Laptop Sanity Check

I'm looking at laptops for my son, who will start college this fall, in the $800-$1100 range. I'm currently eyeballing something like the ASUS N55 series - 8GB RAM, Core i7 chip, 15.6" screen, Win 7, hopefully 1920x1080. I'd like to find one with a matte screen, but that's not essential. I like ASUS because I've had good experiences with their equipment in the past.

Any suggestions, ideas, thoughts on a good laptop for note-taking, assignments and general use, including pc games (mostly Steam-based) in this price range? I'm just not familiar enough with Lenovo or the other specialty companies to know whether I'm ignoring better options by focusing on ASUS.

Thanks!

Whoa! Your son needs that much firepower? That's my first thought. What's his degree and whatnot?

Gaming unfortunately throws a bit of a monkey wrench into the question. Because otherwise, I would recommend the Lenovos so hard it hurts.

You might look at Sager's 15" laptops.

You'll want to keep this page handy. See the sidebar that splits the laptop GPUs into "Class 1", "Class 2", etc? That tells you at a glance if the GPU in a laptop you're looking for is powerful or not. Depending on how GPU-heavy the games to be played are, you're probably going to want to find a laptop with a Class 1 or Class 2 GPU, and the higher up, the better. The $979 Sager in the link above has a 650M, which falls under Class 1.

Basically i5 is more than fine... the GPU is the main problem for games. 8GB? Overkill, even for any games that'll run on a laptop... but if he needs it for assignments... who knows?!

Duoae wrote:

Basically i5 is more than fine... the GPU is the main problem for games. 8GB? Overkill, even for any games that'll run on a laptop... but if he needs it for assignments... who knows?!

I disagree about 8GB being overkill. If you're buying something right now, I would not buy a machine with only 4GB of RAM in it.

Agree with all the rest.

Whoa! Your son needs that much firepower?

Trying to avoid buying him a separate desktop for gaming, but I could toss the gaming idea out. That would probably put the cost way down...

What would you guys recommend if gaming were *not* on the table? He's not doing serious programming or the like.

*Legion* wrote:
Duoae wrote:

Basically i5 is more than fine... the GPU is the main problem for games. 8GB? Overkill, even for any games that'll run on a laptop... but if he needs it for assignments... who knows?!

I disagree about 8GB being overkill. If you're buying something right now, I would not buy a machine with only 4GB of RAM in it.

Agree with all the rest.

What sorts of applications do you envisage him multitasking away using more than 4GB? I mean, come on! Average users (including gamers - excluding 1-2GB video ram*) do not use 8GB of RAM or would ever utilise it...

*And that's on a desktop system

Robear wrote:
Whoa! Your son needs that much firepower?

Trying to avoid buying him a separate desktop for gaming, but I could toss the gaming idea out. That would probably put the cost way down...

What would you guys recommend if gaming were *not* on the table? He's not doing serious programming or the like.

Gaming not a particular option? Low to mid requirements? An AMD A8 system would be fine or an i5 with an HD4000 graphics chipset would do well (maybe even dropping down to an i3 depending on how low you want to go - i.e. just light flash gaming, office applications and web browsing etc). RAM being what it may.

All I can offer is my wife tried out a bunch of laptops in stores and loved the feel of the keyboard response on the Lenovo the best.

Lenovo laptops are awesome. If I had my druthers, my work would be buying Lenovo. Once "the plan" comes together and my boss is finally assassin--...err, never mind.

HP corporate laptops (i.e. the ProBook line) are very good. That's what we use at work now and while I still like Lenovo more, these aren't crazy expensive, they're built like tanks and my work laptop can run a ton of indie stuff from Steam like a champ. Their consumer stuff (i.e. the Pavilion line) is garbage, as is anything by Acer/Gateway. If your son is looking to do proper 3D gaming, it gets tricks as others have said but there are good options available. I also like a lot of Dell and Asus stuff as well, though when Asus has an occasional bad model, it's really bad. The key thing when shopping for a laptop that does any gaming it to check for reviews that go into detail about how the cooling is. A lot of gaming capable laptops have weak fans that prevent the system from shutting off under loan but still let the GPU run too hot and shorter its life considerably (though never so short that you don't run out the warranty first). An in-depth review of such a product should be testing how how the air coming out of it is when it's under super heavy CPU/GPU load and if the machine can product a good breeze when it needs to. If it's trying to be powerful and also super quiet, it probably won't last.

Robear wrote:

What would you guys recommend if gaming were *not* on the table? He's not doing serious programming or the like.

As far as I'm concerned, hardware-speaking, there are about two laptop brands worth buying.

1. Apple
2. Lenovo

Given one's preference for OS, the list usually whittles down to 1.

And being more specific, when I say Lenovo, expand that out to be "Lenovo Thinkpads, in the T-series or X-series".

Of course, those laptops aren't the most hyper price-competitive, because of the build quality.

If you don't go for that level of build quality, though, there's tons of laptops out there that are potentially "good". Check ones you might be interested in against places like laptopmag.com.

I lugged a Thinkpad 600E and later a 12" aluminum PowerBook around when I was in college, and those things were indestructible. I'm quite certain if I had gotten into a fight, I could have brained someone with the Thinkpad and then opened it up and blogged about it. I love the build quality of those machines. I also had a Dell Inspiron laptop in college for a while, and ended up having to crack it open and repair some stuff myself. Meanwhile, the 12" PowerBook is still running, and I'd bet at least $50 that whomever bought that Thinkpad 600E from me still has a working machine too.

*Legion* wrote:

You'll want to keep this page handy. See the sidebar that splits the laptop GPUs into "Class 1", "Class 2", etc? That tells you at a glance if the GPU in a laptop you're looking for is powerful or not. Depending on how GPU-heavy the games to be played are, you're probably going to want to find a laptop with a Class 1 or Class 2 GPU, and the higher up, the better. The $979 Sager in the link above has a 650M, which falls under Class 1.

This is all I came to add but it's already here. Best to know what you're getting, as the laptop video card is, in many case, irreplaceable.

You can almost always easily plug in another stick of RAM. Or even replace your hard drive. But that video card you are generally stuck with, as they are not as standard as desktop video cards and not nearly as interchangeable between laptops. So if you really want to game, focus on that. And cooling, as Parallax mentioned.

Now I'm thinking, let him game on a desktop at home. But I'm more at sea with the low-end stuff. I've seen people get badly designed systems before, but since I can't build my own laptop, I'm leery of absolute bottom dollar stuff. I hate it when a manufacturer puts in a reasonable process with a two-gen-old system bus and slow RAM, stuff like that.

Robear wrote:

I'm looking at laptops for my son, who will start college this fall

Does the college have any sort of program to bulk-buy laptops to get a discount? Just peeked at my alma mater, and they have deals for Lenovo ThinkPads (T430 and X230), and also offer expedited support for students who buy MacBook Pros.

Lenovo G575? Any thoughts?

Robear wrote:

Lenovo G575? Any thoughts?

I might suggest the G570 for a bit more. I think it's definitely worth having more than 4gb ram. Even just having a dozen or two tabs in your browser open will start to push up against that, and it has a faster hard drive.

Or if you do want to give him some gaming power, you could opt for the Y570. With a GT555m at it's pretty low resolution, most games would run fine on it. Or go smaller, lighter and with more up-to-date components and get the Y480, which is within your original budget.

I wish these computers had a 1600x900 display, though. 768p is going to be a bit cramped on desktop real estate, but it seems that's all Lenovo offers.

I bought this for myself a few weeks ago. If your budget is really 1100 then get this and slap a SSD in it. The weak hard drive is the only issue with it. Well, it doesn't have the max rez either, but get the kid a cheap monitor to port out to if he really demands the rez.

R500VM-MS71

I disagree with Duoae, I had to remove a 2GB module and run into memory shortages all the time at 4GB (Win 7 x64 Ultimate). At 6GB I never had a problem.

RolandofGilead wrote:

I disagree with Duoae, I had to remove a 2GB module and run into memory shortages all the time at 4GB (Win 7 x64 Ultimate). At 6GB I never had a problem.

RAM is cheap. Buy lots.

bandit0013 wrote:

I bought this for myself a few weeks ago. If your budget is really 1100 then get this and slap a SSD in it. The weak hard drive is the only issue with it. Well, it doesn't have the max rez either, but get the kid a cheap monitor to port out to if he really demands the rez.

R500VM-MS71

Not bad. The Nvidia 630M is in the lower third of the tier 2 GPUs, but at that resolution it should probably run a lot.

Average users (including gamers - excluding 1-2GB video ram*) do not use 8GB of RAM or would ever utilise it...

640K should be enough for anyone!

Malor wrote:
Average users (including gamers - excluding 1-2GB video ram*) do not use 8GB of RAM or would ever utilise it...

640K should be enough for anyone!

Har, har. Very funny. You could have at least gone down to the 90K of the atari single-sided floppy disk.

bandit0013 wrote:
RolandofGilead wrote:

I disagree with Duoae, I had to remove a 2GB module and run into memory shortages all the time at 4GB (Win 7 x64 Ultimate). At 6GB I never had a problem.

RAM is cheap. Buy lots.

True enough - though I'd advise he buy it separately from a seller like Crucial rather than as part of the laptop he does get as he won't get good RAM and it won't be cheap.

RolandofGilead wrote:

I disagree with Duoae, I had to remove a 2GB module and run into memory shortages all the time at 4GB (Win 7 x64 Ultimate). At 6GB I never had a problem.

I don't know what you're doing to run into memory shortages at 4GB - I've never found that running Win XP, Win Vista or Win 7 Premium. Like I said above (and note I didn't say what was good and what was not [and i definitely didn't say 640KB!]; 6GB is still less than 8GB) 8GB is more than any average user will utilise. Not users like the majority on here, perhaps - which is why i asked what he'll be doing on it.

[edit]

Just for example - going with the Lenovo T series here at the first one on the left from their website (i know posting a link will be useless because it'll shunt you back to the start but here you are) the default is 4GB of RAM which you can upgrade to 8GB - that adds $160 to the bill.

From crucial you can get an 8GB kit for the laptop for $45.

Maybe you guys want to make fun of that as well?

Malor wrote:

The extra memory is really nice for drive caching, especially if you can get to 16 gigs. I would think it would be especially useful on a laptop, because laptop drives tend to be slow. A 16 gig laptop with a big spinning hard drive would feel about as fast in routine use as having an SSD, although it would still boot slowly. In exchange, he'd have a ton more drive space to work with. 8 gigs is probably more reasonable, though, giving a good chunk of the benefit for a lot less money.

Lots of RAM is nice for virtualization, too, which could be handy if he's going into a computer-related program.

All valid points and I agree with them... but virtualisation is not in the realm of an average user. Which goes back to my initial question: "What's his degree and whatnot?"

The extra memory is really nice for drive caching, especially if you can get to 16 gigs. I would think it would be especially useful on a laptop, because laptop drives tend to be slow. A 16 gig laptop with a big spinning hard drive would feel about as fast in routine use as having an SSD, although it would still boot slowly. In exchange, he'd have a ton more drive space to work with. 8 gigs is probably more reasonable, though, giving a good chunk of the benefit for a lot less money.

Lots of RAM is nice for virtualization, too, which could be handy if he's going into a computer-related program.

edit: oh, and:

You could have at least gone down to the 90K of the atari single-sided floppy disk.

But Bill Gates isn't (incorrectly?) quoted as talking about 90K.

Sure, but drive caching is handy for everyone.

I use Chrome, Word, Outlook, PowerPoint and Excel pretty regularly for work, and that's about it. My work laptop runs 32-bit Windows, so it's limited to about 3.5 gigs of RAM. I hit that limit every single day with just 15-20 tabs open. At the end of the day it takes about half a minute just for Chrome to shutdown while the hard drive goes crazy. I'm not doing anything scientific or image-intensive, so I'd consider 4 gigs to be a bare minimum these days.

Malor wrote:

But Bill Gates isn't (incorrectly?) quoted as talking about 90K.

Haha! Completely missed the reference! Good one

Yeah as bandit said, RAM is cheap. But generally only if you buy it afterward. With the standard laptops we buy for work, it costs half as much for me to buy a 4GB model and upgrade it to 8GB with aftermarket memory rather than to buy 8GB from the factory. If you have a goal to put a certain amount of memory in it, buy as little as the factory will let you put in it and put Corsair or Kingston stuff in it after the fact for less.

I upgrade my stuff quite frequently, being a big nerd. I have to say going from a traditional disk for my system/frequent use apps to a SSD has been the biggest bang for buck performance gain in the last 3 years.

Are you on Windows, or a Mac, bandit? My experience is that RAM matters tremendously more on Windows, but on a Mac, you want an SSD before anything else.

I recently got a Thinkpad X220 with a SSD drive. Very nice laptop. I love the keyboard. I would purchase him a laptop like that and give him a XBox 360 to take with him.

Malor wrote:

Are you on Windows, or a Mac, bandit? My experience is that RAM matters tremendously more on Windows, but on a Mac, you want an SSD before anything else.

That seems correct for a desktop, but on any laptop, whether it be OSX or Windows, an SSD is awesome for powering on or resuming from hibernate. That's coming from someone who uses his laptop infrequently, however, so I put it into hibernate a lot.