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Old 20th September 2010, 08:42 AM   #1
Lisa Simpson
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Laptop recommendations?

My youngest son, while still in high school, is taking college-level courses and we have decided to dig into his college fund and buy him a laptop. Originally, we were thinking of buying him a MacBook, but I think he prefers Windows to OSX. I haven't owned a Windows PC in many years, so I don't know what's good. What brands, models are best? I'm looking for 13-15" screen.
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Old 20th September 2010, 09:02 AM   #2
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Of course, it depends on what courses he is taking and what he needs to do with the laptop.

If they are typical classes, where what he will be doing is taking notes, viewing course material on line, participating in online discussions and writing papers, probably any laptop out these days will do.
You might need to put Office on it for some classes.

My family has pretty much come to the idea that laptops are basically disposable. We go for cheap. Just make sure there is enough RAM and a big enough hard drive to handle whatever it is you plan to do with it. None of us are big "gamers" though, or doing anything that requires a huge amount of computing capability.

We tend to look at the various retailers and see what's on special that week/month. We have been able to outfit our whole family with laptops, by buying the equivalent of "last years model", in the $300-$400 range.

High schoolers are notoriously hard on laptops, too, which is another reason to not spend too much money on it. The likelihood that it is going to be dropped, stepped on, spilled on, left in a hot car, lost or stolen is much higher with a teenager. My opinion is go cheap and don't sweat it too much.

My two cents.

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Old 20th September 2010, 10:23 AM   #3
BigAl
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Originally Posted by Lisa Simpson View Post
My youngest son, while still in high school, is taking college-level courses and we have decided to dig into his college fund and buy him a laptop. Originally, we were thinking of buying him a MacBook, but I think he prefers Windows to OSX. I haven't owned a Windows PC in many years, so I don't know what's good. What brands, models are best? I'm looking for 13-15" screen.
I'm very happy with my Dell Inspiron 1464 ($600 three months ago. 4GB RAM/500MB disk.)

Budget $100 for an external USB drive for backup.

I recommend a laptop with a real docking (not USB) station and a kbd, mouse and screen for many reasons but it's a little more expensive.


Buy a second power brick for two reasons; when you leave it somewhere you'll have a spare when you get home and if you find you have charging problems you'll be able to troubleshoot by substation.
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Old 20th September 2010, 10:35 AM   #4
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If he's going to be carrying it back and forth a lot, he'll be wanting a 13" rather than a 15". Those 2" add a heck of a lot to the weight. I recently swapped my 14" brick of a Thinkpad for one of these. The commute to work is now a lot more comfortable.
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Old 20th September 2010, 10:39 AM   #5
Lisa Simpson
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He won't be carting it back and forth everyday, he'll be using it at home and the library. He's got AP World History, AP Biology, English Honors, Spanish 2 and Algebra II/Trig this year. I couldn't do a quarter of the work he's doing.
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Old 20th September 2010, 10:58 AM   #6
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After many costumers my brother and I had asking for help in buying laptops, we-ve come to the conclusion that the easiest way to figure out the best is just stay to a budget, and then find the best piece of equipment you can find on that price

You see, if you start hunting for features, design, and capabilities, you can get lost on the different prices and so on, so I think the best way to help is ask , what is the most you are willing to invest on the laptop?

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Old 20th September 2010, 11:24 AM   #7
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Shop around for a decent laptop backpack that keeps the laptop close to his back - Wenger are good (I have two) and are often discounted enormously.
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Old 20th September 2010, 11:41 AM   #8
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For 14" models, Consumer Reports last month really liked the Sony Vaio with the Core I3-330M processor. Sony in general also was among the best in laptop repair history. Its pricey - over $800.

Versions of the Toshiba Satellite were all over the top ten lists, and they were listed as having the best repair history and customer service. Best Buy has an exclusive version that got high marks. But still around $800.

CRs best buy in the category, and the one I ultimately went with for my son last month, was a Samsung R430. Not quite the racehorse the Sony is, but still nicely equipped and nearly $300 cheaper. He's had it for about 2 weeks and is still very pleased. Hopefully he'll feel the same in 6 months.

Anyway, stop by the library and pick up a September Consumer Reports - it has a pretty good write up on laptops.
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Old 20th September 2010, 12:02 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by meg View Post
Just make sure there is enough RAM and a big enough hard drive to handle whatever it is you plan to do with it.
Hard drive size isn't too important, you can always get an external drive, they keep getting cheaper and cheaper. But RAM is really important. More RAM is better than a faster processor, it'll extend battery life, and because they often ship laptops with all the memory slots filled even it doesn't have maxed out memory, upgrades are effectively more expensive because you've got to chuck some of what's in there. So I'd say only go with a bigger hard drive if the price increment is small, but try to get 4 GB or more of memory, and prioritize memory over processor speed.
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Old 20th September 2010, 05:29 PM   #10
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Originally Posted by madurobob View Post
For 14" models, Consumer Reports last month really liked the Sony Vaio with the Core I3-330M processor. Sony in general also was among the best in laptop repair history. Its pricey - over $800.
This just mystifies me. I've been repairing computers for various companies for about the last 10 years, and I HATE seeing a Sony come across the bench. They are, as a piece of hardware and a company, maddeningly frustrating to work on or with. Simple repairs become virtually impossible, and submitting a bill for a warranty reimbursement requires weeks of paperwork, emails, and the intervention of a benevolent deity to get a check cut. They once denied warranty reimbursement because a serial number sticker was unreadable-- unreadable because the fan burned out and the bottom of the laptop overheated so much the sticker turned brown. I urge you, with all the passion a put-upon technician can muster, please skip Sony.
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Old 20th September 2010, 05:37 PM   #11
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Do not buy a Toshiba. Ever. For any price.
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Old 20th September 2010, 05:48 PM   #12
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First laptop I ever had was a Toshiba and it died two months after I bought it. I know I shouldn't take that one experience and extend it out to all Toshiba laptops, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth.
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Old 20th September 2010, 08:03 PM   #13
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I think the Lenovo Thinkpad is the best available, but I may be biased being a near 20 year IBM employee. I've only ever used Thinkpads. But, I've used the hell out of them. Dropped them, left them to bounce around on the floorboard of my car rather than in a nice laptop briefcase, strapped them to the back of my motorcycle for summer commuting (one completely survived a wreck at 50mph - used it and a 3G dongle to call the office to say I'd be late), spilled wine on them, left them outside overnight where the dew settled on them, left them on for weeks at a time on my desk... And, I've never had any technical problems at all with any of the several I've "owned" through the company.

But, the employee discount is only 10%, and not all models are available. The price was just too high when I was looking for a personal laptop last month, and CR rated the Lenovo below others. I took an educated gamble on the Samsung. As I said - OK so far!
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Old 20th September 2010, 08:29 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by madurobob View Post
I think the Lenovo Thinkpad is the best available, but I may be biased being a near 20 year IBM employee. I've only ever used Thinkpads. But, I've used the hell out of them. Dropped them, left them to bounce around on the floorboard of my car rather than in a nice laptop briefcase, strapped them to the back of my motorcycle for summer commuting (one completely survived a wreck at 50mph - used it and a 3G dongle to call the office to say I'd be late), spilled wine on them, left them outside overnight where the dew settled on them, left them on for weeks at a time on my desk... And, I've never had any technical problems at all with any of the several I've "owned" through the company.

But, the employee discount is only 10%, and not all models are available. The price was just too high when I was looking for a personal laptop last month, and CR rated the Lenovo below others. I took an educated gamble on the Samsung. As I said - OK so far!
IMO, having been through and seen friends burn through laptops, I have to say that IBM or Fujitsu make the best laptops on the market. You'll pay more for either brand than you would for an HP or Dell - but the customer service and overall build quality is what you'll appreciate.

My Fujitsu has a slot for a 2nd hard drive which wasn't filled when I purchased the laptop. I called Fujitsu to order the bracket needed to mount the 2nd harddrive. Unfortunately, the part initially shipped was the bracket for HD #1 - and doesn't fit slot #2. I called Fujitsu tech support, who promptly shipped the correct bracket overnight free of charge (didn't even ask for the 1st bracket they shipped back). That's just good quality customer service. I've no doubt the company lost money on the bracket (overnight shipping cost more than I paid for the bracket), but they earned a repeat customer.

Additionally, my laptop developed a loose wire in the screen connector. I sent the laptop in under the 1yr warranty. The entire screen was replaced. When it happened again, I returned the laptop for further repairs and the screen hasn't had any problems since (going on 3yrs ago now). Both times, Fujitsu overnighted my laptop back to me (even though the second time I'd shipped it to their service center using regular ground). Again, while the laptop did develop a problem with the screen (bad wires), Fujitsu happily took care of it and my laptop has been solid since (it regularly rides in a backpack on my motorcycle with me, and has been carried into and out of work 3-4 nights a week for the past 3 years, along with many thousands of miles of road trips).


Of course, as with everything, YMMV
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Old 20th September 2010, 09:42 PM   #15
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Fairly often, I'm asked by family and neighbors what laptop to buy. Brand is almost irrelevant, as there seems to be more variation from model to model, than from manufacturer to manufacturer. Also, the models come out so fast, it's hard to accumulate many reviews before they are discontinued.

Since most of those would be buyers are extremely cost conscious, I put out a profile of a "minimum laptop" that you should be able to get, from a recognizable manufacturer, for $400. This was written for someone else, but I think it will work here:
Quote:
Minimum Requirements for Budget Laptops
As of September 2010

Low-end laptops have gotten to be very inexpensive. Although practically any contemporary laptop will be usable as a web browser, the very lowest of the low sacrifice a lot of performance for only marginal savings. This is a listing of laptop features that I consider to be a low water mark. On any day, you can buy a machine with these specifications for $500. If you’re willing to wait, and pick off a deal, you can get one for $400.

Screen Size (15.4” or larger)
In the $400-500 range, you've pretty much fixed yourself to a 14" or 15" laptop. It's easy enough to find a 15" laptop now days, so you might was well go for it. Typical screen sizes will be reported as 15.4", 15.5" and 15.6", though I suspect they're all exactly the same size.

Processor (Dual-core productivity series--no Celerons or Semprons)
A dual-core processor from either AMD or Intel's productivity series can be had. It's important to hold firm on this option, as there will be no way to upgrade this part later. Here are some good examples of what we're looking for:
  • AMD Athlon II M320 (Dual-core)
  • AMD Athlon II P320 (Dual-core)
  • Intel Pentium T4400 (Dual-core)
  • Intel Pentium T4500 (Dual-core)
Stay away from the budget processors -- the Celerons and Semprons. They aren't awful, but it's been my experience that the savings does not justify the performance loss.

Memory (3GB or more)
3GB of memory is a good target for this system. More, of course, would be better, but less is not a deal breaker. Most laptops have two memory slots. If you found a system that had 2GB of memory -- a 1GB module in each slot -- you could replace one of those modules and bring the system up to 3GB for about $40-45. If the system had a single 2GB module in one slot, that same $40-45 would bring your system up to 4GB.

Video
This component will impact the performance of the more demanding games. With a laptop, unfortunately, you don't really have much of a choice. The video is integrated into the laptop's motherboard and cannot be upgraded. Some very swanky laptops have a separate video card, but their upgrade options aren't really that great anyhow. Typical video:
  • ATi Mobility Radeon HD 4200
  • ATi Mobility Radeon HD 4250
  • Intel GMA 4500
There are a ton of options here, so I can't list them all.

Hard Drive (160GB or more)
Most contemporary will have at least a 160GB hard drive. Even a 120GB hard drive would be plenty of space for an avid music collector and conscientious student. I wouldn't be shocked to see laptops in this category with 250GB or 320GB hard drives.

Optical Drives (DVD Burner)
Any available options will be able to read CD and DVDs. Nearly all the laptops in this category will also be able to write (or "burn") CD and DVDs. Although I think it will be a rarity, watch out for a system that cannot also write to discs, as some cheap skate might try to sneak one by.

Wired Network (10/100Mbps or faster)
Even though laptops come with wireless networking, the wired networking, or ethernet, is important. It's unlikely you'll find a system that's slower than 100Mbps (Megabits per second.) You'll sometimes see that written as 10/100Mbps. A step up is the Gigabit or 1000Mbps network. That would be a plus, but need not be a huge factor in your purchase decision.

Wireless Network (Wireless-G or faster)
There are three speeds of networks in common use: "b", "g" and "n" The slowest is "b," and the fastest is "n." A system will be able to operate at a given maximum speed, and any slower speed. So, for instance, if your laptop is wireless "g," you will sometimes seen it written as wireless b/g since it can also operate at "b" speeds. Wireless "n" is often written as wireless b/g/n or wireless g/n. Wireless n would be a bonus to get, but Wireless g is your target.

Webcam (Webcam included)
This is not essential, but it's a good idea to buy a laptop with an integrated webcam. They are not expensive, but add-ons are unwieldy to use, so getting one built-in is smart.

Card Reader (Card Reader included)
As with the webcam, add-on card readers are not expensive, but are cumbersome. It shouldn't be hard to find a system with a built-in card reader.

Battery (6-cell or better)
At least a 6-cell battery is warranted. It's unlikely you'll find something with fewer cells, but having at least six is important if you want more than an hour worth of cord free operation.

Operating System (Windows 7--avoid Windows Vista)
Presuming that you want to run Windows, like most of the rest of the world, there are really only two current choices you'll see:
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (32-bit)
  • Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit)
The number of bits at the end is the only difference. The advantage to running the 32-bit version is that older programs have a better chance of being compatible with this newer operating system. The advantage to running the 64-bit version is that you'll be able to address more than 4GB of memory. Neither of those situations appears to apply to you, so your choice on this matter is only moot. With everything else being the same, I would go for the 64-bit because it better matches the processor in your system, but that's really just an academic decision.
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Old 20th September 2010, 11:30 PM   #16
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I buy and support hundreds of Dells, but are Latitude, Optiplex, or Precisions - business models which I don't think are very compelling models for home use. Dell's service is pretty good but they do get plenty of practice.

I have to agree with the comment on Sony. People I work with go out of their way to come tell me how bad their Sony laptop was... As long as they work they are cool, but Sony's service department would need to be careful of Dexter. They have a hate club.

I'm definitely a Lenovo Thinkpad fan. I still think they are probably the best Windows laptop. Don't know enough about their service though. There is an X series that is thin and also on sale.

Otherwise, Dell is not a bad choice. The Latitude E6410 is pretty good. A favorite was the E4300 but now replaced by the larger and heavier E4310. We bounce these off the floor fairly regularly and they keep going. I miss the 4300's.
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Old 20th September 2010, 11:42 PM   #17
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Originally Posted by Lisa Simpson View Post
My youngest son, while still in high school, is taking college-level courses and we have decided to dig into his college fund and buy him a laptop. Originally, we were thinking of buying him a MacBook, but I think he prefers Windows to OSX. I haven't owned a Windows PC in many years, so I don't know what's good. What brands, models are best? I'm looking for 13-15" screen.
Not sure what the cost of one of these would be in America, but I got one 4 months ago for $950 Aud and love it:

https://www.mln.com.au/product/?itemID=895
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Old 21st September 2010, 01:12 AM   #18
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Samsung: if only because I see relatively few of them for repair.
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Old 21st September 2010, 03:12 AM   #19
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double posted
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Old 21st September 2010, 03:16 AM   #20
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Originally Posted by madurobob View Post

Versions of the Toshiba Satellite were all over the top ten lists, and they were listed as having the best repair history and customer service. Best Buy has an exclusive version that got high marks. But still around $800.
I had a Toshiba l20 satellite for about 4-5yrs, excellent, tough and stable machine. I even spilt a full pint of beer into the keyboard and worked fine when I dried it out and cleaned the keys. It only died when I was increasing the RAM and forgot to turn it off.

Highly recommended.

Oh, penblwydd hapus Lisa.
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Old 21st September 2010, 04:50 AM   #21
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Originally Posted by Kensington Bailey View Post
Do not buy a Toshiba. Ever. For any price.
I manged a fleet of a few hundred business laptops, half Dell and half Toshiba. Both were very satisfactory.

Even when it's my own money, I avoid the entry-level models in any product line. IMO, these machines are the ones owners are more likely to be unhappy with.
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Old 21st September 2010, 11:13 AM   #22
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Originally Posted by madurobob View Post
But, the employee discount is only 10%, and not all models are available. The price was just too high when I was looking for a personal laptop last month, and CR rated the Lenovo below others. I took an educated gamble on the Samsung. As I said - OK so far!
The employee discount went to hell when they closed Greenock as that used to be how they kept their "on site" inventory within targets so didn't get spanked by Armonk
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Old 21st September 2010, 11:23 AM   #23
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To throw in another not very useful anecdote - in my family we've bought 3 budget Toshiba laptops (£380-£420 all variations on the C650D model) over the last few months and they seem to be good basic laptops (would go with the ones with AMD CPUs - less battery time but seem to be quicker than the one with an Intel CPU).
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Old 21st September 2010, 12:17 PM   #24
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An important consideration is the bundled software.
Microsoft Office sounds like a good idea in this case..
You can usually get a good deal if included with one of the ' build-to-spec ' companies like
Dell or HP ..
Beware of ' Tryware ' .. you could end up paying an inflated price if you decide to buy later..

I have found Amazon to be a good place to buy a laptop, price-wise, once you have decided on the model..
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Old 21st September 2010, 12:58 PM   #25
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Originally Posted by meg View Post
My family has pretty much come to the idea that laptops are basically disposable. We go for cheap. Just make sure there is enough RAM and a big enough hard drive to handle whatever it is you plan to do with it. None of us are big "gamers" though, or doing anything that requires a huge amount of computing capability.

We tend to look at the various retailers and see what's on special that week/month. We have been able to outfit our whole family with laptops, by buying the equivalent of "last years model", in the $300-$400 range.

High schoolers are notoriously hard on laptops, too, which is another reason to not spend too much money on it. The likelihood that it is going to be dropped, stepped on, spilled on, left in a hot car, lost or stolen is much higher with a teenager. My opinion is go cheap and don't sweat it too much.

My two cents.

Meg
Agree completely.

For home use we just buy disposable laptops. One kid has a netbook and the other has a very cheap laptop. Both were less than $400.

Wife has a nicer HP/Compaq laptop, chosen for the feel of the keyboard, but still less than $1000. Would have gotten a Mac but she was taking online courses and her school would not support Macs, only IE on Windows machines. She later found that the school's system works best with Firefox, too late.

I have a MacBook and I really want a newer one, but mine keeps working so I can't really justify it. I upgraded the RAM and replaced the hard drive within the first 18 months, now it is 4.5 years old. That's like 90 in computer years, right?

When my kids need new computers they will have about $400-$500 to spend.
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Old 21st September 2010, 04:05 PM   #26
Soapy Sam
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I'd add my support for the Lenovo Thinkpad range. I've never owned one-I use an ASUS Eee901 netbook - but I've known several people who are still using Thinkpads after 6 or 7 years. Good build quality.
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Old 22nd September 2010, 03:57 AM   #27
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My boss swears by his EeePC, not sure which model. Much more portable than a regular laptop, and seems to work pretty well for Office type applications.
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Old 22nd September 2010, 04:55 AM   #28
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Those netbooks are great for lugging around for notes. I wouldn't work for extended periods on one, but that's just me. Keyboard and screen are too small, so I'd strain too much.

Some people swear to a netbook on the move, then add in a monitor and full-size keyboard at home for extended sessions.
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Old 22nd September 2010, 06:10 AM   #29
Soapy Sam
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Originally Posted by ThatSoundAgain View Post

Some people swear to a netbook on the move, then add in a monitor and full-size keyboard at home for extended sessions.
I love my Eee901. In Lisa's case though, adding a monitor at home would be a large cost addition, which might make a larger laptop the cheaper option. If there's already a monitor lying around at home- possible in a family context, then it's worth considering.
Netbooks do tend to be optimised for battery life though, so lose out on sheer processing power, memory size and graphics. Adding a monitor does nothing to help this. I'd expect a youngster to want to use the machine for games some of the time and netbooks really can't compete there.
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Old 22nd September 2010, 06:39 AM   #30
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You're right of course, Soapy, especially on the power part.

One factor to bear in mind is that a monitor and decent keyboard could last longer than the computer. It's possible to get nice peripherals and view the lappy as the disposable part. This of course ties in with the price of decent tools vs. the health benefits of not squinting / slouching / straining. But the factors required to solve that equation varies with individuals and their work habits.
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Old 22nd September 2010, 07:51 AM   #31
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If you buy a MacBook, you have a choice of Windows, OSX, or Linux. If you buy a Windows laptop, you have a choice of Windows or Linux.

So, if you never need OSX, then a Windows laptop is the logical choice.

Honestly, for most of what people do, a Linux netbook running Ubuntu is not a bad decision.
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Old 23rd September 2010, 09:15 AM   #32
Emet
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Originally Posted by meg View Post
You might need to put Office on it for some classes.
Originally Posted by Skeptical Greg View Post
Microsoft Office sounds like a good idea in this case..
What about OpenOffice?
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Old 23rd September 2010, 11:34 AM   #33
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OpenOffice is pretty good, but it's not quite there if you have to circulate documents through a workflow that is primarily Microsoft Office. There are differences in formatting, and even a few incompatibilities that make that exchange maddening. Just a note: If you're a student you can get a pretty good price on an expansive version of Microsoft Office 2010 over at ultimatesteal.com.

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Old 23rd September 2010, 01:00 PM   #34
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I use OpenOffice, but, yes, some things just are a pain to exchange.

Not sure if this is an issue in a modern college environment, though.

I went to college when having an electric typewriter of your own was a cool thing.

If the standards of term papers and etc have not moved beyond what you could do on a typewriter, then anything that can save to RTF would likely be just as useful.
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Old 23rd September 2010, 03:03 PM   #35
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A lot of Windows 7 laptops are now coming with Microsoft Office Starter Edition, which does not sound very good, but might suffice.

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Old 23rd September 2010, 03:20 PM   #36
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Originally Posted by bobhope2112 View Post
A lot of Windows 7 laptops are now coming with Microsoft Office Starter Edition, which does not sound very good, but might suffice.
These MS 90 day evaluation and starter versions can be a real pain to uninstall if you use them first.
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Old 23rd September 2010, 03:59 PM   #37
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Originally Posted by ThatSoundAgain View Post
Those netbooks are great for lugging around for notes. I wouldn't work for extended periods on one, but that's just me. Keyboard and screen are too small, so I'd strain too much.

Some people swear to a netbook on the move, then add in a monitor and full-size keyboard at home for extended sessions.
I bought an Acer Aspire One for $175 after discounts. 1O.1" 160Gb HD, 1Gb Ram and an Atom processor, i think 1.6Mhz. It's got a card reader and wifi as well.

It has SVGA out I hooked up to the flatscreen and a $19 wireless keyboard and mouse and it works great.

It runs XP fine, as well as Office 2007. I've been watching movies off Netflix with zero problems. It takes 27 seconds to boot.

If I had 1 complaint I'd say a HDMI is the only thing missing, and only because the SVGA doesn't do sound.

If you can get by with one I can't recommend them enough. I've got 0 invested in it, I don't expect much of it and it delivers more. I tether it to my phone and have an unlimited data plan so I haven't paid for internet in a while.
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Old 23rd September 2010, 04:01 PM   #38
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A netbook would be fine if all he was doing was school work. But I figure he'll want something he can play games on once the homework is done.
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Old 23rd September 2010, 04:32 PM   #39
Salerio
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Free Software

Don't forget that MS will give away a lot of free software and a low cost version of Office for those with a .ac email address.

http://www.microsoft.com/student/off...s/default.aspx
https://www.dreamspark.com/default.aspx

As for laptops, I like my EeePC for travelling and replicate everything up to the main PC when I'm at home.
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Old 23rd September 2010, 04:34 PM   #40
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Originally Posted by Lisa Simpson View Post
A netbook would be fine if all he was doing was school work. But I figure he'll want something he can play games on once the homework is done.
When I was reading the reviews it seems the low end netbooks had problems playing decent movie video,
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