Picking an laptop/ultrabook for college! Non-gaming!

Encendi

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Hi, I got some good help a few years ago when I got my desktop, so I'm back again! I'm heading off to college in the fall and I'm looking for a fast, (hopefully ultra) portable laptop that I can take to class, use in a coffee shop or when hanging out with friends, etc. Gaming is definitely not a priority since my desktop can handle pretty much everything, but if there are any ultrabooks in my budget range that have discrete graphics (I only found one), that's a plus.

1. What is your budget?
Maximum of $700. I can maybe wiggle it $30-50 but it'd have to be a really good deal.

2. What is the size of the notebook that you are considering?
It doesn't matter, but I'm focusing on portability so a smaller screen size may be helpful.

3. What screen resolution do you want?
Again, doesn't matter- 1920 x 1080 is a beaut, though.

4. Do you need a portable or desktop replacement laptop?
Portable.

5. How much battery life do you need?
As much as possible, although I don't think waiting for Haswell is worth it or good for my wallet.

6. Do you want to play games with your laptop? If so then please list the games that you want to with the settings that you want for these games. (Low,Medium or High)?
I mean, if it's possible to play League of Legends that'd be awesome, but if not I'll deal with it.

7. What other tasks do you want to do with your laptop? (Photo/Video editing, Etc.)
I haven't coded much so far (did some Javascript, Game Maker-that doesn't really count-, etc.), but I'll be studying CS in college so I figure it'd be best if the laptop could handle everything I'll likely be seeing.

8. How much storage (Hard Drive capacity) do you need?
Honestly, I could live with a 64 GB SSD. My desktop has over 1TB.

9. If you are considering specific sites to buy from, please post their links.
Nope, I need help here. All the sites I usually browse are expensive as heck.

10. How long do you want to keep your laptop?
A good 3-4 years would be nice.

11. What kind of Optical drive do you need? DVD ROM/Writer,Bluray ROM/Writer,Etc ?
No need.

12. Please tell us about the brands that you prefer to buy from them and the brands that you don't like and explain the reasons.
I don't know if AMD makes processors for laptops, but if they do, I don't want one. I also prefer to have a 3rd gen i5 at least.

I also require an SSD, whether it's one of those hybrid SSD + HDD things or a straight up SSD. After having an SSD on my desktop these past years, I can't live without one.

13. What country do you live in?
USA!

14. Please tell us any additional information if needed.
I'd really love a thin and light ultrabook. I found a refurbished Asus Zenbook ux31a that I really liked but I ended up not going with it- hopefully that'll give you an idea of what I'm looking for. This morning, my dad found a great deal as well (one I think is great, at any rate) http://shop.lenovo.com/us/en/laptops/ideapad/u-series/u410-ultrabook/ . If that's the best I can hope to get then I'll go with it.

Maybe my expectations are unrealistic with my budget, but hopefully someone can enlighten me!
 

Tom Tancredi

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You can pick up some great deals out there especially back to school sales now occurring. As your ball parking low ($700 is LOW for ultrathins, Ultrathins are the Cadillacs like Macbooks so they cost ALWAY over $1200+ ). One way to get around this, go to Walmart.com, you can pick up a i5Core for around $399. What you do is make sure the computer has a Dual Bay in it, then you can pick up a SSD of your choice (Stick with the MLC would be my suggestion) and boot the computer making the backup DVDs (make absolutely sure they are bootable!!!!), then install the SSD and use DBAN to wipe the HDD, use the restore DVDs you just made to restore to the SSD. Done.

As for it being 'light weight', I understand that need and for performance to do Java, Game Maker, Any coding, or worse SQL (UGHS!!) install and DBs, you will need the better performance a i5 will give, which means you will be aroung the 5Lbs weight. Keep looking at the specs and make the best choice for yourself, but this is the cheapest way to score hardware for your needs.
 

Tom Tancredi

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You can pick up some great deals out there especially back to school sales now occurring. As your ball parking low ($700 is LOW for ultrathins, Ultrathins are the Cadillacs like Macbooks so they cost ALWAY over $1200+ ). One way to get around this, go to Walmart.com, you can pick up a i5Core for around $399. What you do is make sure the computer has a Dual Bay in it, then you can pick up a SSD of your choice (Stick with the MLC would be my suggestion) and boot the computer making the backup DVDs (make absolutely sure they are bootable!!!!), then install the SSD and use DBAN to wipe the HDD, use the restore DVDs you just made to restore to the SSD. Done.

As for it being 'light weight', I understand that need and for performance to do Java, Game Maker, Any coding, or worse SQL (UGHS!!) install and DBs, you will need the better performance a i5 will give, which means you will be aroung the 5Lbs weight. Keep looking at the specs and make the best choice for yourself, but this is the cheapest way to score hardware for your needs.
 

Encendi

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So what you're saying is to buy a cheap i5 ultrabook and install an SSD onto it? While that's something I'm considering, I'd prefer to just get a regular ultrabook. Is the link I posted the best I could get or is there something better for my needs?
 

Tom Tancredi

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Nice pick on that, only downsides I see is the HDD is 5400 RPM (very slow) and you have 24GB SSD, which is really no space. So I am figuring they specialized tweak the OS to install everything else (Office, etc.) automatically to the HDD, but 24Gb is barely space for the OS, which means it is specialized, that the only 'fixes' when you call would be to wipe the drive and put it back to factory. I would HIGHLY recommend regular backups using the OS to do a full then incremental to a external drive, so incase Recovery doesn't work you can manually do it without having to lose all the data.
 

jaxst

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you really have 2 options, you can wait till end of summer/early fall for the newer laptops to come out which will have haswell (which supposedly increase battery life by a good chunk) this is good for college students because hunting a outlet on campus can be a hassle sometimes and it beats carrying an adapter to lecture. It will also have increased graphic capabilities similar power to older dedicated cards. Additionally if you wait and still can't afford a newer laptop, the older Ivy Bridge laptops will go on sale because they want to get rid of them because Haswell will be available. So my advice to you is wait if you can. Don't forget about student discounts, I know lenovo offers them,

http://shop.lenovo.com/SEUILibrary/controller/e/na/LenovoPortal/en_US/special-offers.workflow:ShowPromo?LandingPage=/All/US/Portals/Students

your second option is to buy now but you will get a low end ultrabook at that price with an SSD.

http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N82E16834230959

stay away from the Lenovo "U" series, they have a wifi antenna problem that Lenovo refuses to fix
 

Encendi

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Hmm... I have just one more suggestion for a laptop I could get. I've been browsing around for quite some time and found out more info about the u410- it turns out it's about 4.2 pounds, so it's not as ultra-portable as I thought. I think I've given up on ultrabooks in favor of a regular laptop with Haswell.

I did find a laptop near my budget (which apparently has expanded to ~$800+ since Haswell is involved) with some killer specs:
http://shop.lenovo.com/us/en/laptops/ideapad/y-series/y410p/

I have some questions though. Number one, I still don't fully understand what you mean by the SSD being specialized. I figured it would only have the OS on it, but how much of a performance boost would this small SSD give? Can you put in perspective how slow a 5400 RPM HDD is?

Two, this laptop says it has another bay, called the Ultra-Bay. It says it can put in another graphics card, hard drive, etc. If I wanted to, could I swap out the regular hard drive for a SSD and move the old hdd to the Ultra-Bay?

Finally, how heavy is 4.8 pounds? Would it be problematic when I'm travelling with the laptop?

Thanks for the responses!

Edit: Thanks for the tip jaxst! With the student discount I might be able to convince my parents to get the highest end version. However, I still don't understand how much of a boost a 24 gb SSD really gives...
 

Tom Tancredi

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Well I would pick up a 5lb bag of flour or Sugar next time you in the store, and as you shop, just hold it in your hand the entire time. If it is nothing for you to do the entire time you do your grocery shopping then it won't be problematic when rushing between locations on campus.

5400RPM is a big issue for speed and responsiveness. Basically when you click then turn to your friend saying your waiting for it to load, then twiddle your thumbs, then get 'upset' how slow the laptop is, then it finally loads experiance, that is what I am speaking about. A SSD uses no mechanical parts, so it is just booting off memory chips it uses, and that makes it near instant responses. For example I can click the power button and time my 'to icon clickable' from power off in 30 seconds, normally your about 3 to as much as 8 minutes (5400 RPM drives) for loading programs, especially if you have programs autoload in your Start (for example Word and Outlook).

Windows installation is between 10GB to 15GB depending on version, and REQUIRES 10% of the boot drive to be available at all times so it has space to swap file (like when updating a driver) create log files, make restore points, etc. The drive is only 24GB, so there is some specialized tweaking of the OS by Lenova to 'get around' some of these limitation by how they map specific parts to the SSD and some parts to the HDD. If you don't know EVERY single path modification they hand coded, then if you try to monkey with the system or have a issue then your going to run into problems (Windows can't load all files to properly function, C drive is full, please delete some files to allow Windows to perform correctly). Worse Lenovo's answer will be 'insert the recovery DVD and restore to factory' wiping the data, programs, etc. from it to most issues.
 

Encendi

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I see. I'll definitely carry around that flour bag at some point today :D

My desktop has a 120 gb SSD with the OS and other critical files installed on it and it boots up in about 20 seconds, whereas my old desktop had an HDD and took 5+ minutes, so I definitely understand the speed difference. However, I don't get how much I'll see from the SSHD. Would it just boot up fast and that'd be all the performance I'd see? Or would it open and transfer stuff faster as well? I did take a look online and people have been talking about the SSD being used as a cache- is it the same in this case?
 

Tom Tancredi

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The SSD is embedded into the HDD and presave/loads commonly used files increasing performance, usually about the scale of 3-5 second faster then a 7200RPM drive people commonly demand. 7200RPMs are more costly to make it seems, as well as use more power to spin that fast, so Seagate made the decision to kill off all 7200RPm production and reutilize the 5400RPM slow drives with added SDD cache in front and claim they are helping to reduce power consumption (this is how you get 8 hours battery life) but not reduce performance.
Normally you use a SSD for the OS and large prgrams (Maya, Autocad, etc.) to load those elements, then use a cheap TB HDD for storage and other small programs (Office, BF4, etc.) since the SSD won't help speed up FPS in games nor make Excel sheets calculate faster, only help with loading the fonts for the words, the driver for the mouse to use in the game/program, etc. load faster 'from' Windows being on the SSD.
 

Encendi

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So given my needs, would it be better to go with the cheaper HDD version and swap it out for an SSD or pay more for the SSHD?
 

Tom Tancredi

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Considering your CS, I would say go with a 7200RPM HDD as your Data/Temp/Work drive and a SSD for the OS and large (Adobe, CAD, Maya, etc.) programs to load from to improve their load / program responsiveness. I personally went SSD and picked up a cheap SSHD since it cost the same as a 7200RPM when I was shopping.
 

Tom Tancredi

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BUY NOW! LOL - YEAH nice sweet one. Just remember your only 128GB drive so your limited on space for adding alot of apps or such, but basics (Windows, Office Suite, Web Viewer, Casual Games like Angry birds). You would best be served to also get a external TB drive (they are cheap) to store DATA too (MP3s, Movies,etc.).

Dont' forget to select my response as the solution
 

Tom Tancredi

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BUY NOW! LOL - YEAH nice sweet one. Just remember your only 128GB drive so your limited on space for adding alot of apps or such, but basics (Windows, Office Suite, Web Viewer, Casual Games like Angry birds). You would best be served to also get a external TB drive (they are cheap) to store DATA too (MP3s, Movies,etc.).

Dont' forget to select my response as the solution
 

Encendi

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In the end, I ended up getting a regular laptop (4.8 lbs is a little heavy, but it's okay). It had a i7-4700 MQ (Haswell) processor, 8 gigs of ram, 24 gig SSD + 1 TB HDD, GT 750 graphics card, etc. It looked crazy powerful and was $500 off so I just went for it. Hopefully it'll be useful as a CS student. Thanks again!
 
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