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Buying a new laptop


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I am need to give my current school issued laptop back at the end of the semester, meaning I will have to do what I have been putting off for a few years now, which is buy a new laptop.  I am probably one of the least computer-knowledgable people one could find and am looking for advice.

 

I mainly need this for research purposes.  Documents, files, writing, etc.  I don't play games on it or anything, occassionally will watch a movie if I am on a long trip or something.  I am not looking to spend very much at this time and would really prefer something light weight.  Ideally I'd have liked a macbook but I think I can get something cheaper (such as chromebook, or a small hp laptop, etc.).  I was wondering if anyone could give me some recommendations, advice, things to avoid, etc. because I really have no clue what I am looking for.

 

Thanks everyone.

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My laptop broke a few months back and I was looking to buy a Macbook pro, until I saw the sticker price.

 

I ended up buying a Samsung Chronos laptop Series 7. (Series 3 is cheapest, 9 is the priceiest). The design is very similar to a Macbook Pro, and I can see why Apple is angry with Samsung for copying.

 

Series 7 would be overkill for your described needs, but you can probably check out the 3 or 5.

 

Lots of newer laptops come with Windows 8, which is a little annoying to somebody who really liked Windows 7. But underneath the awful start screen and lack of start menu, it's the same operating system.

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I've heard that Lenovo makes some very solid and reliable laptops. They are reasonably priced and everyone I know who uses one swears by it. You can sign up for their newsletter on their website, and they frequently send out codes with discounts for purchasing online (a month ago select models were like 32% off or something... pretty decent deal).

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Toshiba is a great laptop brand. Most of the belongings in my apartment were destroyed after a fire, but my Toshiba laptop survived with only minor melting / warping of the screen. I used it during the entirety of my master's program and it is still running like new (other than the warped screen). I bought it for around $700. 

 

I would also ask around at your graduate program. I know of some schools that offer funding for a laptop or will let you borrow a laptop. 


Also, I should note that I recently splurged and bought myself a MacBook Pro. I love it - but mostly for the aesthetics. It does have a quicker startup time, and i do love the fact that I can run both Mac OS and Windows operating systems (through bootcamp), but other than that, I'd still be a PC fan. 

 

Good luck! 

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I would second the Samsung comment - I have a series 9, and even if you don't need the high-end processing or solid state drive, I've been very happy with its durability and portability.  My favorite distinguishing feature (I am assuming this is on the other series as well) is the matte screen - it doesn't have the glare problem of a regular LCD screen, so I can use it outside or in bright light just fine.  I wish more laptops had that.

 

I got mine right as they were about to come out with the updated model, so I got it at a great deal for $900 (I think the new model is around $1400).  As the previous poster mentioned, the lower numbers have a lower price for what is still a great laptop.

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I currently use a Lenovo ThinkPad Edge at work and hate it.  Our tech people are in here every other week trying to fix a bug.  Some of the software we use for work is incompatible with Windows 7 and one of my co-workers is regularly locked out of his work software because of those incompatibilities.  We have talked about ditching these computers and switching to new ones, even though the ones we have are less than a year old.

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Thank you for the input everyone.  I've actually been rented two Thinkpads from my school and while they have been decent they have been heavy, filled with sppyware, and one actually crashed on me - though I was lucky enough to back up my data.  I think I will be steering away from a Thinkpad unless I find an awesome deal.

 

I like the suggestions of the samsung and the toshiba, mainly because those are things I usually wouldn't think of.  Has anyone tried the chromebook?  The laptop that is like $300?

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Haven't tried a chromebook because it's netbook size and that doesn't fit my needs. Plus, I like being able to work away from the web and its myriad distractions. I have a Samsung Series 5 Ultrabook that I got about six months ago and really like. It's super nice and easy to use, which is great. But, it wasn't cheap, in part because you're paying for the lighter weight.

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I'm shocked that you found a ThinkPad with spyware.

 

One of the things that led me to buying a ThinkPad was the (relative) lack of extra crap included with the base OS install.

 

My $0.02: Get a Macbook (Pro), or get a ThinkPad.

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I just want to toe in and say software problems like Spyware are not the fault of the specific laptop brand or the hardware. It's just poor software setup. In any case it's very hard to find a laptop free from bloatware on purchase so a good first step when buying any laptop is to google what bloatware comes with it and how to remove it. That usually includes removing all those "trial" software that keep popping out ads and other random stuff.

 

I too got a Samsung series 7 chronos and I'm very happy with it (especially after I tinkered with it and replaced the HDD with an SSD). Windows 8 is fine. It has a learning curve and I had to google a bunch of stuff the first couple of weeks, but now that I've had it for almost a month I'm fine with it.

Side warnings about Windows 8: It comes with a ton of bloatware. Aside from the usual Samsung related stuff, there are 2 kinds of software in W8. The first are regular programs that you can remove via the control panel and the others are apps, like you would have on a smartphone. What's annoying is that out of the box all the stuff like pictures and music are linked to the apps instead of the regular windows programs and you'll suddenly find the screen shifted to a full screen music player. To get rid of the inconvenience, I had to re-choose the default program for a lot of file types, figure out how to uninstall apps and pretty much got rid of almost all of them down to the bare bones. I don't need an amazon app, I can the visit the website thank you very much.

 

Regarding the actual laptop and considering your needs, I suggest Ultrabooks. For brands I can recommend Acer (my 5 year old acer still works great and friends have had good experiences with it), Samsung, and Lenovo seems pretty good. I have not had good experiences with hp laptops (my sister's HP battery died less than 2 years in).

With regards to hardware, SSD is nice but not necessary, especially if you want a lot of storage space, and an i5 core with 4GB of RAM would probably be more than enough.

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My HP Pavillion Notebooks have never let me down.  They go on sale often enough, they're not incredibly heavy, and have all the power I could need to do basicword processing, or high end photoshop work.  Also gaming, but that really just depends on how much you want to invest in the graphics card.  If you're on a tight budget get one of the lower end models. 

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Thank you for the input everyone.  I've actually been rented two Thinkpads from my school and while they have been decent they have been heavy, filled with sppyware, and one actually crashed on me - though I was lucky enough to back up my data.  I think I will be steering away from a Thinkpad unless I find an awesome deal.

 

I like the suggestions of the samsung and the toshiba, mainly because those are things I usually wouldn't think of.  Has anyone tried the chromebook?  The laptop that is like $300?

 

don't buy a chromebook. you need to have access to internet at all times to use it. 

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don't buy a chromebook. you need to have access to internet at all times to use it. 

 

I'm actually considering one, because the university uses Google Apps and it seems like wifi will be everywhere I want to be.

 

OK, and I like gadgets.

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I've heard that Lenovo makes some very solid and reliable laptops. They are reasonably priced and everyone I know who uses one swears by it. You can sign up for their newsletter on their website, and they frequently send out codes with discounts for purchasing online (a month ago select models were like 32% off or something... pretty decent deal).

 

So based on some conversations I've had with people over the past few days and the subsequent responses to this thread, I recant my previous statement (quoted above). Hahaha - apparently Lenovo laptops are only quasi-reliable. Not much better than the HP laptop I currently have (which has failed twice, and is currently in the shop for a third repair). And yes, one thing I forgot to mention was that Lenovos are full of bloatware. Apparently once you reformat them they run better, but only sometimes! Bleh.

 

I am looking to buy a new laptop soon as well, and I suppose I will discontinue my subscription to the Lenovo newsletter :)

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I'm actually considering one, because the university uses Google Apps and it seems like wifi will be everywhere I want to be.

 

OK, and I like gadgets.

 I was considering one because of the price, but I didn't buy one.I know it may seem that WIFI's everywhere, but I'm willing to bet there will be times when you don't have access to internet. Maybe there's no signal or an tech problem. On weekends you might take it somewhere.

 

Just the idea of not having access to my computer (even basic word files) without internet was absurd to me. Everyone's needs are different though

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Count me as one of the MANY that has never had a problem with a Thinkpad.  If your issue is software related there is a cure for that - reformatting the damn thing the minute you get it.  Certainly what I have done on my (MANY) purchases of Lenovo.  Though I suspect the people whining about "bloatware" or such have older machines.  They have stepped it up in terms of delivering content that people actually need.  I am currently sitting on a 430s - light, excellent workhouse, best keyboard bar none - all for a great price.  And for what it's worth, no one who has been invested in Lenovo (IBM) Thinkpads since the 90's would consider the Edge a Thinkpad machine.
 
In any case, no laptop manufacturer is perfect; however there is a reason Lenovo is still seen as the "professionals" laptop provider.  A Series 9?  C'mon now.
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I have a MacBook Pro and I love it and will never go back to a PC, but I understand price constraints.  I didn't buy one until late into my graduate career, because I couldn't bring myself to spend the money.

 

If you want a PC, my favorite brands are Toshiba and Lenovo.  Toshiba's computers last for a while and they have good specs for good prices.  Lenovo's products aren't as good as the old IBM quality (Lenovo bought IBM) but they are still pretty good, and they make slickly designed machines, too - you can get some in a series that resemble MacBook Pros.  They tend to be a little more expensive than Toshiba, but not as expensive as Apple.  I had a ThinkPad before Lenovo was bought by IBM - I bought it in 2004 before I started college.  My aunt has it now.  It still works.  It's slow as hell, but it runs.  Never had a problem with it and it's built like a tank.

 

Dell is a decent low-end computer.  Lots of people have bad experiences with Dell, but I had a few Dells before I had my MacBook and they were all fine, all lasted at least 3 years (I replace computers fairly quickly, but they may have lasted longer than that).

 

Overall, if you just want a computer to do schoolwork and a bit of Internet browsing, plus watching movies on DVD, I would look for a computer with a 13-15" screen (smaller is tiny; bigger is less portable), at least 4 GB of RAM, at least a 250 GB HDD, at least a 2.0 GHz processor (I personally would go for Intel Core.  Intel Pentium and Intel Celeron are older versions, and Core is typically better.  There are also AMD Athlon processors, but IMO those aren't the same quality).  If you want to hook your computer up to a television and watch movies at home that way, you want one with an HDMI port.  Most modern computers have all of these things by default.

 

I'm not sure I would get a Chromebook as a main computer; they seem better suited as the portable companion to having a desktop computer.  I suppose it also depends on what kind of Chromebook you get - they do have a 14" Chromebook for $319.

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 I was considering one because of the price, but I didn't buy one.I know it may seem that WIFI's everywhere, but I'm willing to bet there will be times when you don't have access to internet. Maybe there's no signal or an tech problem. On weekends you might take it somewhere.

 

Just the idea of not having access to my computer (even basic word files) without internet was absurd to me. Everyone's needs are different though

 

I've got another laptop for all the other times. :)   And I'll probably test the wifi on campus before buying one... I have the luxury of living close by already.

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Guest Gnome Chomsky

You can find Dell Inspirons on Amazon for $500. i5 processor, 1 TB hard drive, 8 GB ram, 15" display. 

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I don't think there's any question about this. Unless you're in a field or discipline that requires highly specific software applications, a Macbook Air is the obvious choice for many, many reasons.

 

-- Weight. You really do not realise just how much you benefit overall from the Air's incredibly light weight until you go back to any other computer. My SO has the 15" Pro. I have a late-2010 Air, maxed out. Bought it after our cats trashed my own 15" Pro. The difference amazes me, even after months of having the Air. Now consider that you will likely be porting your laptop around a lot. In your backpack, by hand, etc. I'm willing to bet the lighter weight is something you'll appreciate a lot.

 

-- SSD storage.

 

-- The smaller screen space doesn't mean a smaller screen real estate. And I think they're going to introduce Retina onto the Air this year (one hopes). 

 

-- Ages of battery life.  

 

-- OS X. Obviously, I can't say enough good things about OS X, though this is largely a matter of preference. For me, OS X is convenient, stripped down, and simple in a way that I've never found any version of Windows to be (tried Win 95 through Win 7). I've used OS X consistently since Tiger, and it just gets things done for me. I don't have to fight with it, I don't have to tinker around much (nor do I want to), I don't have to "go under the hood" (again, not something I want to do), etc. So, yeah, you may or may not convert to the OS X way of life. If not, just install your preferred Windows OS onto the laptop and it's fine.

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I've always wondered about the people who find Windows 7 so functionally intractable that OSX becomes a major selling point for them.

 

Braindead.

Windows 7 is great. I didn’t realize how useful that ”snap” window function was until I used a system without it.

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I am on my third Thinkpad. My fourth will be the Thinkpad ultrabook. There is no better laptop. The keyboard is vastly superior to that of any other laptop. As a constantly typing graduate student, this is one of the biggest selling points. The keyboard is also spill proof as it has canals which channel fluid out from the bottom.  Thinkpads are also fairly customizable at the time of purchase, they are easy to upgrade on your own and they have an ultrabay which allows you to swap out the dvd-r for a second harddrive. They're pretty rugged and can withstand a reasonable amount of wear. I am a field ecologist and I operate equipment outdoors in the forest. These things are beasts . I also like the aesthetic better than any mac. There are innumerable reasons to get a thinkpad.

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I've got no problem with either one, and am going to be buying a Windows Tablet to go alongside my MacBook Pro 13, but there are a number of things I prefer about a Mac. It's mostly an aesthetics and ease of use thing.  

 

Also, I'm a bit surprised nobody in this thread has mentioned anything about Windows tablets such as the Surface Pro or the Thinkpad Helix.  I'm deciding between those 2 devices because I'm looking for something with stylus support for notetaking and annotating but also something lightweight and portable to take from one place to another. Either can work for writing in a pinch, though the heavy writing will be reserved for either the MacBook or for an external keyboard. 

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