*Ask an Expert: Featuring Avram Piltch, LaptopMag Editor*

Graybush

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Feb 13, 2017
582
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Are you having difficulty finding the right laptop? Need an expert’s opinion on the latest and greatest? We’re introducing on Tom’s Guide our advice installment ‘Ask an Expert’, hosted by your community staff.

For a time, we’re going to help you and answer questions regarding laptop tech support. What type of tech you’re looking for, how powerful of a laptop you need, and the gear necessary to cover all your needs.

Our special guest this week is Avram Piltch, Editorial Director of Tom’s Guide and LaptopMag. As one of the geekiest members of the Tom’s Guide staff, Avram directs both the editorial and production teams. Passionate about testing his products, Avram has developed several of our real-world benchmarks including the Laptop Battery Test and the Spreadsheet Productivity Test. He holds a Master’s degree in English from New York University.

‘Ask an Expert’ will be running from 2PM Wednesday July 19th to 4PM Friday July 21st. The forum thread will open on 10AM July 18th in preparation for questions.

Ask and Expert Rules


  • ■ All Rules of Conduct apply.
    ■ Keep questions direct and to the point.
    ■ Avoid opinion bias, as in, "Why are all your products awesome/horrible?"
    ■ Be respectful of our guests--no insults, no leading questions.
    ■ Do not post duplicate questions or repost your question multiple times.
    ■ Not all questions may be answered. Questions may not be answered in the order in which they are received or posted.
To reiterate: No opinion bias, insults, leading questions, or breaking the Rules of Conduct. Breaking these rules may result in a one-day ban.

Only registered users will be able to ask questions, so if you haven’t yet, be sure to register now for your chance to participate!

The official representatives will reply periodically over the time the AMA is active using a recognized and verified account.

Please join us and throw your questions for Avram into the mix!
 
G

Guest

Guest
Hi Avram! Looking forward to your answers later today.

I got my son a Razer Blade laptop back in 2015. It's been working pretty well up until recently, where the back-light on the keys have gone out. Do you find this is a common issue with their laptops? This is our first Razer in the house, and I was hoping to give it to his brother after my oldest upgrades to a new laptop.
 

Below0

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Jan 8, 2015
53
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Question for you, Avram:

I've noticed that HP's Pavillion lines tend to have significant heating issues after a period of time. What do you think HP can do can alleviate the heating issue in their laptops?
 
Jan 7, 2015
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Personally, I look for stuff that's really mobile, especially since I already have a desktop at home. But power is also a big priority for me, and sometimes I feel that the twain shall never meet. So I gotta ask, do you or the team have any personal preferences when looking for a laptop?
 

apiltch

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Sep 15, 2014
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Thanks for asking! While we haven't had an issue with the test units Razer has sent us, a quick Google search reveals a few forum threads on other sites where customers are reporting backlight issues on Razer laptops. I have sent an email to our contact at Razer to see if the company has any official response and will update this post if I hear anything.

As with anything else, there's always a possibility of defective parts. Depending on how important the backlight is to you, you could either live with it or contact Razer to see if they can provide service. My first move would be to contact Razer and see how much, if anything, they will charge.

I'm not sure of how easy it is to remove and replace the keyboard on your own on the Blade, but you can probably find a replacement keyboard for $100 to $200 on eBay. As far as passing this laptop down to someone, I don't see why you wouldn't. Keyboard backlights are pretty but they are a nice-to-have, not an essential function of any laptop.

Also, since this is a large gaming laptop, a better solution might be to just buy an external keyboard with backlighting.

Razer sent us the following reply:

“Not a common issue we’ve seen before. They should do some basic troubleshooting, such as uninstall and reinstall Synapse. Without more details, tough to say if the issue is hardware or software, but for sure not something we see regularly. Maybe we could suggest they try to contact support via the new chat system?”



 

apiltch

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Sep 15, 2014
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We haven't seen this in our tests, but laptops can get warmer over time if they get dust in the vents. I'm not aware of an overall problem with the Pavilion line and heat, but if you have any kind of laptop that's getting too warm, here are some ideas:

1. Clean the vents. You can start by using canned air to blow into them and loosen up the dust. If there's an easily removable bottom cover (not something that's a unibody design or lacks screws), you can try taking it off carefully and blowing out the dust from the inside.

2. Check your Windows power profile.
A. In Windows 10, Navigate to Power & Sleep and then click on Additional Power Settings OR right click the battery icon and select "Power Options"
B. Click "change plan settings" next to the active plan.
C. Open Processor Power management.
D. Select System cooling policy and make sure it is set to Active so the fan runs.

3. Get a laptop cooler

4. Unplugged is cooler. Usually laptops run cooler when unplugged because they're not charging (and charging generates heat)



 

apiltch

Estimable
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Sep 15, 2014
227
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You can get plenty of performance out of a laptop, as long as you buy one with high-performance components. We have a set of what I like to call "minimum good specs," which are the least you should get if performance matters to you:

1. At least a Core i5 CPU.
However, if performance is key, look not only for Core i5, but for a quad-core Core i5, which would have a model number ending in HQ or HK as in Core i5-7440HQ.
2. At least 8GB of RAM
3 At least a 256GB SSD - Getting an SSD is the most important thing you can do for your computer's performance and a faster, PCIe NVMe SSD makes a big difference.
4. 1080p or higher res screen -- This one isn't really about performance but unless you're buying a low-end, budget system, you should always get a laptop with at least a 1920 x 1080 panel.

Now, if you really want to be cooking with gas, get a laptop with discrete graphics and a GPU that's at least an Nvidia GTX 1050. You can get good performance and a decent price from a jazzed up 2-in-1 like the Lenovo Yoga 720 15-inch, a creative professional's system like the Dell XPS 15 / MacBook Pro or from a low-end gaming model like the Inspiron 15 7000. If money is no object, consider a mobile workstation like the Dell Precision 7520.



 

James_656

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Jul 19, 2017
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Hello Avram. I am looking for a laptop for the purposes of music production and DJing. I am a Windows fan and do not want a Mac. What specs would I need for this? Do I need a discrete GPU if I plan on working with video or would HD graphics suffice? Would a 35W TDP (like the i3-7100H) suit all of my needs? This laptop will be my music only laptop. Please help
 

apiltch

Estimable
Moderator
Sep 15, 2014
227
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4,840
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Depending on what audio software you use, you probably don't need a ton of processing power, but I definitely recommend getting a Core i5 over a Core i3, even if you have to go for a dual-core, 15-watt CPU instead of a quad-core processor. I don't think you need discrete graphics at all. It helps a bit if you're editing uncompressed video or really high-res files, but the most important use case for discrete video is gaming, followed by 3D modeling and animation.

Overall, I think you want a Core i5 HQ series CPU, at least 8 (maybe 16) GB of RAM and a speedy SSD. If you need more space for storage, you can always supplement the SSD with an external drive.

You didn't mention a maximum budget, so I'm going to make some recommendations that are over $1,000. Let me know if you want some that are cheaper as well.

1. Dell XPS 15 (https://www.laptopmag.com/reviews/laptops/dell-xps-15). This one is very light for a 15-inch laptop, comes with a quad-core CPU and a gorgeous display. The $1,349 model with Core i5 / 8GB / 256GB SSD and 1050 graphics (not necessary but comes with it) should be good.

2. Lenovo Yoga 720 15-inch (https://www.laptopmag.com/reviews/laptops/lenovo-yoga-720-15-inch) -- Even though this is a 2-in-1, it packs quite a punch. The $999 base model is a steal, with a Core i7-7700HQ, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. For another $50, you can step up to discrete 1050 graphics or for $1,199 you get a 512GB SSD.



 

James_656

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Jul 19, 2017
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Thanks for your suggestions. I actually found that Lenovo recently released a Core i5 HQ version of the Yoga 720. I may go with that. I just need a good dock because it is absent some ports. Any suggestions on that? And thanks for your help.
 

uscgmom4

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Jul 8, 2015
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rjf4916

Prominent
Jul 13, 2017
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Question for Avram:

I travel extensively in a motorhome so use a laptop with an external monitor for my image processing. It's somewhat confusing reading benchmark tests, because of different results (I'm no expert in that department!). Here's what's on my wishlist:

Processor: i7 Kaby Lake, although have read that improvement from Skylake for photo editing is negligible. I'd consider an i5 if powerful enough for processing large files in Photoshop (no video editing).

16GB memory with at least 32GB potential. (Many laptops come with only 8GB--I often have Lightroom, Photoshop and Photomatix [HDR software program] open at once) Of course I can immediately upgrade memory but must consider overall final cost...

Video card: Nvidia 1050 (1050TI but probably too pricey). Again, I have read that, in some tests for image processing, the 960M excels.

Storage drive: I use an external hard drive for my images and documents, so looking for 256 or 512 SSD PCIe. It seems that many laptops come with mediocre SSD drives, in terms of speed. Samsung has excellent drives but I haven't been able to ascertain from reading specs what model SSD comes standard.

Optical drive: preferred, although hard to find. I could get an external drive, but have no other DVD, so I use laptop drive for watching movies on my TV. Are external ones rugged enough to withstand RV travel over sometimes very rough roads?

Ports: I constantly use 3 USB drives for mouse, Wacam tablet, external hard drive, and sometimes a 4th for a thumb drive or printer. Thunderbolt sounds good, but I'd need cables/adspters. External dock is possible, but just one more thing to securely pack and unpack.

Other: SD card reader; Bluetooth would be nice.

I've been looking at the Dell XPS 15 9560 and love it, but getting a "tricked out" one is expensive. It may be worth it since I'm replacing my desktop. I also have been looking at Asus and Lenovo. Asus is very reasonable with all the bells and whistles, but I'm concerned about reliability and reported poor customer support. I'm glazed over from searching, so haven't probed all Lenovo possibilities.

I'd like to keep price under $1500 but that may rule out the Dell.
 

apiltch

Estimable
Moderator
Sep 15, 2014
227
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So, you can get a Dell XPS 15 with Core i5, which isn't much slower than Core i7, a 1080p screen, 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD for $1349, but the RAM is less than you'd want. Right now, I see sale on U.S. Dell where you can get $200 off the price of the $1,749 model by using code 200OFF1499. This would get you an XPS 15 with Core i7 / 16GB / 512GB PCIe for $1549

http://adfarm.mediaplex.com/ad/ck/127472?mpre=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.dell.com%2Fen-us%2Fshop%2Fproductdetails%2Fxps-15-9560-laptop

If the XPS 15 is still too expensive, another option is Lenovo's Yoga 720 15-inch, which gives you similar specs for $1,199 (Core i7 / 16GB / 512GB / GTX 1050 graphics).
 

rjf4916

Prominent
Jul 13, 2017
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rjf4916

Prominent
Jul 13, 2017
4
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Thanks very much. I had seen that Dell XPS but missed the discount. The only Lenovo Yoga I can find only have 2GB dedicated graphics. Would there be a noticeable difference between 2GB and 4 when running Photoshop, Lightroom and Photomatix?

I take it that, by omission, you think that the Asus isn't worth the risk?
 
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