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Tigla

Laptops for Historians

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Posted (edited)

I'm currently looking for a new laptop to replace my oldish laptop (2 years). I abused my laptop during my MA and it needs to be replaced before I begin my PhD this August. At the moment, I'm debating between a classic clamshell, 2-in-1s, and a Chromebook. After googling, it seems like a lot of discussion focuses on the sciences and art/design fields. So, what kind of laptops are current graduate students, postdocs, and professors using in history programs?

Personally, I am leaning towards a 2-in-1 laptop. I have a custom built desktop at home, which I will be upgrading come November. It does everything I could feasibly want a computer to do, so the laptop I purchase will be for library sessions, office work on campus, archival trips, and general browsing while not at home. After reading a ton of reviews on Chromebooks, I feel like one would not adequately support a young academic, especially when WIFI is not accessible or painfully slow. Lastly, a clamshell laptop tends to be heavier and more costly than a 2-in-1 laptop without a significant increase in efficiency and power. While a 2-in-1 has its own issues, I think they might provide the versatility, price effectiveness, and longevity I'm looking for at the moment.

Edited by Tigla
My notorious typing skills have struck again!!!

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Posted (edited)
15 hours ago, Tigla said:

I'm currently looking for a new laptop to replace my oldish laptop (2 years). I abused my laptop during my MA and it needs to be replaced before I begin my PhD this August. At the moment, I'm debating between a classic clamshell, 2-in-1s, and a Chromebook. After googling, it seems like a lot of discussion focuses on the sciences and art/design fields. So, what kind of laptops are current graduate students, postdocs, and professors using in history programs?

Personally, I am leaning towards a 2-in-1 laptop. I have a custom built desktop at home, which I will be upgrading come November. It does everything I could feasibly want a computer to do, so the laptop I purchase will be for library sessions, office work on campus, archival trips, and general browsing while not at home. After reading a ton of reviews on Chromebooks, I feel like one would not adequately support a young academic, especially when WIFI is not accessible or painfully slow. Lastly, a clamshell laptop tends to be heavier and more costly than a 2-in-1 laptop without a significant increase in efficiency and power. While a 2-in-1 has its own issues, I think they might provide the versatility, price effectiveness, and longevity I'm looking for at the moment.

You're going to have excuse my ignorance but is a 2-in-1 basically a tablet etc w a keyboard?? Maybe I'm a monster but I have a laptop, a desktop, and an ipad (the latter's the only one I bought new, the laptop's old and shitty but I need to be able to write outside of the apartment, and I bought the desktop cheap from craigslist when I started getting migraines from hunching over my laptop all week). It sounds absurd and excessive but I use them all pretty much every day. I read the majority of books and articles on my ipad -- before I began my phd, including during MA, I would never have imagined I'd be reading so much on screens--I was very much an "I need the physical book" kind of person. PhD life and qualifying exams have changed me (in many ways), and I now prefer e-books and pdfs for reading academic texts. Easier to mark up, file, and keep track of, especially if you can get an ipad type device w a stylus. I also often read from the ipad while typing notes on my desktop computer, and highly recommend a book stand for that purpose (I use the book stand for the paperback books I read, too). If I had to get rid of one of the three it would be the laptop, especially if you can get a tablet with a keyboard and a sufficiently large screen that it's not a pain when you need it for writing papers--my ipad's relatively small so I wouldn't want to use it for writing anything much longer than a response paper or email. 

Edited by OHSP

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I currently use a Surface and it's great for travel and work! I really like the stylus for being able to annotate things I'm reading without printing them. But I also have a desktop at home for movies and internet browsing.

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7 hours ago, OHSP said:

You're going to have excuse my ignorance but is a 2-in-1 basically a tablet etc w a keyboard??

Yes, but with a bit more oomph. Some 2-in-1s are starting to have specs that are similar to typical clamshells, which is why I am debating buying one. Having the ability to type a paper on a keyboard, read articles/papers/books on a 13/15-inch screen, and switch to a tablet for annotations, note-taking, or traveling draws my interest.

In general, do your departments offer discounts or additional funding for the purchase of laptops/tablets for research and writing? I found my department will offer candidates a small amount of money to replace old laptops as long as you buy a university approved laptop and can show a need for a new laptop (no clue what this exactly entails, but its there).

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I'm not going to weigh in because I know nothing about computers and just have a MacBook Air (which has served me well throughout my MA), but in terms of money to replace old laptops I think it's at least typical to be able to purchase laptops more cheaply through the school. I've never heard of anyone getting money from the department to replace a laptop, but I know many friends that have bought computers through their universities for a few hundred less. That's always something to check out before purchasing one! 

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I came into grad school with a 10" Dell and upgraded to a 13" MacBook Pro. I thought of getting an iPad for field work, but the laptop worked just fine. I still have it and runs perfectly. For dissertation writing, I hook it to a 21" screen. That alone made it SO much easier to write!!! I should have bought it for my exams!

 

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Another way to get discounts on computers is through open-box deals. I've bought my two most recent computers and my tablet through Best Buy or Amazon open box, and they all work great and were discounted by a couple hundred bucks.

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I just want to say thank you for this thread, I'm having the same issue! I used the same macbook throughout my undergrad and MA. I thought macbooks lasted forever, but its been abused over the last 7 years and needs replacing, their price tag has me looking elsewhere. Following closely!

I have spoken to my brothers, one is a graphic designer and one is a software administrator, they have me leaning towards some very reasonably priced Dell laptops on amazon. If that helps you at all, that's the information I'm working with!

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I have a Lenovo ThinkPad 13 that has served me very well for 3 years (I even spilled an entire beer on it the first day I had it and, aside from a couple of sticky keys, it was no worse for the wear). However, I'm thinking about springing for a Surface headed into the PhD program, because the ability to annotate documents on a tablet screen is super appealing. Does anyone have a Surface who is willing to share their experiences?

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1 hour ago, HardyBoy said:

 Does anyone have a Surface who is willing to share their experiences?

At my job, a structural engineering consultancy,  we made a transition to Microsoft Surfaces. We got to the Surface Pro 4 and started to transition back to Dell laptops. Among the issues experienced, the attachable keyboard couldn't quite support all the angles needed when working on airplanes, a now widely known issue with the graphics card crapping out on the Surface Pro 4, and a lack of horsepower, even on higher end units with plenty of RAM. (The graphics card and lack of horsepower almost gave me an aneurysm on a couple of occasions--ironically while working on projects for universities.)

When looking for open box deals, do not neglect the outlets for Lenovo and for Dell. The shopping experience at the former has significantly improved over the last couple of years even though the listing of items that are out of stock continues to be an issue. Dell's outlet works better if you already have a working knowledge of that company's many lines and models.

In both cases, I think that you want to be ready to pull the trigger when you see a great deal because you're not the only one watching.

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