My First Laptop - What To Buy?

  Funktion 18:54 03 Jun 2007


Having just written an extensive post covering what I'm going to say now, only for it to mysteriously disappear (I think it was so long I got logged out!) I'll be quick this time.

I have plenty of experience working on (and in) desktop PCs, but have not yet hady any desire or need to branch out into the world of the laptop. How things change.....

Me and the missus are now looking for a laptop that we can share. Between us, this is all we want it for: wireless net browsing all over the house; scientific report writing (MS Office and undemanding image tweaking in an as-yet unspecified graphics app); MSN Messenger (she made me put that!). There will be no gaming, multimedia use or bulk storage going on. In all honesty, we don't need one, we only want one. I mean - do we really need to be able to access the internet from the bathroom??!

As I have no idea what you get in laptops (relative to desktops) for any price-band, I could use some advice as to what to get and where to get it. I shamed myself by having a quick lookin at PC World and Comet this weekend, and though I feel rather dirty now I have a rough idea of what's what. Our budget will preferably be below £500, and the only real specifications I am looking at are as follows.

-Weight: Not important.
-Screen Size: Not important, but not tiny and the missus likes widescreens.
-Processor: Preferably Intel, but I have no idea about the relative speeds of mobile processors compared to desktops.
-Memory: No less than 512MB.
-Hard Disk: Not important, as any bulk storage will be stored on another network PC.
-Graphics Card/Chip: What do mobiles actually use? Anyway, top of the range is not required here. Just something that can cope with image manipulation, not Supreme Commander!
-Networking: Wireless connetivity at 108Mbps is a must, and a 10/100 CAT5 port would be a plus.
-Optical Drive: Minimum of DVD-ROM, with write capability not necessary (but do they make anything less these days?)
-USB Ports: USB 2.0 is pretty much a must, as we both carry most of our data on memory sticks.

Well, not as brief as I thought I'd be, but I think I've got everything in there. Any advice would be much appreciated.


  Funktion 19:08 03 Jun 2007

One more thing...

Were I to get a laptop with Windows Vista, I would want a standalone copy, not some lame 'Recovery Disc'. This being due to the fact that I don't trust Vista yet (remember the relief that was felt when XP SP2 came out?) but will eventually want a copy for one of my main desktop PCs once the need for DX10 becomes overwhelming.

In the meantime, I would format the laptop and install a copy of XP Pro (I have a licensed copy from another machine that recently passed away), and the associated essentials - Office XP, etc. but would hold that copy of Vista in reserve.

Just wondering how possible this would be. In my experience, Dell, Tiny, etc. tend to be the worst culprits for these Recovery Disc shenanigans. As a rule I don't like dealing with Dell desktops due to their annoying habit of being an absolute ballache to upgrade, but I don't think I'll be messing with the innards of a laptop as much as I do desktops. So Dell would be a possibility so long as they don't bundle me an accursed Recovery Disc. I hate those things.

  Forum Editor 19:17 03 Jun 2007

I always give people when they ask about laptops is 'spend as much as you can afford'. What you think is an adequate laptop now, before you start using it, will seem a tad below the mark in six months time. By then you'll like the machine so much you'll be using it more and more and you'll wish you had spent that extra £100 or so at the outset.

Most of the laptops you'll see in the shops and online have been made in one of about five factories in Taiwan, and you'll see similar components cropping up in all of them. These giant plants turn out millions and millions of machines each year, and send them in chassis form to the companies who will put on the case and the badge, pack them up and send them out to the shops and/or online retailers.

Laptops are a bit like cars, people develop a liking for particular brands, and you should bear that in mind when listening to advice. I've owned and used over twenty laptops in my time, and I have got a bit of a 'thing' for Toshiba machines - I love them. Having said that, I have had an excellent HP laptop, and an IBM ThinkPad, which was a dream of a machine to use.

Go for a computer that suits you for size, don't buy a huge laptop if you want to move it around, but on the other hand avoid those tiny,slim machines if yours is never going to leave the house. All new laptops will have wireless network cards built in, and they'll all come with Windows Vista preinstalled. If your chosen machine has 1Gb of RAM see if you can double it - the cost might be quite small if you do it at the point of ordering, and it will pay dividends in terms of performance. If offered a choice between two otherwise similar machines, go for the one with the biggest hard drive.

If your hands are anything but sylph-like buy a mouse, trackpads are fiddly, and I aways disable them.

  Forum Editor 19:20 03 Jun 2007

Why? It will come with Vista preinstalled, and it will run perfectly, why take a retrograde step?

You can always buy an upgrade version of Vista for your desktop machine later - please don't handicap your brand new laptop on day one, it seems pointless.

  wjrt 19:37 03 Jun 2007

click here

compare this to what you have looked at

  Totally-braindead 19:57 03 Jun 2007

Forget about the upgrading thing. Laptops as you seem to be aware are a completely different thing to desktops, the only thing you might be able to do is replace the hard drive with a larger one and add more memory, anything else just forget it.

I don't know that much about laptops but two of my friends both have Toshibas and I've used them as well and rather like them, never been able to get used to the pad thing either but adding a mouse is simple enough.

If it comes with Vista then realistically you will need at least 1 gig of RAM. Buying a Vista laptop and then going back to XP might be differcult as you would need all the relevant XP drivers and if it was a new model ie just out there might not be XP drivers as it might have been created only for Vista, if you see what I mean.

Wish I could recommend a particular one for you but I'm into games and laptops are really an option for that as they can't be upgraded.

If you really don't want Vista then you could cut the RAM down a bit, you can still get them such as this click here bit over budget I know but just as an example. PC World do some nice deals from time to time and its worth a look.

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