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metalmidget

So I'm going to buy a laptop...

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OK, so I'm 18, just finished high school, and I start uni doing robotics eng and comp sci in March. I'm planning on buying a laptop, to use for uni stuff and general mucking around. Should be fast enough to easily run software for uni (software dev tools, perhaps CAD or graphing software, etc). Decent graphics would be good, because knowing me I'll end up using it for some gaming as well (playing and making). Needs to have wireless stuff for internet through the router at home, and whatever system Uni has for using their connection. I was hoping not to have to spend much more than around $2000 Australian. However, if that's just unrealistic for what I want, then so be it, I'll spend the money- I don't want something I'll replace in 12-24 months when I'm less of a tightarse. I'm definitely getting Windows, so don't even go there, but I'm undecided on XP or Vista. (Give reasons please, not "it's just better," or a string of extreme anecdotes) Any advice on buying a laptop like this would be good- costs, software, hardware, manufacturers, extras/accessories, battery stuff, online versus instore and what sites/stores are good (remember, Australia), how fast it should be for what I want, or anything else. Oh and what's the difference between having a faster processor, and having more memory? cheers, metal

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-Get Windows XP, but make sure your laptop has the hardware to be able to run Vista well.

Vista is having a lot of issues (such as security issues), and most people (including many computer manufacturers) recommend getting XP until Vista gets fixed up. They also recommend any new computers have the hardware for Vista, because at some point you're going to want to upgrade (it could be years for now, but you want the option to be available). Besides, the hardware needed for Vista is going to be the hardware you'll want for your own purposes anyway.

-Talk with manufacturers on the phone. Often a human representative can clue you in on special, limited-time deals that they're having that a website won't. They'll volunteer it to you, too, because they WANT to make you the sale. The websites are often not updated with limited-time deals, because they can come and go fairly quickly. You can save several hundred dollars.

I suppose you could go to a store and talk to a sales rep. But I prefer to cut out the middle man - it saves money.

-Mention you're at student. Chances are you can add between a 5-10% discount on top of whatever deal you end up getting.

-Get an extended warranty/service plan. Get one that covers mostly everything (complete accident protection is up to you - it can be much more expensive, and most other coverage covers most "accidental" damage anyway - stuff that's basically wear and tear) for several years, preferably at least 3 (or until you know you're going to get a new computer). Laptops are expensive to fix, replacement parts are expensive to buy, and a few hundred dollars (never more than 300, though I got mine for 150) extra will save you a lot of money later on down the road. This is a must for laptops.

-Consider getting refurbished computers. They are "used," but are pretty much brand new. They are shiny and can have up-to-date components - they aren't necessarily outdated. Also, they usually can be covered by the same warranties as new computers. The difference between refurbished and new is a moot point when they have the same service plan - replacement parts are going to be brand new. You can save several hundred dollars this way (I saved 300 by going with refurbished, and there's no way you would've been able to tell it wasn't brand new).

-Consider Dell. Dell is a polarizing issue in many places. But I find their extended at-home service plans to be very nice. Their computers are fairly cheap, but with modern components (processors, graphics card, etc.). Their 3 year at-home service plan costs 300 dollars, but they'll send a guy to you next-day whenever something breaks down. They'll have the guy replace the part and have you fixed right away.

Look for their refurbished computers - they're hidden on their website. Look for business models too - they have very nice computers with good processors and graphics cards. Just because it says it's for business, doesn't mean it isn't perfect for your needs as a gamer, a programmer, and an engineering student. Check the components of the models.

-2000 Australian dollars is about 1750 US dollars. You can get a VERY nice computer, with an excellent plan, for that much. You shouldn't have a problem at all with that kind of budget. In fact, given your needs, I'd say there's no reason you should have to even spend THAT much.

I got a refurbished XP laptop with 2 GHz Pentium Core 2 Duo processors, 2 GB RAM, DVD-RW, and 256 MB nVidia graphics card, with a 3 year at-home service plan for about $1200 US.

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Let's get this out of the way before we continue:

Having a good graphics card and having decent battery life are mutually exclusive -- if you run your video adapter at a 3rd of its maximum grunt, you might get good battery life. Conversely, if you don't care about your battery, you can have things looking very pretty. Nvidia make a bunch of mobile video-card solutions and I would recommend these (I have an ATI one, and it is not so great -- though it is not a Direct3D 10 part, so I can't comment on those).

Second -- nearly all (nearly) new notebooks ship with Core 2 Duo/Quad in them. Do not settle for less! Unfortunately for AMD, their recent offerings are just not up to scratch -- Core 2's are dirt cheap these days too :)

Third -- having a decent chunk of RAM means you have to ability to monkey around with large data sets without paging bits of those large datasets out to disk -- this is always a good thing. Paging is slow, no matter how ninja your hard drive is.

Fourth -- hard drives!! They come in many varieties -- you want one that spins at a decent speed and has a good seek time. Never settle for 4200 RPM -- you will regret it forever, it is so very slow to read from :(

Fifth -- Wireless...every single notebook on the damn planet should have it now. If they don't, it will be because they are teeny-tiny designer notebooks. Such things can have their disability remedied with a USB wireless adapter that you can buy for 50 bucks. Word of caution; tiny laptops practically always ship with an Intel integrated video set up. Newer versions of these are OK for work; but awful for playing games (unless you like things circa 2001).

Sixth -- OS choice; Vista is shiny! But with even 1GB of RAM and a Core 2 Duo 2ghz...it's still really slow!! If you want to do work and have things boot nice and quickly, I definitely recommend sticking to XP SP2 right now. That said, DirectX10 is not available in XP (well, not officially anyway...) so if you want to monkey with geometry shaders and the like, you'll have to roll Vista.

Either way, we should really be working on moving to Vista -- practically every person buying a PC these days gets it built in, and changing things in retrospect so that your XP build plays nice on Vista can be a PITA.

As for brandnames...well, ASUS make some decent notebooks -- but for my money, I'd fork out more so I could have a beautiful macbook pro -- OS X is a joy to work with, and parallels lets you run windows and apple apps side by side in Mac OS at near native speeds :O

Even better, you can bootcamp and run Vista or XP (or both!!) natively. Of course, Apple tech is expensive (overpriced for specs...but not for sexiness IMO).

I'd justify the extra expense to myself by the fact that I would be getting Mac OS Leopard...which kicks the absolute crap out of both XP and Vista in terms of stability and security -- and it is built on top of BSD unix which makes me smile too.

Is all up to you, however -- 2k is plenty of money to get a decent notebook, but if you want some apple love, you'll be stuck with integrated intel graphics (which like I said, is fine for doing work on...generally).

Hope this gives you a bit more of an idea what to look at ;)

~Shiny

p.s. If you buy online, buy from a big retailer like Dell or Apple -- ebay can be cheap, but you try returning a dud laptop -- major PITA, and sometimes (shudder) no warranty :(



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First of all thanks heaps for the helpful replies. I've seen so many other people (not) answering other peoples' questions about this sort of thing, waffling about all sorts of crap and not really giving any useful information.

On batteries, is there any choice between types? Or is there one type that's pretty standard? Is having 2 batteries recommended? Say I'm using a graphics intensive game continuously, starting with a fully charged battery. How long can I expect the battery to last (roughly, obviously)?

What sort of hard drive RPM should I be looking for, to not get frustrated?

@Shiny- could I get a second opinion on refurbished computers?

cheers,
metal

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for the choise of vista or xp. i have an hp 2710p, wich has an ultralowvoltage core2duo at 1.2ghz, and it runs _VERY_ _WELL_. i've used xp over years, and won't move back from vista any day. it's fast, and very usable, much better than xp.

security issues? this is nonsense. compared to xp at least. battery eating.. my battery runs for up to 6h, so this is rather nonsense, too..

i'd suggest to pay quite a bit to have something you like later for a long time. oh, and 15" at max if you plan to actually use it as a notebook. mine is 12", and it results in a much more often used device. some friends have huge 17" notebooks (the e-penis..), but the result is, they don't use it at all, as it's too bulky to move around.

definitely get a 7200rpm drive. thats the only thing that really sucks at 12", it's a 1.8" 4200rpm drive. if you do have the money, get a solid state disk, like an mtron 16gb or 32gb. but then, you need a 15" notebook, with two disk slots..

i'll order my 64gb 1.8" ssd next year.. (that's, in some days.. :P)

cpu doesn't have to be that fast, depending on your needs. but a fast disk and much memory helps very much for the general feel.

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I would advise you stay away from HP Pavillions. I've had some terrible luck with mine, a dv9000, overheating. Maybe some of the other models are better, but from looking around to solutions to my troubles, it would seem that most Pavillions have this overheating problem. It seems that the case is too thin, and the fan and heatsinks are inadequate.

EDIT: Scratch that, it was just filled with dust. I blew it out and two years of accumulated wood dust, ash and other muck flew all over. Now it runs like a charm.

[Edited by - Megaman_22 on January 3, 2008 10:59:31 AM]

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You may want to wait until you are closer to going to uni as new notebooks with penryn processors and other newer parts/technologies will be comming out over the next few months, many will be showing at CES next week. Not only will this mean you can get the latest technology at the time of its release, but you may also be able to pick up older technology cheaper.

For a harddrive all the current ones you are likely to find are of decent speeds, tom's hardware have a chart for notebook hard drives.

Try and get at least a Core2Duo 2GHz (800MHz FSB) processor, I wouldn't pay extra for anymore performance, unless it's very cheap. 2GB of memory should be standard for the price you are looking at.

I'll second the recomendation for ASUS, but a lenovo T61 Thinkpad can be configured with one of the best mobile graphics cards you are going to find close to your price range (Nvidia 570M) and are still regarded as the best notebook around by many, though it might be more than $2000AU. Dell are probably going to be your best bet, as they are likely to offer your the best price and configuration options. Look at the Inspiron 1520.

Also check out http://forums.notebookreview.com as there are likely to be more informed Australians who can point you towards the best places to shop.

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At the moment I'm looking at buying from excaliberpc.com, because they seem really cheap, and even though there's no customisation, they have a really big range so I should be able to find what I want. Go to this link, type in "2.40GHz" in the "Search within" box, and check out those prices! On 2.4GHz notebooks! Plus a lot of them come with a carry case, and some with a mouse, which is a damn site more than I can say for Dell. Dell's prices seem really high, and that's with the bare minimum, before you add in essential things like a carry case, MS office, a decent warranty etc etc. I don't think I'll be buying from Dell.
Also, a lot of excaliberpc's items have free shipping.

cheers
metal

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First, check with the student union or book store at your upcoming university. They may have a student discount.

Second, the biggest choice is one between mobility and power. I used to lug around a 12-pound gaming monster laptop with 1920x1200 display, but my arms flexed out to orangutan size from doing it. These days, I have a 4-pound Sony, and am much happier. For serious gaming, I have a desktop machine, anyway -- even the top of the line laptops aren't as good as desktops for that. And perhaps the best gaming choice right now is an Xbox 360!

So, I would recommend choosing mobility (as in "light"), and ideally at least a 14" 1280x800 screen. More is better, as long as the weight isn't more than 6 pounds with batteries.

Then the question is: Linux, or MacOS X, or Windows? The MacBook Pro looks pretty nice; reasonable graphics; reasonable weight; can dual-boot. Or you could even install Windows on it. Myself, I have upgraded to Vista; I think it's actually ready now, if you have at least 2 GB of RAM.

Finally: expect to upgrade your laptop in 2-3 years. First, because technology advances, and your nice laptop now would be barely adequate in three years. Second, because laptops do see abuse; keyboards wear out; touchpads start becoming finicky; headphone connectors develop glitches; hard drives die, ...

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Quote:
Original post by metalmidget
On batteries, is there any choice between types? Or is there one type that's pretty standard?

Lithium Ion is the standard these days; I doubt you'll find anything else. The main battery choice is big vs. small: 6 Lithium cells or 9 Lithium cells. The differences are price, battery life, and weight.
Quote:

Is having 2 batteries recommended?

I have two; I like it.
Quote:

Say I'm using a graphics intensive game continuously, starting with a fully charged battery. How long can I expect the battery to last (roughly, obviously)?

On my Dell with a GeForce Go 6800, I can play Morrowind for about an hour and a half. (Normal battery life is about 2.5-3 hours.) That's with power savings type settings at moderate, so I don't kill the battery as fast as possible but I still get some performance. However, newer games using more shaders would probably be even worse, and newer hardware might be worse or better.

How likely are you to play games on battery, though? I find that if I'm in a place where I have a good surface for my mouse, I can probably plug into the wall for full performance.

Quote:

What sort of hard drive RPM should I be looking for, to not get frustrated?


Ooh, there's a tough one. Hard drive speed is a big difference between performance and power consumption. I recommend either a 5400 or 7200 RPM drive (but that doesn't narrow it down mutch).

I'm happy with a 5400 RPM drive, but you might find it too slow.

Good luck!

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Oh man, I completely forgot to come back to this thread. Guess I've been too caught up in using my new laptop!
OK, so I ended up getting an Acer Aspire 5920. Core 2 Duo 2GHz, 2GB RAM, NVIDIA GeForce 8600 (either 256 or 512, not sure), Vista Home Premium, 220GB hard drive, DVD/CD burner, 15.4 widescreen.
I turned it on and while I was reading the "read this before using your new computer" pamphlet, it found my wireless router and connected me to the net without me pressing a button! *gasp* I uninstalled the Norton trial version and downloaded AVG and Spybot. I haven't done anything with office yet, but this offer looks pretty damn good.
I got it from JB-HiFi in Nunawading (eastern Melbourne, Aus). I would recommend them to anyone- friendly and helpful staff who knew their stuff. This was the last one, so instead of the $1700 standard price, I only paid $1500! Plus, she gave me the extended (3 year) warranty for $100, instead of $150-200. I also bought a carry case and a wireless mouse for $40 each. So all up, AU$1680. I think I did quite well.

Thanks for all the help guys!
metal

[Edited by - metalmidget on January 31, 2008 2:03:25 AM]

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Congrats on your purchase.

That JB Hi-Fi store certainly is good. I like their new location in Home HQ, it's nice and big. =)

As for an office solution, that educational offer is way too good to pass up. Definitely take advantage of it since you are going to be attending Uni soon.

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Just be careful with acer. Not to make you feel bad about your purchase but acers have an extremely poor build quality (hence why they are a good value, theres always a trade off) Just so you dont think my statement is unfounded Ive been a computer tech for the past 10 years fixing anything imaginable and acer and dells were repaired by me more then anything, both for hardware that has gone bad. Not saying anything like this will happen to yours cause by the price it sounds like you have a higher end model which those tend to do alot better.

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