Off topic – I’m thinking of getting a laptop or netbook

July 14, 2010

I’m thinking about getting a new laptop or netbook. (PC only, see number 9.) I’d have this discussion on Facebook, but initial posts are limited to something ridiculous like 400 characters. Fermat would’ve had a blast.
Anyway, here’s what I’m looking for, roughly:
1. Something that actually runs for 8 hours on battery power in real life for years without it going bad because you plugged it in at 80% a few times is more or less what I’m after.
2. Something that doesn’t lock up for 30 seconds at a time would be great. This rules out almost every computer I’ve ever dealt with, but I’d like to make this mandatory anyway.
3. Wireless is mandatory but pretty much a given feature of any new laptop or netbook anyway.
4. It shouldn’t come bundled with stupid harassware and extraneous garbage that you can never truly uninstall. (Before my HP Pavillion broke recently, the Welcome Center had a purely cosmetic checkbox labeled “launch Welcome Center at startup. This computer also failed at (2), and by the time it finally broke, the battery failed at (1) so miserably that about all the battery could handle was keeping my computer alive just barely long enough to plug the computer in again if it happened to get unplugged.)
5. And it shouldn’t be a pain to get the drivers updated or whatever to do what they’re supposed to.
6. A DVD/CD drive would be nice, but I could do without. (I recently found out that often a laptop with no internal CD drive is called a “netbook”, but this doesn’t seem to be a strict rule. I’ve seen “laptops” with no CD drive, but I haven’t seen netbooks with CD drives, so I don’t know what’s up with that.)
7. Lightweight would be good. I can still see fairly well still, but I don’t want to lose resolution. I guess 1024 x whatever on a 10′ or 11′ screen would probably be fine. Something with great battery life is probably lightweight already.
8. Money… If the mandatories (1-4) are covered, then a small hit in the RAM and/or  hard drive and/or processor department(s) would probably be an acceptable way of saving 500-1000 dollars compared to something else.
9. I’m not getting an Apple. If your laptops usually come with a single giant left-click button that looks like a spacebar, then you’re a clown. I’m sure there are ways of getting an Apple and getting around this, but it’s such a conspicuous default that I imagine that this kind of foolishness would come up later in other places I haven’t thought to look yet, and I’m not ready for the devil I don’t know just yet.

The Sony Vaio X, for example, satisfies all of this and then some (minus the CD drive), but is kind of pricey. It also has a built-in camera and microphone, which might be great, but I don’t know how often I’d use it in practice. And the Vaio W loses the camera and GPS and other stuff and more or less looks like (8). But the battery life of the W is advertised as 7 or 8 depending on settings, which probably means after 6 months it’ll be more like 3 to 5 hours, and then I’d be sad, so I’m thinking no.

Alright, discuss.


10 Responses to “Off topic – I’m thinking of getting a laptop or netbook”

  1. Chun-Yen said

    I have been using Acer 5810TZ-4657 for over one year.
    So far so good. Its price is good.

  2. The predecessor of my current Vaio X was a Vaio TX, about the same size and just a touch heavier. I used it as my only computer while at Fields in Winter 2008 (4 months) and that worked well enough. It did have a CD drive but I hardly used it anyway. The battery lasted 7-8 hours at first. That went down to about 4 hours after the first two years, so I got a new battery for it ($200 or so).

    It lasted a bit more than 3 years. I had to ditch it when the screen got damaged – it would have cost more than half of the price of the X to have it repaired. I did get a lot of use out of it.

    The X has a solid state hard disc, meaning less heat, no fan and no hissing noise. In terms of speed, it isn’t the fastest one out there, but I think it’s faster than laptops with nominally better “normal” hard drives, just because the hard drive doesn’t need to spin around whenever it needs to look up something. The battery life is about 10 hours, in my experience. The screen can be a bit small: Windows 7 can handle multiple windows well enough, but you can’t really view more than two simultaneously. A Latex file and PDF output take up the entire screen, and even that is a bit of a stretch. Then again, the resolution is excellent, so the screen can accommodate more than many larger screens with lower resolution (if you don’t mind squinting sometimes).

    At home I usually find the desktop more comfortable. I like the Vaio a lot, but perhaps I’d like it less if it were my only computer.

    • Matthew Bond said

      I figure that my vision can handle one laptop lifetime’s worth of squinting still. Also, I’ll probably add a desktop to my life soon after I start making real money.

  3. Barb said

    Saw this on your LJ, thought I’d throw my $0.02 in:

    I can’t make a lot of specific recommendations for laptops, because I generally go desktop, but one of the things you’re pointing out here is that you definitely want something without a lot of bloatware installed, so I thought I’d give you this little bit of wisdom: get a machine that comes with an OS install disc instead of a restore partition on the hard drive. Then, when you open it up the first time you can just format the drive and install a clean copy of windows and not have to deal with all that nonsense.

    Also from experience, Win7 is a dream with drivers. The only people I’ve seen who’ve had to install any kind of drivers manually are people with old hardware. My Win7 install on my laptop, which came with Vista, took about thirteen minutes and was able to get on IU’s wireless (which is a pain in the neck since we’re using WPA2 Enterprise with a security certificate) immediately after I set up my account.

    The only other advice I would give you is this: whatever you do, don’t give your money to Sony. Everyone I’ve ever talked to who’s bought a Vaio has had nothing but bad things to say about their support people, even for issues that are clearly covered under the warranty. Since you’re affiliated with a post-secondary institution, talk to your tech folks and see if they have discounts set up with any of the major manufacturers.

    • Matthew Bond said

      Hey, good to hear from you.

      I looked at what MSU had to offer, and unfortunately, none of the deals looked any better than usual retail, even though they were supposedly discounts. Maybe there are some other discounts that are very poorly advertised. I don’t know.

      Everyone I know of likes their Vaios, but then again, no one I know has had to deal with their customer support, that I know of. I’ll try to remember that they can’t be counted on.

      I thought about this one, too. Twice as heavy (which makes it fairly light still, but could be the difference between wanting to take it everywhere and not), with more RAM and such, and not far off in terms of battery life.

      This is complicated.

      • Barb said

        Oh, I thought up another protip for you: give it another three or four weeks before you decide to buy, and even if you HATE giving your money to Best Buy check out their deals once a week or so.

        I picked up a 15″ laptop with some incredible specs (damn thing runs guild wars better than my old desktop did) for approximately what I’d have paid for a full-price netbook in September or so of last year. Less than $400 bought me a better laptop than you’d think, but of course, keep an eye on the size as well since you want something super-portable (my only regret is the laptop I bought weighs like a million pounds).

      • My first Vaio had tons of bloatware, but the new one is mercifully free of it. And no, I’ve never had to deal with the Sony customer support. I have heard from other sources that it isn’t great. Then again, weight and battery life were important enough to me that I was willing to take a chance. The Vaio wasn’t cheap, but back and shoulder injuries can be more expensive…

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