Looking for a quiet laptop
March 15, 2008 3:14 PM   Subscribe

Suggestions for quiet, inexpensive (possibly used) laptops?

I'd like a laptop for working on papers and assignments. I won't be doing any processor-intensive work on it; I might run Windows, but Linux is just fine.

The main requirement really is that of noise: I generally work late at night and prefer a relatively quiet work environment. So the less fan noise or harddisk squeal the laptop produces, the better.

It needn't have wireless, a massive harddisk or fancy graphic abilities; as long as I can type and store my documents on a USB-stick, I'm fine. A smallish form-factor would be much appreciated as well, but isn't particularly necessary.

Are there any laptops out there (eBay?) with these specifications, for less than $300?
posted by ar0n to Computers & Internet (13 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
You can get an iBook (white models, 500-700 Mhz) for less than 300$ on eBay. If you it use just for typing texts, it'll very quiet (I have a 700 Mhz and I only find it annoying when the fan starts, and that requires some intensive processing such as audio or image softwares). Just make sure you don't get a model with defective backlight.
posted by ddaavviidd at 3:22 PM on March 15, 2008

Reconditioned Thinkpads on eBay (X2* series-ish) fit your budget and form factor. They're not silent, but they're pretty quiet, and the keyboards are excellent.
posted by holgate at 3:31 PM on March 15, 2008

Since you mentioned Linux as a possiblity, what about an eeePC? It would be new, costs around 400 and I believe it runs on solid-state hdd, so it should be very quiet. Check the eeeuser forums.
posted by tcv at 3:35 PM on March 15, 2008

Check out Dell's Vostro line. New ones are $499 and I've seen them @ 399 on sale, and will have some kind of warranty. The extra $100 might be worth it for a new machine. For example, a machine with a dead battery will cost you nearly that much to get going.

I would be vary wary of buying a used laptop. They are too expensive to fix and you don't know how they were treated.

But I would try to buy from either a reseller who is dumping machines that came off of lease, or an individual with actual photos who seems to not be an equipment abuser.
posted by gjc at 3:35 PM on March 15, 2008

How about the Asus Eee? The 2G version is $300.
posted by Class Goat at 3:37 PM on March 15, 2008

If what you want is solely writing, not web browsing, there's another alternative that might appeal to you - check out AlphaSmart's Neo. (notes on their other model, the Dana, below).

I've had a Neo for several years now, and it's ideal for paperwriting, and meets your other criteria. It can save up to 200 pages of text total in 8 pre-designated file spaces. There's no fan (the entire thing is flash memory), and the keyboard is incredibly quiet: I've used it to take notes in classes/discussions/etc. and had people not notice I was typing until they looked at me. The real winner is the battery life: somewhere around 700 hours, depending on typing speed. (And yes, I really do mean seven hundred.) No heat, small size, makes it easy to write anywhere.

Transfer of files can be done by USB cable and basic software (speedier!), or if you end up somewhere not on your own computer, you can get it to dump the text into any word processor/email program/etc. You can't do footnotes on it, but what I've done is either save the footnotes in another file, or put them in parenthetically in my text, and then go through and format them properly when I format the file for printing/submission.

The Neo was originally designed for school classroom use: the Dana is the business/professional edition. It has less battery life, a bigger screen, but more software options, and wireless capability, and runs Palm software.
posted by modernhypatia at 3:43 PM on March 15, 2008

I'd go a used iBook or an EeePC
posted by singingfish at 5:05 PM on March 15, 2008

IBM Z50. I got mine on ebay for $50 a couple of years ago. Compact flash storage, built in OS and apps (Word etc,) no fan or harddrive or anything.
posted by neustile at 6:01 PM on March 15, 2008

Dell C400, $100-$200 on eBay, 3.5 lbs. They are wonderfully sturdy(magnesium case) and highly configurable, I've been using one for 6+ years. This model was such a hit with corporate users that Dell produced it for 3 years basically unchanged, so parts are plentiful as well. If you outfit a 1.2GHz model with 1GB of RAM and a 7200RPM hard drive you would never know this is 6 year old technology. A nice feature if you can find it (and the main reason I still use it) is the "super-big" battery where you can go completely wireless and cord-free for around 5 hours while on the internet.
posted by Rafaelloello at 7:07 PM on March 15, 2008

Seconding the AlphaSmart Neo, if writing's your main concern. If you're considering the Dana, I'd suggest the 16MB model rather than the 8MB model; the extra memory brings with it a number of tweaks which make the 16MB model much more enjoyable to use.

As for the EeePC: I wouldn't recommend it. The screen is SMALL. Good enough for an hour or two of continued usage, but if you're going to be working at night for extended periods, the smaller-than-full-sized keyboard and 7" screen will make you feel really claustrophobic. (I own an Eee, but only as a laptop I lug to libraries and lectures. It's great for those purposes, but not as a primary workstation.)
posted by WalterMitty at 7:16 PM on March 15, 2008

I bought my mom one of the $399 Dell Vostros mentioned above, and it's been very well received. Dual CPU, Win XP, 1 GB RAM, 15" screen (flat finish, not glossy. Far better for text in my opinion), ~120 GB drive space, DVD writer, and all the other usual thingamajigs. I upgraded the battery, pushing it just over 400.

It's got plenty of USB ports, and it's very quiet so long as you stick to office apps and non-video web stuff. If you're running full screen HD videos, it'll turn on the fan and start to get louder. I'm not sure, but it may test the fan at full speed for a moment while turning on. Not sure about that, but it certainly doesn't last longer than a couple seconds.

The screen is not high end, but very well suited to text tasks. I've watched Netflix vids on it, and it's good enough for that, but that may be pushing it on color vibrance and refresh rates.

Dell's Vostro line is distinguished by NOT having all the add-on crap that Dell normally piles onto their systems. No trialware nagging at you, no dozens of mystery processes eating CPU time for tasks you never asked your computer to do...
posted by NortonDC at 7:30 PM on March 15, 2008

I bought an HP laptop (P3 1ghz, 17" 1400x1050 screen, 256MB RAM) for ~$130 (shipped) on ebay a few months ago. I did swap out the noisy old HDD, however (new 2.5" drives start at around ~$40). Battery's dead, so there's a ~9ft tether to the wall. Perfectly adequate (doesn't feel sluggish) for web-surfing and PDF reading. Windows XP resumes from standby in about 12 seconds. Doesn't really like to display Flash (ie, youtube) video fullscreen (a consequence of dated video hardware and high resolution LCD). The cooling fan only becomes noticeable when the processor's stressed, which doesn't often happen during my usage..

I feel like I got a bargain - much cheaper than any eReader, eeePC, or entry-level notebook - but if you can swing $400 you'll get a heck of a lot more..
posted by unmake at 12:33 AM on March 16, 2008

Any semi modern (Pentium M and up, not sure about AMD mobile chips) notebook can be quiet if you manually control cpu throttling. I have trouble getting ACPI to work in Linux for my particular notebook, but using SpeedswitchXP on Windows I can keep my 1.7GHz Pentium M locked at 600Mhz. Automatic thermal management (aka insanely loud fan) will take over if I stress out the CPU or GPU too much, but that happens basically never when just web browsing or using a word processor. So if you can find a clunker with at least that, flip out the hard drive for a new quiet one and you should be good to go.
posted by tracert at 1:15 AM on March 16, 2008

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