar with specs that I would like to get such as 1.6-2.0 GHz processor, 1 GB ram, 100+GB hard drive, etc (I likely will fluctuate with these based on prices, am looking to spend around $1,000). But these 4 questions have been bugging me.
posted by franklen to Computers & Internet (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
 
Regarding 2), don't worry about bluetooth as you can get a cheap USB adaptor for $10

Regarding 3) I have a Turion in my laptop. It was an unwise choice. Intel is better at the moment.

posted by sien at 6:39 PM on February 24, 2008


4) If all I am concerned about is speed, does Vista really slow a new system down a whole lot to be concerned?

Yes, and it guzzles battery life like no other. XP Pro is still better than Vista for laptops. If you really want Vista, make sure you have at least 2GB RAM.
posted by pravit at 6:45 PM on February 24, 2008


1) Only Apple does that predictably. For Windows laptops, it's better to look around for deals. Look around on Newegg, TigerDirect, Froogle, Dealnews, etc.

4) Vista is going to crawl with 1GB RAM. RAM is cheap. Get at least 2GB.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 6:49 PM on February 24, 2008


I'm running Vista with 2GB RAM, and everything is quite zippy. But Vista definitely doesn't work well with less than 2GB RAM, so go for it.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:52 PM on February 24, 2008


Here's my number one biggest suggestion:

Do not buy any laptop available at Best Buy or Circuit City.

These machines are designed for the consumer market and usually have poor quality and reliability. YMMV!

That said, there are some companies that do sell to the consumer market (HP, for example), that ALSO has a corporate line as well. Dell, HP, Lenovo, etc all have decent machines if you stick to the CORPORATE models.

In answer to your explicit questions:

1. No, there is not any one time of the year that new systems come out.
2. I would be surprised if a modern machine for $1000 wouldn't come with Bluetooth. But, as a previous poster pointed out, you can get USB bluetooth modules.
3. Intel/AMD-- I dunno. Intel's Core2 Duos are pretty nice.
4. If you are concerned about speed, stay away from Vista, certainly.
posted by gregvr at 6:54 PM on February 24, 2008


Definitely agree with gregvr. People complain all the time about how shoddy Dell laptops are, but I've had a Latitude(the business line) for the past four years that I've treated awfully and it still works fine. Fujitsu is another good name to look at for dependable laptops.
posted by pravit at 7:03 PM on February 24, 2008


Do not buy any laptop available at Best Buy or Circuit City.

Contrary to this, I would argue that the big box stores often have to clear out old stock that hasn't sold well. It's not unusual to find there, every few months, laptops for $400-$500 that only a couple of months earlier were selling for ~$1000, but now a newer chipset has emerged that obsoletes their stock in marketing terms. FatWallet or Slick Deals are good for this sort of thing. A mid-range laptop that costs you $1,500 now will be around $800 in 6 months, and will be on clearance for $400-$500 in a year. Apple's laptops are an exception to this, because it tends to refresh its laptops less frequently and so they lose less value incrementally, but rather in large drops punctuated by long periods of market price stability.

Intel is currently beginning a rollout of a whole new refresh of its CPU line called "Penryn" that will be put significant price pressure on existing laptops in the channel based on the older "Merom" chips.
posted by meehawl at 7:11 PM on February 24, 2008


1) Intel is rolling out its Montevina platform later this year, though it's still a few months away.
2) I don't see Bluetooth on a whole lot of pre-configured consumer systems. I really like Bluetooth because it free up ports (you can pick up a USB mouse, etc), and saved me from having use Motorola's software to sync music and photos between my cell phone and laptop. Also, I can now use my Bluetooth headset with Skype.
3) It seems like Intel-based laptops cost more. Dunno if they perform noticeably better.
4) I just got a new laptop running Vista and I don't see major speed issues. In fact, many of my programs launch much more quickly than they did in XP. Then again, this may just be because I am running a lot of RAM and my new machine is faster overall.

As a starting point, let me just say that I just picked up a Thinkpad T61 for ~$1000. It has one of the newly released Intel Penryn processors, a 160GB 7200RPM hard drive, Bluetooth, fingerprint reader, and a WXGA+ screen. It's running Vista so I upgraded the RAM myself to 4GB (definitely don't run Vista with less than 2GB).
posted by roomwithaview at 7:22 PM on February 24, 2008


Oh yeah, Notebook Review is a good place to check user reviews.
posted by meehawl at 7:26 PM on February 24, 2008


2) I will never buy another laptop without built-in Bluetooth; it's just too convenient. My mouse is Bluetooth and my phone is Bluetooth (upload pictures, sync, etc, easily). Yes, I know dongles are cheap. But it feels cheap and looks cheap, having something sticking out the side/back.

4) The general trend is for operating systems to demand more from the hardware as time goes on. That also means they will run slower on older machines. If speed is all you're really concerned about then don't run Vista. Some time ago I came across a guy who'd installed Windows 3.1 on a fairly modern machine. Windows loaded in less time than the computer took to POST, though I doubt you'd want to run 3.1, despite the speed.

If you aren't tied to Windows there are a lot of Linux distributions out there, some optimized to run satisfactorily on old hardware. Which means they'll run really fast on current hardware.
posted by 6550 at 7:58 PM on February 24, 2008


1) Nope. The computer biz is 356 days a year. Lots of companies like Dell have perpetual deals. You can find them at sites like dealcatcher.com

2) Bluetooth is dying out. The industry is moving towards UWB-based protocols like "Wireless USB." Unless you have a need for bluetooth then skip it.

3) Nope, its all the same. By the same I mean performance differences of a couple of percentage points. For the value-minded customer AMD is a good choice. Just get a dual core chip and you'll be good. I use AMD and work and Intel at home and really havent noticed much difference. The intel chip is a bit faster at video encoding and perhaps adds a framerate or two to games, but it did cost more.

4. Vista is slower on older equipment. Its designed to be the OS for new computers today as well as new computers three to four years down the road. If you want to cover your bases then just request XP for the new machine. Dell still does this.

I got my brother a Dell Vostro 1500 for a little more than half of what your friend paid.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:20 PM on February 24, 2008


2) Bluetooth is dying out. The industry is moving towards UWB-based protocols like "Wireless USB." Unless you have a need for bluetooth then skip it.

That seems a bit premature if the OP has any interest in using wireless devices with laptop today like, say, a mouse.
posted by 6550 at 9:03 PM on February 24, 2008


I have a six month old mid-range Toshiba laptop running Vista. It has a fast Intel Core Duo chip and only 1 gb of ram, and is really fast. Loads so much quicker than my older machines (running XP or 2000), runs faster than the beefy XP machine I have at work, never hangs, is never slow, and I've never had a problem loading or running anything on it. I don't think this is due to Vista per se, just that it's a fast new computer and has performance to match. Vista certainly isn't slowing it down. The trick is that it's a laptop designed to run Vista with the specs to match. Assuming you buy the same thing I don't see why you'd have any speed issues.

I've noticed metafilter users hate Vista and will almost uniformly tell you not to bother. This goes strongly against my experience, and that of my software engineer boyfriend (who runs some really intensive applications on his work computers), so I thought I'd throw it in for contrast. The 2 gb upgrade is probably worth it if you're going to run big applications and is what my boyfriend uses at work, but so far I don't feel any need to increase mine.
posted by shelleycat at 9:08 PM on February 24, 2008


Another case with a Toshiba, 1 GB and Vista, and no complains here. I think for the kind of boring standard stuff I do with it (text processing, coding with research languages, browsing, some oldish games) the whole package works just fine. I have also noticed improving results regarding runaway apps and crashings that didn't bring the whole thing down after the small dialog of "finding a solution" blah blah. I would probably not do heavy graphic design on it, of course, heh. For a reference, I have an external HD from which I boot Ubuntu when I need to (though for now I mostly have it for learning and toying around), and it is a bit faster than Vista. The most visible case is Firefox, but the whole desktop glitter reacts slightly faster than the similar shiny stuff on Vista, so there you have it. I imagine I made happy both Vista and Linux warriors now. ;-)
posted by Iosephus at 11:59 PM on February 24, 2008


Vista wants braaaaaaains.
posted by flabdablet at 3:17 AM on February 25, 2008


One general thing to keep in mind is that laptops depreciate a lot faster than desktop or towers, in the sense that they get banged around, they get lost, they get stolen. That's the price you pay for mobility. Given that, you should consider a backup strategy, especially if this machine is going to be your sole machine. You can get by with manually backing up files to CD or such, but backup jobs that you have to think about running tend not to get done at the most inappropriate times. Look for a backup solution that runs automatically, that you have to do something to keep it from running. Examples of this would include JungleDisk and Carbonite. Yeah, backup is something everyone needs to keep in mind, but laptops get broken or lost so much more easily.

Oh, and look into encryption if you have sensitive files on the machine. TrueCrypt is one example. Yeah, I know, someone has come up with a novel attack against that sort of thing, but you don't want your average thief to also be able to see you stuff.
posted by chengjih at 3:21 AM on February 25, 2008


Before my current job, I spent about 5 years working for Hewlett Packard, primarily doing support for their corporate laptop line ("Omnibooks"). Although during that time i primarily worked on HP desktops/laptops, I also (personal time) worked on many non-HP laptops.

Here is what I noticed:

I definitely agree with what others have said here, that if you can, stay far away from any companies "consumer" line of laptops and buy a business model instead. Often times the business models are more expensive, but when you are talking about laptops, its an investment and it definitely makes sense. For something you are going to carry around everywhere, and depend on being reliable, paying less than $1000 is NOT a good idea.

I've been a Windows man for quite a long time, however I just picked up my first Apple Macbook Pro (15inch) and I have to give it a hearty recommendation for the following reasons:

1.) built with solid quality materials ( I treat it gently because I value it and want it to last, but I dont worry about mistreating it because it just feels "solid".

2.) Certain aspects of the design are surprisingly well thought out. The Mag-Safe power adapter by itself should be a selling point. (I've lost track of how many customer laptops I've thrown away over the years because fixing a broken powerconnector hole would cost more than a new laptop)

3.) Bootcamp allows you to run both Mac AND Windows. 'nuff said. Awesome. Spectacular. You can learn/become familiar with both Mac and Windows and will find yourself becoming a much smarter computer user because of it.

Above everything else,..I just have to repeat: Dont go cheap!!, you'll regret it. A laptop is an investment you'll probably expect to last 5 years. Buy a nice one, and buy a nice quality bag and treat it as if you were carrying around a briefcase of $2000 (meaning = always use a surge protector, dont EVER let it out of your sight,etc)
posted by jmnugent at 4:44 AM on February 25, 2008


I also have a computer running Vista business with only 1GB of RAM (not a laptop, mind you), and it's probably actually one of the fastest computer startups that I've had, ever. I don't think it will slow down a new system, especially with one built with Vista in mind, which many are now.

And it has crashed/frozen less times than my Mac Mini has over the same time period.
posted by that girl at 6:00 AM on February 25, 2008


Regarding laptops and Vista: This is the one situation in which you are more likely going to run into problems with drivers if you decide to go with XP in the end. If you think you may dislike Vista*, make sure any laptop you get has XP drivers for all the hardware.

Agree with the suggestion to go for the maximum budgeted amount. With a laptop you can add a bigger hard drive or increase memory later, but you really can't do much else. Bluetooth is also a nice built-in if you can get it; check to be sure that your phone will work with it if you want to use it (My Nokia syncs fine, but I couldn't get my sister's Verizon phone to play nice with her new laptop as Verizon has decided to disable any common Bluetooth options except for hands-free).

(*Personally I don't see using Vista as a plus - Microsoft seems to have admitted that it's the new Windows Me and is planning a much reduced operating system targeted for release around 2009. The upcoming Windows 7 is supposed to be what they hoped Vista would be, until MS ran out of time and had to scrap a lot of planned improvements. Especially with XP SP3 out soon, XP has consistently proven to be faster than Vista, even on new hardware. YMMV.)
posted by caution live frogs at 6:26 AM on February 25, 2008


1) There is, but it is relative: A month after you buy one. Every time.

2) That's why it's good to buy from Dell or HP directly. You can specify what it comes with. Don't buy stuff from the retail places, it's all crap.

3) Yes, Intel processors are better. Or at least, Intel *chipsets* are better. In my experience as a computer fixin' guy, weirdness goes with non-Intel chipsets.

4) No experience here. One thing I do know is that Aero requires a good 3D video processor. So cheap or even midrange laptops aren't going to have the muscle for it. So XP might give you better bang for the buck. However, Vista is newer and presumably will be just as good or better than XP in a year or two of updates.

Advice: either go super cheap and replace every six months, or get a really nice machine with a really good warranty and treat it well. Get an internal Bluetooth dealie, or get a machine that you know you can upgrade later.

Anecdote: I bought a Dell Refurbished Latitude about 3.5 years ago with a three year warranty. Couldn't be happier with it.
posted by gjc at 6:54 AM on February 25, 2008


When do the macs go on sale?
posted by Juicylicious at 9:44 AM on February 25, 2008


1) While there isn't really a time of year when new hardware is released, there are certain times where you can find hardware (especially laptops) for cheap... Near the end of March, June, September, and December. These represent the "end of the quarter" for most hardware vendors, and there are frequently deep discounts and/or other incentives (free upgrades) in the last week to 10 days of each. Usually these deals are offered in the "Small business" divisions -- but individuals can certainly buy them, too.

The other one is Back-to-School season. Most incoming freshmen will arrive with a laptop, and the price-competition for the entry-level market is fierce in June (graduation gift?) and early August.
posted by toxic at 10:37 AM on February 25, 2008


New Macs don't go on sale. But lines get refreshed with new models and the older models go down a bit in price. This usually happens within a month or two of the major shows in February (MacWorld) and June (WWDC). At the same time that new models come out, old models get moved to the Refurbished section of the Apple Store which is a great place to get deals on machines that aren't top-of-the-line.
posted by junesix at 10:38 AM on February 25, 2008


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