Need Help Choosing a New Laptop


Oct 12, 2012

My current laptop is an Acer Extansa 5220, which I got just over 4 years ago. I was quite happy with it until this summer, when it started to slow down, overheat, and just generally give me problems. It finally died today. Midterms are coming up, hence my urgency. Here are the specs I would like for my next one:

Country of purchase: USA

Budget range: Conservative: 300, Average: 400, Max: 500

Purpose (netbook, ultraportable, mainstream, gaming, desktop replacement, etc.): The primary use for it will be pretty mainstream. The biggest tax on the system will likely be ARC GIS, which I use only a few times a year.

Screen size preference: None, but the bigger the better.

OS preference (Windows/ Mac/ Linux): Windows

Gaming requirements (example games and desired fps/settings): none Performance requirements (video, CAD, etc.): I do some photo editing with Lightroom and very limited AutoCAD and ARC GIS work, which would likely be the 3 heaviest programs (again, the latter two will only be used only very sporadically).

Method of computer support (office supplier, college bookstore, self support): generally self support.
Brand preferences and reasons (already owned accessories, familiarity, business compatibility): Not really
Any particular style that you like (examples are great): I am pretty blind when it comes to aesthetics and computers.

Which of the following qualities would you prefer? (Choose one, the other, or balanced)

Long battery life -vs- Low weight: Both are important, but if I really had to chose, I would pick low weight, but really, would prefer balance.

Build quality -vs- Low price: At this point, I have a very low cash flow, so price beats out quality for the time being. Plus, I had no problems with my "crappy" Extensa until almost 5 years down the line.
Low noise/heat -vs- High performance: Less balanced; toward high performance, but less heat and noise are nice too. Would you pay a premium for something that has: High resolution screen: Nice, but not necessary. The res on my Extensa is pretty good for me.

A great keyboard: No

A great touchpad/mouse buttons: I don't even know what that would be, so no.

Great audio: I have solid external speakers, so no. List any features that are critical: (e.g. Optical drive, USB 3.0, SD card slot, ethernet port, HDMI port, bluetooth, VGA port, removable battery, glossy screen, matte screen, etc.): An SD card slot is necessary, as is the VGA port. An ethernet port and optical drive would be very nice and preferred but not an absolute necessity.

I did a bunch of shopping around and came up with several results and and hoping you can help me sort through some of the specs about which I have no idea (eg which types of processors are good). Here is a table of what I considered relevant info: here