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Ask Slashdot: How To Shop For a Laptop?

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the compare-and-contrast dept.

Portables 732

jakooistra writes "My sister recently asked me for a laptop recommendation. I said, 'Sure, what are techie brothers for,' and diligently started my search for her perfect laptop. Two days later, I feel like I've aged two years. Every laptop vendor seems to want to sell a dozen different, poorly-differentiated models, with no real way of finding out what is customizable without following each model to its own customization page. And there are so many vendors! How am I, as a consumer, supposed to find what I need? Is there a website, hiding somewhere I just can't find, that tracks all the multivariate versions and upgrade choices in an easily searchable database?"jakooistra adds a few criteria, in case you have specific laptop suggestions: "It needs a good CPU, but we almost don't care about the GPU (HD 3000 graphics are acceptable). A model that doesn't get very hot would be nice. We'd like an SSD and an internal optical drive. A 15"-17" screen at 1366x768 or higher would be ideal. Budget is around $1,500, but could go up to $2,000 if it's really worth it."

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mac (1, Insightful)

easyEmu (977903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123923)

get a mac

Re:mac (4, Insightful)

MankyD (567984) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123979)

I will say, the one thing Mac has done well is avoiding the exact problem the OP describes. They basically have 2 laptops, with a few different monitor sizes. The specs can vary slightly, but not so much as to make a real difference.

Re:mac (1, Insightful)

easyEmu (977903) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123999)

Configuration Price $1,999 * 2.2GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7 * 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM — 2x2GB * 128GB Solid State Drive * SuperDrive 8x (DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW) * MacBook Pro 15-inch Glossy Widescreen Display * Backlit Keyboard (English) & User's Guide * Accessory Kit

Re:mac (5, Insightful)

sl4shd0rk (755837) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124301)

Mac has done well is avoiding the exact problem the OP describes

That's a typical misconception. Apple puts together a very pretty package and basically dictates what you will run, how you will run it, what you can do with it, and where you can do it. There are a whole new set of problems with mac, and if you are quite limited as to what you can do software-wise. You will still have software problems. You still have viruses. You still have software problems with upgrades. People still need to search some forum from time-to-time to figure out how to fix some strange new issue. Ever try and build something from Ports only to have it *not* friggin work when you upgrade? Yeah, same issues. It's not a perfect world that everyone seems to imply. Don't get me wrong, Apple has gone to great lengths to make the use experienced top-notch, but it still has it's problems just like Windows, Linux and FreeBSD. I get really tired of people making it out to be some trouble-free system when it's not.

Re:mac (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124323)

Considering that the Mac will run all of your Windows and Linux software alongside Mac stuff, I fail to see how you can say it's limited software-wise.

Re:mac (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124365)

It's a lot of trouble to customize a mac if that's the route you want to go. But for most people, it's easy. While the specs may seem dysmal on paper, the OS is optimized to those hardware - for example, the BIOS takes about 10-15 seconds to boot the machine from a cold start. Windows? It's at least 70 seconds, but its BIOS is checking all the hardware all the time in case due to legacy and the fact that there are thousands of different parts that are interchangeable.

I'm a linux/ win user, but I always recommend a Mac for those who just want a computer that works. A tinkerer will fare better with a win; and a coder/ sys admin with a *nix machine. But if you want to climb the corporate ladder, get a mac and use terminal.

It's sad but your tools matter as much as your suit.

Re:mac (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124001)

get a mac

Should be, get a mac and shut the fuck up.

Re:mac (5, Insightful)

bughunter (10093) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124091)

get a mac

It sounds trite, but there is a kernel of wisdom there. Buy a Macbook Pro if you can afford it.

If you have the budget, you'll get what you pay for. It has the only extended warranty for any electronic gadget that Consumer Reports recommends. It will run any OS you like. It will last for 5 to 10 years depending on your needs (games vs web/email, respectively). You can spend a similar amount and get a comparable or slightly better hardware package from Dell/Alienware, but it won't come with the warranty, OS options, elegance or robustness that Macbook Pros are famous for.

This suggestion will start a flame war. You're going to hear from fanatics from both sides. However, I manage a mix of computers for both a small business and a household with several power users, and I have learned firsthand the strengths and weakness of both camps.

Windows' strengths are in gaming and technical/engineering applications. If you want access to the most games, or need to run CAD/FEA applications, then you should buy a Windows desktop machine. Not a laptop, but one that you can upgrade piecemeal as your needs evolve. Build your own, or arrange to have one built for you, and you can get a spectacular set of hardware specs for a very low price.

However, if you want a casual use or business laptop, then Apple's MBPs are the best available, even if you intend to run Windows exclusively. The extra money you spend will eventually pay off in 1) time saved in building it, and 2) the time saved in maintaining it. The 2.2 GHz 15-inch models offer the best price/performance ratio if your budget is constrained. Otherwise, I recommend buying the 17-inch 2.5GHz quad-core i7 - it will last the longest before you need to purchase a replacement.

Re:mac (3, Interesting)

DWMorse (1816016) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124271)

Her price range ($1,500 - $2,000) and level of technical aptitude (or lack thereof) makes her a perfect Apple candidate. This is my recommendation too.

If she ever just -has- to run Windows, make sure to get the 256GB SSD in it, so you've got room for two healthy sized partitions.

He could just ask... (2)

BrokenHalo (565198) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124341)

Since the OP is supposedly looking for a machine for his sister, he should start there and ask what she wants it to do. In all likelihood, she will never want to customise it, so he should be looking at the simplest or most reliable way of fitting the tool to the job. Sure, there might be issues like bulk or styling to take into account, but again that needs her input. Enough with the patronising.

Re:mac (4, Informative)

Dr Max (1696200) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124361)

Your comment sure makes it sound like you wont get a good computer unless you put down 2 grand on an apple. Personally I would recommend lenovo, the thinkpad series is tough, customisable, good support, good warranty, good specs, and a much more tolerable price. For example the new thinkpad edge e530 with the new 3rd generation intel ivybrdige cpu i7-3612QM (22 freaking nm), 2gb nvidia graphics card, up to 16gb of ram, 15.6 inch screen at 1600x900, optical drive, win 7 64 bit, all for only $899 of the australian lenovo site (strangely i couldn't see a ssd option which they almost always do, but the op could set that up himself for $250). It's more than capable of whatever gets thrown at it and you have 1100 dollars left.

Business only! (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40123941)

Do not buy a consumer laptop, make sure you shop around in the Business/Small Business areas of leading manufacturers (HP, Lenovo, Dell).

Re:Business only! (3, Insightful)

Dan East (318230) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124037)

Do not buy a consumer laptop, make sure you shop around in the Business/Small Business areas of leading manufacturers (HP, Lenovo, Dell).

That's funny, because in a recent Slashdot discussion about laptops the exact opposite was recommended - business grade laptops are typically priced higher for essentially the same hardware you get in the "consumer" grade.

Re:Business only! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124181)

Because you are paying for a longer warranty, the manufacturers aren't stupid, they put better parts and have higher QC in the machines with longer warranties.

Re:Business only! (3, Insightful)

bhtooefr (649901) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124187)

And the comment you linked to runs contrary to my experience.

The real business grade laptops - not just from a manufacturer's business line, but the ones that are considered high-end - tend to be built from more durable materials, tend to be designed for easier service, tend to be documented better, and tend to have better support.

Workstation-class, and one step down as far as position in the model range (which often shares hardware with the workstation class, but often with a dual-core and either integrated graphics or a low-end GPU), tend to count as those.

Re:Business only! (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124085)

Have you looked at the prices for business grade laptops from HP? They start at like $1400. Mind you this was just an i5, 1366 x 768 screen and a standard mechanical hard drive. Nothing fancy like SSD or a 17 inch screen and a dedicated GPU.

Re:Business only! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124235)

Where are you looking??? I just went to the HP business site and the cheapest EliteBook is $879usd!!! (with a 3 year warranty, and no slouch either!).

Re:Business only! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124089)

I would recommend a Lenovo ThinkPad first, then an HP EliteBook.

Everybody is somewhat right. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124123)

You wouldn't take two days if she is going to run OSX. I am running Linux by the way, but am assuming that she intends to run Windows.

1) Go to a website like Tigerdirect or Newegg.
2) Start with all laptops and filter on the left by screen size (17" for my purposes).
3) Using benchmarks and prices, pick a CPU (At the moment, Intel is on top of this list: )
4) Do the same with video cards. Note that some Nvidia GPU's have an overheating problem and Intel graphics downright stink. (
5) Look up problems and issues with each remaining model on Google.
6) Consider other specs with your sister.
7) After going through all of the filters, sort by price. Use for comparison if you narrow it down to a few.
8) Let your sister choose from the remaining list.

Re:Business only! (2)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124133)

More precisely, pick a MODEL which people who support FLEETS of business machines consider high quality.

I'm sure someone current on that can chime in.

Re:Business only! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124315)

Don't buy from a company with confusing lines between 'consumer' (gimmicky), 'small business' (cheap), and business (overpriced).

Buy from a company that has 'Pro' (features) or 'Air' (lightweight).

Just go to (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40123943)

Pick MacBook Pro or MacBook Air, then pick a size. Done.

Re:Just go to (3, Insightful)

jo42 (227475) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124289)

That's one thing that all of the other 'tarded manufacturers just cannot get right. Low profit margins? Make more models! Model not selling well? Make more permutations and combinations of the model! Still not selling? Slap on (even) more stickers, make the keyboard glow, add all sorts of other shinny eye candy and faggy arsed shite stuff to it.

Pink one. (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40123947)

Get a pink one. She'll be happy.

Re:Pink one. (2)

hedronist (233240) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124195)

You must know my sister! She went on for 45 minutes about what she did and did not want, but then said it just *had* to be available in pink! I was thinking of getting her a cheapo Toshiba and can of spray paint.

Re:Pink one. (1)

hazem (472289) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124277)

I think it was some Dell laptops I saw last year that had changeable lids. I don't know if they still sell them.

Re:Pink one. (1)

aaronb1138 (2035478) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124363)

I would actually check with a few auto body & paint shops. I bet you could find one that would do it under $50 with a nice clear coat and finish.

You could actually check into finding vinyl wrap as well. That would be easier and non-warranty voiding.

Re:Pink one. (2)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124199)

There are laptop comparison websites around ... the one I like best is [] but of course it depends on your location. Try searching for "laptop comparison" if you want such a meta-search for products.

Re:Pink one. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124217)

If I did that to my wife I would worry about waking up dead...

Easy (-1)

mholve (1101) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123963)

Walk into Apple store. Pick size. Done. :)

operating system? (1)

contrapunctus (907549) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123965)

does the operating system matter? (or is it just assumed that you want windows)

Get a Mac (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40123977)

Just get a Macbook.

Seriously. They make nice enough laptops and are within your price range while having crappy enough specs (compared to a non-Apple at the same price) to meet your requirements :)

Re:Get a Mac (4, Informative)

peragrin (659227) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124155)

No matter what you get max out the RAM to whatever the system Max is everytging else willlast her five years. But software always chews up more ram than it should

Narrow down by size/weight first (2)

MrEricSir (398214) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123983)

Since you're buying a laptop, presumably you want to be able to carry it around. If you plan to do a lot of traveling on foot, you'll want a lighter laptop than someone who drives most of the time. Keep in mind that larger laptops tend offer more performance at a smaller price.

Once you've nailed down the physical dimensions you're looking for, you can try to maximize the price/performance ratio from there.

Acer (2, Insightful)

tiffany352 (2485630) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123991)

If you plan on running that isn't OEM Windows or want it to last for more than a year, DO NOT GET AN ACER. I thought that, maybe, they used extremely shoddy parts and had bad ACPI support for only the cheap models. I was wrong. I've had this laptop for about a month and the fan is already dying on me... Next month it'll be the usb ports, like my sister's and cousin's laptops..

Step 2: Walk into a store (4, Insightful)

QuasiSteve (2042606) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123993)

Step 1 is to figure out what your absolute demands are so as to narrow your choice already. This includes budgeting, what you'll be using the thing for, etc. Sounds like you've already done this.

Step 2: Walk into a store.
No, seriously. It's all good and well to spec out a machine on the web and then say "this one's perfect!". But then you get it and... the casing feels weird, the way the keyboard types makes you cringe, the glossy screen you thought would be nice and sharp is really just reflecting the bright windows behind you when you sit at your desk, the backslash is situated next to the shift key, the audio quality can be called poor at best and while you intend to use headphones most of the time it's really just not acceptable, and whenever you glance at something else, you can't help but notice some weird fuzzy...moving..jittery.. things on the screen that you can't quite see when you look straight at it but you swear they're there (and they are - hello, temporal dithering - load up the LCD test webpage if possible if you care about the screen).

So go to a store and test the machines in person. THEN go back to the internet to find the best deal / customization options if you really want.. or, if you've pretty much found the one you want, get it at the store (yeah, you could save some bucks - but the store did provide you the service of allowing a hands-on.. might as well reward them, within reason).

Your budget is pretty high for a computer that doesn't need to have much graphical prowess, by the way.

Re:Step 2: Walk into a store (4, Informative)

MrQuacker (1938262) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124115)

Fuckery like that is so few stores sell laptops/electronics anymore.

Re:Step 2: Walk into a store (1)

Xel (84370) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124129)

So you're the one who's killing Best Buy!

Don't buy a laptop (0, Offtopic)

BenoitRen (998927) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123995)

My recommendation is not to buy a laptop. They're designed to break easily and repairing one will cost you a small fortune. At which point you may as well buy a new one, and the cycle repeats. Quality just isn't a factor.

Cheapest (1, Insightful)

mynamestolen (2566945) | more than 2 years ago | (#40123997)

Buy the cheapest because stores are selling them off because they won't run that bloated expensive legacy operating system. Then wipe out the said operating system as you load Linux.

Re:Cheapest (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124179)

Personally, I prefer to wipe the installed drive before loading my preferred OS.

13" MacBook Air (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124003)

Subject says it all! It's a great system, extremely fast for regular day-to-day things, especially web surfing. Plenty of fast for just about everything else.

Re:13" MacBook Air (3, Informative)

Xel (84370) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124149)

Doesn't have the internal optical drive, but its coming in under budget so they probably wouldn't mind buying an external. Don't know about the screen, though. It's the resolution of a 15", but its physically 13". It is cool, it has an SSD, the performance is great, and its a fabulous machine. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.

Find the requirements first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124007)

In my experience, the number of viable options is actually quite small once you've decided on the requirements. So my recommendation is not to shop for "the best I can get for X money", but to shop for "the least expensive laptop which satisfies my requirements".

So what does she need? Big display? Light weight? Long battery lifetime? Fast graphics? Optical drive? Silent? Robust? Numpad? ... If she doesn't know the answers, see what she's going to use it for and derive the technical requirements from that.

Re:Find the requirements first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124247)

Oh well, I missed the requirements that weren't listed on the frontpage. Anyway:

"A 15"-17" screen at 1366x768 or higher would be ideal. Budget is around $1,500, but could go up to $2,000 if it's really worth it."

That's not how you should do it. You need to decide on the display size and the resolution. These two parameters decide what the thing can reasonably be used for. You also need to make your mind up about glossy or non-glossy. Find the requirements first. This is not a pair of shoes where she goes "oh, cute" and buys more next month.

Yep (1)

PlusFiveTroll (754249) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124011)

Dell XPS has the features your looking for, just got an I7, 256GB SSD, and 17" screen for around $1300 or so. And no the manufactures websites are tangled messes of models with no easy way to compare features between different classes of laptops, it's even better when price differ wildly between models with almost the exact same features.

Apple does make it easier by giving you far fewer choices in a case like this (unless they don't have what you want).

Recommendation (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124013)

MacBook Air.

Lenovo (2, Insightful)

stlava (1736430) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124015)

Get her a Lenovo business laptop. Yes, they are a little bit pricey but you get what you pay for.

Re:Lenovo (2)

couchslug (175151) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124157)

Check the Thinkpad forums and Notebook Review to find out if there are any models with problems.

I like my T61 (with 8GB RAM and 500GB hard disk added later) but I checked before buying and got the Intel graphics chip to avoid video problems.

Re:Lenovo (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124265)

Macbooks are OK; if you really want MacOS, get one. Otherwise look at Thinkpads. They are extremely reliable and in the off-chance something fails after warranty ( only seen this on one out of dozens of thinkpads ) they are surprisingly easy to repair; full service manuals are available from Lenovo and the construction, while compact, leaves adequate room to work.

I recently bought a used X200 (ultraportable) that was dropped from a height of 6 feet onto concrete; the only damage was to the lower housing, which is made of durable and flammable magnesium. Rather than a dent or component damage, a small chunk of the housing broke off. The darn thing still worked perfectly but a replacement housing was $30 on ebay, so I bought one and rebuilt the computer myself in about an hour ( and I am not good with a screwdriver ).

The next day, I left it on my front porch and the neighbor's 8 year old kid ( he had to weigh at least 30 kilos / 60 lbs ) stood on it and jumped up and down on it for 30 seconds trying to reach something. Not a scratch, dent, or crack. One of the rubber feet was squished to the point of losing adhesion and there were some footprints on the lid but the foot re-attached and the foorprints wiped off cleanly. Oh, and when I opened the lid afterwards, it woke up from ACPI suspend without a complaint.

I doubt I will buy any other brand of laptop for at least 10 years. By the way, you may find a friend or family member ( online through your favorite search engine ) who can get you a code and URL to get lenovo friends and family pricing, which often approaches 50% off 'sticker' price. Before such discounts, they do tend to cost more than macbooks.

It's quick and simple really. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124019)

Go to the nearest Apple store, ask for latest Macbook Pro, carry on getting work done, the end.

Re:It's quick and simple really. (1)

bmacs27 (1314285) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124029)

I was going to say "decide between an Air and a Pro, purchase, done."

$299.00 (5, Interesting)

F34nor (321515) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124023)

Lenvo B575 with a AMD APU. Does everything I want, cheap enough to throw it out the window if it doesn't.

Mac (1)

nastav (2611511) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124025)

With a budget as handsome as $1500-$2000, I don't see why you can't stick to Apple laptops, even if you want to run Windows. On the other hand, if your budget were lower - say, under $750 - you'd have to inconvenience yourself with all sorts of research about brands, models, configuration options, warranties, consumer reports, deal websites and coupons, friends with EPP rebates etc. It doesn't sound like the OP is on a tight budget though.

768p screen is usually bad (4, Informative)

a_ghostwheel (699776) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124033)

1) If Apple is OK - do consider them. Quality wise not many other notebooks will come close. 2) I suggest looking at screen first and foremost. Vast majority of notebooks have rather bad 768p TN panels. If you will limit your choice to at least 1600x900 or above (assuming 15") choice will become easier since you will look only at few models. And it is still doable within your price range if you stay away from Sony.

Strange (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124035)

I'm trying to figure out how he's the "techie" of the family if he doesn't know how to purchase a laptop.... I'm also curious why any laptop for normal use would cost over $1,500. That seems a bit excessive.

In any case, I highly recommend New Egg ( It allows for easy searching based on a variety of preferences and it makes comparison shopping easy and it gives detailed specs. When in doubt, get a cheap one. You could buy three or four reasonable laptops for the budget alloted to this venture.

Re:Strange (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124061)

Well, he did know about Slashdot, so that says something.

Re:Strange (1)

JoeRobe (207552) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124219)

Wow you're the first person in this whole comments section to actually respond to the poster's question. Everyone else is so excited to tell the person what the best laptop is, they dont realize that the poster wants to know how to compare laptops, not which one to buy. I agree, newegg is the best place to go to make comparisons, especially for individual parts, but also for full systems.

For Linux users ZaReason and System76 (3, Interesting)

gQuigs (913879) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124051)

both have nice websites with the obvious base choices for you being: []
Stock at $849
with a 160GB SSD comes to $1,148

and for me the winner would be: []
3rd Generation Intel Core i7-3610QM Processor
Stock at $899
With 180 GB SSD comes $1178

Btw, for what you are asking for, your budget seems high actually :).

Re:For Linux users ZaReason and System76 (1)

gQuigs (913879) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124075)

I forgot to mention ZaReason also has a sale page, with some great steals sometimes, they occasionally put laptops there as well.. []

My only actual experience with one of the above vendors is ZaReason and it was a desktop (my current desktop working very nicely still).

how to choose a laptop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124053)

Have you searched for advice on YouTube... These guys (not from the brands) do a good job too, e.g. this one [] !

It's a Lenovo Thinkpad/Apple decision. (5, Insightful)

sethstorm (512897) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124057)

Select between Lenovo(Thinkpad) and Apple refurbished, then drill down to whatever models fit the criteria. Then do a favor for them and get them to have the longest warranty obtainable. For Lenovo, this would be 5-year(?, maximum may be 4) onsite service. For Apple, whatever Applecare does is going to have to do.

Either company has some thin and stylish laptops in that price range. Lenovo just happens to make them more maintenance friendly.

Oh yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124063)

If you know swedish or at least are capable of guessing what stuff like "grafik-RAM, 2 GB" means.

Re:Oh yes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124079)

Click on "Fler sökkriterier" to get the full list of search options.

Wait til the fall (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124067)

New tablet/laptop hybrids will be out with screen resolutions above 1366 x 768 with great DPI. Perhaps Retina resolution grade?

  Basically the screen part pops out for a 17 in tablet and you can plug it back in. Dell and HP will sell them with Windows 7 as well as Windows 8, assuming it is a repeat of Vista. My father got his PC when Vista came out and Dell had a version with XP still and he jumped on it. Or just wipe them with Windows 7 as SP 1 supports Secure Boot and EFI as well.

With that out of the way the very first thing I do is type "The lazy brown fox jumped over the fence" to test the keyboard and my accuracy. I do typing a lot when I was in school and I assume most people primarily use their computers for that. The keyboard is very important. Then buy them online after trying the models at hte local BestBuy or Fries.

Buy a Macbook Pro, even for Windows/Linux (4, Informative)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124069)

Honestly, for $1500 the Macbook Pro or MBA will suit you very well, even if you don't intend to run OS X. The machines are well built and come with a decent warranty and will last for a long time. They also have pretty high resale value.

If you want to run Windows or Linux then dual booting is a snap (you can blow away the OS X partition completely if you like).

If you do go this route though, I advise that you wait until after Apple's WWDC keynote on June 11th - the strong likelihood is that the 2012 versions of the Macbook Pro and Macbook Air will be announced, so even if you want a current 2011 one, if you wait you can either get a new one for the same price, or a 2011 for a discount.

Re:Buy a Macbook Pro, even for Windows/Linux (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124231)

Overly expensive hardware is expensive.. Macs have about the same hardware in them as some other computer have, for half the price.

Re:Buy a Macbook Pro, even for Windows/Linux (4, Insightful)

jo_ham (604554) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124263)

Does that "same" hardware also include the case and screen? That's one (not the only) reason they cost more.

How much for a Windows laptop with an all-metal case? Or at the very least, one that equally as rugged as the Macbook Pro (although I guess if it's plastic it's going to be bigger and bulkier to get the same ruggedness, but we can let that pass).

I never understood why buying a computer had to be a race for the bottom. Then people end up complaining about how crappy their computer is.

Microsoft Store (2)

nastav (2611511) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124073)

If you want to get a quick lay of the land, visit a Microsoft Store if you are able to locate one nearby. Despite the popular antipathy on /. towards M$, the stores stock a very good representative sample of consumer laptops that are functional, powerful, aesthetically slick (what little of that exists in the Windows world), and a good value for money. There are popular consumer electronics stores like Fry's, Best Buy etc., but last I was inside one of those, I didn't get a sense that their selections did anything to reduce the numerical size of almost indistinguishable and hard-to-compare choices.

Re:Microsoft Store (1)

Billly Gates (198444) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124117)

Another thing that is a plus if you buy them from the Microsoft Store is no Crapware. IT comes with Windows Signature edition with high resolution backgrounds from Bing and MSE built inside it.

Even with decrapifier my own Asus from BestBuy is not as fast or responsive than when I put a fresh OEM edition of Windows 7 on it. This is true even after going in the Registry and deleting all the references to trend micro. That crapware damages the Windows installation.

Re:Microsoft Store (1)

Junta (36770) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124369)

I suggest office depot/officemax. At least in my neck of the woods they carried some of the higher end laptops that best buy didn't bother with. Also the obvious suggestion of an Apple store. MS store might work, but there isn't one within 250 miles of me so I wouldn't know.

First, pick your brand. (1)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124095)

Really, the biggest difference between laptops is the brand. Typically, more expensive laptops are better built laptops.

Dells tend to break after a year. HP's, 6 months if you do anything other than leave them in one spot on your desk, a year otherwise.

Lenovo's are basically rebranded IBMs, and are typically decently constructed. I've had good luck with Fujitsu as well, but only for their tablet notebooks (higher end).

Mac's are higher priced, and higher end, but are also built well.

Once you've figured out what brand you are buying, then the rest should be easier.

You can go with a desktop type processor (AMD Phenom/Intel I5) or a more mobile oriented processor (AMD Turion/Intel Atom), with the tradeoff being that typically higher power CPUs make your battery life short. On the higher power processor side, you can usually shop around for a discrete graphics card model, which would allow you some limited videogame playing.

From there, the options are usually HDD speeds and sizes (7200 RPM being fast, but power hungry, 5400 RPM being slow, but good battery life, and SSD being fast, good battery life, but small in space), screen size ( > size == > bulk/weight), and RAM/memory (less practicality for more RAM, and laptop RAM is usually much higher priced per GB).

So it depends on what you want to do.

If you intend to use it mostly on travel, pick one with a mobile style processor, a moderately sized SSD (maybe 32GB-64GB, with Linux, 128GB+ with Windows 7), and a smaller screen size/lighter weight.

If you intend to use it mostly as a desktop replacement, pick one with a good processor (Phenom/I5/I7), a nice sized 7200 RPM HDD (300+GB), a discrete graphics card, and a large screen.

And of course, one that fits your budget (which you should probably increase).

I hope that helps a little bit in explaining the options.

Controversial suggestion (0)

nine-times (778537) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124103)

I know a lot of people are going to jump down my throat for saying this, but I'd suggest considering a Macbook Pro. It seems to fit in your criteria, and they're very well built. They run Windows and Linux pretty much as well as other laptops, but then you also have the option of OSX.

Failing that, my suggestion is to really narrow your criteria based on your physical needs. Decide what you want out of a keyboard/mouse (e.g. do you care if it has a button pointer in addition to the trackpad), screen size and resolution, the total weight of the laptop, disk drives, expansion ports, etc. Don't worry so much about the computer being "powerful enough", because if you don't know which laptops are powerful enough, then any decent laptop today will be powerful enough. Focus instead on whether the physical aspects of the laptop will make it easy to work, like is it easy to type on the keyboard and is the screen comfortable to look at.

Aside from that, I'd stick with major brands, probably HP or Dell or Lenovo, and I'd stick to their professional level laptops (e.g. Dell Latitude, not Inspiron). The professional stuff is usually better quality, even if the specs look the same. Get a 3 year warranty. If you get down to the point of saying, "I want a 15" Latitude with an SSD and optical drive," then you'll only have a couple models on their site to compare.

I know, lots of people on this site are probably going to say, "Apple is stupid," or "HP or Dell will rip you off, but I bought a laptop from CyberAwesomeDeluxe that was $300 and had 24GB or RAM!" Ok, fine. Take that into consideration, but you'll usually get better quality and support if you buy a major brand.

Re:Controversial suggestion (1)

Junta (36770) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124333)

I think it is *key* to try to find a way to actually physically evaluate whatever you narrow it down to. For mobile computing, form factor, weight, balance, rigidity, and other factors are best assessed first-hand.

Why all the modding down on Macs? (0)

787style (816008) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124109)

There was no reason he shouldn't consider them, especially with his price range. The fact she doesn't even want to shop for the laptop means she less interested in the purchase than he is. The MacBook is good at most of what 80% of the population wants to do - browse the web, check email, and manage their music.

Re:Why all the modding down on Macs? (1)

Junta (36770) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124311)

A tad redundant. Tons of comments saying pretty much the exact same words without additional insight gets a tad old. Besides, unless submitter lives under a rock, they certainly already know about those offerings as Apple is *very* aggressive and savvy about their marketing. Many of the other options do not acheive the same awareness as Apple.

For me, without a pointer device on the home row, it's a non-starter. Therefore mac is off the table, even if it weren't 15-20% more expenisve than comparable quality Lenovo/HP laptops. Before you say the Macs are higher quality, they aren't. They are significantly better build quality than the Lenovo/HP products that are half the price of the Macbooks with comparable specs, but I'm talking about the higher end competitor model lines. The only thing you get is OSX, which actually isn't particularly anything special. Users unsatisfied with Windows in terms of UI flexibility or general architecture would probably be best served by Linux. Those unsatisfied with relative lack of commercial software in Linux would be best served by Windows.

Commodity Item (1)

rueger (210566) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124119)

We're at the point where any laptop on the market will do 99% of what she's likely to need. Unless she has some REALLY specialized needs, anything on the shelf will run the software she wants just fine.

Take her to a store a good selection and let her choose from what's available. If it feels shoddy, skip it. Otherwise any name brand laptop will likely keep her happy.

Probably the only thing I would add is to look at maxing out the RAM - never a bad thing. And, as suggested, lighter is better. For that matter, smaller screen size = less wight and more portability.

Estimate budget and deside what you want and need (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124131)

First you must decide how much money are you willing to spend. If you can't afford more than 1000$ forget about MACs.
Second which tasks will your sister performing? For casual web serfing, office document processing and music/DVD playback you don't really need a powerful system. If she is going to use it in a more professional way you should have a better CPU and more RAM. If she is going to play games then you will also have to consider a good graphic chip.
Third: Portability. Your sister is a woman and therefore she should avoid a 17" laptop because they it forbiddingly heavy for her to carry. If she plans to use the laptop as a desktop replacement and she needs more desktop space, then she should also buy an external monitor.

Personally I am using the following:

Company 14" laptop i5/4G Ram + office 19" monitor for work. I am also frequently required to work remotely.
Personal 17" laptop, i7/8G Ram for Web surfing, Skype, Virtualization and Gaming
Personal Tablet as ultraportable for vacation, web surfing, Ebook reader etc

Why a laptop? (1)

Stormwatch (703920) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124135)

At least for me, the ideal setup is a badass desktop for srs bsns + a cheapo netbook or tablet for when you need the mobility. It will probably cost less than a good laptop.

Re:Why a laptop? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124249)

because not everyone has your needs or share your social status. You're very functional, and there's nothing wrong with that. But there are others who care more about user friendliness and aesthetics (will it go with my couch?).

I'm a linux/ win fan, but I always suggest a mac for my family members who are less enthusiastic about computers than me. For one, I don't have to deal with tech support as much and lose my own productivity.

OP: get your sis a macbook air. It's incredibly thin, only one in its class with aluminum body for hardiness, it's light, uses SSD, and it's sleek in design. OSX is just a joy to use. I'm often typing up reports on my mac but do serious coding/ graphics on my pc. I can see why writers prefer macs.

Consumer Laptops are disposible (1)

maxbash (1350115) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124143)

If you want reliability, I would recommend a Panasonic Toughbook. I first hand know they have very few electronic failures (2 out of about 500) and can take lots of physical abuse too. The cheap consumer laptops often die within 3 years because they try to save $2 by not sourcing decent capacitors on the motherboards. Even if you replace the motherboard your self it is still $250 or more from the manufacturer. Those models often all have motherboard issues on Ebay too. Then it is at lest $100 in labor to hire someone smart and patient enough to do a good job. At lest I think you should charge $100 to $150 if one is good at laptop motherboard replacement. I repaired a DC plug once, but never a motherboard because the estimate is always too much. The customer will just buy another disposable laptop.

Expected Usage Matters Most (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124159)

> How am I, as a consumer, supposed to find what I need
You figure out that first (and readjust as your learn more and more about the options), then look only for those types of laptops. Why is your sister getting a laptop. What will she be using it for? You determine those requirements before you even think about system specs.

As for your posted requirements:
Good CPU - meaningless by itself. Is the fastest CPU the best or slower with multiple cores better? How about power usage? How and where the laptop will be used helps determine this.
Doesn't get hot - So a quiet, lower powered CPU and graphics or one with a cooling system that sounds like an airplane?
SSD - any laptop could use an SSD, just swap out the HDD. HDD/SSD and memory prices are normally extremely overpriced from computer dealers. Buy the cheapest options then buy what you actually wanted from a standard tech store. Sell your original ones online or keep them as backups. This will save you $$$.
Internal optical drive - Fine requirement, but are you 100% sure that's what you want? Those laptops tend to be thicker and heavier. Would a small external USB powered optical drive work?
Screen - does outside viewing matter? Glossy or not? Non-glossy will help reduce your options. Does viewing angle matter (for most people I'd say no)?
Budget - includes warranty? Double check that any battery warranty doesn't actually cost more than a battery. Take into account that the battery will lower in cost over time.

If she's a college student, I'd recommend going with a Tablet PC (writing [not typing] notes on your laptop is way, way better than taking notes on paper). That requirement will drastically reduce your choices. I use a Lenovo x220 tablet. I liked the x61 tablet better (d-pad for scrolling in tablet view, not wide screen, indented USB ports so the micro mouse receiver didn't stick out), but the screen was damaged after 5-6 years of happy usage and I had to buy a new one.

MacBook (1)

djb (19374) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124171)

A Mac is the easy choice, you can run whatever OS you like on it. They are the best built laptop out there, so will last longer and even a 3 or 4 year old one has a good resale value, so cheaper in the long run. To get an even better deal check the Apple refurb store.

Why do you need a DVD drive? They are just dead weight to carry around. With full screen apps in OS X Lion I now find the 11 inch screen more useful than my 27 inch iMac. If it's a machine to carry around a lot then consider size and weight over everything else.

Lastly wait a couple of weeks, lots of new models are due soon.

Why so much? (1)

second_coming (2014346) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124175)

$1500-$2000 for a non gaming laptop is completely overpriced. For an average non techie user (Facebook, email and browsing) you shouldn't need to spend more than $600-$700.

Lenovo website - NSFL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124185)

I went to the Lenovo website once. What a disaster. First, there are seemingly thousands of models, with trivial or no apparent differences, but sometimes huge differences in price. Sometimes the specs are just broken, e.g. the laptop has X GB of memory, you click on a link for more info, and it has Y GB of memory. There are many different ways of searching for laptops, all built with wildly inconsistent UI technology, and many of them don't work. One was particularly bad: you answer about 30 questions, rating, prioritizing, estimating (performance for watching videos is 87% important to me), and then you get what is basically a random collection of a few hundred laptops to wade through.

For a company reputed to build good laptops, I was surprised by the website. It was, by far, the worse e-commerce website I have ever seen.

Other posters have it exactly right -- no matter what you think of the Mac vs. PC debate, there is no question that they have the online shopping experience absolutely right.

I hope you're buying the laptop she needs (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124189)

... and not the one that you would buy yourself.

What will she use it for? How long? What data will she have on it? What are her primary apps? Trackpad or Trackpoint or mouse? Very mobile or mostly used in one spot (argument for cheap desktop PC + more mobile laptop/netbook). Is there an urgent need? Is there a budget? How are her eyes? How's the lighting in her house (glare, matte screens, etc). How many USB devices does she want to plug in?

1366x768 on a 15" $1500 laptop? (5, Interesting)

gman003 (1693318) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124205)

Holy crap, that's a horrible idea.

I almost bought an Asus G55. Fifteen inch screen, full 1920x1080 resolution, and just around $1500. Only reason I didn't end up buying it was because I was mislead by the pre-order page to believe that it had two hard drive bays as well as the optical drive bay. Apparently Asus removed that feature without notifying resellers, because I got an email weeks later telling me the machine I'd configured was impossible - I got upgraded to the larger G75 instead.

Now, that particular machine would be terrible for light office/home use. But I've used 1366x768 screens - they are *terrible*, and when you're spending a grand and a half on a laptop, they're completely underspec.

Try to get at least a 1600x900 screen. Seriously. That's just about the most important advice I can give you.

Re:1366x768 on a 15" $1500 laptop? (1)

djb (19374) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124273)

1366x768 is great on my MBA 11, so long as you use full screen apps in OS X Lion. I even prefer it now to my iMac 27 with it's 2560x1440 screen.

Guide to greener electronics (1)

ornel (810244) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124211)

If you care for such things use Greenpeace's Guide to Greener Electronics [] to help you sort through the manufacturers. Even if you don't agree with their methods it is a good point of reference

Tech support not laptop specs! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124245)

You are approaching the problem the wrong way! Laptop are basic commodities!

Assuming you will not be around to help her all the time, who will fix it? Call the tech support number for the laptop you are considering and see how well they respond. Then find a laptop that sell in the price range you want. There is such a small difference in manufacturing at price levels that all you really are paying for is the tech support.

Might rethink the specs (2)

Junta (36770) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124251)

Notably you should try to find a way to actually touch and hold your choice. Particularly your relative may not realize what a 17" laptop would mean for portability.

After having a few laptops ranging from 12 to 17 inches over time, I've found 14" to be what I feel to be a good compromise. 1600x900 display at least. When reasonable, I use an external 22" monitor at 1920x1200, but I wouldn't want to drag aronud the requisite bulk and weight of a 17" laptop again...

All brands come from the same few factories,,, (1)

magarity (164372) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124259)

,,, so the most cost effective way to get a quality laptop is to buy a factory brand. Just search for Clevo and/or Compal which are the factories' house brands. RJ Tech is one reseller where you can get them.

If we're asking about laptops... (1)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124269)

I'm also looking for one. Does anyone have any suggestions for a 12/13" laptop that can withstand some knocks and falls? I haven't found one that isn't designed for taking on the Dakar trip and therefore cost $2000+.

Get a Mac. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124293)

"It needs a good CPU, but we almost don't care about the GPU (HD 3000 graphics are acceptable). A model that doesn't get very hot would be nice. We'd like an SSD and an internal optical drive. A 15"-17" screen at 1366x768 or higher would be ideal. Budget is around $1,500, but could go up to $2,000 if it's really worth it."

Get a 15" MacBook Pro [] :

2.2GHz Quad-core Intel Core i7
AMD Radeon HD 6750M graphics processor with 512MB of GDDR5 memory
Slot-loading 8x DVD±R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW
15" 1440x900 screen

$1999 (with the SSD). Really worth it.

(Alternatively, get a 13" [] . 'Only' 1280x800, not quite as beefy video chip, but only $1399.)

Not another one... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124299)

I second the persons who said:
- Walk into a store and check it out.
- Max screen resolution of 768p is bad idea.

I bought my laptop online and typing on the keyboard and clicking the touchpad button is a LOUD nightmare. So get a feel for it before dishing out your hard earned cash.

My advice:
- Buy a brand with at least 2 years warranty. The DVD-BRAY-RW is bound to break after a year of heavy use, so the warranty will come in handy.
- Laptops are terrible at graphics and number crunching NO MATTER HOW MUCH MONEY YOU PUT IN IT.
- SSD drive will more than make up for the sluggishness (Windows) laptops develop over time. Use an external hard-drive for the rest (docs, movies, music..).
- Max out the RAM (8, 12, 16?) and get a decent Core i7.
- Lightweight, Glossy Widescreen (FHD (full HD), TruBrite, TFT LED Backlit).
- Latest version of Bluetooth, USB 3.0 (with ability to re-charge your mobile), Wireless N. - If you still want a good GPU for Hello Kitty Island Adventure... the rule of thumb with nVidia is "GT" stands for shit and "GTX" is what you want.

Do what I did (1)

tdelaney (458893) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124331)

Do what I did - realise old laptop is no longer up to the job; notice Aldi has a laptop on special the next week at AU$600 with suitable specs (in particular, 8GB RAM); figure "I can return it for any reason within 60 days so might as well see if it's suitable"; grab the third of four available at the store; get it home; realise it has a matte screen; go "Woohoo!".

A couple of days later (following a fair bit of tweaking) I had a new work laptop that I'm very happy with.

If NOT going for the MacBook... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#40124335) should prioritize the following:

Screen resolution/quality: There are some amazingly poor screens out there there days. For 15" and above accept nothing below Full HD(1920x1080) also, go to a store and look at the display yourself!

Keyboard: As with screens, there are some amazingly poor keyboards out there. Cheap keyboards feel like a sponge in certain areas, and make horrible squeaky sounds when used. If she's going to type a lot on it she needs to try the keyboard first.

I recentrly got a new laptop, ended up with a 16" Full HD Sony. The main reason I selected that particular model was the keyboard.

Also, if she will be carrying it around, check the size/weight of the power supply. I have run into some serious surprises in that department...

Shop by price point first. (1)

modmans2ndcoming (929661) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124357)

Before recommending a laptop, ask her how much she wants to spend. After you have that, it becomes a lot easier to discover what you can get. In laptops, I look for the longest battery life with a 15 inch screen. I picked up a decent Toshiba laptop for my wife for 300 dollars (after Thanksgiving). 15 Inch, LED back-lit screen, 4 gigs of memory, 250 gig HDD, and a duel core AMD chip. It was plenty of computer for her needs (web surfing and very basic productivity work).

If you can get an SSD in her price point, I would make that a priority due to the battery life and performance improvements you get.

Dell or Apple refurb (2)

SensitiveMale (155605) | more than 2 years ago | (#40124367)

no other choice. Save a ton of money and get great warranties

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