Is there a super-stripped down laptop I can find for cheap?
August 23, 2004 5:45 AM   Subscribe

I'm thinking about purchasing my first laptop. All I want it to do is allow me to check email on the road, and maybe play DVDs. Is there a super-stripped down model I can get on the cheap? Should I buy something used? How much "fat" can I cut and still have a machine that will last a few years?
posted by JoanArkham to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
Walmart has just announced a $600 (USD) laptop. It's pretty basic but does include wireless. You probably won't find cheaper than that new (maybe Dell on sale).

If you go used, I'd only get a fairly reputable namebrand: IBM or Toshiba. The IBM T20 (21, 22, 23) series are excellent and should be fairly affordable. You may need to upgrade the drives to play DVDs on older models. You alos will probably want to buy a wireless add-in card if you buy used, so be sure to figure upgrades into your prices.
posted by bonehead at 6:08 AM on August 23, 2004

Check out RetroBox - they occasionally have good deals on barebones used laptops
posted by annathea at 6:33 AM on August 23, 2004

This previous AskMe thread and a very knowledgeable sales manager at a local office supply store of all places helped me decide on a Averatec last month. So far I'm very pleased with it but I did have to upgrade the software. During my search I found out there seem to be a lot of "deals" on the outgoing models to make room for newer technology models. Just tell your sales person what you are looking for along with your price range and they might just come up with something from the back room.
posted by oh posey at 6:46 AM on August 23, 2004

How long it will last depends mainly on the warranty you get with it, because all laptops can and do go wrong - and they tend to be prohibitively pricey to fix unless it's just something like a hard disk dying.

Are you sure all you want to do with it is check email and watch DVDs..? Since I've had a laptop I've grown to loath having to sit at a desk to use a computer so my other machine gets very little use now. (Just thowing that in for something to think about.)
posted by cell at 6:57 AM on August 23, 2004

Go used.

Do the Craigslist or eBay thing, and budget yourself about $400. Most likely you won't get anything with longevity (with some exceptions: Thinkpads tend to last forever) but at least your investment will be minimal when it turns out you have to throw the thing away in a year or two.

If you really do want some longevity, you'll be spending more on the order of $800 and up. Well built machines tend to cost more and retain more of their value over time -- go figure!
posted by majick at 7:08 AM on August 23, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice, guys. I may very well buy used.

*musing* What I wish I could buy is one of those portable DVD players that would also let me do email...maybe for $400?
posted by JoanArkham at 7:22 AM on August 23, 2004

If you already use a cell phone, you could replace it with one that does email and buy a portable DVD player. I haven't priced portable DVD players, but if you're new to T-Mobile, you can get steep rebates on Sidekicks (which do email, AIM, and Web browsing). And if traveling is really the focus, well, I travel a lot with my laptop; a portable DVD player would be a LOT more convenient to carry, and email on the road did not become convenient until I got the Sidekick. (Of course, now it's way too convenient, but that's a different issue.)
posted by caitlinb at 7:35 AM on August 23, 2004

Introducing the SX-64 Executive...
posted by inksyndicate at 7:50 AM on August 23, 2004

A decent resource is CDW's Outlet. Like any outlet, the available merchandise varies, but I've seen some really great deals on there.
posted by JollyWanker at 9:05 AM on August 23, 2004

Response by poster: Oooh, 23 pounds! Just think of how buff I'd get! ;)
posted by JoanArkham at 9:53 AM on August 23, 2004

On my second used IBM Thinkpad from ebay. Can't recommend it for your stated needs enough.
IBM has a particularly useful website to get support, repair instructions and drivers.
posted by dong_resin at 9:56 AM on August 23, 2004

The cheaper it is the heavier it will be.

If you have a strong back and enjoyed carrying your textbooks as a youth, you can still find sub $999 models that will fit the bill. Usually, we're talking in the 10 lbs range. Just imagine carrying half a sack of potatoes around with you all day and decide if that's worth it.

Otherwise, yeah, go used.
posted by shepd at 10:08 AM on August 23, 2004

If you want to make a switch (since it sounds like you're looking at Windows laptops), why not a refurbished iBook?

They go for around $950 for the cheapest G4 version, and sometimes you can find previous models for less. I've seen the previous version go for as low as $675.

Go to and click on the "Special deals" section about 3/4 down the page.
posted by tomierna at 10:34 AM on August 23, 2004

whatever you do, if you go used, start by checking the manufacturer's website. find out how hard it is to get support (updated drivers, BIOS, manuals, etc.) for the older machines. trying to use standard drivers on a laptop can cause problems - you'll need the ones made for your machine if you want to avoid system crashes. if the company makes it hard to find updates, or (worse) doesn't offer anything for machines less than a year or so old, i'd go elsewhere.

secondly, talk to people who do support or repairs for laptops for a living. ask how often specific brands/models need to be brought in for service. IT guys or systems support folk for private companies are a good start - they won't always know what brand to buy, but they generally know which brands to avoid!
posted by caution live frogs at 11:10 AM on August 23, 2004

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