Another Computer Purchase Thread

glennhoffmania

but still failing
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 25, 2005
8,399,671
NY
I need a new laptop. It's been a long time since I shopped for computers and I don't know much about them. Basically I need it for MS Office, web browsing, iTunes and mlb.tv once in a while. No games and I don't need a crazy monitor or anything fancy. What specs should I be looking for in terms of type of processor, speed, RAM, hard drive size, screen resolution, etc.?
 

Nick Kaufman

protector of human kind from spoilers
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Aug 2, 2003
10,746
A Lost Time
Start with desirable weight and screen size and go from there I think.

My personal preference for laptops is an ultrathin one between 12-13 inches. The only sacrifice you make at those sizes is the cpu which isn't as fast. But other than that, 8 gigs of ram are sufficient, any SSD 128GB and up. You will most likely be able to find something with excellent resolution at least 1080p.
 

Pudge Gumley

Member
SoSH Member
Feb 28, 2006
86
Chicago
Having just gone through the research to replace my Thinkpad (which only lasted 2 yrs, rather disappointing), I can attest that Thewirecutter.com has a very readable buyer's guide: http://thewirecutter.com/reviews/what-laptop-should-i-buy-the-best-laptops-for-every-need/

At the entry level, this quote from their "budget laptop" (~ $500) roundup gives these minimum spec recommendations:
  • Intel Broadwell Core i3 or i5 CPU
  • More than 4 GB of RAM
  • 500GB or larger hard drive
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • 1366×768 or better screen resolution
And, as they write in their findings, there are no good options for 13" laptops at that price point, at least one of those specs gets compromised. I ended up buying their next-step-up "budget ultrabook" recommendation for $750:

www.amazon.com/Asus-UX305UA-AS51-13-3-Inch-Generation-Titanium/dp/B01BMERZJ6/183-4504691-9991442?ie=UTF8&ascsubtag=WC24216&linkCode=xm2&tag=thewire06-20

It arrived yesterday; great 13" display, even lighter than a last gen MacBook, good battery life, 256 Gb SSD. So far so good.

FAKE EDIT: And in copying that link, I see the price went down to $700, so now I get to test Price Protection on Discover card!
 

glennhoffmania

but still failing
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 25, 2005
8,399,671
NY
Thanks for the tips so far. My current laptop is 15.6 inches and I like the screen size, and since I don't plan to travel much with it the smaller, lighter models aren't a big plus for me. When I travel with a computer it's for work and I take my company issued Thinkpad.

It seems based on my initial research that 8 GB of RAM, 1 TB hard drive, and a Quad Core would be plenty sufficient for my needs and would be fine for a few years. I was looking at this option from Dell:
I've always been partial to Dell but I can't really say why. Does the one in that link seem like a good fit and a decent deal?
 

glennhoffmania

but still failing
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 25, 2005
8,399,671
NY
Also what operating system should I be looking at? I'm still using Vista at home and I have no clue if it matters or if I could even get something besides Windows 10 at this point.
 

IpswichSox

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 14, 2005
2,553
Suburbs of Washington, DC
One thing I would recommend at least looking at is a Surface, which kind of straddles the iPad and laptop space. It may be more than what you need -- Microsoft nickels-and-dimes you on the keyboard which is annoying -- but in terms of mobility the Surface Pro 4 that I've had for a month has been solid for me.
 

NortheasternPJ

Member
SoSH Member
Nov 16, 2004
14,135
Also what operating system should I be looking at? I'm still using Vista at home and I have no clue if it matters or if I could even get something besides Windows 10 at this point.
Well you can't get any worse than Vista so you have no where to go but up.
 

HriniakPosterChild

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 6, 2006
12,715
500 feet above Lake Sammammish
One thing I would recommend at least looking at is a Surface, which kind of straddles the iPad and laptop space. It may be more than what you need -- Microsoft nickels-and-dimes you on the keyboard which is annoying -- but in terms of mobility the Surface Pro 4 that I've had for a month has been solid for me.
I don't know how the Surface Pro 4 differs from the Surface Book, bit would suggest reading the review at http://blogs.harvard.edu/philg/2016/06/24/microsoft-surface-book-review/ before going in that direction.
 

IpswichSox

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 14, 2005
2,553
Suburbs of Washington, DC
Here's one comparison of the Surface Pro and the Surface Book. In very elemental terms, I think the Surface Book is much more like a laptop and the Surface Pro tries to be more like a tablet but with laptop capabilities. The Surface Book is also significantly more expensive. One of the reasons I was suggesting at least looking at a Surface Pro was that you can easily configure it below $1k.

I love my iPad for light email work, web surfing and watching movies/baseball. But when it comes to writing or editing anything but the most basic documents or spreadsheets, or more robust email work, I turn to the Surface Pro. Plus I love how portable it is. It's a laptop that's less than three pounds and highly mobile, whether you carry it by itself or slip it in a bag.

The one thing about the Surface that blows is the battery. I've closed out other programs, turned down the brightness and been diligent about making sure extraneous programs aren't running in the background, and still the battery is like four hours tops. They really need to address that.

The Surface Pro is not for everyone YMMV. But I wanted to at least throw it out there for consideration as I've really liked mine (which I got through work).
 

HriniakPosterChild

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 6, 2006
12,715
500 feet above Lake Sammammish
The one thing about the Surface that blows is the battery. I've closed out other programs, turned down the brightness and been diligent about making sure extraneous programs aren't running in the background, and still the battery is like four hours tops. They really need to address that.
That's consistent with Greenspun's blog entry:

took it back to the Microsoft Store in the Burlington Mall and had one of the their experts, who himself owns a Surface Book, check to see if I was doing anything obviously wrong but he couldn’t get any kind of keyboard autocorrection to work either on my Surface Book or his own. He confirmed that the battery settings were proper and said that Surface Books sometimes don’t sleep properly, which explains why the folded-closed device was sometimes warm to the touch. It was easy to have the device wipe its hard drive and easy to get a full refund from Microsoft.
 

glennhoffmania

but still failing
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 25, 2005
8,399,671
NY
Well you can't get any worse than Vista so you have no where to go but up.
True but I have no clue what the differences are with the later versions or if I even have a choice at this point. It seems like everything comes with Windows 10 now and I've never used it. We use Windows 7 at work and in general I'm not a big fan but it's fine.
 

Pudge Gumley

Member
SoSH Member
Feb 28, 2006
86
Chicago
I'm curious what happened to the Thinkpad to make it last only two years? Did it get damaged, fail?
I bought a refurbished Twist because the price was ridiculously good, and @Couperin47 did a good job pointing out the durability and value of the Thinkpad line. I think I just lost the refurb lottery: the motherboard failed just before the warranty expired, and was swapped out by Lenovo, took 3 weeks to send and receive. Then this spring the battery life took a nosedive and wouldn't hold a charge longer than 3 hours. Lastly, a couple of letters on the keyboard failed, and one got locked into place so anytime I put the cursor in a field it would start typing qqqqqqqqqqqqqqq ad infinitum. The deals at the Lenovo outlet currently not much less than the price of this ultrabook I bought once I cried uncle.
 

JakeRae

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 21, 2005
6,477
New York, NY
Thanks for the tips so far. My current laptop is 15.6 inches and I like the screen size, and since I don't plan to travel much with it the smaller, lighter models aren't a big plus for me. When I travel with a computer it's for work and I take my company issued Thinkpad.

It seems based on my initial research that 8 GB of RAM, 1 TB hard drive, and a Quad Core would be plenty sufficient for my needs and would be fine for a few years. I was looking at this option from Dell:
I've always been partial to Dell but I can't really say why. Does the one in that link seem like a good fit and a decent deal?
Get a smaller SSD and a good backup system. Or, spend for a big SSD. Or, just don't store so much stuff. Either way get an SSD. Other than that, the things I tend to value are keyboard/trackpad quality, screen quality (IPS over TFT is a bigger deal than crazy high resolutions), IMHO, weight, and battery life. Battery life is the big one that you don't really know how great it is until you have it. Having a computer that runs 6-8 hours per charge on real life usage is incredibly liberating, even when just using it around the house. Not sure where this leads you. When I was shopping a little over 3 years ago, I ended up having to sell my desire for an IPS panel to stay in budget and got a MacBook Air because it was the best value for money for the specs I was looking for. A lot of that had to do with timing of upgrade cycles, and a little had to do with the fact that most manufacturers make crummy keyboards or trackpads or both and Apple doesn't. I have no regrets about my purchase, which is holding up great 3 years in.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 26, 2005
19,537
The one thing about the Surface that blows is the battery. I've closed out other programs, turned down the brightness and been diligent about making sure extraneous programs aren't running in the background, and still the battery is like four hours tops. They really need to address that.
That's odd. Most people are reporting five to six hours of battery life if you are not using any peripherals or doing intense computing. E.g., http://www.zdnet.com/product/microsoft-surface-pro-4/. And this (which has some battery tips) http://tabtimes.com/surface-pro-4-battery-35656/. There might be some cloud stuff going on in the background that is draining battery life. If I knew more I'd suggest something specifically, but I don't.

That's consistent with Greenspun's blog entry:
Greenspun was talking about a Surface Book not a Surface Pro. Surface book is different because it's supposed to be a laptop that can also go to a tablet in a pinch. He didn't say how his was configured but if he's running the I7 version, he's not going to get great battery life. Those chips were made for performance not power. Also, Surface Book has two smaller batteries - one in screen and one in base but between the two, the life isn't great.

Surface pro is a tablet that can also stand in as a laptop. It is made to be more portable. For instance, it's supposed to get 8-9 hours of video watching although as IS notes above real world is a bit different.
 

Rudi Fingers

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 18, 2005
1,407
Adianoeta
@glennhoffmania - Best Buy is discounting the MacBook Air's nowadays.

Seriously, the 13" MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM and 128GB flash storage drive http://www.bestbuy.com/site/apple-macbook-air-(latest-model)-13.3%22-display-intel-core-i5-8gb-memory-128gb-flash-storage-silver/6443034.p?id=1219661416264&skuId=6443034 for $850 is the best value computer out there that fits your current needs that you won't have to worry about.

The MacBook Air is rock solid, tried and true, and (as Jake said) you won't be regretting the purchase after you make it. The latest models are really fast, and the screen technology is more than good enough. Just get one. I have scores of colleagues that love them. It's the Wirecutter's overall recommendation for a reason.
 

NortheasternPJ

Member
SoSH Member
Nov 16, 2004
14,135
If i needed a new MacBook I'd be all over that Air deal. That's a great little computer for that price. I can't imagine having to go back to a Windows laptop.
 

glennhoffmania

but still failing
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 25, 2005
8,399,671
NY
I really dislike Apple. And I have some coworkers who have Macs and say that they have issues with using work files on them. Whatever I buy will also be used for work when I'm home so if that's a problem it's a deal breaker.

In general can someone explain the different types of storage and memory? Is flash storage the same as your regular hard drive? Jake said get an SSD. What else would I get? Last time I bought a computer all I looked at were RAM, hard disk space, and processor. It seems more complicated now.

Thanks
 

glennhoffmania

but still failing
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Jul 25, 2005
8,399,671
NY
Ok so in the Dell I linked above where it says this: "1 TB HDD + 8 GB SSD Hybrid Drive Storage"

Is that good or bad?

I can't even tell if that Samsung you linked to has an SSD. I'm even more computer illiterate than I thought.
 

Nick Kaufman

protector of human kind from spoilers
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
Aug 2, 2003
10,746
A Lost Time
Dude, don't panic, it's not complicated.

The old hard drives were an disk with a spindle. The new SSDs are like memory ram in that they don't have a revolving disk and they just store data in memory banks. That makes them infinitely faster but because it's a newer technology they cost more and thus you get lower capacity drives.

Some laptop manufacturers create hybrid disks part ssd part old disk in order to pair the benefits of both technologies. Personally, I would steer clear from such solutions and just get a pure SSD around 256GB. If this isn't enough and you really want a storage drive to store bigger files, just get an old school external drive.
 

wade boggs chicken dinner

Member
SoSH Member
Mar 26, 2005
19,537

NortheasternPJ

Member
SoSH Member
Nov 16, 2004
14,135
I really dislike Apple. And I have some coworkers who have Macs and say that they have issues with using work files on them. Whatever I buy will also be used for work when I'm home so if that's a problem it's a deal breaker.


Thanks
It'd have to depend on the "work file". Unless it's a proprietary Windows app at this point I don't have any compatibility issues. Office 2016 is great (for Office) and solved all major issues I had.
 

LoweTek

Well-Known Member
Lifetime Member
SoSH Member
May 30, 2005
1,641
Central Florida
You can buy an Adata 6GBs 480GB SSD on Amazon for $110, a 960GB for $219. Buy the smallest SATA in the laptop and then just transfer the OS to the SSD and swap them out, two screws, plug 'n play. It even comes with an Acronis license to do the transfer (replicates the original drive to the SSD).
 

hikeeba

Member
SoSH Member
Dec 8, 2005
786
Seems like d74e31cc6 takes another $100 off that MacBook Air (not sure if it's one use or not, but it was sent to me and I won't be using it)
 

locknload

Member
SoSH Member
Jul 14, 2005
2,330
Haverhill MA
I'm actually in the market for a new laptop as well and started looking at the 13.3in Samsung Notebook 7 spin and one thing confused the hell of out me. Looks like according to the spec page the storage is a 1 TB drive that is up-gradable to a SSD. It lists the storage interface as a M2 Sata3 which I've only seen used a SDD connector not a standard spindle disk drive. So I can't seem to figure out if it is has a M.2 Sata3 connector in addition to a standard 1TB drive (so you can upgrade and have both) or if its a standard spindle drive with a M.2 Sata connector I would have to swap out and replace with an SSD.


Edit - For the record this is the samsung page for the item i was looking at:

http://www.samsung.com/us/computer/pcs/NP740U3L-L02US


Edit 2 - Contacted Samsung and clarified that there are two HDD slots, it comes with a standard spindle 1TB drive and you add an SSD on the M.2 Sata3 port. So basically for about 1k total you can have an SSD drive and 16 gig RAM
 
Last edited: