I can be laptop-less no longer

So I’m turning to you for advice, readers! I figured that would be the smart thing to do before accidentally buying a piece of crap. I basically want a laptop that is:

– Easily portable and lightweight, but not a netbook (absurdly tiny screens make me weep)
– Cheap enough that it won’t make a grad student cry
– Not a Mac (save the rants, I’m just not used to them)

Really, that’s all I care about. I’m basically going to be using it for internet and word processing, so it doesn’t have to be super fabulous – it’s not replacing my desktop. I want it for taking notes during class, doing homework or working on presentations while traveling, and being able to waste time on the internet somewhere other than my apartment. Need to abuse those Seattle coffee shops.

I appreciate all suggestions on what to investigate or avoid!


  1. ScottRS says

    Lenovo Thinkpad. Not exactly the cheapest things ever, but bullet-proof and superior support. Check their outlet for B-stock at lower prices.

  2. mahlersoboes says

    I have good experience with Dells, but I’ve heard good things about HP and Acer as well. All of them make more-than-adequate notebooks for < $500. I had a Toshiba that was total shit, but that was years ago.

  3. says

    If you have more programming in your future, especially in Python, I’d strongly recommend a Mac. I do software development for a living, and it’s so much easier on a Mac. Linux would be very acceptable for programming, too, but it’s less slick overall. Programming on Windows makes me weep.If cost is a serious determination, I’ve had good luck with HP laptops. (I have one at home (with Linux on it) that’s still going strong after six years.) From what I understand, HP sells their computers close to a loss since they make their profits on selling toner and ink for their printers.

  4. says

    I would recommend something along the lines of:http://www.newegg.com/Product/…Dells have some pretty decent products in terms of specs, though I have run into issues with their ruggedness (without going into the much higher range products). In general I’ve had excellent success with laptops from Lenovo as the bodies are very solid. The one I’ve been using has lasted nearly my entire college career of being lugged around campus with the only detriment of losing a rubber foot.Toshiba and Acer makes some cheap laptops as well, but they tend toward running hot and not having a great battery life (and several toshibas I’ve seen are very fragile).

  5. says

    If you’ve not got any special requirements (gaming, music, video production, etc), then it’s much of a muchness. They all seem to have multi-card readers now, modern CPUs will chew up any normal usage pattern. Two bits of advice I would give:You’ll probably want more memory than they come with, unless you buy top-of-the-range or only run one program at a time. Laptop memory upgrades really are cheap and easy to install, and don’t invalidate some warranties (I know an Acer of mine explicitly allowed it, although killing the laptop by installing badly isn’t covered). I’ve found 2GB a practical minimum these days, if you want to have multiple programs open.Seriously consider extended warranties; laptops are pretty fragile, generally, but also usually easily repairable – but only by people with the right equipment, training and documentation. Of course, if the warranty costs as much as the laptop, it’s not worth it.Oh, don’t pay extra for slightly better graphics hardware or anything like that; only play extra for things you really want. This might include a built-in webcam if that’s your thing, or a bigger hard drive if you’re going to lug big datasets on it.Anyway, I’m no expert, but that’s advice based on my experience.

  6. says

    I love my Mac and had no trouble getting used to it, but unless you’re really good at bargaining, it’s expensive to fix if it breaks. I’d go for the cheapest thing you can get with a good processor. Also check reviews online to make sure there’s nothing funky about the one you’re looking at – I had a Dell a while back that worked okay, but heated up so badly you could bake cookies next to it.

  7. says

    Luke, you just beat me to the punch, hah. I’m using an IdeaPad Y530 which is a “media-grade” laptop which doesn’t mean much, but works great in general as a laptop.

  8. says

    I bought a Sony Vaio from someone on craigslist five years ago when it was five years old. I still have it and it still works (he had recently replaced the battery, though)So my advice: check craigslist first!

  9. neapel says

    second that. some people think they are ugly (these people are right), but they just are the best non-mac laptops (and it’s remarkable how fast one gets used to that joystick)if you have way too much money, an X-series tablet would be something to consider, too (especially since you’re using windows, it’s really nice with handwriting. Linux, not at all, sadly)

  10. says

    I do have programming in my future, but simple programming. I prefer doing it on Windows just because that’s how I learned Python. I have to use a Mac in my lab and I rage every five minutes when I press the wrong hotkeys or can’t figure out some usually simple task :P

  11. says

    I was recently in a similar position to you. I already have a “power house” desktop, so I was just looking for something that would let me access the internet and take notes. I also was on a budget. I debated going the netbook route, but realized for not that much more I could get a “real” computer. Also, netbooks fail 20% more often. I’m also a PC gal and too lazy for Linux. Anyways, for what it’s worth, I’ll share what I did, and maybe it will prove useful. I bought a former display model at a local retailer (Office Depot). This store posts their clearance laptops. It’s a Toshiba Satelitte T235 – it’s the perfect size too -13.3″ screen and less than 4lbs (easy to tote). It doesn’t have a CD drive, but that doesn’t bother me. The price verdict: $440, which included a two-year protection plan. It would have been $400 without, so I didn’t mind rounding up for a little piece of mind. If the “toshiba” name scares you, I hear they have improved and now out-rank HP in success ratings. Also this laptop has some cool creature comfort features… nice key board, a mouse pad that doesn’t drive the shit out of me… and so on.

  12. says

    My grad school Dell was great for at home. You’ll need something with a long battery life to take notes during lectures. And then once I graduated, I starting playing games :)

  13. says

    We’ve had great luck with Asus as a brand. And you can get a fairly mid-grade Asus laptop for around 500 or 600 dollars. Gateway has come a long way from what it was at the beginning. And HP is always a safe bet, too. I’d stay away from Compaq, even though HP owns them; Emachine, though they are owned by Gateway; and Dell.Also, at the end of month Asus is releasing the Epad which will run on Android and come with a keyboard docking station. :3

  14. says

    I got a new laptop recently, and I’m quite happy with it. It’s considered a netbook, but it has a 12.1″ screen, and I barely notice the downgrade from my old 15.1″ notebook because the screen actually has a much higher resolution. It seems like it would be powerful enough for what you want it for, and it’s super light. I wrote up a fairly thorough review of it a few days after I got it if you want lots of details: http://lamenta3.disavian.net/2…Newegg has it for $350 right now (http://www.newegg.com/Product/…. It doesn’t come with Windows, so you’d have to install it yourself (or get someone to do it for you), but that saves you quite a bit of money on the computer itself.Some of the things I’ve noticed since I’ve written the review: – Asus’ driver support in 64-bit Windows 7 leaves something to be desired. Unless you plan on upgrading the RAM, just put 32-bit Windows on it. (I do kind of mention that in my review, but I waffled on it more initially than I do now.)- The multi-touch feature on the trackpad is more trouble than it’s worth.

  15. says

    I’ll second the recommendation against Acer, at least against the Aspire One that I have (and am writing this on right now). It’s great EXCEPT that the internet is slow as all get-out when it’s not plugged in to a power source, which basically defeats its purpose as a portable internetting device.

  16. Xorthon says

    11.6 inch monitor (really big for a netbook) http://www.amazon.com/Acer-Asp…Or you can go with: (yes Dells have gotten better) http://www.amazon.com/Dell-Ins…the netbook is 6lbs and the 15 incher is 9lbs. Browse these and varying inbetweens. Brands to avoid: Toshiba, Compaq/HP, & SONY Vaio (unless you like dealing with way too many software packages than you’ll ever care to use). The other brands will have installed packages but they suck less, stay more out of the way, and can more easily be removed or ignored with no interference to function. Sony vaios to tend to be cool but you might outgrow them quickly. Im your tech support leprechaun!! look around. send me links to things you think you like and I will give you my opinion. Alienware are gaming boxes but they are Dells and if you have the cash they are nice. I dont think thats what you want though. youre not going to be playing first person shooters, MMORPGeez, or RTS’s.

  17. says

    The extent of my programing ability is very basic HTML and it took all of about a half hour to get used to Ubuntu. It’s been over a year since I switched over my last computer and I don’t miss Windows one bit.If you’re going for cheap, buy a few years old laptop off Craigslist and put Linux on it. Nothing beats free software.

  18. Icaarus says

    Jen If portability and battery life are your main concerns, not games, then the Toshiba Terca R800 series is my suggestion. Pick the one that fits your budget and enjoy the benefits of a keybord beyond compare. It’s built for business, or in other words travel abuse.

  19. says

    Another Lenovo recommendation. If you’re not really big on having the latest and greatest features, you can buy a used and refurbished ThinkPad from IBM for relatively cheap: https://www-304.ibm.com/shop/a…The only downside of those particular models is that they come with Windows XP (As a student, I imagine you can get a pretty low priced copy of Windows 7 and Microsoft Office) and only ship with 80GB or 100GB hard disks. I bought a T61 with an 80GB HDD knowing that I had an extra 250GB hard drive lying around that I replaced it with immediately upon receipt. All in all I paid about $450 after the software upgrades; and I have to say I really like this little machine.

  20. says

    Have to put in my two cents here and caution against Dell for two reasons:1. My wife had a Dell laptop that gave her nothing but problems. We ended up replacing the battery, the power cord, and the RAM over the course of its life, and frankly, it added up. We have Dells at work as well, and well, they’re a *bit* more reliable. So to summarize, Dell = Trouble.2. Dell uses proprietary parts, meaning that if something goes, you have to replace it with a Dell part. Not an issue in and of itself, but really a dick thing to do to your customers. I bought Android to get around all of Apple’s restrictive nonsense, so you can see that this sort of thing is important to me; it needn’t be for you.I have an HP laptop that I’m pretty happy with. HP crams their machines full of proprietary software, but once you strip it out (easliy done, the internet is full of how-tos), they run cleanly and simply.Good luck with your search.

  21. Brian says

    If you don’t need much and have a desktop anyway, get the cheapest 14″ laptop that *doesn’t* have a Celeron processor that you can find. (I can’t believe they’re even still selling those.) 13” is lighter, but a lot of things (like embedded videos) seem geared toward larger screens.I like my current Dell and my old Thinkpad (from the IBM days); didn’t like my Compaq, but it did have the aforementioned Celeron.If you’re buying new, check sales at electronics and office supply stores in the area; they often sell laptops at little profit and try to make money through services and warranties, most of which you shouldn’t need. If you’re not really computer savvy (which I can’t tell from the info here) bring a friend who is so the salesperson can’t BS you into something unnecessary.

  22. Ana says

    My two-cents: if you want something to take notes during class, try spending a little more for a touchscreen laptop. A year ago I bought the 12 inch HP tx2 (I know, I know HP is terrible, don’t kill me!) and it was amazing for that purpose: just flip the screen, pick up the pen and voila! It’s really great specially because I’m a Chemistry major and it’s not exactly simple to draw organic molecules on Word. xDNow, I did have a lot of trouble with my computer (most of it because I’m a clumsy ass and it’s plastic, but also the batteries are the worst thing ever), but the new versions are I think on aluminium, and there are probably some other brands selling touchscreens (Toshiba ate leat, I think).

  23. Ian says

    A bit of advice:1. Ignore the stuff anyone says about brands unless they give you statistics. Brand love/hate is largely random, based on individual good/poor experiences.2. If you don’t need top of the line, you might look at your local retailer’s clearance section. Do a bit of research to see the characteristics of some of last year’s models, and see if you can find any on clearance. It’s a good way to save money. Honestly, there’s not a great performance difference between last year’s models and this year’s unless you’re buying really high-end stuff.3. You might try asking /r/hardware on reddit.4. My wife and I have both had good luck with versions of an older model of this: http://www.tigerdirect.com/app… It’s very light and small, but the screen is big enough to not be annoying The only issue is that the keyboard isn’t full-size. Good luck.

  24. Azkyroth says

    I’d suggest investigating refurbished laptops if price is a primary concern. My ex has had good luck with them, adjusting for how well she took care of them.

  25. says

    Stay away from sony, or at least the vaio computers they have. I just bought a new laptop almost a year ago, its the worst piece of shit and I hate it sooooo much. It has all kinds of crap you can’t uninstall and even when I contacted the support center they couldn’t help me get rid of it.I had a pretty decent run with a dell, lasted me 7 years.

  26. says

    If you have your own user account on the lab Macs, you can swap Control and Command, which makes most of the common keyboard shortcuts the same. Just open System Preferences and go to Keyboard and then Modifier Keys. Set Control to act like the Command key and Command to act like the Control key; that fixes New, Open, Save, Undo, Cut, Copy, Paste, Bold, Italic, Underline, and a bunch of other common shortcuts.(History lesson: Mac OS was the first operating system to use pull-down menus with keyboard shortcuts; they put a special Command key on their keyboard for the shortcuts, and chose letters that would be easy to remember. When Microsoft designed Windows, they used the same letters for many of those functions, but since PCs didn’t have a Command key, they switched them to Control. That’s why the Mac doesn’t use Control—switching would mess things up for their existing users.)If you want to go all-out, the Keyboard Shortcuts tab in the same part of System Preferences can be used to make things even more similar (for example, you could map Alt-F4 to Close), but that’d be a lot of work, so it’s probably not worth it if you don’t use the lab Macs all the time.Needless to say, if you did get a Mac laptop, you could do the same thing to preserve your muscle memory, but it only takes a couple weeks of full-time use to adjust to the Mac way. (The Mac shortcuts are also slightly more comfortable—for instance, Cmd-T for New Tab doesn’t require you to stretch your hand as awkwardly as Ctrl-T does. Those guys knew what they were doing when they designed the original Mac in 1984.)

  27. says

    I have an HP Pavilion. It’s a durable, practical computer; it does everything I need it to (as an undergrad with a web design, photoshop, and ebook habit), without a lot of extraneous nonsense. It also comes preloaded with Windows 7, so no need to learn a new thing. They come in a variety of sizes and designs, so you can get whatever you like. Battery lives are as advertised… my mom has a similar HP, and the warrenty replaced hers when it quit holding a charge. So, that’s my two cents: HP Pavilions all the way.

  28. Killer Turtle says

    I’d say my MacBook is the best laptop I’ve used. However, like you, I’m stubborn… and have it running Windows instead of OSX. Which confuses people, but who cares?! It’s battery life still beats everything else I’ve seen that isn’t a netbook, and the track pad is far and away the best in my opinion… As I say, I don’t get on with MacOS, but that’s easily solved by running Windows!I’ve had a Vaio, and had friends with Toshiba, Dell, Packard Bell… they’ve all ended up having something go wrong with them. My Vaio’s battery life, after about 6 months, was already down to 45 minutes maximum… defeats the point of a laptop, surely?

  29. says

    Apple mice since 2005 visually appear to have only one button, but they can distinguish between clicks on the left and right side, and turning right-click on takes one checkbox. Third-party mice with two buttons have been supported for at least a decade.Troll.

  30. says

    You have had lots of advice so far, but I will add my two cents as well.I have found Gateway to be significantly cheaper than other brands for the same hardware. I had a gateway that I was happy with, but after a a year and a half something in the motherboard went. They also have proprietary parts, so I have had a hard time getting it fixed for cheap. But it ran great!I replaced that with an HP which I am extremely happy with. Great hardware, for a reasonable price and it runs great. The keyboard was a bit different and took me a few weeks to get used to. My advice, with several different brands of laptops is that, they will all be decent (you can see that everyone has gotten lemons from different companies) so, once you find the hardware that you like for the price range you want, go into the store and compare the keyboard and touchpad on the different laptops to find one you like. Maybe you want a keyboard with a numberpad, like a desktop keyboard (GREAT if you have a lot of data entry to do!) Make sure the touch pad is located where you want (I think some have an offset touchpad) and that the buttons don’t drive you crazy. I looked at a Gateway that’s buttons moved the entire touch pad. Would have driven me crazy!Battery life is an important thing to consider, but you can add significant battery life by adjusting your power settings, and depends what you are doing. With my power settings adjusted for power savings I can get about 4 hours battery life with my laptop, if I am reading text. But if I am watching youtube videos and have the screen brightness way up, I might only get 2 hours. You will get great battery life with a Mac (it KILLS me to admit this) and you will find some PC’s that get great battery life, but it seems the average claimed battery life is around 3 hours.If price is your main issue, then you will be disappointed if you try and stick to brand loyalty. If you are going for a certain brand, you will probably end up paying a bit more.On warranties, I would say don’t go for it. In the long run, you will save money not buying warranties, but that is no consolation if you have to replace it. I bought a warranty with my most recently laptop, as I was paranoid after replacing an unwarranted laptop. If you do choose a warranty, I would recommend only choosing a 2 year one. After 2 years, the technology is sufficiently outdated that if it died you would be wanting to replace it anyways.

  31. says

    Seconding the comments from Hillary and Beyond Dimensions above: I have an Asus Eee (yes, that’s what it’s called). It’s technically a netbook, I suppose – it has a pretty small screen, although the small keyboard took a little more getting used to. Still, after a week or two of practice, I could type on it just as fast as I can on a desktop with a regular keyboard, and I’ve had it for three-plus years with no complaints.More importantly, it’s light and has great battery life, and since I pretty much only use it for web surfing and writing while I’m on the train or on vacation, it’s perfectly adequate for my needs. It’s also cheap, which you said was a consideration. The one thing I’d warn you about is that it doesn’t have a DVD drive. Since you can easily get a USB flash drive that’s several gigabytes nowadays, that’s never been a problem.

  32. Izzy Leonard says

    “Affordable” and “not a Mac” are redundant requirements. I am an A+ tech at Fry’s, so my advice is mostly what to avoid: HP & Fujitsu. These brands have ludicrous failure rates and terrible warranty service. Just don’t.Ignore the fools that are telling you to buy used. If they have anecdotes they are lucky fools, but fools none the less. Factory refurbished OTOH can get you a good deal with much lower risk.In general it is cheaper to buy an older model and immediatly max out the RAM than to buy a new model with that comes with a respectable amount.For size, buy the heaviest model you can comfortably carry. The big issue with laptop design is heat dissapation and the tiny ones are afected by this design limitation the most. They will have less battery life, but no laptop has good battery life so why worry about it. It is easy enough to plug it in most places. Claims about battery life on the side of the box are all lies.Most come with rediculous amounts of bloatware. I recomend doing a fresh windows install as soon as you get it. If you can’t find disks, at least run PCdecrapifier on it.You are probably already too savvy to fall for it, but don’t pay for anything that was preinstalled as a “free trial.” This includes Norton products and MS office. There are free alternatives that are actually superior on a laptop b/c they are less memory hungry. If you can afford something with an SSD that is big enough for you, get it. You won’t regret it. If you were planing to do a fresh windows install you can install it after market.I am local and would be happy to do any of the hardware installs for you under the board (note, this voids your manufacturer’s warranty, except for RAM in some cases), but I doubt you will take me up on it b/c you think I am a creepy e-stalker. Offer is there anyway.Oh yeah, don’t get an extended warranty or “service contract.” Ripp-offs.

  33. AutieZombieGirl says

    I have an Acer netbook that I use specifically for the uses you stated and love it! I will never go back to a big laptop again. However, I do have vast experience with laptops. Dells are crap and they’re customer service sucks. Have not had good luck with Toshibas either. Have had okay luck with HPs and Acers. I have and Acer netbook with the slightly bigger screen and bigger hard drive. It also helps that it’s purple which is my favourite colour. Whatever you decide, just find something that you are comfortable with that has the features you want. The only thing I truly miss on my netbook is the DVD player.

  34. Bob Smith says

    I object to Lenovo. I fix computers for a living, Lenovo drivers are fussier than most when you’re reinstalling or repairing an OS. When people ask me this question at work, I say, “Think of your laptop as disposable. Average laptop life is 2 years 8 months, but that counts stolen, dropped, cat-peed-on-it, and yes, customer stupidity. (I never mention that last to customers.) And it’s not the computer that’s important, it’s the data, so when you buy, also buy an external USB hard drive for backing up what really counts. (And don’t use the built in “backup” programs, each one has a proprietary compression, that you have to have access to to get your data back. Yes, the compression program is on the external HDD, but why add an extra step? Copy and paste your My Docs, Desktop, Favorites, and the All Users “Shared Docs, etc. an if your external drive spins I’ve a better than 90% of getting your stuff back.)Toshiba and Sony have a lot of bells and whistles that really aren’t needed and hamper the repair of a major problem. Dell has a good website for repairs and updates, but Michael Dell is a serious Rethuglican, contributed heavily to W’s campaign. OTOH, his personal views and cash are a sliver of Dell’s total cash flow. HP/Compaq are doing a lot better now that Fiorina’s gone, but they’ll never return to the “HP Way”. Still, the products are good, repairing them is relatively painless.My advice? Don’t buy the cheapest, don’t buy the most expensive, look for the most “vanilla” laptop you can find. And start with the student bookstore, back in the day hardware and software got great deals from manufacturers for students. If you don’t want to spring for Microsoft office, Google has “cloud” word processing and spreadsheets, maybe other stuff, and you worry less about back-ups because, supposedly, Google’s got your back. I’m an old guy, I still want my own backups that I can grab while running out of a burning house.

  35. vltava says

    The trackpad is nearly unusable on an ASUS when you would like to go mouseless, as you probably do, occasionally, it being a laptop and all. Also, on my ASUS, the backlit keyboard looked really cool in the store, but it turns out to make the keyboard absolute shit for anyone with decent typing skills, as you want to fly over the keys, but each one needs to be pressed really solidly, which either slows you down a ton, or leaves tons of errors which are not your fault but you must still go back and correct.

  36. says

    I hesitated to mention my HP pavillion which is 5 years old & has a 17 inch screen. They replaced the screen on a recall and also the motherboard becasue the broken hinge messed up the motherboard. Then that motherboard fried (might have been the beastly thunderstorm the night before the dying of the mobo, not the mobo itself) and I sent it out thru Geek squad. Otherwise, no problems, and the total extra cost to me has been $300 for the 2nd mobo. That big screen heats up the thing and slows down everything when I’m using the whole screen, but you’re looking for a small one so that’s irrelevant.I have all my important docs on an external HD which is how I can stay happy with old computers :-D I have Photoplus (cheap photo editor) and OpenOffice and AIM and that’s about it. Also, both have XP which is a little less ram-hungry.I’m with you on no-ubuntu. Some of my online pals wanted me to go that route but if I have trouble are they there to help? No. Because they’re ONLINE. I need something that 99% of the world knows, and I use several different computers at work so I don’t need to come home to something different.

  37. Charon says

    As for OS’s, look at what people in your field use. In physics/astro, _everyone_ uses some UNIX variant (Mac OS X, FreeBSD, Linux, etc.). So it’s much easier to find discipline-specific tools on those platforms, and much easier to find someone to trouble shoot why your laptop isn’t playing nice with their projector (for the colloquium you’re scheduled to give in 5 minutes…).I admit I also hate Windows and would rather use anything else, but that’s just been reinforced by the science world being totally UNIX. I resisted Mac for years (bad memories from the crappy 90’s Mac OS), but finally broke down when I got a laptop a few years ago. Took a couple weeks to fully adjust (from FreeBSD/KDE), but I couldn’t be happier. Slick interface, nice multimedia, but I can still have my xterm (my precious!).

  38. says

    I love my 11.6″ MacBook Air. It’s amazingly portable, reliable, and the screen is amazing. I’ll save the rant and suggest you have a friend install Windows on it for you (which isn’t very hard to do).

  39. NotThatGreg says

    Um, I have an ubuntu desktop which I’m always having to kick the kids (9 and 12) off of so I can use it. You could at least look at dual-boot — some windows machines arrive with an empty “D:” drive that you can replace with ubuntu quite easily (currently using a laptop like that to type this).

  40. Epizephyrii says

    Whew… lots of advice so far, I hope mine doesn’t get drowned out in noise.Anyways, I’m in IT and do this type of stuff for a living. Take it as you will, but I like to think it lends me a touch of credibility here and there :)In general if you want a long lasting laptop your best bet is to go for the corporate line laptops, which unfortunately are more expensive. ThinkPads (as mentioned before by others) are some of the sturdiest things on the planet from my experience. Lenovo does, however, have a very excellent value line which is highly overlooked and completely undervalued. I’ve bought around 6 for the people at my previous job and an additional one for my girlfriend. So far they’ve been rock solid and a great value for the price.http://shop.lenovo.com/us/note…The G570 is the current best value.Second tier brands: Dell, ASUS, HP (in that order)Avoid: Toshiba, Gateway, Acer, SonyHope that helps!

  41. says

    Don’t go to the dark side! Linux will eat your will to live, and most of your hardware won’t work without a year’s worth of programming and reprogramming.

  42. Lymie says

    I’m relatively old and swap between Window desk top and Mac laptop pretty easily. I don’t understand the Mac/PC wars. The only thing that gives me a hiccup is the close button moving between top left and top right…

  43. says

    Whatever you get, the first thing to do is uninstall all of the preloaded software that you didn’t seek. Don’t use the manufacturers WiFi manager, don’t use their trial antivirus, etc.Don’t even consider anything with less than 4GB ram.Get a normal-speed hard drive (7200rpm). They like to use slow disks to extend battery life, but you end up wasting the time waiting for the disk. You might have a hard time finding one that has a normal speed hard drive as an option; it’s worth buying separately. (And makes it easy to get rid of the preloaded software.) If you only need a small disk (100GB), consider solid state – they’re faster and use less power, but too expensive at high capacities. If you need more capacity or a lower price, consider a hybrid (conventional disk with solid-state cache).Get at least two power adapters. You can count on being able to use at least 3.Get a higher-capacity battery.Read the reviews. Some brands tend to suck more, and some less, but they all make some models that are great and some that are crap, and no combination of brand, price, and features is a reliable indicator of suck.If you care about the mechanical usability details, buy one at a store, where you can play with it first. At my old job we bought an ultraportable for the boss, which she refused to use because it had a smaller keyboard than she was used to – I don’t know what will bother you, but if you’re taking notes, the keyboard is important, and it would suck to spend $$$ on something you can’t use effectively.Get a bag/backpack with a laptop compartment. Not a separate laptop bag, one that will replace whatever you use now AND has a special compartment for your laptop.Don’t carry an extra hard drive around with you. Do make backups – have a backup routine in place, and follow it, but use the network.It sounds like you want a “real computer”, not, say, an iPad, but the laptop paradigm works poorly in many contexts. In a hotel room, airport, on a plane, its fine, but in a meeting, a presentation, a restaurant, anywhere that imposes space or distraction constraints, tablets are much more usable. For mobile internet access only, a tablet is probably better suited, and with an external keyboard and google docs, you could use one to work on presentations.

  44. says

    I should have mentioned that the HP dm1z does seem to meet your requirements, unless it doesn’t qualify as cheap enough. Had it not I wouldn’t have mentioned it, but how would you know that?It’s essentially not-quite-a-netbook with a bigger screen, more oomph, and also a higher price than a standard netbook. Check out the favorable reviews the usual places (engadget, anandtech, pcmag, …).

  45. ckitching says

    I’ll third the recommendation against Acer. When I worked repairing computers, I saw too many of these. It’s possible that these things have improved in the last couple years since I moved out of that field, but I doubt it. You don’t beat everyone else in price by caring about quality.As a more general recommendation, I’d suggest avoiding all the lowest end models. It doesn’t matter who manufactures them, they’re all pretty much junk. A step or two up from the cheap low-end models is usually a good idea. Personally, I’ve owned Toshiba laptops, use an HP at work.Unless you’re buying a discontinued model, expect to start looking at the ones that start at around $600. You can find decent deals on non-current models at times, too. This can shave a couple hundred off the price at times. Shop around, and don’t be afraid to use the price matching that most stores offer.

  46. says

    I’m very satisfied with my HP EliteBook 8440p that I bought last year. It’s a 14 inch business notebook, and HP calls it “business rugged”. What that means can roughly be seen in this video:

    . The EliteBook branch basically doesn’t make a compromise when it comes to quality. And in fact the build-quality and technical stability of mine are superb.They are not quite on the cheap side though, and because they contain a lot of metal and very solid plastics, they also are not the most lightweight ones (although the weight of mine is pretty reasonable). There also is the HP ProBook series, which are supposed to be pretty close to the EliteBooks when it comes to quality, but cost significantly less. A friend of mine recently got one and it seems to be really good and solid too.In general, if you buy an HP, make sure that you get one of the business models. With HP, “business” and “home” customers not only get a completely different quality of support, the notebooks themselves also are of much much higher quality. Keep your fingers away from the HP “Pavilion” series.

  47. says

    I will tell this story about Dell not because it’s relevant, but just because it’s amusing.A friend of my Dad’s is Lebanese born. He is fluent in English, 3 or 4 varieties of Arabic, French, Greek, Italian, and German, and can get by in maybe half a dozen more. He’s lived in the USA for many years. At one point he bought a Dell desktop that was nothing but trouble. He was on the phone with their tech support constantly. Try this; try that; reinstall Windows; etc. etc. and nothing really helped.Finally, he’s on yet another tech support call and he thinks he recognizes the accent of the representative as being from the same part of Lebanon where he grew up. So at one point he asks the guy in Lebanese Arabic, “Are you from _______?”There’s a long pause, and then the tech says very quickly in Arabic, “Oh, Uncle [generic term of respect for an older man] I am so glad you can understand me. They monitor these calls so I can’t be honest. This machine is a lemon. It’s a piece of crap. Everyone has problems with it. You should take it back to where you bought it and insist on getting your money back.”Then he dropped back into English and suggested reinstalling Windows.

  48. says

    “Affordable” and “not a Mac” are redundant requirements.”I guess that depends on how much your time is worth to you, doesn’t it? I mean, just the initial setup you recommend – reinstalling Windows, removing bloatware, downloading and installing freeware solutions for virus protection &c… for a nontechnical person, that’s, what, a conservative 3 hours? I don’t know what you bill at, but for me that’s already a good chunk of the up-front price difference between a Macbook and an equivalently-spec’d Windows box. If that Windows box gets just one typically nasty malware infection over its life, there’s the rest of the difference either in my time or in money to a professional to clean it up.(This is not advice to Jen – she’s stated her preference unambiguously and she’s on a tight budget. It’s just I hear this all the time that Macs aren’t affordable, and it just isn’t so. For one thing, the Mac premium is a lot less than it used to be on comparable machines; and in my experience if you don’t pay it up front you will certainly pay it later in lost time, aggravation, and maybe even lost data.)

  49. says

    I think Vaio’s the best of the Windows laptops still? Anyway, if you don’t think you’ll use a CD/DVD drive at all (i.e. for games, even occasionally), you can get a netbook. The screen size (and hence worksize) is small, but they’re much easier to take notes on on a bus or in the back of a car, etc. and they are cute. I’m typing this on a dual boot so I keep up both my mac and windows software faithfully. I don’t find scripting Windows pleasant, but so far I find all the science tools I need for Windows. And the R plug-in for Excel is the best R plug-in of all, I must say. I don’t have MSFT Office on this laptop so I use OpenOffice and the RCALC plugin (can you tell I do a lot of R?) – there is now a lot – a real lot – of free software ported to Windows, and ported from a UNIX (linux mostly) tends not to have viruses. I use JEdit for all my editing – it’s cross-platform and very good with a lot of plugins. My Linux Netbook had almost as much free software on it when it was a Windows XP netbook as it does now. But you can get GIMP (Photoshop/Corel Draw clone), OpenOffice. I was able to port my AppleScripts to WindowsScript and folder activation and some Visual Basic for Applications. You can have an increasingly free software windows box nowadays.If you need language packs and don’t pay for the high-end versions of the Windows 7 or Vista OS, you should get vistalizator – I did so my work Dell is all in Spanish now.

  50. mfraz74 says

    That is absolute rubbish. Most hardware these days works with Linux and you don’t even have to bother putting in driver CDs. Go back to your sheltered Windows life.

  51. says

    I am with Dustin. Linux Mint is a breeze to learn, and with all of the free software available in the repositories, you can do things with apps that are, again, free.35 That you don’t have to pay for.I bought a new Toshiba for 400 at Best Buy. I downloaded Linux Mint 9 and installed it, wiping out windows. Took about an hour, tops. It comes with open office and other free wordprocessing apps, with no license to pay for. Ever.

  52. says

    That’s completely untrue. You either know nothing about Linux, used it like 10 years ago and haven’t since, or are deliberately lying.That being said, as much as I love Linux and introducing it to new users, she specifically said she want’s to use Windows. I would recommend getting something off craigslist if you want to be super thrifty. Anything that has at least a 1.5 ghz processor and 2 gigs of ram would probably be fine. Or if you want to go brand new, check deal sites for cheap laptops.If you don’t mind a 15.6 inch screen here’s a very good deal on a Gateway: http://bit.ly/g189MXIf that’s too big, you probably want to go for a 14-inch screen, but that’s going to cost more. If you buy new, check out this website to get rid of all the ‘free trial’ crap that new computers are bogged down with: http://www.pcdecrapifier.com/ It’s the best thing in the world for cleaning all that bloatware off your new PC. Cheers.

  53. says

    Oh dear. I forgot how fanatical Linux fans are. Please don’t declare an open-source Jihad on me because I prefer convenience over having a ludicrously fine-tuned workspace for programming.

  54. says

    If the computer has a Mighty Mouse (little gray scroll ball) or a Magic Mouse (low with no visible markings; you drag on the surface to scroll), you can turn on the “secondary click” setting in the Mouse pane in System Preferences.If it’s an Apple mouse but isn’t one of those models, UW is using some pretty old hardware—the Mighty Mouse came out in 2005 and they stopped manufacturing the previous mice by 2007. You could bring your own USB mouse and plug it in, though, and it should work just fine.

  55. says

    For taking notes I got a tablet and I love it. Mine is Toshiba Portege M200. I don’t think it was cheap (I bought refurbished on eBay) but I love it a lot.

  56. reality_check says

    Taking notes on a laptop is a pipe dream… $100 says you’ll jump back to paper for anything complex ( equations, diagrams, et al. ) – Just pick up a good audio recorder ( Zoom H1 < $100, or an H4n if you score a sponsor < $300 ), or go full on video ( GZ-HM320BUS is < $200 ) with a GorillaPod.As for the ‘legitimate uses’ ( e.g. homework, presentations, goofing off ) – pick up a used laptop from a processor/craigslist.

  57. says

    I get this urge to try Linux occasionally. I install it, then realize half my hardware isn’t working, and for some reason, no flash-related thing will work properly.Then I get all these warnings about proprietary drivers being..proprietary, I guess, and also broken.That all said, the hardware situation has improved over the years, but it’s just not worth the jump. What do I gain? Some money on an OS? That’s, what, $100ish every 5 years? Noted. What else?Windows works with every piece of hardware I could ever want, it is fairly cheap to license for a few machines, and the software market is fairly healthy, if saturated.Oh, and the way games just work after installing is quite lovely. No wine, no “Hrm, why am I seeing purple polygons? Oh, right, game was only released two weeks ago..”Nothing to gain, hours to lose. Go with what you’re comfortable with, end of OS problems.

  58. Dae says

    For new, relatively inexpensive, and good, I’d go for a HP. You can pick one of their basic lines on the website and customize it however you like. My 16″, souped-up gaming machine from them ran right at $1000, where the comparable computer from Toshiba or Mac would have been more like $3k, so for something more basic I’d guess you’d be looking at $500-$600. A Dell might be a bit cheaper than the HP depending on dependings, but I’d stay away from them unless you don’t mind making use of their excellent service policy. (Those laptops tend to be inexpensive, and they’re great about fixing/replacing things when they break, but waiting for repairs sucks and Dells tend to need them often. I wouldn’t recommend going this route.)

  59. TPRJones says

    If you aren’t in a hurry, I recommend you check woot.com every day for a few weeks. They will eventually list a laptop that will meet your needs for a price that will be surprisingly low.

  60. Meadhbh says

    You can actually get some full size or close-to-full size netbooks. I have an 11 inch Acer One netbook that I use for my writing that I got for less than $200. It’s compact, and ultra-portable but not so small that my decidedly near-sighted eyes get tired, or my hands start aching from typing on it (I don’t know how folks use the little 6 inch or 7 inch ones!) Low powered, but just enough for blogging/research/writing and I found that the lack of power helped me cut out distractions, because there is no way I could game on it. You can get them with Windows or Linux (Mine’s running Linux.)I would recommend getting the larger battery for it, though, or carrying a battery backup – the smaller one only allows for about two hours.

  61. Gus Snarp says

    It sounds like you’re asking for a netbook with a big screen. I don’t have any specific advice, but I’ll say this, don’t buy the cheapest one you can find. A cheap laptop will piss you off sooner than a more expensive one. You’ll quickly figure out why it was cheaper. There are a lot of decent laptops out there now that are relatively inexpensive.Just to piss off the Apple fan boys, avoiding Mac is a good choice. Mac’s are great machines, but they’re expensive. You get more for your money with a PC. My secret plan is to build my own hackentosh desktop, since I can get way more bang for my buck that way.

  62. says

    I have to agree. I love OSX above all, but I have a netbook that had Ubuntu on it when I got it and I absolutely loved it. It took me about a day to get used to it after using OSX and Windows before.

  63. says

    If you want to take notes and just need word processing, there’s always the iPad – extremely portable, simpler to use than OSX, and you’d be surprised how much you can get done on one of those (just don’t install Angry Birds).

  64. says

    Agreed. I actually got a cheap netbook and Hackintoshed it into a poor man’s MacBook Air. So far, no problems and it does everything I need it to as a second computer.

  65. Spaceplasma says

    Seems I’m late to the party but why not get your supervisor to buy you the laptop? Costs you nothing, is maintained by your dept/group IT person and likely will do what you need it to do and have all the relevant software needed for your work. As a grad student, I went through 2 laptops and just got a third as a research associate in addition to my desktop. I mostly run windows on the laptop (unfortunately) but run linux on my desktop (but I’m a physicist and that’s what we use). Just ask your supervisor first… you may be surprised!

  66. says

    I’ll second those who have mentioned Toshiba laptops.I’m a mac guy myself, but my ex picked up a Toshiba at Best Buy and has been very happy with it. I looked over it as well, and found that one of the newer models that’s specced out to handle Windows 7 is actually a really decent amount of bang for your buck- generally in the 400-700 dollar range for a decent one.Important tip though- play around with the keyboards before you choose one. A few of them have gimpy little plasticky keyboards that you’ll probably be annoyed with after ten minutes of real work.

  67. The Artful Nudger says

    The Mighty Mouse loses sensitivity fast, though, and often “misinterprets” a left-click as a right-click. I am compelled to use a Mac at work, and I went out and bought a $14 Logitech optical. Much better.

  68. The Artful Nudger says

    Two comments, from different ranges:On the one hand, I personally would recommend splurging on something that has ~6GB of memory. If you’re using it as a desktop substitute at all, having that much RAM to play with means never having to see the computer slow down from having too many applications running.On the other, if you’re looking for “really cheap, won’t hurt the grad student’s wallet”, I recommend Free Geek (http://www.freegeekseattle.org…. I don’t know how far along the Seattle one has come, but I know that the Vancouver branch regularly has extremely inexpensive laptops for sale. Usually dated tech and Linux, but gentle enough that your pocketbook will hardly feel it.

  69. Spaceplasma says

    However, if you do get something with more than 4GB of RAM, you need a 64-bit OS to access anything more than 4GB…

  70. says

    I grew up with PC’s, hated macs, was in the same boat. Got a macbook when I started gradschool and I wouldn’t go back for my basic work computer. It’s not that tough to pick up (took me like a week of heavy use) and even without being a power user there are all kinds of things that make life easier.I understand your reluctance, but this is my experience.

  71. says

    Jen, If you do want to consider a different OS, VM Ware has a Virtual Machine player that lets you create a Virtual Machine and run other OS’s to play with them. It runs under Windows (XP, Vista, and Win 7). I use it in an Intro to OS class and right at this minute have Ubuntu, Mint, Win XP, and Win 7 open in 4 different Virtual Machine windows on a decent Win XP machine. It’s a pretty inexpensive way to play with other OS’s.

  72. Chris Hansen says

    I replaced my three year old Dell laptop with an iPad2 and a Bluetooth keyboard. The on screen keyboard is good for about 50 WPM with autocorrect and everything else is great. In fact, it is now my go to device instead of my phone or my laptop. Also, with the JumpDesktop client and server bit on my desktop I can access and run my desktop from anywhere. My total cost is just about the cost of a laptop as well.

  73. says

    I’ve had best luck with Dell, HP and Acer. Acer will have the least amount of first-run bullshit to uninstall. Go for an i5 or i7 processor (if AMD, it’s Ontario C-50 or Zacate E-350; terrible naming) in the 2 GHz or higher range, and a minimum of 4 gigabytes of ram. Hard drive is based on your needs, but bigger is always better. Unless you’re doing some serious gaming, don’t worry about the video – most modern ‘tops with the above specs will have nice video anyway.Don’t be sucked in by a shiny touchscreen or stylus; they’re never as useful as you think, and usually, because of their expense, other hardware gets compromised, if not in specs, in reliability (for cost).The smallest I’d go is 12.1″ for the screen, but I think you’d be most comfortable with 14″, if you’re doing real work.If you work in one place for most of your time, I suggest checking for models that support a docking station and getting one; being able to set up with a satisfying “ker-click”, rather than hunting and shuffling for cables is terrible, and it enables you to easily reuse some of your old desktop hardware for the sake of having a more robust user experience when at your desk.

  74. ckitching says

    So to summarize, Dell = Trouble.

    Dell = Trouble if you go for their absolutely lowest-end product. The cheaper it is, the more likely it’ll be badly built and/or poorly tested. Dell makes some decent products, but you can’t look at their cheap products if you care about quality.

    2. Dell uses proprietary parts, meaning that if something goes, you have to replace it with a Dell part.

    Frankly, all laptop parts are proprietary aside from the hard drive and RAM, which are (to some extent) considered user replaceable parts. Everything else is proprietary, regardless of if it’s from HP, IBM, Lenovo, Acer, Dell, Toshiba, Apple or anyone else. Apple is by far the worst for this as they’ve started using security screws on their products that you can’t easily buy a screwdriver for.Just to play Devil’s Advocate, HP’s have had their fair share of problems, too. There were quite a number of models (corporate and consumer) that had severe problems with how their screen hinges worked, which resulted in the screen breaking apart from the case, breaking the ribbon cables that feed the screen. These problems happened on laptops that were built pre-merger and for a couple product cycles afterwards (about a year and a half). The current models are much more stable in this regard. My point is that you can get bad products from good companies. Just having one bad experience with something doesn’t mean the products are all junk.That said, I wouldn’t buy a Dell. Their warranty is just too much of a pain. I’d rather drop my laptop off at a local repair depot and pick it up a few days later.

  75. Nealbirch says

    bought a refurb for $200 recently, a dell d430. dual core, upgraded the memory , blah blah blah. it came with winxp pro, which i replace with debian, but there ya go, not starting that up again. It’s a nice little laptop for what I need to do.Display: 12.1inch TFT active matrix, is that too small? http://www.thelaptopguysinc.co…they still have it listed for $200.00, they’ll upgrade the mem and hard drive, which you could do yourself BUT these use little 1.8″ drives so you might want to have them do that one as those are hard to find, and expensive. With linux, the drive size isn’t a big deal. The memory is dead easy to swap out and newegg has good prices. I’m a big fan of refurbished, Dell sells them on their site as well. Prices are higher…

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