budget (?) laptop: things to consider? (w/ FAQ answers)

hondochica

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Greetings;

I am in the market for a new laptop - replacing my now 9 y/o HP. It will be a 'travel' - light use machine in general. I am NOT a techie - I have no idea what I can get for X dollars . . looking for a Windows machine - not MAC

What I'm really looking for are the basic specs to consider while I shop for a great deal. Like:

cpu speed - what's too slow/old - bare minimum ghz?

number/type of usb ports: usb 2.0 or 3.0 or ?? does it matter?

RAM - how much is enough or too little? is 3-4 GB enough?

Is a refurbished worth considering??


What else do I need to think about?

For example?
HP 15-g070nr Notebook (http://www.frys.com/product/8136065?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG)

Dell i3531-1200BK, (http://www.frys.com/product/8119025?site=sr:SEARCH:MAIN_RSLT_PG) no optical drive - could I add an external?



Budget?
Would really like to stay under $400 - if at all possible - maybe even $200-300 -

Size of the notebook
size? as in screen? 14" would be OK - maybe 15.6" but no larger.

Screen resolution
I have no idea! Will be used to watch Netflix/movies/internet TV. Recommendations appreciated

Portable or desktop replacement
Portable - not a desktop replacement

Battery life ?
5 hours min - would likely be using in RV - would prefer not to run generator to recharge very often. might look for 12v cable when I buy.

Games ?
NO gaming! - Not my thing

Tasks?
Basics: Word/Xcel/Quicken - Internet - videos; ArcGIS 10.x I do occasional mapping as a consultant.

Storage (Hard Drive capacity) ?
500 GB would probably be more than enough - maybe less as I have a couple externals that hold much of my data (e.g. GIS files)

Lifespan?
ohhh . . . min 5 years - but negotiable as I don't want to spend much right now - though I can't imagine needing more later.

Optical drive ?
DVD at least; Bluray? probably not - don't generally buy videos or rent - it's all online now. IF I find a decent laptop w/o an optical drive - can I add an external?

Brands:
Looking for reliability. I have had great success with HP - the only brand I've ever owned - both laptop and desktops have been HPs. Tend to stay with the older brands: Dell, Lenovo, HP Not sure about Acer or Asus (common inexpensive models).

County?
US of A


Thank you sooo much for your insights!

Kelly
 

hans_pcguy

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Basics on laptops. 1 buy a laptop with an intel cpu. An i3 is ok i5 is ideal for lower priced laptop. 4GB ram is fine. If you get one with less consider the price to upgrade. Hard drives are cheap these days. You should have no problem getting 500gb or more on a cheap unit. Most laptops have DVD burners. Some have Blue ray player\burners. Generally the blueray units are pricey. I would not buy a laptop without a DVD. Personally I think that some brands are more consistently reliable than others. I hate to say but I would gravitate to Dell. You can get a good model from another company but some big names make really crappy stuff. Dell is pretty consistent. But the main thing is to research the exact unit that you are looking at. ESPECIALLY the small numbers. For instance a HP G60 may have an amd or intel cpu. The amd is garbage the intel is much better. HP is especially guilty of this type of trickery. Another big thing on cheap laptops is the SCREEN. You can obviously check the stats on a screen but what you want to know is the VIEWING ANGLE. Many cheap laptops have horrible viewing angles. If you get 15 degrees or so off (especially vertically) you may have a very lousy view. But check out all the reviews on each candidate. Hope this was helpful.
 

bliq

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great set of questions. I'll share with you my experience helping my mom with this predicament- she wanted a light travel laptop that felt fast, for checking email, watching movies on the plane, doing video chats, etc. With this in mind, I got her a chromebook. in her case, an HP 11. my daughters have similar use cases, and I bought them chromebooks also. all of them were $200 models.

If you needed a more general use laptop, and you're not doing anything too intensive, like heavy duty photo editting, then I'd consider any of the 11.6 and 13.3 inch laptops out there. 11.6 is small enough to carry around, 13.3 gives you more flexibility to actually get stuff done. My wife is looking at the Acer V3 13.3 inch screen with a core i5-4210. I'd say ideally the current i5-4xxx or last generation i5-3xxx are the least I'd buy, but then again, my wife is using it for her work. if you're using it for travel and personal uses, an i3-3xxx or i3-4xxx would probably be fine. The one thing I'd do straight away though is replace the mechanical hard drive for an SSD.

4GB of RAM is sufficient for most uses, especially for personal use. I prefer my laptops don't have optical drives anymore as I don't use them often so I don't want to carry around that extra 5-6 oz. I have an external for the times I need it. USB2.0 is fast enough for an external optical drive but if USB3.0 is available, it make the use of usb3.0 external hard drives and USB drives much more pleasurable.

as for your examples, I'd never carry a 15.6 in laptop for travel uses- way too heavy and bulky- this is from experience with one of the lightest 15.6's out there, my mac book pro retina. you'll end up leaving it in the hotel most of the time. One thing I like about the HP that my mom has is that it has a SIM slot so she can use cellular data while she's out and about.

as for refurbs, it's always a risk. I'm usually good with them, but my wife's last laptop was problematic.

Just saw your requirement for ArcGIS. that probably will put chromebook out of the running, though that's the only app from your use cases that would preclude a simple chromebook. At $400 you're probably looking at a core i3 notebook at the most. If you plan to carry it around while outside the RV, even a 14" laptop is pushing it. If not, then 14 or 15 will be fine. 15 tends to be the cheapest, along with 11.6's. Acer and Asus are both reputable brands with good value for a personal user. For work uses, I'd stick with HP and Dell as replacement parts are more plentiful to keep downtime low, just in case.

 

Eximo

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Mobility and Battery life = Intel
Some moderate graphics performance = AMD A-Series

Very common platform these days are ultrabooks. These are thin, light weight, but offer less processing power then the laptop counterparts. Chips ending in M will be Laptops from Intel, Chips ending in U will be Ultrabooks from Intel. Ultrabooks generally don't have optical drives.

In your price range, you don't have a lot of options. You will see many Celeron, Pentium and maybe an i3 or two. Quite a few AMD APUs. Ironically many of these laptops will have large but cheaply made screens.

For a quick idea of what is out there I like to head to newegg.com and sort by price and a few features I am looking for. Particularly screen size and chip type:

http://www.newegg.com/Product/ProductList.aspx?Submit=ENE&N=100006740%204019%20600003986%20600003988%20600004344&IsNodeId=1&bop=And&Order=PRICE&PageSize=20
 

hondochica

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thanks Hans_pcguy: very helpful! so where/how do I find the 'viewing angle'? and what about resolution? need I be concerned w/ that or not really?

Thanks also - bliq: I am not so concerned about weight - this is not a laptop I'll actually be hauling around alot - mostly for travel (hotel use) and while RVing - so always a desk/table nearby. Also I have a tablet for more mobile - small stuff. I see your point about DVD - probably not important afterall. So - what is it about a Chromebook that wouldn't work well with ArcGIS? Is it the cpu speed?

And Eximo - Thanks also - "mobility" not so critical for me, but that was not indicated in my initial post; battery life is very important - will look for Intel. So - what constitutes a "cheap" screen? What specs should I be looking for? viewing angle? (again, how do I find that), resolution? Will check out Newegg.

Kelly

 

Bolin

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Remember it varies depending on the usage and so my responses will be sticking to light-traveling usage and budget as stated

"cpu speed - what's too slow/old - bare minimum ghz?"

Any i3 or i5 should be enough for you

"number/type of usb ports: usb 2.0 or 3.0 or ?? does it matter? "

My External HDD transfers at 10MB/s on my 6years old acer (usb 2.0) and 100mb/s on my new sager (usb 3.0)

"RAM - how much is enough or too little? is 3-4 GB enough?"

4GB is enough for your usage

"Is a refurbished worth considering??"

Depends where it came from. It may be okay if it was returned to the manufacturer days later after it was bought and later fixed and sold as refurbished

"What else do I need to think about? "

What else do you need? :p

"thanks - very helpful! so where/how do I find the 'viewing angle'? and what about resolution? need I be concerned w/ that or not really?"

You have to look for video reviews and see for yourself if the viewing angle is okay for you.

Resolution is the Magnitude that measures how many pixels are fit into the screen. 1366*768 (16:9) or higher (1920*1080 ; 16:9) is what you're looking for.
 

hans_pcguy

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Most reviews will speak of the viewing angle. Again I would highly recommend that you Google the exact laptop that you might purchase and read reviews on it. The best way to check a laptop screen is to actually see the one you are going to buy, then compare it to others.When you look at the screen move up, down and side to side to see when the screen gets hard to see. The cheap ones are very narrow in their view. Resolution is important but most laptops are about the same on resolution. Another consideration I forgot to mention: Glossy screens look very slick, but a matte screen is actually considerably better at preventing glare.
 

hondochica

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Thanks to all for the great info - really appreciate your time!

So . . . been lookin' around . .

If I want to save $$ - what's wrong/bad with a Celeron or dual core processor? Is there a strong argument to avoid them?

HD: Looks like the less expensive laptops tend to have HDs with 5400 SATA drives - any reason to avoid this? kinda slow - not a 7800 (or is that 7200) but . . . am I missing something here?

I will certainly check reviews, but I don't quite get why I care so much about viewing angle - as the laptop will be sitting in front of me about 18-24 in away - what difference does it make? Not like I'm using it like a TV and viewing from several feet away - what am I missing here?

Batteries!! I'm seeing 4 cell, 6 cell . . . bigger is better I assume (4 vs 6) - how do I judge actual use time - battery life?? is it possible to upgrade this after purchase?

Basically - I'm starting to sort out why I might need/want to spend more $$ and what I'm giving up if I don't.

How do you all feel about 'off-lease' computers - Tiger direct sells a ton of them

Wish I could pick more than 1 "solution" - everyone has offered great useful tips!

Thanks

Kelly

 

Bolin

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"If I want to save $$ - what's wrong/bad with a Celeron or dual core processor? Is there a strong argument to avoid them?"

Actually nothing, just that celerons are pretty slow

"HD: Looks like the less expensive laptops tend to have HDs with 5400 SATA drives - any reason to avoid this? kinda slow - not a 7800 (or is that 7200) but . . . am I missing something here?"

7200rpm means 33% less loading time (it's faster) in case other specs are equal, 5400rpm are okay for low budgets.

"I will certainly check reviews, but I don't quite get why I care so much about viewing angle - as the laptop will be sitting in front of me about 18-24 in away - what difference does it make? Not like I'm using it like a TV and viewing from several feet away - what am I missing here? "

When you are watching something in groups or when you're slightly angled to the monitor it can make a difference but if you don't really care it's okay

"Batteries!! I'm seeing 4 cell, 6 cell . . . bigger is better I assume (4 vs 6) - how do I judge actual use time - battery life?? "

Most of the reviews should mention battery life too, you have to look for the capacity and the cells. Capacity is in mAh and cells are just a simple number and more is better in both cases.

"is it possible to upgrade this" (the battery) "after purchase? "

There are many ways to solve this which you may or may not like. First, there are extended batteries which are larger than the original but can hold more charge (they are model dependent). There are also mobile chargers (ask someone else you link you one). Finally, you can also buy a 2nd battery and when you are 5% before running out you save everything, power off, switch batteries and power it back on.
 

hans_pcguy

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I strongly recommend that you actually inspect the physical laptop that you will be buying. Even if you look at the same model at a different store. You will be able to check things for your personal preference like viewing angle, keyboard, general cheapness of build etc. I have a relatively new laptop that has a poor screen and at first I liked it but the more I use it the more I find the cheap screen to be a pain. I prefer my older laptop that is much slower just because of that. But again, if you can you really should look at the physical unit you will buy. As far as the cpu, celeron is ok. I would just advise against getting an AMD cpu because they run much hotter and tend to fail because of the heat.

 

Bolin

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fully agree, if you can get to see it on physical that's better!
 

hondochica

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Thanks soooo much. I will certainly endeavor to actually look at/ touch/ use etc the laptop before I buy . . . and look for any/all reviews available

Appreciate your time!

Kelly
 

hondochica

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thanks for your insights Farah1x. I need to check w/ ESRI about processor speed and graphic cards before I buy. I am tending to a really inexpensive refurbished as I just don't use a laptop much and technology is changing so fast - and I can put ArcGIS on my desktop as I'm not nearly as mobile as I used to be. Kinda thinkin about < $300; have seen Celeron, Core 2 duo, and AMD Phenom II - trying to stay above 2.0 ghz. and have decided I do NOT want Windows 8 - so that narrows my choices to older laptops. At least with a refurbished - I can find a 1 yr warranty - might buy a square trade 1 year extra warranty. Lots of extras I would like: HDMI port; number keypad; webcam; but then I'm pushing near $400 . . . Honestly, I am buying this laptop now because I'm about to move back into my RV until I find a new job - so . . . it's a short term fix.

thanks again . .

kelly
 

bliq

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just checking back in. Hmm, I assumed ArcGIS was a windows application. looks like it's web based, or at least that's an option. in that case, a chromebook might work for you since the heavy lifting is done on the server side. I don't know much about the app.

You mention you might just use ArcGIS from your desktop. In that case, a chromebook might again make sense, especially at $199 for a 11.6 Acer C720 or HP 11. Or about $280 for a HP 14. The thing with chromebooks is that everything happens on the server side so the hardware doesn't need to be particularly powerful. it stores everything in the cloud. The downside is that if it's not connected to the internet, it becomes very limited. I'm just throwing the idea out there- if you need a more general computing platform, you probably want a Windows laptop. If it's for watching netflix and hulu and amazon prime, doing online shopping, doing online research, checking email, surfing the web, using google docs, maybe using picasa, and basically working online, a chromebook is a nice, cheap, simple option.

At the budgets you're working at, it's tough to find something with windows that would have an experience I could recommend. The problem is that Windows is "heavy" meaning that out of the box, it works best on higher end hardware. I would much rather have an old core 2 duo laptop with a fast SSD in it, than a new laptop with a modern processor but slow hard drive etc. The experience is just so much better. you'll have an easier time finding a used laptop if you're near a large metropolitan area where you can use Craigslist.
 

hondochica

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Hey Bliq . . . haven't checked back in a while either! Thanks for your comments. A chromebook is not for me . . I don't think. ArcGIS is both web and computer based - the version I'm currently using is sooooooo old - it's not compatible w/ the web info - I'll likely have to upgrade to the latest and greatest soon. But I will want a larger screen than 11, and will want to load my office suite on it - so. .

as for the 'budgets' - I would be hesitant to buy a used laptop off Craigslist - I don't know enough about computers to test/troubleshoot before I buy. I have recently learned that my 4 y/o desktop is 'out of date' - with insufficient memory at 4GB and a slow cpu (AMD athlon II) - so now I'm rethinking that laptop. My desktop is not keeping up with my crazy internet surfing and ADD (3 windows and 15 tabs and it just can't handle moving between only 2 of those tabs!) I don't want to spend $200-$300 on a laptop that will be outdated in 2 years!

Anyway - thanks for your time, I really appreciate everyone's input

Kelly
 

orlbuckeye

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I also say stay away fro Celeron processor then I saw ARCGIS on there and I know to stay away from a celeron. Laptops are designed by OEM'S Dell, HP and Lenovo then shipped out to China or Taiwan to be manufactured by ODM's like Compal, Wistron, Foxconn and Quanta. They buy the components from 3rd parties (although some ODM's make their own motherboards. The get assembled and branded with the Dell, HP or Lenovo name. They are all made this way and a $500.00 laptop has 500 components and a 2000 has 2000 dollar components. So a 500 laptop will be more likely to be all plastic then a 2000 one. I think you need to up what your willing to spend to 600 or 700 and get an i5 with 4 or 8 gb of ram and a 1 tb HD and either a Nvidia or ATI dedicated graphics card. A 700 dollar laptop is more likely to last 5 years then a 300 dollar one.

If you have 32 bit Windows it will only see a little over 3 gb of ram. You can use 8,16 or 32 and see all the memory on a machine with 64 bit Windows. 32 Bit is slowly but surely fading away and someday it will be a problem when drivers are on 64 bit in things like printers.

 

hondochica

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New considerations . . .

I really want Win 7 64 bit - so I'm pretty much going with a refurb or off-lease - must have 1 year warranty . . from that . .

?? what about RAM: is DDR3 really so much better than DDR 2? looking for min 8gb capacity (probably 4 gb installed)

is this website a decent place to compare cpus? https://www.cpubenchmark.net/laptop.html

If the laptop doesn't have a card reader - can I add one or buy an external reader??

Thanks!

Kelly
 

bliq

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Hi again. so as for your questions, I think there are still some Windows 7 laptops out there for sale even new. Anything relatively modern as in the last 3 years or so is going to have DDR3. The slots are incompatible with DDR2 so it's not really something you need to choose. Now you also mention wanting 8GB- if so, you'll need to use a 64bit version of windows to address all that RAM- again most computers in the last 3 years or so ship with that by default so don't worry too much about that. I think with Windows 7, the license is the same anyways so if it came with 32 bit, you could probably upgrade to 64 bit at no cost. 32 bit Windows is limited to being able to address only 4GB (and will only show about 3.25GB in the OS).

that website really only looks at a single benchmark and a synthetic one at that. it'll give you a rough idea but real world usage could vary maybe 20% from that relative ranking. it's hard to say. Tom's Hardware actually has a table of CPU "buckets" that is probably more useful but I can't find it. maybe someone else can.

As for card reader, if there's not one built in, just use an external one via USB- cheap and simple.

what do you feel about this one

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834317970&ignorebbr=1

only 4GB of RAM but 256GB SSD which will probably make a bigger difference in performance than an extra 4GB of RAM.
 
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