I’m moving out of the US for a few years in a couple of months, and I want to buy a laptop before I leave. I figure that makes for a good gift for myself, and something that is much cheaper here than it is where I’m moving to (Israel). I haven’t bought a new computer in about two years, and I’m trying to figure out what’s worth my money and what not. I will mainly be using this laptop for internet, music, and word processing, although I do plan to watch movies and game on it too (not talking about running Crysis with all the settings pumped up, but the occasional RTS or RPG with decent graphics and a good frame rate). Your advice would be very much appreciated with the following:
Is there any underlying difference between (for example) Dell’s Inspiron and XPS series, other than the available configurations for each one?
I’m thinking about getting a 15.4" laptop, for a reasonable combination for portability and a nice sized screen. Is there any good reason to consider getting a different size?
Where do the diminishing returns on the processor start? Is it worth moving from a T5500 (2MB cache/1.83GHz/667Mhz FSB) to a T7500 (2.2GHz/800Mhz FSB, 4MB Cache) or T8300 (2.4GHz/800Mhz FSB, 3MB Cache)? Is it worth going even further, and upgrading to a T9300 (2.5GHz/800Mhz FSB, 6MB Cache)? If not, out of the 8300 and 7500, which are the same price, which is superior in performance (I hear the 8300 is better, but I’m not sure)?
Is it worth going beyond 3GB of ram, to 4GB? Or would 3 be enough?
Is there a significant enough performance difference between a 7200rpm and a 5400rpm to justify moving up? Or would a 5400rpm hard drive be fast enough?
With dedicated graphics cards, where do they start showing a significant increase over performance over integrated? an NVIDIA 8400GS? 8400GT? 8600GT?
Is there a good reason to spend extra for a wireless card with 802.11n support?
Is it worth getting the bigger battery (for example, 9-cell over 6-cell)? Or would I be better off spending that same money buying a second battery, for example?
Anything else I didn’t ask and should really know or think about? Is it worth spending to get Vista Ultimate over Home Premium? Any laptop brands you recommend or ones you suggest staying away from?
Hopefully it doesn’t sound silly, but I’m pretty much willing to spend as much as it takes to get a laptop that will last me a while. Obviously, I’d very much like to not overkill, and only spend on things that will really help my laptop retain its value (and performance) in the future.
I’m mentally prepared to spend about $1500, if that’s what it takes Obviously, I’d love to spend less, which is what is triggering most of my questions above, about which upgrades make a bigger difference, and which are silly. And while most of what I’ll do with the laptop will be internet, word processing, I’ll probably play video games and watch movies occasionaly, so I’d love it if my laptop will be powerful enough for that.
If you go over 3gb or RAM you need an x64 OS to use the full amount. This can cause issues with some apps. If you don’t have a reason for the extra RAM, get at least 2gb, but don’t go insane.
You will definatly notice the difference between a 5400rpm and a 7200rpm during startup and when starting apps, but you won’t get as large of drive for the cost.
Any graphics card with deticated memroy will perform better than an intgrated card.
I don’t think that 802.11n cards are a good buy yet. Very few hotspots are n, and the ones that are are backwards compatible with G, and B. Even if you do get 802.11n you won’t see much of a speed increase for internet use, since 802.11G is still faster than most internet connections. If you’re doing large transfers on a LAN get gigibit hardwire, and plug in.
I prefer to have the largest battery I can get, so I don’t have to deal with shuting down, switching batteries, ect. However, some machines are very awkward with the extended battery, if this is the case for the machine you’re looking at then you may want to consider additional batteries.
Vista Ultimate some extra features, but you won’t use them unless you’re on a network with several other machines.
If you’re comfertible with it, you can save a significant amount by buying a chassis with the processor and graphics card you want, then upgading the RAM and HDD with parts from Newegg. THIS MAY VOID YOUR WARRANTY.
Honestly, any almost any new mahcine will do what you want. You’ll probably be better off buying the cheapest thing you can find, which will cost you less than half of a super-machine, and just replace it twice as often.
You can get really good machines from Newegg, and other sites, for under $600, and they’ll do everything you want. If you watch the deals, you can get one for under $500.
I got a Dell XPS M1530 in late January when my laptop died.
I got it with the T8300 2.4 ghz processor. 4 GB RAM, 200 GB 7200 RPM HD, 8600 GT graphics card, 1680x1050 WSXGA+ LCD, the draft N wireless card, and Vista Ultimate. It was ~$800 off at the time due to Dell rolling out the Penryn equipped XPS line.
I would get the 8300. The penryn (9000 series) doesn’t offer much over the older merom processors from the benchmarks I’ve seen.
Anything in the 8400 series will be much better than an integrated chipset. The 8600 GT will blow the 8400 series out of the water. It’s nearly the best card you can get in a 15.4" notebook and will play pretty much any game (albeit maybe not at super high settings).
I got the 6 cell primary and 9 cell secondary batteries. I take the 6 cell with me when I know I’m going to be on power mostly, or don’t need a lot of battery, and want to travel light. The 9 cell weighs a noticeable amount more, and sticks out the back of the computer.
I love it, with one exception. The display is utter garbage. There’s a bunch of discussion about it online. The odds of getting a WSXGA+ display that doesn’t suck were almost zero when I received my laptop. It is very grainy, the whites look like white with sand on it, and it looks like there is a film of oil coating the screen. The viewing angles and brightness are also exceedingly poor.
Dell uses 3-4 LCD panel manufacturers, and in my resolution Samsung is the major supplier. Almost across the board the Samsung panels show the same problems, while the alternative LG panel is beautiful. The same problem exists with the 1440x900 resolution, except most machines ship with a different LG panel that also looks great.
Dell will claim that the graininess and poor viewing angles are inherent in the manufacturing process of any LCD, and not a defect, which is true to some extent, but not as badly as mine looks. After exchanging my system during their 21 day return period, I got the same model display. After about 10 hours on the phone with tech/customer support, I finally got them to agree to send me a LG panel and not another Samsung. The tech never called me back when I went to schedule an appointment, and I’ve still got to deal with trying to get them to send me another one.
In conclusion, if you can confirm online (not through Dell. They’ll tell you there is no problem) that Dell has discontinued use of the bad screens, or if you order a resolution that isn’t known to have any problems, I’d reccomend going with the XPS. It’s a powerful machine, and I got mine at a good price. It’s alo very stylish, thin, and light.
If not, I’d go with someone else. The other laptops I was looking into at the time were the ThinkPad T61 (they had a great sale going at the time-30% off), Macbook Pro (WAY too expensive. Nearly $1,000 more than the Dell), Asus V1S (Nearly got this. Almost the same specs/price as the Dell was), and the Sony FZ4000 (Really sleek, but not as good graphics as the rest)
If it isn’t a ridiculous amount more, go for the faster hard drive. I have a 10,000 rpm drive in my primary tower and I’d never build another for myself without one. The faster drive will definitely be a noticeable improvement. As for RAM, how much more does the manufacturer charge? You could get the baseline, then pick up some pretty cheap from MWave and install it yourself.
Personally, I’m a budget laptop owner. I have a $500 Acer laptop. It isn’t really fast, but it does everything I need to well enough. I don’t game (so I have no idea how well that works), but it plays music, handless Office documents, goes online, plays DVDs, runs SolidWorks just fine, which is all I need. And it has a keyboard I can type faster on than a desktop. I can get 2.5 hours out of the battery on medium performance settings, and over 3 hours if I crank the CPU and brightness all the way down. And if I drop it, I didn’t just lose $1500. The only real limitation I’ve met with it so far is it’s inability to decently run all the desktop composition effects in Vista (transparency and whatnot). But, I don’t need all that eye candy anyhow.
Anyway, I understand your desire for a good fast laptop with enough specs to last you a while. Good luck in your search, let us know what you decide.
Does anyone have any experience with LED LCDs? Any idea which of the graphics cards is better, or if it even matters? Any thoughts about either deal? (Cory, thank you very much for that extensive review of the XPS M1530)
EDIT: Looking around for more deals, I ran into two on the costco site:
Nvidia is ahead of ATI in graphics right now. I’m not sure how the 2600 correlates directly with the 8600 GT, but the 8600GT is a very good card.
From reading up on all the troubles with my screen, the LED is brighter, as well as the display actually being thinner, and lighter. It also gets better battery life. Whether it’s worth an extra $200, who knows. I wish they had WSXGA+ in LED when I bought mine. I’d have gotten it.
You asked about Costco. My policy with Costco is generally, if they offer what you want at a comparable price, go for it. They will return/exchange anything, and generally it doesn’t even matter how it broke, they’ll just send you with a new one.
Guess you won’t be at WPI next year, then huh Guy… Good luck in Israel!
I’ve been looking at the XPS M1530 too, just remember two things:
Always check the productivity software tab to select Microsoft Works. No software is automatically selected, but Microsoft works costs no extra money.
Check for coupons. I found http://www.cheapstingybargains.com/cheapster/dell/ has good ones. Sometimes they are not applicable (i.e. when they are too old or you are in the student discount section), but generally the coupon is worth more savings than the student discount is anyway.
I Have to disagree with you on the first point, MS Works is udder crap (like Apple works) and if you are just going to install MS office on the machine (and end up never using works), theres really no point to getting works.
Guy, you’ve received a lot of good advice already from a lot of knowledgeable folks. However, one aspect that I haven’t yet seen discussed is reliability / ruggedness. I think that given that you’ll be out of the USA, where getting spare parts and/or service may be a problem, I think durability and reliability are a key issue. Accordingly, if going with a Dell, I would suggest going with their “Latitude” line of business-class laptops instead. They are significantly more durable / rugged than their Inspiron line of laptops, and their components (DVD drives, keyboards, expansion bays) are intentionally kept compatible across additional years in order to allow easier maintenance by businesses. Since so many businesses use these laptops, there is a continual stream of relatively inexpensive spare parts available on eBay. I have used a number of Latitude laptops (D520, D620, D630) at work, home, FLL, and FRC and have had excellent success with their durability and reliability. In contrast, I have had troubles with the lack of durability of Inspiron laptops.
One thing that is annoying is that my printer is downstairs and my room is upstairs so when I email myself a file to print or save it to a jump drive I forget to switch the file type to .doc so I end up running back upstairs and getting it again. It gets a little annoying sometimes. My printer computer has the Office suite.